Pros and cons of expat life in Edinburgh

Photo by Kate Bielinski on Unsplash

Whether they come to take part in the festivals, enjoy the unique architecture or simply indulge in a little shopping and whisky-tasting, few tourists visit Scotland without paying a visit to its historic and fascinating capital. But what does Edinburgh offer expats planning to make it home?

Pros: the history

Edinburgh is divided into the New Town and the Old Town – but don’t be fooled: history is everywhere you look. The Old Town, dominated by the impressive Edinburgh Castle perched on top of Castle Rock, was the medieval centre with narrow cobbled streets (known as “wynds”). Enjoy its museums and shops, as well as the many small pubs and restaurants along the traditional procession route of Scottish monarchs, known as “The Royal Mile”. The New Town, by contrast, offers Georgian splendour with wide boulevards and neat squares.

Cons: the accent

The Edinburgh accent is charming. But if your native language is not English, it may be a challenge. There may also be a number of unique words that you will not hear in London. To “ken” means to know; to “greet” means to cry. A river is called a “burn” while an informal – but not impolite – word for a female is “hen”. Check out this glossary published by The Scotsman newspaper.

Picture of a park during Fringe Festival
Image via Creative Commons

Pros: the Fringe Festival

Every August, Edinburgh plays host to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival – a chaotic collection of events ranging from stand-up comedy and poetry to dance and street theatre. Founded in 1947 as an informal adjunct (or “fringe”) to the formal Edinburgh International Festival, it has now outgrown its classical counterpart to become the third largest ticketed event in the world, after the World Cup and Olympics. During August, the population of Edinburgh typically doubles.

If you like live performances, Edinburgh in August is the place to be and – unlike most Fringe visitors – you won’t have the problem of finding accommodation. And if you don’t like that sort of thing, you can make a small fortune sub-letting your accommodation and go on holiday somewhere a little quieter. With the Edinburgh Fringe festival you win either way.

Cons: cold, dark winters

Compared to the untamed wilderness of the Scottish Highlands, Edinburgh is a polished and cultured place. But that doesn’t mean the weather is any less harsh. Edinburgh is further North than most Canadian cities, which brings bitter winds and low temperatures in winter, not to mention long, dark nights. The weather is unpredictable too: it is often said that the city can experience four seasons in one day.

Summer in Edinburgh can, however, be glorious. The latitude that brings such hard winters also guarantees long summer evenings, but without the heat that affects many other European cities in summer.

Pros: relatively small, and relatively walkable

Edinburgh may be big in terms of reputation, but it is smaller than you may think. It is only 120th on the list of Europe’s largest cities by population and you can walk from one end to the other in an hour.

While walking in Edinburgh is also very safe, it can, however, be arduous. It is said that the city is, like Rome, built on seven hills, which can make many of the side streets quite steep. The most obvious of its hills is the 260m extinct volcano Arthur’s Seat, where the view is glorious – provided the frequent and unpredictable Edinburgh rains don’t obscure it.

Cons: expensive (for Scotland)

As you would expect in a capital city, Edinburgh prices are higher than the rest of Scotland. This is most clearly seen in accommodation costs, which are 23% higher than Glasgow, Scotland’s second city just 50 km to the west. Bear in mind, however, that rents are on average 46% higher in London.

Expats will enjoy excellent state-funded healthcare and education. Edinburgh has highly regarded schools that are free to attend – and with four universities within the city, Edinburgh is generally considered a major educational centre, second only in the UK to London.

Picture of a street in Edinburgh with cafe's
Photo by Dive. In Life on Unsplash

Could you make Edinburgh home?

If you want to decide whether Edinburgh is your kind of expat destination, here’s one way to look at it. Every year over 4 million people come to the city – but most of them are not there to work. This means that, as a working resident, you have to suffer the higher accommodation prices, the queues and the impossible traffic, especially during August.

But Edinburgh is an extraordinary city, where the overall quality of life is rated as higher than anywhere else in the UK (and 7th highest in Europe according to Those millions of visitors only experience Edinburgh for a week or so – while you, lucky expat, get to enjoy its warmth, culture, charm and history every day.


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