Discover the Best of Edinburgh, Scotland – Attractions & Activities
Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland, is a city steeped in history, culture, and natural beauty. Known for its castles, museums, festivals, and iconic landmarks, Edinburgh is a must-visit destination for travelers. This is a city that’s full of surprises, where you can wander down cobblestone streets, hike up hills, explore museums, and sample delicious food.
Edinburgh is also home to some of the best festivals in the world, including the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo.
As travel enthusiasts, We’ve had the privilege of visiting many stunning destinations across the world. But, there’s something truly special about Edinburgh. From its rich history and cultural heritage to its breathtaking scenery and modern amenities, Edinburgh has it all. In this travel guide, we’ll share everything you need to know about Edinburgh, including where to stay, what to do, and where to eat.
Travel Tips for Edinburgh
If you’re planning a trip to Edinburgh, here are some tips to help make your visit as enjoyable as possible:
- Book accommodation in advance – Edinburgh is a popular tourist destination, especially during the summer months, so it’s important to book your accommodation well in advance.
- Explore the city on foot – Edinburgh is a compact city, and many of its top attractions are within walking distance of each other. Wear comfortable shoes and explore the city on foot to get the most out of your visit.
- Take advantage of the city’s excellent public transportation system, which includes buses and trams.
- Check out the Edinburgh Tourist Office – The Edinburgh Tourist Office is a great resource for travelers and can provide information on attractions, events, and tours in the city.
- Take a hike – Edinburgh is surrounded by beautiful countryside, and there are many great hiking trails within easy reach of the city. Take a break from the hustle and bustle of the city and explore the great outdoors.
- Try the local cuisine – Edinburgh is home to a thriving food scene.
- Finally, be prepared for the weather – Edinburgh can be rainy and cold, even in the summer months.
Edinburgh Accommodation: Where to Stay
Edinburgh offers a diverse range of accommodation options, catering to all types of travelers and budgets. From luxury hotels to budget-friendly hostels, there is something for everyone. Here are some of the top places to stay in Edinburgh
- Ibis Styles Edinburgh Centre St Andrew Square – If you’re traveling with a group, you might want to consider staying in an apartment or aparthotel, such as the Ibis Styles Edinburgh. This centrally located hotel is perfect for those looking to stay in the heart of the city. The hotel features modern rooms with free Wi-Fi, and the location is ideal for exploring the city’s many attractions.
- The Balmoral – A luxurious hotel located in the heart of Edinburgh’s New Town. The hotel boasts stunning views of Edinburgh Castle and features elegant rooms and suites, a spa, and a Michelin-starred restaurant.
- For a more affordable option, try the Ibis Budget Edinburgh, which offers clean and comfortable rooms at an affordable price.
- Castle Rock Hostel – This budget-friendly hostel is located near Edinburgh Castle and offers comfortable dorm rooms and private rooms. The hostel also features a communal kitchen and lounge, making it a great option for budget-conscious travelers.
- Haymarket Hotel – This stylish hotel is located in the trendy West End of Edinburgh and offers modern rooms and suites, an on-site restaurant and bar, and easy access to the city’s many attractions.
- JustB – This boutique bed and breakfast is located in the charming neighborhood of Stockbridge and offers stylish rooms, a communal lounge, and a delicious breakfast served each morning.
- And if you’re looking for a unique experience, try staying in a bed and breakfast in Edinburgh’s New Town, such as B+B Edinburgh.
What to Do in Edinburgh
There are countless things to do in Edinburgh, making it a perfect destination for travelers of all interests. From exploring the city’s historic landmarks to indulging in its culinary delights, there is something for everyone. Here are some of the top things to do in Edinburgh:
Explore Edinburgh Castle
Perched atop Castle Rock, Edinburgh Castle is one of the city’s most iconic landmarks. Visitors can explore the castle’s history, which dates back to the 12th century, and take in stunning views of the city from the castle’s ramparts. The castle has served as a royal residence for centuries and is now home to several museums, including the National War Museum of Scotland.
Be sure to also check out the Scottish National War Memorial and the Stone of Destiny, an ancient stone used for centuries in the coronation of Scottish kings.
Walk the Royal Mile and Old Town
The Royal Mile is Edinburgh’s most famous street and is home to some of the city’s most historic landmarks, including St. Giles Cathedral – the oldest church in Edinburg, and the Palace of Holyroodhouse. As you make your way down the Royal Mile, take a detour into the winding streets of the Old Town.
Here, you’ll find a mix of medieval architecture and hidden courtyards, as well as several landmarks, including the Canongate Kirk, a historic church that dates back to the 16th century.
Visit Holyrood Palace: Scotland’s Royal Residence
Located at the foot of the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, Holyrood Palace is one of Scotland’s most historic and important buildings. This majestic royal residence has been the home of Scottish monarchs for over 900 years and is steeped in history and tradition.
The Palace of Holyroodhouse, as it is officially known, was founded in the 12th century by King David I. Today, the palace is open to the public for tours, offering visitors the chance to step back in time and learn about the history of this important royal residence.
One of the palace’s most iconic features is the ruined abbey that stands adjacent to the palace. The abbey was built in the 12th century and is a stunning example of Gothic architecture.
Here you can explore the ruins, admire the intricate stone carvings, and learn about the history of the abbey and its role in Scotland’s religious and political history.
The palace itself is equally impressive, with a large collection of art and antiques, beautiful furnishings, and a rich and fascinating history. You can explore the palace’s state apartments, which have been used by royalty for centuries, and admire the stained glass windows, intricate wood paneling, and magnificent chandeliers.
Holyrood Palace is the location of several important events in Scottish history. It was here that Mary, Queen of Scots lived for several years and it was also the site of several political upheavals and controversies.
Discover the Best of Edinburgh’s Modern Culture
The New Town: In contrast to the Old Town, Edinburgh’s New Town is a showcase of Georgian architecture and urban planning. The area, which was developed in the 18th century, is home to several grand buildings and public squares, including Charlotte Square, which is considered one of the most beautiful squares in Europe. While the New Town is known for its elegant architecture, it’s also a hub of cultural activity.
If the weather is not on your side, don’t worry, Edinburgh has plenty of indoor activities to offer. You can visit the National Museum of Scotland, where you can explore Scotland’s history and culture. The museum has a variety of exhibitions, including ancient artifacts, scientific discoveries, and contemporary art. For art lovers, the Queen’s Hall is a great place to catch a concert or performance.
If you are travelling with teenagers, the Playhouse Theatre is a great option. This theatre hosts a variety of shows, and with a seating capacity of 3,000, the theater is the largest in the UK. The program includes musicals, plays, and comedy acts, so there’s something for everyone.
For those interested in literature, the Writers’ Museum is a must-visit. The museum showcases the lives and works of three of Scotland’s most famous writers: Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson.
Visit Edinburgh Zoo: An Adventure for the Whole Family
If you’re traveling with kids, or simply looking for a fun activity, be sure to visit Edinburgh Zoo. This world-class zoo is home to over 1,000 animals, including some of the world’s rarest and most endangered species.
The zoo is divided into several themed areas, including the Budongo Trail, which features a family of gorillas, and the Penguin Parade, which allows visitors to get up close and personal with a colony of penguins.
Shop on Princess Street
Princess Street is one of the most popular shopping destinations in Edinburgh, offering a diverse range of shops, department stores, and boutiques. The street is home to a wide variety of high street brands, such as H&M, Zara, and Topshop, as well as luxury department stores such as Jenners, which has been a fixture on Princess Street for over 180 years.
Visitors can also find a range of specialty shops selling Scottish souvenirs, tartan clothing, and traditional gifts. With its stunning views of Edinburgh Castle and the city’s skyline, shopping on Princess Street is a unique experience that combines retail therapy with the beauty of the city’s historic architecture.
Relax in the Royal Botanic Garden
The Royal Botanic Garden is a peaceful oasis in the heart of Edinburgh, offering a stunning collection of plants from around the world. Whether you’re a gardening enthusiast or simply looking for a quiet place to relax, the garden is the perfect destination. The garden is divided into several themed areas, including the Rock Garden, which features a collection of alpine plants, and the Queen Mother Memorial Garden, which is dedicated to the late Queen Mother and features a beautiful collection of roses.
In addition to its beautiful gardens, the Royal Botanic Garden is also home to several greenhouses, including the Palm House, which is home to a collection of exotic palm trees, and the Princess of Wales Conservatory, which is home to a diverse collection of tropical and subtropical plants.
Experience the Best of Edinburgh’s Nightlife
Edinburgh is a vibrant city that comes to life at night, and there’s no shortage of exciting things to do after dark. Whether you’re looking for a night of live music, a pint at a traditional pub, or a night of dancing, Edinburgh has something to offer.
The city is home to several world-class music venues, including the Usher Hall, which is one of Scotland’s largest concert halls, and the Queen’s Hall, which is a popular venue for classical music performances.
If you’re looking for a night out on the town, be sure to check out the Royal Mile, which is lined with traditional pubs, including the Royal Oak and the White Horse Inn. These pubs are perfect for a pint and a chat with the locals, and they often host live music and other events.
Edinburgh is renowned for its whisky, with over 120 distilleries that produce a vast range of single malt and blended whisky, each with its distinct flavor and aroma.
One of the best ways to experience the rich history and culture of whisky in Edinburgh is by visiting one of the many whisky bars or distilleries. The Whisky Experience on the Royal Mile is one such place that offers an immersive journey through the whisky-making process. Visitors can learn about the ingredients used in the whisky-making process, the distillation process, and the different types of barrels used for maturation.
One of the highlights of the whisky experience is the opportunity to taste some of Scotland’s finest whiskies. The Whisky Experience has a vast collection of over 3,000 bottles, including some rare and exclusive whiskies. The experienced staff can guide visitors through a tasting flight of whiskies, highlighting the distinct flavors and aromas of each.
Another popular whisky tasting experience is the Scotch Whisky Experience. This attraction takes visitors on a tour of a virtual whisky distillery before moving onto a sensory tasting experience. Visitors can enjoy a tasting flight of whisky while learning about the history of whisky in Scotland.
For those who want a more personalized whisky experience, the Devil’s Advocate is a popular whisky bar in Edinburgh that offers bespoke whisky tastings. Visitors can select from a range of rare and exclusive whiskies and receive guidance from knowledgeable staff on the best tasting notes to look out for.
Edinburgh is also home to some of Scotland’s most famous whisky distilleries, such as Glenkinchie, which is just a short drive from the city. Visitors can take a guided tour of the distillery and learn about the history of the brand and the whisky-making process. The tour concludes with a tasting of some of Glenkinchie’s finest whiskies.
Graveyards and Gravewalks in Edinburgh
One of the best ways to explore Edinburghs’ history is by visiting the city’s graveyards or taking part in a guided gravewalk. These unique tours offer visitors the chance to learn about Scotland’s rich cultural and historical heritage, as well as discover some of the most interesting and important graves in the city.
Edinburgh is home to several historic graveyards, including the Old Calton Cemetery, which is considered one of the most interesting and important graveyards in Scotland. This cemetery is the final resting place of many notable Scots, including philosopher David Hume, economist Adam Smith, and several politicians and military leaders.
Another popular cemetery for gravewalks is Greyfriars Kirkyard, which is located in the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town. This cemetery is particularly famous for its association with the Covenanters, a group of Scottish Presbyterians who played a key role in the country’s religious and political history. The cemetery is also the final resting place of Greyfriars Bobby, a beloved Scottish terrier who is remembered for his loyalty to his owner.
Gravewalks in Edinburgh are led by knowledgeable and passionate guides, who bring the stories of the city’s past to life. These tours are a unique and fascinating way to learn about Scotland’s rich cultural and historical heritage, and visitors will be captivated by the stories of the people who have shaped the city over the centuries.
Visit the Edinburgh Festival
The Edinburgh Festival is a world-renowned arts and cultural event that takes place every August. The festival features hundreds of performances, including music, theater, and dance.
Take a Sushi-Making Class
Edinburgh is home to some of the best sushi restaurants in the UK, and visitors can learn to make their own sushi at one of the city’s many sushi making classes.
Hiking and Day Trips from Edinburgh
Edinburgh is surrounded by stunning countryside and is an ideal base for those who want to go hiking. The Pentland Hills are a popular destination for hikers, with various routes suitable for different levels of experience. The hills offer stunning views over Edinburgh and the surrounding countryside.
The John Muir Way is another popular hiking trail. The trail stretches over 134 miles and runs from Helensburgh on the west coast to Dunbar on the east coast. The trail passes through Edinburgh and offers spectacular views of the coast and countryside.
If you have some extra time in Edinburgh, there are plenty of day trips you can take to explore the surrounding area.
Blackness Castle – A Fortification on the Shores of Scotland
Nestled on the shores of the Firth of Forth, just a short drive from Edinburgh, Blackness Castle is a stunning fortification that has played a significant role in Scotland’s history. This castle is a must-visit for history buffs and anyone interested in medieval architecture.
Blackness Castle was built in the 15th century and was originally used as a fortress and military base by the Scottish monarchy. Today, the castle has been restored to its former glory and is open to the public for tours.
One of the castle’s most distinctive features is its unique shape, which resembles a ship, earning it the nickname “the ship that never sailed.” The castle’s walls are incredibly thick and sturdy, making it one of the strongest fortifications in Scotland. Visitors can also climb to the top of the castle’s towers to take in breathtaking views of the Firth of Forth and the surrounding countryside.
Blackness Castle has been used as a film and television set, appearing in several productions, including the popular television series Outlander. The castle’s dramatic and historical setting makes it an ideal location for filming.
In addition to its historical significance, Blackness Castle is also a beautiful and peaceful place to spend a few hours. The castle is surrounded by lush greenery, and visitors can take a stroll along the shoreline, admiring the views and breathing in the fresh sea air.
Free Activities in Edinburgh
Edinburgh has plenty of free activities to offer, from visiting museums to strolling through parks.
- The National Gallery of Scotland and the Scottish National Portrait Gallery are both free to enter and offer an extensive collection of art, including masterpieces by famous artists such as Botticelli, Monet, and Van Gogh.
- If you’re looking to escape the city, Holyrood Park is the perfect place to go. The park covers over 640 acres and is home to Arthur’s Seat, a dormant volcano that offers stunning views over the city.
- Take in the Panoramic Scenery from Arthur’s Seat: Edinburgh is renowned for its stunning scenery, and there’s no better place to experience it than from Arthur’s Seat. This extinct volcano is the highest point in Edinburgh and offers breathtaking views of the city, the coast, and the surrounding countryside.
Arthur’s Seat is located in Holyrood Abbey, a former royal palace that’s now a popular tourist attraction. The hill is easy to climb, and the journey to the top is well worth it for the panoramic views.
- Edinburgh also has plenty of free walking tours that take you through the city’s history and culture. The tours are led by knowledgeable guides who can answer any questions you may have.
- Weather-permitting (!) relax at Portobello Beach – Located just a short distance from the city center, Portobello Beach is a popular destination for sunbathing, swimming, and strolling along the promenade.
Where to Eat in Edinburgh
Edinburgh has a vibrant food scene, with plenty of restaurants and cafes to choose from. If you’re looking for a good burger in Edinburgh, try Burger Edinburgh. This restaurant offers delicious burgers made from locally sourced ingredients. For something a little more upscale, try The Witchery by the Castle, which is located in a historic building and serves up delicious Scottish cuisine. And for a sweet treat, try the cupcakes at Just B Edinburgh.
If you are looking for sushi in Edinburgh, Kanpai Sushi is a must-visit. This Japanese restaurant offers a wide selection of sushi and other dishes and is a favourite among locals and tourists alike.
If you are looking for a more upscale dining experience, the Edinburgh Palace is a top pick. This restaurant is located within the iconic Edinburgh Castle and offers stunning views of the city.
For a detailed description of some of the better eating venues in Edinburgh, see our companion article: Best-Value Pubs & Restaurants in Edinburgh.
Edinburgh is a city that truly has something for everyone. From its rich history and cultural heritage to its stunning scenery and modern amenities, this Scottish capital is a must-visit destination. Whether you’re looking to explore the city’s landmarks, enjoy a night out on the town, or simply relax in its beautiful parks and gardens, Edinburgh has something to offer.
So plan your own trip to Edinburgh and discover the best of this amazing city for yourself.
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