Exploring Edinburgh

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Cheap things to do in Edinburgh:

2 Day Budget Guide

Our budget guide to Edinburgh will show you how to make the most of this beautiful city on a shoestring. We will tell you about some cheap things to do in Edinburgh and some interesting history behind Scotland’s capital.

Whether you're looking to explore the Harry Potter sites in Edinburgh, or just take in the beautiful scenery, this guide includes where to stay and how to get around Edinburgh on a budget.

1. Stroll through Prince Street Gardens

One of the first things we did in Edinburgh was check out the Prince Street Gardens. Edinburgh Castle sits on the hill behind the two adjacent parks that make up these beautiful gardens. If the weather is nice, the gardens make for a lovely afternoon stroll and are one of many great free/cheap things to do in Edinburgh.

We decided to lie down in the grass for a bit, take in the scenery, and read a chapter of Alice in Wonderland. The centerpiece of the park, Ross Fountain, also offers a great viewpoint with the castle in the background.

Cheap things to do in Edinburgh - Prince Street Gardens

2. Visit Edinburgh's Harry Potter Inspiration

This city is where the famous author, JK Rowling, used to live so you’re bound to see some inspirational Harry Potter sites walking the streets of Edinburgh. For example, the Elephant House café prides itself that JK Rowling wrote parts of the first two Harry Potter books here.

Walking up and down Victoria Street you’ll see tons of Harry Potter themed shops. If you’re a fanatic, like Molly, then visiting these sites are definitely one of the best free/cheap things to do in Edinburgh.

Harry Potter UK Edinburgh Sites - Elephant House
Harry Potter Edinburgh Sites - Greyfriars Kirkyard

Greyfriars Kirkyard is another site in Edinburgh that is said to have inspired JK while writing Harry Potter. If you walk around this graveyard you might notice some tombstones with familiar names like Thomas Riddell, (William) McGonagall, and (Robert) Potter. Ok the last two names aren’t full character names but they inspired the name for Professor McGonagall, and the Potter family name.

3. Check out Edinburgh Castle

Sitting on top of Castle Rock is Edinburgh Castle, dominating the skyline of the city below. There has been a royal castle on top of this hilltop since the 12th century during the reign of David I. It remained a royal residence until the 17th century when it was used primarily as a military fortress to defend the city. This fortress is recognized as one of the most important strongholds in Scotland, involved in countless historical conflicts dating back to the 14th century [1].

edinburgh castle 2 - 800 original

The best viewpoint of the castle is from the Prince Street Gardens. In our opinion, taking in the views of the castle from there is one of the best cheap things to do in Edinburgh. Though it’s possible to walk to the top of Castle Rock and tour Edinburgh Castle, entrance tickets are a bit pricey. Buying a ticket at the gate is £19.50 while the online price is €17.50.

4. Visit Cameo Picturehouse

The Cameo Picturehouse is restored retro 3 screen theatre located near Edinbrugh’s Old Town. Actually, it’s part of a network of ‘Picturehouse’ theatres throughout the UK. Inside the building is an attached bar where you can order some drinks and snacks before seeing a film. We decided to see the movie, Mid 90s, a quirky but funny coming of age story reminiscent of Lords of Dogtown.

Cheap things to do in Edinburgh - Cameo Picturehouse
Budget Guide Edinburgh - Cameo Picturehouse

We got a deal at the theatre for £25, which gave us 2 tickets, drinks, and a large popcorn – not bad. If you’re on a tight budget then this definitely won’t fall on your list of cheap things to do in Edinburgh. However all things considered, it’s modestly priced and Molly loves old theatres so we thought it was worth it.

5. Walk around the Old Town

Most of the places we’ve covered are located in or around the Old Town of Edinburgh. This area is absolutely gorgeous and is definitely our favorite part of the city. The medieval street layout and historic buildings are well preserved in this portion of Edinburgh.

Some of the ‘newer’ 18th/19th century architecture in this neighborhood is evidence of classic European styles. High Street is a good example of early ‘high rise’ buildings that skirt around space restrictions due to being situated within the defensive city wall. The bright colored storefronts also perfectly accent the beige buildings and cobblestone streets.

Cheap Things to do in Edinburgh - Old Town
Edinburgh Budget Guide - Old Town
Cheap Things to do in Edinburgh - Old Town

How to get around Edinburgh on a Budget

If you're wondering how to get around Edinburgh on a budget, it's actually quite easy. The city is very walkable and affordable to get around via public transport. Buses and Trams run all over the city ranging from £1.60-1.70/adult for a single trip to £4.00/adult Day passes. The main bus companies to look out for are Lothian and First. Another bus line is Airlink that only runs to/from the airport; Lothian also stops at the airport, First does not.

However, if you're looking to get to/from the airport it will cost a bit more; £4.50/adult for a day pass. From our experience, going to/from the airport is the case no matter which city you are in. Below are prices of bus/tram tickets along with a map of the city.

Single Trip: £1.60-1.70/adult

Day Pass: £4.00/adult

To/From Airport: £4.50/adult

Photo Courtesy: Moovit.com

Bus tickets can be purchased directly on the bus, but they are cash only and do not give change. Tickets for the trams can be bought at vending machines at the Tram stations for exact change. Tickets can also be bought on the trams, but you will be up-charged £10.00.

Photo Courtesy: Moovit.com
Photo Courtesy: Moovit.com

If you're looking for help with how to use the public transit system, Moovit is a great app that tell you exactly where you need to go from Point A to Point B. It will even tell you what stops you need to get off and which bus/train lines you need to change, if any.

Where to stay in Edinburgh

From our experience, we like to use Hostel World to check out potential hostels, then check other booking websites like Booking.com to make our reservations. Sometimes we also message hostels directly to get a better price. We also like to use Airbnb to book accommodations if its a better deal than hostels. Clicking on either of the icons will give you a deal with either of the sites, but are affiliate links so we earn a small commission.

Dorms: £9.00+ ($11.15+ USD)

Private Rooms: £23.00+ ($28.50+ USD)

Amenities: Free Wifi, Free Breakfast, Coffee/Tea, Pool, Self Catering Facilities, Laundry Facilities

Photo Courtesy: Hostelworld.com
Photo Courtesy: Hostelworld.com

Dorms: £9.50+ ($11.75+ USD)

Private Rooms: £15.00+ ($19.00+ USD)

Amenities: Free Wifi, Bar/Cafe, Pool, 24 Hr Security/Reception, Laundry Facilities, Self Catering Facilities

Photo Courtesy: Hostelworld.com
Photo Courtesy: Hostelworld.com

Dorms: £9.90+ ($12.25+ USD)

Private Rooms: £12.90+ ($16.00+ USD)

Amenities: Free Wifi, Bar/Cafe, Restaurant, Pool, 24 Hr Security/Reception, Laundry Facilities, Outdoor Terrace

Photo Courtesy: Hostelworld.com
Photo Courtesy: Hostelworld.com

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