Top 20 Things to do in Edinburgh

When many think of things to do in Edinburgh, Scotland’s historic centre, home to Old and New Town one of Scotland’s 6 UNESCO sites, the popular sights like Edinburgh Castle, classic pub visits and a stroll down the iconic Royal Mile come quickly to mind.  But Edinburgh has so much more to offer from green spaces to free museums and plenty of tours to keep you busy and entertained. The following are the top 20 things to do in Edinburgh.

1.Hike Arthur’s Seat

For nature lovers and hikers alike a visit to Edinburgh is not complete without a hike up to Arthur’s Seat. But don’t simply hike up Arthur’s Seat, the highest peak in Edinburgh, make sure to start or end your journey with an awe-inspiring hike along the Radical Road that takes you through the Salisbury Crags. However you manage to ascend Arthur’s Seat you will be rewarded by breathtaking 360° views over Edinburgh and beyond.

Edinburgh Castle

2. Explore Edinburgh Castle

A trip to Edinburgh is not complete without a visit to Edinburgh’s Castle. This isn’t a typical castle in ruins. The Edinburgh Castle sits centre stage on a volcanic plug, is much intact and has a wealth of buildings to explore. From the oldest surviving building in Edinburgh, St. Margaret’s Chapel to the oldest crown jewels in the British Isles and the grand Great Hall to the one o’clock gun salute (a tradition that began in 1861). Edinburgh Castle will transport you back in time!

3. National Museum of Scotland

If the free price of admission isn’t incentive enough than perhaps the wealth of history, from the mysterious miniature coffins found on the slopes of Arthur’s Seat in 1836 to the first successful clone of a mammal, Dolly the sheep who is now stuffed and galleries with meteorites to dinosaurs will draw you in, especially on a rainy day!

And if you’re looking to experience more of Scotland check out this Active Scotland Itinerary, full of hiking, sea kayaking, and more!

4. Stroll along the Royal Mile

The hub of life in Edinburgh’s old town and home to everything from star attractions to pubs and plenty of shops, a stroll down the Royal Mile is a must. From Edinburgh Castle at the top end to the Palace of Holyroodhouse at its bottom, the Royal Mile is actually a series of streets and is technically 1.25 miles – which is a Scots mile, or as the Scots say, “a mile and a wee bit.”

Calton Hill

5. Take to the top of Calton Hill

Another one of Edinburgh’s hills is Calton Hill and at 300′ (103m) elevation it’s only a 5 minute walk up a flight of stairs for more fantastic views over Edinburgh. At the east end of Princes Street Calton Hill is home to the National Monument, which is molded on the Parthenon in Athens, the Nelson Monument, the 1800’s City Observatory, a 90′ tall obelisk that is the Political Martyrs Monument and monuments to writer Robert Burns and philosopher Dugald Stewart.

6. Botanical Gardens

Edinburgh’s Botanical Gardens was originally founded in 1670 and is set on 70 acres (28 hectares). It’s home to plants from around the world, glasshouses with over 3000 plants and 10 different climatic zones and has one of the largest collections of plants in the world. Here you’ll have another view over Edinburgh and a chance to breathe in the sweet, fresh smells of fragrant flowers and feel like you’re anywhere but the city.

7. Chase Ghosts on a Ghost Tour

Edinburgh is considered one of the most haunted cities in the world! With plenty of ghost walks to choose from you’ll have a good chance at experiencing some sort of strange occurrence or paranormal activity while you’re chasing ghosts. Perhaps you’ll even encounter one of the most documented poltergeists – Bloody Mackenzie in the famed Greyfriars graveyard and Covenanters Prison.

8. Attend a Festival

Edinburgh is home to some of the world’s best and biggest festivals. August is prime time for festivals with the Edinburgh International Book Festival, the largest public celebration of the written word in the world, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the world’s largest arts festival with dance, music, theatre and more, and the astounding Royal Military Tattoo that takes place in front of the castle and brings musical artists from around the world together with military performances and pyrotechnics. At the end of the year there is Hogmanay, a New Year’s celebration that is one of a kind and lasts for days with a street party, concerts in the gardens, torch light procession and more!

St. Giles Cathedral

9. Visit St. Giles’ Cathedral

Located on the Royal Mile, St. Giles’ Cathedral is from the 14th century and is certainly a sight to see. Home to glorious stain glass windows, a memorial to Robert Louis Stevenson, a roof top tour for another great view of Edinburgh as well as the Order of Thistle. The Order of Thistle is Scotland’s company of knights and by guided tour you can learn all about the men who belong to the strangely decorated and ornate wooden chairs that circle the room. Entrance is free with voluntary donations welcome but if you’d like to take photos be sure to purchase a photo permit for £2.

Princes Street Gardens

10. Relax in Princes Street Gardens

A sloping expanse of park and green space right between Old and New Town, the Princes Street Gardens was created in the 1770s. These once private gardens were made public in 1876 and are home to the Scott Monument, the world’s first floral clock as well as events throughout the year. It’s a great place to relax, read or have a picnic on a warm summer day.

Scott Monument

11. Climb the Scott Monument

If views over Edinburgh is what you’re after consider climbing the 287 steps up to the top, at 60m (197′), of the Scott Monument. This giant gothic spire located in Princes Street Gardens is in honour of Scotland’s own Sir Walter Scott and is the largest monument to a writer in the world.

12. Wander its Graveyards

Perhaps the thrill of wandering graveyards excites you than Edinburgh has 5 historic graveyards for you, full of tombs, graves with metal railings to deter grave robbers of late and even ghosts. There is Canongate Kirkyard, St. Cuthbert’s Kirkyard, Old and New Calton Burial Grounds and the infamous Greyfriars Kirkyard from the 16th century where you’ll find the tomb of ‘Bloody Mackenzie’ and the now locked Covenanters Prison.

13. Drink & Dine in Old Pubs

A visit to Edinburgh is not complete without time spent in one of the cities many pubs. From ale to authentic Scottish grub, live entertainment and lively atmosphere, Edinburgh is home to plenty of fun and historic pubs and there’s even Edinburgh’s Literary Pub Tour of the most historic of bars. Where should you start? Try the Grassmarket area, it’s a great area with a fine selection and is even popular with the locals.

14. The Palace of Holyroodhouse

Or commonly referred to as Holyrood Palace, is the official residence of the British monarch while in Scotland and has been home to the kings and queens of Scotland since the 16th century. Here you can visit 14 historic apartments, the ruins of the 12th century Holyrood Abbey, the 10 acres of gardens and the Queen’s Gallery – part of the Royal Collection which is one of the largest and most important in the world.

15. Edinburgh Zoo

At over a 100 years old the Edinburgh Zoo may be old but even with its historic buildings it is very current and even home to the Britain’s only pair of giant pandas. If the pandas aren’t enough there are over 1000 rare and endangered species at the zoo and it’s also where you’ll see the infamous penguin walk! The Edinburgh Zoo is one of Scotland’s most popular attractions and you won’t be disappointed, child and adult alike.

16. Browse Bookshops

Edinburgh is home to some great bookshops that are quirky, full of great finds and more. There are bookshops selling new and second-hand, some small, some multi-leveled and many can be found on Grassmarket. If you’re looking to pick up a book to read or even an interesting souvenir or merely need to duck in out of the rain than check out a few bookshops, there’s even an app, Edinburgh City of Literature Bookshop Trail, to help you find them all and tells you what they carry!

Related Post: Best Bookshops in the UK

17. Take the Book Lovers’ Tour

In the city of literature there is something for every book lovers heart, from festivals to bookshops and writers museum to even a tour, the Book Lovers’ Tour. Alan Foster’s Book Lovers’ Tour leaves from the Writers Museum and will take you around Edinburgh’s literary sights from past homes of Sir Walter Scott and others to where the famous Harry Potter was penned. It covers many highlights of Scotland’s famous writers from those in the past to the current greats like Alexander McCall Smith and Ian Rankin.

18. Ride a Hop-on-Hop-off Bus

For anyone visiting a city for the first time taking one of their hop-on-hop-off buses is a great way to not only orient yourself but also to use it as transit to easily and quickly get to the attractions and sights you wish to visit. Edinburgh has a few different hop-on-hop-off buses that range in style and where they stop, anywhere from Princes Street to Arthur’s Seat and even Leith. Some offer live commentators, which is great for learning about the city and its sights and they also offer discounted tickets to some sights (so be sure to ask for discounts).

Writers Museum

19. Writers Museum

Another great free museum is the Writers Museum, located just off the Royal Mile through Lady Stair’s Close in the historic Lady Stair’s House that was built in 1622. The museum’s 3 floors pay homage to 3 of Scotland’s great writers, Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Burns. Here you’ll get a chance to see some of the writers’ personal objects, their books and other fascinating pieces.

20. Enjoy Street Performers

Sometimes one of the best parts of visiting a city is checking out its street performers, or buskers. And in Edinburgh you’ll find some of the world’s best from solo acoustic performers to the classic bagpipers. A stroll along the Royal Mile will bring you face to face with the locals and their sweet sounds! Enjoy the performance? Be kind and throw them some cash it will be greatly appreciated!

What’re your favourite things to do in Edinburgh?

I was a guest of Visit Scotland, as always all opinions are my own.

Top 20 Things to do in Edinburgh


I'm a Canadian gal with a passion for wildlife, the great outdoors and travel and hope to inspire others to feel the same way! Travelling mostly solo I love to explore Ontario Gems in my own backyard as well as exotic cities around the world.

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6 Responses

  1. Skye Class says:

    I absolutely love this post, just as I love Edinburgh. Every point on the list is perfect. I still can’t believe how many locals haven’t hiked Arthur’s Seat, let alone the rest of the list. One more thing I could add is find the Harry Potter Landmarks, such as the Elephant Bar (mentioned in the Book Lover’s Tour), Tom Riddle’s tombstone, the inspirations for Hogwarts, etc. I also really liked walking along the Water of Leith, and a trip to the Forth Bridge is an absolute must, especially for sunrise. Oh Edinburgh, how I miss you! I’ll be back next year, I promise.

    • Stephanie says:

      Thanks so much! I totally agree, I’m always surprised by the amazing thing in a city that the locals don’t seem interested in, nor have done or seen, yet us travellers fly half way across the world to do and see!

  2. Maya says:

    Oh how I love Edinburgh! I went there for summer work during high school with my boyfriend. We enjoyed Fringe festival and hanging out in Princes street gardens the most. This is a very special place to us and brought up the earliest memories of our travels together. Hope we’ll come back and explore more. Your pictures made me dream of coming back, thank you.

    • Stephanie says:

      Thanks so much Maya! Glad I could help stir those amazing memories for you! There’s something about Scotland that just keeps me coming back for more!

  3. Mark says:

    What a really special place to visit. Thanks for posting so many great photos. This needs to go on my travel list.

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