Student cities: studying in Edinburgh

Student cities: studying in Edinburgh
Culture, comedy, music, masses of pubs, pretty buildings and close to the beach. What more do you want?

Five words that sum up Edinburgh are classical, contemporary, civilised, cultural and chilled despite being a busy capital city.

It feels special and unlike anywhere else in the UK. That’s partly because it’s built on seven hills and because of its distinctive architecture. Edinburgh’s many ‘tenements’ (nineteenth century blocks of flats) look like what you’d find in Germany or Holland. And some of Edinburgh’s gothic architecture could be from a steam-punk graphic novel. You can imagine a Victorian astronaut climbing into a rocket that looks like Edinburgh’s Scott Monument.

There are quite distinct districts of Edinburgh. Some of them are urban and bustling; others are almost village-like in feel. The south of the city has always been one of the more popular areas for student accommodation but there are many others, such as Canonmills in the north of the city and Leith – now a chic spot on the city’s coastal side.

Free and cheap stuff to do in Edinburgh

The cheapest and one of the best ways of enjoying Edinburgh is to climb one of its hills and admire the stunning views. Ascending Arthur’s Seat involves a proper hill walk over steep and rocky terrain. It’s a craggy remnant of an extinct volcano that looks across the city and towards the coast. Calton Hill is in the city centre. You can’t miss it with its Acropolis-style monument at the top.

Of course, Edinburgh is known internationally for the Fringe festival in August, which is billed as the largest arts festival in the world. Some of the tickets for it are pricey but a non-stop ‘free fringe’ is organised. Edinburgh also has a big science festival, a book festival, food festival and a film festival.

If you don’t want to wait until the film festival to view some cutting edge cinema, a clutch of independents – Filmhouse, Cameo Picturehouse, Dominion Cinema and North Edinburgh Arts Centre Cinema – have student deals.

The Royal Mile has four free museums. Two of the most interesting are the Edinburgh Writers’ Museum, which celebrates the lives of three of Scotland’s most famous writers, and The People’s Story, which tells the history of Edinburgh and its people. Elsewhere, the Museum on the Mound is also free and it’s all about money (although no free money is given away). The Scottish National Gallery, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art and Scottish National Portrait Gallery are all free, as is the National Museum of Scotland, which has a roof terrace with views across the city.

Whistlebinkies is a cavernous music venue where most acts are free. The Stand comedy club runs free improvised comedy events. If it takes your fancy, free tours of the Scottish Parliament building are actually very popular. At the time of writing, the Potter Trail (as you suspect, a Harry Potter-themed walking tour) is free although you are encouraged to make a donation at the end.

If you want a brief break from city life, Portobello Beach is a bus ride from the city centre. It has a promenade, sand yachting, kite surfing and ice cream parlours. Cramond Beach is also about 30 minutes from the centre and is quieter.


Princes Street and George Street are city centre shopping hotspots. Ocean Terminal in Leith is Edinburgh’s newest shopping centre and – like any new big city mall – it comes with restaurant chains and a multiscreen cinema.

Find your favourite type of fresh food at Edinburgh Farmers’ Market, Stockbridge Market, Greater Grassmarket or Leith Market. Or head down to the Fountainbridge area on Fridays for the street food fair near the Union Canal.

But if it’s an extinct marine arthropod turned to stone that you’re after, Edinburgh will see you right as its fossil shop is just one of the many specialist stores dotted throughout the city. There are stores that specialise in the classic Crombie overcoat (as worn by Peter Capaldi as Doctor Who), old children’s books, 21st century kilts, second-hand vintage jewellery and first-rate whisky.


There are lots of reasonably priced and cheap places to eat in Edinburgh including student favourite The Mosque Kitchen and Hendersons – one of the most established veggie cafes in the UK and still one of the best.

Edinburgh has one of the highest densities of pubs and bars per square mile in the UK. They range from the old and grand (eg Café Royal) to the traditional (eg The Sheep Heid Inn, Edinburgh’s oldest pub) to newer, funkier spots such as popular student cocktail bar Under The Stairs where you can order a tangy beetroot and wasabi margarita. The Earl of Marchmont and Three Sisters are other popular student pubs.

Students pack out The Egg – a nightclub for lovers of 60s garage, 70s soul, punk, ska and indie. Cabaret Voltaire is a hip, underground cocktail-bar-cum-nightclub. The Bongo Club is an eclectic ‘arts hub’ with a loyal student following. It’s run by a local charity and has club nights (roots, dub, funk, soul and electro) plus film, theatre and comedy. The Liquid Room has known music acts such as Ezra Furman and indie/retro nights in one part of its large complex with high-profile house DJs in other parts. Usher Hall features a mixed musical repertoire but it’s where big international acts such as The Red Hot Chilli Peppers play. Queen’s Hall is more oriented towards classical music.

Edinburgh has a thriving theatre scene. Its jewels include Edinburgh Playhouse Theatre, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Traverse Theatre, King’s Theatre and Festival Theatre.

If you’re looking for work experience

Edinburgh has a healthy economy based mainly on scientific research, financial services, tourism and higher education. Retail banking, investment banking and insurance are key businesses. There’s always part-time work in Edinburgh’s huge leisure and retail sectors.

Universities in Edinburgh

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