17 best things to do in Edinburgh - Scotland's lively capital city (2023)

Edinburgh is renowned for being one of Europe’s most lively and friendly cities. It offers visitors the best of both worlds: urban attractions, and beautiful natural landscapes, there’s plenty of choice to suit everyone. If you want to explore more of what the Scottish capital has to offer here are some of the best things to see and do in easy-to-navigate Edinburgh.

The Royal Mile

Resting like a gem near Holyrood Park, The Royal Mile is a succession of streets through Edinburgh’s Old Town which connect Edinburgh Castle and Palace of Holyroodhouse. The distance between the two royal residences is exactly a mile, hence its name, which it was given in the 16th century.

Along the cobbled streets, there are five sections to explore: Castle Esplanade, Castlehill, Lawnmarket, the High St and Canongate. Don’t miss the 15th-century grey behemoth, St Giles Cathedral, which was restored in the 19th century, and The Witches Well, a fountain that commemorates the Edinburgh women executed on suspicion of witchcraft between the 15th and 18th centuries.

Other things to look for include Cannonball House, which has a cannonball lodged into its west wall (don't worry, it's unlikely to be embedded during a battle, more a municipal solution left there by engineers marking the height for the city's first waterpipe), and former Victorian church houses like John Knox House, which dates from 1470, the oldest building on the Royal Mile.

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Edinburgh Castle

No visit to the Scottish capital would be complete without seeing Edinburgh Castle. Originally built in 1103 on a large craggy rock, Britain’s most besieged castle can be seen from almost every corner city.

Home to both Mary, Queen of Scots and Bonnie Prince Charlie, the royal residence also houses Britain’s oldest Crown jewels, known as the Honours of Scotland. They include an imperial golden crown, decorated with pearls and large amethyst, the silver-gilded Sceptre of Scotland and the Sword of State which was a gift to James IV in 1507 from Pope Julius II. Year-round guided tours give visitors a sense of what life was like at the castle.

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Dean Village

In a city as beautiful as Edinburgh, it can be hard to stand out, but the tranquil Dean Village – which officially became part of the city in 1826 – just about takes the crown. Set next to the Water of Leith, which languorously rolls on past, this former grain milling area to the northwest of the city center is a photographer's dream model.

Look out for the red sandstone of Well Court which hangs over the river. It was built in the 19th century for the owner of The Scotsman newspaper, Sir John Findlay. Other photo opportunities include the 106ft-tall (32m) Dean Bridge, which is the work of civil engineer Thomas Telford who designed the A5 road from London to Holyhead, and the Germanic-looking daffodil-yellow timber-fronted houses.

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Arthur’s Seat

An unmissable landmark, Arthur’s Seat provides visitors with spectacular views of the city. Some 350 million years ago, these lurching green hills within Holyrood Park formed an active volcano. Long extinct, it's now hikers and visitors that stream down its steep banks like lava. Keen for breathtaking panoramic vistas of Edinburgh from above? You’ll see its spires and rooftops, the Firth of Forth, Murrayfield Stadium, the Pentland Hills and beyond from up here.

Arthur’s Seat itself is a former hill fort surrounded by three defensive siblings. Self-guided tours of the site are available as a free podcast. Download the Hidden Trax app.

Scottish National Gallery

Edinburgh has plenty of great art galleries, but the Scottish National Gallery is its best. Located just off Princes Street, this imposing neoclassical behemoth dates back to the 1850s. It’s built by William Henry Playfair, who also designed the iconic Dugald Stewart Monument, the Royal Scottish Academy and over 15 other landmarks in the city (yes, including “Edinburgh's Disgrace”, the National Monument of Scotland, his unfinished ode to Parthenon in Athens)

Art enthusiasts can view Van Gogh's Orchard in Blossom (Plum Trees), Lobster Telephone by Salvador Dalí and the transcendent Wandering Shadows by Scottish artist Peter Graham, among many others. There are paintings here too by Glasgow's prodigal son, Charles Rennie Mackintosh. The gallery has a restaurant and cafe that serves up traditional Scottish dishes such as haggis and black pudding, with overlooking views of the city landscape.

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Camera Obscura

Close to the Royal Mile, is an observatory established by Maria Theresa Short in 1853. First established as a museum of art and science, today a spiral stairway leads up to an observatory at the top of the Outlook Tower where you will find the camera obscura, a device that uses lenses and mirrors to throw back a visual of the whole city onto a large screen.

Guides provide historical background to the devices used here and the quirky rooms leading up to the tower such as the vortex, a tunnel that seems to spin, and a mirror maze immerse visitors in different types of optical illusion.

Princes Street

Built in 1767, the historic Princes Street takes its name from the sons of King George III. Once a smart residential street, it's now the heart of Edinburgh's central shopping district. As well as independent stores, major high street brands and plenty of places to eat (try Sir Walter's Cafe in the Gardens, or Castello), the nearby Princes Street Gardens are a must.

Not only a great place for a breather, the park has some lovely unique features worth seeking out including the recently-renovated Ross Fountain, a turquoise-and-gold, Beaux Arts–style water feature first erected in 1872, and a large floral clock (July to October) which is made anew each year from some 35,000 flowers.

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The Georgian House

A lesser-known attraction in Edinburgh’s New Town, the Georgian House was built in the late 17th century by acclaimed architect Robert Adam, the neoclassical revivalist whose exhaustive works include Pulteney Bridge in Bath and Harewood House near Leeds. As you’d expect for the Architect of the King's Works, the property is charmingly luxurious.

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There are paintings here by famed Scottish artists, including John Simmons, and oodles of Regency charm. The vast Drawing Room, which takes over the entire first floor, houses a square piano (the center of the room was for dancing), whilst the Dining Room has a wonderful drop-leaf dining table, a walnut longcase clock from London and black, gilt-carved chimney glass. Visitors can also see the Parlour, the Kitchen, the Basement and the Servants Quarters.

Mary King’s Close

Okay, so the immersive characters might not be for everyone, but The Real Mary King's Close offers a unique perspective on Edinburgh. Located beneath the Royal Mile, this labyrinth of 17th-century alleyways and streets stand almost as they were some 250 years years ago when the City Chambers were simply built on top of them. The tours here take you back in time with characters dressed in period costume adding to what is a memorable experience.

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Royal Botanic Garden

Known locally as the Botanics, this sprawling 70-acre garden has more than 13,500 species of plant to discover across six different gardens. Look for the rare Catacol whitebeam, endemic to the Isle of Arran, located near the huge Victorian Glasshouses, which themselves are home to some of the world’s most endangered plants. There are also a number of tropical palms to discover as well as dwarf daffodils, snowdrops and1000 types of rhododendron.

Museum of Childhood

The first of its kind in the world, the Museum of Childhood homes all things related to children. From 19th-century Victorian dolls and a Raleigh Chopper bicycle to long-forgotten board games like Quintro and a 1920s voice-activated toy called Radio Rex, this place won’t just keep the kids amused, it will revive nostalgia in adults too.

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Holyrood Abbey

Founded by David I in 1128, all that remains of Holyrood Abbey are its ruins. But what magnificent ruins they are! The walls of this mighty Gothic church are still intact and the arched window frames and decorative detail on the front-west facade show how important this place of worship was.

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Later, the cloister precinct became Holyroodhouse where the royal family stayed when they were in Scotland. Guided tours help visitors to admire the architecture and learn more about the former abbey's significance.

The Chocolatarium

Chocolate lovers will be thrilled with The Chocolatarium in Edinburgh, located just off the Royal Mile. Visitors can expect to indulge at the micro chocolate factory and learn how the sweet treat is made. Ninety-minute guided tours take you through the growth of chocolate and even gives you the chance to make your very own bar to take home.

Edinburgh Zoo

Ideal for families, the 85-acre (34-hectare) Edinburgh zoo is home to more than 1000 rare and endangered animals and is world-renowned for its conservation efforts. Located on the top of Corstorphine Hill, the views back across the city are nearly as compelling as the wildlife.

Open since 1913, the wildlife park offers visitors a chance to see penguins, Sumatran tigers, monkeys, birds, fish, frogs and a whole host of different animals, including two of the rare greater one-horned rhinos. It is also the only zoo in Britain with giant pandas and koalas. Add in feeding shows, live events and screenings – and there is plenty here to fill a day.

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Stockbridge Food Market

From warm, artisan loaves and thick Germagrain batards to filling East African gambos and fragrant three-lentil dahl with coconut and ginger, gourmands will not be disappointed with Stockbridge Food Market.

Located in a small park between Saunders and Kerr Streets, just northeast of the beautiful Circus Lane mews, this Sunday showing of traditional Scottish food (think haggis or tablets, a traditional Scottish sweet that's similar to fudge) and superb international grub (huge pans of aromatic paella and delicious, nduja burrata taglioni) is where the foodies can be found.

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Gladstone’s Land

Gladstone’s Land is an historic 17th-century tenement house on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, which was plucked from the jaws to demolition and lovingly restored to its former glory. Expect thick, dark-wood beams, period furniture and hand-painted ceilings as well as a retelling of the stories of those who lived there.

Royal Yacht Britannia

If you like the thought of exploring a former royal family holiday home then step aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia for a guided tour of the world famous yacht. The Royal Yacht has travelled more than a million miles and its grandeur is exhibited in its 412ft (125m) build. It is moored in Leith Port and visitors are invited to explore the royal decor or indulge in a majestic afternoon tea.

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Why Edinburgh the capital of Scotland is such a popular attraction? ›

It is famous for its arts festivals, national museums and galleries, plus many historic buildings and landmarks. The Old Town and New Town areas of the city are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Edinburgh takes its place among the most beautiful and historic capital cities in the world.

What is the most famous street in Edinburgh? ›

The Royal Mile is Edinburgh's most famous street.

What is the smell around Edinburgh? ›

Anyone who has walked around the Scottish capital knows what we're talking about. As you enter Edinburgh city center, you instantly get this smell. A fairly familiar scent for many, it can be quite a bother for others strolling in the streets of the city. The explanation: this smell is that of malt.

What is the pubic triangle Edinburgh? ›

Taking its name from Edinburgh's notorious 19th century serial killers, the former of whom was hung just along the road in the Lawnmarket, the Burke and Hare is Edinburgh's best known, pole-dancing and strip bar, located at the top of what is fondly referred to as the "pubic triangle."

What food is Edinburgh famous for? ›

Whether it's the most famous national dish of haggis, neeps and tatties, or other options such as porridge (for breakfast), Scotch broth, Aberdeen Angus beef, smoked Scottish salmon, or desserts and confectionary like cranachan or shortbread, you can find it all in Edinburgh.

What is unique in Edinburgh? ›

These lesser known attractions include Edinburgh's second castle, small museums on the Royal Mile, two National Trust sites, hidden gardens, walking paths, mysterious underground passages, local markets, and even a beach!

What is the most visited place in Edinburgh? ›

Situated at the top of the Royal Mile on top of Castle Rock, Edinburgh Castle is Scotland's most-visited paid-for attraction and the most iconic building in the city. Perched on top of an extinct volcano, the Castle and its Esplanade offers unparalleled views of Edinburgh.

Is Edinburgh a walkable city? ›

The city ranked highly across the board, topping the global chart as the most beautiful and the most walkable city in the world. Edinburgh is also much loved as a great place for a stroll through nature and has heaps of new exciting things to do.

What city is better Edinburgh or glasgow? ›

Glasgow or Edinburgh: Which is Better to Visit

If you are a big Harry Potter fan, you will also have found the right place with Edinburgh. However, if you are someone who loves a busy, vibrant city with great nightlife and want to learn more about modern-day Scottish culture, then Glasgow is the city for you.

What is a person from Edinburgh called? ›

The correct term is Dunediner and refers to the old name of the town, Dunedin, although Edinburgher does seem to be used alot (mainly by Glaswegians). Seth, Edinburgh UK.

What's the main drinking street in Edinburgh? ›

Rose Street is a street in the New Town of Edinburgh, Scotland. It is a narrow street running parallel between Princes Street and George Street. Today, it is principally a shopping street, however, it is well known for its many bars and public houses.

What is the oldest shop in Edinburgh? ›

Records show Gladstone's Land on Edinburgh's Royal Mile was a shop as far back as 1501, but there's a 26-year gap in its history. Gladstone's Land has been a fixture on the Royal Mile for more than 500 years.

What is the cool area of Edinburgh? ›

Let's go right to the northerly edge of Edinburgh and cast our minds back to the busy days of the working docks in the 18th century.

What is the IKEA smell? ›

The scent of IKEA

ADLAD, for example, has a soft and gentle scent of trees to remind one of the trails they may have taken during a holiday or morning walks. "Not wild, more friendly, and welcoming like a Scandinavian forest. It's the scent of home, the scent of IKEA.

What do people say about Edinburgh? ›

Edinburgh is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. There are so many beautiful places to discover here. It's also a great destination for history buffs as you can learn plenty about the history of Scotland, the monarchs and all the writers that were from or lived in Edinburgh.

What is the Colourful street in Edinburgh called? ›

Victoria Street in the Old Town has to be one of the most photographed locations in the city. Its gentle curve and colourful shopfronts make it a favourite spot for tourist photos, postcards and TV adverts.

What is the most photographed street in Edinburgh? ›

Victoria Street

Victoria Street lies in Edinburgh's Old Town - and it's probably the most photographed road in the entire city. The pretty street is lined by colourful shop fronts that form a gentle curve, the perfect photo backdrop!

What drink is Scotland known for? ›

It's no surprise that whisky is the national drink of Scotland.

What is the most popular snack in Scotland? ›


One of the definitive delights of Scotland is shortbread. Traditionally it contains only three ingredients, sugar, butter and flour in a 1:2:3 ratio and often served at Christmas and Hogmanay. If you're wondering what Hogmanay is, it's the Scottish word for New Year's.

What is the most popular dinner in Scotland? ›

Scotland's national dish is haggis, a savoury meat pudding, and it's traditionally accompanied by mashed potatoes, turnips (known as 'neeps') and a whisky sauce. Which brings us to the national drink – whisky.

What is the most magical place in Scotland? ›

Isle of Skye

If ever a unicorn would prance, it would be on this mist-shrouded, mountainous island. Skye is undoubtedly one of the most magical places to visit in Scotland.

Where is the prettiest place in Scotland? ›

20 Most Beautiful Places In Scotland
  1. 01 Dunnottar Castle, Aberdeenshire. ...
  2. 02 Bow Fiddle Rock, Moray. ...
  3. 03 Isle of Iona. ...
  4. 04 Traigh Hornais Clachan Sands, North Uist. ...
  5. 05 Bealach Na Ba, Wester Ross. ...
  6. 06 Loch Ken, Galloway Forest Park. ...
  7. 07 Glenfinnan, Fort William. ...
  8. 08 Eoligarry Beach, Isle of Barra.

What is the most interesting thing in Scotland? ›

  • 1: Castles. Stirling Castle, Glasgow. ...
  • 2: Scottish Highlands. Loch Lomond. ...
  • 3: Loch Ness Monster. Loch Ness. ...
  • 4: Bagpipes. Bagpipes. ...
  • 5: Whisky. Whisky. ...
  • 6: The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. ...
  • 7: Scottish Wool. Scottish wool. ...
  • 8: Haggis. Haggis.

What is the number 1 tourist attraction in Scotland? ›

Arthur's Seat

The Edinburgh landmark of Arthur's Seat is, perhaps unexpectedly, the most highly-rated attraction in Scotland with over 21,000 mainly glowing reviews. Rach said: "An amazing spot we visited while travelling through the country and hope to go back. Great scenery and views."

How many days in Edinburgh is enough? ›

For first time visitors, we recommend spending at least two or three days in Edinburgh, which will give you enough time to explore the city centre and see the main sites.

What is Scotland's most paid tourist attraction? ›

Edinburgh Castle

Unusually, it's set atop an extinct volcano. It takes the title of Scotland's most-visited paid-for attraction, and is, of course, one of the most popular tourist sites in Scotland.

How do tourists get around Edinburgh? ›

Getting around Edinburgh
  1. Edinburgh Public Buses. Buses run 24 hours a day in Edinburgh and have frequent services. ...
  2. Edinburgh Trams. Edinburgh trams has 15 stops that connect Edinburgh Airport with the New Town. ...
  3. Edinburgh Taxis. Spacious, comfortable and elegant, Edinburgh's taxis are very similar to London's black cabs.

How do I spend a day in Edinburgh? ›

Here's what to see and do in Edinburgh in one day:
  1. Sunrise at Calton Hill (or visit at sunset)
  2. Breakfast at Princes Street Gardens.
  3. Stroll Princes Street Gardens & see the Ross Fountain.
  4. Short Visit to Scottish National Gallery.
  5. Explore Edinburgh Castle.
  6. Don't miss the One O'clock Gun (1 pm at Edinburgh Castle)
Dec 2, 2022

Is it better to stay in Old Town or New Town Edinburgh? ›

Old Town and the Royal Mile is the best area to stay in Edinburgh for sightseeing (especially for first-timers). While the New Town with its numerous restaurants is an excellent location for shopping and dining out.

Does Edinburgh have good nightlife? ›

The city of Edinburgh is known for its buzzing nightlife, with a variety of bars, pubs, and nightclubs destined to give you a memorable night with your pals.

What is the most beautiful country in the world Scotland? ›

Move over New Zealand – our very own Scotland is officially the most beautiful country in the world. The readers of the influential travel guide Rough Guide voted the Scotland as 'the most beautiful country in the world', beating the likes of Canada, South Africa, Indonesia and Iceland to take the number one slot.

Can you do a day trip from Edinburgh to Glasgow? ›

It is very easy to plan a day trip to Glasgow, simply because not much planning is needed. Getting there from Edinburgh (and it rest of the UK) is very easy. Once in Glasgow, it is easy to move around as there is a very good public transport network of trains, subway and buses to take you around the city.

How do Scots say hello? ›

'Hello' in Scottish Gaelic

In Scottish Gaelic, you greet others with 'halò'! Pronounced hallo, this phrase has you covered for greeting passers-by if you visit a Gaelic-speaking community. Alternatively, you could say good morning which is 'madainn mhath', pronounced ma-ten-va.

What accent is spoken in Edinburgh? ›

The Edinburgh dialect is the longest standing dialects, and one of the six versions of Scots. The region of the Edinburgh dialect also extends to Fife and the Lothians, stopping at Falkirk, where there is a noticeable change in words, from using “bairn” and “yin” on the east coast, to “wains” and “wan” on the west.

Was Edinburgh used in Harry Potter? ›

Although Edinburgh wasn't used to film any of the scenes in Harry Potter, it is where J K Rowling wrote the books and found a lot of inspiration for characters and locations.

What is Princess Street in Edinburgh famous for? ›

Princes Street is Edinburgh's primary retail strip, with some high-end boutiques and department stores straddling its northern side, while pretty gardens and parklands line its southern fringe. Regardless of whether or not you're in Edinburgh to shop, Princes Street is a good destination for some sightseeing.

What is the best month to visit Edinburgh? ›

The best time to visit Edinburgh is June through August when the average high temperatures rise to a balmy 65 degrees Fahrenheit. But this is also the city's busiest time for tourism, especially in August when festivals fill up the calendar.

Can you see the northern lights in Edinburgh? ›

See the Northern Lights

If an aurora is strong, it can occasionally be seen in the capital. Some of the best vantage points in Edinburgh include Calton Hill, Blackford Hill and Arthur's Seat. Staying up into the wee hours of the morning will increase your chances of a sighting.

What is the most beautiful part of Scotland? ›

20 Most Beautiful Places In Scotland
  1. 01 Dunnottar Castle, Aberdeenshire. ...
  2. 02 Bow Fiddle Rock, Moray. ...
  3. 03 Isle of Iona. ...
  4. 04 Traigh Hornais Clachan Sands, North Uist. ...
  5. 05 Bealach Na Ba, Wester Ross. ...
  6. 06 Loch Ken, Galloway Forest Park. ...
  7. 07 Glenfinnan, Fort William. ...
  8. 08 Eoligarry Beach, Isle of Barra.

What should you not forget when going to Scotland? ›

The Complete Scotland Road Trip Packing List
  • The right clothes. It's safe to Scotland has its own unique climate, a very unpredictable one where you can experience all seasons in one day. ...
  • Large duffel bag. ...
  • A good waterproof. ...
  • Waterproof walking shoes. ...
  • Midge repellent. ...
  • A rucksack. ...
  • A Thermos Flask. ...
  • Refillable water bottle.
Sep 12, 2020

Do I need cash in Edinburgh? ›

In Edinburgh, and throughout Scotland, it is usually possible to pay with any debit or credit card in most locations.


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