The Ultimate Traveler’s Guide to Edinburgh on a Budget

The Ultimate Traveler's Guide to Edinburgh on a Budget

From its hauntingly beautiful castle perched atop a volcanic cliff to the energetic spirit of the Royal Mile streets, this UNESCO treasure brims with culture, history, and noticeable magic.

Our Edinburgh budget travel guide is your ticket to experience Scotland‘s awesome capital in all its glory.

Travel Costs: Detailed Breakdown

Edinburgh, Scotland’s charismatic capital, caters to all budgets. Here’s a breakdown to help you plan:

Suggested Budget per person

  • Low: $70 (think hostel bunks, picnics, and free adventures)
  • Middle: $100 (comfortable hostel rooms, pub lunches, and some attractions)
  • High: $190+ (plush hotels, fancy meals, and all the city’s treasures)

Edinburgh Travel Guide: Detailed Costs


  • Low: Hostels or budget guesthouses: $20-$38 per night
  • Middle: Mid-range hotels or B&Bs: $50-$100 per night
  • High: Luxury hotels or upscale apartments: $125+ per night

Read: Best Hostels in Edinburgh.

Public Transportation:

  • Single Metro Ticket (Edinburgh Tram): $2.30 (approx.)
  • Day Pass: $5.70 (approx.)
  • 3-Day Tourist Pass: $23 (approx.) (includes bus travel too!)

Entrance Fees:

  • Low (mostly Free): the Royal Mile,  Hiking Arthur’s Seat, Greyfriars Kirkyard (cemetery), walking tours
  • Middle: Edinburgh Castle: $27, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art: $18
  • High: The Royal Yacht Britannia $24, Camera Obscura & World of Illusions: $23.50


  • Low: Haggis rolls (a savory meaty treat): $4-$6.50
  • Middle: Mid-range pubs: $12.50-$19 for a main course
  • High: Fine dining restaurants: $38+ for a main course

Edinburgh’s Food Staple: The Scotch Pie!

  • Low: Takeaway pie from a bakery: $2.50-$3.80
  • Middle: Pie with gravy and mash in a pub: $10-$15
  • High: Gourmet pie with high-quality ingredients at a fancy restaurant: $19+


  • Low: Takeaway coffee: $1.90-$2.50
  • Middle: Cafe latte in a cozy spot: $3.10-$4.40
  • High: Fancy coffee with syrups and toppings: $5+

Beer & Wine:

  • Low: Pint of local beer in a pub: $5-$6.50
  • Middle: Glass of wine in a mid-range restaurant: $7.50-$10
  • High: Craft beer or premium wine: $10+

Exploring Edinburgh: Things to See & Do

Edinburgh isn’t your average city. From scaling a volcanic peak to delving into underground secrets, here’s how to truly experience the magic of this city:

Must Do on Your Edinburgh Trip

  1. Conquer the Royal Mile: This iconic stretch, pulsing with history, connects the mighty Edinburgh Castle to the opulent Palace of Holyroodhouse. Expect to encounter street performers, quirky shops, and architectural gems around every corner.
  2. Hike up Arthur’s Seat: Lace up your boots and conquer this extinct volcano. The reward? Breathtaking panoramic views that will leave you speechless.
  3. Unearth Secrets at Edinburgh Castle: Journey through Scotland’s rich past within this formidable fortress. Be sure to marvel at the Crown Jewels and the legendary Stone of Destiny.
  4. Descend into the Real Mary King’s Close: Embark on a thrilling guided tour through Edinburgh’s hidden underground city. Uncover chilling tales of plague, poverty, and resilience that resonate from the city’s forgotten depths.
  5. Get Cultured at the Scottish National Gallery: Immerse yourself in a world of artistic expression, from Renaissance masterpieces to contemporary works by Scottish and international artists.
  6. Explore the National Museum of Scotland (Free!): Delve into the fascinating world of Scottish history, from prehistoric times to the present day, through interactive exhibits covering everything from dinosaurs to spaceships.
  7. Seek Tranquility at the Royal Botanic Garden: Escape the urban bustle and find serenity amidst gardens, captivating greenhouses, and serene landscapes.
  8. Witness Royalty at the Palace of Holyroodhouse: Step into the official Scottish residence of the British monarch and be awestruck by its grandeur, from the state apartments to the manicured gardens.
  9. Unleash Your Inner Wizard on a Harry Potter Tour: Relive the magic of the books and movies as you explore the city’s locations that inspired J.K. Rowling’s fantastical world.
  10. Raise a Glass at a Local Distillery: Learn the art of whisky making and savor the distinct flavors of Scotland’s national drink at a traditional distillery.
  11. The Scotch Whisky Experience: Dive into the world of Scotland’s national drink! Take a guided tour, learn about the whisky-making process, and even sample a wee dram (a small measure).

Read: Fun things to do in Edinburgh.

Free things to do in Edinburgh

  1. Embrace the Old and New Towns: Get lost in the charming labyrinth of alleys and streets in Edinburgh’s historic and contrasting districts. Immerse yourself in the unique atmosphere of each and discover hidden gems along the way.
  2. Calton Hill: Hike to the top of this prominent hill and be rewarded with panoramic vistas of the city. Explore its unique monuments, like the National Monument and Nelson Monument, while soaking in the fresh air.
  3. Greyfriars Kirkyard: This historic cemetery is not just a final resting place but also a captivating historical site. Pay your respects to famous residents like Greyfriars Bobby, the loyal dog known for guarding his owner’s grave for over a decade.
  4. Free Walking Tour: Gain a local perspective on the city’s history and landmarks while learning quirky facts and discovering hidden gems. Be sure to tip your guide if you enjoyed the experience!
  5. Free Cultural Fix: Immerse yourself in Edinburgh’s beautiful cultural scene by attending one of the many free concerts, performances, or events happening throughout the year in various locations.
  6. Scott Monument: Towering over Princes Street Gardens, this Gothic masterpiece commemorates the legendary Scottish writer Sir Walter Scott. Ascend the 287 steps (or take the elevator for a small fee) to the viewing platform for unparalleled views of the city. 


  1. National Museum of Scotland (Free!): Explore Scottish history, culture, and nature through interactive exhibits without breaking the bank. This museum is a treasure trove for curious minds.
  2. Scottish National Gallery (Free!): Immerse yourself in a world of art, from the Renaissance to the 20th century, without spending a dime. Admire masterpieces by European and Scottish artists at this renowned gallery.
  3. National Portrait Gallery: Immerse yourself in Scottish history through the faces of its people. Explore a vast collection of portraits of iconic figures, from royalty and politicians to inventors and artists. 
  4. Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (Paid): Delve into the world of modern and contemporary art from around the globe. While there is an admission fee, consider checking for special discounts or free admission days.
  5. The Royal Yacht Britannia (Paid): Step aboard the former royal yacht and experience what life was like for the British royal family during their sea voyages. While an entry fee applies, consider it an investment in a unique historical experience.
  6. Camera Obscura & World of Illusions (Paid): Prepare to have your mind blown by a world of optical illusions and mind-bending experiences. This museum offers a fun and interactive experience, though an admission fee applies.
  7. Writers’ Museum (Paid): Celebrate the lives and works of Scotland’s literary giants like Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott.

Edinburgh Day Trips

Breathtaking scenery, historic castles, and quaint villages await you.

Popular Day Trips from Edinburgh:

  • The Scottish Highlands: Immerse yourself in the rugged beauty of the Highlands. Hike through dramatic landscapes, visit iconic sites like Glencoe and Loch Ness, and maybe even catch a glimpse of the elusive Nessie…
  • Stirling Castle: Journey back in time to this imposing fortress, perched atop a volcanic rock. Explore the royal apartments, marvel at the stunning views, and learn about Scotland’s rich history of battles and rebellions.
  • Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park: Escape to the picturesque landscapes of Loch Lomond, the largest lake in Britain. Hike or bike through the Trossachs National Park, take a boat trip on the loch, and discover charming villages along the way.
  • St Andrews & the Fife Coast: Explore the historic town of St Andrews, the birthplace of golf and home to a prestigious university. Stroll along the charming harbor, visit the impressive ruins of St Andrews Cathedral, and soak in the fresh sea air on the Fife Coastal Route.
  • Rosslyn Chapel & the Scottish Borders: Uncover the architectural marvel of Rosslyn Chapel, with its intricately carved stonework and mysterious legends. Explore the rolling hills and charming villages of the Scottish Borders, a region steeped in history and natural beauty.

Unique Day Trips:

  • The Kelpies: Witness these awe-inspiring 30-meter-high horse head sculptures near Falkirk. Take a boat trip through the impressive Falkirk Wheel, a rotating boat lift connecting the Forth and Clyde canals.
  • Hadrian’s Wall: Step back in time and explore the remains of this Roman frontier wall, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Hike along sections of the wall, visit Roman forts and museums, and delve into Roman history in Britain.
  • The Alnwick Castle & Gardens: Just across the border in England, explore the magnificent Alnwick Castle, featured in the Harry Potter films. Stroll through the award-winning gardens, with their water features, sculptures, and a giant poison garden (don’t worry, it’s safe to look at!).

Edinburgh Day Trips on a Budget:

  • Roslin Glen: Hike through this scenic gorge, with waterfalls, woodland paths, and historical sites like the ruins of Roslin Castle. Pack a picnic lunch and enjoy the peace and tranquility of nature.
  • South Queensferry: Take a short train ride from Edinburgh and explore this charming town on the banks of the Firth of Forth. Visit the impressive Queensferry Crossing bridge, enjoy a seafood meal at the harbor, and soak in the picturesque views.
  • Linlithgow Palace: Explore the ruins of this grand palace, the birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots. Wander through the halls and gardens, imagining the grandeur of its former glory, and learn about the palace’s fascinating history.

Where to Stay on a Budget

Edinburgh’s charm comes at a price, especially in the heart of the city. But don’t worry, Edinburgh also boasts areas where you can rest your head without emptying your pockets. 

1. Grassmarket: Where History Meets Buzz

Imagine cobbled streets lined with pubs echoing with laughter, all nestled beneath the watchful gaze of Edinburgh Castle. That’s Grassmarket, a haven for social butterflies and history buffs. Explore independent shops by day, and raise a toast to your adventures in lively pubs by night. Just be prepared for the infectious energy, especially on weekends!

2. The Meadows: Urban Oasis Awaits

Craving a green escape within the city? The Meadows beckons. This sprawling park is a haven for nature lovers and students alike. Picture frisbee-throwing youngsters, leisurely strolls amidst blooming meadows, and affordable cafes to fuel your explorations. The vibe is relaxed and youthful, perfect for those seeking a tranquil base camp for their Edinburgh adventures.

3. Leith: From Gritty Port to Trendy Hotspot

Leith’s story is one of transformation. Once a port, it’s now a haven for trendy bars, art galleries, and innovative restaurants. Wander along the waterfront, soak in the maritime charm, and discover hidden gems around every corner. Foodies and art enthusiasts will fall in love with Leith’s unique blend of history and contemporary cool.

4. Stockbridge: A Village Escape in the City

Step into a charming village nestled within the city. Stockbridge is a haven of peace with cobbled streets lined with independent shops and delis. Imagine leisurely mornings browsing quirky stores, followed by afternoon picnics in the nearby Inverleith Park. This neighborhood is perfect for families and those seeking a slower pace, all while being a short hop from the city’s main attractions. So ditch the crowded city center and embrace Stockbridge’s quaint charm!

Edinburgh Architecture
Edinburgh Alleys

Eating and Drinking: Edinburgh Travel Guide

Forget shelling out a king’s ransom for a deep-fried Mars bar (yes, they exist). Here’s your survival guide to keeping your wallet happy and your stomach full as you explore this historic city.

Water: Unlike some travel woes, Edinburgh boasts some of the tastiest tap water in the UK. Fill up your reusable bottle straight from the tap and save some serious cash (and the planet!). Pro tip: Edinburgh tap water is especially refreshing after a climb up Arthur’s Seat – you’ll thank yourself later.

Affordable Eats

  • Pub Grub: Edinburgh’s pubs are legendary for more than just their fine selection of whisky (though that’s pretty legendary too). Dive into a hearty pub lunch – think chunky steak pies (look for “steak bridies” – a local favorite) from The Sheep Heid Inn (one of the oldest pubs in the city!), golden fish and chips at The Jolly Botanist (with a side of mushy peas, of course!), or comforting bangers and mash at The Royal Oak (don’t be intimidated by the name, the prices are friendly). Pub grub is a fantastic way to experience Edinburgh’s culture and fill your belly without emptying your wallet.
  • Curry Houses: Edinburgh’s Indian “curry houses” offer a flavor explosion that won’t break the bank. Head to the Leith area for some of the best options. Try “The Elephant House” for their legendary chicken tikka masala (rumor has it J.K. Rowling sipped tea here while writing Harry Potter) or “Kweilin Restaurant” for their veggie pakoras that are lighter than air. Sample a steaming thali (a platter with various curries and accompaniments) or a piping hot biryani – your taste buds will thank you.
  • Independent Cafes: Ditch the overpriced cafes lining the Royal Mile and head for a charming, independent gem tucked away on a side street. “The Edinburgh Larder” offers a fantastic Scottish breakfast (perfect fuel for a day of exploring castles) at a reasonable price. For a lighter lunch, check out “Loudons Cafe” for their delicious soup and sandwich combos – their Cullen Skink (a creamy smoked haddock soup) is a must-try.
  • Tourist Traps? We Don’t Know Her: Food prices tend to skyrocket near major attractions like Edinburgh Castle. Wander a few streets away from the crowds and you’ll find hidden gems serving up delicious and affordable local fare. For example, skip the overpriced haggis near the castle and head to “Oink Victoria Street” for a proper Scottish hog roast in a roll – it’s messy, delicious, and a fraction of the price.

Best Markets in Edinburgh

  • Grassmarket Market: This market in the heart of the Old Town boasts a fantastic selection of street food stalls, from sizzling veggie burgers at “The Holy Cow!” to melt-in-your-mouth donuts from “Donuts at 67.” There’s something to satisfy every craving (and budget) at the Grassmarket.
  • Leith Market: A haven for foodies, Leith Market offers fresh local produce alongside tasty hot food options. Sample a “Scotch morning roll” (a breakfast sausage roll) or grab a steaming hot bridie for lunch. Don’t miss “I.J. Mellis Cheesemongers” for a selection of artisanal Scottish cheeses – perfect for a picnic in nearby Leith Walk.
  • Stockbridge Market: Nestled in a charming neighborhood, Stockbridge Market is a treasure trove of gourmet goodies and delicious ready-made meals. Grab a “Tattie Scone” (a potato scone – kind of like a giant hash brown) from “The Scottish Pantry” or a “Scotch egg” (a hard-boiled egg wrapped in sausage meat and breadcrumbs) from “Crombie’s” for a quick and tasty bite.

Affordable Eats on the Fly:

  • Scotch Pies: No trip to Scotland is complete without trying a piping hot Scotch pie. These savory pastries filled with minced meat and gravy are a classic Scottish comfort food. Head to “Gregg’s the Bakers” for a reliable and affordable option (they also have vegetarian haggis rolls for a lighter option).
  • Pasties: Similar to pies, pasties are a Cornish specialty, but they’ve found a happy home in Edinburgh. Flaky pastry filled with meat, vegetables, or cheese – perfect for a picnic in the park. Look for pasties at “The Cornish Bakery” on Cockburn Street.
  • Haggis Pakora: Fancy a fusion twist? Haggis pakora combines Scotland’s national

Grocery Gems:

  • Lidl and Aldi: These discount supermarket chains are your go-to for budget-friendly groceries. Stock up on essentials like pasta, rice, and canned goods, or grab a frozen pizza for a quick and easy dinner. Remember, both Lidl and Aldi also offer delicious and affordable bakery items, perfect for breakfast or a snack on the go.
  • Iceland: Look out for Iceland, another budget-friendly grocery chain known for its frozen food selection. From fish and chips to shepherd’s pie, you’ll find a variety of affordable and convenient options to satisfy your cravings without breaking the bank.

Bonus Tip: Many cafes and restaurants offer “early bird” or “pre-theatre” menus before the dinner rush. These menus often feature discounted prices for a selection of their regular dishes, offering a chance to experience fine dining at a fraction of the cost. So, channel your inner early bird and save some pennies!

How to Get Around Edinburgh

Buckle up, as we delve into the various options and unlock the secrets to navigating Edinburgh like a local:

Lothian Buses: 

  • Single Fares: Start at a reasonable £1.80 for adults, perfect for short trips.
  • Day Tickets (£18): Ideal for exploring the city, offering unlimited travel for 24 hours from first validation.
  • Multi-Day Passes: Consider these for extended stays. Prices vary depending on length (e.g., a 3-day pass might be around £30), but they offer incredible value for unlimited travel.
  • Lothian Buses M-Tickets App: Download this free app to buy and store tickets on your phone, skipping queues at kiosks (especially handy in Edinburgh’s sometimes unpredictable weather!).
  • Weekend Travelcards (£8+): A fantastic deal for budget weekend warriors! Valid for unlimited travel after 1 pm Friday until midnight Sunday – perfect for a packed exploration without breaking the bank.

Edinburgh Trams: 

  • Single Fares: Start at £1.80, similar to Lothian Buses, but can add up quickly for frequent trips.
  • Ideal for: Travelers with heavy luggage arriving/departing from Edinburgh Airport (tram connects directly to the city center) or those who prefer a more modern and comfortable ride.
  • Frequency: Trams run less frequently than buses, so factor in wait times when planning your journey.

Shanks’ Mare (Walking): 

  • Most Central Attractions: Clustered within walking distance, allowing you to explore the city at your own pace and soak in the historic atmosphere.
  • Hidden Gems: Wandering charming side streets can lead to unexpected discoveries and unique local shops you might miss on public transport.
  • Bonus Exercise: A great way to burn off some calories after indulging in delicious Scottish treats!


  • Haggling Not Common: Unlike some other countries, haggling taxi fares isn’t customary in Edinburgh.
  • Black Cabs: The iconic black cabs are readily available, but be prepared for a higher cost compared to buses or trams.

Edinburgh Pass: 

  • Consider Purchasing: If you plan on visiting several paid attractions, an Edinburgh Pass can be a budget-saver.
  • Free Public Transportation: These passes often include unlimited public transportation for a set period (e.g., 24, 48, or 72 hours), saving you money on both sightseeing and getting around.
  • Compare Prices: Do some research to see if the cost of the pass outweighs the individual entrance fees for the attractions you plan to visit.

Cheapest Way to Get To and From the Airport in Edinburgh

  • Airlink Bus: This express service whisks you from Edinburgh Airport to the city center in about 30 minutes. While the most expensive public transport option for the airport journey, it’s a convenient and direct choice, especially if you’re short on time or have heavy luggage.
  • Tram Power to the Airport: The tram line also connects the airport to the city center, offering a scenic journey and a slightly cheaper alternative to the Airlink bus.
  • Taxi or Ridesharing Apps: While the most convenient, taxis and ridesharing apps like Uber are the most expensive options for getting to and from the airport. Consider these options only if you have heavy luggage, limited mobility, or arrive outside tram and bus operating hours.

Best Time to Visit Edinburgh

High Season (June – August):

  • Pros: Pleasant weather, longer daylight hours and festivals like the Edinburgh Fringe.
  • Cons: Crowded attractions, higher accommodation prices, potential for unpredictable weather.

Shoulder Season (April – May & September – October):

  • Pros: Fewer crowds, comfortable temperatures, lower accommodation prices compared to peak season.
  • Cons: Weather can be unpredictable, and some attractions may have shorter hours.

Low Season (November – March):

  • Pros: Lowest accommodation prices, smaller crowds, unique winter experiences like Christmas markets.
  • Cons: Shorter daylight hours, colder temperatures, potential for rain and wind.

Things to Consider

  • Holidays: Prices tend to rise during public holidays like New Year’s Day, Easter weekend, and bank holidays.
  • Festivals: Major festivals like the Edinburgh Fringe (August), Hogmanay (New Year’s celebrations), and the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo (August) can significantly increase accommodation costs and crowd levels.
  • Weather: While Edinburgh experiences mild winters, temperatures can drop significantly during the low season. Be prepared for rain and wind throughout the year.

National Holidays & Peak Festivals

  • January 1st: New Year’s Day (public holiday)
  • Late January: Burns Night (celebration of Scottish poet Robert Burns)
  • April/May (variable): Easter weekend (public holidays)
  • May-June: Beltane Fire Festival (ancient Celtic celebration)
  • August: Edinburgh Fringe (largest arts festival in the world)
  • August: Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo (international military music festival)
  • October 31st: Halloween
  • December: Christmas (public holidays)
  • December 31st: Hogmanay (Scottish New Year’s celebrations)

Essentials, Money & Safety Tips

Here’s your ultimate guide to staying safe and prepared for your Edinburgh odyssey:

Essential Edinburgh Arsenal

  • Travel Adaptor: If you’re coming from outside the UK, pack a travel adaptor with a three square prongs to charge your electronic devices. The UK uses a different plug system than the standard US two-pronged plug.
  • Scottish Pound Cash: While credit cards are widely accepted, it’s always handy to have some Scottish pound cash on hand for smaller purchases at independent shops, local markets, or for bus tickets.

Safety Tips

  • Be Mindful of Your Belongings: While Edinburgh is generally safe, petty theft can occur in crowded areas like the Royal Mile, Princes Street, and public transportation. Keep an eye on your belongings, especially your backpack and purse, and avoid using your phone excessively in crowded areas.
  • Stick to Well-Lit Areas: Like any city, Edinburgh has areas that are best avoided, especially at night. Stick to well-lit and populated areas, especially when exploring after dark. If you find yourself in a less familiar area, trust your gut and don’t hesitate to take a taxi or use a ridesharing app.

Common Scams

  • The “Helpful Local”: Be wary of overly friendly strangers who offer unsolicited help or local knowledge, especially around tourist hotspots like the Grassmarket or the Royal Mile. They might be trying to distract you while an accomplice picks your pockets. Politely decline their help and keep your belongings close.
  • Fake Petitions: You might encounter individuals approaching you with seemingly legitimate petitions or charity drives, particularly near tourist attractions. While some might be genuine, it’s always best to politely decline and donate to reputable organizations directly.

Etiquette Essentials

  • Respect Local Customs: When visiting historical sites, like St Giles’ Cathedral or Greyfriars Kirkyard, dress modestly and be mindful of your volume. Remember, you’re a guest in someone’s home, so respect local customs and traditions.
  • Mind the Queues: Edinburgh is a popular tourist destination, so expect queues at popular attractions like Edinburgh Castle or the National Museum of Scotland. Be patient, polite, and respect your fellow queue-dwellers.
  • Public Transport Etiquette: Give up your seat for those who need it most, like the elderly, pregnant women, or people with disabilities, on buses and trams. Avoid eating strong-smelling food on public transportation and be mindful of your noise levels.
  • Leave No Trace: When exploring Edinburgh’s beautiful green spaces like Princes Street Gardens the Meadows, or historical sites, be mindful of the environment. Dispose of your litter responsibly and leave no trace behind.

Edinburgh Passes

  • The Edinburgh Pass: This handy pass grants you free entry to over 60 attractions, including Edinburgh Castle, the Royal Yacht Britannia, and various museums and galleries. It also offers unlimited travel on buses and trams for the duration of your pass (1, 2, or 3 days). Ideal for sightseeing enthusiasts who want to maximize their experiences.
  • The Royal Edinburgh Ticket: This pass combines entry to the Edinburgh Castle, the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the Royal Yacht Britannia, and a hop-on, hop-off sightseeing bus tour. Perfect for those who want to explore the city’s royal residences and enjoy panoramic views.

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