For my second solo adventure, I headed to Edinburgh, Scotland! A city filled with mysterious alleys, gothic architecture, and fascinating history. Edinburgh is a perfect city break if you’re located in the London area, and it’s also a great base to explore Scotland from.
From London, the fastest (and most beautiful) way to get to Edinburgh is by train. Virgin Trains East Coast operates the route, and it takes 4.5-5 hours to arrive. Book your tickets ahead of time to save money (and get free wifi aboard the train). I paid around £60 roundtrip for my ticket, but prices vary a lot. If you are 16-25 years old, buying a railcard costs £30 and will save you ⅓ on all trains. Mine was 100% worth it! If you’re on a tighter budget, the Megabus is significantly cheaper if you book ahead (around £25 roundtrip) but it will take 8-10 hours. Occasionally flights from London to Edinburgh are cheaper than either the bus or train, so it”s important to look though all the options before booking your trip.
If you’re planning a trip to Edinburgh, here are my top tips!
Skip the Castle
Controversial advice, but I found Edinburgh castle to be wildly overpriced and quite forgettable. Which is shocking, because I LOVE castles. Adult entrance is £17 and there is no student discount. Audio tours cost an additional £3.50, so I didn’t get one. It’s possible that my opinion of the castle would have changed with a great audio tour, but I doubt it. There are free (with a ticket) exterior tours. If you choose to go to the castle, I highly recommend taking one because the signs and displays aren’t sufficient to learn the history of the castle.
So why do I think it was a waste of money? There’s very little to see inside the castle, because most of it is still used by the UK military. Unlike many castles/palaces I’ve been to, there is not a lot of signage to explain what you’re seeing or tell the history of each building. This means that if you didn’t buy the audio tour, you’re left walking through a bunch of mostly empty rooms wondering what they used to be. In addition, most of the castle was redecorated in Victorian times (when it wasn’t still used as a residence) so it’s hard to picture what it would have been like in the Stuart days. The best parts about the castle (for me) were the panoramic views of Edinburgh, the small prison museum, and the room where King James was born.
So what should you do instead? Save your money for more interesting castles! The (free) National Museum of Scotland is a better place to learn about the history of the castle and the royal family of Scotland. I wish I had left more time in my schedule to explore their collection! The best views of the castle can be found in either the Edinburgh Terrance Car Park or in Princes Street Gardens. Trust me, the exterior is the most interesting part!
Traveling on my own, I find that I appreciate the outdoors a lot more. Why? Because it’s free and no one ever looks at me strangely for being alone. As an adrenaline junky and short person, I’ll climb up anything I can see. The moment I saw Arthur’s Seat looming over Edinburgh, I knew I’d have to climb it. The hike was by far my favorite part of Edinburgh with its panoramic views. I hiked up around 7PM and stayed for a gorgeous sunset. Make sure you have a jacket, a camera, and decent walking shoes before you head out!
To get to Arthur’s Seat go to the bottom of the Royal Mile by the Palace of the Holyroodhouse. There are various trails to get to the top. I walked the easiest one to find, because there’s no trail guide/map in the park (that I found). Look up the trails ahead of time if a steep (or gentle) trail is going to be an issue. My trail followed the Salisbury Crags at a fairly steep incline. It took around 30 minutes to get to the top of the crags (stopping for many pictures). To get to the top of Arthur’s seat from there, it’s around 30 more minutes of a quite steep trail. I recommend taking a picnic up to the top of the crags to enjoy the view. There’s plenty of flat places to sit near the edges, and there’s different views from each corner.
Other Things to Do
- Walk the Royal Mile
- Sample Scottish foods (especially the shortbread)
- Climb Calton Hill
- Walk to the sea
- Take a day trip to the Highlands
Have you been to Edinburgh? What are your top must-see things?