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Best Things To Do in Edinburgh

Its castle and medieval streets with pointed roofs, ancient facades and its vegtation will immerse you in a magical atmosphere.

Ana Caballero

Ana Caballero

7 min read

Best Things To Do in Edinburgh

Panoramic view of the city of Edinburgh | ©Dominik Resek

Even with the rain, which is constantly present, Edinburgh is a city that shines as it did in our imagination those landscapes of the stories we were read as children. These are the 10 must-see sights and activities in Edinburgh.

1. Visit Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle| ©Céline Geeurickx
Edinburgh Castle| ©Céline Geeurickx

It is undoubtedly the crown jewel of the city. You will see it from almost anywhere in the center (and I recommend you look for different perspectives to photograph it from below) and is open to the public for both guided tours and self-guided visits throughout the year.

Edinburgh Castle not only offers wonderful views of the city, but also houses important spaces such as the National War Museum or the Crown Jewels exhibition. You can walk up to the top or take any of the city buses. In this article about Castle of Edinburgh Tickets you have all the information you need to make your visit a success and if you want more, I recommend you to read this post about the 10 best castles you can see in Edinburgh.

Buy your tickets to Edinburgh Castle

2. Learn about the legends and mysteries of the city

Walk through its streets full of history, beauty and legends.| ©nschouterden
Walk through its streets full of history, beauty and legends.| ©nschouterden

Edinburgh is a fairytale city not only for its landscapes, but also for the legends and stories behind each of its corners. Did you know that one of the mayors of the city inspired the story of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde? That there was a couple of thieves who were dedicated to stealing corpses for medical purposes? All this and much more will be told to you in the different guided tours specialized in legends that travel on foot through the different areas of Edinburgh.

If I have to recommend one of these guided tours, without a doubt my favorite is the one that goes through the old town, but you also have a gastronomic route or a tour of the New Town as options. Leaving Edinburgh without doing at least one of these would be something to regret. Here is a selection of the best tours and excursions from Edinburgh.

Book a tour of legends and mysteries of Edinburgh

3. Take the Harry Potter Trail

Victoria Street inspired J.K. Rowling to create Diagon Alley| ©Mike McBey
Victoria Street inspired J.K. Rowling to create Diagon Alley| ©Mike McBey

Fans of the saga created by J. K. Rowling are in luck. The author lived in this city during one of her hardest times and in many of its cafes she wrote a good part of the books. In addition, many of the places in Edinburgh served as inspiration to choose the names of the characters in the book or to set buildings like Hogwarts school. If you go to Edinburgh with children, you will love this plan.

The Harry Potter route through Edinburgh is already a classic in the city and if you want to hear the stories behind it I recommend you do it on a guided tour. You can watch a Quidditch match, visit Voldemort's tomb, walk through Diagon Alley or take a picture at Hogwarts Castle. Here I tell you all about the Harry Potter tour in Edinburgh.

Book a Harry Potter tour in Edinburgh

4. Discover the Highlands of Scotland and say hello to the Loch Ness Monster

The beautiful landscapes of the Highlands| ©hobbs_luton
The beautiful landscapes of the Highlands| ©hobbs_luton

The Highlands of Scotland are not only the home of the famous Loch Ness Monster, they are also the place where you can find the best landscapes of the country, made up of mountains, castles and lochs. During your trip to Edinburgh, you have the opportunity to visit them on an organized day trip, or if you have a little more time and want to get a little more lost in these wonderful places, you can enjoy a two-day trip or get from Edinburgh to Loch Ness on your own.

In this article about the excursions to Loch Ness from Edinburgh you have all the information you need to decide to visit more corners of this wonderful country during your trip.

And if you are a fan of one of the most famous series about time travel, you will already know that in Edinburgh you can take a tour of the locations of Outlanders.

Book a trip to Loch Ness

5. Enjoy a sunset from Calton Hill

View of Edinburgh from Calton Hill| ©Gary Campbell-Hall
View of Edinburgh from Calton Hill| ©Gary Campbell-Hall

When you visit a new city, it seems that all sunsets are special, but few you will have seen like the one you will see from this hill located in the center of Edinburgh. The climb will not require much effort and from there you will see Edinburgh Castle on one side and on the other the fabulous rooftops of the city. An unrepeatable postcard.

6. Visit Holyrood Palace

Holyrood Palace| ©Christoph Strässler
Holyrood Palace| ©Christoph Strässler

Holyrood Palace was the official residence of the Queen of England in the twelfth century and inside you can find antique furniture and tapestries and rooms decorated in baroque style. However, what will really leave you speechless are the open-air ruins of the Augustinian abbey belonging to the palace; an ideal setting to let your imagination run wild and feel in a fairy tale. If you have a ticket for the Edinburgh sightseeing bus, you have a stop right outside the door.

7. Taste haggis and Scotch whisky

Varieties on display at the Scotch Whiskey Experience| ©Sam DeLong
Varieties on display at the Scotch Whiskey Experience| ©Sam DeLong

The haggis is the typical Scottish dish that you can try in Edinburgh. It is a very spicy meal composed of pork offal that can be served on a plate with a side dish or in a kind of kebab. As a drink, you can not forget the Scotch whiskey, much claimed in the capital; if you are a real fan of this drink you will enjoy the specialized tours that review the development and history of whiskey in Edinburgh.

Book a whisky tour in Edinburgh

8. Stroll through Princes Street Gardens

Prices Street Gardens| ©This is Edinburgh
Prices Street Gardens| ©This is Edinburgh

After strolling through the streets of Edinburgh seems difficult to find areas even greener than those that already come out as you pass through the capital, but there are and one of the most beautiful is the Princes Street Gardens. You will find this English-style public park located at the foot of Edinburgh Castle; it houses the monument to Walter Scott and in winter is filled with Christmas stalls so it is a must if you visit Edinburgh at Christmas. A walk through these places is a restorative balm for any stress.

9. Visit St Giles Cathedral

St Giles Cathedral| ©Gary Campbell-Hall
St Giles Cathedral| ©Gary Campbell-Hall

Halfway down Edinburgh's main avenue, Royal Mile, is this 12th century cathedral dedicated to the patron saint of Scotland. One of the most beautiful times to see the interior is at sunset, when the sun goes down and passes through its stained glass windows.

10. Go to Dean Village

The River Water of Leith as it passes through Dean Village| ©Gary Campbell-Hall
The River Water of Leith as it passes through Dean Village| ©Gary Campbell-Hall

On the banks of the River Water of Leith you will find this small village of bridges and stone houses. Today, it is actually a neighborhood as it is located just 15 minutes from Princes Street, but it is easy to forget about it after walking for a while through its streets and get lost in the charm of its vegetation.

When to go to Edinburgh

Touring the Grassmarket| ©Lukas Koster
Touring the Grassmarket| ©Lukas Koster

Once you know what you are going to see and do in Edinburgh, the next step is, if you haven't already done so, to choose the best time to travel. Scotland's climate forces me to recommend that you visit Edinburgh in the summer, but, whenever you go, you will find alternatives to the traditional sightseeing plans:

How many days to go to Edinburgh

The beautiful scenery of Loch Ness| ©Dave Conner
The beautiful scenery of Loch Ness| ©Dave Conner

If you do not plan to leave the city, two or three days will be enough to get to know Edinburgh, but if you want to visit the surroundings (you can go from Edinburgh to St. Andrews or take a trip to Loch Ness) I recommend you to stay a little longer in the city. In any case, here is a list of itineraries to plan your visit and remember that if you are in Edinburgh just passing through you can save time by planning in advance the transfer from Edinburgh airport to the city center.