No matter the season, visitors of Edinburgh should be aware of the city’s many quirks. From the chaotic and vibrant excitement of summer during Edinburgh Fringe, to winter celebrations like Hogmanay, there’s always something going on.
There’s a lot more to Edinburgh than meets the eye.. With its own accent and lexicon, as well as its own weather system, chilly fog (or haar), and hills, clans, kilts, and cobblestone streets to navigate. Prepare yourself for negotiation of the city’s slopes, tills, kilt pins, and cobblestoned streets with this guide for beginners.
(Most) souvenir shops located on the Royal Mile are not worth your time.
The most prominent street in Old Town is the gorgeous Royal Mile, which takes you from the high castle down to the Scottish Parliament and Holyrood Palace. Along the way, you’ll see some of Scotland’s best Medieval buildings. Unfortunately, many have been turned into tacky souvenir shops that sell cheap plastic items claiming to be historically accurate. My suggestion? Skip these stores and do your shopping elsewhere.A couple of notable exceptions would be Ragamuffin, which sells exquisite Scottish and Irish knitwear, as well as ancient Cadenhead’s Whisky Shop–one of the best places in town to buy a authentic bottle of Scotch for those back home.
English money is legal in Edinburgh
Even though Scotland and England both use the pound sterling, there are some differences between the two. For example, inScotland they have their own distinctive banknotes with images of Scottish heroes such as poet Robert Burns and missionary explorer Mary Slessor, various castles, ottersand mackerel. You can also use them south of the border in England. Likewise, English notes (arrayed with luminaries such as Dickens) are accepted as legal tender inScotland too; however don’t let anyone tell you different! In general you’ll be fine using either currency interchangeably throughout Great Britain, but if you’re caught onlywith Scottish pounds outside of Scotland – especially down south in England – you may receive some funny looks or raised eyebrows.
Some men wear kilts
The kilt, a thick wool skirt pleated in a tartan chequered pattern, is sometimes worn by men in Scotland. Nowadays they are mostly only seen at weddings or ceremonial occasions; however, they can be stylish. The outfit’s roots come from the plaid cloaks of Highland Scotland which were banned after the 1745 defeat of the Jacobites.Queen Victoria loved the current version of the kilt, which was pretty much a reinvention of the 19th century kilt. The aesthetics are reflected in the fussy accoutrements of sporran (a belt-like manbag) and frilly shirt. If you’re interested in purchasing one for yourself, a kilted by a respected retailer like Hector Russell will cost approximately £300. For a more glitzy designer version, try 21st Century Kilts (they have a £700 denim number).
Locals grumble about the festivals
The Edinburgh festival season is a favorite topic of conversation for locals, with the city’s population swelling by more than half during the period of August to January, when theaters, music, comedy, dance, and a thriving atmosphere attract tourists. The International Festival began in 1947 as an opportunity for more established (though frequently avant-garde) performances. During the loud and unavoidable festival period, it may be difficult to walk about due to the crowds. But it’s also fantastic and unforgettable (and don’t listen to the locals).
For many visitors, the chilly spring and early summer are a welcome change from the heat of summer. However, when you visit Scotland in early spring or late summer, temperatures can reach as low as 50 degrees Fahrenheit (-15 degrees Celsius). The sea’s presence adds an edge to the air while also producing fog that gives Edinburgh a rather Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde appearance. A good rule of thumb is to accept that there’s no such thing as bad weather, only clothing that isn’t well-suited for the conditions. In other words, bring a sweater and pack a raincoat. And if you’re lucky enough to have sunny weather during your stay in this city, it’ll be an added bonus – not something you can always count on.
During the celebration, don’t go to Edinburgh (if you aren’t going)
If you’re planning to visit Edinburgh during one of the festivals, be sure to book your accommodation well in advance! Many locals take advantage of the high demand for housing by renting out their space and leaving the city. Keep in mind that you don’t need to stay in the center of town to have a good time – areas like Stockbridge and Leith are just a short bus or walk away from all the action. In addition, Edinburgh provides the unique opportunity to experience two completely different styles of urban living – you can opt for the Old Town (with its ancient buildings and hilly streets) or go for the Georgian New Town (characterized by spaciousness and sweeping crescents).
The Edinburgh train from London arrives in the heart of the city
Take the train if you’re going from London or another UK city to Edinburgh. Purchase ahead for low-cost tickets if you’re commuting from London; it’s a long trip that goes through York, Durham, Newcastle, and Berwick before reaching the beautiful northern shoreline. It’s thrilling and quick (4–5 hours) ending in Waverley Station in the city center between the Old and New Towns.The new Caledonia Sleeper lets you choose between comfy twins or double beds, or traveling during the day in reclining chairs. And regardless of which option you pick, you’ll be able to enjoy some fabulous views along the way.
You’re not in England any more!
Scotland is a unique country in its own right, although it is not fully sovereign from the United Kingdom and much of the governance of the nation is carried out from London. The country has a devolved government and a beautiful modern parliament building on Arthur’s Seat; it’s well worth seeing both for its architecture as well as to learn more about Scotland’s identity. Nationalism and independence are emotive topics in Scotland, but just be careful not to identify Scots/Scotland with English/England.
You’ll need your walking boots
A Sunday pastime in Edinburgh is to hike up the extinct volcano, Arthur’s Seat. Even though it’s technically a hill, since it has the presence and appearance of a mountain, many people compare its form to that of a lying lion. If you opt for straight up-and-down walk to reach the top of Salisbury Crags, you’ll be rewarded with an incredible view of city. Or if you want explore more, take stroll around one or two lochs while making your way over Duddingston Village where Sheep Heid Inn resides; this pub dates all they back 1360 and is known as oldest pub in Scotland!
You’ll also need your dancing shoes
Make a point of dancing at a ceilidh (pronounced “kay-lee”) before leaving Scotland. Though it’s technically correct to describe it as a Highland Gaelic form of entertainment, you’ll discover plenty of opportunities to participate in the dance in Edinburgh. There will be a live band playing catchy fiddle music, with another member calling out dance steps and possibly some singing and storytelling. Grab the nearest available individual and get going around the dance floor.