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Student cities

Edinburgh: Student City Guide

Edinburgh has a thriving culture with a variety of museums, theatres, galleries and 12 festivals including the world's largest arts festival. 

Edinburgh city skyline

Credit: evenfh – Shutterstock

Leaving home for university can be daunting, especially if you are accustomed to a small town. Edinburgh is popular with students who want all the benefits of vibrant city life without being overwhelmed by its fast pace.

This capital city is surprisingly compact, boasting diverse culture and stunning landscapes side by side with vibrant nightlife and eclectic bars and shops, all of which are resided over by the famous Edinburgh Castle.

Edinburgh also has an intriguing past, and Edinburgh students find themselves making new discoveries and stumbling upon hidden gems well into their third or fourth year of study.

However, Edinburgh students have to contend with the high cost of living in Scotland's capital. This Edinburgh city guide will make your student life in the city easier on you and your bank balance; it will give you the lowdown on some of Edinburgh's most important hidden student treasures, as well as highlighting some well-known student haunts.

Edinburgh: Key facts

  • Number of universities: 5
  • Student population: 62,600+
  • International students: 37,500+
  • Average rent cost: £400 a month
  • Average cost of a pint: £4.55

Edinburgh living costs

Being the capital city of Scotland, Edinburgh isn't the cheapest place for students. The table below gives you an idea of the costs you can expect.

ExpenseEdinburghLondonNational student average
Rent£445£505£421
Groceries£105£107£101
Takeaways & eating out£35£44£41
Going out & socialising£55£57£47
Travel£54£71£34
Our 'Student City Guide' series is a way for students, both new and current, to learn all about what is going on in their local city and about the typical student's concern - where to go out on the cheap.

Universities in Edinburgh

There are 5 Universities in Edinburgh. Here is what you need to know about each one.

  1. The University of Edinburgh

    UoE, is the sixth-oldest university still operating in the English-speaking world. But this doesn't stop them from ensuring their resources and facilities are kept up-to-date.

    In fact, they rank 4th in the UK for research making this an ideal choice if you're looking to study social science, medicine or engineering.

    Unlike most universities, UoE also offers extra support to students in terms of their accommodation. Returning students can choose from selected properties on their own or choose a number of flats across the city.

  2. Queen Margaret University

    Located East of the city centre, their campus reflects their strategy towards sustainability with a green travel policy and plenty of green space. QMU also work closely with the community employing over 500 staff, representing 3% of East Lothian employment, and aspiring to create a 'campus without borders'.

    Queen Margaret largely supports an international community made up of students, professors and other firms. They work alongside many Canadian Universities and Colleges giving students the opportunity to complete exchanges and study abroad.

  3. Edinburgh Napier University

    ENU conducts its teaching and research over three campuses within the city. Their continuous investment in modern facilities is what enables them to continue improving their annual rankings.

    ENU have some pretty impressive ranking achievements including ranking number one in Edinburgh according to the NNS. They also rank within the top five for 11 courses they offer, which is pretty impressive. So if journalism, publishing and public relations is the course you're after then this is the top university in the UK.

  4. Heriot-Watt University

    The Heriot-Watt uni also offers a range of courses spread over five campuses. Many of which offer landscaped trails hosting green spaces with hidden landmarks and fitness areas.

    Heriot-Watt is a very future-oriented university priding itself on its employability ranking. They are 1st place for graduate salaries and 95% of its students enter employment or further studying within 6 months of graduating.

    Joining this university will also enable you to graduate as a member of the oldest graduate club in the UK: the Watt club. While that may be a long way off for many undergrads, joining a community of over 147,000 could make a huge difference to your career prospects.

  5. Edinburgh College of Art

    While ECA is not strictly a university in its own right, they still offer 22 degrees focused on the arts. With over 2,000 students across five schools, they offer students fantastic facilities in the centre of the cultural city.

    In 2011, ECA formally merged with the University of Edinburgh which created an art collection featuring over 2,500 pieces including paintings and sculptures. Prior to this merge, ECA's degrees were awarded by Herriot-Watt University. The college also worked with Napier Unversity to launch a postgraduate film-making centre, making ECA unique as they partner with the other universities in the city.

Student Accommodation

New section! Find student letting agents in Edinburgh.

international student accommodation

Edinburgh differs from some student cities in that the majority of student accommodation comprises of flats rather than houses, so having 9 housemates isn't really an option. A 5 bedroom flat in the city centre will have an average rent of £110 per week each. These are closest to the UoE and ECA campuses.

For first years, there is catered accommodation in Pollock Halls for University of Edinburgh students and self-catered in Frasiers Court, Kincaids Court, Sciennes and Hermits Croft.

Marchmont, Morningside, and Bruntsfield are popular areas for students later in their studies without venturing too far from campus.

For students studying at Queen Margaret Uni, accommodation close to campus is trickier to source after the first year, however, students can make good use of Musselburgh station located a 6-minute walk from campus.

There are a lot of student flats in Edinburgh, so you don't have to worry about finding somewhere to live. Plus some of the universities even help students in the second year with a limited number of flats allocated to them.

Check out our guide to viewing a student house.

Transport

Tram in Edinburgh

Credit: Spiroview Inc – Shutterstock

Fortunately, most Edinburgh students find that they have little need for public transport in their day-to-day activities because all the student haunts are within walking or cycling distance of the university campuses.

Travelling in and out of Edinburgh is also easy. There are two train stations at either end of the city, and cheap Megabus services to Glasgow, a popular destination for a night out or shopping trip, are also available.

Edinburgh also has a quirky way for tourists to see the city - by rickshaw!

Buses

Lothian Buses run throughout Edinburgh and into Midlothian and East Lothian, making getting around cheap and easy for students.

Edinburgh buses accept contactless or the correct change, so be prepared unless you think you can charm the driver!

There is a night service with a bus leaving every 10 minutes from Waverley Steps at the east end of Princes Street. This service gets you home safely from a night out and saves you from having to splash out on taxis.

Day tickets are capped to £4.50 which allows you unlimited access for that day. The buses also operate a TapTapCap meaning when you use the same card all week and reach the cap you can continue using the service without being further charged. But unless you live outside the city it's unlikely you'll need to use transport that frequently.

For students who live too far away from campus to walk to lectures, the best bet is to buy a Student Ridacard.

Trams

A tram system was introduced to connect the airport with the new part of the city. However, there are 15 total stops so it can sometimes be used to hop on and off if you are travelling across town.

A single ticket costs £1.80.

Cycling

Despite the cobbled streets, cycling is a popular way for students to get around Edinburgh. However, you may have to find an alternative mode of transport between November and January, when Scotland is often transformed into a white winter wonderland.

Cyclists are allowed to share the buses' green lanes in the city centre, thus enabling a much smoother cycle journey. The city also has around 50 junctions with advanced cycle stop lines. These stop lines contribute to its extensive network of cycle routes, which enable cyclists to beat the traffic. Edinburgh's infamous sneaky side streets also make cycling a faster way to hand that essay in before the deadline.

Due to the popularity of two-wheeled transport, Edinburgh has loads of bike shops.

Online, try Edinburgh Bicycle Cooperative for cheap deals.

Trains

There are two major train stations in Edinburgh: Haymarket and Waverley, the latter of which is the closest to the University of Edinburgh campus. Haymarket is closer to Murrayfield Stadium.

If you can, make sure you book your train ticket in advance online for big savings at First Trans Pennine Express.

Student Nightclubs

bar drinks nightclub

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While the increased price of drinks in bars at weekends in Edinburgh means most students are accustomed to mid-week sessions, Edinburgh's nightlife rivals its neighbour Glasgow's with its eclectic bars, pubs and clubs. The main nightclubs are to be found on George Street.

Be sure to steer clear of George Street on student nights as the entry and drinks prices are high. Loads of live music venues are situated on Lothian Road, and The Cowgate is a students' paradise for a cheap drinks and loud music.

Here are a few of the most popular clubs for student nights with the best drink deals.

Indie Rock

The dishevelled student fashion in Edinburgh is mirrored in its nightlife. Indie nights are common in all the big clubs.

  • The Liquid Room houses different music genres every night and has played host to many indie bands. Mansion Wednesdays and Indigo Thursdays are the most popular student nights.
  • Sneaky Pete's 'intimate' venue in the Cowgate also houses live indie music.

Pop & Retro

A lot of clubs in Edinburgh cater for cheesy guilty pleasures, and chart music regularly hits the decks on student nights.

  • ATIK - Brilliant events every Friday and Saturday with tickets starting at £2.50. This club has three separate music rooms with some of the UK's biggest dj's playing here.
  • Club Tropicana - The ultimate cheesy 80's club, open every Friday and Saturday until 3am!

R&B, Funky House and Hip-Hop

Edinburgh has a great scene for those nights when you just want to dance.

  • The Hive - Free entry Sunday to Thursday (Friday and Saturday 9-10pm). Plus drinks from only £1 makes this the perfect budget-friendly nightclub.
  • Why Not? - On George Street, Monday nights are students only, and the drinks deals reflect this.

House, Drum & Bass and Techno

Edinburgh clubs host great resident DJs, many of whom specialise in Drum & Bass.

  • The Lane - Frequently hosts different DJs. A long-standing student haunt for dubstep.
  • The Bongo Club - A great place to be for Hip Hop music. Its prices are very popular with students as event tickets start at £3.

Eating out

eating out on a budgetEdinburgh boasts some fantastic restaurants, particularly on George Street, but these are more of a treat for when the parents come to visit. Aside from all the expected chains like Bella Italia, Jimmy Chung's, Prezzo and Gusto, there are many great eateries for students on a budget.

  • El Barrio - A Latino bar and grill in the centre of Edinburgh with huge portions for hungry students.
  • The Mosque Kitchen - A cheap and cheerful canteen close to the lecture theatres, where you can get curry and rice from £4.
  • Malones Irish Bar - Near the main university campus and offers a cooked breakfast roll until 1pm.
  • The Three Sisters - Students can get 20% off the main menu as well as save money on selected drinks.
  • Elephants and Bagels - Attracts students during lunch hour with its free WiFi and healthy, filling meal deals.
  • Elephant House - Where JK Rowling wrote some of the Harry Potter books, is also worth a visit for a coffee between lectures.
  • Cafe Piccante - Chip shop with a difference - it has its own resident DJ! Try a Deep Fried Mars Bar.

Things to do

There is so much to do in Edinburgh and it will completely depend on what you're into. Here are some ideas to get you started.

Soak in the culture

Edinburgh's history and culture manifests itself in its tourist attractions and scenic landscapes.

  • The Royal Mile invites you to take a walk up to Edinburgh's famous street, stopping for a pint in one of its traditional Scottish pubs (just the one though - tourist areas charge high tourist prices). The regal Edinburgh Castle lies at the top of the mile. Don't bother with the entry fee, but get a photo of yourself outside it, post it on Facebook, and then never return!
  • Hike the 287 steps of Scott's Monument for stunning views of the city from a gothic tower.
  • Princes Street Gardens are lovely in the summer after a day's shopping on Princes Street and a drink on Rose Street, and the Grassmarket is a great drinking area and vintage shopping destination.
  • Edinburgh is a different city depending on the season. Try to spend a summer here to catch the Fringe Festival, during which the city is overrun with tourists and performers. At Christmas, Princes Street Gardens acquire an ice rink and German Christmas Market - be sure to grab a hot chocolate or post-shop mulled wine.

Health and fitness

Staying fit as a student in Edinburgh is easy even when the Scottish weather leaves you shivering.

CSE is the University of Edinburgh's gym, which boasts great facilities and a swimming pool. Student membership costs £100 for the year (excluding the summer), but off-peak membership is £65. There are also options for memberships lasting one semester only.

The Meadows behind the main university library attract runners and joggers, although it is best avoided after dark.

The city also has well-known gyms such as PureGym meaning you can sign up and still use your membership when returning to your home locations during the holidays.

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