A magical weekend in Edinburgh

Tags: Edinburgh,Scotland,intern,harry potter,Arthur's Seat,royal mile

By WSA intern Regina Ekaputri

Use the code Irishabroad10 for €10 off your own WSA Edinburgh Adventure

I think that Edinburgh has officially become one of my favorite cities. It has the great mix of old and new, and that special Scottish charm that you could feel as soon as you get off he train at Waverley and walk out of the station. As I walked down Princes street by the Scott monument that fine Saturday morning, I felt like the city welcomed me as a man wearing kilt and played his bagpipe by the street. One main reason why I love Edinburgh, however, is that there are plenty of things you could do for free (or for a price that doesn’t make you want to cry or cringe a wee bit). Here they are:

Stroll along the Royal Mile

I genuinely think that this is something that has to go on the top of everyone’s list when they visit Edinburgh for the first time. I’d suggest you to just walk down the mile and soak in the architecture of the buildings, perhaps taking a peek into the various shops along the street. You should also wander into the small but touristy Royal Mile Market (which used to be a church), check out the Old Parliament building and hopefully watch some barristers/lawyers in between their cases, and go to the beautiful St Giles Cathedral. While in St Giles, make sure to peek into the Thistle Chapel, a chapel for the highest order of knights in Scotland! As you walk along the street, take as long as you want—get a feel of the old town of Edinburgh!

The Greyfriars Cemetery

You’re probably wondering if I’m crazy. Yes, I’m suggesting you to explore this cemetery. This one is special because of the famous dog Greyfriars Bobby that used to guard the grave with his owner John Gray. After Gray died, he was buried at this cemetery—and Bobby, being a loyal dog, sat by his master’s grave. Check out a statue of Greyfriars Bobby outside the grave (don’t rub his nose—you won’t get anything out of it, and the locals will roll their eyes at you!)

Another reason this cemetery is so popular is that JK Rowling reportedly used to walk around this cemetery and used some names from the tombs in her books. If you’re a Harry Potter fan, wander around and look for the tombs of William McGonagall and Thomas Riddell!

The National Museum of Scotland

Don’t you just love free museums!? This is such a great museum, with exhibits ranging from fashion from different periods, the history of Scotland, development of science and industry, to animal dioramas. A warning, though, it’s a huge museum. So you might originally plan to be there for one or two hours, but end up spending way more than that! A little secret that a lot of people miss out: check out the roof top garden at the newer wing of the museum! It has a great view of the city.

National Galleries of Scotland

I’m a museum lover, can you tell? But I promise you, these ones are worth it to check out, if you enjoy art museums. There are different galleries located in different parts of the city, and they’re all free! The National Gallery is on Princes street—probably the easiest one to find. It’s not too big, and it has a nice collection of art! Definitely a nice place to go especially if the weather isn’t cooperating. There’s also the National Portrait Gallery which is by the bus station, and the Modern Art Gallery (there are two of them, across the street from one another!). The Modern Art Gallery is on the west side of the city, and it has a cool “land-art” outside—basically a man-made hilly area that you can walk on—and some other temporary exhibitions.

Get a better view of the city: Calton Hill and/or Arthur’s Seat

Your visit to Edinburgh is not complete without going to either of these two and seeing the entire city (I personally think you should do both, but if you have a time constraint I guess you should pick one). Here’s a bit of details on the two spots:

Just off Princes street and Waterloo Place, Calton Hill is a great place to enjoy the sunset and get beautiful pictures of Edinburgh! There are a couple different monuments on the top of the hill, which makes it even more scenic.

If you have the time, and the weather is not too terrible, you should definitely climb Arthur’s Seat. This hill—or mountain, as Google describes it—is next to the Holyrood park (which is also worth exploring), and it may look quite daunting from afar, but the view from the top is just so breathtaking you’ll thank yourself—or your friend who persuaded and perhaps forced you to—that you climbed it.

Explore the Edinburgh University buildings

This university is more than 400 years old, and the architecture of the buildings is just gorgeous. Check out their Student Union building and have an affordable but yummy lunch, and also their library bar!

Farmers’ market at Grassmarket

If you happen to be in Edinburgh on a Saturday, go to this area called Grassmarket, and browse through the stalls at the farmers’ market. It’s a small but very vibrant market, with lots of variety of stalls. Get some artsy souvenirs, fresh fruits, tasty treats, or cheap and delicious meals while you’re there!

Other things to do—they’re not free, but worth going!

Edinburgh Castle (£16.50)

Holyrood palace (£11.40 for students)

Scott Monument (£5 to climb up and get a view of the Old Town of Edinburgh)

Scotch Whisky Experience (£13 for students, for the “silver tour”—includes tasting of one dram of whisky of your choice!)

Mary’s Milk Bar (really good ice cream at Grassmarket)

“Oink” on Victoria Street (try out a Scottish hog roast sandwich—I dare you to have some haggis stuffing with your sandwich!)

Snax Café on New Town for some hearty Scottish breakfast

Elephant House café (this is where JK Rowling wrote a big chunk of the 2nd and 3rd Harry Potter books. Check out their bathroom. I won’t tell you anything more about it, you’ll have to just trust me and do it!)


Mallory Dirks, Simpson College

Happy Backpackers

I chose to do this rather than book my own trip in Rome - I wanted to experience one organized/sight-seeing trip rather than a relaxing vacation like many of my others had been. Two friends and I signed up for WSA Rome and don't regret a thing. We met wonderful people, were led by an awesome tour guide Rhianne, and got to see everything I wanted to see in Rome. Plus eat all the best food. There is an optional dinner on the last night that we didn't do right away, but we ended up going to it, and it was SO worth the 20 euro. I made memories and friends, and got to see a beautiful, historic city thanks to WSA!!

Mallory Dirks, Simpson College ~ University of Roehampton, London, Fall 2015

Read more Reviews

Spots are limited!

We keep our groups small, so save your spot now! Check out our Tripadvisor, App Store & Facebook travel love below.

Multi-City Adventures:

Andy Steves' Europe

Check out Andy Steves' Europe: City Hopping on a Budget!

Pick a city and go! All new budget guidebook from Andy Steves, Founder and Chief Backpacker of WSA.