First Time In Edinburgh Guide: 12 Useful Tips For Visiting Edinburgh

August 10, 2023

Edinburgh, Scotland is a wonderful city to visit, whether you’re spending 3 days in Edinburgh or multiple months in the city. But if it’s your first time in Edinburgh, and especially if you’re traveling with kids, it can seem intimidating to figure out where to stay, what to do, and how to get around. That’s why I’ve put together these tips for visiting Edinburgh.

We spent 4 weeks in Scotland in the summer of 2023, exploring Edinburgh and the Scottish Borders region. During that time, we did as many Edinburgh activities as we could, as well as visit the surrounding areas of Edinburgh. We also picked up a few tips for visiting Edinburgh that made our trip a lot easier.

Victoria Street in Old Town (July 2023)

My hope is that these tips will help make your family’s first time in Edinburgh a breeze. That way, rather than worrying about logistics, you can focus your energy on making memories!

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Easy tips for your first time in Edinburgh

Don’t have time to read the whole post? Here is a summary of my top 5 tips for visiting Edinburgh. Use these tips for making your first time in Edinburgh memorable.

  1. Stay at this hotel to be close to the castle: Cityroomz Edinburgh
  2. Take this tour to get a primer on Edinburgh history: Royal Mile walking tour
  3. Buy the Royal Edinburgh Ticket to save money on attractions
  4. Take advantage of Edinburgh’s free museums
  5. Book this day trip to experience Scotland’s natural beauty: Loch Lomond day trip

12 tips for visiting Edinburgh for first timers

As you get ready for your first time in Edinburgh, Scotland it’s helpful to have some basic information about traveling to Edinburgh. While the city is relatively easy to navigate, it can still be intimidating if it’s your first time in Edinburgh. Having some useful tips for visiting Edinburgh on hand can help ease some of that uncertainty.

Spending time at Princes Street Garden (July 2023)

I’ve put together this list of travel tips to help you get comfortable with getting around Edinburgh, experiencing the sights, and understanding the culture. Use this list to make your first time in Edinburgh easy and memorable!

1. Stay close to Old Town or the city center for your first time in Edinburgh

If this is your first time in Edinburgh, the best place to stay would be in Old Town or around the city center. This part of Edinburgh is where many of the popular tourist attractions are. Staying in a hotel in this area means you won’t need to do a lot of walking or riding the tram.

A view of Victoria Street in Edinburgh with buildings along a curve. The lower floor are bright colorful storefronts and the upper levels are a tan stone in old fashioned Victorian style architecture. People are walking on the sidewalk. This photo was taken during an Edinburgh 3 day itinerary.
Victoria Street in Edinburgh (July 2023)

Accommodations in Edinburgh tend to be between £230-£250 a night (roughly $300-$450 USD). They can be higher if you’re right in Old Town or New Town. And if your Edinburgh trip coincides with the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (the first two weeks of August), then hotel prices can be even higher. Be sure to account for those costs in your travel budget.

Here are some family friendly hotels to stay during your first time in Edinburgh.

Cityroomz Edinburgh

For more basic accommodations, book a stay at Cityroomz Edinburgh. This hotel is located on Shandwick Place, close to the west side of Princes Street. It’s a convenient location if you’re planning on visiting Edinburgh Castle.

Families can book suites, studios, or quadruple rooms, which can all accommodate families of 4. Rooms and suits at Cityroomz Edinburgh come with WiFi, TV, coffee/tea maker, and an in-room safe. There are laundry facilities on the premises. The suites have a kitchen and table, for those who want to cook their own meals. If you’re not in the mood to cook, there are plenty of restaurants (both Scottish and other cuisines) along Princes Street. Johnnie Walker is also nearby, for parents who enjoy Scotch whisky.

Cairn Hotel

If you’re looking for a more homey hotel experience with some British charm, book a stay at the Cairn Hotel. This hotel offers rooms that accommodate families of 3, apartments and lofts for families of 4, and houses for families of 6-12 people. Rooms at the Cairn Hotel come with WiFi and TV. Apartments, lofts, and houses come with a kitchen for families who want to self-cater.

Cairn Hotel is located northeast of New Town, however it’s still walkable to many of Edinburgh’s attractions, such as Holyrood Palace and the east side of the Royal Mile. Breakfast is available for a fee. And there are plenty of restaurants within a 2-5 minute walk from the hotel.

Apex Grassmarket

You can’t get any more central than Apex Grassmarket. This hotel is located right at Grassmarket Square, making it steps away from Edinburgh Castle and parts of the Royal Mile.

Rooms at Apex Grassmarket can accommodate families of 4, and offer views of the city. WiFi, a TV with cable channels, a safe, and 24-hour room service are all included in the rooms. There’s also a pool, gym, and laundry facilities on the premises. Breakfast is available for a fee.

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2. Book these tours and activities for your first time in Edinburgh

If this is your first time in Edinburgh, you’ll want to build in time in your Edinburgh itinerary to tour Edinburgh with a guide. A guided tour, activity, or experience really helps you get an overview of the city, as well as get to know the history and culture of Edinburgh.

Shops along Victoria Street (July 2023)

Take a look at these tours and activities you can do during your first time in Edinburgh.

  1. Royal Mile walking tour: walking tour of the Royal Mile
  2. Edinburgh Castle tour: walking tour of Edinburgh Castle
  3. Real Mary King’s Close experience: Old Town history tour of a residential area in Edinburgh
  4. Harry Potter tour: walking tour of Edinburgh spots related to the Harry Potter series
  5. Scotch Whisky Experience: guided tasting tours of Scotch whisky (adults only)
  6. Edinburgh Military Tattoo: annual performance of the Scotland’s military band in front of Edinburgh castle (happens once a year)

3. Save money on attractions with the Royal Edinburgh Ticket

If you want to get the most bang for your buck during your first time in Edinburgh, consider buying the Royal Edinburgh Ticket. This is a special package that’s valid for 48 hours and guarantees fast track admission to attractions such as Edinburgh Castle, Palace of Holyrood House, and the Royal Yacht Britannia.

The courtyard of Edinburgh Castle (July 2023)

The Royal Edinburgh Ticket costs £65 for adults and £35 for children. In addition to entry to the above attraction, The Royal Edinburgh Ticket also to the City Sightseeing hop on hop off tour, as well as tours by from Edinburgh Bus Tours (the Majestic Tour and the Edinburgh Tour).

You can book them tickets through the Edinburgh Bus Tours website or through Viator in the button below.

4. Take advantage of the free museums

For those who want to save even more money while in Edinburgh, take advantage of the free museums throughout the city. This is one of my favorite money-saving tips for visiting Edinburgh!

The Museum of Edinburgh (July 2023)

Museums also make a great back-up activity for rainy days. These are the free museums you can visit during your first time in Edinburgh.

  1. National Museum of Scotland: museum showcasing history, science, and the natural world
  2. Museum of Edinburgh: museum focusing on the history of Edinburgh
  3. The Writer’s Museum: museum showcasing writers like Robert Louis Stevenson and Sir Walter Scott
  4. The People’s Story Museum: museum dedicated to telling the story of Edinburgh’s working class
  5. Museum of Childhood: museum with a collection of antique toys and games
  6. Scottish National Gallery: art museum with a large collection of Scottish art

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5. Build in a day trip during your first time in Edinburgh

If your Edinburgh itinerary allows, build in some time for a day trip outside of Edinburgh. Day trips are a great way to experience the beauty of the Scottish landscape and get to know Scottish culture and history a little deeper.

A street in Melrose in the Scottish Borders (July 2023)

Scotland is full of beautiful lakes, rolling hills, coastal villages, and historic towns. Here are some day trips from Edinburgh to consider during your first time in Edinburgh.

  1. Day trip to Loch Lomond: Scotland’s largest lake
  2. Day trip to St. Andrews: home of the world’s oldest golf course
  3. Scottish Highlands tour: full day guided tour of the northern part of Scotland (minimum age is 7)
  4. Scottish Borders tour: guided tour to the southern border region of Scotland (minimum age is 4)

6. Understand the layout of Edinburgh

Edinburgh’s city center consists of two areas: the Old Town and the New Town. Within the Old Town is Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyrood House, connected by a road called The Royal Mile.

The Royal Mile in Old Town (July 2023)

Beginning at Edinburgh Castle, near Grassmarket Square and Victoria Street, the Royal Mile is filled with shops, restaurants, interesting museums like the Camera Obscura, and high end lodging like Cheval Old Town Chambers. The Royal Mile ends at Holyrood Palace, close to the Scottish Parliament Building.

Northwest of the Royal Mile is the New Town, where you’ll find Edinburgh’s Waverley Train Station, as well as the Sir Walter Scott Monument, located at Princes Street Gardens.  To the west of the Royal Mile is Dean Village. This picturesque part of Edinburgh is known for its 19th century buildings surrounding the Water of Leith.

Further north of the Royal Mile is the Royal Botanic Garden and the coastal area of Leith, where you’ll find the Royal Yacht Brittania. Edinburgh is accessible from the south via the A7. From Glasgow you can get to Edinburgh via the M8. And from the North, you can approach the city via the Forth Road Bridge.

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7. Consider taking the train to Edinburgh

Edinburgh City is located in the central eastern part of Scotland. Most visitors to Edinburgh fly into Edinburgh Airport, which is located around 8-9 miles west of central Edinburgh. The airport services destinations around Europe, as well as North America, China, and Qatar.

While this is a convenient way to get into Edinburgh, a more memorable option for your first time in Edinburgh is to take the train. We love taking trains because it’s a much more sustainable way to travel than flying.

If you’re coming from London, the London North Eastern Railway (LINR) train takes you right into Waverley Station from London’s King’s Cross Station. The train ride takes around 5 hours, but offers beautiful scenery of the British landscape and eastern coast. Other train stations in Edinburgh include Edinburgh Gateway, Edinburgh Park, and Haymarket.

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8. Get around during your first time in Edinburgh with buses and trams

Edinburgh is surprisingly compact, so you’ll be able to get to most places by walking, especially if they’re within Old Town and New Town. However, if you’re too tired to walk, there are Lothian buses that can get you around town. Fares are £2 for adults and £1 for children. Pay on the bus via coins or through contactless payment.

Alternatively, you can ride the Edinburgh tram around the city. The routes run through New Town, along Princes Street and go all the way to Leith. Fares for the tram are the same as buses if you’re traveling within the city center.

If you’re coming from Edinburgh airport, the Airlink Bus Transfer is the fastest way to get to city center via public transportation. Tickets cost £5.50 for adults and £2.75 for children, and the ride takes around 30 minutes. You can also take the tram, but the journey takes longer and the tickets cost £7.50 for adults and £5.00 for children.

9. Take advantage of contactless payment

When it comes to paying for things in Edinburgh, you don’t have to worry about taking around a lot of cash. Most places in Edinburgh take contactless payment. So make sure you have a credit card that can do that type of payment. Alternatively, if your phone has contactless payment capabilities, that works too.

Tram from the airport to the city center (July 2023)

Public transportation – like the trams and the buses – all accept contactless payment. Grocery stores and convenience stores also accept this form of payment, as well as most souvenir shops.

If you do want to pay in cash, you can withdraw money at ATMs throughout the city. Be aware that you’ll likely be charged a withdrawal fee or a foreign currency fee (or both) for withdrawing money. So having the contactless payment option is much more convenient for saving money.

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10. Plan your first time in Edinburgh during the summer

Scotland, in general, is known to have quite unpredictable weather. It can be sunny one minute, and then cloudy and rainy the next! Temperatures in Edinburgh generally don’t get hotter than 70 F in the summer months. On the other hand, the temperatures in winter months don’t get colder than 33 F.

View of Edinburgh Castle from Parish Church of St. Cuthbert (July 2023)

With that said, the best time to visit Edinburgh is in the summer, between the months of June to August. This is when the weather is the warmest, and you’ll have the most chance to get that elusive sunshine. Be warned, though, this is also Edinburgh’s most popular time of year for visitors. August is especially busy as the city hosts the annual Edinburgh Festival Fringe during that month.

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11. Be dressed for all kinds of weather

When it comes to packing, be sure to pack plenty of layers. You’ll want to wear a lightweight waterproof jacket that can serve as a raincoat. Additionally, a scarf can be helpful to stay warm AND fashionable. I love the infinity scarves from Waypoint Goods so much (they have a secret anti-theft zipper pocket where you can store your ID and cash!) that I sometimes travel with two of them!

Wearing my Waypoint Goods scarf at St. Abbs (July 2023)

Additionally, you’ll want to bring shoes that are waterproof or can withstand rain. We ended up buying rain boots (called wellies in the UK) at the local Tesco because it rained so much during our time in Edinburgh. But in the past, we’ve relied on Keen boots as they are generally waterproof.

Be sure to pack these items to stay warm and dry during your first time in Edinburgh.

Don’t forget to pack these essential travel items for families too!

12. Prepare for your first time in Edinburgh by brushing up on some history

One of the best ways to prepare for your first time in Edinburgh is read some books about the city’s history (and also brush up on some Scottish history too!). As a family who likes to incorporate learning into travel, we love learning about the history of the places we visit.

A view of Edinburgh Castle from Grassmarket Square (July 2023)

Here are some books to learn about the history and culture of Scotland.

Using these tips for visiting Edinburgh for the perfect first time in Edinburgh experience

These tips for visiting Edinburgh are sure to make your travel planning easier. Now that you know where to stay in Edinburgh, what activities you can do with your kids in Edinburgh, how to get around Edinburgh, and even how to pay for things, your first time in Edinburgh is sure to be a walk in the park!

Use these tips to give you peace of mind in your travel planning. That way, you can focus on what really matters: having fun and making memories!

Have you visited Edinburgh? What tips for visiting Edinburgh do you have for someone planning their first time in Edinburgh? Share them in the comments. Is your Edinburgh trip part of a bigger around the world trip? Use my ebook, Hey Kids, Let’s Go Travel! as a resource for tools, advice, and action steps for planning your trip.

12 Tips For Your First Time In Edinburgh | The Wandering Daughter | Pinterest pin with an image of colorful buildings brick buildings in Victorian era architecture with text overlay.

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