Edinburgh City Guide: A Guide for International Students
12 November, 2023
8 mins read
Tips and Advice
The Edinburgh city guide will provide everything you need to know about the city, especially if you’re new to it or interested in studying there. Here, you’ll find some of our top suggestions on where to go out in the city for food, coffee or tea, or even shopping, as well as some of the best sights to see. Lastly, we’ll describe student life in the city, our top picks for places to stay, and our top Edinburgh student accommodation options according to your needs.
Edinburgh is the Scottish capital and is located in its southeastern part. The city is a port city, with its biggest port being Leith, which is by the North Sea. It also has various ports on the Firth of Forth. The city’s character is often described as a charming and aesthetic city with its ports and its two Unesco heritage-listed cities, the Old Town and the New Town.
The city is also full of cultural landmarks, such as galleries, museums, historic palaces, and breathtaking abbeys. It also has amazing gardens and green spaces, of which 32 are considered the best in Scotland. The following sections of this Edinburgh city guide will discuss more aspects of the city.
Top Things to Do in Edinburgh
Edinburgh has various fun things to do, some of which will be detailed below.
Climb Up Arthur's Seat
Arthur’s Seat is a former volcanic site that provides breathtaking views of the city’s skyline. It stands 251 metres above sea level. It is located at Holyrood Park and provides views of Edinburgh and the Lothians.
Explore Edinburgh’s Museums and Galleries
The city has 13 museum and gallery venues as part of its Museums and Galleries Edinburgh. Together, these have more than 200 historical monuments and more than 220,000 historical objects. The venues themselves are a sight to see, as many are A and B-listed buildings. They also contain some of Scotland's tallest structures, which are the Scotts Monument and the Nelson Monument.
Explore the Old and New Towns
The old and new towns, as previously mentioned, are UNESCO heritage sites, with the old town being established during the mediaeval period and the new town being established between the 18th and 19th centuries with a neo-classical style.
The old town has much of Edinburgh’s castles and palaces, including the Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyrood House. It is also home to Gladstone's Land, the National Galleries of Scotland, and St. Giles Cathedral.
The New Town has various neo-classical structures, such as the Georgian house. Other landmarks include Princes Street, St. Andrew Square, Charlotte Square, and the General Register Square.
Explore Edinburgh Nature
There are plenty of outdoor activities that you can do in Edinburgh, as the city is extremely walkable and has beautiful scenery. The city’s nature is very unique, consisting of hills, parks, and green fields, as well as beautiful ports. You can go out hiking or even take a boat down the waters of Leith. The city’s parks are also worth a visit, especially the Royal Botanic Garden.
Walk the Royal Mile
The Royal Mile consists of various streets connecting two royal residences: the Castle of Edinburgh and Holyrood Palace. This walk will take you through the most culturally packed place in Edinburgh, as it contains various old buildings and is in the centre of the old town, a Unesco world heritage site.
Check out our guide on Top Things to Do in Edinburgh for more information.
Top Places to Eat and Drink in Edinburgh
Restaurants in Edinburgh
Condita - 15 Salisbury Pl., Newington, Edinburgh
Condita is one of the top restaurants in Edinburgh and is listed on the 2023 Michelin Guide. The restaurant specialises in modern cuisine. It is known for its intimate dining experience, with only six tables available.
Heron - 87, 91A Henderson St, Leith, Edinburgh
Heron is another local favourite, specialising in Scottish cuisine, most notably seafood, and is located by the waters of Leith, which gives it a beautiful waterfront view. This restaurant has an à la carte tasting menu. Some of its top dishes include scallops with blood oranges and mackerel with figs.
Fhior - 36 Broughton St, Edinburgh
Fhior is a Scandinavian-style Scottish restaurant that offers seven and ten-course menus while focusing on local ingredients and fresh produce. It is another restaurant featured in the Michelin Guide.
Noto - 47a Thistle St, Edinburgh
Noto serves Japanese food with an American twist thanks to its chef, who has lived and worked in NYC. This restaurant has been awarded the Bib Gourmand Award during the years 2021, 2022, and 2023, which is an assurance of its uniqueness and high quality. You can try out their set menus or their set lunch.
Baba - 130 George St, Edinburgh
Baba is a Middle Eastern/Levantine restaurant focusing on unique and bold flavours and small plates for sharing, ideal for dining in groups or as a couple. Its menu includes snack items, mezze, grill items, and sweets.
Cafes and Tea Rooms in Edinburgh
Fortitude - 72 Newington Rd., Newington, Edinburgh
Fortitude is one of the local favourites and has single-origin specialty coffee. What’s interesting about this coffee shop is that they have a coffee subscription. This cafe also has delicious, freshly baked items.
Union Brew Lab - 6-8 S College St, Edinburgh
Union Brew Lab is another local coffee brand that is loved among locals and is often described as trendy and innovative, with an extensive menu. Its menu includes pastries and sweets, sourdough toast, plant-based fritters, hot lunch, and many coffee and tea options. This coffee place also caters to vegans, vegetarians, and those on a gluten-free diet.
Lowdown - 40 George St, Edinburgh
Lowdown Coffee is known for its specialty coffee and light bites. This coffee shop is also known for its modern ambience as well as its modern and creative brewing methods. It also serves noteworthy baked goods.
The Dome Edinburgh - 14 George St, Edinburgh
If you want an authentic afternoon tea experience, head to the Georgian Tea Room at Dome Edinburgh. The Georgian Tea Room has various set tea menus with classic English tea items such as savoury rolls and tartlets, sandwiches, scones, cakes, and an extensive tea selection. This tea room also caters to vegans and those with gluten intolerance. The Georgian Tea Room itself is breathtaking, being A-listed and featuring a Neo-classic style.
Palm Court - 1 Princes St, Edinburgh
Palm Court has an award-winning afternoon tea in a serene style with various green elements, palm trees, and Venetian chandeliers. In addition, this tea room has an extensive tea menu, with more than 88 types. Their classic afternoon tea menu includes an amuse-bouche, savoury sandwiches, scones, and pastries.
Where to Shop in Edinburgh
In this section of the Edinburgh city guide, we’ll list the top picks for shopping places, including streets and shopping centres.
Edinburgh Shopping Streets and Areas
This street is often called Edinburgh’s main shopping street in New Town. It features great architecture and various boutique and historic shops, such as Hector Russell’s kilt shop, located in the largest intact Georgian Town House. This shop was established in 1881. Some of its notable brands include Apple, Boots, Primark, and Urban Outfitters, and it also contains various places to eat and drink.
George Street is known for its high-end shops as well as its countless cafes. Some of its most prominent stores include AllSaints, GANT, and Joules. This street also contains beauty product stores and various jewellery and accessory stores.
Stockbridge is another great area for shopping. There, you’ll find various places to eat and drink, boutique shops, as well as homewares, crafts, and gift shops. Not only that, but you’ll also find it charming thanks to its Georgian and Victorian architecture and its old cobbled roads.
If you enjoy buying from independent designers or merchants, Grass Market is the place for you. It also has high-quality gift shops and a rich history. In addition, once you’re done shopping, you can grab a bite at the various restaurants and cafes in the area.
Shopping Centres in Edinburgh
In addition to Edinburgh’s shopping streets and districts, you could also explore the city’s shopping centres. These include the following:
Fort Kinnaird Shopping Park
Fort Kinnaird is another popular Edinburgh shopping centre with over 70 high-quality shops, cafes, and restaurants. This shopping centre’s facilities include a gym, a cinema, various places to eat and drink, including Wagamama and Nando’s, retail shops, and various service centres.
Ocean Terminal is another one of Edinburgh’s largest shopping centres and is highly regarded for its mixture of shopping and leisure and beautiful waterfront views. Some of the shopping centre’s main features include a 24/7 gym, a 12-screen cinema, retail options, and dining options such as Nando’s. It also has over 16,000 parking spaces.
Transportation in Edinburgh
Navigating Edinburgh is relatively easy. In this portion of the Edinburgh city guide, we’ll list all the transportation options.
The bus is one of the most convenient ways to get around Edinburgh, with various independent providers operating in the city. The biggest bus provider in Edinburgh is Lothian Buses, which operates 24/7. You could also download the TFE app to plan your journey and buy tickets.
Trams are another ideal way to get around in the city, with trams running from the airport to Newhaven (north of Edinburgh) every seven minutes. Edinburgh’s tram network has 23 stops and dedicated spaces for mobility scooters and wheelchairs.
Both buses and trams can be boarded with the Ridacard, which gives you easy mobility around the city thanks to its various transportation options. A monthly adult Ridacard costs £66, while a student monthly Ridacard costs £57.
The city has more than 1000 black cabs, which can be great if you’re in a hurry, and can carry a maximum of five passengers.
Cycling and Walking
Edinburgh has various cycling paths, all of which are safe. These cycling paths include beautiful off-street paths as well, some of which provide beautiful beach views and some of which are even on former train lines, giving a unique cycling experience.
The city has various different walking paths, making it very interesting to explore on foot. These include the two distinct Edinburgh towns, the New Town and the Old Town, where you can marvel at the city’s unique history and architecture. As well as various natural sites such as Arthur’s Seat, Calton Hill, Holyrood Park, and more.
Student Life in Edinburgh
Student life in Edinburgh is exciting, as the city itself is very old and full of amazing sights and fun places to discover. This is also in addition to a vibrant nightlife where you can find various places for students surrounding the Princes Street gardens and near the University of Edinburgh and Edinburgh Napier. For shopping and food lovers, the city is full of amazing venues, previously mentioned in the “Where to Eat and Drink in Edinburgh” and "Where to Shop in Edinburgh” portions of the Edinburgh city guide. The city also hosts the world’s largest performance arts festival, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
Edinburgh's Top Attractions
Edinburgh’s top attractions include the following:
Palace of Holyroodhouse
The New and Old Towns
The Real Mary King's Close
Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh
Princes Street Gardens
National Museum of Scotland
Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh
Camera Obscura & World of Illusions
Where to Stay in Edinburgh?
At Casita, we have various options for student accommodation in Edinburgh to ensure maximum flexibility for students in terms of location and budget. Some of our top picks include the following:
If you’re looking for affordable Edinburgh student accommodation, Edinburgh College Residence is your best option.
If your focus is on central Edinburgh student accommodation, Lady Nicolson Court Roost would be your best fit.
If you’re looking for a close and affordable Edinburgh student accommodation, then Silk Mill would suit you best.
Cost of Living in Edinburgh
We cannot wrap up this Edinburgh city guide without giving you a quick overview of the cost of living in Edinburgh:
Private One-bedroom Apartment (City centre)
£850 to £1,500 per month (Avg.)
Private One-bedroom Apartment (Outside the city centre)
£650 to £1,200 per month (Avg.)
Basic Utilities (Electricity, Heating, Cooling, Water, and Garbage) + Internet
£250 per month
Purposely built student accommodation
£5,355 to £12,495 a year for a 51-week contract (Avg.)
Monthly Ridacard (Transportation)
£57 (student) or £66 (Adult) per month
Edinburgh is a fantastic destination to visit and study. Always make sure to start your search for your accommodation as early as possible and sort out all of your necessary paperwork. You can also use our various Edinburgh resources, such as What Are the Best Areas to Live in Edinburgh for Students? As well as A Full Guide to the University of Edinburgh.
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Frequently Asked Questions:
Is Edinburgh a good place for international students?
Edinburgh has some of the world’s most prestigious universities, great places to explore, and a friendly local population.
Is Edinburgh expensive for international students?
Edinburgh is among the most expensive cities to live in the UK. According to Edinburgh News, Edinburgh was named the third most expensive place to live in the UK in April 2023 due to its high rent.
Is it hard to get into the University of Edinburgh as an international student?
The University of Edinburgh has an acceptance rate of 47%, which makes it a very selective university.