Done the whole Asia thing and ready to explore Europe next? Scotland is a great place to start because it has fantastic links to England and the rest of the continent. We’ve teamed up with St Christopher’s Inns (a hostel operator in Europe’s greatest cities) to provide their top backpacking tips for Edinburgh. Boasting medieval charm combined with its underground party scene, no city in the world can quite match the mystery of the Scottish capital. There’s a reason the city is a backpacker favorite. Castles, booze, architecture, and history, here is our city guide to Edinburgh and how to do it on a backpacker’s budget.
Edinburgh Restaurants & Where to Eat
Edinburgh’s Farmers Market
Every Saturday from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m., the Edinburgh Farmers’ Market sets up on the Castle Terrace. Wander down after you’ve explored Edinburgh castle and marvel at what’s on offer, from delicious venison to classic Scotch eggs. If cheese is your thing, the selection you’ll find at this market is heavenly.
The Halfway House
About halfway up the long stairway from Waverley to the Royal Mile, you will find the quaint, characterful and appropriately named Halfway House. This little Scottish pub has a simple but incredibly affordable menu, meaning all the love and goodness goes into just a few dishes, making it some of the tastiest nosh in the city. Get the Scottish experience and order the haggis, neeps, and tatties for just £7.50.
For the most delicious pulled pork roll in Edinburgh, Oink is the place to go that won’t hurt your bank balance. The idea is simple: opt for a ‘piglet’ for £3.10 (a little portion of melt-in-the-mouth pork), a meatier ‘oink’ for £4.20, or, if you’re really hungry, a ‘grunter’ for £5.30. Afterward, choose your roll, stuffing, and sauce and you’re all set to turn into a little piggy yourself. Remember to get here before the mad rush as this place packs out!
One for the vegans and vegetarians. Head to the Beetroot Cafe for food that’s good for the body and soul. Sip on a turmeric latte whilst tucking into a heartwarming four bean chili burrito. Yummy vegan cakes, grilled ‘cheese’ and tasty soups are some of the other menu options. The plant-based dishes here are extremely delicious, making the Beetroot cafe a local favorite amongst Edinburgh’s vegans and vegetarians.
Where to Grab Coffee in Edinburgh
Fortitude Coffee Merchants
Tucked away in a cozy little New Town cafe is one of the best cups of coffee in Edinburgh (and latte art that you won’t be able to resist on your Instagram feed). Head to Fortitude Coffee Merchants for your afternoon pick-me-up with one of their amazing cakes — they definitely make the couple of extra steps to get there worth it. If you’re into trying different styles of coffee, have a taste of their new monthly ‘guest’ espresso.
Edinburgh Accommodation: Where to Sleep
St Christopher’s Inns
St Christopher’s Inns hostel is located in the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town, the perfect place to base yourself to experience the best of the medieval city. Located within walking distance from all of Edinburgh’s main sites, the High Street and The Royal Mile, it’s not only convenient, but also fun. The vibe at St Christopher’s is vibrant, young and has one hell of a party atmosphere.
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Offering free breakfast, an epic bar where guests get daily drink deals, and a choice of private or dorm rooms, this is a great affordable option with clean, modern dorms. It’s also bang in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the Old Town’s bars, pubs, and nightlife. The hostel is just a 30-minute drive from Edinburgh Airport. Plus, the train station is right on the doorstep.
Edinburgh Pubs: Killer cocktails and secret underground bars
From traditional Scottish pubs to buzzing cocktail joints, there are plenty of awesome spots in the city to hit for a fun night. And, hidden away below the medieval metropolis there’s a whole new world to discover — we’re talking secret underground bars that will make you fall in love with the drinking scene (but first, you need to know where to look). We ventured to the city to scope out the best bars and here are our top picks.
Mad Monkey Insider Tip
- The Old Town (where St Christopher’s is based) is significantly cheaper than the New Town!
Hoot the Redeemer
Expect boozy ice cream that comes out of a vending machine, adult slushies and a selection of inventive cocktails. Quirky, fun, affordable and the vintage interior will make you feel like you’ve stepped back into the 50s. Our cocktail recommendation? Papa Don’t Peach.
Secret Arcade Bar
Hidden on a dark alleyway in Edinburgh’s Old Town you’ll find The Secret Arcade. Don’t judge it from its exterior; this place is a true hidden gem. Head underground to find a quirky, buzzing vodka bar with over 100 different vodkas on offer.
Panda and Sons
Don’t be fooled. On the outside, Panda and Sons poses as a barber shop but it’s actually a super cool bar. Only the people in the know go here — and now you’re one of them! We recommend ordering the birdcage cocktail — that is actually served in a birdcage!
The Devil’s Advocate
This old Victorian pump house in the historic part of the city has been converted to a chic, cozy bar. Specialising in out of this world cocktails and Scottish whiskey, The Devil’s Advocate is all about quality with all cocktail syrups made by hand.
Edinburgh Nightlife: Where to Party
A student favorite with a killer bar menu, Belushi’s hosts live DJ’s and drink deals literally all the time. Whether you want to pre-drink or stay here all night, Belushi’s is a great place to party in Edinburgh that won’t break the bank. The ultimate backpacker hangout, Belushi’s will be the place to make like-minded friends in Edinburgh. You will never see a wider, more inventive range of ‘Jagerbombs’ in your life — Belushi’s has put a twist on the bomb with a whole selection of fun flavors for Skittle Bombs, Apple Bombs, Pepper Bombs and Glitter Bombs. We recommend the Melon Bombs.
The Mouse Trap
An underground bar on Leith Walk with awesome live DJ’s and open mic night! Its USP has to be the large variety of arcade games to play while you enjoy the music.
Top Edinburgh Attractions
Just a mile from Edinburgh’s city center is the Royal Botanical Gardens – over 70 acres of landscaped grounds and a fantastic collection of flora and fauna. You could easily spend hours walking around the gardens, marveling at the unusual flowers, and relaxing on the grass when the sun is shining.
Stroll 10 minutes down the road from the hostel and you’ll find the city’s most iconic attraction, Edinburgh Castle, that lies on top of an extinct volcano. Take a tour and learn about its medieval history or simply wander around at your own pace, discovering the castle’s rich past for yourself. It’s truly breathtaking and an absolute must, especially if this is your first visit to Edinburgh.
St Giles Cathedral
Not only is St Giles Cathedral one of the most important religious structures in Scotland, but it’s also an absolutely stunning piece of architecture that you just have to go and see. Head inside for free to see the amazing Thistle Chapel and intricately stained glass windows. You don’t need a lot of time to visit this attraction but you’ll definitely be glad you did.
Scottish National Galleries
The Scottish National Gallery is a must visit if you’re into art and history. It boasts the most impressive collection of paintings in Edinburgh, from the Italian Renaissance to French Impressionism. You’ll find work by the likes of Monet, van Gogh, and Renoir displayed here, but what tops it off is that entry won’t cost you a penny!
Harry Potter Tour
If any of you Harry Potter fans miss this one when in Edinburgh, shame on you. As the hardcore fans will know already, a lot of JK Rowling’s inspiration came from this Scottish city. The free walking tour called The Potter Trail will take you to all the main sites where Rowling gathered her inspiration for the books. Visit the cafe where she wrote about Harry’s encounter with the Philosopher’s Stone, pass the ‘original Hogwarts’ and see exactly where Lord Voldemort is buried!
Get yourself to the famous Arthur’s Seat for spectacular views of the city. You won’t regret it! Walking boots would be a good idea if you want to climb to the top so don’t forget to pack them! No visit to Edinburgh is complete without a trip to Arthur’s seat. There are different routes to take depending on whether you’re a pro hiker or beginner so get informed before you start your trek.
Guide to Edinburgh: Where to Shop
Head to the Royal Mile for a spot of retail therapy. Chances are that you’ve already set foot on this stretch of the city’s Old Town (unless you’ve been taking some serious detours), but shopping here is the best you’ll get in Edinburgh. The Royal Mile is home to high street shops, fashion retailers, souvenir shops, confectionary and more!
Not only is the shopping great, but Victoria Street is without doubt one of the most Instagrammable spots in Edinburgh, too. Enjoy a stroll down the hilly street where colorful buildings curve around the corner and are filled with fun, unique shops, and eateries. Victoria Street is a solid piece of the city’s history with its stone walls and age-old charm attracting visitors from all over.
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More Information About the top Things to do in Edinburgh
Did you love this guide to Edinburgh, Scotland? Do you want to know more about the top things to see and do in this historic city? Then be sure to check out the following articles we have rounded up to help you make the most out of your trip to Scotland!
- 20 great things to do in Edinburgh from TimeOut
- 11 amazing things to do in Edinburgh, Scotland by Nonie Niesewand from Condé Nast Traveller
- The best things to do in Edinburgh by Linda Macdonald from The Telegraph
- 70 things to do, see, eat in Edinburgh from Two Scots Abroad