The dollar might be a little stronger against the pound than it used to be, but that doesn’t mean visiting Scotland’s capital will come cheap. Like all major cities, prices in Edinburgh are hefty, and if you don’t know what to watch for, you might find yourself overpaying for a ghost tour and wondering: where are all the ghosts? It can be tough to get value for your dollar in Edinburgh, unless you know where to look. It might have taken me nearly six months of living there to figure it out, but here are a few ways to enjoy Scotland’s capital that won’t have you digging through your coat pockets for extra pounds.
1. Avoid the tourist traps.
When you think of Edinburgh, its iconic castle immediately springs to mind. A fortress built into one of Edinburgh’s highest hills, it dominates the skyline and is pretty much impossible to miss; but missing it might actually be the best option. The castle is always crowded with tourists paying hefty entrance charges, and once you’re up there, you realize that the best vantage point is actually from below, where you can get a view of the castle itself. Everyone I know who went to the castle said it wasn’t worth the price of admission.
Other popular tourist traps, like Edinburgh Dungeons and a variety of evening ghost tours, are similarly underwhelming. You’re better off taking one of the free walking tours of the Old Town or exploring the city yourself. My favorite feature of Edinburgh is all the narrow, hidden alleyways and secret gardens. None of which charge admission, and they won’t be filled with tourists snapping pictures.
2. Don’t buy a bus pass.
Depending on how long you’re planning to stay in Edinburgh, you might think it’s a good idea to buy a monthly or yearly bus pass. Many students do this, only to find that they hardly ever use the bus. For the most part, Edinburgh is a walkable city. From Holyrood Palace to George Street across the bridge — which is pretty much one end of the city to the other — is only around 40 minutes’ walk. If you’re regularly commuting from the city’s outer reaches, or it’s a particularly cold, windy day, you might find a bus useful, but I knew very few people who actually used, or needed, a bus pass. Besides, with all its steep hills Edinburgh is basically a giant Stairmaster, and walking is a great excuse to skip leg day.
3. Take advantage of cheap airport transport.
It only took me until my sixth flight to realize I probably shouldn’t be paying a cab £25 each way to bring me to the airport. Unless your flight is at 6 AM and you just don’t feel like walking to the bus stop, the Airlink bus is the perfect option. Leaving from Waverley Bridge at the heart of Edinburgh, the bus brings you to (and from) the airport in 35 minutes and only costs around £10 round trip.They also run every 10-15 minutes, so catching one is pretty easy.
4. Drink at student bars.
Like any major city, a good night out in Edinburgh doesn’t come cheap. While pubs are generally affordable, clubs can really add to the night’s price tag. No matter where you’re trying to spend your night, it’s always a good idea to frequent student nights at clubs, and pubs with student discounts. Most clubs have discounted nights where they promote free cover and cheaper drinks. Mondays are WhyNot Nightclub’s most popular night because they offer a variety of £1 shots and a reduced cover charge. If you’re a student (or even just look like a student — most won’t ask for your ID card) many pubs in Old Town, like the Brass Monkey, have discounted rates, and drink prices that are fairly reasonable to begin with.
5. Stay in a hostel.
Usually I’m not a big advocate of hostels, but Edinburgh’s hostels are safe, affordable, and well-integrated into the city’s Old Town. There are several along Cowgate, situated right in the middle of Old Town’s action and even doubling as pubs themselves. The common area of Safestay is more like a pub, with pool tables, cheap drinks, and a trivia night. Just down the road, The Three Sisters pub is one of the liveliest in Old Town, and there is a conveniently-located hostel just upstairs.
6. Check out the free museums.
If you’re looking for some activities that won’t break the bank, take advantage of Edinburgh’s many free museums. The National Museum of Scotland, Writer’s Museum, and Scottish National Gallery are just a few ways you could pass an afternoon without spending a cent. If the sun is shining, check out the Royal Botanical Gardens across the bridge in New Town, or join the hundreds of students lounging in Princes Street Gardens, trying to soak up the sun before the clouds inevitably return.
7. Spend time in the parks.
You might be tempted to complain about the cold in Edinburgh, but you’ll notice the gloomy weather doesn’t stop people from waking up at sunrise for a morning run up Arthur’s Seat, the city’s iconic peak. You can spend an entire day hiking one of its many trails and enjoying the view from the top.
If you’re in a more competitive mood, head to Bruntsfield Links for some pitch-and-putt golf. For no more than £7 per person, you pick up a set of clubs and balls at The Golf Tavern and play a round on the oldest short-hole golf course in the world. Since the “course” also doubles as a park, you might accidentally shank your ball into a group of loitering teenagers — but hey, that’s half the fun!