A Student’s Guide to Edinburgh


Megan Stoker advises students on how to make the most of a trip to Edinburgh on a student budget.

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Image by Ad Meskens

By Megan Stoker

As students, it's safe to say we don’t often have much spare cash, and when we do, we usually like to spend it on going out to bars and clubs with friends, or indulging in all of the lovely bakeries and cafes in York. However, sometimes it is nice to be able to travel. With its rich cultural history and stunning architecture, Edinburgh is immensely popular with students from across the UK for a quick weekend getaway. Moreover, Edinburgh is well connected via the Edinburgh to London King's Cross railway line, making it easily accessible from across the country. And conveniently for students here at York, York railway station is perfectly placed on this line. Travelling up only takes a couple of hours at most - yet that doesn’t mean it is a cheap ride. To make the cost more affordable, here are a few tips to reduce the price:

  • If possible, split up the journey into multiple tickets, which can help bring down the cost.
  • Book them as early as you can and do it at the station in person. The friendly staff will try to help you find the best deals.
  • Have a railcard! What’s better than getting money off any train ticket you ever buy?
  • Additionally, to save more money whilst travelling, have a sandwich, a drink and a couple of snacks packed from home instead of paying for something overpriced on the way.

When you arrive in Edinburgh, you may be tempted to head straight to all the fantastic places there are to visit, but one of the first things I like to do is check out where I am going to be staying. Whether that is to check in, put bags away or just so you can locate it again later at night. One of the cheapest ways to stay overnight is in hostels or pod hotels and there are a couple of these in well situated spots throughout the city. However, there are always the options of an Air-bnb, a regular B&B or a hotel room if you’re savvy at finding the best deals! I’ve found that with more people to share the costs of the stay, a hostel may be the most affordable option, leaving you with more money to spend elsewhere. Whilst I would feel a little weird sharing a room with complete strangers, I can’t imagine anything more fun than going with friends and taking over an entire dorm.

Once you’ve checked out your accommodation, it is now time to explore the city. The Writer’s Museum has free entry and is situated in Lady Stair’s house on the Royal Mile. Exploring three prominent Scottish authors: Robert Louis Stevenson, Robert Burns and Walter Scott, there is plenty of information about their lives through the museum's displays of portraiture, personal objects (such as Burns’ writing desk) and literary works. If you’re into art, the Scottish National Portrait gallery also has free admission but booking is strongly advised as it is a popular tourist location and is in the centre of the city. Sadly due to the ongoing pandemic, the gallery has remained closed to visitors with no indication of an opening date, however with restrictions gradually being lifted, it hopefully won’t be too long before it opens its doors again.

There are lots of free places to visit, like Scott’s Monument or the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. Both are very striking places to visit – especially in the summer. From the Royal Mile, the Gardens are a 31 minute walk but despite the distance, it’s a perfect opportunity to take in the sights and explore the city on the way. And if you’re really into your views, then Arthur’s Seat is a fantastic place to trek up, taking around two hours to reach the top of the ancient volcanic summit, when you reach the top there are fantastic views of the city which make for a perfect photo opportunity. And they’re not the only free tourist attractions; there are plenty more to choose from.

If you’re looking for a tour of the city with a twist, for £14 per adult, instead of exploring Edinburgh's streets, you can descend below and into the vaults. The Underground Walking Tour in Edinburgh comes with an accompanying guide and you can purchase the tickets via your mobile through trip advisor or on the Visit Scotland website. It takes around an hour to complete. If this sounds like your thing, then the Edinburgh Dungeons should also be on your itinerary. An adult ticket is a little pricey; however, according to TripAdvisor, it has a professional theatrical cast, special effects, rides and plenty of immersive experiences. So be prepared to be spooked!

For something a bit different, situated in the Outlook Tower in the Castle Hill region of the Royal Mile, The Camera Obscura & World of Illusions is filled with interactive optical illusions. Due to COVID-19, you have to book online in order to enter, but it is fairly easy to do! Per their website, students can get in at the reduced cost when booking and bringing a student ID card as verification, which is definitely a perk!

However, you simply cannot visit Edinburgh without taking a look into the Greyfriars Kirkyard, a deeply emotive and quintessentially gothic graveyard that inspired many of the character names from the Harry Potter series. Keep your eyes peeled for the headstone of Tom Riddle. Finally, Dean’s village is all over Instagram at the moment, and truly gives off dark academia vibes. With its 19th century buildings, dramatic landscape and winding river, it truly is a great place to unwind with a coffee and a book – or just to take some pictures.

The list doesn’t stop there, there are plenty more places to visit! But when travelling student friendly, one of the best things you can do is have a budget and be wary of it throughout your trip. Whilst it's good to live spontaneously, there's also great benefits in having a few ideas about activities before travelling to places so you know what to bring. With endless places to explore and all doable on a student budget, I hope this guide is helpful to any student thinking about heading up to Edinburgh. It is a beautiful city with a rich history that would make the perfect weekend getaway after the exam season.