26 Things To Do In Edinburgh Scotland
Edinburgh is home to an array of things to do, see and explore, but with so many things to do in Edinburgh, it can be hard to know where to begin. A city break in Edinburgh will be full of excitement, enjoyment, and entertainment as you step into a world where magic is real and the writers are some of the world’s most famous. During your stay, you will experience Edinburgh’s gastronomic scene, from Michelin star restaurants to street food bursting with flavor. You will learn about the history and legends that surround the city. You will never want to leave. To start you off on your journey we have made a list of the 26 best things to do in Edinburgh.
Edinburgh Castle is steeped in history and is a must when you are looking at things to do in Edinburgh, its history, architecture, and views will make your city break complete. The site on Castle Rock has been inhabited since the Bronze Age, with a fortress first being built in the 12th century. The buildings within Edinburgh now date between the 12th and 21st century and visitors can explore the dungeons, the grand hall, the Crown Jewels, and St. Margaret’s Chapel (one of the few surviving 12th-century buildings).
South Bridge Vaults
Completed in 1788, the South Bridge Vaults are just one of many hidden sections from Edinburgh’s past that have now been built over to accommodate modern living. Originally storage for the shops above, the nineteen arches that make up the vaults became slums, taverns, and workshops. After running rampant with disease and crime the vaults were abandoned and left to secrecy underneath the city. Nowadays, guests can visit these vaults which have now been surrounded in legends, curses, hauntings, and folklore. Auld Reekie Tours offer a range of haunted and educational tours for you to sink your teeth in to and get appropriately scared
A great way to really experience the city is to take one of the tours that show off Edinburgh’s historic sites and landmarks. What better way to see the city’s hidden gems than to jump on a bike and take a guided tour, taking you to places tourists are not likely to see as much of? Baja Bikes provides visitors with beautiful tours of the city. From just £10 you can even rent a bike and explore the secret corners of the city by yourself.
Holyrood Park is home to the famous “Arthur’s Seat” a walk that many love. View the city from the top and take in the skyline of this magnificent city. This is one of our favourite things to do in Edinburgh and the park is also home to lochs, glens, and basalt cliffs. Whether you want to take a quiet walk around the 650-acres with your four-legged friend, or complete the Arthur’s Seat hike to the top, Holyrood Park is a must for nature lovers everywhere.
Giving you a chance to experience the history of the planet like never before, Dynamic Earth, set just opposite Holyrood Park, is an interactive museum that sets a high bar for science and nature museums everywhere. Unlike any of the other things to do in Edinburgh, this visit will help you embark on a 4DVENTURE where visitors will circle the globe learning about its origins. With a variety of films throughout the year the 360-degree dome theatre is also worth a visit.
Headed by Edinburgh Castle and ended by The Palace of Holyroodhouse, The Royal Mile runs through the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town and is line by shops, pubs, restaurants, and stunning architecture. As you wander down this main spine of the city you will be overcome by the enticing museums and restaurants that will tantalise your taste buds. As you start your journey you will be walking down the slope that is part of an extinct volcano, continuing down you will be walking over the retreat of an ice age glacier from 325 million years ago. This street is more than just what you see today, but is also steeped in history and has previously been at the mercy of Mother Nature.
The Palace of Holyroodhouse is the Queen’s official residence when she visits Edinburgh and is brimming with royal Scottish history. Built between 1671 and 1678 the palace has seen kings and queens come and go and has catered to all throughout the centuries. Open to the public, guests can explore the ornately decorated jewel cabinets, shields, and clocks that have been collected throughout the years.
The National Museum of Scotland needs to be on your list of things to do in Edinburgh. This museum is far more than your average, run of the mill museum and will take you on a journey encompassing collections of science, technology, natural history, and world cultures. The museum is Scotland’s most popular visitor attractions, after receiving 2,227,773 visitors in 2018. The best part? Entry to the museum is free, so you won’t have to break the bank in order to have a wonderful day out.
A Walking Tour
Whether you want a free walking tour or one that is a little more in-depth and detailed, a tour of the city is always a good idea. Walking tours run regularly throughout Edinburgh and range from the informative to the comedic. Able to reach the secret hidden gems of the city that you wouldn’t normally get from a bus tour, a walking tour is a great fit for those wanting to explore the city in a couple of hours.
Princes Street Gardens
Home to the Scot Monument and Ross Fountain, Princes Street Gardens are full of hidden gems from statues of bears to open air festivals taking place. Surrounding the Scottish National Gallery, these gardens are the perfect place to view the magnificence of Edinburgh Castle. The gardens were originally created in two phases between the 1770s and the 1820s. After the draining of the Nor Loch and the building of the New Town to accommodate the growing population, the gardens were created to bring life to the area.
You’ve heard about the South Bridge Vaults; now get ready for the Real Mary King’s Close. Mary King’s Close is a historic close that has now been buried beneath the buildings on the Royal Mile. Named after a merchant burgess who called the close home in the 17th century, the close is now a popular visitor attraction. The close has become a place of haunted tales and stories of murder. In 2003 the close was opened to the public in order for them to learn more about the history of the hidden road, but it is still considered one of the most haunted things to do in Edinburgh.
Open every Sunday of the year between 10 am and 5 pm, the Stockbridge Markets are a short walk from Edinburgh’s city centre and located in the beautiful little area of Stockbridge. The Stockbridge Market is a lovely market selling handmade jewellery, street food, and souvenirs. If you wander away from the market itself then you will find little streets lined with boutiques and restaurants along with Insta-perfect mews bordered by cottages.
Formerly The Queen’s floating palace, the Royal Yacht Britannia is an iconic attraction that everyone will be interested in. The ship was launched in 1953 by The Queen and was in service from 1954 right up until 1997. Now moored on Port of Leith, it has become a main attraction in Edinburgh; whether you want to treat yourself to a homemade soup and sandwich at the Royal Deck Tea Room or follow in the footsteps of Her Royal Highness and explore the state apartments and the engine room. Famous visitors also include Frank Sinatra, Liz Taylor, and Nelson Mandela who have all wine and dined on the ship.
From giant pandas to creepy crawlies, Edinburgh Zoo has it all and is perfect for a great day out with friends or family. Built-in 1913 the zoo now receives 600,000 visitors a year which means it is the second most popular paid-for attraction in Scotland. The zoo focuses its effort on conservation and captive breeding of endangered animals. It is also the only zoo in Britain to house koalas and giant pandas. The zoo is also known for its daily penguin parade, which started by accident in 1950 when some of the birds escaped.
If you don’t fancy the hike all the way to the top of Arthur’s Seat, then a slow walk up to Calton Hill may be more your style. With incredible views over the city’s skyline and home to the famous National Monument of Scotland, Calton Hill is the lesser known way to view the city. Surrounding the hill you will find a cluster of restaurants, cafes, and bars as well as the Edinburgh Playhouse which hosts a range of musicals and comedies for visitors to enjoy. The National Monument of Scotland, located on the top of the hill has a whole history in itself. Nicknamed “Edinburgh’s Shame” it was originally built to replicate the Parthenon in Athens, but after funding ran out in 1829 it was left unfinished and is now one of Edinburgh’s iconic monuments.
Whether or not your fascinations are a little bit morbid, two of the famous cemeteries in Edinburgh often double up as tourist attractions. The most famous, Greyfriars Kirkyard is not only the place of rest for many of Scotland’s most famous poets, authors, and notable people, but it is also the final resting place of the real Tom Riddle, also known as Lord Voldemort. It is known that J.K Rowling gained inspiration for Harry Potter in Edinburgh and wrote the books in a café on the Royal Mile, but she was so inspired by Thomas Riddell’s grave she gave him a character in the series. Canongate Kirkyard was also home to a gravestone that read “Ebenezer Lennox Scroogie” which became a key part for the creation of Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol.
There are many experiences and things to do in Edinburgh that accumulate into what Scotland is known for. One of these attractions is the Scotch Whiskey Experience. Learn about the history of Scotland’s national drink, take part in the barrel ride where you will become part of the whiskey making process, and taste the regional whiskeys. The Amber Restaurant and Bar will also provide you will exquisite food and whiskey to accompany your dish.
If biking or walking tours just aren’t for you, then we recommend the bus tours. Buy your ticket next to Princes Street Gardens entrance opposite the train station and pick the tour that best suits you. We think the hop-on-hop-off tours are the best as this will allow you to experience the attractions that take your fancy as you drive around. The weather in Edinburgh can often be unpredictable, but with a bus tour, you can choose between taking a seat on the top deck with the sun shining down on you, or snuggle up on the bottom floor if the weather takes a turn for the worst.
Camera Obscura and the World of Illusions is a unique visitor attraction in Edinburgh that will transport you to another world. Founded in 1835, it is one of Edinburgh’s oldest attractions and is one that keeps getting better with age. With five floors full of the unusual including a light vortex, mirror mazes, and magic galleries, this place is sure to impress. Here, you can also learn about the history of the camera as well as be wowed by the people who invented the world’s first CCTV.
This free to enter museum was the first museum in the world dedicated to childhood histories. Displaying a range of toys and games from across all generations and eras you will be able to explore what life was like, with some exhibits that are bound to make you feel nostalgic. The oldest toy in the museum dates back to c1740 with the most recent dating from just a decade ago.
The Scottish National Gallery is located on the divide between the Princes Street Gardens. Home to a range of outstanding artists and artwork from John Constable to Leonardo da Vinci, this gallery will help you find your inner artist. The gallery first opened in 1859 and since then has gathered artwork from across the world to showcase to the public. Designed in a neoclassical style by William Playfair, the building itself is an iconic landmark symbolising Edinburgh.
Also known as the High Kirk of Edinburgh, St. Gile’s Cathedral is the main place of worship in Edinburgh and has become renowned for its haunted tales and ghost tours as well as its stunning architecture. Founded in the 12th Century and built in the 14th it is no wonder that tales have surrounded this grand building from day one. Inside, visitors can see an outstanding array of beautifully decorated stained-glass windows, curved ceilings, and elegantly decorated tombs.
With writers such as Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott taking inspiration for their creations in the city, it is no wonder that The Writer’s Museum has been founded and is now a popular attraction in Edinburgh. Dedicated to telling the story behind the three giants of Scottish literature, Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson, The Writer’s Museum brings to life the tales of their lives. Home to Stevenson’s riding boots, a plaster cast of Burn’s skull and Scott’s rocking horse he used as a child, this museum is a must for inspiring writers everywhere.
Formerly known as the Huntly House Museum, the Museum of Edinburgh houses a range of exhibits, items, and displays that tell the story of the city’s origins, its history and the legends surrounding it. Whilst wandering the 16th-century building that the museum is housed in, you will be in awe of the fascinating objects on display from James Craig’s plans to the collar and bowl that belonged to Greyfriars Bobby.
Greyfriars Bobby is one of the most famous things to do in Edinburgh. He was a Skye Terrier who became well-known in the 19th century for spending over a decade guarding the grave of his owner and being looked after by the church staff until he died in 1872. The best-known version of the tale is that when Bobby’s owner, John Grey died the dog was so loyal that he sat on his master’s grave for the rest of his life. There is now a commemorative statue which has become a popular tourist attraction.
The Royal Botanical Gardens are not only a beautiful place for a morning stroll or an afternoon run but are also a scientific centre for the study of plants. Founded in 1670 to grow medicinal plants, the site expanded and is now open to the public. Home to more than 13,302 plant species and 3 million preserved specimens, the gardens are every gardener’s dream. The Palm House, located in the gardens boasts impressive architecture and specialises in the growing of tropical and subtropical plants.