I’m back, and super excited to share with you the second city I explore as my part of my new travel feature, Weekend Adventures.
For those who are unfamiliar with it, my goal is simple – to explore cities around the UK and abroad for under £150 all in (weekend) and £200 all in (three day long weekend).
Chaz and I hopped on the train for our first ever trip to both Scotland, and Edinburgh in September as I’d planned the trip as his main birthday present.
There is a LOT to do in Edinburgh and, in retrospect, I wish we’d gone up for longer than two days when you factor in the travel time (4.5 hours on the train – 3.5 if you go direct but trains were much more expensive) so I have included both things we managed to see, and things I’ve been recommended we see on our next visit.
So, without further ado, here’s my list of top things to do on a weekend in beautiful, historical Edinburgh.
Wander around the city’s beautiful gardens
The great thing about Edinburgh is the ability to stumble across places of interest without even trying. On our way down from the Castle and through the Old Town, we decided to wander through the beautiful gardens that ran adjacent to Princes Street (turns out they’re called Princes Street Gardens… who knew!) and found the National Gallery entirely by accident (more on that later).
If we’d have more time I’d also liked to have visited the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. I’ve heart great things about these gardens – that they’re of unparalleled beauty and span a massive 70 acres. They’re very much a tourist attraction in their own right and just a short drive or 30 minute walk from the centre of Edinburgh.
Explore Edinburgh Old Town
Edinburgh Old Town is like something out of a fairy tale or movie set – it’s absolutely beautiful. From looking at my maps I had a vague idea of how to get there from our Air BnB and by chance, we stumbled upon it by walking in a straight line from there.
We found lots of quaint little shops to explore, like the vintage store above, as well as an amazing hog roast shop on the way up to the castle (probably not the best pit-stop for veggies)!
Quite by chance, whilst walking up one of the winding roads we saw a narrow set of stairs with an arrow pointing “To the castle” so again, without even trying, we managed to find our way to somewhere else we wanted to go.
Go to Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle is incredible – it looms over you as you walk towards it, and as you go through the entrance it’s all too easy to imagine how people would have ridden and walked over those cobbles hundreds of years ago.
It cost us £16 each for entry which I felt was a tad on the expensive side. They also don’t offer any sort of student discount (I have a 3 year NUS card still that you can buy in your final year at university) which I wasn’t very impressed by, as I feel like places of historical interest and culture should really try to incite students and young people who don’t have a lot of money to visit and learn new things – as let’s face it, we’re often not the most obvious target audiences.
That being said, they did have a free guided tour every hour that I really wanted to go on but we were a bit conscious of time because we had so much planned so didn’t end up doing it (see – more time needed!). I would recommend doing one though – I eavesdropped on a few as we went around and the guides seemed very engaging and knowledgeable.
The castle itself is completely beautiful and has unparalleled views over Edinburgh – I would 100% visiting their on your trip, it’s just one of those things you have to go and see.
Visit the Scottish National Gallery
The Scottish National Gallery is located very centrally just by Princes Street, the main shopping area.
If you’ve ever spent a lazy afternoon wandering around the galleries in London, you will enjoy a visit here.
There’s absolutely stunning art from different centuries and, best of all, it’s absolutely free to enter! It was a great place to get lost in for an hour and rest our weary feet whilst appreciating the artwork.
Go shopping on Princes Street
Princes Street is a big, flashy shopping district in the centre of Edinburgh. Although it’s a great place to go shopping and is home to lots of big, chain stores, it’s one of those things that you can do in almost any major city.
As we were only there for two days, if we had our time again I would have skipped this bit and done more of things that were unique to Edinburgh as there’s so much to do there and two days is just not enough to see everything.
And last but not least… here’s what you need to know about Edinburgh’s nightlife
A month after my initial visit, I went back for the Elrow Halloween event in Edinburgh. After the event, we went to a bar called Bourbon for a few hours for the after-party,
I did enjoy the night there (event though the drinks were horrible – even the cranberry juice came out of one of those multi drinks tap… so strange!) but once it closed at 2pm and we were told that there was literally no where else we could go but a club that was apparently a complete dive, or the casinos, but we probably wouldn’t get in.
This was halloween bl*ody weekend! I was so shocked that it seemed so hard to carry on the night at such an early hour.
The girls we were with said there are different rules in Scotland and that cities have a curfew, so even though they might stay open past 2am you won’t be allowed in if you aren’t in before then.
Edinburgh is an amazing city with so much to do, but in my opinion there’s SO many better places you could go for nightlife.
If an amazing night out is what you’re after with ample opportunity to go here, there and everywhere at any hour of the night, I wouldn’t recommend Edinburgh as the place to go.
So, how much did it all cost?
Advance singles from Manchester to Edinburgh booked direct with Virgin train: £27.30
Advance return train tickets from Sheffield to Manchester : £6.60
We walked most places but we did get a few Ubers to and from places: £12 (£6 split between us)
We stayed at a lovely Air Bnb right in the centre – I would certainly recommend Britt and Gregg’s place to future travellers (and they have a beautiful house cat called Tiggy!): £61 (£30.50 each)
Don’t forget that you can get £15 off your first Air Bnb stay that’s over £55 with my sign up link.
Tickets to Edinburgh Castle: £16
Cinema trip: £7
All other activities: FREE! 🙂
= approx £93.40 … yaaay! I’ve managed it again and with £56.60 to spare.
It’s worth noting that we were so busy, we didn’t have a proper sit down meal anywhere on the Saturday night so if we had that would have eaten into the remaining spending money (if you’ll pardon the pub, whaaay) but even if we had, we’d still have a decent amount of money left over for drinks or more activities.
I’m really pleased that we managed it because, like Dublin, all anyone said to me was how expensive Edinburgh was. For me, I felt it was just normal British capital city prices – more expensive than usual but not astronomical.
We managed to have an amazing time without feeling as though we were restricting ourselves or being tight with money at all.
Now one thing you may be wondering is how on EARTH did I manage to find us train tickets to Edinburgh that cheap?
Here’s the thing – I always scour the best train tickets online before purchasing, and for good reason. If I were to get a train ticket to Edinburgh tomorrow, it’d cost me £79 for an off-peak return and that’s WITH a 16-25 railcard which gets me 1/3 off.
I did book the tickets at the end of July so well in advance, but even within the month it can be done. When I went back for Elrow, my tickets cost £45 return and I booked them quite late through National Rail directly.
Obviously not everyone has a railcard that gets them 1/3 off the cost so here are my top tips for getting cheap train tickets:
- Always check the cost on National Rail’s cheap fare finder.
National Rail have a function on their website called “Cheap fare finder” where you can type in your journey and a window of time where you can travel and it will find you the cheapest train tickets available for that journey and window of time. Always check this, AS WELL AS the normal journey search on their homepage as sometimes that brings up advance tickets that the cheap fare finder misses.
2. Always book as far in advance if you can
Always book in advance if you can as it does help dramatically – the cheap seats get booked up quickly. However it is always worth checking for advance tickets because sometimes you can get them within the week before if you’re lucky,
3. SPLIT YOUR TICKETS
I’m going to let you in on an amazing, magical little secret here and that’s called splitting your tickets. Sites like Moneysavingexpert.com have their own tool whereby you can do this online. Their’s has the marvellous name of TICKETY SPLIT.
All ticket splitting tools do is see where you could split your journey to save you money.
For example, when I go to see Chaz, it is cheaper for me to get a return from Sheffield to Derby, then another separate return ticket from Derby to Birmingham than it would be just to get a return from Sheffield – Birmingham. And by a LOT! I can get the former for anything from £15-18 whereas the latter is £30.
It can sometimes mean your journey is longer, but sometimes you can split your ticket on the same freakin’ train (like my Birmingham journey), so you don’t even have to change trains or get off and change at a random station. SCORE!
4. Shop around for the best deal
As I knew Edinburgh was notoriously expensive to get to by train (that was literally the only reason why I’d never been) I did a google search for “cheap train tickets to Edinburgh” and found some of the providers who go there directly. I did some shopping around, and eventually found Virgin Trains who also have a cheap fare finder that shows you one of those table systems that shows different types of tickets and times available on that day.
But here’s where you need to be sneaky – if you scroll down to the bottom it says “Results are based on end-to-end tickets for the fastest available trains. Click here to check if slower routes with cheaper tickets are available.”
… so, click there obviously! It won’t always find you a better option but always good to check, right?
So anyway, I hope this post has helped you to mentally plan your dream trip to Edinburgh AND know that it can be done on a budget.
Thanks, as always, for reading.