15 Edinburgh Scotland Travel Mistakes to Avoid So that You Can Pretend You’re A Local (And Maybe Even Pull It Off. But My Scottish Accent Sucks so There’s No Hope for Me)
July 8, 2017
Danger, danger! Edinburgh Scotland Travel Mistakes to Avoid Like the Plague!
So, you’ve taken the plunge and are journeying to the land of kilts, bagpipes, Haggis, and tartan (not plaid guys which is what this naive American totally confused it with)? Good for you! You are going to have the most EPIC of times because quite honestly, I cried when I left (and that is a high compliment indeed since I NEVER do that. I am so not a cryer).
But besides the multitude of Scottish stereotypes circulating around the globe, what do you really need to know about this land of green and well, lots of rain? I mean sure, we all know that Mel Gibson starred in the film Braveheart, about the fight for Scottish independence (that doesn’t count because it’s a movie) but that knowledge isn’t gonna help you navigate the not so man streets of Edinburgh (Don’t worry because chances are you probably already know way more than me because I wasn’t even sure if Scotland was its own country. but it is and is a part of the United Kingdom as are Wales, England, and Northern Ireland).
Well I am here to help, even if my knowledge of Scottish social and political history is lacking. After visiting this amazing city, I do have some (hopefully) helpful and maybe even practical pointers to throw at you before you set foot in this eternally cloudy, damp, and cold country in the United Kingdom (but the people are so warm and friendly that the weather is secondary).
No, I am not some Scotland guru who visited once and thinks she knows the ins and outs of Scotland, like a local (I don’t even know that much about New York and I have lived here my whole life). Rather, I am just a weary traveller who visited this region and made a ton of novice mistakes along the way. I want you to weave and bob away from these Edinburgh Scotland travel mistakes so that your trip is even better than mine. Because in the end, I want you to fall head over heels in love with Edinburgh, Scotland, just like me (Oh I fell and I fell hard).
1. Avoiding the Bus
Normally, I HATE buses with a burning passion since they are slow, crowded, unreliable, and are always stuck in traffic. For an added bonus of misery, they also tend to smell like BO (body odor) but that’s a story for another post. That’s why when I travel, I typically use the metro as my primary mode of public transportation. However, that was all before I hopped on a bus in Edinburgh, Scotland. These buses put all other public buses to shame since they come fully loaded with electronic screens that detail not only what stop you are at but the time until your arrival at various other stops along the bus line (most but not all the buses have this). Throw in some bus only lanes that help you avoid traffic, and you have an easy and efficient way to get around the city. Oh, and did I mention that all bus stops have electronic signs that detail both the number of the bus line and the minutes until its arrival? I was totally blown away by this technological awesomeness and am now forced to rethink my entire perception of public buses.
Listed below are various Edinburgh points of interest and the buses you can use to get there.
For The Real Mary King’s Close, Edinburgh Castle, and the Literary Pub Tour take the 23, 27, 41, 42, or 67 to the George the IV Bridge stop.
For the Royal Yacht Britannia take the 11, 22, 34, 35, or 36 to the Ocean Terminal stop.
For Dynamic Earth, Arthur’s Seat, Scottish Parliament, the Royal Mile, and the Palace of Holyrood House take the 35 or 6 to the Holyrood stop.
For the Scottish National Museum take the 8, 37, or 31 to the Chambers Street Stop.
For the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art take the 13, 901, and 906.
***On older buses that are not outfitted with electronic route maps, sit on the left side of the bus so that you can read the bus stop name as you drive by. This way, you can figure out where you are since the bus driver won’t announce the stop. Also remember to push the stop button so the driver knows you want to get off at a particular stop.
2. No Exact Change for the Lothian Buses (Public Buses in Edinburgh)
The ONLY down side of taking the bus is that you need to have cash and it needs to be exact change because otherwise, you won’t get any change back. Single ride tickets cost £1.60 so before I even left for the day, I would meticulously analyze each coin I had (because lets be honest, I had no idea what any of them were worth and didn’t want to look like a total idiot on the bus) and create £1.60 piles based on the number of bus tickets I would need for the day. That way, when I got on the bus, I could efficiently and easily throw my exact change in the machine and procure my ticket. Sure, it’s annoying that you don’t get change back but it’s also a great way to get rid of excess coins (Also note that day passes for adults are available for £4. For children they are £2, and for families they are £8.50. All day passes include unlimited rides on public buses for the day).
3. Not carrying a raincoat or umbrella at ALL times (a raincoat is better because it can be windy)
Okay, Scotland can be a bit cold and rainy. I lucked out and had two days of pure, sunshiney heaven, but that is not the norm. But Edinburgh can be a cold and cloudy place with frequent passing showers. The skies can literally open up at any moment and just down pour on you. That’s why it is imperative that you are always prepared for the temperamental weather and carry an umbrella or rain coat on you at all times.
I mean, at any moment a disgruntled rogue cloud could just randomly rain all over you and then you would be left standing there both cold and miserable which is nobody’s idea of a good time. That’s why you need to be prepared and always have protective rain gear handy; something I never do in the US since it’s usually sunny. Actually, come to think of it, I don’t even own an umbrella in the US. Oooppppsss.
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4. Using the hop on hop off bus
There are a couple of different hop on hop off bus companies that offer daily tickets for around $20. But why would you want to pay so much when public buses here are cheap, easy to use, and take you anywhere that your little tourist heart desires?
The only way I could see this bus being useful is if you had 24 hours in the city and literally just wanted to sit on the bus and observe all the sites that Edinburgh has to offer. Otherwise, the price of this bus is just not worth it, especially since Edinburgh is a highly walkable city that is super easy to navigate. So do yourself (and your wallet) a favor and step away from the hop on hop off bus.
5. Assuming you’ll be able to understand everyone because they speak English
The people of Edinburgh do indeed speak English, but that doesn’t mean you will understand what some of the citizenry here are saying. I mean, the accent here is so thick that there will be at least one moment when someone is chatting with you and you haven’t the faintest idea of what they are saying. Sure, you know they’re speaking English but that’s pretty much all you know. So you just sit there and pleasantly smile and nod because you don’t want to be the jerk that makes someone automatically dislike every other American they ever meet (that could also just be a fear of mine but I like to leave a good impression, even if I have no clue what you’re saying).
6. Wearing shorts. EVER.
So I booked my trip to Edinburgh and thought, “Well it’s July and Scotland is in the Northern Hemisphere so surely I should bring some summer clothes. Right?” No, a thousand times no. Scotland is cold, even when its sunny and its summer. The only person who probably should wear shorts in Scotland is someone who is used to the climate and thinks that 50 degrees (Fahrenheit) is absolutely balmy and damn near a heat wave.
So leave your daisy dukes and flip flops at home. Instead pack a raincoat and all that warm weather clothing that is super bulky and really annoying to stuff in your bag. But honestly, if you don’t pack a coat, sweater, scarf, boots, and a hat, you’re gonna walk down the Royal Mile and buy all this cold weather gear anyway because you’ll be freezing!! And if you buy all this gear at an overpriced souvenir shop, when you already have it all at home, then that would be a waste of money that could be better spent while living it up in Edinburgh.
But keep in mind that while it is chilly, it’s not subarctic so it’s not like you need to wear twelve layers of wool just to keep from getting frost bite. Just err on the side of warmth and pack extra layers so you can bundle up when the wind kicks in and you want to scream at the heavens, “Really? How can this be summer? We are in the Northern Hemisphere!”
7. Looking left before crossing the Street
For the love of God, look right! You are in the United Kingdom and everyone drives on the left side of the road. But it is so ingrained in me to look left before I cross the street, that I actively had to tell myself to look right so that I didn’t get pummeled by a quick moving double decker bus.
However, it was a struggle to break this long suffering habit. I actually had to stand on the road and actively look back and forth across the street a couple of times just to make sure that the street was actually safe to cross. Honestly, I probably looked like an escapee from the insane asylum because of the number of times I looked back and forth across the street, but whatever. I didn’t want to end up in a body cast while I was there, so the strange looks were totally worth it.
8. Assuming a hike up Arthur’s Seat will be a light stroll
Right, the short answer is no. Hiking up Arthur’s Seat is actually pretty daunting. I mean, I am no triathlete so I was definitely huffing and puffing on the way up. And then of course you see some Ironman bounding up the hill like a freakin gazelle and you want to punch him for making you feel like Jabba Da Hud as you ascend this Edinburgh icon.
But on a more serious note, just be prepared for a somewhat strenuous hike of 3 miles that will probably take between an hour and a half and two hours, round trip. Now, when I say be prepared, I mean that I would not wear my new Gucci shoes and a form fitting dress as I attempt this hike. This is one of those experiences where comfort and practicality totally supersede any and all need to look good.
Therefore, I would bring a backpack with plenty of water and snacks because there is no where to procure supplies on Arthur’s Seat (Trust me, you don’t want to release the hangry beast within because you haven’t eaten after hiking all morning). Also pack some sunscreen since there is not a lot of shade on the hill itself. Leave the hat at home though since its super windy at the top; a fact hat will render your hat totally useless up there. In terms of foot wear, you won’t need supercharged, Everest level hiking boots, but I would wear comfy sneakers with grip since some of the trails can be a bit narrow and quite rocky.
***Arthur’s Seat is the second hill that you see when looking at this extinct volcano from Edinburgh. The first hill is actually Salisbury Crags, so don’t ascend this hill thinking it’s Arthur’s Seat.
***Since most people ascend Arthur’s Seat from Holyrood Park the trail here can become rather crowded. Therefore, go early to try and avoid the crowds (easy to do since the summer days are long). Also try and go on a clear day since the local clouds tend to leave a looming mist that obscures the panoramic view of Edinburgh from the top.
***Also note that the trail from Salisbury Crags ascends and then descends dramatically. Do not worry because you are totally on the right path. Eventually the trail winds back up Arthur’s Seat so don’t panic when the trail starts heading down hill.
***There is no admission fee. Plus, the entrance is located near Dynamic Earth, the Scottish Parliament (also free), and the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Therefore you can hike Arthur’s Seat in the morning and then visit some of these other attractions in the afternoon.
9. Enduring the museum line for the Crown Jewels
Oh hey, who doesn’t like crown jewels? They’re shiny and sparkly and oh so pretty right? I mean how can you not see them while visiting Edinburgh Castle? Yeah I get it, that’s what the internal dialogue in everyone’s head sounds like. That’s why the line to see the Crown Jewels can be almost an hour long, that is if you wait on the line to see both the crown jewels and their associated museum.
Well, this history nerd, I mean enthusiast, can honestly say that the museum for the Crown Jewels is kind of lame. Anyone on this line is just here to see the Crown Jewels (Okay I saw one person actually look at the museum but you get the point). So do yourself a favor and skip the needlessly long wait.
Instead, walk into the main courtyard where the Great Hall is located, and access the Crown Jewels from this line (More exactly, the crown jewels are located on the first floor of the Royal Palace and on the East side of Crown Square). The line here is so much shorter since you don’t unnecessarily meander through a museum that no one really looks at.
***Fun little fact, the crown jewels of Scotland are known as the “Honours” of Scotland and are the oldest set of Royal Regalia in Britain. The crown, sword, and sceptre were first used together at the coronation of the nine-month-old Mary Queen of Scots (I thought this was cool because sadly, I think this is the only Scottish monarch that I actually know of).
10. Discussing the Trams
You know how you never bring up politics or religion in polite conversation because it never ends well? Yeah, the trams are kind of like that in Edinburgh. It’s a super sore topic of conversation for locals so best leave this subject alone. Now, to not so adeptly change the subject, where’s my deep fried Mars bar?
11. Rubbing the nose of Greyfriar’s Bobby
For those of you who aren’t in the know about local Scottish lore, Greyfriar’s Bobby was a Skye Terrier that became famous for allegedly spending 14 years guarding the grave of its owner until the dog himself died himself on 14 January 1872. While the accuracy of this legend is disputed, the infamy of Greyfriar’s Bobby has grown with the establishment of a memorial in 1863 at Greyfriars Kirk Cemetery and the creation of the Greyfriar’s Bobby Pub in honor of this loyal, canine companion.
But whatever you do, do not rub Greyfriar’s Bobby’s nose. Shockingly enough, rubbing the statue’s nose is totally useless and will not inundate you with good luck (while we’re at it, you might as well leave the Loch ness monster alone too). If you do this, not only will everyone know that you’re a tourist, but they will also silently hate you because all the rubbing of the nose actually removes the statue’s paint and corrodes the statue itself. As a result of all this wear and tear, the bronze beneath is coming through and making the nose look shiny and gold (the statue is hollow and actually all black). So do yourself a favor and back away from the nose.
12. Getting in the Way of Edinburgh University Students (Please, they have to get to class!)
Look I get it. It can be kind of hard to steer clear of students when the university campus is practically on the Royal Mile, but just remember that while you’re there, relaxing on vacation, other people are living their lives and fulfilling daily obligations like school and work. You know, all those annoyingly necessary things in life. That’s why it’s important to be considerate of others and not block the pavement while oohing and aahing at the statue of Greyfriar’s Bobby (don’t you touch that nose! lol), or while waiting on line to get into The Elephant House coffee shop (The”supposed” birth place of Harry Potter and a mecca of sorts for Harry Potter fans around the world. I have heard through the grape vine that Spoon is where the real writing has happened).
While you’re snapping that selfie, some poor student is dashing to class to turn that paper in on time after a Monster energy drink fueled all nighter. So just be kind and make space for all the sleep deprived college kids who need to use this public space as an impromptu raceway (Come on guys, GPAs hang in the balance).
13. Losing track of Time
Before I traveled to Scotland, I never realized how far North it was. I just kind of assumed that it was about as far North as New York and that Scotland would have days that were similar in length to my home town. Well boy was I wrong. I literally walked down the street and was bewildered to see all the shops closing when it was still light out. At least, I was confused until I looked at my watch and saw that it was actually 9:30 pm!
So don’t be like me and stay aware of the time so that you can do necessary things like visit attractions or grab dinner before everything closes (I literally didn’t know what to eat since by this point, most of the grocery stores and restaurants were already closed. Thank God for protein bars).
*** And since you’re looking at your watch anyway, don’t forget to marvel at Edinburgh’s one of a kind sunsets (especially if you’re lucky enough to run into some decent weather). For your viewing pleasure grab a blanket, a thermos of hot chocolate or coffee, and enjoy the aptly named golden hour from Calton Hill. One of the most enchanting experiences you can have in Edinburgh.
14. Step Away from the Tourist Bars
Look, I know we are all looking for an “authentic” travel experience but let’s be real, sometimes it can be a real pain in the ass to
find them. You might even be tempted, for convenience sake, to head to one of the bars on either Grassmarket or Rose Street. Well don’t, at least not if you’re looking for a quiet drink, to meet a local, or hell, even get a drink at all.
Sure, these watering holes can be a hoot (yup I said that) during the Fringe Festival and various sporting seasons, but those are the only two times at which such establishments are mildly acceptable. Step into these places any other time of the year and you
will feel like you are participating in an overgrown cattle call. So avoid feeling like you’re on a farm and head to Sandy Bells on Forrest Road instead. Here, you’ll actually be able to get a drink and hear some live Scottish Folk music in the process.
***I don’t drink so this information was expertly passed on to me by some insanely wise people.
15. Not inhaling all the Scones and Clotted Cream you can find
At this point you’re probably wondering why there has been no mention of the amazingly vibrant and diverse food scene that Edinburgh has to offer. Well, I wanted to save my favorite tip for last. That and if I’m honest, I can never ignore my stomach for long (God I wish I was one of those people who could eat like a horse and be rail thin).
And while Edinburgh does have a wealth of international and innovative cuisines to order, I like to keep it traditional. Now, if I wasn’t vegetarian I totally would have rocked some Haggis but because I don’t do the meat thing, I indulged in some clotted cream and scones instead.
Now sure, I have eaten Scones and clotted cream once or twice before (I mean in the US we are not TOTAL heathens) and they were okay but nothing to write home about. Actually, the clotted cream was really gross. It was this weird white stuff that came out of a jar and tasted almost like sour cream. I had no idea why you would ever put this on a scone whic
h wasn’t that great either. It was like this dry, saw dusty, pseudo-biscuit that didn’t really set my heart or stomach aflutter.
But that all changed the moment I went to Scotland and realized what a proper scone was. This bakery masterpiece is warmed to perfection and served with a slightly crusty exterior that is complemented by a light, fluffy, and almost pillowy interior. Truly the perfect combination of textures that is balanced out by a slightly sweet yet savory dough that melts in your mouth and leaves you wanting more. Slather on some fresh clotted cream and a dollop of fresh raspberry jam and you have found the definition of divinity.
Aren’t you glad you read this and can avoid these Edinburgh Scotland travel mistakes (if your answer is no, keep that to yourself)?
So while this list may not make you Scottish enough to pull off a kilt, play the bagpipes, enjoy Haggis, or even understand what some locals are saying, this list will help you make the most out of an epic journey to Edinburgh; a trip that will leave you with just one question, when can I go back? Cheers!