[Updated in September 2017 & again in August 2018]
Sights: My main reason for visiting Edinburgh is the festivals and, in particular, the fringe. There are over 3,000 shows and I manage 25-30 shows in a week . It’s very hard to make recommendations but there should be something to suit every taste – and a poor selection or two is part of the experience. For theatre, places that I find dependable are the shows at Summerhall and the Traverse theatres. There are some excellent bits in the Free Fringe (though turn up early to make sure you get in). For comedy, the Pleasance has a lot to offer but trying to find a performance in a back room in a pub by someone (as yet) undiscovered is one of the fun challenges of a week in Edinburgh. In 2017, I found several new comics at the Mash House.
However, there are some excellent things to do outside the festival. I had a very good afternoon visiting the Scottish Parliament; there was a free, informative tour which I really enjoyed.
The National Galleries of Scotland are worth a couple of ours of your time – if only for the coffee shop overlooking the park. They have some lovely pieces by many of the greats but the section on Scottish art is particularly interesting, offering insight to this country’s identity.
And then there’s the castle. It’s expensive and full of (other) tourists but, to be honest, worth a visit if you have a free afternoon and want to get an understanding of Scotland. From the National War Museum and Memorial to the Royal Palace and Crown Jewels, I was left with a better understanding of the distinctiveness of Scottish culture and history.
Climbing Arthur’s seat is a fun if windy hour or so and worth it for the views over the city. I’ve yet to make it up Calton Hill and to the National Muesum of Scotland which will have to wait to wait for my next visit north of the border.
Travel: We travelled by train which takes you to the very centre. The airport is now connected to the centre via the tram network.
Edinburgh is hilly but all the sites are within walking distance of the centre – and most of the festival/fringe venues are within easy reach of the centre, too. Take a coat and jumper; the weather is cooler here than elsewhere in the UK and a showers can be common when rushing from theatre to theatre.
Accommodation: I’ve stayed in flats for two of my visits to Edinburgh and also in two lots of student accommodation. With a little research, good quality accommodation can be found without paying the earth. However, if you’re there in August booking a good while in advance is important – we book almost a year in advance. For me, it is better to stay south of the Old Town/station – it’s nearer to some of the key venues including Summerhall, the Pleasance Courtyard and the venues around George Square.
I’ve stayed in flats on Parkside Terrace: Flat One, Flat Two which are a little bit of a walk out but offer excellent views of Salisbury Crag. In 2018 I stayed in halls. Meadow Court is opposite Summerhall & an easy walk to some of my favourite venues. The rooms are not ensuite (1 bathroom between 4) but are a good size, comfortable & quiet. I also stayed at Salisbury Court: these are ensuite with nicely appointed kitchen but generally the rooms a bit crampt & the beds uncomfortable. In the same part of town are some university halls which are in a good location and are sufficient quality given that most of your time will be spent around the city. http://www.edinburghfirst.co.uk/for-accommodation/pollock-halls/
In 2017, I stayed more centrally, near Greyfriars Bobby and the National Museum of Scotland. An excellent location for venues and restaurants, this was a well appointed apartment. The only downside was that its proximity to venues (and thin windows) made it a little noisier.
There are other private halls available and it is worth checking out the latest apartments available on booking.com: http://www.booking.com/searchresults.html?city=-2595386&nflt=ht_id%253D201&aid=1222377&no_rooms=1&group_adults=2&room1=A%2CA
Food & Drink: There are food and drink stalls at nearly every venue; they’re not always great quality but fill gaps between shows. The food at Summerhall was a little more artisan and better quality. We’ve had to remember to schedule time for proper meals in between shows and here is a list of places (in ascending price order) which we’ve enjoyed:
- For something cheap and delicious, try the Mosque Kitchen (31-33 Nicholson Square). Delicious curries are served on disposable plates for bargain prices, eatern at long, communal tables; the place is, rightly, a bit of an Edinburgh institution.
- For a quick bagel to cure a hangover or a snack lunch between shows, the Elephants & Bagels (37 Marshall Street) is quirky and tasty.
- Pizza Posto (16 Nicholson Street) has a small but tasty selection of pizzas and beers.
- For a good value meal, Bar Napoli (75 Hanover Street) is a non-chain Italian which does classic dishes well.
- Fresh, Scottish mussels and other fish dishes make a nice light lunch at The Mussel Inn (61-65 Rose Street) which fits between shows.
- If near the Edinburgh International Conference Centre, the Beer Kitchen (81-83 Lothian Road) offers beer, steak and also some nice sea food.
- Mother India Cafe (3-5 Infirmary Street) offers small plates of Indian food which are tasty and quickly served.
- We had a quality night out at Usquabae (2-4 Hope Street); the food is good but the range of Whiskies is very good – the bar man will help you find something that you like. It’s not cheap but worth the pennies.
- The Grain Store (30 Victoria Street) offers (at a price), good quality, modern Scottish food from delicious scallops to tender venison, as well as a good wine list, this makes a nice celebratory dinner location.
For somewhere to drink try St Andrews Brewing Company (formerly The Potting Shed (32-34 Potterow) has a good selection of ales (and the food looks good, too). We enjoyed the Southern Bar (22-26 South Clerk Street) for its good drinks & friendly bar staff – again, food looked ok. The Peartree (38 West Nicholson Street) is busy but has live music in the garden for those sunny afternoons.
Guide books: There is a handy city guide from Lonely Planet for Edinburgh for a first time visitor:
Podcast: There’s a good introduction to the history of the fringe movement on the History Pod: https://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/historypod/id975664177?mt=2&i=1000389764032