By Penelope Bielckus (The Flyaway Girl)
EasyJet announced that they were launching a route from Gibraltar to Edinburgh, providing the first direct route from Scotland to the Rock. This is ideal for jetting off to Edinburgh for a city break or as a starting point for a longer trip, hitting up places like the Highlands or the Isle of Skye.
With two departures weekly, the Gibraltar – Edinburgh route launches on the 31st March with the first flight heading to the Scottish capital at 16:00. Flight prices start at £15.99 and depart on Tuesdays and Saturdays. This schedule makes it perfect for a long weekend break as you can fly out on a Saturday and come back on the Tuesday, giving you two full days to explore Edinburgh.
Prices at the time of writing this for return tickets start at around £64 per person in April (Tuesday to Tuesday) and £64 in May (Tuesday to Tuesday) or £84 for a long weekend (Saturday to Tuesday). To find the best prices, head to easyJet.com and use their ‘3 week view’ to see the lowest fares in a three-week period.
As with all other easyJet fares, these prices are for standard tickets that include one item of cabin baggage only and randomly allocated seats. To add extra luggage or to select seats, these start at £5.99 one way (for standard seats with no extras) and from £18.99 each way for Up Front or Extra Legroom, which include a second small cabin bag, use of a dedicated bag drop and speedy boarding. Hold luggage for this route starts at £20.11 for a 15kg bag (per flight, remember to select it for both flights for a return flight).
THINGS TO DO IN EDINBURGH
Choosing flights is generally the boring part (unless you’re a bit of an aviation geek like me) so let’s get into the juicy details of what you can actually do in Edinburgh!
Edinburgh is an ideal city whether you are looking for nightlife, architecture, museums, nature or festivals. A short city break is the perfect amount of time for an introduction to Edinburgh with two full days to check out the sights in one of the UK’s prettiest cities.
Edinburgh Castle is probably one of the most iconic places in Edinburgh and is a great place to visit while you’re there. I visited the castle, Arthur’s Seat, St Giles’ Cathedral and the Camera Obscura on my first ever visit and it was the perfect selection of Edinburgh’s tourist highlights. Edinburgh Castle is home to a variety of exhibitions as well as artefacts like the Scottish Crown Jewels. You can also see the firing of the ‘One O’Clock Gun’ – this tradition dates back to 1861 and ships docked in the Firth of Forth would set their maritime clocks by the firing of the gun. The firing of the gun now happens every day (at 13:00, as you probably already guessed) except Sundays, Good Friday and Christmas Day.
Tickets: Adults £19.50 (£17.50 online), concessions £16 (£14 online), children 5-15 £11.50 (£10.50 online) and under 5s go free.
All tickets also include an optional guided tour that last 30 minutes.
It is one of the streets that is thought to have inspired Diagon Alley.
St Giles’ Cathedral is known as the High Kirk of Edinburgh as is a parish church of the Church of Scotland. The cathedral dates back to the 12th century and is located on the Royal Mile, a mile-long route that forms the main thoroughfare of the Old Town of Edinburgh and connects Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace. The distinctive crown steeple of St Giles’ Cathedral is one of Edinburgh’s most recognisable landmarks. Entry to the cathedral is free, although a £5 donation is recommended and goes towards the upkeep of the building. 30-minute guided tours of the cathedral are also free.
Guided tours of the cathedral: 10:30 and 14:30 Mondays-Saturdays, Sundays 14:30.
Guided rooftop tours: £6 per person, maximum 4 people.
The Camera Obscura is an awesome place to visit for adults and kids alike. This interactive museum and ‘World of Illusions’ dates back to 1827 and has been at its current location since 1851. The museum nowadays has puzzles, mazes and lots about optical illusions, as well as still having the original Camera Obscura on the top floor. The Camera Obscura projects a ‘virtual tour’ of the city and the rooftop of the museum provides excellent views over the city.
Ticket prices: Adults £16.50, students £14.50, senior (65+) £14.50, children 5-15 £12.50, children under 5 free. Tickets can be purchased from the admission desk and are not available online currently.
If you’re looking to learn more about Scottish whisky (or simply want to sample some), the Scotch Whisky Experience opposite the Camera Obscura is well worth a visit. Tours start at £17 for a one-hour tour and tasting while a tutored tasting of single malt whiskies matched with Scottish food starts at £39.
At the end of the Royal Mile you will find the Palace of Holyroodhouse, also known as Holyrood Palace. This is the Queen’s official residence in Scotland and is a must visit if it is open during your visit (check online to see whether it is open to the public – it’s used by the Queen when she has official engagements in Scotland and has planned closures in April, May, June and July 2020).
Ticket prices: Adults £16.50, students and seniors (60+) £14.90, under 17s £9.50, under 5-year-olds go free.
Another spot to visit along the Royal Mile is the Grassmarket, a historic market place that is now home to lots of independent shops. The Vennel Steps lead from Lauriston Place (where you will find George Heriot’s School, a possible inspiration for JK Rowling’s Hogwarts!) and this spot is a perfect location for photos of the castle.
If you’re a Harry Potter fan then Greyfriars Kirkyard, Victoria Street and The Elephant Cafe should be on your Edinburgh bucket list. Greyfriars Kirkyard is a church and graveyard with graves dating back to the 16th century. If you’re a Potter fan, you might notice some familiar names and surnames such as ‘Thomas Riddell’ (Tom Riddle), William McGonagall and Elizabeth Moodie. JK Rowling has stated that she used to sometimes wander around the cemetery and it inspired her with some of the names for her characters!
Victoria Street is a wonderfully colourful, curved street in Edinburgh’s Old Town that ends at the Grassmarket. It is one of the streets that is thought to have inspired Diagon Alley and you can find excellent restaurants here as well as the official Harry Potter store, Museum Context. There is also another Harry Potter themed store called The Boy Wizard if one shop isn’t enough for you!
The Elephant Cafe is known as the location where JK Rowling would write Harry Potter as she loved the view of Edinburgh Castle from this cafe. Pop in for a tea or a slice of cake and imagine her being inspired by the views from here.
Even if you’re not a Harry Potter fan then this area has places of interest. Greyfriars Bobby is a statue of a dog just opposite Greyfriars Kirkyard. Bobby was a Skye Terrier who was often seen with his master John Gray, who was a night watchman for the Edinburgh Police Force. Sadly, John died of tuberculosis in 1858 and was buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard. Bobby kept watch over his master’s grave every single day for 14 years until he died in 1872. The President of the Ladies Committee of the RSPCA was so touched by the story of the faithful dog that she asked the City Council for permission to erect a statue to him!
For anyone who wants to be active then climbing Arthur’s Seat is a must. Arthur’s Seat is actually part of the 640-acre Holyrood Park but is completely free to climb. The 251-metre peak is an extinct volcano and offers excellent views over Edinburgh. Allow around two hours for the walk there and back doing the ‘red route’, the most popular route up to Arthur’s Seat from Queen’s Drive.
Calton Hill is another excellent spot for views over the city and is also the location of the National Monument of Scotland as well as many other monuments such as one to Robert Burns, one to philosopher Dugald Stewart and one to Admiral Horatio Nelson.
To get to Calton Hill you can walk from the east end of Princes Street, Edinburgh’s main shopping street. Don’t miss visiting Princes Street Gardens, two adjacent public parks separated by The Mound where you can find the National Gallery of Scotland (national art gallery with free admission). The best spot is, in my opinion, at the Ross Fountain as you get beautiful views of this cast iron fountain painted in turquoise and gold as well as Edinburgh Castle in the background.
Princes Street is also the location of the Scott Monument, dedicated to Sir Walter Scott, the second largest monument to a writer in the world! This Victorian Gothic monument is over 200 feet high and you can climb the 287 steps for beautiful views over the city.
Tickets: Adults £8, concessions (students, seniors, and children) £6
Aside from these classic spots in Edinburgh, I also have some favourite places that are somewhat ‘hidden gems’ in the city. They won’t be on most tourist itineraries but they are well worth a visit if you have the time.
Dean Village is a former village just outside of Edinburgh and was the location of a grain milling area for over 800 years. It is now within the city of Edinburgh and only a 10-15 minute walk from the city centre. It’s a wonderful tranquil area that is the perfect escape from the city and it makes you feel like you’re far away from a big city rather than still in it!
The Royal Botanic Garden is a must visit if you enjoy exploring gardens and learning more about different place species. The Botanic Gardens are mostly free to visit, although my favourite places are the ten Glasshouses which do have a fee for entry. They are well worth it though as they are both amazing works of architecture as well as housing exotic plants from around the world.
Tickets: Free for the main gardens; Adults £7, seniors £6 and under 15s are free for entry to the Glasshouses
On your way to the Royal Botanic Gardens, don’t miss stopping by the beautiful Circus Lane. This beautiful cobbled street is one of Edinburgh’s most Instagrammable locations but is worth a wander whether you are an Instagram fan or not. The mews (former row or courtyard of stable-houses) are covered with ivy and flowers and are a lovely historic spot in the area of Stockbridge.
Finally, for those who love a good bookshop, make sure to stop by Armchair Books. This cosy second-hand bookshop is located just off Grassmarket and is the perfect place to hide out if you get a spot of bad weather (or just want to escape into book heaven).
This beautiful cobbled street is one of Edinburgh’s most Instagrammable locations.
If you are flying in on Saturday and out on Thursday, then I would recommend an itinerary such as:
Arrive at Edinburgh airport (18:45) and head to your hotel. The Airlink 100 bus takes you directly from the airport to Prince Street or Waverley Bridge (for Edinburgh Waverley Station) in less than 30 minutes.
- St Giles Cathedral
- Victoria Street
- Camera Obscura (unless you have kids, then dedicate a full half day to here!)
- Edinburgh Castle (in time for the One o’clock Gun)
- Dean Village
- Royal Botanic Garden via Circus Lane
- Palace of Holyroodhouse
- Arthur’s Seat
- Greyfriars Bobby and Greyfriars Kirkyard
- Vennel Steps and Grassmarket
- Princes Street Gardens, Ross Fountain and Scott Monument
- Visiting in the summer? Head to Calton Hill for sunset!
Head back to the airport for around 9am. Either take the Edinburgh Airport tram from Princes Street (08:20) or the Airlink 100 bus from Waverley Bridge (08:26).
Flight times are as follows:
Gibraltar – Edinburgh
Departing 16:15, arriving in Edinburgh at 18:45
Departing 16:00, arriving in Edinburgh at 18:30
Edinburgh – Gibraltar
Departing Edinburgh at 11:15, arriving in Gibraltar at 15:40
Departing 11:00, arriving back in Gibraltar at 15:25
Food & Drink
For some excellent coffee head to Gordon St Coffee (opposite Edinburgh Waverley Station) as well as Brew Lab on South College Street and Cairngorm Coffee on Frederick Street.
For proper Scottish scran (or food to you and me), Howies on Victoria Street serves delicious local fare and also has an excellent selection of whiskies.
Bow Bar on West Bow is a recreation of a one room Scottish alehouse and has a good selection of whiskies (almost 400 single malts) and Scottish beers. Oxford Bar on Young Street is best known for being featured in Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus novels and is also known as the local police force’s drinking spot.
Guildford Arms on West Register Street has a spectacular Victorian interior and has been run by the Stewart family since 1896. They serve real ale and have a great menu of Scottish delicacies as well as sandwiches and steaks. Halfway House on Fleshmarket Close is another one-room pub popular for its local food, in particular the Cullen Skink (a thick soup of smoked haddock, potatoes and onion).
Where to stay in Edinburgh
You’re very likely going to be looking for somewhere to rest your head for the night so here are some of the best hotels in the city for every budget.
The 5* Balmoral Hotel on Princes Street is best known for being where JK Rowling completed the last book of the Harry Potter series. She left a signed statement on a marble bust in her suite and the suite has been renamed the JK Rowling Suite and is priced at almost £1,000 per night! A double room starts at £624 for a 3-night stay for two people.
The 4* InterContinental Edinburgh The George starts at £480 for a 3-night stay for two including breakfast. This elegant 18th-century building is conveniently close to Edinburgh Waverley Station and Princes Street Gardens.
The Mercure Edinburgh Haymarket starts at £229 without breakfast or £300 with breakfast for a 3-night stay for two. This 4* hotel is located very close to Haymarket Station and is a short bus or train ride to the centre of the city or a 20-minute walk away.
For families, the 4* Novotel Edinburgh Centre starts at £322 for a room for two adults and two children for a 3-night stay. Its central location makes it perfect for getting out in the morning and immediately being at a spot for exploring!
For those on a budget, the Travelodge Cameron Toll starts at only £185 for a double room for three nights. This 2* hotel is a 35-minute walk from the centre or a 10-15 minute bus journey away. The centrally located hub by Premier Inn is only a few steps from Princes Street and starts at £159 for three nights in a compact standard room.
If you’re looking for a hostel vibe or just something super low cost, St Christopher’s Inn Edinburgh is the ideal place for meeting fellow travellers or simply having a budget bed to sleep in. Dorm beds start at £62 for three nights and there are also private rooms available. Drinks are cheap, food is decent and it’s a great place if you don’t mind a bit of backpacking-style travel!
Edinburgh is a wonderful city to spend a long weekend or to use as a base for exploring other nearby places in Scotland. You will be sure to make some amazing memories, whether you just want to explore the city or if you fancy setting off from Edinburgh to explore places like Aberdeen, Glasgow, the Highlands, Isle of Skye, Isle of Arran and other amazing spots in Scotland.
Important dates for 2020:
- Edinburgh ComicCon (11th – 12th April)
- Edinburgh Whisky Festival (6th June)
- Foodies Festival Edinburgh (31st July – 2nd August)
- Edinburgh International Book Festival (15th – 31st August)
- Edinburgh Military Tattoo (7th – 29th August)
- Edinburgh Fringe (7th – 31st August)
- Christmas Market at East Princes Street Gardens (November to January)
- Hogmanay (31st December)