Budget Edinburgh: Navigating Scotland’s capital on a shoestring

Great Britain isn’t at the top of many budget travelers’ lists due to the sheer insanity of the exchange rate. Today’s dollar gets the American traveler only 0.62 pounds, and for those working on a ramen and couch-surfing budget, that unfavorable ratio can cause a great deal of hardship.

With that said, Scotland and Edinburgh are a world away from the star studded and action packed streets of London, and that inflated sex appeal down south only makes things cheaper in the sleepy north. Like one can take a dollar further in rural Arkansas against urban New York, there are plenty of ways to stretch a wayward pound sterling in Edinburgh, and here at Gadling Labs we’d like to show you just how. Let’s get started.

Getting Around
In general, downtown Edinburgh is a very walkable region. One can navigate from the high end shops on George street in New Town over the Queen’s Gardens and into Old Town in a healthy fifteen minutes, and there’s plenty to see between the two waypoints.

If need be, however, a comprehensive series of buses criss-cross the city, and it seems that there is always a stop within a stone’s throw of your downtown destination. A ride on the Lothian buses, which are the predominant carrier in the city, will cost £1.30 while a day pass with unlimited rides will only set you back £3.20. It’s also possible to get multi day passes (which include airport buses) for £25.Those same coaches reach the airport as well, though for that transit it’s best to take one of the express, blue buses right outside of the main terminal. Passage on these coaches only costs £3.50 and provides a quick, 30 minute journey from the airport into the central, Waverly Station.

There is no shortage of inexpensive eats in the city of Edinburgh, and a wide spectrum outside of simple pub fare should await any traveler keen to dine on a bit of spare pocket change.

As with the rest of the United Kingdom, fish and chip shops and shawarma stands are scattered throughout the city, many centered around late night haunts or adjacent to student areas. Here, four to six pounds can get you a healthy dose of battered cod and chips or several varieties of Middle Eastern fare, and though not an epicurean adventure you’ll get a full stomach for a reasonable price.

Earlier in the day, Hanover and Rose streets are also home to a deeper variety of inexpensive, delicious fare. One’s best bet is to plant oneself on Hanover between Queen and Thistle or on Rose between Hanover and Frederick and then spin in a circle – there’s enough selection here to cater to nearly any palette, and like the food court in any urban mall it may be useful to divide and conquer.

Particularly outstanding among the batch of Hanover restaurants are The Dogs (110 Hanover) and Amore Dogs (104 Hanover), two spots dedicated to sourcing local, organic ingredients, building classic, inexpensive dishes and positioning them in a modern, warm setting. Dishes range in price up to about £12 and the restaurants are almost always packed, so call ahead for a reservation. Seadogs (43 Rose), a sister restaurant with a seafood spin (Get it?) is also a great pick over on Rose.

Another option on Hanover street is the Urban Cafe (121 Hanover). Despite being on the lower floor of a three story building, the space is well-lit and cleanly appointed, serving a delicious array of tapas (none more than £3.50) and light fare for nothing more than £12.

In a worst case scenario, however, most pubs will be able to put together a decent meal of jacket potatoes or fish and chips. Like the Americans have perfected frozen yogurt and fast food burgers, Scots are excellent at delivering solid pub food, and short of chancing upon a high-market gastropub, one should be able to get in and out with a meal for under £10. Just stay away from the Royal Mile and Prince Street and you won’t pay too hefty of a price.

Make sure you also keep the cooking-at-home option in mind, especially if you’re staying at a vacation rental or on a couch. The farmer’s markets and local grocers provide the best venue for sourcing one’s own fare, with Edinburgh’s farmer’s market taking the award for the most picturesque market in the hemisphere.

The basic budget strategies key in any destination around the world hold well for Edinburgh. Like in Barcelona or in Los Angeles, renting an apartment can be an excellent way to conserve costs on both accommodation and dining, and both VRBO and airbnb have numerous properties available at very reasonable prices.
Beyond the obvious recommendations to rent an apartment or couchsurf your way to budget lodging, several specific facets of Edinburgh’s thrifty hotel scene are worth mention.

The city has plenty of hostel options, from Smart City Hostels (65 Cockburn) to Castle Rock (15 Johnston Terrace). Many of the hostels along the Grassmarket corridor are well-accessible to the city, and late in the evening the streets around the area liven up with backpacking folk spinning in circles and bouncing between bars. It’s not rowdy in the Khosan Road sense of things, but if you’re looking for a quiet, introspective journey, then you may want to book a single room or find another area.

In the midrange, hundreds of hotels are scattered around central Edinburgh, so there should be no shortage of options in the sub $200 range. Among Tripadvisor’s top 30 hotels in the region, 17 have rates that dip into the high $100s, while 9 can dip lower than $150.

On the “affordable luxury” end of the spectrum, make sure to check out the Hotel du Vin and Bistro (11 Bristo Place) on the edge of the old city, where luxury intersects with good design and palatable prices. At publication, rates were as low as $400, but during shoulder and low season those prices should drop.

Another great resource for budget Edinburgh lodging is through Eurocheapo’s portal. The New York-based team has an excellent cross section of inexpensive properties on their site with reviews and pictures to boot.

Finally, make sure to set up your money conversions strategy properly before heading into the United Kingdom. Money changers and local conversions are going to take a huge percentage of your transaction, so get an international fee-free card and withdraw money from the ATM to get the best rate — with the conversion so low, you need to save every penny that you can.