Are you planning a trip to the spectacular Scottish capital? You will certainly have no problem finding fabulous things to do in Edinburgh.
Sometimes referred to as the “Athens of the North,” the city is far more than just being easy on the eye. Be prepared to get lost in its history – even if you don’t mean to. There’s nowhere quite like it, which makes it the ultimate destination at any time of the year. Every time you visit you are welcomed with new experiences or colorful festivals whether it be the world renowned Hogmanay at New Years Eve or the memorable summer Fringe Festival.
This post will explore what to see and do in Edinburgh and provides some useful travel tips to suit every budget. So get ready for world-class beauty at every turn, kilts, bagpipes and lots of fun with the best activities in town.
22 Unmissable Things To Do In Edinburgh
Visit Edinburgh Castle
If you visit Edinburgh you can’t miss a trip to the symbol of Scotland itself. Located on Castle Rock, it towers above the city and offers panoramic views making it one of the best things to do in Edinburgh.
It gets better: if you visit at 1:00 pm (except on Sundays) you’ll be able to hear a traditional cannon fire. Whether you explore from the inside or outside you’ll soon realize why this magnificent castle is a testimony to the spirit of the Scots. It is worth it, especially if this is your first time visiting a Scottish castle. Step back in time to the 7th century.
The ticket to go inside costs £17.50 GBP (around $22 USD) if you book online, or £19.50 (around $25 USD) from the ticket office. You can get tickets to the Edinburgh Castle here. Keep in mind this attraction is included in the Royal Edinburgh Ticket, which you can get here.
GOOD TO KNOW: Another really cool castle you should consider visiting is Blackness Castle. It’s about 35 minutes from the center of town and tickets cost £6 GBP (little over $7 USD). It’s open daily from 9:30 am to 5:30 pm.
Get lost in Edinburgh’s Old Town
The old town is exactly what it describes itself to be. Old! Enjoy walking around this area through the small alleys, cobbled streets and picturesque houses. Get your camera ready because rain or shine, you’ll be able to get some incredible historical photos, whether you’re into photography or not. Make sure not to miss a visit to Victoria Street to see the curve of colorful buildings. Arguably, it is one of the best photo opportunities in Edinburgh and you can go on the terrace to shoot from different angles!
Also, there is the option to take a free walking tour of the old town. This guided tour will take you across Edinburgh to see the highlights of the old town. You will have the opportunity to delve into stories about the city, its people and its history. Of course, there are many companies but City Explorer has a good reputation if you’re struggling to choose. Alternatively, sign up for this Edinburgh Old Town tour – it’s a great way to get to know a bit more about its history.
Go to the Dungeon
A cool place to visit to learn more about the history of Edinburgh and Scotland is the Dungeon. At easy walking distance from Waverley station, it is one of the most popular Edinburgh attractions for families with children – though keep in mind they may get easily scared.
Purchasing tickets in advance is highly recommended. You can get your tickets here.
Walk Edinburgh’s Royal Mile
Known as the beating heart of Edinburgh, brave the crowds and walk from the castle to Holyrood House Palace. You can feel the rich history and it’s the best way to admire some of the oldest buildings in the city. Can you hear the traditional bagpipes? Can you smell the shortbread? There’s always something happening on Edinburgh’s most famous and oldest street.
Make sure to check out this Royal Mile walking tour.
For incredible views of the city, and especially of the Royal Mile, make sure to visit the Camera Obscura and World of Illusions. The latter is a series of rooms with visual games and tricks and one of the most fun things to do in Edinburgh with kids. The Camera Obscura is one of the oldest attractions in town. You can get your tickets in advance here.
Explore Holyrood House Palace
The official palace of the Queen of Scots and where Mary Queen of Scots used to live, this is one of the most interesting places to visit in Edinburgh.
Adore St Giles’ Cathedral
The grand cathedral is one of the main landmarks on the Royal Mile and was founded in 1124.
Climb to the rooftop to see panoramic views of the city for £6 GBP, go on a free 30 minutes walking tour or you can just wander through at your own pace.
Stroll around the Royal Botanic Gardens
Prepare to taste nature in the free Botanic Gardens that are only one mile out of the city centre. It’s time to slow down and experience the 70 acres of stunning landscape that dates back over 300 years.
If you enjoy botany, the glasshouses are definitely worth the £7 GBP (ABOUT $9 USD) fee, as you get to experience 10 different climatic zones and enjoy the serenity of the 3,000 exotic plants.
Explore Dean Village
Take a moment of peace in this colorful, fairy tale village. Stroll down the hill and see the quaint, picture perfect canal and fall in love. It’s crazy to think that you are so close to a capital city; it feels like you’re much more rural, with the river flowing and the quiet, calming atmosphere. A great place for a walk and a coffee.
Climb Arthur’s Seat
Without a doubt, one of the best views over Edinburgh is the highest of the city’s 7 peaks. The towering rock face takes around 45 minutes to hike to the top and if you’re lucky and the sky is clear you will have a 60-mile visibility.
Many people go for sunrise and sunset, why don’t you join them? Remember, although it is not too difficult (just over 250 meters) you should wear appropriate footwear and take water with you. Also, how amazing is it that you can climb an extinct volcano in a capital city?
Go up Carlton Hill
The UNESCO World Heritage site is centrally located and was built in 1816 as a monument to remember all those who died in Napoleonic wars. Carlton Hill is one of the “postcard pictures” of Edinburgh and is a popular spot for sunrise and sunset, as you can see the city from above. It only takes 15 minutes to climb, which is a great alternative to Arthur’s seat if you’re not a hiker; there are quite a lot of stairs though.
Stop by at the Secret Herb Garden
Head to the outskirts of Edinburgh and you won’t be disappointed with this herb haven. The Secret Herb Garden is a café and shop set amongst 7.5-acre gardens and you can sample the produce they grow. The glasshouse is impressive and cosy and you can easily see why people have weddings here.
Unwind at One Spa
Adjacent to the Sheraton Hotel, you’ll feel calm as you enter the One Spa after a busy day exploring the city. If you’re looking for a treat or if it’s a special occasion, it’s worth a splurge for this experience. Rejuvenate in the exemplary rooftop Hydropool and feel on top of the world.
Celebrate at a Festival
Do you want to visit for a party? The big month in the calendar is August, where the annual Fringe Festival transforms the city.
There are hundreds of shows: cabaret, comedy, theatre, and circus acts. If you can think of it, it will probably be there. It’s exciting because the venues are all over the city. You do have to pay for some, but there are plenty of amazing free shows too.
There is also the famous Hogmanay festival, which is a street party that takes place annually on New Years Eve. It is known as one of the top travel experiences in the world and when the clock strikes midnight, join in the Auld Lang Syne with your friends in the world’s largest rendition of the song! What an experience.
Greyfriars Bobby’s Statue
This statue sits on the corner of Candlemaker Row and George IV Bridge. The heart-warming story goes that in the 19th century this Skye terrier guarded its owner’s grave for over 14 years until he died. It’s similar to the Futurama episode “Jurassic Bark” where Fry’s dog mourns his freeze. Remember, if you do rub his nose for good luck be careful and do it gently as it’s already been restored twice and the locals aren’t happy…
In the Greyfriars Cemetery behind the statue, you will be able to find the grave of the owner and also Tom Riddell’s grave, which is believed to have inspired JK Rowling.
Breathe in Princes St Gardens
Princes Street Gardens is one of the nicest green spaces in the city and it separates the new town from the old town. Not only is this a great place to relax or meet up with friends, you can take some outstanding photos of the castle from here, especially from in front of the famous fountain. Undeniably, it’s beautiful at any time, cold or hot, rain or shine.
The Meadows, close to the University buildings, is another great place to chill.
Revel at the Restoration Yard in Dalkeith Country Park
Another out of town experience, located just 20 minutes from the center is the Restoration Yard. The shop has a range of quirky products, there’s local food and it’s located in renovated 18th century stables. Breathe in the beauty and take a walk in the country park or have brunch in the cafe. They even put on yoga classes at their “Wellbeing Lab” if that’s your vibe!
Experience loved writers and their stories
Edinburgh is home to literary geniuses including Robert Burns and Robert Louis Stevenson and it’s easy to see how they were inspired after living in the city. Stevenson once wrote “There are no stars so lovely as Edinburgh street-lamps” and I’m sure you’ll agree.
It’s also fun to visit The Elephant House, where JK Rowling wrote parts of Harry Potter. It’s likely you’ll see the queues outside full of crazed Potter fans. If that’s not enough, there is also a Harry Potter walking tour, where you can discover and find the main spots where Rowling found her inspiration for the books.
You can book your Harry Potter magical walking tour here.
Learn at The National Museum of Scotland
The free museum is one of the most popular attractions in Edinburgh. It boasts over 20,000 exceptional artifacts and you can learn about the Egyptians, modern technology, nature and more.
Head to the roof terrace at the top of the building to see breathtaking views of Edinburgh Castle.
Visit other Museums in Edinburgh
Other cool museums to visit are the Georgian House Museum, through which you can learn how Edinburgh’s wealthy used to live during the 18th and early 19th centuries; the Scottish National Gallery, a fantastic museum for art lovers; and the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, which houses exclusively the portraits of Scottish people.
Admire the Scott Monument
The Scott Monument is located on Princes street and was built in 1832 to commemorate the death of Sir Walter Scott, a loved Scottish writer. At 200ft and 237 steps high, it is the tallest memorial for a writer in the world. Today, you can go to the top and the middle of the gothic monument on a tour, where you can learn about Scott’s life and his work.
Visit the Royal Yatch Britannia in Leith
By far one of the best places to visit in Edinburgh, this is also known as Her Majesty’s Yatch Britannia. Moored at Ocean Terminal in Leith (about 15 minutes from the center of town) this “boat” (that’s a massive understatement) was home to Queen Elizabeth II for more than 40 years, between 1954 and 1997.
Highlights of the visit include seeing the Queen’s bedroom, the room where the Prince and Princess of Wales (Charles and Diana, btw!) spent their honeymoon in 1981, the dining and drawing rooms and the bridge. If you have time, you can also stay on board and have tea at the Royal Deck Tea Room.
You can get your Royal Yatch Britannia tickets here. Advance purchase is highly recommended. This attraction is also included in the Royal Edinburgh ticket.
Attend the Scottish Ballet
Rumor has it that illusionist The Great Lafayette, who died in the theater during a fire, haunts the Edinburgh Festival Theater. Whether this is true or not, seeing this theater – which was first opened in the 19th century – is a must. It’s now home to the Scottish Ballet. Attend a show to check out on that ghost or – more simply – enjoy a sophisticated night out.
Useful Information To Plan Your Trip To Edinburgh
Where to stay
Opt to stay somewhere comfortable and convenient in the city. Whether you’re looking to have a luxury weekend or a budget trip, there is something for you. Below is a selection of the best places to stay in Edinburgh, by budget.
High Street Hostel is £18 GBP (around $23 USD) a night for a dorm room. It is situated on a side street from the Royal Mile and has a friendly atmosphere. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
Wilde Aparthotels by Staycity, Grassmarket will cost from £93 GBP (around $119 USD) a night for a double room. What’s unique about this option is that it is located near Edinburgh castle and you can explore many of the fantastic things to do in Edinburgh on foot. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
Sheraton Grand Hotel & Spa is located in the West End with prices start from £189 GBP (slightly over $241 USD) for a double room. If you’re going to splurge, then you will be able to access the One Spa with your room price, so you can unwind and relax on a rooftop pool after exploring the city. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
The Witchery is located at the top of the castle and having only 9 suites, you will have to book in advance if you want to stay at this gothic hotel. It’s known for its quirks and charms and you will certainly feel like you’re treating yourself, as it will set you back £395 GBP (that’s more than $500 USD) a night! Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
Where to eat
Trying traditional Scottish food such as Haggis, black pudding, cullen skink (which is a smoked haddock, potato and onion soup) and stovies certainly is a must in Edinburgh – but if that’s not to your liking, you will be relieve to know that there is a wealth of really good food to eat.
Other than that, these are some places to try:
Brewhemia: Located opposite the train station. Brewhemia offers seasonal Scottish produce. Prepare for an adventure in your taste buds, whilst enjoying the vibrant atmosphere!
Tigerlily: Not only is the food to die for, the interior of this boutique restaurant is quirky and the relaxed ambience is welcoming.
Element on Rose Street: To try traditional Scottish haggis. If you don’t know, haggis consists of sheep or calf’s offal with suet, oatmeal and seasoning! This is also the perfect place to have some gin or other Scottish dishes.
Civerinos: A fun, quirky Italian restaurant that serves delicious pizza for everyone. There are meat, veggie and vegan options. If the weather allows, you can sit outside in the popular Hunter’s Square and if not, ask for a table downstairs because the décor is beautiful and fun.
Where to drink
Having a drink is definitely one of the things to do in Edinburgh! The creative spirit of Edinburgh shines through its nightlife and it’s not difficult to have a great night out. Try Voodoo Rooms, for incredible cocktails and a vibrant atmosphere, Devil’s Advocate for a more chilled, sophisticated evening and Panda & Sons for a secretive underground vibe and extravagant cocktails (just make sure you book ahead).
If you want to go on a Whiskey tasting tour, then visit the Holyrood Distillery, which is centrally located. The experienced guides will help you to discover your whiskey flavor. A true Scottish experience.
You can book your whisky tour here. If you don’t want to go on a tour but want to try some head go to Ox184 and have the Oban Whiskey from the extensive list.
How to get to Edinburgh
There is only one airport in Edinburgh (EDI) and it has great connections to Europe and beyond. To get to the city from the airport you can either take the bus or the tram. The tram costs £6 GBP (little over $7 USD) each way and will take around 35 minutes and the Airlink 100 Express Bus costs £4.50 GBP (around $6 USD) each way and will take around 30 minutes.
You can book the Airlink bus here.
The main train station is Edinburgh Waverley. A journey from London, will usually take 5 hours and 20 minutes. What is useful to know about the London to Edinburgh journey is that it is picturesque through the English countryside. Just remember to buy a ticket in advance, as the trains can be pricey in the UK. It is also a good option to stop at York or Newcastle on the way if you want to break up the journey.
Coming from York? Make sure to enjoy all the free things to do in York.
There are many different options to choose from but National Express and Megabus are cheaper than the train and are well connected all over the UK, which makes arriving by bus simple and stress free, no matter where you have come from.
How to move around
What is great about Edinburgh is that it’s easy to walk everywhere. This means that unless you go out of town, you won’t need to get any public transport. However, if you’re feeling tired or don’t fancy walking there are convenient trams and buses that offer services all over the city. In particular, the buses are reliable, run 7 days a week and cost just £1.80 GBP ($2.30 USD) for a single ticket. You don’t need to bring cash as you can use your contactless card!
How long to stay
A weekend in Edinburgh is enough time to see all the main sights. However, if you are venturing out of the city, of course you will need longer. Edinburgh is also well positioned to visit Glasgow, which is just an hour away by train or car. Alternatively, you go on a road trip to the West of Scotland or the North Coast 500.
Overall, there’s certainly no shortage of exciting things to do in Edinburgh. It’s a city like no other.
How to save on Edinburgh attractions
City Passes are generally a good way of saving some money on tourist attractions, but Edinburgh doesn’t have its own so you will have to buy tickets for most Edinburgh attractions separately. The good news is that if you buy all your tickets online you will be able to save a bit and – quite importantly – admission to many museums and city parks is completely free; which means you won’t have to spend an arm and a leg to visit the city.
Another good idea if you are planning on visiting Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace and the Royal Watch Britannia is to get the Royal Edinburgh Ticket. You will get an overall 25% discount on the final total price of all attractions and also a 2-day hop-on hop-off bus pass which is very convenient to move around town.
You can get your Royal Edinburgh Ticket here.
Planning a month or so in the United Kingdom? Make sure to read these other posts to help you plan your trip!
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- Where To Stay In London: The Best Areas And Hotels
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This post was contributed by Rachel and Nico, bloggers at AverageLives. Rachel and Nico are passionate travelers, who aim to show that travel can be accessible and affordable for everyone. They enjoy city breaks, road trips and hiking. Follow their stories and journey on their blog and on their Instagram.