Are you considering an extended trip or a move to Edinburgh, Scotland? Our family has been fortunate enough to be living in the Scottish capital for the past several months from the U.S. Keep reading to find out the 13 main things I wish I had known before we made our move to this great place. It is truly a fantastic place to live!
1. Size of Edinburgh, Scotland
Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland and has been since the 14th century. The city has a current population of around 500,000 residents. It is the second most populous city in Scotland and the seventh most populous in the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom is made up of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.
Edinburgh itself is about 264 square kilometers or 102 square miles. The city’s population of the Scottish capital is fairly young, thanks to the many vibrant universities. Almost 20% of the population are in their twenties and 15% are in their thirties. What does this mean for young families? Plenty of talented, smart college students to hire as babysitters! 🙂
We live in an area near the University of Edinburgh and love the vitality that the students bring to the city. There is just something about the energy of being in a “college town.”
2. Tourism in Edinburgh
Edinburgh is one of the best places to live is you want to explore Scotland. There are multiple tourist attractions to check out while living here. Some of our favorites are: Edinburgh Castle, the Royal Mile, Arthur’s Seat, Calton Hill, the National Museum of Scotland, Princes Street Gardens and playground, and the art galleries. If you are exploring Edinburgh with your family, hop to this post for more ideas on what to explore while visiting.
One great thing about living in Edinburgh is so many of these places offer free entry. As a family of six with four young children, we really appreciate that because we can visit the museums in short bursts without spending much money. Then, we can return for multiple days to fully explore the whole thing!
Be sure to also check out the many free tours when you arrive in this capital city of Scotland. It is a great way to get a general feel for the city when you arrive and learn a bit of this great city. Most of them meet near the city centre and explore Old Town and Edinburgh’s New Town. There are also some great free tours for Harry Potter fans. Though the tours are technically free, the tour guides do make their living from tips, so be sure to tip your guide well! The average suggested donation is around 14-15 GBP per person, but it is up to your discretion.
For those that enjoy the darker side, you can also find ghost tours and tourist sites like Mary King’s Close which explore the spookier spots of the capital of Scotland. For those that enjoy politics, consider a visit to the Scottish Parliament building. Though it is currently closed to tours, you can visit on Thursdays to hear from the First Minister or attend during various meetings of Parliamentary business. The best way to schedule a visit is to call or email to book a time.
3. Schooling in Edinburgh
If you are moving to this beautiful city with children, you will want to learn about the schooling system in Edinburgh. Essentially, once you are settling into your new home, you will want to find your catchment area. Catchment areas determine which nursery, primary and secondary school your child will be slated for in the city. Your council tax helps support the local schools, libraries, public services, etc.
To find your catchment school options, use this website to input your postal code. From there, you will be given a non-denominational primary and secondary school option and a Roman Catholic primary and secondary school option. However, I will also point out that just because you live in a catchment area for your nearby school, it does not mean that your child will be admitted to the school in your residential areas.
Several schools are overfilled, so you may have to contact several options to find a fit for your child. It is a good idea to find a Facebook group for Edinburgh parents to help any questions you may have about finding the best school for your child. Of course, private schools are also available as well.
4. Public Transport in Edinburgh
Public transport is in abundance throughout the city center. We take advantage of the Lothian buses that run throughout Edinburgh. Currently, children under 21 can qualify to ride for free if they sign up for a Young Scot card. Be sure to take advantage of that great option so you can explore the city without spending much money. Since Edinburgh is a pretty compact city, most places are a short bus ride away. Be sure to download the Bus and Tram app to get arrival and departure times and other useful information.
You will definitely want to take advantage of the fantastic train service that can take you throughout Scotland and offers easy access to other major UK cities and beyond. Check out the ScotRail website to find departure times and routes. You can also see if you qualify for a RailCard which offers you discounted rides. Our family has definitely taken advantage of our Family and Friends Railcard on our trips to other major cities. There are frequent trains from Waverly train station and Haymarket train station daily. Take off for a day at North Berwick, St. Andrew’s or London any day of the week!
If you are looking for taxi service, be sure to download the Gett app which makes it easy to call a taxi, see estimated fares, and pay for the ride all within the app.
5. Green Spaces in Edinburgh
If you are craving some green spaces in Edinburgh, they are pretty easy to find. The Meadows is a large grassy park near the University of Edinburgh and the Bruntsfield and Marchmont neighborhoods. In the spring and summer, it is absolutely covered with students and families craving the sunshine! Our kids love the playgrounds and wide open space in which to run around. It is also the perfect place for a picnic and Frisbee with your dog.
Another excellent choice would be a walk through the Royal Botanic Gardens. This is another fantastic free option for families! The gardens are open daily.
You can also easily take a bus to Rosslyn and take the paths around Rosslyn Chapel for a stroll, take a train to the Borders or North Berwick, or explore the beaches of St. Andrews if you need some time away from the busy city.
6. Why is Edinburgh nicknamed “Auld Reekie”?
Edinburgh is nicknamed Aulk Reekie which is old Scots dialect for “Old Smokey.” This comes from the 17th century history of smoke pollution and smog which hung over the city. Old Town was filled with pollution, trash and smog from the crowded conditions. Eventually, wealthier people moved out to the more spacious New town with its Georgian architecture and wide streets to escape “Auld Reekie.” Obviously, the conditions have vastly improved now!
7. Experiencing Culture in Edinburgh
Edinburgh is home to loads of cultural opportunities. You can often catch last minute tickets and deals at various locations throughout this great city. Catch an amazing musical at the Edinburgh Playhouse or Festival Theatre. Listen to some beautiful classical performances at Usher Hall or Summerhall. Catch some lovely live music at The Queens Hall. Or, for a different vibe, take in some live music and a domestic beer at a local pub. The average cost for tickets is fairly reasonable, especially for students and children and in comparison with places like New York.
8. Edinburgh Festivals
Edinburgh is known for its festival season, particularly in the summer. It becomes an extremely popular destination, so consider that when booking flights or accommodations. The Edinburgh International Festival features dance, classical music, and drama. Tickets go on sale in April for the various events.
The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is also held in August. The Fringe Festival actually started in 1947 when some uninvited groups showed up to perform at the International Festival and were not allowed to perform. It continues to host all sorts of groups, artists, and performers who wish to find a stage. Performances take place throughout the city.
9. Friendliness of the Scottish
When you visit Edinburgh, expect to be welcomed by the Scottish people. We find them to be incredibly warm, helpful and open to visitors and transplants.
10. International Flavor
Since Edinburgh is home to so many international people, you discover loads of delicious cuisines. We love French bakery sweets on our fun Fridays, delicious Indian curries, and some fantastic street food like falafel and kabobs as well! Get out there and explore all that Edinburgh has to offer!
11. Food Scene in Edinburgh
Edinburgh is home to the most Michelin star restaurants in all of Scotland. You can also find widely diverse cuisines, thanks to the international population. Some of our favorite restaurants feature North African, Asian and Eastern European cuisine. Leith Walk is home to a huge variety of restaurant options!
In addition to the international choices, you will of course find some Scottish classics like haggis, black pudding and oysters! The other thing we love is that you can find great food at a wide variety of price points. You can get some fantastic inexpensive street food or a fancy four course dinner! And, of course, plenty of choices of local whisky, if that’s your cup of tea. Happy eating!
12. Edinburgh Airport
Edinburgh airport is an international airport with one terminal and flights to over 150 worldwide cities. It’s the busiest airport in Scotland and is the sixth busiest in the United Kingdom. Security can take a bit at the airport, so be sure to allow at least 2 hours to check in and get to your gate before your flight. You can also check their website to find out more rules about security and traveling with children. You can also find the estimated current wait time it will take to get through security.
13. Weather and Sunlight in Edinburgh
Ok, this was a little surprising to us coming from the States to Edinburgh in January. Daylight hours are VERY short in the winter. In January, the sun comes up around 8:45 AM and starts to go down by 3:30 PM. On the other hand, as spring comes, it gets much better! By late May, the sun rises by 4:30 AM and stays up until 9:45 PM!
Weather wise, it can be quite chilly and windy in Edinburgh. But, it also doesn’t get extremely hot here. Average temperatures in January range from 34-41 degrees Fahrenheit. Average temperatures for July range from 52-66 degrees Fahrenheit. You will need to pack a good raincoat, some waterproof boots and an umbrella for the occasional showers that pop up. However, when the sun shines, it is beautiful and the sky is bright blue! Edinburgh is an absolutely beautiful city!
I hope this article helps you prepare for your next trip or a possible move to Edinburgh. It is a truly lovely city filled with wonderful people to meet and places to visit. Feel free to sign up for my free newsletter for a complete packing list for your family. Keep reading for more travel ideas for your family!