- Ever since I’ve been born, I’ve always enjoyed sleeping. So when I had to peel myself from my bed at 5.25am the day I was going to Edinburgh, I was far from happy. I expressed my displeasure to my flatmate who obligingly dropped me to the airport at this ghastly hour. Listening to me moan, he told me to wake up (no pun intended) as I was going to one of the most beautiful cities in the world to find out what makes it so popular with backpackers of late. I took his advice and put a stop to my complaining straight away.
My main objective during my stay in the Scottish capital was to see what it had to offer a traveller on a very tight budget. Since my year backpacking in Australia I had acquired a certain knack for hunting out bargains and no matter how long it took to sniff them out, I would find them.
What is there to see?
Sightseeing has always been a strange experience for me. On previous breaks away I’ve somehow managed to leave without catching glimpse of some of the city’s best-known landmarks. The Blue Mountains just outside Sydney and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam are two which spring to mind. I was adamant that no main attraction would pass me by in Edinburgh.
Finding a museum that imposes an admission price for tourists ravenous for culture is quite a feat in Edinburgh. They are all, literally, free. Some manage to maintain your attention longer than others, while in some cases I found myself sauntering in and out of them within a matter of minutes.
Many of them are located along the Royal Mile. Starting my journey at the top of this and slowly descending down, the Writers Museum (Lady Stairs Close, Lawnmarket, Royal Mile) turned out to the first museum I encountered. Documenting the lives and times of Scotland’s most celebrated writers, my short visit here was somewhat marred by a rather intimidating conversation that was taking place with the receptionist and the security guard who seemed as interested in keeping an eye out for criminals as I was in staying there. Even though I was glad to learn more about Robert Louis Stephenson and other Scottish writers, my visit here was a hapless one.
Slowly making my way towards the bottom, I found myself paying very brief visits to some other free museums. The Museum of Childhood (42 High Street, Royal Mile) says it is devoted to the history of childhood but felt more like a toy shop from yesteryear and, while the Museum of Edinburgh (142 Canongate, Royal Mile) is a rather dull museum, but worth a look if you are biding your time.
Make your way off the Royal Mile and you will find some of Edinburgh’s other museums neatly tucked away. The Royal Museum and the Museum of Scotland on Chambers Street between them have amassed an astounding number of artefacts, both from Scotland and abroad. While I don’t want to be ignorant, my favourite part of visiting these museums (there are various walkways between both) was when I climbed the outside staircase to the roof of the latter. Views from atop are breathtaking.
None of Edinburgh’s galleries have admission fees either. National Gallery (The Mound, pictured right), the National Gallery of Modern Art (75 Belford Road), the National Portrait Gallery (1 Queen Street) and many others are all free. Conveniently, a free bus service operates between the NGoMA, the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery every 45 minutes, which is extremely useful.
Not every attraction is free in the Scottish capital, however and Edinburgh’s main tourist attraction, Edinburgh Castle (Castle Rock, top of Royal Mile), imposes an admission fee of £9.50. Holding the proud title of ‘Scotland’s most visited tourist attraction’, you can see why it costs so much just to go through the gates. But it doesn’t take you long to realise it’s worth it. What makes it unmissable? Well there’s the Scottish Crown Jewels, the Scottish National War Memorial for a start, while the old vaults are also fascinating. The Palace of Holyroodhouse which sits proudly at the bottom of the Royal Mile is another of the city’s top attractions with an admission price (£8) but as I figured it would just want me to be richer than I am, I decided to dedicate my time to other activities.
Food on the go
I was pleasantly surprised at how much food you can get for your hard earned pounds and pennies in the Scottish capital. Close to where I was staying on Johnston Terrace I stumbled across Elephant’s Sufficiency, (Johnston Terrace) a chain of cafés with many branches all over Edinburgh. Walking to my hostel on the first morning an ad stuck up in its window stating ‘Ham/bacon rolls £1.20’ caught my eye. It was my fist stop leaving the hostel half an hour later. If ‘food on the go’ isn’t your style, and a table a chair is a necessity when enjoying your breakfast, Fresco’s (233 Canongate) adequate and very tasty all-day breakfast is a snip at a mere £2.60.
Lunch in Edinburgh is just as cheap, once you know where to go of course. They took a while to uncover, but those extra ten minutes scouring the side streets were kindly rewarded. The Last Drop (74-78 Grassmarket) in Grassmarket very kindly slashes all £4.95 main courses to £2.95 for backpackers who have their hostel card/key to prove they are travelling independently. When you mightn’t want a full meal, and a panini tickles your fancy, get your feet moving towards Brass Monkey on Drummond Street – they cost an astoundingly cheap £1.50 once you wash it down with one of their beverages. And if your stomach starts making requests and you are nearer Princes Street, Snax (15 West Register St) is difficult to find but worth locating due to cheeseburger and chips for £2.20 and ham and cheese toasties for £1.60.
What startled me most about dining in Edinburgh was that, as commercial driven as the Royal Mile is, many of the pubs on this tourist driven street plate Scotland’s national dish haggis, along with ‘tatties and neeps’ (turnip and potatoes) for no more than a fiver. Try out The Royal Mile Tavern (127 High Street) and The World’s End (4 High Street, pictured right) both located towards the top.
Love Shack Baby!
Naturally, I didn’t leave the British Isles’ most northern capital without downing a beer or two. Even though I was on a budget as tight as my trousers after a generous helping of haggis and some sticky toffee pudding (I couldn’t help it), I managed to become tipsy during my stay – once a bit too much as I ended up belting out an alternative version of the B-52’s ‘Love Shack’. This city is a dream come true for those trying to manage their funds when it comes to socialising. Due to the expanding student population, practically every pub in the city holds drinks promotions of some sort during the week.
The Globe (8 Niddry Street, just off Royal Mile), the pub fortunate enough to witness my performance, seems to be one extremely popular with backpackers. Most accents I could catch traces of under the blaring music seemed to be those belonging to Aussies, Kiwis and South Africans. While I didn’t get to visit too many other bars, they assured me that Rush Bar (3 Robertson's Close, Cowgate) is another favourite with travellers due to the aptly named daily ‘Rush Hour’ from 4-8pm when all pints are £1.75.
The fondest memory I have of Edinburgh isn’t the lack of admission prices on most attractions, it isn’t the panini I munched for £1.50 and it certainly isn’t my boozy rendition of a 1990s B-52s hit – it’s the people. From the timid shopkeeper who couldn’t give me directions due to a bit of a hangover, to the tourist guide in Edinburgh Castle’s Scottish National War Memorial who practically gave me a personal tour for half an hour, everybody I encountered in this charming city made me feel welcome. Even the security guard at the Palace of Holyroodhouse who told me I couldn’t gain entry for one minute just to take a picture did so in a polite manner. They simply enhanced what was already a priceless couple of days. Would it surprise you if I said I was already planning my next journey?
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