Best Things to Do in Edinburgh: Unveiling the Hidden Gems of Scotland's Historic Capital

Best Things to Do in Edinburgh: Unveiling the Hidden Gems of Scotland's Historic Capital

Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland and the second-largest city in the country. The town of endless greenery, strong whisky, and vast history, this beautiful rainy city will not leave you disappointed. Pack your suitcase and embark on this amazing Scottish adventure. In today’s article, we will investigate what makes this city so unique. Keep on reading to find out the most exciting, delicious, artsy, and educational things to do in Edinburgh


Best Things to Do in Edinburgh: Discover the Gems of Scotland's Capital

In our guide, you will learn about the top 30 tourist destinations in Edinburgh for any taste and age. Whether you are an adventurer seeking thrilling experiences in nature or a bookworm looking to learn about local literary and art history, you will definitely find something in this marvelous city. 


1. Calton Hill: Absorb the Breathtaking Panoramic Views

Calton Hill is a hill in the heart of the Scottish capital that offers breathtaking panoramic views of the entire city. Standing on the hill, tourists can marvel at the incredible skyline that includes Edinburgh Castle, Arthur's Seat, and much more. Calton Hill is also home to the National Monument that stores the unfinished replica of the Parthenon in Athens which was dedicated to Scottish soldiers who died in the Napoleonic Wars. One of the most exciting things to do in Edinburgh, the hill hosts the City Observatory which will open the door to the fascinating astronomical instruments. Finally, this serene place is the perfect location for an afternoon picnic or morning stroll surrounded by nature and peace. 

Calton Hill

2. Edinburgh Castle: Immerse Yourself in Turbulent History

Built in the 11th century, Edinburgh Castle is located on Castle Rock and offers a myriad of captivating attractions. Here, you can explore Scotland's Crown Jewels, including the dazzling crown, scepter, and sword. Also, discover the Stone of Destiny, a symbol of the Scottish monarchy. The castle offers a glimpse at the 11-12th century interior and astonishes visitors with the Royal Palace, St. Margaret’s Chapel, and The Great Hall. If possible, get to the castle at 1 pm to experience the firing of the iconic One o'clock Gun, a tradition that dates back to 1861, signaling the time to ships in the Firth of Forth.

Edinburgh Castle

3. Historic Royal Mile: Step Back in Time on this Iconic Street

The Historic Royal Mile in Edinburgh is a stretch brimming with historical landmarks, charming shops, and lively attractions. Take a stroll down this mile to enjoy the sights of Edinburgh Castle, St. Giles’ Cathedral, and The Palace of Holyroodhouse. While visiting Edinburgh, stop by the Museum of Edinburgh to learn more about the fascinating history of Ireland and explore significant cultural milestones. The streets are also full of adorable shops and eateries where you can taste local and international cuisine while sipping on whisky. Local street performers will entertain you along the way with music, magic, and dancing. Jump on one of the free tours in Edinburgh to learn more about this historic mile. 

Historic Royal Mile

4. Arthur's Seat: Conquer the Peak for Spectacular Scenery

Arthur's Seat, an ancient volcano and natural landmark located in Holyrood Park, Edinburgh, offers a host of activities and sights for visitors to enjoy. One of the most breathtaking things to do in Edinburgh, this spot is a magical place for hikers and nature lovers. Here, you can spend the morning hiking the summit of Arthur’s Seat and enjoy a picnic at the Holyrood Park that surrounds the volcano. At the top, you can also take in the marvel of the cliffs of Salisbury Crags. Nature enthusiasts will be pleased to learn about the diverse local fauna, including birds, rabbits, and even deer. For an adventurous spirit, the hill offers paragliding opportunities for visitors. 

Arthur's Seat

5. Victoria Street and Grassmarket: Unleash Your Inner Harry Potter

Victoria Street and Grassmarket are two picturesque areas in Edinburgh that offer an abundance of activities. As J.K. Rowling shared herself, she wrote most of her Harry Potter series while residing in Edinburgh. Victoria Street is often cited as one of the inspirations for Diagon Alley in the books. At the top of the street, you'll find a shop called "The Boy Wizard." This store specializes in Harry Potter merchandise and is a treasure trove for Potterheads. 

Right next to it, Grassmarket is a historic square with a vibrant atmosphere. The author drew inspiration from this area to create the fictional street of Knockturn Alley. While Grassmarket itself isn't dark and sinister like Knockturn Alley, it still offers a unique and enchanting charm. The whole area is a must-see for the fans of the franchise, including numerous souvenir shops offering merchandise. 

 Victoria Street and Grassmarket

6. Dean Village: Explore the Enchanting Quarters

Dean Village, a hidden gem nestled along the Water of Leith in Edinburgh, offers a serene and picturesque setting. This is one of the best things to do in Edinburgh on a warm day. Take a leisurely walk along the Water of Leith Walkway to enjoy the tranquility of the riverside path and admire the charming architecture and lush greenery. Here you can also explore Well Court, a stunning example of Scottish tenement architecture. Further down is the Dean Cemetery, a peaceful resting place filled with ornate gravestones and monuments. Finally, you can discover cozy cafes and unique shops to indulge in a cup of coffee or browse for local crafts, art, and antiques.

Dean Village

7. Palace of Holyroodhouse: Uncover the Royal Heritage

The Palace of Holyroodhouse, located at the end of the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, is an iconic royal residence. Take a tour inside the palace to explore State Apartments, The Great Gallery, and The Throne Room. At the Queen’s Gallery, visitors get a chance to admire exhibitions from the Royal collection that comprises various artifacts, historical objects, and artworks. After exploring the palace, walk outside to spend some time in the beautiful gardens. The lucky ones will even witness the Changing of the Guard ceremony, a traditional ritual in Scotland. 

Palace of Holyroodhouse

8. National Museum of Scotland: Dive into Fascinating Exhibits

The National Museum of Scotland is a cultural institution that showcases a diverse range of exhibits spanning art, science, history, and natural wonders. Inside the numerous halls of the museum, you will discover extensive galleries with artifacts and displays that cover Scottish history, world cultures, natural history, science, technology, and design. An exciting thing to do in Edinburgh is meeting Dolly the Sheep herself, or the stuffed remains as she passed away in 2003. 

National Museum of Scotland

The museum is brimming with exhibits showcasing the natural world, technology and innovation, Scottish history and art, and much more. Don’t miss the chance to spend a couple of hours learning, admiring, and discovering new knowledge about the world. On the best free tour of Edinburgh, you can learn more about the museum and other exciting spots. 


9. Circus Lane and Stockbridge: Indulge in Romantic Strolls

Circus Lane and Stockbridge are charming neighborhoods in Edinburgh that offer an array of attractions, shops, and eateries. Circus Lane is a picturesque street filled with adorable boutiques where you can shop for vintage clothing and artisanal goods. On the corner of Circus Lane, you can marvel at St Stephen’s Church, the Georgian-style church featuring stunning stained glass windows. At the Stockbridge Market, you can indulge in fresh produce, local crafts, artisanal foods, and unique handmade goods. Another incredible thing to do in Edinburgh is the historic Stockbridge Colonies, a charming collection of 19th-century terraced houses. The area is also known for an abundance of art galleries as well as a gorgeous Victorian-era library. 

Circus Lane and Stockbridge

10. Scottish National Gallery: Admire Masterpieces of Art

The Scottish National Gallery, located on Edinburgh's famous Princes Street, is a must-see place for lovers of art and culture. Besides their extensive art collection full of masterpieces by Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Monet, you can discover Scottish art. The museum features works by iconic Scottish artists like Sir Henry Raeburn, Allan Ramsay, and the Glasgow Boys. The Scottish National Gallery rolls out regular temporary expositions that provide a fresh perspective on art history. After your visit, step to the Mound, the grassy area in front of the gallery, which offers stunning panoramas of Edinburgh Castle, Princes Street Gardens, and the city skyline.

Scottish National Gallery

11. Scott Monument: Ascend for an Unforgettable View

The Scott Monument, a striking Gothic monument located in Edinburgh's Princes Street Gardens, is dedicated to the famous Scottish writer Sir Walter Scott. The entire place is dedicated to commemorating this important figure in the history of Scotland. Discover the museum room on the ground floor of the monument, which showcases exhibits and artifacts related to Sir Walter Scott's life and literary works. When visiting Edinburgh, climb the narrow spiral staircase to the top of the monument for breathtaking panoramic views of the city’s skyline. Finally, enjoy the Princes Street Gardens to take a break from the noisy Scottish capital. 

Scott Monument

12. St Giles Cathedral: Marvel at Exquisite Interiors

St Giles Cathedral, also known as the High Kirk of Edinburgh, is a historic and magnificent place of worship located on the Royal Mile. While walking down the streets, marvel at the stunning Gothic architecture of St Giles Cathedral, including its iconic crown spire and intricate stonework. Step inside the Thistle Chapel, a small but exquisite space within the cathedral. When inside, listen to the majestic sound of its renowned organ during a scheduled recital or service. Finally, you can climb the spiral staircase to the Crown Spire Viewing Gallery for panoramic views of Edinburgh. 

 St Giles Cathedral

13. Royal Yacht Britannia: Experience Life as Royalty

The Royal Yacht Britannia, a former royal yacht of the British monarch, is now permanently anchored in Edinburgh's Leith area and serves as a popular tourist attraction. Here, you can learn about the yacht's history, its role as the Queen's floating residence, and the fascinating stories associated with its voyages. Take a tour of the State Apartments, Royal Bedrooms, and Tea Room where the Queen herself and other members of the royal family spent their days. On a sunny day, the best thing to do in Edinburgh is to enjoy the fresh sea breeze on the Verandah Deck, an outdoor area. Here, you can relax, take in the views, and take photos of the yacht and the surrounding waterfront.

Royal Yacht Britannia

14. Royal Botanic Garden: Commune with Nature's Serenity

The Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh is a magnificent oasis of nature and beauty. Explore the area to discover the Rock Garden, the Woodland Garden, the Chinese Hillside, the Scottish Heath Garden, and more. The glasshouses host exotic plants from different climates around the world, including tropical palms, orchids, and cycads. Visitors get a chance to navigate the gardens devoted to the Queen’s mother and relax by the pond, a serene and picturesque spot surrounded by lush greenery. Finally, step by the Edible Garden that features various plants used in culinary arts. After the tour, you are bound to feel hungry, so bring a picnic basket and spend a relaxing hour taking in the beauty of the scenery. 

Royal Botanic Garden

15. Greyfriars Kirkyard: Embark on a Spooky Adventure

Greyfriars Kirkyard, located in the heart of Edinburgh, is a historic cemetery that is steeped in history and intrigue. Can’t decide what to do in Edinburgh to entertain your friends and family? Take a self-guided tour to learn about the rocky history of the town. For example, the Covenanters' Prison is a section of the cemetery that served as a prison for Covenanters, a Scottish religious group in the 17th century. The prison is a haunting reminder of Scotland's turbulent past and provides insight into religious persecution during that time. 

Greyfriars Kirkyard

Another interesting spot is the Greyfriars Bobby statue, located just outside the cemetery. This famous statue commemorates the loyal Skye Terrier who spent years guarding his master's grave and became a beloved symbol of loyalty and devotion. The cemetery also offers ghost tours to spook visitors and shares tales about paranormal activities that roam this area. Learn more about the cemetery on the essential Edinburgh free tour


16. Princes Street Garden: Relax with a Delightful Picnic

Princes Street Garden is a beautiful public park that offers a serene escape from the bustling city. The gardens are vast and include the Ross Fountain, a Victorian-era masterpiece with intricate sculptures. While walking in the gardens, take in the stunning floral displays that adorn the park throughout the year. And don't miss the famous Floral Clock, a unique timepiece adorned with intricate floral arrangements. Each year, the clock's design changes, offering a colorful and seasonal display. If you're visiting during the summer months, check the schedule for live performances at the Princes Street Gardens Bandstand. 

Princes Street Garden

17. Day Trips from Edinburgh: Explore Beyond the City Limits

Aside from places to visit in Edinburgh, there are plenty of worthy spots nearby. In fact, the city serves as an excellent base for exploring the stunning landscapes and historic sites of Scotland. For example, you can embark on a day trip to Loch Ness and the Scottish Highlands. Take a boat cruise on Loch Ness and keep an eye out for the legendary Loch Ness Monster. Northwest of Edinburgh, you can visit Stirling Castle, a magnificent fortress that played a pivotal role in Scottish history. 

Loch Ness

Afterward, venture into the nearby Trossachs National Park, known as the "Highlands in Miniature," with its picturesque lochs and forests. If you are up for a longer trip, don’t miss the Isle of Skye, an island with breathtaking landscapes, rugged mountains, and a dramatic coastline. Explore iconic landmarks like the Old Man of Storr, the Fairy Pools, and the Quiraing, and immerse yourself in the mystical beauty of the Scottish Highlands.


18. Haggis Tasting: Savor Scotland's Traditional Dish

Haggis tasting is a unique culinary experience that allows you to savor one of Scotland's most traditional dishes. Haggis is a savory pudding made from sheep's offal (heart, liver, and lungs), mixed with onions, oatmeal, spices, and suet, all encased in a sheep's stomach lining. You can explore different types of haggis available, including vegetarian and gluten-free options for those with dietary restrictions. Traditionally, this local dish is served with neeps (mashed turnips) and tatties (mashed potatoes). If available, consider attending a haggis cooking demonstration to see how this traditional dish is prepared. 

Haggis Tasting

19. Edinburgh Festival: Immerse Yourself in the Vibrant Arts Scene

Among the best Edinburgh tourist attractions, the Edinburgh Festival is a world-renowned event that encompasses a series of festivals held in the city throughout the summer months. Depending on the month, you can visit the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the world's largest arts festival with thousands of performances ranging from theater, comedy, music, dance, and more. The International Festival also showcases performances in various art forms and brings people from all over the world. Another gem is the Edinburgh International Book Festival where you can engage in literary discussions and participate in lectures and book signings. Finally, don't miss the spectacular finale of the Edinburgh Festival with the annual fireworks display. 

Edinburgh Festival

20. Leith: Delight in Gourmet Discoveries

Leith, located on the shores of the Firth of Forth, is a vibrant district in Edinburgh with a rich maritime history. Enjoy a relaxing walk along the waterfront to marvel at the breathtaking views and visit the historic Victoria Swing Bridge. At the Trinity House Maritime Museum, you can learn about Leith's maritime heritage and discover the history of the Merchant Navy. The area is also brimming with myriads of restaurants, bars, and shops. You can get a meal overlooking the water, soak up the vibrant atmosphere, and perhaps catch some live music or entertainment at one of the venues. If you are visiting on a Sunday, don’t miss out on the weekly Leith Market full of stalls selling fresh produce, baked goods, artisanal cheeses, and more.


21. Real Mary King's Close: Journey into Underground History

Real Mary King's Close is a historic underground street located near the bustling streets of Edinburgh's Old Town. This is the place where visitors can experience interactive historical reenactments that transport them back in time to the 17th century. Beneath the surface hides the Underground World of Real Mary King's Close with well-preserved streets, houses, and rooms. Take a guided tour to learn about the spot and hear haunting tales of ghostly legends and paranormal activity. Marvel at a variety of historical artifacts on display, including objects that were discovered during archaeological excavations in the close.

Real Mary King's Close

22. Edinburgh Christmas Market and Hogmanay: Celebrate in Festive Spirit

Edinburgh comes to life during the winter holidays season with its Christmas Market and Hogmanay celebrations. At the Christmas market, you can immerse yourself in the magical atmosphere and browse the charming wooden cabins with unique gifts, crafts, and delicious treats. Tourists who seek active entertainment can put on a pair of ice skates and glide across the ice rink right in the heart of the market. For a romantic rendezvous, take a ride on the iconic Big Wheel and enjoy panoramic views of the city's skyline illuminated with festive lights. Travelers with kids might enjoy getting lost in the Christmas Tree Maze, a delightful attraction where you can wander through a labyrinth of twinkling trees.

Edinburgh Christmas Market and Hogmanay

Hogmanay is the last day of the year in Scotland. The holiday is widely celebrated with outdoor parties and gatherings, including live music from top performers, spectacular fireworks lighting up the night sky, and a lively atmosphere as the city counts down to midnight. You can even be part of the Torchlight Procession, a magical event where thousands of torchbearers create a river of fire as they march through the streets of Edinburgh. The whole night is accompanied by the Concert in the Gardens, a popular New Year's Eve music event held in Princes Street Gardens. Dance and sing along to live performances by renowned artists while surrounded by the historic beauty of Edinburgh Castle.


23. Camera Obscura & World of Illusions: Unleash Your Inner Child

Camera Obscura & World of Illusions is a fascinating attraction that offers a range of optical illusions and interactive exhibits. Start your visit with the Camera Obscura experience, which provides a captivating view of Edinburgh from a rooftop chamber. Watch in awe as the camera projects live moving images of the city onto a viewing table, giving you a unique perspective of the surroundings. You can explore the various floors of the attraction, filled with mind-bending optical illusions and interactive exhibits. Among the best things to do in Edinburgh for kids, the museum is filled with rooms that challenge your perception of size, shape, and perspective. Make sure to stop by the Mirror Maze, Vortex Tunnel, and numerous interactive exhibits throughout the museum. 

Camera Obscura World of Illusions

24. Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art: Explore Contemporary Masterpieces

The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art is a must-visit destination for art enthusiasts. Here, you can discover a diverse and impressive collection of modern and contemporary art from renowned artists such as Picasso, Warhol, Hockney, and many more. Additionally, you can learn about Scotland's rich artistic heritage by exploring the gallery's collection of Scottish art. Outside the museum, enjoy a stroll through the sculpture park, which features an array of contemporary sculptures set amidst beautifully landscaped gardens.

Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

25. Scotch Whisky Experience: Embark on a Whisky Tasting Journey

The Scotch Whisky Experience is a fantastic destination for whisky enthusiasts and those interested in learning about Scotland's national drink. Begin your experience with a unique whisky barrel ride that takes you on a virtual journey through the whisky-making process. Later, explore the world’s largest whisky collection with over 3,000 bottles from various distilleries. If you enjoy this smokey drink, don’t miss out on the whisky-tasting experience. You can sample a selection of different whisky styles, including single malts and blended whiskies, and learn about the distinct flavors, aromas, and characteristics of each. 

Scotch Whisky Experience

The ultimate Scottish thing to do in Edinburgh is to create your own unique whisky blend. Guided by an expert, you'll have the chance to experiment with different whisky flavors and create a personalized blend to take home as a one-of-a-kind souvenir.


26. Scottish National Portrait Gallery: Discover Scotland's Literary Heroes

The Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh is an incredible destination that showcases the portraits of significant figures from Scotland's past and present. You will be fascinated by the extensive collection of portraits, which spans several centuries and encompasses a wide range of individuals who have shaped Scotland's history and culture. From monarchs and politicians to artists, writers, and everyday people, the portraits provide a glimpse into their lives and contributions. Among the most educational things to do in Edinburgh, the museum will also open up the door to lengthy and rocky Scottish history. 

Scottish National Portrait Gallery

27. Writers Museum & Makar's Court: Celebrate the Literary Legacy

The Writers Museum and Makar's Court are dedicated to celebrating the lives and works of Scotland's literary greats. Step inside the Writers Museum to discover the artifacts devoted to three of Scotland's most renowned writers: Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson. Learn about their lives, literary contributions, and the impact they had on Scottish literature and beyond. Outside the museum, you will discover the Makar's Court, a unique courtyard that pays tribute to Scotland's national poets, known as Makars. Walk along the courtyard and admire the paving stones inscribed with quotes from famous Scottish poets, creating a poetic and literary atmosphere. Embark on the Romantic and Mystic Edinburgh tour to learn the history of the museum. 

Writers Museum Makars Court

28. Forth Bridge: Marvel at the Architectural Grandeur

The Forth Bridge, an iconic railway bridge spanning the Firth of Forth near Edinburgh, offers a remarkable engineering marvel and stunning views. The impressive structure of the Forth Bridge has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can take a guided tour or walk along the Forth Bridge Walkway, a pedestrian path that allows you to experience the bridge up close. Aside from the bridge, you can embark on a boat tour along the river to see the grandeur from all angles. For an active thing to do in Edinburgh, move to the Forth Bridge Heritage Trail, a scenic walking route that allows you to explore the area surrounding the bridge. Discover historic landmarks, natural landscapes, and hidden gems as you follow the trail, immersing yourself in the beauty of the surroundings.

Forth Bridge

29. Lauriston Castle: Wander Through Historic Grounds

Lauriston Castle offers visitors a glimpse into Scottish history, stunning architecture, and beautiful gardens. Explore the endless rooms of this majestic castle, including the Japanese room, tea room, tower house, and beautiful gardens. Take a walk around the structure to admire the impressive interiors, including the intricate woodwork, exquisite furniture, and magnificent artworks on display. Visitors with children will be pleased to learn about family activities such as art workshops, storytelling events, and more. 

Lauriston Castle

30. Portobello Beach: Build Sandcastles and Unwind by the Sea

Portobello Beach is a popular seaside destination offering a range of activities and attractions. Here, you can spend a relaxing day soaking up the sun and enjoying the sandy shores of Portobello Beach. The beach area offers various activities like kayaking, paddleboarding, and windsurfing. One of the most exciting things to do in Edinburgh, the waterfront is also brimming is cafes and restaurants, mainly seafood-oriented as well as tasty treats for kids. If the weather is not appropriate for sunbathing, enjoy a walk or cycle along the seafront, busking in the sea breeze and the lively atmosphere. 

Portobello Beach

How Many Days to Spend in Edinburgh: Tailor Your Itinerary

The number of days for your Scottish vacation depends on your budget and personal preferences. However, the capital city is big and has a lot to offer, so it’s recommended to stay for at least four days. If you can’t decide, look up the events in Edinburgh and tailor your trip dates to visit the festivals or other entertainment you desire. However, keep in mind that accommodation may be in higher demand and more expensive during peak tourist seasons. 


Best Time to Visit Edinburgh: Plan Your Adventure

The best time to visit Edinburgh is contingent on the type of vacation you are looking for. Summer months are peak tourist season and for a good reason: longer daylight hours, numerous festivals, and sunny weather. However, this experience does come at a higher price. Alternatively, choose a spring month for milder temperatures and blossoming gardens. Autumn also offers a relatively pleasant climate, although November is usually quite cold. Ultimately, it's a great time to visit if you prefer fewer crowds. Visiting Edinburgh in the winter offers a magical atmosphere, especially during the festive season. You can experience the iconic Edinburgh Christmas Market and celebrate Hogmanay, Scotland's famous New Year's Eve celebration.


Getting Around Edinburgh: Transportation Tips for Easy Exploration

Like any other large city, Edinburgh can be quite overwhelming for a newcomer. There are a plethora of transportation options that you can choose from, including buses, trams, and taxis. Ranking one of the best public transportation systems in the world, Edinburgh will surprise you with easy navigation and comfortable rides. On a sunny day, you can also take a walk throughout the city as many of the main attractions, such as the Royal Mile, Edinburgh Castle, and Princes Street, are within walking distance of each other.
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