Global Staycations: Edinburgh, Scotland

Written by Lewis Chaffin ’24
*Local advice from study abroad returnees*

Edinburgh Old Town from Princes Street

If you’ve been accepted to study in Edinburgh or are just thinking of doing so, first of all congratulations! Edinburgh is one of the most historical, immersive, and strangest cities in Europe, so your experience is bound to be chock full of stories to bring home. Nestled in the Southeast corner of Scotland, the city is a vibrating hub of activity, but also a great connection point to the rest of the breathtaking highlands. For your reading pleasure, I’ve decided to leave out the less-than-interesting details that you’ll go over with your program coordinator (credit cards, visa, etc.) and highlight three key things for each stage of your journey (Before You Go, Stepping Off the Plane, Once You’re Settled). The opportunities are endless, so much so that it can be slightly overwhelming to choose, so hopefully this article can give some insight that you can take with you. 

Before You Go

While you’re sitting on your laptop in eager anticipation for your upcoming semester, here are a few things you can do to prepare.

Edinburgh Castle from Grassmarket

Accommodation – While you may be tempted to choose a dorm that is closer to your college like I did, I’d recommend against that. The public transit system is superb, so location from campus is not really an issue while location from town center is and all of the amenities are standard for each building. I’d personally recommend somewhere close to Old Town, like Darroch Court or Robertson’s Close*, which leaves an extremely short walk to all the activities of downtown Edinburgh. *Be sure to verify which options are covered by Denison and which come with an additional fee. Options can change each semester. 

Scottish Crash Course – I’m not suggesting that you need to go read the History of Scotland volumes one through six, but I find it’s always helpful to know a bit about where you’re going before you go. YouTube vlog videos, local bands, journal articles, movies, even Instagram pages highlighting some features that are of interest to you can be a great way to get somewhat of an idea of what to expect. @scotland.explores and @hiddenscotland are two Instagram pages that showcase scenic locations in Scotland, and could be a good starting point if you’re interested. 

Loch Morlich, just south of Aviemore

Program Provided Trips – Arcadia Abroad, the program provider for the program in Edinburgh, offers weekend trips up into the highlands, but space is limited and stands on a first-come first-served basis. These trips are very affordable and are all inclusive, staying at hostels along the way and seeing some jaw-dropping sights. While I never managed to go, it was certainly a regret of mine so I would heavily suggest looking into setting aside a weekend or two to go on these. 


Stepping Off The Plane

If you’ve arrived by plane, welcome to Scotland! Don’t be discouraged by the frankly depressing airport, it gets better once you’re in Edinburgh proper. First day jitters are probably setting in, but that’s totally normal so try not to worry too much. In the meantime, here are a few things you can do in the first week or so to make life more comfortable.

Young Scot CardIf there is one thing you take away from reading this, let it be this. Free bus fare, youth discounts, official government ID, and more are the benefits of getting one of these. Do a quick Google search and spend 15 minutes filling out forms (when asked for your address, make sure to put your Edinburgh address) to save yourself literally hundreds of pounds. You’ll be taking public transport more than you know, and with a single fare price of £3.50 and £7.00 to the airport, that starts to add up, so having one of these will save you an unbelievable amount of money. Plus they’re valid for 5 years and it’s a pretty cool party piece to bring home and show people. Ask Arcadia Abroad for more details about this card once you are on site so that you can determine eligibility.

Bedding – Don’t be fooled by the promise that bedding will be provided by the program, because what you actually receive is paper thin hospital linings that I can only imagine is made out of recycled cardboard. The sentiment is nice, but if you enjoy your bed to be comfortable, or livable for that matter, you’ll want to get your own sheets and pillows. I would point you to the Marks & Spencers on Queen Street, which is a solid, one-stop-shop option that’s within walking distance and relatively affordable. The beds in the rooms are also hit-or-miss, so an investment in a foam mattress topper from Amazon or Ikea is something I would look into too. 

Phone Provider – Not a long topic, and if you already opted for an international plan with your US provider you can skip this, but it’s something you’ll need almost immediately after arriving. There are numerous providers and storefronts on Queen Street that have affordable student deals. I personally went for Three and got an unlimited data/call/text deal in the UK and Europe for £10 a month, but there are several other options from Vodafone, Orange, and others. Also, this way you’ll have a +44 number to make yourself look even more like a local. Arcadia Abroad can provide more information about phones pre-departure or during your orientation/pre-departure information sessions/etc. 

Once You’re Settled

Now you have a week or two under your belt, the burning desire to look like a nonchalant local that’s no longer impressed by “overrated tourist spots” will be at an all-time high. I won’t go into the main attractions too much, (Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh Castle, Calton Hill, Victoria Street, etc.) because you’ve likely already visited them on several occasions. Instead, here are some ideas of places to go that may slip under some radars. 

In the City

Dean’s Village at Christmas time

  • The Meadows/Holyrood Park – Lovely lush parks with plenty of open space, benches, and walkways. Lots of dogs to be spotted!
  • Royal Botanical Garden – Beautiful gardens and greenspace with plenty of walkways and plant varieties. Free entry and a great spot for a solo walk, trip with friends, or perhaps an intimate date spot.
  • Dean Village – A gorgeous medieval village to walk through, and follow the river that runs through it downstream on the Water of Leith Walkway to the St. Bernard’s Well for a peaceful afternoon’s stroll.

Victoria Street from above

  • Portobello Beach – a short bus trip away to a boardwalk with fish and chip shops and a sandy beach to the frigid North Sea.
  • National Galleries of Scotland: Modern One – for the art appreciators, a modern art gallery a short bus ride from town center with a beautiful outdoor scene. Right around the corner from Dean Village.
  • Edinburgh Christmas Market – a dreamlike Christmas market in the heart of town with plenty of food, vendors, rides, and activities to do.

A Night Out


  • Southsider – tough to get a seat on weekend nights, but you’ll find cheap food and beverage options here with plenty of student deals.
  • Brass Monkey – a retro-style pub with movie decor, affordable beverages and a lively scene at night.
  • Pilgrim Bar – lots of neon decor, fun food and beverage options at discounted prices for society members, and free to play quiz/karaoke nights on Sunday.
  • Greenmantle – slightly more pricey option, but a cozy small pub atmosphere to make up for it.
  • The Pear Tree – huge outdoor space for live sports, and a quaint indoor area with middle of the range prices for beverages.
  • The Banshee – gothic themed pub built out of the historic underground cellars for a spooky pub experience with affordable prices. 
  • Wetherspoons – a chain pub/restaurant joint that offers affordable meals and beverages that are scattered throughout the city. 


  • Subway – a small-sized dancefloor club with eclectic music, cheap beverages, and theme nights.
  • Stromash – great spot for live music from local artists and a cool multi storey layout with vendors on either level.
  • Three Sisters – the biggest joint in Cowgate, with spaces outdoors, indoors, upstairs, and even a stage for occasional live performances.
  • Hive – a rusty club built out of the historic underground cellars, with multiple rooms for dancing, chatting, and merriment.
  • Why Not – located in New Town, this venue offers a more stylish, upscale atmosphere in a majestic looking building. All this chic-ness does come with a fluctuating cover charge though, so do consider that. 

Day/Weekend Trips

Dunsapie Loch on Arthur’s Seat

  • Cairngorms National Park – This massive national park sits right in the heart of Scotland, and is home to some of the most gorgeous scenery you’ll see (including the Harry Potter train bridge). While you can spend days here, the southern side of the park can be reached by bus or train and is only around two hours away from the city.
  • St. Andrews – A quaint, historic town on the coast, home to ancient ruins and the world famous Old Course for the golfers reading, and only an hour and a half bus ride away makes it ideal for a perfect day trip destination. 
  • Inverness – The most northern “big city” in Scotland, Inverness acts as a gateway to the extreme northern highlands. It also offers a picturesque downtown, and is only half an hour away from the famed Loch Ness. I would recommend visiting by train and spending a few days exploring the surrounding countryside. 
  • Glen Coe/Isle of Skye – Famous for a reason, some seriously otherworldly scenes can be found in the northwest corner of the country. Getting out here is tough to do without a car, so an ideal way to experience the western Isles is to sign up for a program-coordinated trip.