Indeed, this blog post is not a typical Edinburgh travel guide.
I don’t mean to offend any Edinburgh fan out there, but my first trip to Edinburgh last June quite fell short of my expectations. Don’t get me wrong: The city looks beautiful! But if you’re planning to travel to Edinburgh soon, I believe there are things you should know that might NOT be commonly mentioned in flattering blog posts and gorgeous photos of Edinburgh.
So here they are: 6 reasons why I don’t like Edinburgh and How you can avoid feeling the same.
1. It’s extremely awfully scarily CROWDED!
As one of the most popular tourist destinations in the UK, Edinburgh surely attracts lots of visitors. Yet when the city greeted me with its super massive crowds of tourists, I felt at once unbreathable.
High Street – the main street running along Edinburgh’s Old Town – was to my memory nothing but a cacophony of tourists shouting, traffic braking to a halt and street music of all styles (whether good or bad) mixing. It was already difficult to move around without banging into someone. And even more difficult not to spoil somebody’s selfie moment by accidentally photobombing them.
This overcrowdedness unfortunately quite ruined Edinburgh’s authentic old charm. I constantly wondered where all the locals had gone? Did they all come hiding after Edinburgh Old Town got invaded by tourists and selfie sticks?
How to avoid Edinburgh’s overcrowdedness
I returned to Edinburgh on a Tuesday afternoon and (surprise!) found the city amazingly less crowded. There were still hoards of tourists flocking into Edinburgh Old Town, but compared to my first arrival, it was much less noisy, jam-packed or chaotic. So, my first advice is naturally to visit Edinburgh on weekdays rather than the weekends!
But what if you become fed up with those noisy tourists in Edinburgh’s Old Town and think you might need some fresh air? Taking a day trip (or even half day trip) from Edinburgh is the perfect solution!
Despite my scheduled departure from Edinburgh at 2pm on my last day there, I decided that very morning to escape the hustles and bustles of Edinburgh by taking a 30-minute train to South Queensferry – a nice little seaside town lying to the west of Edinburgh. South Queensferry boasts many houses with beautiful garden, green areas and scenic hills overlooking the harbour. Upon arriving at Dalmeny train station (the main train station in South Queensferry), I struggled a bit to find my way to the old town, but received tremendous help from the friendly locals who cheerfully welcomed visitors to their town. Check out my blog post on things to do in South Queensferry here.
Other than that, you can also take a day trip from Edinburgh to North Berwick, St. Andrews, Loch Ness, etc. Note that these destinations are not equally close to Edinburgh. If you only have half a day to spare (like me), make sure to check the train timetables and the transportation options at those places as well.
2. Food is overpriced
I’ve read from some Edinburgh travel guide that this city has the highest rate of restaurants per head in the UK. On the one hand, this is absolutely great news for foodies! But on the other hand, this makes it harder to go through all the restaurant reviews and choose a suitable place (not only good, but suitable!) to eat in Edinburgh.
I’ve noticed that most places to eat in Edinburgh Old Town are quite overpriced. For example, Oink – a popular pulled pork sandwich eatery in Edinburgh – charges £3.10 for a sandwich with 80g of pork. That little sandwich, which is just equal to the size of a fist, offers a good taste, but really not that good to make it worth the money it’s priced at. I did not have time to venture to many restaurants and cafes outside Edinburgh Old Town, but I reckon they could be better in both quality and value for money.
Cheap eats in Edinburgh
If you’re travelling to Edinburgh on a budget, find a hostel with a kitchen where you can cook your own food bought from Tesco or Lidl. I stayed at Edinburgh Castle Rock Hostel and Edinburgh Backpackers Hostel, both of which offered spacious and well-equipped kitchens and dining areas.
Also, try a tasty Scottish pie from Pie Maker at 38 South Bridge. Their portion is also not too big, yet their pies are much cheaper than the tiny sandwich at Oink.
3. Souvenirs are overpriced
Dozens of souvenir shops in Edinburgh Old Town will surely tickle your shopping mood, no matter how tight your budget is. But similar to food in Edinburgh, most souvenirs here are either overpriced or low value for money.
What is worse, many sales staff in those shops have very little knowledge about the products they sell. There are many cashmere and wool products with different prices to choose from in each shop. Yet when I asked a sales staff (who looked like an international student having been on this job just for a few days) to explain the differences between a £150 scarf and a £20 one, she had no idea. Seriously, how can you expect me to pay £150 for a scarf if I don’t understand what premium features make it so expensive? After all, as large groups of Chinese tourists dominate these shops just to find souvenirs with a Scottish brand name, perhaps the need to explain the products’ values also dwindles?
Where to buy Scottish souvenirs / Caledonian gifts
If you have the chance to visit the Scottish highlands, stop by Inverness or Portree on the Isle of Skye for Scottish souvenirs and Caledonian gifts. I’ve noticed they come cheaper than those sold in Edinburgh. Also, the shop owners there can offer much better local insights about these products as well!
4. Edinburgh weather can REALLY ruin your trip
I had thought an umbrella and a thin waterproof jacket would suffice for the infamous Edinburgh weather. I was wrong.
Check Edinburgh weather and build your itinerary around it
Just think about it. Raining means no good photo, no outdoor sightseeing, wet shoes and bulky extra stuff (like umbrella) to carry around. This might sound quite cliched, but seriously, checking the weather forecast beforehand can really save you from enduring a bad day in Edinburgh.
You can also change your Edinburgh itinerary to make the most of the weather. For example, visit the museums and other indoor attractions when it rains and save the outdoor garden cafes for another sunny day.
5. The Elephant House is overrated
The Elephant House Edinburgh became famous as the place where J.K.Rowling wrote her Harry Potter series. (Well in fact, she did NOT write most parts of Harry Potter here). If you’re also a Harry Potter fan, here are things you should know before visiting this Elephant House cafe:
- There’s no wifi. If you’re a solo traveler (like me) with no one to talk to while visiting the Elephant House, make sure to bring a book or something like that. (Or a notebook and a pen to write your next best selling series!)
- Like many other attractions in Edinburgh, the Elephant House is often jam-packed with noisy tourists. This might not be an ideal place to have some peaceful and relaxing moments though.
- That’s why if you come in just to skim through the menu or have a look, you’ll be turned away. This is also written on a small board at the order counter.
6. Grassmarket is much smaller than expected
Before visiting Grassmarket in Edinburgh, I’d imagined it to be similar in scope to Portobello Road Market or Brick Lane Market in London. In fact, this marketplace is much smaller with only around 20 stalls selling food, souvenirs and other bric-a-brac. I tried a (pricey) Latin-American sandwich and was a bit disappointed as to how simple it was compared to the price.
Fortunately, the macarons sold there were one of the best I’d ever had.
If you’re also planning to visit Grassmarket in Edinburgh, I suggest lowering your expectations a bit. There is also a number of restaurants, cafes and eateries around the open marketplace for you to choose from if nothing at the stalls looks delicious enough.
Something more for your Edinburgh travel guide?
I hope this blog post has offered you some useful honest information to complete your Edinburgh travel guide. If you have been to Edinburgh and loved it (like most people do), please share your opinions below!