Helpful Information for Foreign Volunteers
Useful Information for foreign volunteers coming to Edinburgh for the first time
written and updated by our volunteers
*last update: May 2016*
Where to find accommodation:
Good pages to look at are:
The postcode for the SCLC is EH8. It’s a good idea to look for a flat as close as possible to the SCLC. As the SCLC is located very close to the University of Edinburgh, you’ll likely be able to find many student flats available for sub-letting (particularly if it’s in the summer months. You may have heard of the Fringe Festival? It begins in August, but July is also full of music and other arts festivals. This means that there will be a great deal of rentals going if you check early enough.
However, keep in mind that—because the city nearly triples in size—it can be quite chaotic and busy and, though flats will be available, this will mean they’re more expensive than usual.
Don't be shy in asking the landlord if they’re willing to take short term lets (some aren’t particularly enthusiastic about the short-termers, but you may get lucky).
Another benefit of our proximity to the University that they have rooms available for short-term letting at Pollock Halls (their dormitories). They’re just up the road from Arthur’s Seat and have a cafeteria (the ‘JMCC’) for students and visitors. Former volunteers have stayed at Edinburgh University Dorms and enjoyed their experience there. www.ed.ac.uk/schools-departments/accommodation-services/home Tel. +44 (0)131 667 1971.
The closest neighbourhoods to the SCLC are Newington, Tollcross or anywhere around the Meadows. All these districts are within easy walking distance.
One important thing about accommodation is Council Tax. If you’re a full-time student from a member state of the European Union, you may be eligible for an exemption from this tax. It can significantly lower the cost of living and we highly recommend that you check whether you’re eligible. For more information check out the City of Edinburgh Council's website at www.edinburgh.gov.uk
The closest neighbourhoods to the centre of Edinburgh are Newington, Tollcross or anywhere around the Meadows. All these districts are within easy walking distance.
How to get from the Airport into Edinburgh:
Getting back to Edinburgh is quite easy. You can take the 100 Bus, which leaves from a stop located just outside the airport. It is quite clearly marked, and you can buy tickets at the ticket stand at the stop. Waverly Station is the final stop for the 100 Bus. Waverley Station is located in the centre of Edinburgh, right off Princes Street. It costs £4.50 and takes a little over 30 minutes.
Alternatively, you can take Lothian Bus number 35 which is a regular service, costs £1.60, but the route is a bit longer taking around an hour, running from the airport through the city centre to Ocean Terminal.
You can also take the tram, which goes from the airport to York Place in the city centre. A single fare is £5.00.
It’s important to note that you can plan out the times in advance by using the ‘Journey Planner’ on the Lothian Buses website. Type in ‘Edinburgh Airport’ as the destination from which you’ll depart, and ‘Waverly Bridge, Edinburgh’ as the destination to which you’re headed. You can change the dates and times, and you’ll be set. This site is generally useful for getting around Edinburgh.
It's also possible to take a taxi straight to your flat. It costs around £30 to get to a flat about 5 minutes away from the SCLC, so you can use that as a reference point. Head towards the giant parking lot, or that huge cement structure you’ll see upon exiting the station. Taxis are located just within (you’ll see signs).
There are many grocery stores, cafes, and restaurants in Edinburgh and most of them are open seven days a week, so don't worry about starving! Tescos and Sainsbury’s are within easy walking distance from the SCLC (around 3 minutes away). You can easily pop in to get a packaged sandwich or salad on your lunch break. There are several great places to get coffee, Kilamanjaro and Black Medicine are among the most popular for more boutique coffee. You can also pop in to Café Nero or Starbucks if you’re looking for a standard taste and larger size.
If you’re looking for a typical Scottish Breakfast—a ‘fry up’—or to try ‘haggis’, a national delicacy you can head to Snax Café (which is extremely student friendly—read: cheap—and, though a bit rough around the edges, it’s extremely well-loved) or the Abbey (which doubles as a pub and also offers a great selection of Scottish whiskey… they often have deals on for students, and it’s relativ). All of the places offer vegetarian versions of these wonderful dishes (vegetarian sausages, vegetarian haggis, etc.). These establishments are also just generally good, Snax for paninis, toasties, and filled rolls or baguettes and the Abbey for burgers and chips, etc.
There is a great debate as to the best fish and chip shop in Edinburgh. There are millions dotted around Edinburgh, and you’ll need to try one (or twenty) before you go!
Students and faculty at the University of Edinburgh love Palmyra, which does falafel, hummus, kebabs, and pizza (it may seem an odd combination, but the style is actually quite common in Edinburgh). They’re extremely fresh, cheap, and delicious.
The prices in Edinburgh are generally reasonable—nowhere near as bad as London— but this of course does depend on the exchange rate.
There are two bus companies running through Edinburgh, the Lothian Busses and the First Busses. They have slightly different routes but cost about the same. We recommend Lothian Busses (just because their stops are easier to find, their routes are a bit better planned, they’re more consistent and go to more places). One bus ride on the Lothian Bus costs £1.60, a day ticket costs £4.00. The busses don't have any change, so you need to carry the exact change or you have to pay more.
It’s easy to plan your journey. Go to the following website and type in your details.
To plan your journey, go to the link here: http://lothianbuses.com/getting-around/journey-planner
Depending on where you live and how often you take the bus, you might want to think about getting a ‘RidaCard’, a ticket which for the week (£18) or for the month (£54). These are available at the Lothian Buses ‘travelshops’. There are two travelshops in the city centre: 31 Waverley Bridge, EDINBURGH, EH1 1BQ and 27 Hanover Street, EDINBURGH, EH2 2DL.
The cheapest way to get pounds sterling is to withdraw it at a cash machine in Scotland. The exchange rate will most often be better there. There is also a cash machine at the airport, so you can get money straight upon arrival in Edinburgh. If you, for some reason, have a good amount of money already in your wallet in your home currency and would like to exchange it, you can do so at most post offices. Look for a sign that says ‘Bureau de Change.’ In fact, there’s one on South Clerk Street (just 3 minutes away).
However, it is not a bad idea to have some money changed in the beginning, just in case you want to take the bus or in case your bank card doesn't work (but don't worry, it usually does).
If you’re not a frequent traveller, make sure you phone your bank to let them know you’ll be staying in Edinburgh. If you're not a frequent traveller, make sure you phone your bank to let them know you'll be staying in Edinburgh. If they see activity in a differen country, they might put a lock on your card.
The weather in Edinburgh is truly Scottish! It is changing all the time. Never trust blue sky and sunshine— it will most likely rain at some point during the day (if not in the next few minutes)! So don't forget to have sunglasses and a rain jacket (or at least a jacket with a hood) with you at all times. It's also advisable to pack some waterproof shoes. Sadly, Edinburgh is not the place to where those beautiful new suede loafers or canvas shoes (the more stubborn among us have indeed learned the hard way).
It is a good idea to get an international Student Identity Card before you come, since you can get loads of student discounts in Edinburgh.
Travelling in Scotland is a good idea. You might want to see the Borders or the Highlands (a good look at the Scottish countryside), or Glasgow, Scotland's biggest city.
There are many tour companies that will take you all around Scotland, for single-day or multiple-day trips. You can look them up in the internet and book in advance, but it’s easy to book them after your arrival as well.
The best tour company is called ‘Haggis’ (www.haggisadventures.com)/... Named after (but not to be mixed up with) our national dish! They have an office quite close to the SCLC and offer a wide range of tours.
If you want to go on your own, you can go by bus or by train. The buses leave at the St Andrew Square and are slightly cheaper than the trains; look at www.citylink.co.uk You can also take the train; there are sometimes good offers, if you book in advance: www.thetrainline.com
If you intend to get around a little bit you should absolutely bring waterproof boots and a jacket with a hood.
What to do in your spare time:
Edinburgh offers a wide range of sights and places worth seeing. You should definitely climb Arthur’s Seat on a not too cloudy day. You will have a great view over the city from the top. Another fantastic view (on a not too cloudy day) can be seen from the top of Calton Hill in New Town, again with a great view over Edinburgh.
Edinburgh also has some nice museums. The National Gallery and the Museum of Scotland are recommendable and the admission is free. If you’re interested in science you should definitely visit Our Dynamic Earth which offers exhibitions about the history of planet Earth and the environment.
Also the canal is worth a visit. You can start at the Fountain Court apartment complex, and just head on down. It’s a beautiful, relaxing, and really quite a cosy walk.
Then, of course, there is the castle and – on the other end of the Royal Mile – the new, modern parliament building with the palace in its neighbourhood.
Absolutely advisable are the New Europe Walking Tours (www.newedinburghtours.com/) They start every day at 9:30 am, 11 am, 1 pm and 3 pm in front of the Starbucks on the Royal Mile. They are free (you pay as much as you want to) and offer you 3 hours of Edinburgh's Old Town full of interesting and entertaining stories about Edinburgh's history and present. To get a deeper insight into the medieval history and legendry of Edinburgh get on one of the famous and popular dungeon or witchery tours. You can find tour guides along the royal mile, easily identified by their zombie, ghost, and witch makeup and costume.
We definitely recommend you go to a ‘Ceilidh’ (pronounced kay-lee), or celebration of Scottish highland dancing, during your stay. Doctor’s Pub, near Teviot Row, and Malone’s have them often. It’s great fun and a huge laugh, particularly if you reward yourself with a pint after all the dancing!
Edinburgh offers loads to see and to do, especially during Festival time. There are many festivals going on simultaneously; the Jazz and Blues Festival, the Edinburgh International Festival and the Festival Fringe. To see the programme and to book events visit the Festival's website at http://edinburghfestivalguide.co.uk/ And definitively don't forget to pop over to the fudge store on the Royal Mile!