I booked with East Coast direct to Edinburgh - it's not exactly cheap at £120 round trip, but stacks up pretty well against an airfare. (Plus, my train departed from King's Cross which is about 40x easier to get to than any of London's airports)
So my backpack and I jumped on the train Friday evening...arriving Friday evening. The views do really get beautiful once you leave the city with the greenest greens you can imagine - a beautiful break from the grey buildings that permeate London.
Just look at that green! It makes your eyes sigh, sit back, and whistle a little tune.
I was visiting one of my oldest friends who is working on some farms around Scotland. And boy were we on a budget! But Edinburgh is a pretty magical town - and you can do almost everything without breaking even the smallest bank.
1. Walk up Arthur's Seat
Arthur's Seat is a hill (or tiny mountain) right splat in the middle of the town. It's a very steep 15 minute walk to the top. But this is quite easy to do, even in the wrong shoes! The views from the top are spectacular. And for the better-shod, there are a variety of little trails around the area that look worth spending an afternoon climbing.
A very odd sensation to be walking by heather, thistles, and all that green (did I mention the green yet?) - but still be in the city centre.
2. Visit the Botanic Gardens
Edinburgh is less known for its Botanic Gardens, but our trip timing was perfect. It's the beginning of summer, and the gardens were filled with beautiful blooms. Add to that the lack of crowds (but then again, everything seems empty of people compared to London), and you have a deal!
If you're after food, there seemed to be one crappy cafeteria-style cafe, and one fancy restaurant. So I'd recommend packing your own picnic and enjoying the beautiful colours.
It's free to enter and features a Chinese garden with a pagoda, heather gardens, and probably a lot more that we missed!
Best of all, you could choose a tour suited to your level of scared-cat-ness. We chose 'Ghost and Ghouls' which was supposed to be medium-level scary - just perfect!
At £10 for 1.25 hour tour, I thought it was pretty good value. Our guide was fantastic and an amazing storyteller and really knew her stuff - including how to make you jump!
Our tour went around the Royal Mile learning about grisly plagues and public tortures, and then headed underground by candlelight. For me, the actual history parts were much scarier than the 'ghost' stories once we were underground. I tried really hard, but no ghost sightings or 'experiencing strange coldness' for me!
Places to Stay
There are a lot of hostels to choose from which all promise pretty good value. We chose to stay in Castle Rock Hostel - which was everything a hostel should be. From a breakfast for £0.80, to a big full kitted out kitchen, to relaxing lounge areas, and clean bathrooms and bedding. This hostel it has it all!
Getting there and away
The entire town of Edinburgh is easily walkable from top to bottom. As long as your hotel or hostel is central, there's no need to take a bus or any other type of public transport/cab. Although if you get tired, a bus fare only sets you back £1.40 per trip or £3.50 per day.
I got there from London via Eastern Rails - you can book on thetrainline.com. If your budget is squeezed even tighter you can try megabus.com - although you will be in for a long ride.