Edinburgh on a shoestring budget: Free things to do, cheap hotels, food and drink and travel in Edinburgh

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From accommodation to the festivals, here’s our practical guide to making the most of Edinburgh without breaking the bank.

With its historic landmarks, stunning views, green spaces, exceptional restaurants and bars and a cultural calendar featuring epic events like the Fringe, it’s easy to see why Edinburgh has ranked as one of the best cities in the world to visit.

The Scottish Capital has much to offer year-round. It can be on the expensive side especially if you want to sample the unique hustle and bustle of the festivals visiting during peak summer months like July and August. But you don’t need to break the bank. We’ve put together a helpful guide covering things to do if you are on a budget including festivals, accommodation, food and drink and getting around.

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Inexpensive of free things to do in Edinburgh

Arthur's Seat is an extinct volcano described by Robert Louis Stevenson as "a hill for magnitude, a mountain in virtue of its bold design". Photo by Richard Baker via Getty ImagesArthur's Seat is an extinct volcano described by Robert Louis Stevenson as "a hill for magnitude, a mountain in virtue of its bold design". Photo by Richard Baker via Getty Images
Arthur's Seat is an extinct volcano described by Robert Louis Stevenson as "a hill for magnitude, a mountain in virtue of its bold design". Photo by Richard Baker via Getty Images

Don’t miss a saunter through Princes Street Gardens and you can enjoy a park in the heart of the city with beautiful trees, flowers and a water fountain right under Edinburgh castle.

It’s well worth a visit to the Royal Botanic Garden if you are looking for a real beauty haven in the city. With trees and flowers from around the world including a Chinese garden and impressive views across the city’s skyline you can get a bit of peace and quiet here. Look out for the cheeky squirrels which are very curious and often spotted eating out of people’s hands.

For some of the best panoramic views across the city take a walk up Arthur’s Seat, an extinct volcano which has different paths up to the top. Calton Hill and Blackford Hill and on outskirts city offer stunning walks and views.

Entry to top attractions like the Castle and Royal Yacht Brittania come in at nearly £20 for a single adult. You can get affordable rooftop viewing tours at landmarks like St Giles Cathedral, the National Museum of Scotland and Camera Obscura.

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Calton Hill offers spectacular views of EdinburghCalton Hill offers spectacular views of Edinburgh
Calton Hill offers spectacular views of Edinburgh

With scores of top attractions to explore sometimes it's good to escape the crowds. If you want to get off the beaten tracks, check out these hidden gems and beauty spots including Cramond Island and the Dean Village.

For shopping and souvenirs head to Victoria Street which has some of Edinburgh’s most quirky shops stocked with everything from cheese to wizard-themed merchandise. The street is said to have inspired Diagon Alley in Harry Potter.

How to enjoy Edinburgh Festivals on a budget

For three weeks in August you will see Scotland’s capital at it’s most vibrant. Edinburgh is home to the International Festival, Book Festival and the Fringe Festival which has thousands of shows from stand-up to theatre. Look out for 2 for 1 offers in the Scotsman newspaper, deals on the Fringe website and the List magazine and keep an eye out on the Fringe website. The box office sometimes has offers such as a half price hut. There's also the Free Fringe which offers a host of events.

To soak up the festival atmosphere take a wander up the Royal Mile in the city's Old Town and you will get the authentic Fringe experience – world-class street performers doing a variety of quirky acts for a contribution.

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Inexpensive Edinburgh hotels and hostels on a budget

Depending on which dates you visit prices vary but on the whole you will have to book well in advance to find a stay on the budget scale.

For a hostel in the centre of Edinburgh you can get a room around £24 a night. Check out hostelworld.com for all the options in and around the Capital.

Travelodge and Premier Inn have hotels across the city with rooms from £83 with a bit more for the city centre. In the summer months the hotels fill up with people coming for the Fringe and other festivals and prices can go up to £200 a night at budget hotels.

TripAdvisor has a helpful search tool for the cheapest hotels in Edinburgh and Booking.com can be a good site to find a budget hotel in the city centre. You can also find some deals on host sites like Airbnb.

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Hotels.com also has a range of accommodation. We found prices from £98 per night for a double room in the West end in July and August.

Inexpensive places to eat in Edinburgh

Hands down, one of the best meals you will have in Edinburgh is at the Mosque Kitchen. And you might even get change from a fiver. The restaurant on Nicolson Street is a no-frills, queue-up-with-a-tray canteen-style set-up, with plastic cutlery and plastic plates.

For a hearty, cheap breakfast head to Snax Cafe on West Register Street. At this cafe hidden in an alley behind Princes street you can decent fry up for around £5. They have good veggie and vegan options too, as well as wraps and reasonably priced rolls. Origano Cafe and Pizzeria on Leith Walk is a great sport for well-priced, classic Italian favourites pizza, pasta and antipasti.

Cheap or inexpensive ways to travel around Edinburgh on public transport

The Capital has a good bus service and it's affordable to get around the city with a Lothian Bus day ticket for £5. A family day ticket costs £10 for all-day travel for 2 adults and up to 3 children. For a trip on the city’s newly launched tram service you can get a single fare ticket for £2 and day ticket for £5. For a single fare airport and city zone ticket it’s £7.50.

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For a sightseeing tour you can get a hop-on, hop-off bus ticket for £16. The open-top, double decker buses operate all year round daily October 29 to March 31. If you’re looking to do day trips from Edinburgh, you can get trains from Edinburgh Waverley which is the main station or from Haymarket. You can compare fares on sites such as National Rail or Trainline.

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