Top 10 Things to Do in Edinburgh | City Guide!

Edinburgh is a vibrant city with a rich history and plenty of attractions for visitors to explore. From stunning architectural marvels to lively festivals, there is something for everyone in the Scottish capital. In this city guide, we will take you through the top 10 things to do in Edinburgh, from panoramic viewpoints to historic castles and bustling streets. Whether you’re a history buff, a nature lover, or a culture enthusiast, Edinburgh has something to offer for every traveller.

Top 10 Things to Do in Edinburgh

1. Discover the Panoramic Splendour of Calton Hill

Calton Hill offers breathtaking panoramic views of Edinburgh’s skyline. With its historical monuments and landmarks, including the Nelson Monument and the National Monument of Scotland, this public park is a must-visit for anyone seeking stunning vistas of the city. Whether you’re a local or a tourist, Calton Hill provides the perfect vantage point to admire the enchanting Edinburgh skyline.

As you ascend Calton Hill, you’ll be greeted by captivating viewpoints that showcase the city’s beauty. From the iconic Dugald Stewart Monument to the striking Athenian-inspired architecture of the National Monument, each structure adds to the charm of this picturesque location.

calton hill

Make sure to visit Calton Hill at different times of day to experience its magnificence in varying lights. In the morning, catch the sun rising over the city, casting a warm, golden glow. During the day, appreciate the vibrant colors and intricate details of the monuments. And as the evening descends, witness the city transform as the lights twinkle against the dusky sky.

Calton Hill is not only a visual feast but also a place of historical significance. From the National Monument, which was intended to be a replica of the Parthenon in Athens but was never completed, to the Nelson Monument, which commemorates Admiral Lord Nelson’s victory at the Battle of Trafalgar, each monument has its own story to tell.

Whether you’re an avid photographer, a lover of history, or simply someone who appreciates natural and architectural beauty, Calton Hill is the perfect destination for breathtaking views and exploration. It’s an experience that will leave you with lasting memories of Edinburgh’s skyline and its iconic landmarks.

2. Delve into Edinburgh Castle’s Storied Past

Edinburgh Castle sits proudly on top of the historic Royal Mile and is a symbol of Edinburgh’s rich history. This ancient fortress offers a glimpse into over nine hundred years of Scottish history, with its impressive architecture and fascinating exhibits.

edinburgh castle

As you step through the castle’s gates, you’ll be transported back in time. The sound of your footsteps on the cobblestone streets echoes through the corridors as you explore the castle’s storied past. Each stone tells a thousand tales, and each room holds secrets waiting to be discovered.

One of the castle’s most iconic structures is St. Margaret’s Chapel, the oldest surviving building in Edinburgh. This enchanting chapel, built in the 12th century, is a testament to Edinburgh’s deep-rooted history. Its stunning stained glass windows and intricate carvings make it a must-see for history enthusiasts.

Another highlight of Edinburgh Castle is the Royal Palace, which has served as the residence of Scottish royalty for centuries. Step into the grand halls and imagine what life would have been like for kings and queens. Marvel at the opulence of the Great Hall, where lavish banquets were once held.

During your visit, make sure to explore the castle’s museums and exhibitions, which showcase artifacts and stories from different periods of Scottish history. Learn about the battles fought within these ancient walls and the pivotal role Edinburgh Castle played in shaping the nation.

Visiting Edinburgh Castle is an unforgettable experience. The fortress offers a panoramic view of the city, allowing you to appreciate the stunning architecture and historic landmarks surrounding it. Take a leisurely stroll along the castle walls and soak in the breathtaking scenery.

When planning your visit, keep in mind that Edinburgh Castle can get busy, especially during peak tourist seasons. It’s advisable to arrive early or book timed entry tickets to avoid long queues. Guided tours are also available, providing valuable insights into the castle’s history and significance.

Whether you’re a history aficionado or simply curious about Edinburgh’s past, a visit to Edinburgh Castle will transport you to a bygone era and leave you with a deeper appreciation for Scottish history and heritage.

3. Stroll Along the Historic Royal Mile

A stroll along the historic Royal Mile in Edinburgh is a must-do when visiting the city. This iconic street stretches from Edinburgh Castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, offering a journey through centuries of history and culture. As you walk along the Royal Mile, you’ll be surrounded by fascinating landmarks, charming shops, and traditional pubs that are steeped in Scottish heritage.

edinburgh historic sites

One of the highlights of the Royal Mile is the Scottish Parliament Building. Located at the foot of the Royal Mile, this modern architectural marvel stands in stark contrast to the surrounding historic buildings. Take a moment to admire its unique design and learn about the Scottish Parliament’s important role in the country’s governance.

Another notable landmark along the Royal Mile is St Giles’ Cathedral. This majestic cathedral is a masterpiece of Gothic architecture and has been an integral part of Edinburgh’s skyline for centuries. Step inside to marvel at its stunning stained glass windows and intricate stone carvings, or simply pause outside to admire its grandeur.

A visit to the Royal Mile wouldn’t be complete without exploring The Real Mary King’s Close. This underground labyrinth of hidden streets and houses offers a fascinating glimpse into Edinburgh’s past. Follow in the footsteps of the city’s former residents and discover the secrets and stories of this hidden world.

As you meander through the historic Old Town, you’ll also encounter a wealth of other historic sites, such as the Museum of Edinburgh and the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Take your time to explore these attractions and learn more about the rich history of Edinburgh.

Don’t forget to indulge in some retail therapy along the Royal Mile. The street is lined with unique shops where you can find everything from traditional tartan kilts and Scottish souvenirs to handmade crafts and jewelry. Take a piece of Edinburgh home with you as a memento of your visit.

After a long day of exploring, unwind and immerse yourself in Scottish hospitality at one of the many traditional pubs along the Royal Mile. Savor a pint of local ale, listen to live music, and soak up the lively atmosphere of these historic establishments.

A stroll along the historic Royal Mile is an unforgettable experience that allows you to immerse yourself in the culture, history, and beauty of Edinburgh. So lace up your walking shoes, breathe in the centuries-old air, and embark on a journey through time as you explore this iconic street.

4. Ascend Arthur’s Seat for Majestic City Views

Arthur’s Seat, an ancient volcano that sits at the edge of Holyrood Park, offers breathtaking views of the city. This popular attraction is a favorite among locals and visitors alike, with its beautiful hiking trails and stunning vistas. Prepare your walking shoes and get ready to embark on a memorable hike to the summit of Arthur’s Seat.

Start your journey at the entrance of Holyrood Park, where you’ll be greeted by the rugged beauty of the natural surroundings. As you make your way up the well-marked trails, you’ll be treated to glimpses of the city and the rolling hills of Holyrood Park. The hike can be challenging at times, but the panoramic views of Edinburgh are well worth the effort.

Take your time to appreciate the diverse flora and fauna that call Holyrood Park home. From wildflowers to birds and even the occasional deer, the park offers a delightful escape into nature, right in the heart of the city. Don’t forget to bring your camera to capture the breathtaking landscapes along the way.

Once you reach the summit of Arthur’s Seat, you’ll be rewarded with truly majestic views of Edinburgh. From this vantage point, you’ll be able to see the city’s historic landmarks, including Edinburgh Castle and the iconic Royal Mile. The contrast between the urban landscape and the natural beauty of Holyrood Park is truly awe-inspiring.

After taking in the stunning scenery, you can choose to descend from Arthur’s Seat or continue exploring Holyrood Park’s other hiking trails. Whether you’re an avid hiker or simply looking for a peaceful escape from the city, Arthur’s Seat and Holyrood Park offer a unique and unforgettable experience. Don’t miss the opportunity to witness the beauty of Edinburgh from this remarkable viewpoint.

City View from Arthur's Seat

5. Embrace the Magic of Victoria Street and Grassmarket

Victoria Street and Grassmarket are two iconic areas in the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town. Victoria Street, often referred to as the real-life Diagon Alley, is a charming and colorful street filled with independent shops and cafes. Grassmarket is a historic square lined with traditional pubs and lively events.

If you’re a fan of Harry Potter, a stroll along Victoria Street will transport you to the magical world of wizards and witches. The cobbled street with its quirky shops and vibrant facades perfectly captures the enchanting atmosphere of J.K. Rowling’s famous series. You might even find some Harry Potter merchandise to take home as a souvenir of your visit to Edinburgh.

Grassmarket, on the other hand, is a bustling square steeped in history. Once a place of public executions, it has now transformed into a vibrant hub for locals and tourists alike. The square is lined with historic pubs where you can enjoy a pint of locally brewed beer or indulge in traditional Scottish cuisine.

When visiting Victoria Street and Grassmarket, make sure to explore the hidden gems tucked away in the side streets and alleyways. You’ll discover unique boutiques, antique shops, and art galleries showcasing the talent of local artists.

victoria street and grassmarket

Whether you’re in search of Edinburgh shopping, a taste of history, or simply a vibrant atmosphere to soak in, Victoria Street and Grassmarket are not to be missed.

6. Stepping Back in Time at the Picturesque Dean Village

Hidden along the banks of the Water of Leith, Dean Village is a true hidden gem waiting to be discovered in Edinburgh. This secluded neighbourhood is renowned for its charming half-timbered houses, winding medieval streets, and its idyllic riverside settings.

As you wander through its historic architecture, you’ll feel as though you’ve stepped back in time. The narrow cobbled streets, lined with centuries-old buildings, create an enchanting atmosphere that is straight out of a storybook. It’s no wonder that Dean Village has become one of Edinburgh’s best-kept secrets.

Take a leisurely stroll along the Water of Leith and enjoy the peaceful surroundings. The gentle sound of the flowing water adds to the tranquillity of the village, making it the perfect escape from the bustling streets of the city centre.

For those looking to explore more of Dean Village’s fascinating history, there are several landmarks to visit. The Well Court, with its beautiful architecture, is a must-see. This historic tenement building reflects the village’s past as a place for millworkers in the 19th century.

As you venture further, you’ll come across the picturesque St. Bernard’s Well, a neo-classical structure known for its healing mineral waters. This charming spot offers a peaceful retreat for visitors to sit and enjoy the surrounding natural beauty.

To make the most of your visit, we recommend exploring Dean Village’s medieval streets and historic landmarks on foot. There are several walking routes that will take you through the heart of the village, allowing you to fully immerse yourself in its unique charm.

So, whether you’re a history enthusiast, a lover of architecture, or simply seeking a peaceful escape, don’t miss the opportunity to discover the hidden wonder of Dean Village. Its medieval streets, historic architecture, and serene riverside setting make it a true hidden gem in the heart of Edinburgh.

7. Royal Encounters at the Palace of Holyroodhouse

The Palace of Holyroodhouse is the official residence of the British monarch in Edinburgh and offers visitors a chance to experience the fascinating royal history. Situated at the east end of the Royal Mile, this grand palace has been closely associated with figures like Mary, Queen of Scots and Bonnie Prince Charlie.

As you explore the Palace of Holyroodhouse, you’ll have the opportunity to discover its royal significance and marvel at its stunning architecture. Immerse yourself in the opulent rooms where the royal family has entertained guests throughout the centuries.

One of the must-visit attractions within the palace grounds is Holyrood Abbey. This majestic ruined abbey provides a glimpse into the rich history of Scotland’s religious heritage. Take a moment to admire the intricate stonework and imagine the grandeur it once held.

Another key highlight is the Queen’s Gallery, which showcases a remarkable collection of artwork from the royal collection. Marvel at the masterpieces and gain insight into the artistic tastes of the royal family throughout the centuries.

Visiting the Palace of Holyroodhouse is a truly royal experience that allows you to step back in time and discover the stories behind the Scottish monarchy. Whether you’re interested in history, architecture, or simply want to experience the grandeur of a royal residence, a visit to the Palace of Holyroodhouse is a must during your time in Edinburgh.

8. Engage with Learning at the National Museum of Scotland

The National Museum of Scotland is a must-visit for anyone interested in history, culture, and learning. This world-class museum houses extensive collections on natural and ancient history, archaeology, and the history of Scotland. From interactive exhibits to immersive displays, the museum offers a captivating exploration of Scottish history and ancient civilizations.

Step into the fascinating galleries showcasing Scotland’s rich heritage, including the Kingdom of the Scots, the Early People, and the Discoveries and Explorations sections. Discover artifacts from ancient Egypt, explore the wonders of prehistoric Scotland, and learn about the country’s industrial history.

The museum’s interactive exhibits provide a unique and engaging learning experience. Visitors can participate in hands-on activities, test their archaeological skills, and even try on ancient armor. Whether you’re interested in Scottish history, ancient civilizations, or simply love interactive learning experiences, the National Museum of Scotland offers something for everyone.

To make the most of your visit, consider planning ahead. Download the museum’s app for a self-guided tour or join a guided tour led by expert guides. Take your time to explore the various galleries, immerse yourself in the exhibits, and don’t forget to check out the temporary exhibitions, which showcase a wide range of topics and themes.

9. Soak in Local Culture at the Edinburgh Festivals

Edinburgh is renowned for its vibrant festivals that showcase the city’s rich cultural heritage. One of the most famous festivals is the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, which attracts artists and performers from around the world. This festival, along with other exciting events, brings the city to life with an array of music performances, theatre shows, comedy acts, and cultural events.

If you’re a music lover, you’ll be delighted by the diverse range of music performances that take place during the festivals. From classical orchestras to indie bands, there’s something for every taste. Don’t miss the opportunity to catch live performances by talented musicians and experience the joy of music in the heart of Edinburgh.

The theatre shows at the Edinburgh festivals are truly spectacular. You can enjoy a mix of traditional and contemporary performances, including plays, musicals, dance shows, and experimental productions. Immerse yourself in the world of storytelling and witness the incredible talent of actors and directors as they bring captivating stories to life on stage.

For those who appreciate cultural events, the Edinburgh festivals offer a wide range of experiences. From art exhibitions to literary readings, there’s plenty to explore. Dive into the vibrant arts scene of Edinburgh and discover inspiring works of art, thought-provoking discussions, and engaging presentations by renowned artists and intellectuals.

If you’re planning a visit to the Edinburgh festivals, here are a few tips to make the most of your experience:

  1. Check the festival schedule in advance and plan your itinerary accordingly. With so much happening, it’s helpful to have a rough idea of what events you’d like to attend.
  2. Book your tickets in advance, especially for popular performances. Some shows sell out quickly, so it’s essential to secure your seat in advance.
  3. Explore venues beyond the city center. While many events take place in the heart of Edinburgh, some hidden gems can be found in the outskirts of the city.
  4. Take time to wander through the festival’s street performances and outdoor installations. These often showcase local talent and add a unique charm to the festival atmosphere.

Experience the magic of the Edinburgh festivals and immerse yourself in the vibrant cultural scene of this captivating city.

10. Explore Leith

Leith is a vibrant neighborhood located to the north of Edinburgh city center, known for its lively atmosphere, historic buildings, and thriving dining scene. This waterfront district offers a unique blend of maritime history and modern attractions.

When exploring Leith, you’ll find yourself immersed in its rich maritime history. From its bustling docks to its historic warehouses, the neighborhood showcases its seafaring heritage at every turn. Take a stroll along the waterfront and soak in the sights of the quaint boats and charming harbor.

Leith is also home to a variety of dining options that cater to all tastes and budgets. Whether you’re craving seafood, international cuisine, or traditional Scottish fare, you’ll find it all in Leith. Sample the local delicacies at the renowned restaurants and cafes that line the streets.

Aside from its culinary delights, Leith boasts a range of cultural landmarks and attractions. Visit the iconic Royal Yacht Britannia, once the floating residence of the British royal family, and explore its luxurious interiors. Discover the vibrant arts scene at the various galleries and theaters that showcase local talent.

To fully experience Leith, take a leisurely walk through its historic streets, adorned with well-preserved architecture and charming shops. Immerse yourself in the neighborhood’s vibrant atmosphere, where locals and visitors alike come together to enjoy the bustling markets and lively events.

Whether you’re interested in exploring its maritime history, dining at its top-notch restaurants, or simply soaking in its lively atmosphere, Leith is a neighborhood that should not be missed during your visit to Edinburgh.

Conclusion

Edinburgh is a city that offers a wide range of experiences for travelers. With its historic landmarks, breathtaking viewpoints, vibrant festivals, and lively neighborhoods, there is something for everyone to enjoy in this Scottish capital. Whether you’re a first-time visitor or a seasoned traveler, Edinburgh’s charm and beauty will surely captivate you.

From exploring the ancient Edinburgh Castle and strolling along the historic Royal Mile to embracing the magic of Victoria Street and Grassmarket, this city is filled with rich history and culture. You can also ascend Arthur’s Seat for majestic city views or delve into the picturesque Dean Village to step back in time. And let’s not forget about the Palace of Holyroodhouse and the National Museum of Scotland, where you can immerse yourself in royal encounters and engage with learning.

Don’t miss the opportunity to soak in the local culture at the Edinburgh Festivals, where you can enjoy music performances, theater shows, and cultural events. And if you’re looking for a unique neighborhood to explore, Leith with its waterfront district, thriving dining scene, and maritime history is a must-visit.

So, start planning your trip to Edinburgh and get ready to discover all the wonderful attractions and experiences this city has to offer. Whether you’re interested in history, nature, culture, or simply want to enjoy the vibrant atmosphere, Edinburgh will not disappoint. It’s time to create lasting memories in this amazing city.

FAQs

What is special about Victoria Street and Grassmarket?

Victoria Street is a charming and colorful street known as the real-life Diagon Alley from Harry Potter. Grassmarket, on the other hand, is a historic square lined with traditional pubs and hosts lively events.

What makes Dean Village unique?

Dean Village is a hidden gem in Edinburgh, known for its picturesque half-timbered houses, medieval cobbled streets, and idyllic riverside settings. It offers a journey through time and a chance to explore its history and beauty on foot.

What can I see at the Palace of Holyroodhouse?

The Palace of Holyroodhouse is the official residence of the British monarch in Edinburgh. You can explore its royal history, visit attractions like Holyrood Abbey and the Queen’s Gallery, and learn about figures like Mary, Queen of Scots and Bonnie Prince Charlie.

What can I expect at the National Museum of Scotland?

The National Museum of Scotland is a world-class museum that houses extensive collections on natural and ancient history, archaeology, and the history of Scotland. You can explore interactive exhibits and discover key galleries.

What are the Edinburgh Festivals?

The Edinburgh Festivals are a series of vibrant cultural events held in the city, with the Edinburgh Festival Fringe being the most famous. They feature music performances, theatre shows, comedy acts, and a variety of cultural events.

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