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Things To Know Before Visiting Edinburgh: A Cultural Guide By A Local

Recently Edinburgh’s bus company Lothian Buses released a fleet with middle doors which threw us all into a bit of a tizzy!

Up until now there was only one door and it’s at the front of the bus and it is the Edinburgh tradition to say “thanks driver” or “cheers driver” or something to that effect as you leave.

Now the dilemma is do you still say thanks?!

Tell your bus driver thank you

This brings us to the first thing that separates the tourist from the Edinburgh local. We all say thanks to the bus driver. Even with the middle door debacle, we will keep saying ‘thank you’, ‘cheers’, or ‘ta driver’!

A Lothian bus in Edinburgh’s city centre!

Travelling around the world we’ve noticed that not a lot of people seem to do this, at least not in any other city we’ve visited. So, if you want to fit in, be nice to your bus driver!

On a similar note don’t talk about the trams in Edinburgh. They cost so much in taxpayer’s money and took an age to build, they may be convenient for the airport but it’s a divisive issue.

Ask for chippy sauce on your chips

Britain in its entirety is famous for its love of fish and chips. In Edinburgh we go a step further by adding a special chippy sauce, available in all good chip shops in and around the city.

Lurvely sauce!

This is a brown sauce made with dates, salt and spices and mixed with vinegar. Imagine a watered-down HP sauce and you kind of have it.

Nobody is totally certain what goes into it, but it’s damn tasty!


Scotland is known for its way with words and every region has its own dialect. Edinburgh is no different, despite those who think the city is full of folk speaking the Queen’s English!

‘Ah right pal?’ is just another way to say is everything ok? If you’re a girl, you might be referred to as ‘hen’ instead of ‘pal’ which can either be endearing or condescending depending on the person delivering it…

A dreich Edinburgh day

The word ‘shan’ describes a situation of unfairness, as in somebody’s just cut the queue which was ‘well shan’ behaviour.

‘Dreich’ is often used to describe Edinburgh in the rain on a grey, miserable day and if somebody asks you to ‘get the messages’ that’s not collecting letters it’s our term for going food shopping at the supermarket.

An Edinburgher! Aka Jen…

One we personally use a lot is ‘nae bother’ to denote that something is not a problem and of course much to Henry’s annoyance I refer to all drinks as ‘juice’ (apart from water, tea or alcohol). Fruit juice and soda are just juice to us Edinburghers (people from Edinburgh)!

Fringe etiquette

How not to be a nuisance during the Fringe. A side note, this is the biggest arts festival in the world. It transforms the city with thousands of performances of everything from comedy to dance, opera, theatre etc.

The view over Edinburgh, small but perfectly formed!

For me growing up with this every August for 20 odd years was a dream. It brings together cultures like nothing else and the city is flooded with culture and all the things that inspired me to want to see the world.

Like anything though it does grind the gears of locals. You can’t move at a normal pace; people are disrespectful, and nothing runs like it normally does for a whole month.

If you are in town for it just be aware that it’s a small city and people are trying to go about their normal business, like getting to work or going for their messages. Dinna piss anywhere you fancy, throw litter about or be a loutish nuisance.

The Royal Mile is mad!

Performers and people volunteering or working on a show; nobody cares about your lanyards; you don’t get special privileges for flashing your wee badge.

Local’s will also most likely AVOID the Royal Mile in this month, in order to escape the tsunami of flyers shoved in your face.

If in doubt just remember, don’t treat a beautiful city like it’s day four of Glastonbury!

A wee dram…

Having worked in pubs and restaurants in Edinburgh for several years this could be extensive but let’s keep it short and not turn it into a rant…

A wee dram in the whisky museum bar!

Despite being painted as ‘tight with our money’ it’s normal pub/bar etiquette to order a round of drinks and not individually unless you’re a bit skint (low on money).

For most places it’s order at the bar and pay as you go. Some places might run a tab but unless it’s a restaurant expect to be asked for payment straight away and don’t sit down in a bar expecting service if it’s not a restaurant or café.

A night out on the town at Hogmanay!

Having lived in central Europe for two years we know things are a bit laxer abroad but due to stringent licensing laws in Edinburgh it’s normally:

Drinks outside no later than 10pm or not at all if the pub or eatery has no license for it.

Pubs are mostly open till 1am and late-night bars/nightclubs 3am. You have a 15-minute drinking up time so don’t buy a pint at 12:55am, that’s annoying and you’ll have to down your drink or lose it down the sink!

The Milkman: Edinburgh has hundreds of cafés, bars and restaurants!

Smoking is outside only, unlike some European countries.

English and Irish money is fine in Edinburgh, but Scottish notes tend to be frowned upon in England for no reason, it’s still Pound Sterling.

Lastly, it’s not acceptable to click, wave your hand or shout for service in ANY situation. We know it’s done in other countries to attract the server’s attention but it’s just rude in our culture.

Don’t ask where the castle is

This might be blindingly obvious giving that the castle sits on a hill in the middle of the city centre, but alas we’ve all been asked where this elusive castle is?!

The elusive castle…

Let us tell you how to get there to avoid confusion. Get on to the Royal Mile which is the street full of old crooked buildings over the big bridge (North Bridge) and walk right to the top of the Royal Mile.

It’s the impressive building sat atop of the plug of a volcano.

Myths and Tradition

It’s important to know the difference between actual Edinburgh traditions and made up ones. On the Royal Mile there is the Heart of Midlothian, people spit on it for good luck.

It also happens to be a football team. It used to be a place to pay taxes and a prison entrance so it’s thought we spit on it because it symbolises the atrocities that took place here. We do spit on it though and you’re welcome to join in!

His wee nose!!

Greyfriars Bobby is a wee dog (dug) that’s famous for spending 14 years on his owner’s grave and he was kind of adopted by the city. There’s a statue of him which dates from 1873, a year after his death.

Tour guides started telling people that rubbing his nose gives you good luck and it’s destroying this statue. His nose keeps having to be fixed so please don’t buy into this myth and save the poor wee Terrier’s nose.

We hope you enjoyed our guide! For more Edinburgh tips read our guide to alternative spots in the city here!

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