Edinburgh Scotland Things To Do
Visit the vibrant city of Edinburgh to experience a celebration of Scottish music, food, and architecture. From the ancient fortress of Edinburg Castle to the Neo-classical columns of New Town, our list of Edinburgh things to do will guide you to the best the city has to offer.
Journey with us to the unique neighborhoods, museums, and historical attractions of Edinburgh, Scotland.
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BEST THINGS TO DO IN EDINBURGH
Explore Ancient Edinburgh Castle
Begin with our #1 must-do activity in Edinburgh. The instantly recognizable Edinburgh Castle is packed with history and lore. Perched above New Town on a rocky crag, the palace has served as a fort, prison, and a royal palace during its 900 year existence.
Today, the Castle is a popular tourist attraction and active military base. While visiting the Castle don’t miss the Scottish Crown Jewels, St. Margaret’s Chapel, underground dungeons, military barracks, and so much more. Leave time to hang out on the ramparts where there are stunning views of the city.
Walk Edinburgh’s Famous Royal Mile
The Royal Mile is located in Old Town Edinburgh. The “mile” is made up of 5 avenues that stretch between Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse (Holyrood Palace). The lively route is full of Medieval buildings, Scottish attractions, and tourist favorites.
In this part of town, you are most apt to see bagpipers, street performers, buskers, and souvenir shops. Look for Dunbar’s Close, The Real Mary King’s Close, and the John Knox house along the route. On the Royal Mile and its side streets, visitors will find fun pubs and shops.
Say a Prayer in St. Giles Cathedral
Although technically a Protestant church, the Gothic nave and crowned spire of St. Giles Cathedral are nonetheless spectacular. St. Giles, aka the High Kirk of Edinburgh, has magnificent stained-glass windows that feature famous Scotsmen. St. Giles is located on the Royal Mile in Parliament Square. The church keeps opening hours on most day. Admission is by donation. Free guided tours are available.
Tour the Palace of Holyroodhouse
The Palace of Holyroodhouse began as a humble Augustinian Abbey. Over the years the structure was added onto, until it grew into a royal palace. The address is now the official residence of the British Monarch while in-country. Holyrood Palace was once home to Mary Queen of Scots (her bedchamber is on the tour). Visitors have access to the State Apartments, Throne Room, Holyrood Abbey, the Palace Garden, Great Gallery, and more.
Hike Arthur’s Seat: An Extinct Volcano
Best experienced at sunrise or sunset, the outcropping of rock called Arthur’s Seat is a great little hike. The ridge sits at the edge of the city in Holyrood Park (behind Holyrood Palace). There are three main trails to the top, with varying levels of steepness. Hiking the wide gravel trails takes around two hours. Hikers are rewarded with breathtaking city vistas.
Enjoy the Georgian Architecture of New Town
As the ancient city of Edinburgh experienced growing pains in the late 1700s, city leaders hatched a plan to relieve overcrowding by developing a suburban sanctuary for the city’s elite. The result of this effort is the Georgian-styled New Town Edinburg. The neighborhood is characterized by Neo-classical public buildings, crescents, and grand squares. No visit to the city is complete with touring New Town Edinburg’s elegant shopping and residential districts.
Picnic in the Princes Street Garden
Located in New Town Edinburg, the Princes Street Garden serves as a natural boundary between Old and New Town. The park was designed so the wealthy residents of George’s Street would have first-class views of Edinburgh Castle. This lovely city park is well landscaped with lots of shade trees, benches, and monuments (including the Walter Scott spire). It’s the perfect spot to grab some street food and people-watch for a while.
Discover Grassmarket in Old Town Edinburgh
The neighborhood of Grassmarket sits at the bottom of Old Town between Edinburgh Castle and the University of Edinburgh. Grassmarket is said to be named for the grass-feeing livestock that were traded in the area in the Medieval era. The neighborhood is still well-known for its markets. In Grassmarket, visitors will find artisan craft, clothing and food. While in the district, locate Vennel Viewpoint for great snapshots of Edinburgh Castle.
Trek the Decks of the Royal Yacht Britannia
The Royal Yacht Britannia served as the British Monarch’s floating ‘royal palace’ for 44 years. In 968 voyages, the yacht traveled the world carrying the royal family. Now retired and ported in the Edinburgh neighborhood of Leith, visitor can tour five decks of this amazing living history museum. The tour takes in the Queen’s bedrooms, engine room, crew’s quarters, and more.
Take an Edinburgh Ghost Tour
Edinburgh is well known for its paranormal phenomena (ghosts!). After a 1000-years of history, the city has experienced its share of tragedy. An after dark guided walk is a fun way to learn about some of Edinburgh’s more unfortunate and unsavory characters. Tours often feature walks to Old Town’s hidden alleys, Greyfriars Kirkyard (said to be the most haunted cemetery in the world), and Edinburgh’s underground vaults.
Sample Scottish Whiskey
Edinburgh is proud of its whiskey heritage. Throughout the city, there are establishments that visitors can call upon to learn about whiskey production. One fan favorite is The Scotch Whiskey Experience in Old Town. Self-guided pub crawls are also a popular pastime. Local bars are happy to share what they know of the art of blending, and will often do ‘tastings’ for customers 18 years or older. When in Edinburgh, try a nip.
Explore the Monuments of Calton Hill
Just past the City Center on Princes Street lies Calton Hill. In this area there are several famous Edinburgh points of interest including the Nelson Monument, City Observatory, the unfinished “Parthenon” War Memorial, and the Neo-Classical Old Royal Highschool. Nearby is the lovely New Calton Burial Ground featuring wonderful views of the city and Arthur’s seat.
Enjoy Art at the Scottish National Gallery
Lovers of art will adore this free museum. Located in City Center Edinburgh, the galleries of the Scottish National Gallery feature paintings from international masters (Botticelli, Raphael, and Rembrandt) as well as Scottish natives (Ramsay, Raeburn, and Wilkie).
Edinburgh Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour
If the weather is bad, time is tight, or you have stamina issues consider a City Sightseeing Tour. The company’s hop-on hop-off tour route hits numerous stops at major city sites and attractions. There is audio commentary in nine languages, plus a kid’s script. The bus will carry you up Edinburgh’s hills, while allowing you as much time as you desire at each location.
Shop and Eat All-Things-Scottish
There is no better way to remember your vacation to Scotland, than with a souvenir. In Old Town look for traditional Scottish good such as whiskey, gin, chocolate, haggis, tartans, sweaters, and kilts. In New Town you will find upscale luxury goods like fine jewelry, silver, shoes, handbags, and artwork.
Be happy while you’re living, for you’re a long time dead, Laura and Randy
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