Discovering Edinburgh

Ultimate Edinburgh Travel Guide + Local Tips (2024)

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Welcome to your ultimate Edinburgh Travel Guide, a comprehensive resource for exploring Scotland’s capital.

Whether you’re a first time visitor or returning to discover more, this guide covers everything from transportation and accommodation to top attractions and hidden gems.

As someone who lived in Edinburgh for nearly three years and visits frequently as a tourist, I understand the unique challenges and joys of exploring this vibrant city.

Here, you’ll find practical tips and insider insights to help you make the most of your Edinburgh adventure, from must-see landmarks to the best local spots. Let’s dive in!

Table of Contents

Getting to Edinburgh

Edinburgh’s strategic location makes it accessible by air, train, and road. Here’s a breakdown of how to get to Scotland’s historic capital .

Edinburgh Airport (EDI) is the primary gateway, with direct flights from major European and international cities. Located about 8 miles west of the city center, it’s easy to reach via various transportation options. Glasgow Airport (GLA), about 50 miles west of Edinburgh, also offers connections to the city by train or bus.

Transportation from Edinburgh Airport

Once you land at Edinburgh Airport, choose from these options to reach the city center:

  • Tram : The Edinburgh Trams provide a direct route from the airport to York Place in the city center, with stops at key points like Murrayfield Stadium and Haymarket . It’s cost-effective and reliable.
  • Bus : Airlink 100 is a dedicated airport bus service that runs 24/7, taking you to central Waverley Bridge in about 25 minutes. A quick and affordable choice.
  • Taxi/Rideshare : Taxis are available at the airport , offering a direct but pricier journey. Rideshare services like Uber and Bolt are also options for a more personalised travel experience.

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Train Services

Edinburgh has two main stations: Waverley and Haymarket . Waverley, the larger station, is centrally located between the Old Town and New Town, serving long-distance and regional trains. Haymarket, west of the city center, is ideal for airport connections and other parts of the city.

Direct trains to Edinburgh operate from major UK cities like London, Manchester, and Glasgow. To save money, book your tickets in advance.

🚋 Book Your Train Tickets Here

Arriving by Car

For those traveling by car, Edinburgh is accessible via major roads like the M8 and A1. Keep in mind:

  • Parking : The city center has limited parking. Consider park-and-ride options or use parking garages, such as Castle Terrace or NCP at St. James Centre .
  • Traffic Considerations : Traffic can be heavy during rush hours and festival seasons. Plan accordingly.

🚗 Hire Your Car Here

Buses and Coaches

Edinburgh Bus Station , located near St. Andrew Square, is the central hub for buses and coaches. Major operators like National Express and Megabus run services to and from Edinburgh, ideal for budget travelers .

🚌 Book Your Bus Tickets Here

Ferry Connections

Although Edinburgh doesn’t have a direct ferry terminal, Rosyth , about 30 minutes by car or train, serves as an entry point for those arriving from Northern Ireland or mainland Europe.

Getting Around Edinburgh

One of the my favourite ways to explore Edinburgh is on foot – despite some of the hills and stairways you need to encounter.

The city is compact and offers countless historic sites, charming neighborhoods, and hidden gems within walking distance.

Here’s an overview of walking in Edinburgh, followed by other transportation options to help you navigate the city.

Exploring Edinburgh on Foot

Walking is a fantastic way to experience Edinburgh’s unique character. The Old Town’s narrow alleyways, known as “closes,” and the broad streets of the New Town are ideal for leisurely strolls.

  • The Royal Mile : This historic thoroughfare connects Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Palace, filled with shops, restaurants, and street performers. It’s a must-walk route.
  • Arthur’s Seat : For a more adventurous walk, hike up Arthur’s Seat, a dormant volcano offering panoramic views of the city. The hike up Arthur’s Seat is relatively easy but you still need to wear good walking shoes. I’ve done it in thongs (flip flops) before and I do not recommend this to anyone.
  • Calton Hill : A shorter walk with great views, featuring iconic monuments like the National Monument of Scotland and the Dugald Stewart Monument . Calton Hill is especially beautiful at sunset!

Tips for Walking in Edinburgh

  • Comfortable Shoes : Edinburgh has some steep hills, so wear comfortable footwear.
  • Navigation Tools : Keep a map or GPS app handy, especially in the winding streets of the Old Town.
  • Weather Considerations : Bring a light jacket or raincoat, as Edinburgh’s weather can change quickly.

Public Transportation Options

If you prefer not to walk or need to travel longer distances, Edinburgh has a comprehensive public transportation network:

  • Lothian Buses : The bus network connects major attractions and neighborhoods. Purchase tickets on the bus or use a day pass for unlimited travel.
  • Edinburgh Trams : The tram line runs from the city center to Edinburgh Airport, with stops at key points. Trams are a convenient option for airport transfers and travel along the city center.

Tips for Public Transportation

  • Tickets : Single-ride tickets and day passes are available. Consider a Ridacard for unlimited rides over a set period.
  • Transit Apps : Use the “Transport for Edinburgh” app for real-time bus and tram information, route planning, and ticket purchase.

Bike Rentals and Cycling Routes

For a different perspective, rent a bike and explore Edinburgh’s cycling routes:

  • Bike Rentals : Shops like “ Leith Cycle Co. ” offer rental services. Bikes are great for exploring scenic paths and cycle-friendly roads.
  • Cycling Routes : Try the Water of Leith Walkway for a scenic ride, or venture to the Pentland Hills for a longer adventure.

Car Rental and Parking Options

If you plan to explore beyond Edinburgh, renting a car might be ideal:

  • Car Rental : Major rental agencies like Hertz and Enterprise operate in the city. Car rentals are great for day trips or exploring surrounding areas.
  • Parking Options : Parking in central Edinburgh can be challenging. Consider park-and-ride locations on the outskirts, or use parking garages in central locations like Castle Terrace and St. James Centre.

Where to Stay in Edinburgh

Choosing the right place to stay in Edinburgh can make a big difference in your travel experience. Here’s a guide to Edinburgh’s neighborhoods and accommodation options, with specific recommendations for hotels, hostels, and other types of lodging.

Neighborhoods in Edinburgh

Each neighborhood in Edinburgh has its unique charm. Here’s an overview of the key areas to consider when choosing where to stay:

The Old Town is the heart of historic Edinburgh. With its medieval architecture and cobblestone streets, it’s ideal for those who want to immerse themselves in the city’s past. This my favourite part of Edinburgh and also where I used to live! I was lucky enough to live right below the Castle on the Grassmarket.

  • Close to major attractions like Edinburgh Castle, The Royal Mile, and Holyrood Palace.
  • Rich in character, with traditional pubs, boutique shops, and museums.
  • Bustling with activity during festivals like the Edinburgh Festival Fringe .
  • The Balmoral Hotel : A luxury hotel with a landmark clock tower. Offers elegant rooms, a spa, and fine dining. If you are a fan of Harry Potter ask to stay (or look at) the Harry Potter room.
  • The Grassmarket Hotel : A mid-range hotel with a central location in the vibrant Grassmarket area.
  • KickAss Greyfriars : A budget-friendly backpacker’s hostel near Greyfriars Kirkyard, offering shared and private rooms.

The New Town is known for its Georgian architecture and wide streets. It’s ideal for those seeking a more contemporary atmosphere with great shopping and dining options.

  • Home to some of Edinburgh’s best shops, cafes, and restaurants.
  • Offers a more relaxed vibe compared to the Old Town.
  • Centrally located, with easy access to Princes Street and George Street.
  • InterContinental Edinburgh The George : A luxury hotel in a Georgian building, offering spacious rooms and a sophisticated atmosphere. The George has a beautiful high tea and decorated with the most beautiful decor at Christmas time.
  • Travelodge Edinburgh Central Queen Street : A budget-friendly hotel with basic amenities and a central location.

Leith is a trendy, quieter area with waterfront views. It’s perfect for travelers who prefer a more laid-back setting.

  • Quieter than the city center, with a unique character and creative energy.
  • Features waterfront restaurants, bars, and the Royal Yacht Britannia .
  • Great for experiencing Edinburgh’s local scene away from the tourist crowds
  • Malmaison Edinburgh : A boutique hotel on the waterfront, offering stylish rooms and a trendy bar.
  • Ocean Apartments Edinburgh : Located near the waterfront, this place offers comfortable self-catering apartments at a reasonable price.

Tips for Booking Accommodation

To ensure you find the best place to stay in Edinburgh, consider these tips:

  • Best Times to Visit : The summer months are busiest due to festivals, so book early. Consider visiting in spring or autumn for lower prices and fewer crowds
  • Online Platforms : Use popular booking sites like , , VRBO or Expedia to compare prices and read reviews
  • Discounts : Look for early booking discounts, special offers, and package deals that include accommodation and attractions

Top Attractions in Edinburgh

Edinburgh offers a captivating mix of history, culture, and stunning landscapes. Here are some attractions that make this city so unique, along with reasons why you should visit them.

1. Edinburgh Castle

One of my favourite places and a place you can’t miss is Edinburgh Castle . This iconic fortress dominates the city’s skyline from Castle Rock. Inside, you’ll find the Crown Jewels , the Stone of Destiny , and the National War Museum . It’s also home to the famous One O’Clock Gun , fired daily except Sundays. Explore the castle’s history and enjoy panoramic views of Edinburgh from the castle walls.

➡️ Book Your Tickets Here

2. The Royal Mile

Stretching from Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Palace, The Royal Mile is a scenic route through the heart of the Old Town.

It’s filled with historic sites, shops, restaurants, and street performances, making it a vibrant place to explore. Wander through the narrow closes (alleyways) and soak up the medieval atmosphere.

➡️ Book Your Tour Here

3. Arthur’s Seat

Arthur’s Seat is a dormant volcano and one of Edinburgh’s most popular hiking spots. A climb to the summit rewards you with breathtaking views of the city and beyond. It’s a great way to experience Edinburgh’s natural beauty and enjoy a bit of outdoor adventure within the city.

4. Holyrood Palace

Holyrood Palace is the official residence of the British monarch in Scotland. Visitors can tour the state apartments, including the chambers of Mary, Queen of Scots , and explore the ruins of Holyrood Abbey .

The palace also features beautiful gardens and hosts events throughout the year. If you are looking for some amazing scones a visit to the Cafe is a must (as touristy as it sounds).

5. Calton Hill

Calton Hill is known for its collection of monuments, including the National Monument of Scotland and the Dugald Stewart Monument. It’s an excellent spot for taking in panoramic views of the city, especially at sunrise or sunset. The walk to the top is relatively easy, making it accessible for most visitors.

6. National Museum of Scotland

The National Museum of Scotland offers a diverse range of exhibits, from Scottish history and culture to science and technology. Highlights include the Grand Gallery , the Lewis Chessmen , and the reconstructed T. rex skeleton. It’s a great place for families and those interested in learning about Scotland’s rich heritage.

7. The Scotch Whisky Experience

For whisky enthusiasts, The Scotch Whisky Experience is a must-visit. Located near Edinburgh Castle, this attraction offers guided tours that explore the history and production of Scotch whisky. You’ll also get to taste various whiskies and learn about different whisky regions. When you hear about the ride in the Whiskey Barrel is sounds a bit lame but take it from someone who is not a fan of Whisky, this is a must do.

8. Dean Village

Dean Village is a hidden gem along the Water of Leith, offering a peaceful escape from the city’s hustle and bustle. I used to walk through Dean Village to get to work and I never got sick of this picturesque village.

Walk through the historic village, admire the picturesque buildings, and take a stroll along the Water of Leith Walkway. It’s a great spot for photography and a relaxing afternoon.

9. Stockbridge

Stockbridge is a charming neighborhood known for its boutique shops, cafes, and the Stockbridge Market . It’s perfect for exploring at a leisurely pace, with plenty of places to enjoy a coffee or a bite to eat. Don’t miss the picturesque St. Bernard’s Well and the nearby Inverleith Park .

And, if you listen hard enough on Monday or Thursday night your might hear the call of the bagpipes as the Stockbridge Pipeband practice a tune or two.

10. Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is a beautiful place to spend a few hours. Explore the extensive gardens, including the Glasshouses, which feature tropical and exotic plants. It’s a peaceful retreat in the city, perfect for nature lovers and families.

Food and Drink in Edinburgh

Edinburgh’s culinary scene offers a delightful mix of traditional Scottish cuisine and international flavors.

Whether you’re seeking a classic Scottish dish or a unique dining experience, here’s an overview of the city’s food and drink landscape, complete with recommendations for pubs, cafes, fine dining, and street food.

Traditional Scottish Cuisine

Scottish cuisine is known for its hearty dishes and unique flavors. Here are some traditional dishes you should try while in Edinburgh:

  • Haggis, Neeps, and Tatties : Haggis is a savory pudding made from sheep’s offal, spices, and oats, often served with neeps (turnips) and tatties (potatoes).
  • Scotch Pie : A savory meat pie typically filled with minced lamb or beef.
  • Cullen Skink : A creamy soup made with smoked haddock, potatoes, and onions.

Best Places to Try Traditional Dishes

To enjoy authentic Scottish cuisine, head to these recommended spots:

  • The Witchery by the Castle : This fine-dining restaurant near Edinburgh Castle offers a special experience with a traditional Scottish menu. The setting is gothic and atmospheric, adding to the dining experience. If you are visiting in August when the Edinburgh Tattoo is on try and book as late as possible. You will be able to just outside the door and get a unique view as all the performers march out of the castle. It is really something special.
  • The Mitre : Located on The Royal Mile, The Mitre serves classic pub food, including haggis, Scotch pies, and other traditional Scottish dishes. It’s a great spot for a relaxed meal.
  • The Mussel & Steak Bar : If you love seafood and steak, this spot in the Grassmarket is perfect. Try their mussels, prepared in various styles, or their hearty steaks.

Recommendations for Pubs, Cafes, and Fine Dining

Edinburgh has a vibrant pub scene, quaint cafes, and upscale dining options. Here’s where to find the best experiences:

  • Pubs : The Grassmarket is home to many excellent pubs. Stroll along the area and find your favorite spot for a pint and pub grub. Try “ The White Hart Inn ,” one of Edinburgh’s oldest pubs, for a historic atmosphere and a pub that claims to be haunted or if you’re looking for some live music and dancing “ Biddy Mulligans ” is a fantastic Irish pub.
  • Cafes : For healthier options and great juices and smoothies, head to Hula Grassmarket . It’s a popular choice for those seeking a light meal or snack in a trendy setting – it is my favourite place to grab a juice or a smoothie on the go.
  • Fine Dining : If you’re in the mood for a luxurious experience, “The Witchery by the Castle” is a top choice. For a more refined setting, “ The George Hotel” is ideal for high tea, offering an elegant environment and a delightful selection of teas and pastries.

Tips for Food Markets and Street Food

If you prefer a more casual dining experience or want to sample local produce, Edinburgh has several food markets and street food options:

  • Stockbridge Market : Held on Sundays, this market features a variety of stalls offering fresh produce, baked goods, street food, and crafts. It’s a great place to experience Edinburgh’s local food scene.
  • Grassmarket : In addition to its pubs, the Grassmarket hosts various events and street food vendors, especially during festivals. It’s a lively area to explore.
  • Marks and Spencer Food Hall : If you’re looking for an affordable meal with a view, the food area at Marks and Spencer on Princes Street offers a selection of prepared foods and a fantastic view of Edinburgh Castle.

Cultural Experiences and Events in Edinburgh

Edinburgh is a city with a rich cultural scene, offering a wide range of experiences for visitors. From museums and galleries to theaters and live music venues, there’s always something happening in this vibrant city. Here’s an overview of the cultural landscape and a guide to the best festivals, events, and entertainment options throughout the year.

Museums and Galleries

Edinburgh’s museums and galleries showcase a diverse range of art, history, and science. Here are some must-visit places:

  • National Museum of Scotland : This extensive museum covers everything from Scottish history and culture to science and technology. It’s a great destination for families and anyone interested in learning more about Scotland’s heritage
  • Scottish National Gallery : Located on the Mound, this gallery houses an impressive collection of European art, including works by Titian, Van Gogh, and Monet. It’s a must-see for art lovers.
  • Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art : Split across two buildings, this gallery focuses on modern and contemporary art. It’s an ideal place to explore the works of Scottish and international artists.

Theaters and Live Performances

Edinburgh is home to a thriving theater scene, offering everything from classic plays to experimental performances. Check out these popular venues:

  • Edinburgh Playhouse : One of the largest theaters in the UK, it hosts a variety of performances, including musicals, plays, and concerts.
  • The King’s Theatre : A historic venue showcasing traditional plays, pantomimes, and touring productions.
  • Traverse Theatre : Known for its contemporary and experimental works, the Traverse Theatre is a hub for innovative performances.

Live Music Venues and Comedy Clubs

If you’re into live music or comedy, Edinburgh has plenty to offer. Here are some recommendations:

  • The Queen’s Hall : This venue hosts a variety of musical performances, from classical and jazz to folk and rock. It’s a versatile spot for live music
  • Sneaky Pete’s : A small and intimate venue that features up-and-coming bands and DJs. It’s a great place to discover new music
  • The Stand Comedy Club : For a night of laughter, visit The Stand Comedy Club, one of Edinburgh’s top spots for live comedy. It hosts both local and touring comedians.

Festivals and Events

Edinburgh is renowned for its festivals, attracting visitors from all over the world. Here are some of the most popular events throughout the year:

  • Edinburgh Festival Fringe : The largest arts festival in the world, the Fringe features thousands of performances across various venues in August. Expect everything from comedy and theater to music and dance
  • Edinburgh International Festival : Running concurrently with the Fringe, this festival focuses on high-quality theater, opera, music, and dance
  • Edinburgh International Book Festival : Held in Charlotte Square Gardens, this festival brings together authors, poets, and writers for readings, talks, and discussions
  • Hogmanay : Edinburgh’s famous New Year’s celebration features street parties, concerts, and fireworks. It’s one of the biggest Hogmanay celebrations in the world and is not to be missed.

Practical Tips for First-Time Visitors to Edinburgh

Planning your first trip to Edinburgh? Here are some practical tips to help you make the most of your visit. From the best time to go to budgeting, safety, and day trips, these insights will ensure your journey is enjoyable and stress-free.

Best Time to Visit Edinburgh

The timing of your visit to Edinburgh can affect your experience. Here’s what to consider:

  • Seasonal Variations : Summer (June to August) is peak season, with the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and the International Festival drawing large crowds. Spring (March to May) and autumn (September to November) offer milder weather and fewer tourists. Winter (December to February ) can be cold and rainy, but it’s also when you can experience the magical Hogmanay celebrations.
  • Weather Considerations : Edinburgh’s weather is unpredictable. Bring layers and a rain jacket, as rain showers can occur even in summer. In winter, temperatures can drop, so pack warm clothing.

Budgeting and Managing Expenses

Edinburgh can be an expensive city, but with some planning, you can keep costs under control:

  • Accommodation : Book in advance, especially during peak seasons, to get better rates. Consider budget options like hostels or short-term rentals.
  • Transportation : Use public transport and consider getting a day pass for unlimited travel. Walking is also a cost-effective way to explore the city.
  • Meals : To save on food, look for budget-friendly cafes, street food, and food markets. Many pubs offer affordable meals and traditional dishes.
  • Attractions : Some attractions offer discounted rates if you book online or visit during off-peak hours. Consider buying a city pass for bundled entry to multiple sites.

Safety Tips and Emergency Contacts

Edinburgh is generally safe, but it’s always good to be cautious. Here are some safety tips and important emergency contacts:

  • General Safety : Keep an eye on your belongings, especially in crowded areas. Avoid poorly lit streets at night and use well-known taxi services if needed.
  • Emergency Contacts : In case of emergencies, dial 999 for police, fire, or medical assistance. For non-emergency police matters, dial 101.
  • Travel Insurance : Consider purchasing travel insurance to cover unexpected events, medical emergencies, or trip cancellations.

Packing and Dressing for Edinburgh’s Climate

Edinburgh’s weather can be unpredictable, so pack smartly to stay comfortable:

  • Clothing : Bring layers, including a light jacket, sweater, and waterproof raincoat. Comfortable shoes are essential for walking on cobblestone streets and hilly terrain.
  • Accessories : Don’t forget a compact umbrella, gloves, and a scarf for colder weather. Sunscreen is also useful, especially in summer.
  • Electronics : If you’re bringing electronic devices, remember that the UK uses a different plug type (Type G), so carry a travel adapter.

Day Trips and Excursions

Edinburgh is a great base for exploring nearby attractions and natural beauty. Consider these day trips and excursions:

  • Rosslyn Chapel : Located about 7 miles from Edinburgh, this historic chapel is famous for its intricate stone carvings and connection to the Knights Templar.
  • The Highlands : Take a day trip to the Scottish Highlands to experience stunning landscapes, lochs, and castles. Popular destinations include Loch Lomond, Glencoe, and Inverness.
  • St. Andrews : Known for its golf courses and historic university, St. Andrews is a charming town about 1.5 hours from Edinburgh by train.

Accessibility in Edinburgh

Edinburgh is committed to being an inclusive city, with efforts to improve accessibility for visitors with mobility challenges.

Here’s what you need to know about accessibility in Edinburgh, including transportation, accommodations, and attractions.

Accessible Transportation

  • Buses and Trams : Lothian Buses and Edinburgh Trams are equipped with low-floor access and designated spaces for wheelchairs. Trams have level boarding at all stops, and many buses are designed to accommodate mobility aids
  • Taxi Services : Several taxi companies offer accessible vehicles with ramps or lifts for wheelchair users. Consider using a trusted taxi service for convenient transportation
  • Parking : Blue Badge holders can park in designated spaces throughout the city and use park-and-ride facilities for easy access to public transport

Accessible Attractions

Many of Edinburgh’s attractions are accessible, but some historic sites may have limited access due to their age. Here are some accessible attractions to consider:

  • Edinburgh Castle : While the castle has steep terrain, it offers shuttle services and accessible routes to key areas.
  • The National Museum of Scotland : This museum has ramps, lifts, and accessible restrooms, ensuring a smooth experience for visitors with mobility challenges.
  • Holyrood Palace : The palace provides accessible tours and has facilities to support visitors with disabilities.

Accessible Accommodations

Several hotels and accommodations in Edinburgh cater to accessibility needs. Consider these options when booking your stay:

  • Apex Grassmarket Hotel : Offers accessible rooms and is located near Edinburgh Castle and The Royal Mile.
  • Novotel Edinburgh Centre : This hotel features accessible rooms, elevators, and facilities designed for wheelchair users.

Shopping in Edinburgh

Edinburgh offers a wide range of shopping experiences, from high-end boutiques to traditional Scottish goods. Here’s an overview of popular shopping districts and tips for finding unique souvenirs.

Popular Shopping Districts

  • Princes Street : This bustling street is home to major department stores, including Marks and Spencer and House of Fraser. It’s ideal for high-street shopping and has stunning views of Edinburgh Castle.
  • George Street : Known for its elegant Georgian architecture, George Street features upscale boutiques, fashion brands, and stylish cafes.
  • The Royal Mile : Along this historic street, you’ll find shops selling Scottish goods, tartan, and souvenirs. It’s a great place to pick up unique gifts.

Local Shops and Boutiques

If you’re looking for a more unique shopping experience, check out these local shops and boutiques:

  • Cranachan & Crowdie : A specialty shop on The Royal Mile offering Scottish food products, gifts, and crafts
  • Armstrongs Vintage Emporium : This vintage clothing store in the Grassmarket is a treasure trove of unique finds from various eras
  • The Red Door Gallery : A small gallery in the Old Town featuring art prints, ceramics, and handmade gifts by local artists

Tips for Buying Souvenirs and Unique Gifts

  • Scottish Goods : Look for traditional Scottish items like tartan scarves, cashmere sweaters, and tweed accessories
  • Local Crafts : Consider buying handmade crafts and artwork from local artists to support the community
  • Avoid Mass-Produced Souvenirs : Instead of generic souvenirs, seek out unique items that reflect Edinburgh’s culture and history

Technology and Connectivity

Staying connected in Edinburgh is easy with the right technology. Here’s how to ensure you have reliable Wi-Fi, mobile data, and useful travel apps during your visit.

Wi-Fi and Mobile Data

  • Free Wi-Fi : Many cafes, restaurants, and public spaces offer free Wi-Fi. The Edinburgh Airport also provides complimentary Wi-Fi for travelers.
  • Mobile Data : Check with your mobile provider about international roaming options or purchase a local SIM card for data during your stay. Most major carriers offer prepaid plans with ample data for tourists.

Useful Travel Apps

To navigate Edinburgh and make the most of your trip, these apps can be invaluable:

  • Transport for Edinburgh : This app provides real-time information on Lothian Buses and Edinburgh Trams, including route planning and ticket purchasing
  • Google Maps : Ideal for navigation and finding local attractions, restaurants, and transportation options
  • TripAdvisor : Use this app to find restaurant reviews, attractions, and user-generated tips

Camera Gear and Accessories

For photography enthusiasts, Edinburgh offers endless photo opportunities. Consider these tips for capturing the city’s beauty:

  • Camera Gear : If you’re traveling with a DSLR or mirrorless camera, bring a versatile lens for cityscapes and portraits. A lightweight tripod can be useful for low-light shots and long exposures
  • Smartphone Accessories : For smartphone photography, consider a clip-on lens for wide-angle or macro shots. A portable power bank ensures your phone stays charged throughout the day.

Sustainability and Eco-Friendly Travel

If you’re conscious of your environmental impact while traveling, Edinburgh has plenty of options for sustainable and eco-friendly experiences. Here’s how you can reduce your carbon footprint during your visit.

Eco-Friendly Accommodations and Activities

  • Green Hotels : Some hotels in Edinburgh have eco-friendly practices, such as energy-efficient lighting and recycling programs. Check for Green Tourism accreditation when choosing accommodations.
  • Outdoor Activities : Instead of car rentals, opt for walking, cycling, or using public transportation to explore the city. Edinburgh’s compact layout makes it easy to get around without a car.

Sustainable Transportation and Dining

  • Public Transport : Lothian Buses and Edinburgh Trams are environmentally conscious, reducing carbon emissions with electric and low-emission vehicles.
  • Sustainable Dining : Seek out restaurants that focus on locally sourced ingredients and sustainable practices. “The Gardener’s Cottage” and “Hendersons” are great examples of eco-friendly dining in Edinburgh.

Tips for Reducing Environmental Impact

  • Reusable Items : Bring a reusable water bottle and shopping bag to minimize single-use plastic waste.
  • Conserve Energy : Turn off lights and unplug chargers when not in use. Participate in hotel recycling programs if available.
  • Support Local : Buy from local shops and artisans to support the community and reduce the carbon footprint associated with mass-produced goods.

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Nightlife and Entertainment

Edinburgh has a vibrant nightlife scene with something for everyone, from lively pubs and clubs to quieter theaters and live music venues. Here’s where to find the best nightlife and entertainment options in the city.

Pubs and Bars

Edinburgh is famous for its historic pubs and lively bars. Check out these spots for a great night out:

  • The Last Drop : Located in the Grassmarket, this historic pub has a relaxed atmosphere and a great selection of drinks
  • The Bow Bar : Known for its extensive whisky selection, The Bow Bar is a must-visit for whisky lovers
  • BrewDog Edinburgh : If you’re into craft beer, this bar on Lothian Road offers a variety of unique and experimental brews

Clubs and Late-Night Venues

For those who prefer a more energetic night out, Edinburgh has plenty of clubs and late-night venues:

  • Cabaret Voltaire : A popular nightclub in the Old Town, offering live music and DJ sets in a historic underground setting
  • The Bongo Club : Known for its eclectic mix of music and events, The Bongo Club is a great place for dancing and live performances
  • Why Not Nightclub : Located in the New Town, this club is a favorite for those looking to party late into the night.

Quieter Evening Activities

If you prefer a more relaxed evening, consider these options for quieter entertainment:

  • The Lyceum Theatre : This historic theater hosts a variety of plays and performances, perfect for a cultured night out
  • The Queen’s Hall : Known for its classical music concerts and intimate performances, The Queen’s Hall offers a more refined evening experience
  • Jazz Bar : Located on Chambers Street, the Jazz Bar is ideal for those who enjoy live jazz music in a cozy setting.

FAQs: Edinburgh Travel Guide

What is the best time of year to visit edinburgh.

A: Summer is popular for its festivals, but spring and autumn offer milder weather and fewer crowds.

Is Edinburgh a walkable city?

Yes, most attractions are within walking distance, but be prepared for hilly terrain.

What public transportation options are available in Edinburgh?

Lothian Buses and Edinburgh Trams are the primary public transit systems.

Can I use contactless payment methods in Edinburgh?

Yes, most places accept contactless payments, including public transportation.

Are there vegetarian or vegan food options in Edinburgh?

Yes, Edinburgh has many vegetarian and vegan-friendly restaurants.

Final Thoughts:

Exploring Edinburgh is a journey through history, culture, and natural beauty. From its iconic landmarks like Edinburgh Castle and The Royal Mile to its vibrant food scene and diverse cultural experiences, there’s something for everyone in this captivating city.

By following this guide, you’ll have a comprehensive resource for planning your visit, complete with tips on transportation, accommodation, attractions, and more.

To ensure your trip to Edinburgh is as enjoyable as possible, take advantage of the practical advice provided in this guide.

Whether you’re interested in exploring the top attractions, discovering hidden gems, or experiencing the city’s rich cultural scene, you’re well-prepared for an unforgettable visit.

As you plan your trip, one of the biggest challenges is managing your budget. To help you estimate your expenses and make informed decisions, we’ve created the Edinburgh Trip Budget Calculator.

Use this tool to break down your costs, from accommodation and transportation to food and attractions. It will help you set a realistic budget and make the most of your time in Edinburgh.

Related Posts:

Ultimate Edinburgh Travel Guide The Capital of Scotland: When did Edinburgh become the capital? Edinburgh in January: 23 Best Things to Do Edinburgh in February: 34 Best Things to Do Edinburgh Pronunciation: How to Pronounce Edinburgh Best Edinburgh Trip Budget Calculator Scottish Name Generator Can You Drink the Tap Water in Edinburgh?

Edinburgh Travel Planning Guide

🚑  Should I buy Edinburgh travel insurance?

100% YES!  — Edinburgh has the NHS in terms of healthcare, but it’s only for citizens! Foreigners visiting need travel insurance in case anything happens on their visit. I recommend World Nomads – starting at just $5 a day!

💧 Can you drink the water in Edinburgh?

Yes, Edinburgh is a major city, and you can drink tap water. However, I would not drink from the toilets on public transport. ( Read more )

🚙💨  Is it safe to rent a car in Edinburgh?

Yes , Renting a car is safe in Edinburgh! If you want to go on road trips or explore more off-the-beaten-path adventures outside of the city, you might want to consider renting a car.

📲  Will my phone work in Edinburgh?

Depends — Some American companies will work in Edinburgh, but many will not. If your phone doesn’t work in Edinburgh, I recommend getting a Giff Gaff sim card so you can still access Google Maps, phone calls, texts, etc. However, you will find many places around Edinburgh that have free WiFi, so you can check your Google Maps as you go.

🏩  What’s the best way to book my accommodation in Edinburgh?

In my opinion, is the best option for hotels. For hostels, I recommend Hostel World . If you want an apartment, check out  VRBO  (which is cheaper than Airbnb). If you are planning on staying in

✈️  What’s the best site to buy flights to Edinburgh?

To find cheap flights to Edinburgh, I recommend  Skyscanner .

🎫  Do I need a visa for Edinburgh?

Probably not—US , Canadian, Australian, and EU passport holders don’t need a visa for stays under 6 months. However, some other countries do (check here!). If you plan to stay more than 6 months, you must look into visas.

Fiona is the founder of Discovering Edinburgh. Fiona has travelled to over 35 countries and fell in love with Edinburgh. After visiting Edinburgh on a day trip, she lived there for three years. Discovering Edinburgh is your go-to resource for everything Edinburgh. Whether you're a local or tourist you are bound to find something new.

Best Time to Visit

Edinburgh Airport Guide

Public Transportation

48-Hour Itinerary

Day Trips From Edinburgh

Top Things to Do

Best Museums

Visiting Edinburgh Castle

Guide to Arthur's Seat

Best Restaurants

Nightlife Guide

Your Trip to Edinburgh: The Complete Guide

Known sometimes as "The Athens of the North" or "Auld Reekie," the Scottish capital is one of the country's most popular destinations, and is a great place to spend a long weekend or to include in a larger Scotland itinerary . Edinburgh is relatively compact and walkable, but there's a lot to see and do in this historic and culturally vibrant capital, including exploring Edinburgh Castle, visiting one of the city's top museums, going on a nearby hike, or hitting up the annual Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Whether you are looking to explore Edinburgh's food and bar scene or to travel back in time through its history, here are a few things to keep in mind while planning your trip.

Planning Your Trip

  • Best Time to Visit: Based purely on the weather, June through August is the best time of year to travel to Edinburgh. Scotland can be notoriously gloomy and wet during the winter, but summer brings moderate temperatures and some sun, making it ideal for outdoor sightseeing. Do keep in mind that summer is also peak tourist season; if you want to avoid the crowds, consider planning your trip for either May or September. No matter what time of year you visit, be sure to pack layers of clothing.
  • Language: English is the primary language spoken in Scotland and the rest of the U.K. However, because Edinburgh is a fairly large, international city, you may hear other languages spoken around town. Gaelic is also spoken in some parts of Scotland.
  • Currency: The currency in the U.K. is the pound sterling , which is also known as GBP or just "the pound." Cents are known as pence.
  • Getting Around : While Edinburgh is a highly walkable city, especially in the city center, there are good public transportation options, including the Lothian Buses and Edinburgh Trams. Taxis and Ubers are also available. Car rentals are another option, though we don't recommend driving or parking in the city center of Edinburgh.
  • Travel Tip : Make your visit to Edinburgh part of a larger exploration of Scotland, taking advantage of the trains if you prefer not to drive through the winding roads. Glasgow is less than an hour away from Edinburgh, while Dundee and St. Andrews are a quick journey north. But you don't have to pick just the bigger destinations to better understand Scottish culture. Nearby, look for day trips to the Scottish Borders, North Berwick and Stirling, when planning an itinerary.

Things to Do

Edinburgh has a lot of history, culture, and art available to explore, as well as expansive shopping areas. Touring Edinburgh Castle , one of the oldest fortified palaces in Europe, is a must-do for all visitors, as is hiking Arthur's Seat , the highest point in Edinburgh. Another popular attraction is Palace of Holyroodhouse; the Scottish residence of Queen Elizabeth II, it welcomes visitors whenever the British Royal Family is not in town. Here are some of the top things to do during your trip to Edinburgh:

  • Tour The National Art Gallery of Scotland ; consisting of three galleries, this vast art museum showcases works from both Scotland and around the world.
  • Dine at The Kitchin , a renowned Michelin-starred restaurant that highlights local ingredients.
  • Attend the annual Edinburgh Festival Fringe , the world's largest arts festival , to see performances ranging from plays and comedy shows to live music.

For more, explore our full-length articles on the top things to do in Edinburgh and the best museums in Edinburgh . And, be sure to check out our guide to spending 48 hours in the Scottish capital .

Iain Masterton/Getty Images 

What to Eat and Drink

Edinburgh is an international city that boasts cuisine from all over the world, but of course you'll want to experience Scottish fare while visiting. Haggis, a meaty pudding cooked in a sheep's stomach, is Scotland's most famous dish and broadly available around Edinburgh, especially at pubs. Other local dishes include Stornoway black pudding, Cullen skink, Cranachan, and smoked salmon. And if you're wanting to imbibe on Scottish whisky, you can sample it at any number of places, including The Abbey Bar and The Balmoral Whisky Bar .

Because the city is so diverse, travelers will find not just pubs, but also fancy Michelin-starred restaurants, quirky burger joints, and outdoor food stalls. While many restaurants and pubs can be found in the city center, be sure to venture into Leith to try pizza at La Favorita or Scottish-French fusion at Restaurant Martin Wishart .

For more, check out the best restaurants in Edinburgh and our guide to Edinburgh nightlife .

Where to Stay

While each of Edinburgh's 12 neighborhoods is distinctly charming, you might find some more convenient than others depending on your itinerary, Most travelers opt to stay in the city center, which includes the Royal Mile and New Town. Many of the popular hotels, including both chain and boutique options, are located in these two areas alongside the popular attractions and shopping streets. If you prefer to stay somewhere close to the water, look for a hotel or apartment rental in Leith, a cool neighborhood with lots of independent cafés, stores, and bookshops. For something a little off-center, head to Portobello, a seaside resort neighborhood only 20 minutes from central Princes Street. Some iconic Edinburgh hotels include The Balmoral , The Witchery by the Castle , The Royal Scots Club , and Waldorf Astoria Edinburgh .

Read our roundup of the best hotels in Edinburgh to learn more and find the right accommodation for you.

Getting There

Most international travelers arrive in Edinburgh by flying into Edinburgh Airport , a fairly busy airport with one main terminal. The airport services several cities in the U.S., mostly on the East Coast, as well as Europe and the Middle East. It also has numerous flights that connect from London's Heathrow Airport.

Alternatively, you can take a train from London or one of the U.K.'s other large cities; trains operate regularly and arrive at Edinburgh Waverley station. If you're driving, be sure to include a GPS in your rental car to help navigate the unfamiliar roads.

Culture and Customs

Tipping isn't as frequent in Scotland as it is in America, but it's still customary to tip in restaurants or taxis, especially when you receive good service. The typical amount is 10 percent, but you can use your best judgment. In a pub, leave a pound or two when ordering drinks at the bar. And while it may be slightly jarring to some visitors, the legal drinking age in Scotland is 18.

 Joe Daniel Price/Getty Images

Money Saving Tips

  • The best way to save a few bucks is to walk. Edinburgh is a very walkable city and it's central area is compact enough that you shouldn't need a rental car or to take many taxis. Plan out your itinerary to take advantage of walking everywhere you can.
  • Many of the museums offer free entry, including The National Museum of Scotland, The Museum of Childhood, and The Museum on the Mound. Historic cathedrals like St. Giles' Cathedral are also free to enter.
  • Tour the Scottish Parliament for a glimpse inside Scotland's political landscape. It's open to the public six days a week and tours are free.
  • To save money on meals, pay a visit to one of Edinburgh's food markets. The Pitt Market, which takes place every Saturday in Leith, is one of the most popular. Travelers arriving at Waverley Station will also find more than 40 food stalls at Waverley Market @ Platform 2.
  • Two discount attraction passes are available for tourists in Edinburgh: Royal Edinburgh Ticket and Edinburgh City Pass .

Visit Scotland. "Frequently Asked Questions About Scotland."

VisitScotland. "Frequently Asked Questions About Scotland."

This Is Edinburgh. "Edinburgh Fringe Festival."

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17 best things to do in Edinburgh - Scotland's lively capital city

Tasnim  Nazeer

Sep 17, 2021 • 9 min read

Edinburgh from Calton Hill.

View of the Edinburgh skyline from Calton Hill © bfurbush / Budget Travel

Edinburgh is renowned for being one of Europe’s most lively and friendly cities. It offers visitors the best of both worlds: urban attractions, and beautiful natural landscapes, there’s plenty of choice to suit everyone. If you want to explore more of what the Scottish capital has to offer here are some of the best things to see and do in easy-to-navigate Edinburgh. 

The Royal Mile

Resting like a gem near Holyrood Park , The Royal Mile is a succession of streets through Edinburgh’s Old Town which connect Edinburgh Castle and Palace of Holyroodhouse. The distance between the two royal residences is exactly a mile , hence its name, which it was given in the 16th century.

Along the cobbled streets, there are five sections to explore: Castle Esplanade, Castlehill, Lawnmarket, the High St and Canongate. Don’t miss the 15th-century grey behemoth, St Giles Cathedral, which was restored in the 19th century, and The Witches Well, a fountain that commemorates the Edinburgh women executed on suspicion of witchcraft between the 15th and 18th centuries. 

Other things to look for include Cannonball House, which has a cannonball lodged into its west wall (don't worry, it's unlikely to be embedded during a battle, more a municipal solution left there by engineers marking the height for the city's first waterpipe), and former Victorian church houses like John Knox House, which dates from 1470, the oldest building on the Royal Mile.

The Edinburgh Military Tattoo at Edinburgh Castle at sunset

Edinburgh Castle

No visit to the Scottish capital would be complete without seeing Edinburgh Castle . Originally built in 1103 on a large craggy rock, Britain’s most besieged castle can be seen from almost every corner city. 

Home to both Mary, Queen of Scots and Bonnie Prince Charlie, the royal residence also houses Britain’s oldest Crown jewels, known as the Honours of Scotland. They include an imperial golden crown, decorated with pearls and large amethyst, the silver-gilded Sceptre of Scotland and the Sword of State which was a gift to James IV in 1507 from Pope Julius II. Year-round guided tours give visitors a sense of what life was like at the castle. 

Dean Village

 In a city as beautiful as Edinburgh, it can be hard to stand out, but the tranquil Dean Village – which officially became part of the city in 1826 – just about takes the crown. Set next to the Water of Leith, which languorously rolls on past, this former grain milling area to the northwest of the city center is a photographer's dream model. 

Look out for the red sandstone of Well Court which hangs over the river. It was built in the 19th century for the owner of The Scotsman newspaper, Sir John Findlay. Other photo opportunities include the 106ft-tall (32m) Dean Bridge, which is the work of civil engineer Thomas Telford who designed the A5 road from London to Holyhead, and the Germanic-looking daffodil-yellow timber-fronted houses.

Man looking at Hollyrood Park and Arthur's Seat from Calton Hill with snow

Arthur’s Seat  

An unmissable landmark, Arthur’s Seat provides visitors with spectacular views of the city. Some 350 million years ago, these lurching green hills within Holyrood Park formed an active volcano. Long extinct, it's now hikers and visitors that stream down its steep banks like lava. Keen for breathtaking panoramic vistas of Edinburgh from above? You’ll see its spires and rooftops, the Firth of Forth, Murrayfield Stadium, the Pentland Hills and beyond from up here. 

Arthur’s Seat itself is a former hill fort surrounded by three defensive siblings. Self-guided tours of the site are available as a free podcast. Download the Hidden Trax app.

Scottish National Gallery

Edinburgh has plenty of great art galleries, but the Scottish National Gallery is its best. Located just off Princes Street, this imposing neoclassical behemoth dates back to the 1850s. It’s built by William Henry Playfair, who also designed the iconic Dugald Stewart Monument, the Royal Scottish Academy and over 15 other landmarks in the city (yes, including “Edinburgh's Disgrace”, the National Monument of Scotland, his unfinished ode to Parthenon in Athens)

Art enthusiasts can view Van Gogh's Orchard in Blossom (Plum Trees) , Lobster Telephone by Salvador Dalí and the transcendent Wandering Shadows by Scottish artist Peter Graham, among many others. There are paintings here too by Glasgow's prodigal son, Charles Rennie Mackintosh. The gallery has a restaurant and cafe that serves up traditional Scottish dishes such as haggis and black pudding, with overlooking views of the city landscape.

Inside Camera Obscura and World of Illusions is a major tourist attraction in the Old Town, Edinburgh, Scotland.

Camera Obscura

Close to the Royal Mile, Camera Obscura & World of Illusions is an observatory established by Maria Theresa Short in 1853. First established as a museum of art and science, today a spiral stairway leads up to an observatory at the top of the Outlook Tower where you will find the camera obscura, a device that uses lenses and mirrors to throw back a visual of the whole city onto a large screen.

Guides provide historical background to the devices used here and the quirky rooms leading up to the tower such as the vortex, a tunnel that seems to spin, and a mirror maze immerse visitors in different types of optical illusion.

Princes Street

Built in 1767, the historic Princes Street takes its name from the sons of King George III. Once a smart residential street, it's now the heart of Edinburgh's central shopping district. As well as independent stores, major high street brands and plenty of places to eat (try Sir Walter's Cafe in the Gardens, or Castello), the nearby Princes Street Gardens are a must. 

Not only a great place for a breather, the park has some lovely unique features worth seeking out including the recently-renovated Ross Fountain, a turquoise-and-gold, Beaux Arts–style water feature first erected in 1872, and a large floral clock (July to October) which is made anew each year from some 35,000 flowers.

New Town architecture in Edinburgh Scotland

The Georgian House 

A lesser-known attraction in Edinburgh’s New Town , the Georgian House was built in the late 17th century by acclaimed architect Robert Adam, the neoclassical revivalist whose exhaustive works include Pulteney Bridge in Bath and Harewood House near Leeds. As you’d expect for the Architect of the King's Works, the property is charmingly luxurious. 

There are paintings here by famed Scottish artists, including John Simmons, and oodles of Regency charm. The vast Drawing Room, which takes over the entire first floor, houses a square piano (the center of the room was for dancing), whilst the Dining Room has a wonderful drop-leaf dining table, a walnut longcase clock from London and black, gilt-carved chimney glass. Visitors can also see the Parlour, the Kitchen, the Basement and the Servants Quarters.

Mary King’s Close

Okay, so the immersive characters might not be for everyone, but The Real Mary King's Close offers a unique perspective on Edinburgh. Located beneath the Royal Mile, this labyrinth of 17th-century alleyways and streets stand almost as they were some 250 years years ago when the City Chambers were simply built on top of them. The tours here take you back in time with characters dressed in period costume adding to what is a memorable experience.

Outside the Victorian Tropical Palm House, the oldest glasshouse at the Royal Botanic Gardens.

Royal Botanic Garden

 Known locally as the Botanics , this sprawling 70-acre garden has more than 13,500 species of plant to discover across six different gardens. Look for the rare Catacol whitebeam, endemic to the Isle of Arran, located near the huge Victorian Glasshouses, which themselves are home to some of the world’s most endangered plants. There are also a number of tropical palms to discover as well as dwarf daffodils, snowdrops and1000 types of rhododendron.

Museum of Childhood

The first of its kind in the world, the Museum of Childhood homes all things related to children. From 19th-century Victorian dolls and a Raleigh Chopper bicycle to long-forgotten board games like Quintro and a 1920s voice-activated toy called Radio Rex, this place won’t just keep the kids amused, it will revive nostalgia in adults too.

Two women walking in Holyrood Abbey at Palace of Holyroodhouse, Holyrood district.

Holyrood Abbey

Founded by David I in 1128, all that remains of Holyrood Abbey are its ruins. But what magnificent ruins they are! The walls of this mighty Gothic church are still intact and the arched window frames and decorative detail on the front-west facade show how important this place of worship was. 

Later, the cloister precinct became Holyroodhouse where the royal family stayed when they were in Scotland. Guided tours help visitors to admire the architecture and learn more about the former abbey's significance.

The Chocolatarium

Chocolate lovers will be thrilled with The Chocolatarium in Edinburgh, located just off the Royal Mile. Visitors can expect to indulge at the micro chocolate factory and learn how the sweet treat is made. Ninety-minute guided tours take you through the growth of chocolate and even gives you the chance to make your very own bar to take home.

Edinburgh Zoo

Ideal for families, the 85-acre (34-hectare) Edinburgh zoo is home to more than 1000 rare and endangered animals and is world-renowned for its conservation efforts. Located on the top of Corstorphine Hill, the views back across the city are nearly as compelling as the wildlife.

Open since 1913, the wildlife park offers visitors a chance to see penguins, Sumatran tigers, monkeys, birds, fish, frogs and a whole host of different animals, including two of the rare greater one-horned rhinos. It is also the only zoo in Britain with giant pandas and koalas. Add in feeding shows, live events and screenings – and there is plenty here to fill a day.

Stockbridge Sunday Market in Edinburgh

Stockbridge Food Market

From warm, artisan loaves and thick Germagrain batards to filling East African gambos and fragrant three-lentil dahl with coconut and ginger, gourmands will not be disappointed with Stockbridge Food Market . 

Located in a small park between Saunders and Kerr Streets, just northeast of the beautiful Circus Lane mews, this Sunday showing of traditional Scottish food (think haggis or tablets, a traditional Scottish sweet that's similar to fudge) and superb international grub (huge pans of aromatic paella and delicious, nduja burrata taglioni) is where the foodies can be found.

Gladstone’s Land

Gladstone’s Land is an historic 17th-century tenement house on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, which was plucked from the jaws to demolition and lovingly restored to its former glory. Expect thick, dark-wood beams, period furniture and hand-painted ceilings as well as a retelling of the stories of those who lived there. 

Royal Yacht Britannia

If you like the thought of exploring a former royal family holiday home then step aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia for a guided tour of the world famous yacht. The Royal Yacht has travelled more than a million miles and its grandeur is exhibited in its 412ft (125m) build. It is moored in Leith Port and visitors are invited to explore the royal decor or indulge in a majestic afternoon tea.

You might also like: The 9 best day trips from Edinburgh Hiking, birding and wild camping at the best beaches near Edinburgh How best to get around the city of Edinburgh  

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