15 Best Things to do in Edinburgh

Edinburgh has always been on my list of cities to visit, and all of my friends told me I was going to fall in love with it, and they were right! It’s one of the most picturesque cities I’ve ever visited, and in this article, I want to share with you the 15 best things to do in Edinburgh Scotland.

First of all, how do you even get to Edinburgh? This depends on whether you are traveling from England or anywhere worldwide. It’s one of the top locations in Scotland, which means that train, plane, or the best routes are available to safely reach Scotland’s wonderful capital.

If you travel by plane, the city center is about 30 mins by car, or you can take the bus directly. As Edinburgh can have some interesting weather, the best time to visit is between June and August. There’s a lot of walking to do and it wouldn’t be the same if it’s raining all day. That said, hundreds of videos and photos demonstrate that Edinburgh is stunning all year round.

15 best things to do in Edinburgh Scotland

So why should one visit Edinburgh? If it’s not for the views, it must be because of all the fantastic Edinburgh things to do. The city is so versatile you’ll find everything from castles and botanical gardens to street performances and scotch distilleries. My favorite was visiting the castle and taking a bus tour around the city.

It might be cliche saying to take a bus tour, but after walking around for hours, it felt good to sit down and enjoy the views. There are so many things to see in Edinburgh Scotland, but seeing the city from a double-decker is the best experience.

When it comes to staying in Edinburgh, there are some amazing hotels to look for. If you want to treat yourself, it’s worth staying at a luxury hotel like the Market Street Hotel. One can also stay in Edinburgh on a budget in one of the apartments in the city center, such as the Wilde Aparthotels by Staycity. If you want to learn more about Edinburgh, keep reading!

1. Visit Edinburgh Castle

best things to do in Edinburgh Scotland

Whenever you mention Edinburgh to people, they will most likely associate it with the castle. While it isn’t a castle hotel, it is one of the top attractions in the UK, and it’s among the best things to do in Edinburgh Scotland. The castle is special as it’s one of the oldest fortified places in Europe and the views from here of the capital are unmatched.

It has a rich history, it was used as a royal residence, a prison and a fortress, therefore the castle has many stories. It’s always fascinating how these fortresses survived through the centuries. Edinburgh Castle was built in the 11th century and throughout the 21st century, so it didn’t always look the way it does now. There are only a few images of what historians thought the castle might have looked like in the 16th century when it still had David’s Tower and the Palace block before the Lang Siege.

Today the castle is a symbol of Edinburgh. You will find museums, exhibitions, and cafes for when you want to take a break. Tickets can be bought at the castle or online, but I’d recommend buying them online as they are often sold out on the date. Whether you arrive by car, train, bus, or tram, getting to the castle is only by foot, however, it’s not a difficult climb. The castle is open daily from 9.30 am, closing time depends on the season, so it’s always best to check the website.

2. See the best views from Calton Hill

best things to do in Edinburgh Scotland

Whenever I visit a new city, I always look for the best city views for free. Most capitals or big cities have rooftop bars, but they have some viewpoints, hills, or even buildings you can access for free that give you the best view. Calton Hill offers a panoramic view of Edinburgh; some of the best landmarks are visible here. For instance, Arthur’s Seat, Princess Street, and the castle.

Another reason to visit Calton Hill is its famous collection of historical monuments. One of the most memorable ones is the National Monument which is inspired by the Parthenon in Athens. If you’ve seen photos of Edinburgh, one monument that is often photographed is the Nelson Monument. This looks like an upturned telescope. It was built to honor the death of Admiral Lord Nelson in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.

There are a few ways to approach Calton Hill. One is through the stairs on Regent Road, which are situated on the far east end of Princess Street. It would be a 10-20 minute walk from the top. If walking is not an option, there’s parking for Blue Badge holders, or you can get a taxi to drop you off at the top of the hill. This is one of my favorite things to do Edinburgh Scotland, enjoying the view and admiring the monuments.

3. Check out the National Museum

best things to do in Edinburgh Scotland

The next on our list of top things to do in Edinburgh is to visit the National Museum of Scotland. When I visited the museum, I didn’t anticipate how large it was and how many hours it would take to go through it. It took me two hours just to look around, and I didn’t see everything. If you are in Edinburgh for more than one day, splitting your visit into two days is worth it. The museum is in the town center, near the Old Town.

Entry is free and open daily from 10am to 5pm. If you’re interested in the exhibitions available inside the museum, you must book them in advance, and those are paid for. For example, at the time of writing, there’s an exhibition of “Doctor Who Worlds of Wonder”, available from December through May. There are loads of other exhibitions coming up, all available to view on the museum website.

What is there to see in the National Museum of Scotland? There are quite a few galleries to scour through. Firstly, the Grand Gallery is a collection of stories from around the world. The Art, Design, and Fashion galleries are filled with the best innovations throughout history. For any science enthusiast, there is a whole gallery dedicated to science and Technology. It’s one of the Edinburgh things to do I enjoy very much, it’s amazing to discover the historical facts of the world in one place.

4. Climb Arthur’s Seat

best things to do in Edinburgh Scotland

Another viewpoint in Edinburgh is Arthur’s Seat, and it’s one of the best things to do in Edinburgh Scotland if you’re up for a hike. This is in Holyrood Park near the Royal Mile in the city’s heart. It is open all year round, however, the Radical Road footpath is currently closed. Arthur’s seat is the main peak from all of the hills of Edinburgh, and it is an ancient volcano. It is a mix of small, rocky crags and hills and received King Arthur’s name.

The peak is about 800 feet above sea level and offers stunning views across Edinburgh and even the North Sea. This is a very different view from the Nelson Monument, yet equally stunning. Accessing the park is free, anyone can visit. The two-hour climb to take you there might put off a few people. There’s also a faster route called the Zigzag path which would be accessible from the main parking lot.

Although there are several parking lots to choose from, it’s worth noting that the roads are closed during the weekends and sometimes throughout the week. It is always recommended to check the website before driving to Holyrood Park. The hike is quite challenging, but once you are on top, you will feel it was worth it. The path is also breathtaking along the way, you will meet many people who ride bikes or are hiking to the top, you’re not alone in this!

The architecture in Edinburgh is just exquisite, so it’s no wonder why the best things to see in Edinburgh Scotland will be museums, castles, or different structures. According to Tripadvisor, 93% of travelers recommend visiting the Scottish National Gallery. These are a collection of artworks displayed in a playful and provoking way.

In Modern One you will find everything that is related to contemporary art. For instance, there are designs by Charles Jencks, a landscape architect. Many sculptural works by major artists are also presented throughout the Modern One Gallery. Now, there’s also a Modern Two which consists of more traditional styles emerging in the late 19th and early 20th century. Admission is free of charges and the museum is open daily.

These two buildings are close to each other and are in a huge green space. They are located about 30 minutes walking distance from Princess Street, or you can easily hop on a tram that leaves from Princess Street. From our list of Edinburgh Scotland things to do, it would be best to take advantage of this visit on a sunny day as the surroundings of the galleries are stunning. Visiting both inside and outside will leave you inspired.

6. Take a bus tour around the city

best things to do in Edinburgh Scotland

This was one of my favorite Edinburgh things to do when I visited the capital. I used the City Sightseeing Edinburgh bus as it is valid for 24 hours and it runs between 9am to 6pm every 12 minutes. The best part is that it takes 60 minutes to go around the sights of Edinburgh, so if you feel like taking a break from walking, this is the perfect opportunity. It can also act as transportation to other attractions.

The price of one ticket was around $21/pp, and I got on from Edinburgh Castle station. Naturally, the best sitting is on the upper deck, which is uncovered and gives you the city’s best views, at least when it’s sunny. There’s multilingual commentary on board, free headphones are offered when one gets on the bus to listen to the audio.

There are 13 main points where the bus will stop, each including an important part of Edinburgh. For instance, there are stops near Edinburgh Castle, the Scott Monument, the National Library of Scotland, or the Old Town. This bus can also take you to Holyrood Palace and Park, which is amazing as you don’t have to pay extra for transportation. It’s an amazing price for the value you get from this one ticket for 24 hours.

7. Walk around Lauriston Castle and Gardens

Moving onto another castle that feels like you’re in a fairytale, we have to mention Lauriston Castle. This attraction would probably require at least half a day as it is about 30 minutes by car from the city center. It’s among the perfect things to do Edinburgh Scotland when you want to avoid huge crowds. Lauriston Castle requires pre-booking visits, so make sure to book before you get to Edinburgh in order to avoid disappointment.

It is open from the 1st of April to the 30th of September from 8 am to 5,30pm. If you’re traveling as a family, your best ticket to opt for is the Lauriston Family ticket which includes tickets for 2 adults and up to 3 children. This costs about $25, but cheaper options are also available. Single adult tickets would be under the name of Lauriston Castle Highlights tour and can be bought for as little as $10.

The collection is available today at the castle thanks to the last residents, Mr. and Mrs. W. R. Reid. They left the house and the contents in the Trust to the Nation; therefore, after Mrs Reid died in 1926, the Castle became a museum. You get to explore all that is left within the castle, as well as the Japanese garden, and experience how life looked like at the beginning of the 20th century. It is absolutely fascinating.

8. Try out some Scottish Whisky

best things to do in Edinburgh Scotland

One cannot go to Scotland without trying out some Scottish Whisky. Your best option would be to book The Scotch Whisky Experience, which has nearly 8000 reviews on Google. Scotch whisky was introduced to the world in the 1880s and slowly became the number one brandy that replaced the previously famous French wines. Scottish whisky is famous as it is distilled and matured in a certain way.

The best way to characterize the brandy is with words like smoke, seaweed, brine, or apple. So why should you visit the Scotch Whisky Experience or any other popular distillery? Well, they offer you a professional tour of how scotch is made and how one should drink it, and you can pay for a three-course menu as well.

There are a number of different package deals, it all comes down to personal preference. For whisky enthusiasts, a 3-hour experience will feel like 1 hour as they dive into tasting the whisky and checking out the whole collection. I recommend this venue as it’s beautiful inside with an epic blender’s room. Let’s see the last 6 best things to do in Edinburgh Scotland!

9. Take photos of the Scott Monument

best things to do in Edinburgh Scotland

The Scott Monument is easily one of the most important things to see in Edinburgh Scotland. It is visible in most photos of this breathtaking city, it catches your attention with its intriguing shape. The monument is located in Princess Street Gardens and was built as a dedication to Sir Walter Scott. Fun fact, this is the second-largest monument dedicated to a writer in the world.

In case you are unfamiliar with Sir Walter Scott, he was a writer, historian, and politician. His poems and novels are considered a part of classic romantic literature, and he was considered an inventor of the historical fiction genre. As the city respected him, the plans were to build a monument after his death. Constructions began in 1840, and it opened in 1844.

One can visit the Museum Room on the first floor to find out about Sir Walter Scott, otherwise, if you’re up for a hike, you can climb 287 steps to get to the top of the monument. The views are breathtaking and it only costs about $10 for adults to climb up. I believe it’s among the top things to do in Edinburgh if you enjoy stunning views and Gothic architecture.

10. Take a trip to the Palace of Holyroodhouse

best things to do in Edinburgh Scotland

We have mentioned Arhtur’s Seat as one of the things to do Edinburgh Scotland, so it’s only fair to include the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Within walking distance from the Old Town, this 16th-century palace is another important landmark within the city. It is the official residence of the Monarchy in Scotland. The palace is mostly open 7 days a week, with the exception of a few months. It can cost up to $23/pp to visit the inside.

This palace was one of the Queen’s residences, although she only stayed there once a week a year. To give you a bit of a history lesson, it wasn’t always a royal residence. This Palace was founded in 1128 as a monastery by King David I. It was a very important administrative center where nobles met to discuss crucial matters. The first part of the building opened to the public was the historic apartments in James V’s Tower in 1854.

Today, several galleries, such as the state apartments and the Apartments of Mary, Queen of Scots, are open to the public, showing the crowd how she lived between 1561 and 1567. Furthermore, the palace gardens and Holyrood Abbey are key points to visit. These fascinating rooms contain hundreds of years of treasures, furniture, paintings, and jewels that tell different stories.

11. Visit the Royal Botanic Garden of Edinburgh

Sometimes it’s best to enjoy a bit of greenery in a busy city like Edinburgh. Whenever I travel, I always think of an itinerary before going and try to fit in as many attractions in those days as possible. But that can be exhausting. Even if it’s your first time in the city, one of the best things to do in Edinburgh Scotland is to visit the Royal Botanic Gardens.

Where can you find them? The gardens are located within walking distance of the city center. It is set on over 70 acres of landscape and offers the most amazing panoramic city skyline views. The opening times will vary depending on the season; from March to September, it is open from 10am to 6pm. The entry is free of charge and, therefore, can be visited as often as you wish.

This is a charming place; for all plant lovers, you can spend hours discovering the different plant species living here. There are over 13,000 species, and some have been here for centuries. For instance, the rhododendron center opened in the late 19th century. The Glasshouses are closed due to restorations, but check their website to see when it is open.

12. Camera Obscura and World of Illusions

best things to do in Edinburgh Scotland

As we approach the end of our list of things to see in Edinburgh Scotland, these attractions are 100% worth the visit. One of them is the art gallery called Camera Obscura & World of Illusions. It holds over 5 floors and 100 interactive exhibitions suitable for all ages. It is a great activity for children or anyone who wishes to have some fun.

These 5 floors comprise Bewilderworld, Eye Spy Edinburgh, Light Fantastic, and Magic Gallery. On the 6th floor, a rooftop terrace offers the most stunning views of Edinburgh and looks down on the busy street of Royal Mile. Visiting in the early hours or late evening is recommended when it might not be too crowded. The opening hours are usually from 9am to 8pm; however, checking the website beforehand is worth it to avoid any closures.

Tickets can also be booked online on the website, ranging between 25$ to 27/pp. Student and senior tickets are available too with a discount. How long can you stay in for? You can stay inside for as long as you wish to, the recommended hours are 2, so if you’re planning on visiting later in the evening, make sure to leave yourself enough time to check out everything. This is one of the most exciting Edinburgh Scotland things to do!

13. Visit the stunning St Giles Cathedral

best things to do in Edinburgh Scotland

Walking by St Giles Cathedral on a sunny day is one of my favorite Edinburgh things to do. It’s been standing proudly in the Old Town since 1124. The fascinating thing about the church is that it’s been working for almost 900 years. Once, it was a Romanesque church, but today it is a modern Presbyterian church. There are regular worshipping services on Sundays or during the week at midday.

You can also visit the inside of the church, during the week, it is open from 10 am to 6 pm, and on the weekend, it closes at 5 pm. It is free to enter, however, they rely on donations, so if you can, it is suggested to give as little as $5. Needless to say, the church is stunning, its long history is fascinating and will take you right back to all those centuries.

This is another Gothic-style church with elaborate stained glass windows. An interesting fact about stained glasses is that they were once forbidden, but as they illustrated Bible stories, eventually, they were allowed to be in churches. The windows of St Giles depict the saints of Scotland, like Saint Andrew or Saint Columba. As one of the top things to do in Edinburgh is to go inside the cathedral, you must also visit the famous Thistle Chapel in all its marvels.

14. Stroll down Royal Mile

What is Royal Mile? It is a famous street in Edinburgh located in the historic center. This is where St Giles Cathedral is located, as well as a number of different restaurants, shops and cafes. It is packed with travelers worldwide looking for the best things to do in Edinburgh Scotland. Royal Mile starts outside of Edinburgh Castle, and the Scottish Parliament Building is the finishing point.

Some of the best restaurants on the Royal Mile are the Whiski Rooms, The Mussel and Steak Bar, Le Bistrot for a French experience. The Scottish Parliament is also among the things to see in Edinburgh on Royal Mile. It is at the end, next to the palace and Arthur’s Seat. The possibilities are endless here, so take your time and enjoy the views and places Royal Mile offers.

15. The Real Mary King’s Close

One of the last things to see in Edinburgh Scotland to get that full experience is the Real Mary King’s Close. It is an award-winning attraction within the capital in the Old Town. What is the story behind this? In the 17th century, the streets of the Old Town were filled with traders trying to sell their goods to the residents.

This experience is hidden underneath the busy Royal Mile. You’ll wander through a labyrinth or alleyways and discover all the stories of the people who once lived there. These tours sell out quickly, so you must book in advance. A standard adult ticket can cost up to $25, and the tour lasts one hour. They are mostly open between 10 to 5, however on weekends longer.

The tour guide will dress up in a real costume and act as a resident from the 17th century. I won’t spoil any of the key points of the tour, so if you’re curious, it’s best to check the website, but it is an exciting attraction for people who love history and would like to experience the 17th century in its best form. I hope this will be one of your favorite Edinburgh Scotland things to do.

Wrapping up the best things to do in Edinburgh Scotland

As you have reached the end of the 15 top things to do in Edinburgh, you should know which attractions to visit during your stay. Whether you visit for one day, two days, or even a week, the capital is full of surprises. Architecture, happy travelers, and magical places are all part of Edinburgh. If I could recommend one of the must things to do Edinburgh Scotland it would be the castle. Scotland castles are the most magical in the whole of the UK. We hope you will have fun!

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