Updated: Mar 27, 2021
Here are just a few tips on planning your trip to this small but mighty city! I have a few quick notes for you on how long to stay, when to go, how to get there, and how to get around - of course from the POV of this Plus-Sized traveler.
How Much Time Should I Spend in Edinburgh?
Edinburgh is a small but robust city with a wide variety of activities to fill any length of itinerary and to satisfy all different interests. I have spent 3 full days and up to a full week in the city, and am still left with a long list of places I want to visit, so I have much to look forward to upon my return trip.
If you can, I would suggest dedicating 3-5 full days in Edinburgh if you have additional time to visit other parts of the country. If you are only spending a week or less in Scotland as whole, you can easily do 1-2 days in Edinburgh while getting a good sense of the city. See my other post (6 Edinburgh Attractions in 2 Days or Less) for short itinerary suggestions!
What is the Peak Season?
The peak travel season is from July through September.
NOTE: The full month of August is for the Fringe Festival and the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. The city will get filled to the brim with guests and entertainers from all around the world and can be quite overwhelming if you were hoping for a more mild trip with flexibility on visiting various spots around town. Although this is global gathering with endless opportunities to absorb incredible music, art and theatrics, just keep this in mind when planning your journey to Scotland, especially in and around Edinburgh. I have not been during this time, but close friends of mine have that are much more adventurous with crowds than myself.
I have been to Scotland just outside of peak seasons allowing myself to experience a more quiet and comforting setting all at my own pace. I am not one for crowds as I tend to get anxiety around large groups of people. So, I went in October and April. Both ended up being great in terms of weather with very mild intermittent rain and lots of sunshine with cool and crisp air (around 55-65 degrees F on average). Some attractions around the country were closed off-season (not so much in the city), but very few were. I enjoyed having complete flexibility in my schedule to choose-my-own adventure as I went along.
If you do end up going during the peak seasons, then do what you can to research and create an itinerary ahead of time, and pre-book attraction tickets or make reservations to ensure that you still get to see as much as you can. Be sure to allow some buffer time between each booking and check their cancellation or re-booking policies to keep yourself informed in the case that plans change. And above everything, just expect that not all plans will go accordingly - be flexible, keep a must-do list to help prioritize, and just enjoy everything you're experiencing.
This is particularly important now amidst the global Covid19 pandemic, as many locations may still be closed or, if they are open, are needing to limit their entries to ensure proper physical distancing measures. Most that are open are allowing pre-booked time slots that you can reserve online. Make sure you take full advantage and BE WELL PREPARED. This will not only be better for you and your group having a well planned trip during these times, but will also help reduce unnecessary foot traffic to venues who are working very hard to maintain business while keeping staff, volunteers and visitors safe.
Getting Around Edinburgh - Walkability & Accessibility
What I love most is that Edinburgh is completely walkable at any pace. There are more adventurous options that can challenge even the most physically fit like hiking up Arthur's Seat, but in general, Edinburgh is very easy to get around for most abilities. There are portions of the city that can be difficult to navigate due to some cobbled roads, narrow steps, steep inclines and the stacked levels of Edinburgh. Keep in mind that it is truly a medieval town in many parts, so not everything is wheelchair accessible. However, almost all attractions within the city can be accessed by bus or cab with a good amount of their venues having wheelchair access (in many cases, the main floor is accessible with limitations to additional floors if an elevator is not available).
Be sure to visit each venue's website to learn more about their accessibility options, as well as suggestions on how to get to their location that best accommodates any mobility issues.
Getting to Edinburgh
There are a few options of getting into Edinburgh. I have arranged a private car to pick me up from Edinburgh airport to drop me off at my hotel door on Grassmarket - spendy (about $120 round trip via Travelocity), but traveling alone for the first time it was reassuring to have this kind of care so that I didn't have to figure out train schedules or cabs in a delirious state (I don't sleep on planes).
Depending on your hotel, they may offer shuttle services (courtesy or for an additional fee) to and from the airport, so be sure to check that out first if you are planning to stay at a hotel. Other private/semi-private shuttle services can be booked ranging on average of $35 per person to $120 per group (one way), with cabs ranging around $35 per trip (one way). The public bus or train are about $6-$8 per person (one way). Lyft is currently not available, however you can find Uber services as they are becoming more common than in the past few years.
On my second visit, I ended up taking the train from Aberdeen into Waverley Station Edinburgh, then I took a cab since it was late at night from the station to my apartment in Grassmarket. If I had arrived in the daytime, I would have just walked to my apartment (bags and all) since it is so easily walkable.
Waverley Station is at the center of Edinburgh. You can easily get to almost any destination within the city by walking from the station. There are always lines of cabs waiting for hire just outside the station with very reasonable cab fairs, as well as Uber pick-ups. Buses can also be accessed from the station at Waverley Bridge. This also includes tour buses, shuttles and other transport options for getting around within the city and beyond. If you do plan a day trip outside the city on a group tour bus, it will most likely have you meet the bus at Waverley Bridge for departure. There are several shopping, dining and ATM options at the station market, so this location is very convenient for a variety of needs throughout your trip.
If you are looking for the most economical and easiest of options, I suggest just taking the train into the city center. By public transit, it takes about 30-35 minutes to get into Edinburgh city center from the airport, by cab/Uber it will take about 20-35 minutes all depending on time, traffic, season, events in the area, etc.
Should I Rent A Car?
Edinburgh is extremely limited for parking around the city. The city is very old, so underground parking or parking garages are few and far between. Unless your hotel or other accommodations provide a designated parking option, I HIGHLY DO NOT RECOMMEND renting a car to then take down to Edinburgh city. I suggest planning it so that you either start or end your trip in Edinburgh. Pick up your car after you're done with visiting the city, or drop off the car before heading there. You will definitely not need a vehicle while in the city at all.
Other Tips & Resources
In today's age, we have limitless access to content in many forms to get us information and tools for navigating the world and all its gems. Here are a few of my favorites that helped me prepare for my trips into Edinburgh.
Rick Steeves: I absolutely love his mini travel books and guides, as well as his Travel with Rick Steves series. Watch his Edinburgh episode here.
Samuel & Audrey travel Edinburgh - 20 Things to Do. Watch it here.
City Walks - Walking Tour of Edinburgh. Watch it here.
Footloose - Classic Tour of Scotland. Visit here for more details. I was able to find the episodes on Amazon Prime Video and for free using my Britbox subscription.
Edinburgh Pocket Book - I LOVED THIS BOOK. It helped a bunch while planning and going on my trip. It's packed full of info, but easy to read with good quality maps, but also small so it was easy to carry around. Find it on Amazon here.
Scotland Globetrotter Travel Guide - I also used this book a bunch to not only help with my travels into Edinburgh, but also the entire planning of my trip across Scotland. It's small and easy to travel with and well laid out with easy to read maps. Find it on Amazon here.
Some of my favorite blogs:
Best of luck! Shoot me an email to let me know how you liked Edinburgh, or if you have additional tips or memories to share with others drop a comment!