Living in Edinburgh: Everything You Need to Know

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Edinburgh is an utterly bewitching city, so who could blame anyone for wanting to live there? A beautiful setting below the ancient castle, streets teeming with character and history, and elegant, sweeping Georgian architecture all make living in Edinburgh an experience to cherish!

Add that to great shopping, incredible nightlife, a dynamic arts scene and
some world-class dining establishments and you might find yourself never moving away.

Home to the Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh Castle, several universities in including the University of Edinburgh, and much more, Edinburgh is a busy place.

However, one of the wonders of living in Edinburgh is its intimate atmosphere. In its suburbs in particular, it feels more like a friendly, cosy village than a sprawling metropolis. The central areas lie close to one another, and it’s a great city to get around on foot.

As the capital, Edinburgh is in many ways the pride of Scotland, and her residents are proud too. Proud to live there, even prouder perhaps, if they were born there.

Edinburgh is charming, graceful and there’s intrigue around every corner. Here are some of the things you should know before moving to Edinburgh.

Living In Edinburgh: Things that you should know

The tourist sights

As you might imagine, Edinburgh is very popular with visitors from all over the world. Anyone living in Edinburgh will not be able to escape this fact – especially during the annual Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Both take place in August, when Edinburgh is teeming with crowds. People spill from the rooms all over the city that are used for stand-up gigs or am-dram performances. You cannot book a last minute bed for the night for love nor money.

So get to know what brings everyone to Edinburgh before you take up residence. If you haven’t spent much time in the city before, you can check out a suggested two-day Edinburgh itinerary here. That way, you’ll understand what everyone’s in a rush to see – and why certain parts of town will always be busiest during peak season.

The name – Auld Reekie

The grand old Scottish capital goes by a pretty well-known nickname. ‘Auld Reekie’ is the most commonly used alternative moniker. It literally translates as ‘Old Smelly’. I come from near Newcastle, and even there, across the border into England, a lot of Scots dialect is used. When we say something ‘reeks’, we mean it stinks.

Apparently, the name originated in the fact that the Reekie city used to have a foul-smelling loch where Princes Street Gardens are today. Add to that the pollution caused by the coal fires of the residents and chimneys of the factories and you can see where the name came from.

The food

Edinburgh is rather a genteel city – not a place where you’d really expect to find a deep-fried Mars Bar. Instead, there are Michelin-starred restaurants run by some of Britain’s top chefs.

The owner of Valvona and Crolla, a famous delicatessen that dates back to the 1930s, was awarded an OBE in 2020 for services to both Scottish – Italian relations and the Scottish food industry.

Located on Elm Row, close to New Town and the city centre, it is both an Edinburgh institution and a national treasure. There is a cafe – or caffè – as well as the food store.

Shortbread is ubiquitous in Edinburgh, as are scones. Edinburgh Rock is just for tourists, however.

The people

People in Edinburgh sometimes have a reputation for being a bit too proud – of themselves and their city. Quite rightly so, if you ask me. Edinburgh is a rare beast. It’s a city that manages to be sizeable, yet somehow most cosy and intimate.

There is history – and reputedly, plenty of haunted areas – yet it is also at the cutting edge of scientific, social and medical research. It is, in short, a city of many contrasts and is many different things to different people. Who wouldn’t be proud of that?

The language

I’m not going to lie. Edinburgh dialect can be difficult to decipher. And that’s coming from me, who was born just south of the Scottish border.

If you want to get some idea of what I mean, pick up a copy of ‘Trainspotting’ – the book, not the film. Try reading Irvine Welsh’s novel and I’m sure you’ll see what I’m getting at!

It’s not something to worry about, however. Heck, I can’t understand Scottish people sometimes – and I’m from very near the border, and had a Scottish grandmother. You will tune in, and it will get easier. In my experience, it’s not the trickiest Scots dialect to grasp.

You won’t be driving much

OK – so here’s the downside. Don’t move to central Edinburgh if you want to drive everywhere. Double parking is rife outside those typical Edinburgh tenements that house numerous singles, couples and families. It’s not too bad a city to drive in – but parking is your worst nightmare.

Don’t invest in a car before you move there unless you can plan to live on the outskirts. There’s not really any need, anyway – public transport is regular and reliable. Plus it is one of the most walkable cities in the UK, if not, the world.

The Weather

Now, one drawback about living in Edinburgh – or living in the entirety of the UK, for that matter – is the weather isn’t always great.

Generally, Edinburgh gets a short summer with some pleasant sunny days. The average high temperature is 19 degrees in August, although on rare occasions it can reach the late 20s.

The winter can feel never ending, but it’s rarely too cold to go outside – there’s occasionally snow (which makes the city look magical!), but it’s not guaranteed every year. The average low temperature in January is one degree, and average high 6 degrees.

Because of Edinburgh’s northerly position, it has short days in the winter and long days in the summer. During the winter solstice on the 21st December, the sun rises at 8:40am and sets at 3:40pm. However, during summer solstice on the 21st June, the sun rises at 4:26am and sets at 10pm!

It rains a lot throughout the year in Edinburgh, so make sure that you’re well equipped with a rain jacket and umbrella.

The Cost of Living in Edinburgh

Edinburgh is a fairly pricey city to live in, but it is cheaper than London. Here are some expected costs:

  • Rent – a one-bedroom flat will set you back £650-£1000 per month. Extra bedrooms will, of course, cost more – but it may be more feasible to rent a 2 or 3 bedroom flat and flat share.
  • Council tax must be paid throughout the UK unless you have an exemption (for example, if you are a student). The rates vary, but it will set you back at least £75 per month (per household, so you will split this with whoever you live with).
  • Most rental agreements do not include bills.
  • A meal out at a cheap restaurant will cost £10-£15. This can increase according to the restaurant.
  • A beer will set you back £3-£5 in a pub or bar.
  • The bus costs £1.60 for a single journey, and is £4 for a day rider.

Where to live in Edinburgh

So you’ve seen Edinburgh, taken up a job offer or been accepted to study at one of the universities. What’s next? Where to live, of course. Check out Spareroom or Gumtree to find houseshares, or Zoopla or Rightmove if you’re looking for your own flat or house (to rent or buy).

Edinburgh is split into a string of neighbouring villages – or so it seems. How do you decide which is right for you? Here is a brief guide to
Edinburgh’s main residential areas. While they may not be where you end up living, it’s worth finding out about what the city’s most popular locations have to offer.

North Edinburgh

This part of town is a very desirable place to live. New Town can be pricey, but offers spacious, light-filled accommodation in Georgian tenements that is just a hop, skip and jump from the city centre. Stockbridge and its neighbouring suburbs are a little further out, a touch more bohemian and a fraction cheaper.

New Town

Graceful, genteel and quintessentially Georgian, New Town is an incredible place to live. Alas, the rents in this area tend to reflect this fact. If you can afford it, the New Town lies just north of Princes Street, so you’re close to everything – what you spend on housing you might well save on taxi fares! New Town is all sweeping, golden Georgian terraces – and a couple of perfect circles too.

The location is so convenient for the city centre, as well as neighbouring areas like Stockbridge, Comely Bank and Canonmills. The rooms here also tend to be very bright and generous in size – because the Georgians really valued space and light. I stayed here for a few weeks when I first arrived and loved it, although the sheer size of the room – as well as all that stone – did make it rather cold!

Stockbridge

Just beyond New Town lies Stockbridge, close to the Water of Leith that runs through the north of Edinburgh. This is a cool neighbourhood with a trendy vibe, characterised by quirky shops and cafes and stylish bars. If you don’t mind a walk, you can still get around most of the city on foot from this area.

By venturing further north, you are however getting further way from the University of Edinburgh and the Scottish Parliament building – this may bother you if you intend to study or work at either! By widening your search to include Canonmills, Craigleith and Comely Bank, you
may find something more affordable or to your taste while remaining in this general area.

South Edinburgh

You will no doubt want to be based south or west of central Edinburgh if you’re going to study at Heriot-Watt or Napier universities – both of which are based some way out of town.

Basing yourself somewhere between the campuses in Riccarton or Sighthill gives you access to both the city and the campus. The following areas tend to blend into one another, rather than being entirely separate.

Bruntsfield

This is where I lived for the longest in Edinburgh. I found a tiny box-room in a friendly flat-share – ideal for a newly minted graduate with little in the way of money or possessions.

The apartment was on Bruntsfield Gardens, and very handy for the local cafes and bars. It was also a pleasant downhill stroll into town. I love this area, and buses regularly pass along the main road, leading from Morningside Road onto Bruntsfield Place and on to the Princes Street area.

Marchmont

This is a particularly popular area with students. It is located just to the north-east of Bruntsfield. A pleasant walk across The Meadows takes you to the university, or you can head across Bruntsfield Links to the city. There is lots of green space in this area and its convenient for just about anywhere you want to go.

Morningside

Morningside has been seen as an affluent, genteel suburb, but it also has some great shops, bars and cafes. As well as a Waitrose – which perhaps confirms that depiction.

The Canny Man’s is a great pub and another Edinburgh institution. Morningside is just around the corner from neighbouring Bruntsfield.

Enjoy Edinburgh

Wherever you end up living, you’re sure to have a blast in Edinburgh. From a drink in a local bar in Stockbridge or Bruntsfield to a full-on night out in the Grassmarket, there’s plenty for night owls. The food is fabulous, as are the locals!

One top tip – if you’re going to live in Scotland, make sure you see at least a little more of it. From the Scottish Highlands to the Isle of Skye, there are so many amazing spots in Scotland to put on your bucket list! You can view a 4-day Scotland itinerary here.

This guest post was contributed by Polly Taylor from Let’s Travel UK. You can check out her site here.

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