Edinburgh is the capital city of Scotland. Whether you are in search of history, great food and drinks, or looking for something different, Edinburgh has it all. In this article, we will list 20 of the best things to do in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Best Things to Do in Edinburgh
1. Edinburgh Castle
Topping the list of some of the best things to do in Edinburgh, Scotland would have to be Edinburgh Castle. It is one of Scotland’s most visited attractions. This castle sits on top of a volcanic peak and dominates the skyline. It served as a shelter to many famous people over the years and was a site with quite a few historical events as well. Inside the castle, you can view ancient clothing, weapons and other historical artifacts such as the Honours of Scotland (Scottish Crown Jewels). You can also visit the National War Museum and National War Memorial on the same site. One of the best features include St. Margaret’s Chapel which dates back to the 12th century. The views from the towers and terraces are amazing.
2. The Royal Mile
When you leave Edinburgh Castle, you might want to take a walk down the Royal Mile. This main road runs from the castle all the way to Holyrood Palace and is almost a mile long. There are plenty of attractions on the way. You can even stop and get food and drinks along the way at the many cafes and restaurants on this road. You also walk by several shops, museums and more.
3. Holyrood Palace
At the bottom end of the Royal Mile you find Holyrood Palace. Since the 16th century, this has been the home of kings and queens. It is still where the British monarch stays in Scotland. The Palace was named after Holyrood Abbey, a 12th century Augustinian Abbey that was previously on the grounds. The remains are still visible in the area. Parts of the palace can be visited when not in use. You can also visit the grounds and gardens. The Queen’s Gallery in front of the Palace has an exhibition of historical artifacts and art from the Royal Collection which is rotated regularly.
4. Camera Obscura and World of Illusions
If you take the walk down the Royal Mile, be sure to stop at Camera Obscura and the World of Illusions. Enjoy light tricks, optical illusions and magical displays on one floor and the Camera Obscura on the roof. This is a projection system that has been around for many years. It directs visible light from outside onto a viewing surface inside a darkened room. You also have some great views from the rooftop of the city and castle. Keep kids entertained by visiting this place.
5. Craigmillar Castle
One of the most stunning, well-preserved castles in Scotland, Craigmillar Castle dates back to the 15th century. Many royals have lived in the castle over the years. You can visit Queen Mary’s room, originally lived in by Mary, Queen of Scots. The architecture is amazing, and this is also a great place to learn about Scottish history in spectacular surroundings.
6. National Museum of Scotland
This museum in Edinburgh contains a diverse range of exhibits. These include Scottish history, art, fashion, culture, technology, and even fashion. There are even interactive exhibits which can be fun for the whole family. The exhibit space is massive and is across two buildings, one from the 19th and one from the 20th centuries. There are always new and interesting things to see as the exhibits here do change quite often.
7. Mary King’s Close
Underneath the city of Edinburgh is a hidden part of the city which was covered over during the 19th century by more modern construction. Mary King’s Close was a street in medieval Edinburgh, named after a businesswoman, Mary King, in the 1630s. This gives you insight into what shopping was like in the 16th century. The area is a maze of spaces that were shops, homes and even animal pens long in the past.
8. Edinburgh Zoo
Housing over 1000 animals, Edinburgh Zoo is a popular spot for families to visit. From giant pandas to the big cats, penguins to wallabies, this zoo offers a wide variety of interesting animals. Animals are housed in natural enclosures which can make it difficult to spot some of the more reclusive animals, but it does help reduce their stress and improves their well-being.
9. Arthur’s Seat
An extinct volcano just outside of the city center, Arthur’s Seat offers amazing views of the surrounding city and countryside. This is a good climb if you enjoy a hike, but Arthur’s Seat has view worth the walk. Surrounding spots you might want to visit include Duddingston Loch and St. Anthony’s Chapel.
10. St. Giles Cathedral
Another place to visit in Edinburgh is the gothic styled St. Giles Cathedral. This church, with its crown steeple was previously known as the High Kirk of Edinburgh. This Cathedral dates back to the 14th century and is a place of worship for followers of the Church of Scotland. The Cathedral has an amazing interior and many features to explore. Remember to look up!
11. Museum of Childhood
This museum was also a first in the world for this kind of museum. Today it showcases games and toys dating back to the 18th century, right up to pieces from the current era. The museum allows insight into the changes over the many generations in the toys and interests of children. The museum is fun for everyone and most adults experience feelings of nostalgia looking back on toys they themselves might have played with.
12. Scotch Whiskey Experience
If you enjoy Scotch Whiskey, you might want to visit the Scotch Whisky Experience which is near the Camera Obscura on the Royal Mile. This is a great place to eat and drink as well as learn about whiskey. You can do some training or take a tour if you want more in-depth knowledge on whiskey as well as enjoy some tasting. If you are not a big fan of whiskey, most of the restaurant offer Scottish gins and beer (local brews are usually available too if you ask).
13. Scottish Food
While most restaurants in Edinburgh offer modern food, you might still want to find one that offers traditional Scottish food. What would a trip to Edinburgh be without sample some haggis? It is hard to find a traditional haggis now, but the modern versions are quite tasty and should be served with potatoes and turnips and possibly a whiskey sauce. Black pudding is another traditional food you might want to try. Other foods include Scottish Salmon, Stovies, Cullen Skink as well as a variety of meat dishes. You can also enjoy fish and chips almost anywhere. Other fares which are available all over the British Isles include Sunday roasts, Yorkshire pudding, meat pies, and massive breakfasts. Desserts include shortbread, Dundee cake and cranachan.
14. Scottish National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery
The Scottish National Gallery is on The Mound not far from the Scott Monument. This gallery houses a massive collection of paintings of local and international artists dating from the Renaissance era right up until the early part of the 20th century. Modern pieces can be found at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. The Scottish National Portrait Gallery, the first gallery built specifically to be a gallery (1889), houses portraits of Scottish people painted by national and international artists. There are also some photographs, prints, and statues housed here.
15. National Monument of Scotland
On Calton Hill is the National Monument of Scotland which was built to commemorate the Scottish soldiers who took part in the Napoleonic wars. Unfortunately, the monument was never completed. Construction originally began in 1829. Despite being incomplete, the monument showcases amazing architecture.
16. Usher Hall
Usher Hall is well-known as Edinburgh’s premier concert venue. The building features gorgeous architecture including panels of famous people. The venue features events such as sporting events, concerts, political events, and classical music performances. The hall is known for having amazing acoustics. A concert at Usher Hall is a must for fans of culture.
17. Festival Theatre
Another amazing place for culture is the Festival Theatre which was opened in 1994. This theatre was built from the remains on the Empire Palace theatre which had been built in 1892. The hall had seen decades of stars grace the stage such as David Bowie and Judy Garland among many others. You can see ballet, live music, comedy acts, operas and more at this 2000-seater theatre.
18. Scott Monument & Princes Street Gardens
Sir Walter Scott is a well-known writer and is part of the reason Edinburgh is a designated UNESCO City of Literature. The main train station is named Waverley after his first novel. Edinburgh has several monuments to Sir Scott, one of these being the Scott Monument on Princes Street. This is the world’s largest monument dedicated to a writer. Just below this monument is an area which was once marsh but was turned in to an artificial lake, Nor Loch. This lake was once a cesspool and used mostly as a defensive barrier. It was drained in the 1760s and transformed into two beautiful gardens separated by “The Mound”, a man-made hill.
This is a venue that hosts a variety of performances including workshops, talks, theatre performances, live music gigs, films and more. There is also a micro-brewery here where you can enjoy the locally made Barney’s Beer. They also offer meals to round off an evening out.
20. Harry Potter Fans
Edinburgh also has some spots that Harry Potter fans may be interested in. Nicolson’s Café is said to be where J.K.Rowling started her first Harry Potter Novel. This is now a bistro named Spoon. The Elephant House is also famed as a spot where Rowling wrote several the Potter series. There are tours offered to places of interest and if you can afford it, you can even stay in the J.K. Rowling suite in the Balmoral Hotel. Greyfriar’s Kirkyard is said to inspire some of the names of characters such as Thomas Riddell. Visit the Hogwarts-like George Heriot’s School or the Diagon Alley look-alike street, Victoria Street.
This is just a small scratch on the surface of the places to see and visit while in Edinburgh. These 20 places make up our list of best things to do in Edinburgh, Scotland but if you have the time to explore, you will probably find many more to add to your list. To hear about our trip to London, Paris, and Scotland check out our show notes page.
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