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You’ll never be short of things to do in Edinburgh, even if you live here you’ll probably still have a long to-do list. Edinburgh has a whole host of tourist attractions to keep you busy and many of the best activities won’t cost you a penny. We’ve compiled a list of our 25 favourite things to do in Edinburgh and would love to hear some of your own recommendations in the comments below.
Edinburgh Castle is the iconic centrepiece of the city and boasts some of the best views of Edinburgh. If you only have a short time to visit Edinburgh, we’d recommend that you visit the castle. You don’t necessarily have to go in and have a tour, although it’s well worth the cost of admission if you do.
|Adult (16 – 59 yrs)||£17.00|
|Child (5 – 15 yrs)||£10.20|
|Concession (60 yrs+ and unemployed)*||£13.60|
Whenever people ask us for things to do in Edinburgh, we’ll always suggest a walk up Calton Hill to enjoy a 360° panoramic view of Edinburgh, and even further afield to Fife. There are a number of iconic monuments and buildings to admire on Calton Hill, The National Monument (aka Edinburgh’s Shame), the Nelson Monument, the Dugald Stewart Monument and the City Observatory.
Edinburgh is a city of villages, each with their own style and reasons to visit: Stockbridge, New Town, Bruntsfield, Old Town, Dean Village and our favourite place (and the one we call home) – Leith, we LOVE LEITH.
If you’re into food and drink then we think you’ll love Leith too. If you’re looking for a fancy meal in Edinburgh, book a table at one of the two Michelin Star restaurants (The Kitchin and Martin Wishart). For something a little more casual, head to The Roseleaf, Ship on the Shore or Teuchters Landing.
Leith should be high on your to-do list if you visit Edinburgh, but maybe leave it to the end otherwise you might never leave.
Scotland may be famous for Whisky, but we also love our gin too! One of our favourite gins, Pickering’s Gin, is distilled right here in Edinburgh at Summerhall. For the mere cost of £10, you can take a tour around their distillery to learn how their small batch gin is made and bottled, you’ll also get to taste three of their gin expressions and enjoy and gin and tonic from The Royal Dick bar.
Once you’ve finished your tour of the distillery, you can head out for a walk through the Meadows, one of Edinburgh’s many beautiful green spaces.
The Royal Botanic Gardens is another great place to visit in Edinburgh and the perfect place to unwind. With over 70 acres of beautifully landscaped grounds, The Botanic Gardens provides a tranquil haven just one mile from the city centre. The gardens are free to enter (although there is a charge for access to the Glasshouses), you can travel to Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh on the following Lothian Buses services: 8, 23, 27.
Whisky is an acquired taste, why not acquire it in Edinburgh? It’s a diverse drink and often said there is a whisky for everybody, with places like The Scotch Whisky Experience and Scotch Malt Whisky society you’ll be sure to find your perfect dram – or at least have a lot of fun trying to find it!
If you’re tackling our Edinburgh to-do list in order, you may have some cobwebs blow away from your whisky ‘research’. Climbing Arthur’s Seat is sure to do just that, this ancient dormant volcano is the highest point in Holyrood Park at 251m above sea level. Once you reach the top, admire the view and enjoy another dram (if you packed a hipflask).
Climbing Arthur’s Seat will be a memorable activity in Edinburgh, just make sure you wear comfortable shoes and come prepared for all types of weather.
Edinburgh’s Old Town is steeped in history, it’s basically a giant open-air museum. As you walk around and enjoy the sights keep in mind that there’s even more fun to be had beneath your feet in Edinburgh’s vaults. You can join Mercat Tours on a journey through the vaults, where you’ll hear stories of murder, torture, body snatchers and maybe even meet a ghost!
A lot of our top tips for getting the most out of Edinburgh involve getting up high and enjoying the views, this one isn’t for the faint of heart. For five pounds, you can scale The Scott Monument on Princes Street, 287 steps stand between you and some stunning views of Edinburgh’s skyline. The staircase can be pretty tight, especially as you approach the top, there’s also limited room on the uppermost platform which can get a little claustrophobic – trust us, it’s worth it for the view.
The Scott Monument commemorates Sir Walter Scott and is the largest monument to a writer in the world – it also looks a lot like Thunderbird 3.
Edinburgh is a great city to walk around, but if you’re short of time an open top tour bus is the perfect way to see more of the city. There are a few tour buses operating in Edinburgh, each with slightly different routes, see Edinburgh Bus Tours for more info.
Fingers-crossed the weather is on your side when you decide to take a tour around Edinburgh – if you can sit on the top deck and not get soaked you’ll be in for a treat! Make sure you pack your camera.
The Grassmarket should be on everybody’s Edinburgh to-do list, highlights include the colourful buildings of Victoria Street (which is thought to have inspired JK Rowling’s Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter books), incredible views of Edinburgh Castle, some more great bars and restaurants and some fantastic independent shops.
Edinburgh is foodie heaven, you’ll be well fed quite easily. If you’re looking for something special that won’t break the bank, then be sure to check out Restaurant Mark Greenaway, Ship on the Shore, Wedgwood, Cafe St Honore or Aizle. For something a little more casual to enjoy whilst on the go, check out Oink, Dough or Gannet and Guga. We could go on forever with this listing. If you ever need some recommendations for places to eat in Edinburgh just give us a shout on Twitter.
Edinburgh is a great city for shopping, you just need to know where to go. For major retailers head to Princes Street, for fashion head to George Street, and head to Stockbridge, Brunstfield and Broughton Street for some fab indie shops. The Royal Mile has a whole host of ‘tourist’ type shops if you’re looking for some trinkets to take home with you.
We’ve said already that Edinburgh is basically an open-air museum, it’s also home to some actual museums too. The National Museum of Scotland is free to enter and has diverse collections which will take you on a journey of discovery through the history of Scotland and around the world, taking in the wonders of nature, art, design and fashion and science and technology. There are too many museums to list, but others well worth visit include the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, The Scottish National Portrait Gallery and Surgeons’ Hall Museums.
Edinburgh has a grisly past in some parts of the city, with cannibals, body snatchers and deals with the Devil. Go on a journey of discovery and hear about the darker side of the city on a ghost walk, there are loads to choose from, some scarier than others – but all are certain to be interesting.
For some inspiration, check out:
Edinburgh’s Camera Obscura and the World of Illusions can be found beside Edinburgh Castle and the Scotch Whisky Experience. This attraction is spread over 6 floors and is jam-packed with interactive mind-bending displays, get lost whilst finding yourself in the mirror maze and enjoy some incredible rooftop views of Edinburgh.
The Camera Obscura Show is essential viewing when you visit, marvel at the images projected from Princes Street into the top of this Victorian building, it’s amazing what can be achieved with some mirrors and lenses.
By now, you’ve probably already discovered that Edinburgh is a great place for foodies. We’ve got more great news for you, Edinburgh is also a fantastic place for those who enjoy a wee tipple. Coming up with a handful of recommendations for places to enjoy cocktails in Edinburgh was a difficult task, involving lots of research and a couple of hangovers. A few of our favourite cocktail bars include Lucky Liquor, Bramble, Byrant and Mack, Panda & Sons and Copper Blossom.
We can’t think of a better way to spend the day in Edinburgh than visiting Edinburgh Zoo. This attraction has been pleasing visitors since 1913 and is Edinburgh’s 2nd most popular tourist attraction (after Edinburgh Castle).
Edinburgh Zoo is home to two famous Pandas (Tian Tian and Yang Guang) – the only Giant Pandas in the UK. Europe’s largest outdoor penguin pool can also be found at Edinburgh Zoo – make sure you catch the Penguin Parade when you visit and salute Sir Nils Olav (a king penguin and Colonel-in-Chief of the Norwegian King’s Guard).
Edinburgh is a fascinating city, if you’re planning a visit you must make time to explore the Old Town. Take a walk from Edinburgh Castle down The Royal Mile and soak up the history. There are loads of walking tours around Edinburgh’s Old Town, we recommend you join one to learn more about the city’s captivating history.
You’ve probably started to realise how much there is to do in Edinburgh – if you’ve ticked a few off your list you might even be starting to feel a little tired. Don’t worry, Edinburgh can help with that too. There are a plethora of great coffee shops peppered around the city, perfect for a pitstop to refuel to cover off a few more of the activities available in Edinburgh. A few of our favourites include Lovecrumbs, Artisan Roast, Fortitude and Brew Lab.
For even more coffee shop recommendations, check out Two Drifters post on the best coffee shops in Edinburgh.
Trams can be a controversial topic in Edinburgh, but whether you love them or loathe them, they’re here to stay. Granted, the trams aren’t the best way to get around the city, for this we’d suggest getting familiar with the Lothian Bus schedule (or download their app). However, if your first stop in Edinburgh is the airport, then a tram is the perfect way to glide into the city centre. Edinburgh’s trams leave right from the airport and are a pretty exciting way to start your adventure.
If you’ve only got a short time in Edinburgh, a visit to the cinema probably won’t be one of your priorities. If you do have the time, or can’t resist that latest release during your visit, then we have a few cinemas that are sure to please. The Dominion cinema in Morningside offers one of the comfiest ways to see a film in Edinburgh, with sofas and tables for drinks, it’s like seeing a film at home (with a bunch of strangers and the volume turned right up). For arthouse films, be sure to check out The Filmhouse on Lothian Road – their cafe is always the cafe offers up some tasty treats to enjoy during your pre/post-film discussions.
If you’ve somehow made it through this entire list of Edinburgh activities, you’ll need to unwind a little and possibly walk off any overindulgences. Head to The Meadows for a wee strol and, if the weather is on your side, you could even have a picnic (assuming you’ve not already eaten everything Edinburgh has to offer). If you head to the south-west of the Meadows, you can enjoy a short game of golf on Bruntsfield Links, which is believed to be one of the oldest sites of golf, founded in 1895 – clubs and balls can be hired The Golf Tavern.
Edinburgh has a long-standing connection with craft beer, it’s the home of Barney’s Beer, Pilot Beer and Campervan Brewery to name a few of our favourites. The city also has a very distinctive beery aroma, especially around Edinburgh’s West End and Fountainbridge – we thank the Caledonian brewery for this glorious smell everytime we get a whiff of it.
If you’re visiting Edinburgh in August, then you’ll be pretty much guaranteed a laugh with the Edinburgh Fringe Festival taking over the city. Many locals despise the festival, choosing to vacate Edinburgh and rent out their homes as a get rich quick scheme. We wouldn’t dream of doing that – we absolutely love it, the Fringe was a huge factor when deciding to live in Edinburgh and we look forward to the festival each year, although perhaps it’s a little easier for us living in Leith – we don’t need to commute through the madness.
We could easily have turned this into an article on 100 things to do in Edinburgh and still not covered everything. If you think we’ve missed some essential activities, leave a comment below and let us know.
Whatever you get up to in Edinburgh, we’re almost certain you’ll have a great time!
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