Things to do in Edinburgh

Things to do in  Edinburgh

Whisky, whisky, and more whisky

Steeped in Celtic and medieval history—and fondly nicknamed Auld Reekie—Edinburgh is a UNESCO World Heritage–listed city widely considered the prettiest in Scotland. Edinburgh Castle’s mighty fortifications dominate the skyline, while the Royal Mile sweeps through the old town to the city below. From the annual Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo to the Edinburgh Fringe, the city hosts a stellar selection of festivals and celebrations that draw crowds from all over. No visit to Edinburgh is complete without a taster of Scotch whisky, and if you’re looking for a change from the city streets, the soaring peaks of the Scottish Highlands are never far away.

Top 15 attractions in Edinburgh

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle—with its fortress walls, cobbled promenades, and winding stone steps—has loomed over Scotland’s capital city for more than 1,000 years. Steeped in history, the former royal residence is now a museum, featuring detailed exhibits; period artifacts, such as the Scottish Crown Jewels; and dark dungeons that illuminate the castle’s storied past.More

Royal Mile

The atmospheric Royal Mile thoroughfare cuts through the historic core of Scotland’s capital city, Edinburgh, extending for slightly more than a mile (1.6 kilometers) from Edinburgh Castle all the way to the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Both sides of the partly pedestrianized street are bordered by historic granite buildings bearing shop display windows piled high with symbols of Scotland, from tartan to whisky to shortbread. In between the former tenements and taverns are darkened arm-width-wide alleyways, known locally as closes.More

Edinburgh Old Town

The historic heart of Edinburgh, UNESCO-listed Old Town, is home to the city’s most visited sights. Its central artery is the Royal Mile, which connects Edinburgh Castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, and is lined with top attractions including St. Giles Cathedral, Camera Obscura and World of Illusions, and the Scottish Parliament Building.More

Stirling Castle

Perched above the city of Stirling on a chunk of volcanic rock, this mighty Scottish fortress has seen it all, from attacks by Robert the Bruce to the coronation of the infant Mary Queen of Scots to the premiere of the movie “Braveheart” in 1993. In addition to the impeccably recreated Royal Palace interiors and the sheer amount of history held within its robust walls, the castle also offers superb views over Stirling and Scotland’s green hills and valleys.More

Scott Monument

One of Edinburgh’s most recognizable landmarks, the Scott Monument is a tribute to celebrated Scottish author and Edinburgh native son Sir Walter Scott. This imposing gothic tower stands 200 feet (61 meters) tall and dominates the skyline of New Town. Climb the 287 steps to the top for splendid views over the city.More

St. Giles Cathedral

The official church of the Church of Scotland, St. Giles Cathedral and its famous crown spire tower over the Royal Mile in Edinburgh’s Old Town. With a history stretching back over 900 years, St. Giles is renowned for its beautiful stained glass windows, ornate Thistle Chapel, and busy concert calendar.More

Palace of Holyroodhouse

Set amid splendid gardens at the foot of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, the Palace of Holyroodhouse is the official Scottish residence of the British royals, who first decamped here from nearby Edinburgh Castle back in the 15th century. The complex grew from a 12th-century abbey, whose ruins can still be seen on the grounds, into a full-fledged Baroque palace complete with elaborate plasterwork, sumptuous furnishings, and a number of tapestries. The palace is perhaps most famous for having hosted to the rather unfortunate Mary, Queen of Scots, whose beloved secretary was slaughtered here by her jealous second husband.More


Steeped in history, the Grassmarket is located directly below Edinburgh Castle and is just a minute’s walk from the famous Royal Mile and the National Museum of Scotland. A vibrant and historic area, here visitors can soak up the medieval atmosphere while marvelling at one of the most iconic views in the city, the mighty Edinburgh Castle.A stroll over the George IV Bridge leads to the Greyfriars Bobby statue and through some of Edinburgh’s oldest and most famous streets, including Candlemaker Row, Victoria Street, and West Port.The Grassmarket was traditionally a meeting point for market traders and cattle drovers, with temporary lodgings and taverns all around. It was also once a place of public execution, and a memorial near the site once occupied by the gibbet was created in 1937 to commemorate more than 100 people who died on the gallows in a period known as The Killing Time.Nowadays, the old market area is surrounded by pubs, clubs, shops, and two large hotels. Most buildings in the area are Victorian, with several modern buildings on the area’s south side.More

Forth Bridge

The Forth Bridge, the distinctive red-hued cantilevered railway bridge that arches over the Firth of Forth close to Edinburgh, is one of Scotland’s most recognizable symbols. A triumph of engineering, the bridge is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its 1,709-foot (521-meter single cantilever span is the second-longest in the world.More

Arthur's Seat

One of several peaks in the long-extinct volcanic ridge that towers behind Edinburgh, Arthur’s Seat offers hill walking in the heart of the city. Set within the 640-acre (260-hectare) Holyrood Park, it’s also the site of a 2,000-year-old hill fort. On a clear day, the summit promises spectacular views of the cityscape.More

Calton Hill

Looming over Edinburgh’s UNESCO World Heritage-listed Old Town, Calton Hill is one of the seven hills that the Scottish capital is built on. Come here for 360-degree views that encompass Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace, and, on a clear day, the Firth of Forth.More

National Museum of Scotland

Set across two buildings—one Victorian and one modern—and featuring a collection of more than 20,000 artifacts, the National Museum of Scotland is one of Edinburgh’s top visitor attractions. The diverse exhibits cover anything and everything to do with Scotland, including natural history, art, fashion, science, and archaeology.More

Loch Lomond

Straddling the Scottish Highlands and Lowlands, this island-studded loch has the largest surface area of Scotland’s lakes. Made famous by a Scottish folk song, the lake has mirror-clear waters that reflect the nearby crags and peaks, most notably the 3,195-foot (974-meter) Ben Lomond, with views of Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park.More

Scotch Whisky Experience

Established in 1988 in an old private school building, the Scotch Whisky Experience offers visitors a range of tours and tastings. The center, located in the UNESCO World Heritage–listed Old Town of Edinburgh, houses one of the world's largest collections of Scotch whisky—nearly 3,400 bottles—as well as a restaurant, bar, and shop.More

Scottish Parliament

The Scottish Parliament complex, opened by the late Queen Elizabeth II in 2004, sits across from Arthur’s Seat at the end of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile. Known for having one of the most innovative and controversial designs in Britain, Parliament is a must-see on any Edinburgh itinerary; various tours are available for those who want to explore the building.More

Trip ideas

Top activities in Edinburgh

Loch Ness & Highlands Day Tour Including Cruise from Edinburgh
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Underground Walking Tour in Edinburgh

Underground Walking Tour in Edinburgh

3-Day Isle of Skye and Highlands from Edinburgh Inc Accommodation
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St Andrews & the Fishing Villages of Fife Small-Group Day Tour from Edinburgh
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Isle of Skye, The Highlands and Loch Ness- 3 Day Group Tour from Edinburgh
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Outlander Adventure Tour from Edinburgh Including Admissions
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3-Day Isle of Skye and Scottish Highlands Small-Group Tour from Edinburgh
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All about Edinburgh

When to visit

Edinburgh truly comes to life in the summer, when the city hosts a number of festivals, including the world’s largest performing arts festival, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. This is peak season, though, so summer visitors should be prepared to contend with large crowds and higher-than-normal hotel rates. Spring is a good alternative if you’re not planning to attend the festival; the city is particularly beautiful when the flowers in parks and gardens are in full bloom.

Getting around

Most of Edinburgh’s main attractions can easily be reached on foot—in fact, wandering around the history-filled streets is the best way to get a feel for city. If you need to travel longer distances, to see attractions like the Royal Yacht Britannia in Leith, hop on one of the city’s convenient buses: you can buy tickets on the bus, but you’ll need exact change. The city’s tram network is of little use to visitors.

Traveler tips

The Secret Herb Garden, which is nestled in farmland on the edge of the Pentland Hills, on the outskirts of the city, is an ideal place to escape Edinburgh’s crowds. Spend a few relaxing hours wandering the grounds, shop for potted herbs, have a coffee or lunch in the vine-filled café and bistro, and pick up a bottle of gin from the on-site distillery.

Local Currency
British Pound (£)
Time Zone
BST (UTC +1)
Country Code

A local’s pocket guide to Edinburgh

Will Thompson

Will lived and studied near Edinburgh during his university years. He also worked for the Fringe Festival during the summertime.

The first thing you should do in Edinburgh is...

download the Transport for Edinburgh app. Bus and tram are by far the easiest ways to cross the city.

A perfect Saturday in Edinburgh...

includes a trip to the Camera Obscura, lunch on the Royal Mile, and a walk around Holyrood Park or the Royal Botanical Gardens. Finish up with dinner and drinks in New Town.

One touristy thing that lives up to the hype is...

the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, a whole month of art and theatre. You never know what you might see, especially with the Street Events along the Royal Mile.

To discover the "real" Edinburgh...

head south of Princes Street and towards the Meadows where you can enjoy all the great Edinburgh architecture, as well as the city’s parks.

For the best view of the city...

you should hike to Arthur’s Seat at the top of Holyrood Park. If you want an easier walk, take a quick trip up to Edinburgh Castle instead.

One thing people get wrong...

is believing that fried Mars Bars are something locals actually eat. However, if you do want to try one, you’ll find them in some Edinburgh chip shops.

People Also Ask

What is Edinburgh famous for?

Edinburgh is often said to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It’s famous for its historic attractions, which include its castle and the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Old and New Towns, and its literary heritage. Edinburgh is also famously a festival city, home to the world’s largest art festival.

What should I not miss in Edinburgh?

As well as visiting Edinburgh Castle and wandering around the Old Town and New Town, you should make time for the excellent National Museum of Scotland, whose collection includes everything from ancient Egyptian artifacts to works by Scottish artists and designers, and a cloned sheep. Best of all, it’s free to enter.

What is the most visited place in Edinburgh?

With up to 2.2 million visitors a year, the National Museum of Scotland is Edinburgh’s most visited attraction. Edinburgh Castle attracts a similar number of visitors each year, making it the city’s most-visited paid attraction. The Scottish National Gallery and St. Giles Cathedral are the next most visited attractions.

How can I spend 3 days in Edinburgh?

With three days in Edinburgh you’ll have enough time to thoroughly explore both the Old and New Towns, as well as the city’s most famous attractions, including Edinburgh Castle, the National Museum of Scotland, and the Royal Yacht Britannia. You’ll also have time for a day trip to Rosslyn Chapel or North Berwick.

Is Edinburgh a safe city?

Yes, Edinburgh is generally a safe city. You are unlikely to have any problems wandering around the city during the day. Even at night you’re unlikely to have any problems as long as you stick to the main streets and well-lit areas—it’s best not to walk across the Meadows on your own at night.

Is Edinburgh expensive?

No. Edinburgh is not particularly cheap (and living costs for residents can be high) but neither is it expensive to visit compared to other major European cities—and it’s certainly more budget-friendly than London. Prices for hotels and eating out are quite high, but are balanced by the number of free attractions you can visit.

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