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A Fresher's cultural guide to Edinburgh


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Welcome to Edinburgh! If you’ve moved from elsewhere in Scotland, or you’re new to our wee country entirely, you’re bound to have a great time. If you want to branch out a bit from university societies and clubs, look no further. There’s so much culture here – from the yearly Edinburgh festivals to hundreds of events, to bookshops and museums, you’re bound to find something that you’ll enjoy!


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Festivals and special events to look forward to

Festival of Politics 2018, 10-13 October:

The Scottish Parliament hosts the Festival of Politics every October, and it is now in its 14th year. Full of events covering topical political, cultural and social issues, it is a must for any social justice warrior. It’s also an opportunity to see the iconic Scottish Parliament building at Holyrood!


Beltane and Samhuinn Fire Festival, 31 October and 30 April:

Part of an ancient Iron Age Celtic ritual, Samhuinn is the antithesis of the large Beltane fire festival that takes part every April. It involves fire, drumming and acrobatics and takes place on Calton Hill.


Gaelic Festival, 2-9 November:

The Edinburgh Gaelic Festival is held annually and celebrates the city’s Gaelic community, past and present. Gaelic is Scotland’s traditional language which is still spoken in rural parts of the Highlands and Islands. The programme isn’t finalised for this year yet, but you can find out more here.


St Andrew’s Day, 30 November:

St Andrew, the patron saint of Scotland, is celebrated on Scotland’s national day. Edinburgh University Students’ Association puts on a variety of events every year, which you can find on their website.


Burns’ Night, 25 January:

This day celebrates the birthday of famous Scottish poet Robert Burns. The traditional Scottish dish of haggis, neeps and tatties (haggis, potatoes and turnip) is eaten, and many celebrate with a ceilidh – a traditional Scottish dance. Again, the Students’ Association will be putting on a big event for this!


Museums and galleries

There are a huge variety of museums in Edinburgh, and quite a few of them are free! Here are a few of the best. 

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The National Museum of Scotland has a huge variety of exhibits, from Scottish history to the natural world. It is massive and holds lots of exhibitions every year. It’s also right beside uni, which makes it great for a study break, since it’s free to enter!

The National Galleries of Scotland are based in three different locations throughout Edinburgh – the Scottish National Gallery on the Mound near Princes Street, the Scottish National Portrait Gallery on Queen Street near St Andrews Square, and the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art to the west of the city near the Dean Village. All three are worth a visit, full of fantastic works of art.

The Museum of Childhood is on the Royal Mile and has just been recently renovated. It has a huge amount of old toys and documents how childhood and the role of toys have changed over time. It’s interesting to visit, and again, free!

Dynamic Earth tells the story of planet Earth through interactive exhibits and 4D attractions. It’s both informative and exciting, and costs £12.20 for students if you book online. It’s also an events venue, with a lot of UoE balls being held there, so you may end up there anyway!



Edinburgh has its fair share of Waterstones and Blackwells, but it also has a few independent second-hand bookshops that can be goldmines for booklovers.

Armchair Books (72-74 West Port) is right in the centre of town, just up from Grassmarket. It has a huge number of second-hand books, from old antique books to everything else you could imagine!

The Edinburgh Bookshop, based in Bruntsfield, is an award-winning independent bookshop. They have a huge number of events as well as being staffed by real book lovers. If you want to support independent booksellers, this is the place to go!

If you are more politically minded, Lighthouse is Edinburgh’s radical bookshop. Another independent shop, they sell a huge variety of non-fiction and fiction books on topics such as activism, politics, race, feminism, social justice and much, much more. I absolutely love this place and would spend all my money here if I could – it’s super close to uni on West Nicholson Street, and they have a really cute dog!

This is only a snapshot of the things Edinburgh has to offer for culture-lovers, so if you like the sound of all this, get out and explore! You’re here for four years, so you have all the time in the world.

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