Saturday, 24 November 2012

Things you want to see in Edinburgh

Edinburgh is a lovely city with so much to offer it can be hard to know where to begin. The Festivals in August offer so many choices you may never get out of the city centre. In the off season you will get better service and find it easier to get around. While Edinburgh can be expensive, a little preparation will go a long way to ensuring you make best use of your money.

Basics: Accommodation and Transport

Calton Hill Edinburgh from Holyrood Park at dusk
There are loads of Bed and Breakfast places and Guest Houses. If you really want to keep the cost down there are a number of hostels. And of course this is an excuse to plug the Badjao Bed and Breakfast.

The bus is the cheapest form of public transport and the service is good except late evenings and weekends and some services do not run on Sundays.

The main bus company in Edinburgh is Lothian Buses. The Lothian bus day ticket costs about 25% more than two single tickets and lets you tour the entire city by bus where you may encounter some colourful local characters. Note that Lothian Buses do not give change. While all Lothian buses have video cameras it is not a good idea to do a song and dance number on the bus. The driver will not be impressed.

From Edinburgh Airport the cheapest route into town, at the time of writing is Lothian bus 35 which runs till about 11pm. The journey takes about an hour. Coincidentally it stops very close to Badjao Bed and Breakfast.

Cycling in Edinburgh is not a brilliant idea. The roads are narrow, there is a lot of traffic and it moves fast and there are a number of big roundabouts that can be confusing and dangerous to cyclists. On the other hand you can cycle along the canal or the water of Leith without problems, ( practice first if you want to ride a monocycle) there are quite a few cycle paths in the centre and a bike does make exploring outdoor Edinburgh more fun, at least in summer.

Eating and Drinking

Edinburgh's own Brewery. 
Edinburgh is full of places to eat. Cheap cafes on George IV bridge, some eateries on George St, mid price but pleasant. There are a lot of Thai, Italian and Chinese restaurants, and some do very good buffets. Near Ocean Terminal (also on the 35 bus route) and the Royal Yacht Britannia you will find the Loch Fyne Seafood restaurant. On the way there you will pass through the former fishing village of Leith which has a number of good restaurants including a floating one.

Rose St, between Princes St and George St is virtually lined with pubs. Most pubs do meals and many are child friendly: children are generally allowed in the pub but not in a room that has a bar. At peak times you will have to wait for a table. Unfortunately many of the most child friendly places are chains and seem to lack character. There are some good beers on North Bridge and further to the south, and in Frankenstein on George IV bridge the monster wakes at midnight. There are of course Irish pubs and Finnegan's Wake in Victoria St has live music most nights. The Canny Man in Morningside has a unique (choosing the words carefully) collection of found objects on the walls. If you like real ale the best place seems to be the Caley Sample Room which has beers from all over the world and a reasonably good restaurant menu but beware: some are almost as strong as wine. If you like Whiskey go to the Whiskey Heritage Centre near the castle. The tours are good and include at least one free drink.

Night Life

Early in the night you can find places that offer live music, a pleasant atmosphere and a good range of beers and wines. The old Scottish pubs in the Grassmarket, once the place for executions, and boasting the Last Drop Tavern, don't offer meals or music. The Rutland at the West End of Princes St is well established, and nearby the Ghillie Dhu has live singers with a disco upstairs most weekends.

There are discos for all ages and wallets. Pubs generally empty around 1am and close around 1:30, the last time for entry to a disco and anyone who gets to the end of the long queues too late will be disappointed. Regular buses finish around midnight and it is a good idea to order a taxi a bit before the end of the night at around 3am. Some restaurants stay open to cater for those leaving the disco.

If you want something a little more risqué the area around Westport, where Burke and Hare carried out their murders, is walking distance from the Grassmarket has lap dancing bars and there are possibilities in Lothian Road.

Museums, the Culture and tours
You have children, you want to keep them amused. Try the National Museum of Scotland in Chambers St. ( once again on the 35 Bus route, like the castle nearby) or walk down the Royal Mile and stop at the Museum of Childhood and think “I used to have one of those”.

If you don't have children you can visitsome of the other museums in the Royal Mile as you walk down from the Castle towards Holyrood Palace and Arthur's seat, passing John Knox's house on the way. This is the old town and people still live here. You may want to visit the Cathedral in the High Street and consider coming back for some of the Ghost and Cultural tours advertised there.

In Princes St on the Mound lovers of paintings can visit the National Gallery. Further out is Ocean Terminal and the Royal Yacht Britannia, with Dobbie's Butterfly house to the south and the Zoo to the west. Nearby is the Museum on the Mound which opened in 2006 and has exhibits and talks on Money, technology, crime security and lots more.

If you don't want to walk far take a hop on hop off bus tour. It goes most of the places you want to go and you get a guide. If you really want a cheaper alternative read up on Edinburgh and buy a one day bus pass. The only problem with the bus is that sometimes things you want to see flash past too quickly.

A little research will help you make best use of your time in Edinburgh. If you like Museums or need to keep the children amused there is plenty of choice. If you want to take a walking tour with a guide there are plenty of options. There are some good real ale pubs around and if your flight is early you may want to consider going straight from a disco to the airport.

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