An Exchange Student’s Guide to Traveling & Living in Edinburgh

May 4, 2015 0 Comments

Full disclosure: This is a paid blogpost for the #HipmunkCityLove project. As a part of the project, I will be creating content about London, Edinburgh, and Vancouver. Opinions are my own. 

Blogpost type: Planning a trip to a city

It’s been nearly a year since I finished my international exchange in Edinburgh, but I can still remember my first glimpse of the city’s domes, spires, and rooftops. Today, I want to share some information about visiting Edinburgh, particularly for students who are backpacking, studying, or working abroad.

An Overview of Edinburgh

Edinburgh's Royal Mile on a rainy May morning

Edinburgh’s Royal Mile on a cloudy May morning

The main tourist area of Edinburgh is the Old Town, which has medieval stone buildings, churches, alleyways, and closes. The Royal Mile stretches from Edinburgh Castle all the way down to Holyrood Palace. It boasts numerous modern-day and historical landmarks, from St. Giles Cathedral to the Heart of Midlothian (on which people spit for good luck) to the world’s first Museum of Childhood.

In the north, Edinburgh’s New Town has orderly, neoclassical buildings, which now contain stores, cafes, and businesses. In the south, George Square, as well as nearby Chambers St., Nicholson St., and Clerk St., are home to many University of Edinburgh students. The city also has the idyllic Dean Village, a port in Leith, and scenic spots like Arthur’s Seat and Calton Hill.

Literature, History, and Quirkiness

Edinburgh's Writers Museum in the Lady Stair's Close

Edinburgh’s Writers Museum in the Lady Stair’s Close

Besides visiting the must-see Royal Mile, I recommend also checking out special interest attractions. As a creative writing student, I was super excited to be studying in the first UNESCO City of Literature, with the Writers’ Museum, a literary salon, poetry readings, and literary tours; if you are observant, you can also spot plaques dedicated to J.K. Rowling, Robert Burns, and Sir Walter Scott.

As another example, Edinburgh is supposedly a very haunted city and has many ghost tours that entertain visitors with walks through shadowy closes. On the eccentric side, Surgeons’ Hall Museums has a book covered with Burke’s skin. (Burke and Hare were murderers who killed victims and sold corpses to the University’s medical school for dissection.) For students who prefer more ordinary activities, like shopping on a budget, the city has dozens of charity shops that sell vintage and second-hand items.

Haggis, Pubs, and Afternoon Tea

Scottish Breakfast, including haggis, sausage, egg, and toast

Scottish Breakfast, including haggis, sausage, egg, and toast

While haggis doesn’t sound appetizing, I tried it during my first dinner in Edinburgh and found it tastes like meatballs. This classic dish makes an appearance in the traditional Scottish breakfast. The city’s pubs are also worth checking out; I don’t drink, but I did visit pubs like The Green Mantle and Jekyll & Hyde with friends. For visitors who prefer tea to alcohol, I recommend Anteaques on Clerk Street or Clarinda’s Tea Room on the Royal Mile.

Timing Your Visit

Edinburgh's Christmas Market

Visitors buy apple cider and other drinks at Edinburgh’s Christmas Market

If you plan to study or work abroad, I highly recommend trying to stay for a year as opposed to only a few months, which allows you to truly get to know the city. For shorter trips, many tourists visit in the summer during the Fringe Festival or Edinburgh Tattoo, or around Christmas and Hogmanay to enjoy the fireworks and winter markets; if you plan to visit during these popular times, book your hostels or hotels in Edinburgh early to avoid disappointment. If you’re not interested in these festivals or want to avoid crowds, try visiting during the fall or spring.