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The best things to do in Edinburgh, Scotland

Updated On 6th August, 2021

Edinburgh is without a doubt one of the best places to visit in Scotland, it’s even a strong contender for the best places to visit in the UK. If you’re looking for things to do in Edinburgh or places to visit in Edinburgh, you’re in the right place!

Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland, is hands down one of the best cities in the world to experience. It’s one of the best capital cities to visit in Europe and without a doubt a must if you’re heading to Scotland.

There are so many exciting things to do in Edinburgh, it can be hard to know where to start. With stunning architecture, endless cobbled backstreets streets and a breathtakingly beautiful castle sat on a dormant volcano, Edinburgh really is one of the most unique places to visit in the UK. Not to mention the infamous deep fried Mars Bar! Edinburgh really is full of adventures to put on your Scotland bucket list. 

From going on challenging day hikes to going sightseeing, from enjoying waterfront drinks in Edinburgh to picnics on the Meadows, my time in Scotland has been nothing short of adventurous! In this Edinburgh travel guide I am going to share with you the best things to do in Edinburgh, the best places to visit in Edinburgh, what to see in Edinburgh and my favourite adventures so far. Get your pen and paper ready to create the ultimate Scotland bucket list!

Looking to plan the ultimate Scotland road trip? Why not do what I did, and combine your trip to Edinburgh with a trip to Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National ParkCairngorms National Park, the Isle of Skye and the NC500?

The best things to do in Edinburgh...​

With this Google Map, you can have all my tips and recommendations at the touch of your fingertips. These are all the things I wish I knew and spent a lot of time researching before my 4-week adventure. 

This Google Map Legend includes:

  • Best walks, hikes, viewpoints, beaches and activities
  • Lochs and waterfalls to visit
  • Road trip tips (campsites, laundrettes, lunch spots)
  • My favourite places for coffee, brunch and dinner
  • Things you must add to your bucket list!
  • Travel guide links within each location

The best things to do in Edinburgh...

1. Hike Arthur's Seat.

Some of the hikes in Edinburgh include climbing its famous 7 hills (Arthur’s Seat, Calton Hill, Castle Hill, Corstorphine Hill, Craiglockhart Hill, Blackford Hill, and Braid Hill). My personal favourite, and one of the most popular things to do in Edinburgh, was hiking Arthur’s Seat. Arthur’s Seat, which sits on an extinct volcano, boasts excellent views of Edinburgh and the coastline and is the highest point in Holyrood Park. Climbing to the top of Arthur’s Seat and back takes about 2 hours, so make sure you take your hiking boots when you visit Edinburgh! Arthur’s Seat is also one of the best places to see sunrise in Edinburgh, if you’re up for an early start!

See all the best walks and hikes in Scotland here. 

The best things to do in Edinburgh...​

2. Visit Edinburgh Castle.

If you’re looking for a list of top things to do in Edinburgh, then Edinburgh Castle has to be close to the top of that list! This is one of the most recognisable landmarks in Edinburgh, dominating the city’s skyline and sitting on top of the extinct volcano alongside Arthur’s Seat. Ticket’s are £17.50 and it’s better to book online in advance.

There are also other castles in Edinburgh that you can visit if you’re looking for more unusual things to do in Edinburgh. Take a tour at Blackness Castle or Lauriston Castle if you want to learn more about Scottish history with fewer crowds!

The best things to do in Edinburgh...​

3. Explore the Old Town.

One of the best places to visit in Edinburgh is the Old Town, the oldest part of the city. Together with the New Town, it is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As well as wandering the medieval streets and marvelling at the architecture, within Edinburgh’s Old Town you can explore the Royal Mile, Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood, Grassmarket and more famous places to visit in Edinburgh.

4. Walk the Royal Mile.

The Royal Mile is the city’s main road, part of the Old Town, and spans across five streets between Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace. Along the Royal Mile you’ll find lots of Edinburgh’s landmarks, as well as restaurants, cafes and pubs to enjoy some refreshments in. Walking the Royal Mile and taking in the Old Town is one of the best free things to do in Edinburgh.

The best things to do in Edinburgh...​

5. Have a picnic lunch on the Meadows.

The Meadows, a large park in Edinburgh, is a great place to relax and watch the world go by. One of the best things to do in Edinburgh is to take a picnic lunch and to enjoy your snacks al fresco and in the sunshine, and then enjy an afternoon stroll along the tree-lined paths.

6. Watch the sunset on Calton Hill.

If you want to go on a hike in Edinburgh and experience some of the stunning 360 views across the city, but don’t fancy the challenge of Arthur’s Seat, Calton Hill is one of the best places to visit. Located just past the end of Princes Street, the steps up to Calton Hill are steep but short, and it’s one of the best places to watch the sunset in Edinburgh. At the top you’ll also find the City Observatory and Nelson’s Monument. 

7. Head to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Going to Edinburgh Fringe, the largest arts festival in the world, is one of the best things to do in Edinburgh. Prepare to be amazed as you witness an explosion of creativity which includes theatre, comedy, dance, circus, music, spoken word, exhibitions and more.

The Edinburgh Fringe in 2021 is taking place and online due to the coronavirus pandemic. See more things you can do when you’re bored at home here. 

The best things to do in Edinburgh...​

8. Climb Scott Monument for views across the city.

The Scott monument is one of the most impressive monuments in the city, and one of the best things to do in Edinburgh is to climb the narrow staircase and enjoy the views across Edinburgh from the top!

9. Visit the galleries and museums in Edinburgh.

Edinburgh is one of the best places to learn about Scottish culture and history, and there are plenty of museums and galleries in Edinburgh for you to visit. From the famous National Museum of Scotland and Scottish National Gallery, to the less well-known Museum of Childhood or hands-on Dynamic Earth experience, there are galleries and museums in Edinburgh to cater to every taste.

10. Be a tourist and get pictures with the Edinburgh landmarks.

One of the best things to do in Edinburgh is to be a tourist and get those pics for the ‘gram! There are many landmarks in Edinburgh that you should see, and whether you choose to explore the city independently or take a guided walking tour in Edinburgh, there are lots of things to see in Edinburgh.

Edinburgh highlights for photo opportunities include Holyrood Palace, Scottish Parliament (guided tours are one of the free things to do in Edinburgh), St Giles Cathedral (one of the most beautiful churches in Edinburgh), the Royal Mile, Edinburgh Castle and Greyfriar’s Bobby, as well as many of the museums and galleries, and the stunning architecture. 

See how to improve your travel photography here. 

The best things to do in Edinburgh...​

11. Enjoy waterfront drinks in Leith.

Leith is a great place to visit in Edinburgh if you’ll looking for a chilled evening with dinner and drinks on the waterfront. It’s also where the Royal Yacht Britannia is moored, so you can make a half day out of it and visit that too!

12. Explore the underground streets of Mary King's Close.

One of the best things to do in Edinburgh is to explore one of the hidden underground secrets in Mary King’s Close. 

Mary King’s Close used to be the main street in medieval Edinburgh, but it was covered by construction in the 19th century. You can take a guided tour of Mary King’s Close which shows you what life was like between the 16th and 19th centuries in Edinburgh, and helps you understand a little more of Edinburgh’s history. 

13. Enjoy a day at the Edinburgh Camera Obscura and World of Illusions.

If you’re looking for fun things to do in Edinburgh, the Camera Obscura and World of Illusions is a great day out. Enjoy having fun taking pictures with the optical illusions, and then head up to the rooftop for the Camera Obscura (where a virtual tour of Edinburgh is projected in a darkened room) and amazing 360 views across Edinburgh. 

14. Try a wee dram at the Scotch Whiskey Experience.

One of the best places to visit in Edinburgh is the Scotch Whiskey Experience. You can’t come to Scotland without tasting the whiskey! At the Scotch Whiskey Experience you can take enjoy a tour or masterclass, or simply have some food and whisky at their restaurant. 

If you love whiskey, another fun thing to do in Edinburgh is to take a whiskey walking tour, so that you can drink and see some of the landmarks!

The best things to do in Edinburgh...​

15. Explore Dean Village.

The list of must-do things and must-see things in Edinburgh is long, but one of the more unusual things to do in Edinburgh is to visit Dean Village. This quiet residential area is home to cobbled streets, a beautiful river and bridge, and cute houses… the perfect escape from the city hustle and bustle!

16. Try some Scottish food.

Trying Scottish food is one of the things to do in Edinburgh that you cannot miss! There are so many Scottish dishes that you should try: haggis, shortbread, smoked salmon, porridge, scotch, Aberdeen Angus beef, as well as the infamous deep fried Mars Bar!

17. Visit Holyrood Palace.

One of the best places to visit in Edinburgh is Holyrood Palace, the home of the Queen in Scotland (and also where Mary Queen of Scots lived). It’s located at the opposite end of the Royal Mile to Edinburgh Castle. The historic Royal Apartments and State Apartments of Holyrood Palace can be visited most of the year, as well as the gardens and grounds.

18. Try not to scream at the Edinburgh Dungeons.

The Edinburgh Dungeons are one of the top attractions in Edinburgh. Be prepared for a scare as you take on the 70-minute, interactive tour with special effects, theatrical shows and talented actors whilst also learning about Scottish history. I recommend that you book online in advance, as it can get busy at peak times!

19. Visit some of the local markets in Edinburgh.

One of the best things to do in Edinburgh for foodies is to visit some of the local markets. Scottish produce is fresh and of good quality, and there are markets in Edinburgh located both in the city centre and on the outskirts. Give all the local produce a try as you experience the buzz of the city at some of the best markets in Edinburgh.

Markets in Edinburgh that you cannot miss include: the Farmers’ Market, The West End Fair, the Christmas Market, Pitt Market, Stockbridge Market, the Old Tolbooth Market and the Neighbourgood Market (pictured below). 

20. Try some outdoor activities in Edinburgh.

If you’re looking for some active adventures or outdoor activities in Edinburgh, then check out My Adventure. They offer some of the best things to do in Edinburgh, including coasteering, canyoning, hill walking and canoeing. If you’re looking for more unique things to do in Edinburgh, they also offer multi-day trips to complete the three national peaks: Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdonia

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What are your favourite things to do in Edinburgh?

Where are your favourite places to visit in Edinburgh? Anything you’d add?

Love as always and happy adventuring,

Mollie.

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