What to see and do in Edinburgh?
After my first visit, Edinburgh has become one of my favorite cities in Europe. In today’s post, I bring you a compilation with the best things you can do and see in Edinburgh.
What are the must-see places you have to visit? Many are free and can be done by walking, others you will need a transport to arrive and some will charge an entrance fee.
¿Are you going only 1 day to Edinburgh? Check Best things to do in 24 hour and how to plan it!
Índice de contenidos
If you are planning a trip to the Scottish capital soon, continue reading, there is plenty to do and enjoy. Let’s start!
- If you have 1 day to visit Edinburgh click on this link to know the essential visits to do in 24 hours and how to organize it.
- If you have little time to read this mega post, I leave you first my top ten, and then the 50 things to see, do, and visit in Edinburgh without order of preference or importance.
Top 10 Visits in Edinburgh
This list is completely subjective and is based on my preferences 😉
- Edinburgh Castle
- Walk through the Royal Mile
- Master Class at The Scotch Whisky Experience
- Calton Hill
- Arthur’s Seat
- Live music in a pub + pint of local beer.
- Palace of Holyrood
- Water of Leith Walk
- Holyrood Park
50 places to see and visit in Edinburgh
1. Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle is a must-see and surely the most visited thing in the Scottish capital and itis huge, which is why you have to dedicate at least two hours to this visit.
It is located on top of a hill and from there you can contemplate the whole city, the views are great.
This castle has lived through history battles, sieges, has been destroyed and rebuilt, has seen kings born and died, and has even been a prison and armory.
Inside, there are different museums, mostly military, where you can learn a little more about Scotland’s history.
2. The Statue of David Hume
He was a Scottish philosopher, and it is tradition to touch the big toe of his statue. That’s supposed to bring luck, especially if you’re on exams, but it also attracts fortune in general, something for you to know in case you touch David Hume’s big toe.
3. The Heart of Midlothian
It is a heart made of granite that is on the ground, it is called the heart of Midlothian and is located where Edinburgh’s prison used to be and the tradition is to spit in the heart, this will bring you good luck, they say…
4. The Scotch Whisky Experience
Want to learn about whiskies? You can do a master class at The Scotch Whisky Experience. They have different tours and whisky tastings at different times. We did the Master Class at 10 in the morning. Can you imagine trying different types of whiskey at that time of the day? It’s not that we love drinking alcohol, but the master class is cool.
5. The Hub
If you feel like having a coffee, you can do it in this church converted into a café and where the Edinburgh International Festival is based. There are different rooms and it is not very cheap though, coffee costs 2.50 euros. But it’s so cool to rest and hang out.
6. St. Giles’ Cathedral
St. Giles’ Cathedral, also known as Edinburgh Cathedral, will enchant you.
When we visited St. Giles’ Cathedral we came across a piano concert. It’s amazing how it changes the visit to a cathedral if it has lively classical music. As visitors were arriving, instead of going around to see the stained glass windows and works of art, they sat and listened to the music. We also sat down for a little while and then visited the inside of this magnificent cathedral.
7. St Mary’s Cathedral
You can visit the Episcopal Cathedral of St. Mary which is in the area called West End. It is constructed in the Gothic style and holds a relic of the patron saint of Scotland, St Andrew. It’s very pretty.
8. South Bridge Basses (Mercat Tours)
Edinburgh is a city with a lot of ghost stories, we couldn’t go without knowing some. So we did the tour to get to know the vaults under the South Bridge.
It is a very entertaining tour, it takes an hour or so, and I think you can only visit these vaults with an official guide.
9. Royal Mary King’s Close
The visit consists of visiting the alleys below the Town Hall. These were covered when a former shopping centre was built where we can now see Edinburgh City Hall.
Mary King’s Close is Edinburgh’s most famous alley. It was reopened to the public in 2003 and here you will to know somewhat dark stories that happened to real people who lived there. It is not a scary tour, but I do not think it is recommended for people with claustrophobia.
10. Royal Mile
The Royal Mile is the most important street in the medieval city of Edinburgh, connecting the Castle with the Palace of Holyrood house.
As you start walking the Royal Mile from the Castle, you’ll see souvenir shops, many shops selling you scarves with typical Scottish designs in different colors. You can detect the best quality when you touch them, they are super soft but you will also detect them by their price.
You can also see other Edinburgh attractions, representative buildings, street artists, and many visitors. It’s a street you’re going to walk around a lot while visiting Edinburgh.
11. Old Canongate Tolbooth
Until the nineteenth century, this area didn’t belong to Edinburgh, and this is the building were the administrative functions of Canongate were carried out, such as city hall, courts, prison, etc. It currently holds the People’s Story Museum, which you can visit from 10:00 to 17:00.
12. HolyroodHouse Palace
This is the Queen’s official cottage in Scotland. You can visit the inside. Visiting hours are from 09:30-18:00 (March to October), but the last access is at 16.30. In winter, it closes at 16:30 and the last access is at 15:15.
If you’ve read Outlander books, you’ll know that in the second book, when they return to Scotland, Claire and Jamie stay for a few weeks here. It is also where Collum dies, and in the abbey next to the palace, Black Jack Randall reunites with Claire.
13. The Scottish Parliament
It is a few steps from the Palace of Holyrood. It’s a building that, in my opinion, does not stick with the rest of the Royal Mile as it is very modern and the old city of Edinburgh is totally medieval. On the other hand, it’s a site that I find interesting to visit, it is free and there are guided tours.
14. Calton Hill
Calton Hill is Scotland’s tiny Athens and one of Edinburgh’s most famous hills.
It’s the typical place to watch the Edinburgh sunset, the one you’ve seen in hundreds of photos, yes.
In addition to the typical photo, if you walk around the park a little you will find other Greek-style buildings. The National Monument, which is unfinished because of lack of funds, consists of 12 columns. We can also see the observatory and the Nelson Monument.
15. National Monument of Scotland
The National Monument of Scotland is located in Calton Hill. It’s dedicated to the Scottish soldiers and sailors who died fighting in the Napoleonic Wars. It is unfinished because of a lack of funds for almost 200 years, it consists of 12 columns and is popularly known as the shame of Scotland. It has the appearance of being the ruins of an ancient temple of Greece.
16. Listen to live music in one of their pubs
There are many pubs in Edinburgh, one more picturesque than the other. We listened to Lonely Planet and went to Sandy Bells. It is a small pub, where you can find a lot of local people, great beers, a good atmosphere, and of course, lively music.
17. Drink one (or more) pint(s) of beer
In addition to whiskey, there are some great beers in Scotland. And if you’re in Edinburgh, you have to have a pint or two of some local beer, I loved the Innis and Gunn, it’s an Edinburgh beer.
18. The Last Drop
The Last Drop. It is in Grassmarket where hangings were carried out in the past. It is said that here, in The Last Drop, they brought the prisoners for their last drink before going to the gallows.
What’s more, they say there’s a ghost of a girl who walks around the bar and the warehouse, and wears medieval clothes. We didn’t have the pleasure of seeing her. And you?
It is one of the most macabre places in Edinburgh, it is located in the Old City, at the foot of the Castle. And as I mentioned above, it has been the place where public executions were carried out. Now, it’s full of restaurants and pubs, be sure to visit the Bow Bar which has won the award for best bar in Britain.
20. National Gallery of Scotland (free admission)
The National Gallery of Scotland is an art gallery that opened in 1859. It exhibits works from the Renaissance to Post-Impressionism and we can see works by artists such as Tiziano, Velázquez, and Monet among others.
It is located on The Mound Hill on Princes Street, it has a neoclassical style.
21. Stroll along Water of Leith Walk
Water of Leith Walk is a walk along the banks of the Water of Leith River, Edinburgh’s most important river.
It is beautiful to walk in the middle of nature, where we will also meet Dean Village, the Royal Botanical Garden, the Gallery of Modern Art, and more points of interest.
22. The Royal Botanical Garden (free admission)
The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh was created in 1670 by two physicians who grew medicinal plants. It was initially located in Holyrood, but, in 1820, it was moved to its current location to escape the pollution of the city.
General admission is free, you only have to pay to enter the greenhouses, which costs 5.50 euros and there, you can see more than 2000 types of plants from different parts of the world.
23. Gallery of Modern Art (free admission)
The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art preserves and exhibits Scotland’s collection of modern and contemporary art. It is composed of the Dean Gallery and the Gallery of Modern Art.
24. Dean Village
Dean Village is a very picturesque village bordering the River Leith, it was founded in the 12th century by the monks of Holyrood Abbey.
In the 1960s, it became a decadent and poor place, but it gradually rehabilitated and became a much-desired place to live.
25. Scott Memorial
It is the monument created in honor of the writer Sir Walter Scott. It has Gothic style and opened in 1846. After climbing the 287 steps, you will have wonderful views, the effort is worth it!
It is located on the east of the Princes Street Gardens and the entrance is 5£.
26. Princes Street Gardens
At the foot of Edinburgh Castle, we find these wonderful gardens. They are located where the North Loch (Northern Lake) was previously located. The lake was drained and in 1820 these gardens that separate the Old City from the New City were created.
If you go here for Christmas, you will find the Winter Wonderland, an ice skating rink, and the Christmas market.
27. Arthur’s Seat
In the heart of Edinburgh, we find the hill with one of the best views of the city.
It is located in Holyrood Park, has a height of 251 meters, and is a very popular excursion. However, wear suitable shoes, especially to avoid slipping and do not go in a hurry since reaching the top can easily take you an hour or an hour and a half.
28. North Bridge, the Bridge of Suicides
Located above Waverley Train Station, the North Bridge connects New Town to the Old Town. Unfortunately, this bridge is known because of the high level of suicides that take place on it.
They tried to place different barriers to stop the suicides and today there is a small poster with the phone number of hope…
29. Edinburgh Museum and The People’s Story Museum
On the Royal Mile, there are these two museums that tell us the history of Edinburgh and its people.
30. Canongate Cemetery
This former cemetery is located on the Royal Mile next to Canongate Kirk. The cemetery is from the late 17th century and has been used by the inhabitants of the city for more than 250 years. Here are resting some notable characters such as Adam Smith, the father of Capitalism. Accessed by the Church of Canongate.
31. Canongate Kirk
It is a church built in 1688 to house the faithful who were expelled from Holyrood Abbey. They say it’s the Royal Family’s favorite, moreover, when they’re in Edinburgh, they occupy the front row seats as they have them already booked.
When you’re walking the Royal Mile, you’ll find this little red-door church.
32. Greyfriars Cemetery
It is one of Edinburgh’s best-known cemeteries, especially because of Bobby the puppy who remained by his master’s grave for 14 years. It also inspired the grim cemetery scene of “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”, when Voldemort returns to his physical form and duels with Harry Potter.
33. Writers’ Museum (Free Entry)
This museum is dedicated to Scotland’s three most notable writers: Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns, and Robert Louis Stevenson.
It is located in the Lady Stair Mansion of 1662 and, in 1907, it was donated to Edinburgh for use as a museum.
One of the most important objects we will find in the museum are the printing press and the dining table of Sir Walter Scott.
34. Gladstones Land
It was the home of a 17th-century merchant and, in it, we can see what Edinburgh life was like more than 400 years ago.
It was built in 1550, and today, we can see 6 of its rooms where we can see everyday objects and decorations of the seventeenth century.
It was saved from demolition thanks to the National Trust of Scotland.
The entrance is 7£.
35. Dark Camera
It’s a system that projects the image of the city with holograms, 3D images on mirrors that deform these images. It is set in a tower next to Edinburgh Castle and has about 6 floors. It is ideal for going with children.
36. Places that inspired Harry Potter
In Edinburgh, you will find many references to Harry Potter. They say many of his characters were born here in Edinburgh. For example, George Heriot’s School inspired Hogwarts. Greyfriars Cemetery, one of Edinburgh’s best-known by Bobby the puppy, inspired the grim cemetery scene of “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”, when Voldemort returns to his physical form and duels with Harry Potter.
The cafes where J.K. Rowling wrote the books of the famous wizard, one of the best known is The Elephant House and Nicholson’s Café, which is now called Spoon. She ended the saga at the Balmoral hotel, due to her fame, she couldn’t continue to write the novels in the cafes for long.
37. Holyrood Park
It’s Edinburgh’s largest park. Here, you will find lakes, beautiful gardens, and hills, with about 260 hectares of extension.
It is located next to the Palace of Holyrood.
38. Free Walking Tour
There are many free tours in Edinburgh. They take you around to get to know a bit of the city, especially the most characteristic places and if you liked the tour, tips are much appreciated. You can book them online or right there (on the Royal Mile), you will usually see them with umbrellas or posters that advertise it.
39. Cramond Island Excursion
Less than 10 kilometres from Edinburgh city centre, we find this curious island that can be reached on foot. However, before you go, you have to check the tides to be able to cross safely.
You can take a bus to get to the village of Cramond, which is located on the banks of the Firth of Forth.
40. Route Through the Places where Outlander was Filmed
If you’re a fan of the Outlander show or the books series, you’ll know that a lot of things happen in Edinburgh, right? To avoid spoilers, I leave you with some places where the third season of this famous series was filmed and as I told you on the Outlander Route through Scotland, I will also tell you some places in the books.
The Palace of Holyrood, Canongate Kirk, Carruber’s Close, The World’s End, Edinburgh Castle (book). Places in the series: Tweeddale Court, Bakehouse Close ( Jamie’s Press), the stretch of the Royal Mile where the Canongate Tolbooth is but without the clock, Craigmillar Castle and much more.
41. Visit Flea Markets
Do you like flea markets? In Edinburgh, you’ll find weekly markets, which are usually on weekends such as the Edinburgh Farmers Market and the Grassmarket Market which opens on Saturdays or markets that open daily like the Royal Mile Market.
42. Enjoy Edinburgh festivals
In Edinburgh, you can find festivals throughout the year, but the most famous one is the Fringe, which is held in August, if you are there this year, I’m sure we will cross paths.
Want to see the festivals throughout the year? Click this link
43. Playing Golf
They say that golf as we know it was invented in Scotland, and the oldest golf club in the world is the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers.
So, if you like this sport you could practice it in the city that invented it.
44. Going to the beach
Although the water is a little cold, you can go and get to know the beaches of Edinburgh. Did you know that on January 1 of each year, Scots dress up and take a dip in the sea? It’s a tradition I don’t know if I’d dare go on… You don’t have to get in the water, you can just enjoy a day at the beach or a sunset in Portobello, they say they are the best beaches in Edinburgh.
45. Meet the Newhaven Lighthouse
Newhaven is a fishing village and the lighthouse owes its name to this picturesque village bathed by the waters of the Firth Forth. Definitely a special place to enjoy the sunset.
46. Hiking routes
If you’re a hiking enthusiast, in Edinburgh, you’ll find plenty of routes to hike, and if you want, climb its famous 7 hills (Arthur’s Seat, Calton Hill, Castle Hill, Corstorphine Hill, Craiglockhart Hill, Blackford Hill and Braid Hill) and enjoy nature within walking distance of this beautiful city.
One of the most typical routes is Arthur’s Seat, it is an extinct volcano found in Holyrood Park and is only 4.75km.
47. Royal Yacht Britain
It was the royal family’s yacht on their foreign travels from 1953 to 1997, which has retired. The decoration is from 1950 and gives you an idea of the tastes of royalty at that time.
It is located in Ocean Terminal.
48. Tour bus
Edinburgh is a city to explore on foot, but if you want you can use the hop-on-hop-off bus, it comes in handy for the farthest places you want to visit.
49. Edinburgh Guided Tour
If you want, you can tour Edinburgh with a professional guide for 3 hours, you will love this tour.
They tell you, in a pleasant and fun way, the history, legends, and curiosities of the Scottish capital.
Entrance 11,50£ adults.
50. Children’s Museum (Free Admission)
It is the world’s first museum dedicated to telling the story of childhood. In its collection, you can see toys and different games over generations. There are 21 rooms with more than 2000 objects inside.
It is a museum recommended for all ages, not just for children.
I hope you liked these 50 things to see and do in Edinburgh, it’s one of my favorite cities, I hope you enjoy the city. Just one recommendation, take it easy, don’t try to see these 50 places on a weekend. Better to visit less and enjoy it rather than visit more and end up exhausted!
Visits near Edinburgh
Want to planning a tour around Edinburgh? check out these posts:
- Outlander filming locations in Scotland (there are many near Edinburgh)
- What to see between Edinburgh and Stirling
- Watch the Highland games
- 15-day Scotland’s Road Trip
- North Coast 500 epic Highland Road Trip
Book Your Trip
Book Your Flight
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Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel, hotel, or apartments on Booking.com.
Best companies for activities
Check out Civitatis.com and find the best tours in English (French, Spanish and Italian)
Looking for the best companies to save money with?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel! I list all the ones I use to save money when I travel – and I think will help you too! (Is in Spanish yet)
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