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10 thrifty things to do in Edinburgh

By Anna Sarjeant ​- House of Travel




Here’s a joke told by a funny bloke (probably in a pub).

"In North America they say that a "True Scot" is one whose ancestors came from Scotland - but who were born in North America to save the fare."


Ah haha! ​We're sure the Scots love nothing more than a lighthearted joke to reinforce the stereotype that they’re a bunch of under-spenders (ahem)*. And with that in mind, here are ten super thrifty things to do in the city of Edinburgh.

* Not actual fact, neither confirmed nor denied.


1. Sandemans’ The Dark Side Night Walking Tour

Every night at 6.30pm

Fingers crossed you’ll get Tour Guide Greg, because he’s worth every penny of your whole ten pounds. Departing from the Tron Kirk on High Street, The Dark Side Night Tour offers a fascinating two hour insight into Edinburgh’s murderers and monsters. But let’s get back to Greg. Greg’s Scottish. And Ginger. And loud. You’ve basically hit Scottish jackpot. As you follow his spritely ginger steps from the High Street to Calton Hill, he’ll regale you with tales (some tall) from Scotland’s riveting past. From witch hunts to fallen soldiers, and corpses that were buried alive, it’s all presented with a lively display of theatrics. And all that for a mere ten quid.

HOT tip: Ten whole pounds still sound extravagant? Sandeman’s also offer a FREE walking tour, departing daily from the same place at 10am, 11am and 2pm. But tip Greg well, we like Greg.

Price: A tenna.

edinburgh

2. Discover the birthplace of Harry Potter
London might have Platform 9 and three-quarters, but Edinburgh is the bonafide birthplace of Harry Potter. A pilgrimage for all Potter-heads, it was here J.K. Rowling wrote her now infamous novels. The Elephant House Café is where she penned The Chamber of Secrets and The Prisoner of Azkaban, while her debut Potter book was first written inside another cosy café called Spoon. If you’re a wannabe Hogwartsian, you can’t miss Victoria Street. With its stony high-rise shops, narrow side lanes and cobbled road, it’s this little nugget of charm that was Rowling’s inspiration for Diagon Alley. Complete with its own AHA HA HA Jokes & Novelties store. Joke wands aplenty, but we can’t promise they’ll summon fantastic beasts and phoenix.

HOT tip: Rowling completed her last book in the Potter series at The Balmoral Hotel. Book in for a Balmoral High Tea and soak up the writer’s wisdom.

Price: Zero dollar for a stroll.

Victoria Street Edinburgh

3. Walk to Stockbridge
A pretty wee village just a ten minute walk from Princes Street, if you fancy saying "cheerio the nou" (Scottish for goodbye apparently) to the tourists, head to Stockbridge. The sleepiest little suburb you’ll stumble across, this is a place where shop bells still shrill when you open the door; where independent book shops still exist and everyone says “good morning” with a smile. The vibe is part bohemian and part well-to-do. Divide your time between the niche gift shops and renowned charity stores (they’re a big thing here – full of enticing bits and enchanting bobs). Then head to one of the inviting gastropubs for a big ale pie and an even bigger pint.

Price: Free! Until you start buying from thrift stores and/or public houses.

Edinburgh Stockbridge

4. Quentin Tarantino’s favourite hangout
Said to be Quentin Tarantino’s all-time favourite picture house, if it’s good enough for one of the world’s best directors, it’s good enough for you. Also one of the oldest cinemas in Scotland, The Cameo is the city’s best independent cinema with a penchant for art house films. At any given time you might be sitting next to Tarantino, Guy Ritchie or even Ewan McGregor – they’ve all been known to frequent this one. With the best seats in the city (they recline) and an adjoining bar serving coffee, cakes and beer, let’s hope you pull up a pew next to a famous face. We bet Tarantino’s an absolute crack-up with a pint down him.

HOT tip: You’ll find this gem on 38 Home Street.

Price: A very amicable £11 per ticket for adults.

Edinburgh Cinema

5. Enjoy a coffee at Brew Lab
Because you can’t move in the UK for a coffee chain, and they all serve a brilliantly bad latte, Brew Lab is your go-to for a decent flat white. This place is more science lab than coffee shop – and it’s certainly no chain. Titling themselves as a ‘speciality coffee bar’, you won’t find sugary sweeteners or flavoured syrups in this uber-trendy hangout. No way pal. The menu is awash with single-origin filter and artisan espresso coffees, as well as a cold brew which is “brewed overnight in pure Edinburgh water and triple-filtered for a clean, silky finish.” If you’ve ever even dared to lock lips with an instant coffee, you better descend on the Brew Lab so they can awash you of your sins. Go, go now.

HOT tip: Solo traveller? This is one of those beautiful places which favour the lonely. If you’re sipping coffee alone, you’ll be amidst the majority.

Price: Hand over a fiver and you’ll get a few quid in change.   

Coffee Machine

6. Wander up to the castle
Don’t want to spend £17 actually going into Edinburgh Castle? Well, don’t. Unless you’re a history buff or a castle-ophile, this one’s just as fun to admire from the outside. Which is basically respectful because castles weren’t built for you to actually get in. Observe from the outer rim (like a pesky Englishman from centuries prior) or climb up to the outer walls and take some stunning photography of the city. The route to and from is equally captivating; absorb the stony architecture of the infamous Royal Mile and its many narrow side streets, replete with cafes, bijou stores and more tartan than you could throw a highland stag at.  

HOT tip: The castle at night, from Princes Street, is worth buying a $1000 DSLR camera for.

Price: Free. Or one hundred quid for some quality tartan. $1000 for the camera.    

EdinburghCastle_day

​7. Picnic in the park
Okay, okay, we’re half stifling a laugh at this one. Indeed, a picnic in the park as beautiful as Princes Street Gardens would make for a wonderful afternoon. Just make sure you take a blanket. Not to sit on, but to cocoon your body from the biting Scottish chill. Potentially a ‘summer only’ activity (that’s approximately two days sometime in August) the gardens bask under the cliff on which the castle magnificently stands, with a long stretch of green lawn, multiple flowerbeds and trees so old they creak with age and wisdom. In spring, the park is flush with cherry blossom and in summer, hordes flock to the grassy knolls for lazy mornings and languid afternoons.

HOT tip: For added thriftiness, ‘splash out’ on a Sainsbury’s meal deal. You’ll get a sandwich, a drink, crisps or snack for a penny-pinching three pound.   

Price: Entry to Princes Street Gardens will cost you absolute zilch.

Princes garden Park Edinburgh

​8. Stretch your legs up to Calton Hill
Possibly one of the only few places on earth which looks just as beguiling in a cloak of wintery grey, as it does in a summer’s glow, the views from Calton Hill pay for themselves. But oh yes, that’s right, it’s free anyway. Particularly impressive come nightfall, the eye can stretch as far as the sea, while Edinburgh’s enchanting landscape, complete with church spires, clock towers and brick chimneys, erupts into a blanket of street lights and magic. As part of the city's UNESCO World Heritage Site, Calton Hill is also home to several iconic structures, including the Greek style National Monument, which was modelled upon the Parthenon and the main reason why Edinburgh’s is often dubbed "The Athens of the North.”

HOT tip: Don’t visit on your own at night. Aside from the ghouls (that Greg will tell you about) it can also be the locale for real life unsavoury types.  

Price: Totes free.

calton Hill View Edinburgh

​9. Even the cemeteries are fascinating in Edinburgh
En route to Calton Hill you’ll come across Old Calton Cemetery. Worth a look for its grand tombstones and stony mausoleums, but also step inside its mason walls for a quick gander at the statue of President Lincoln. Curious don’t you think that an American president stands so regally in a Scottish graveyard. Well, it commemorates the Scots who fought bravely during the American Civil War. But why would they do that, you ask. Ahhh well, we’ll let Greg tell you about that.

HOT tip: Combine a trip to Old Calton Cemetery with Greyfriar Cemet​ery. See below.

Price: Nada.

Calton Hill Cemetery


10.
Go to Greyfriar Cemet​ery

Like your black tourism? Us too, even more so when it’s free. Take a trip to Greyfriar Cemet​ery and you’ll find yourself in the realm of 19th century body snatchers. This was a time when British medical schools desperately needed corpses to dissect, so Edinburgh folk, with a good nose for a good scam, started to pinch the freshly buried bodies from their just-dug graves. Hence the existence of two very large iron cages known as mortsafes, which were built to keep the deceased well and truly below  ground. Unfortunately not all those who were buried were dead - as a motley crew of grave robbers were to find out one ​very dark night…

HOT tip: Don’t stick around after nightfall.

Price: Frightfully free.

Greyfriar Edinburg

Oh Edinburgh, you beauty, you. And with so much to do for such little money, in the words of an Edinburgh local, you’re “pure dead brilliant.”

Ready to don a kilt and dabble with some haggis - all for a very reasonable figure? These dollar saving UK deals will sort you right out.

 

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