Planning to visit Edinburgh, the magnificent capital of Scotland?
History, architecture, culture and 3 hills for amazing views!
Below is my guide with the best things to do in Edinburgh and pictures to help you decide what to do.
Before my tips + photos, here are my favorites for Scotland:
My favorite platform to rent a car in Scotland: DiscoverCars
The unmissable boat tour: Seal spotting on Loch Linnhe from Fort William
My favorite excursion from Edinburgh: Glenfinnan and Glencoe
Visiting Edinburgh – Video + Top Tips
Why visit Edinburgh
It is the most fascinating town in Scotland: castles, monuments, beautiful parks, historical buildings…
And with 3 hills, you can admire wonderful views!
Below is a short video, to give you a feel of what it is like to visit Edinburgh and many of the things to do in Edinburgh.
How to get around Edinburgh
Edinburgh is a city that is very walkable. A lot of the points of interest are gathered in the center.
However, one of my favorite ways to discover a city (after walking) is to take a hop on hop off bus. Because it tours all the major highlights, you can sit and enjoy a full loop with explanations and when sitting in the top deck you enjoy great views of the monuments.
I did it in Edinburgh and it was great!
Get your 24h or 48h Pass and make the most of your time
Where to stay
I recommend you choose an accommodation in the city center to be able to work anywhere.
Check out the best rated accommodations in Edinburgh.
See all my suggestions at the end of the article.
- If you start or finish your Scotland trip in Edinburgh, make sure you do not keep your rental car while in Edinburgh. Parking places are very limited and expensive.
- Edinburgh is a great city to just walk around
- But if you are tired, the hop on hop off busses offer great
Best things to do in Edinburgh – photos & intro
Let’s start with the Edinburgh attractions considered as ‘must-see’. Below are photos and info about the top attractions with photos of Edinburgh.
#1 – Edinburgh Castle
Right in the heart of the city, you cannot miss it. Climb the Hill and discover one of the Scottish landmarks: the Edinburgh Castle. From there you can admire the city, explore the medieval city and marvel in front of the crown jewels.
Many photos and practical info on the article dedicated to the Edinburgh Castle
And you can buy your ticket now online to skip the line.
#2 – Royal Mile
The spine of the city of Edinburgh is the Royal Mile. This long street takes you from the Castle to the Holyroodhouse palace in the heart of the old town. It is now too touristy for my taste, but the side small passages are interesting to explore.
Many photos and practical info on the article dedicated to the Royal Mile.
#3 – St Giles Cathedral
Located on the Royal Mile, the St Giles Cathedral is not the most beautiful from the outside. But once inside you can admire colorful stained-glass windows, the internal system of the organ and the famous Thistle Chapel.
Many photos and practical info on the article dedicated to the St Giles Cathedral.
#4 – Holyroodhouse Palace
The Holyroodhouse Palace is the official residence of the Her Majesty the Queen in Scotland. It is standing at the end of the Royal Mile opposite the Castle. You can visit some of the apartments, the ruins of the Holyrood Abbey and the Royal Gardens.
#5 – Calton Hill
Calton Hill is one of the 3 hills in the city. I think it is one of the top things to do in Edinburgh with many monuments of Greek inspiration and incredible views all around.
Many photos and practical info on the article dedicated to Calton Hill.
#6 – Princes Street Garden
In the heart of Edinburgh, separating the old and new towns, the Princes Street Garden is a great place to escape the busy street and go relax on the grass under the magnificent trees. One of the most relaxing Edinburgh things to do.
#7 – Royal Botanic Garden
Like many big cities, Edinburgh has its own Botanic Gardens. If you want to escape the narrow streets and dark buildings, head to the Gardens to enjoy the greenery.
#8 – Royal Yacht Britannia
Further from the city of Edinburgh, fans of the Royal family or of ships, can enjoy a visit of the Royal Yacht Britannia.
#9 – Old and New Towns
But maybe more than visit all those Edinburgh things to do, my recommendation is to just walk around or take a bus around the city. It definitively has a unique atmosphere.
#10 – Harry Potter locations in Edinburgh
And for the Harry Potter fans, there are many things to do. The most famous location is probably the Elephant House, were J.K. Rowling wrote The Chamber of Secrets and The Prisoner of Azkaban.
The Culturetrip has an article with the top places in Edinburgh for Harry Potter fans.
More photos of Edinburgh Scotland – Best viewpoints
One of the best things to do in Edinburgh is actually to just admire the skyline and façades. The succession of old and narrow facades is intriguing. Here are some of the best spots for the best views of Edinburgh Scotland.
#11 – View from Calton Hill
Calton Hill is definitively one of the best spots for views of Edinburgh and I think the absolute top 1 Edinburgh things to do. You get clear views all the way to the castle and great front row seat to the Arthur’s seat formation.
Many photos and practical info on the article dedicated to Calton Hill.
#12 – View from behind the information center
Behind the information center and the Waverley Mall, you can see the top of the train station and an unobstructed view of the old town.
#13 – View from Edinburgh Castle
The only thing missing on the view from the Edinburgh castle is the castle itself… But you get beautiful views of the Balmoral Hotel and behind Calton Hill with its many monuments.
#14 – View from Arthur’s Seat & Scott’s Monument
You can also enjoy nice views from the top of Arthur’s Seat after hiking to the top of this volcanic Hill
Different trails take you to the top. Plan 2 to 3h. Some climb straight up. Another path goes around with a gentler slope but the end is still steep.
#14 – Scott’s Monument
It is also possible to climb to the top of the Scott Monument for more up-close views of the city.
I don’t drink coffee
But I also like other drinks and sweets!
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11 Best Edinburgh Museums
Amongst the Edinburgh things to do are many museums: art, history, astronomy or quirky subjects…
Here is a list of the most popular museums in Edinburgh for you to choose from:
|M1 – National Library||History||www||Center South|
|M2 – National Gallery||Art||www||Center North|
|M3 – Camera Obscura||Observatory of the town||www||Royal Mile|
|M4 – Writer’s Museum||Life of famous Scottish writers||www||Royal Mile|
|M5 – Museum of Childhood||Old toys, school books…||www||Royal Mile|
|M6 – People’s story||Social History of Edinburgh||www||Royal Mile|
|M7 – Museum of Edinburgh||Local History from neolithic||www||Royal Mile|
|M8 – National Museum of Scotland||Various||www||Center South|
|M9 – Portrait Gallery||Art||www||New Town|
|M10 – Our Dynamic Earth||Geology||www||Arthur’s seat|
|M11 – Gallery of Modern Art||Art||www||Dean Village|
Fun tours in Edinburgh
There is a lot that you can discover by yourself in Edinburgh, especially with the Hop On Hop Off bus, but you can also explore it with a guide for a more in-depth experience:
- GHOSTS – Enjoy a Ghost Tour in the Old Town – learn about the legends and stories surrounding the small alleys – See options
- HARRY POTTER – big fan of the wizard’s stories? Discover all the stops related to JK Rowling and the story of Harry Potter – Check program and price
- The Boutique Adventurer blogger also recommends the Vault Tours to discover Edinburgh Underground – check out her recommendations
Top Places to visit near Edinburgh
This section has just a few suggestions, you can see my full article with the Top 10-day trips from Edinburgh
Stirling Castle is similar to Edinburgh castle: an old medieval city on top of a hill. If that is your thing, it is only a 1h to 1H30 drive (depending on traffic). Parking at the top is not free and limited.
Dirleton and Tantallon Castles
East of Edinburgh, along the coast are 2 fascinating ruins of castles to explore less than 1h drive from the city. Dirleton is a 13th century fortress with lots of rooms to explore while Tantallon is an imposing 14th century structure along the cliffs where you can climb to the top.
Many photos and practical info on the articles dedicated to Dirleton Castle and Tantallon Castle.
The Borders Abbeys
Some of my favorite places to visit near Edinburgh are the Abbeys of the Borders region: Melrose, Jedburgh, Kelso, Dryburgh… My favorite is Jedburgh with all its arches still standing. The loop starts at Melrose, just 1h drive from Edinbrugh.
One of the most famous places to visit near Edinburgh is St Andrews and the ruins of the cathedral. Built in 1158, it was the largest church built in Scotland. You need to plan 1h30 driving from Edinburgh.
45 minutes East of Edinburgh, along the river Forth, Blackness castle stands on a promontory. Much of what is seen is from the reconstruction during the 16th century. Thanks to its location, the fort has a special atmosphere appreciated by visitors.0
Longer Day Trips from Edinburgh
This section has just a few suggestions, you can see my full article with the Top 10-day trips from Edinburgh.
The Trossachs National Park
The Loch Lomond and Trossachs area is the most famous national Park in Scotland. With less than 3-hour drive from Glasgow or Edinburgh, it is a great area to enjoy lochs and mountains in the lower part of the Highlands. You can also enjoy a cruise on Loch Katrine aboard the historical Sir Water Scott Steamboat.
Cairngorms National Park
You can also head North towards Inverness and drive through the Cairngorms National Park. The Balmoral and Braemar Castles are just a couple of hours drive away but the best part is the scenery and the vast expanses of nature.
Many photos and practical info on the article dedicated to Cairngorms National Park.
But if you like cities, you can simply head west to Glasgow and discover a vastly different town. Better to avoid the car, and enjoy a train ride between both centers.
Many photos and practical info on the article dedicated to Glasgow.
Where to stay in Edinburgh – accommodations
- There are all types of accommodations in Edinburgh. I personally stayed in an Airbnb apartment (see my Scotland Accommodations page)
Here are some of my suggestions for you to have a great stay:
- First price – Best rated hostel is the High Street Hostel located in the old town – Check photos and prices
- MID-RANGE – The Inn place will offer you good comfort with a great location in the old town – Check photos and prices
- APART HOTEL – The Princes Street Suites are close to everything but more modern than the old town. A great combination – Check photos and prices
- LUXURY and HISTORY – Since 1902, the Balmoral Hotel welcomes guests in Edinburgh – Check photos and prices
- LUXURY and BEST VIEWS – The Waldorf Astoria The Caledonian offers rooms with an unobstructed view of the Castle and the old town. Amazing to wake up to see it – Check photos and prices
- and here is a link to the best rated Edinburgh accommodations in Booking.com for Edinburgh
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