25 Best Things To Do in Edinburgh, Scotland In 2024

Are you looking for things to do in Edinburgh? Edinburgh is a city of historical, royal, gory, and ghost stories. It is a potent blend of old and new at every turn. From the iconic Edinburgh Castle, perched majestically over the city, to the lively festivals that animate its streets, Edinburgh is a destination that promises unforgettable adventures. Explore the mysterious beauty of the Old Town, dive into the city’s flourishing arts scene, or relish the culinary delights in its numerous eateries. Whether you’re a history buff, a culture enthusiast, or an urban explorer, Edinburgh has something to captivate every traveler.

Best Things to do in Edinburgh, Scotland

Best Things to Do in Edinburgh

Having lived in Edinburgh all my life, it is not surprising that I think the city is incredible. With a massive amount of history, exciting nightlife, and epic places to see, you can quickly become overwhelmed by everything to do in Edinburgh. It is not only a great place to visit but to live as well.

If you are visiting Edinburgh for the first time, it can be a little intimidating. So we asked Edinburgh, an Edinburgh resident, to share the best insider tips and attractions, but we also have updated our Edinburgh guide to provide you with up-to-date information about the best Edinburgh attractions and tips for planning the perfect trip to this incredible city.

1. Edinburgh Castle

things to do in Edinburgh Castle

Visiting Edinburgh Castle is probably the number one thing to do in Edinburgh. It has been a vital fortification involved in military and strategic endeavors since the 12th century and has been continuously occupied in some form since then.

Edinburgh Castle proudly sits atop one of the city’s extinct volcanos, Castle Rock, and houses many treasures like The Stone of Destiny and the oldest crown jewels in the UK. If you are into Scottish history you must visit this Castle as it once housed important figures such as Mary Queen of Scots and Bonnie Prince Charlie.

If you are a real Royal fan, get yourself the Royal Edinburgh Ticket. It saves you money on this and other attractions such as, Holyrood Palace, The Royal Yacht Britannia, and 48-hour access to the HOHO Bus! Get Your Royal Edinburgh Ticket Here

things to do in edinburgh castle grounds

Make sure to stroll the grounds. You’ll be impressed by the massive cannons, The Great Hall, and, of course, the Chapel that dates back to the 12th Century.

The castle has been home to royalty, the chief seat of power, and a military base throughout the years. The one o’clock gun goes off from the front of the castle every day except Sunday. It is something you don’t want to miss. The gun was implemented to help with shipping and to keep time.

Insider Tip – Edinburgh Castle is one of the most popular attractions in the city and can get very busy, so try to visit in the morning if you can. I recommend that you book your ticket in advance and get one with fast track entry which will allow you to skip the ticket lines, especially if you are visiting during the busy summer season.

  • Hours: Summer (April 1-Sept 30) 9.30 am-6 pm (last entry at 5pm). Winter (Oct 1-Mar 31) 9.30 am-5 pm (last entry 4 pm).
  • Price to Enter: Right now you must book a ticket in advance online for entry. Adult £15.50 online, Concessions £12.40 online, Children 5-15 £9.30 online. Under 5s are free.

2. The Royal Mile

Things to do in Edinburgh The Royal Mile

The Royal Mile is the oldest part of the city and is one of my favorite things to do in Edinburgh. In brief, The Royal Mile runs from Edinburgh Castle all the way down the volcanic trail that takes you to Holyrood Palace – a mile down. Hence the name The Royal Mile.

Walking the Royal Mile in Edinburgh is an essential experience for visitors leading you past a series of notable landmarks, quirky shops, and inviting cafes. As you wander its cobbled streets, you’ll encounter the fascinating St. Giles’ Cathedral, numerous museums, and hidden closes (alleyways), each telling its own story of the city’s past and present.

The Royal Mile is also a hub for cultural events, particularly during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, where street performers and artists bring the area to life.

Even though the Royal Mile walk itself will only take you 15 minutes directly, I’d recommend spending a few hours here. Start at the castle and work your way down – it is easier walking downhill! If you plan to visit in the summer make sure to plan around the Edinburgh Fringe Festival as you won’t be able to move in the streets. Is this your first time in Edinburgh? If so, check out our 3 Day Edinburgh Itinerary

3. Holyrood Palace

Best Things to do in Edinburgh Holyrood Palace

Holyrood Palace, which is located at one end of the Royal Mile and right across the street from the Scottish Parliament, is one of the most important palaces in Scotland. It is used as a museum for most of the year and is the official home to the Queen and the Royal family when they come to visit.

The Abbey was built before the palace dating back to 1128, by order of King David 1st of Scotland. In the 15th century, the abbey’s guesthouse was made into a royal residence and has been used by British royalty ever since. It is an important part of Scottish history.

Make sure to visit Mary Queen of Scots chambers. They are pretty impressive—one quick note. Photography is not allowed inside but you can take photos of the gardens, exterior, and the Abbey. If you are interested at all in the Royal Family, then you will want to add this to your list.

Admission to Holyrood Palace: They are only taking timed entries at the moment so they must be booked in advance. This tour offers a free audio guide as well.

Exploring Victoria Street in Edinburgh is a delightful experience for travelers seeking a blend of unique shopping and architectural beauty. This historic street, with its distinctive curve and colorful facades, is a hub for independent boutiques, artisan shops, and gourmet eateries.

It’s a treasure trove for those looking for rare books, bespoke jewelry, and Scottish crafts. The street’s upper level offers an array of cozy cafes and restaurants, perfect for a culinary break. Victoria Street’s distinctive architecture, with its Old Town character and neatly stacked shops, provides a picturesque backdrop for a leisurely stroll. This area, often cited as an inspiration for the famous Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter series, adds a touch of magic to the shopping experience. For visitors to Edinburgh, a walk down Victoria Street is not just a shopping trip; it’s a journey through a vibrant part of the city’s cultural tapestry.

5. Scottish National Gallery

Top things to do in Edinburgh Scottish National Gallery

When visiting Edinburgh you must make sure to take a trip to The Scottish National Gallery. This is a fantastic Greek-columned complex that is art situated right in the middle of Princes Street in the very center of Edinburgh.

It consists of two buildings; the main National Gallery is the building at the back, with the one at the front being part of the Royal Scottish Academy. The main gallery holds permanent collections and is always free to visit.

If you are an art lover the Scottish National Gallery has you covered. With art from Van Gogh, Cezanne, and Gauguin to works from Scottish artists like Reverent Robert Walking and Henry Raeburn, the Scottish National Gallery has one of the premier collections in the UK. If you are an art lover, like I am, this will be one of the best things in Edinburgh that you will do.

  • Currently, you must book a timed entry ticket on their website.
  • Scottish National Gallery Hours: 10 am-5 pm daily (Thursdays extended until 7 pm).
  • Cost to Enter the Scottish National Gallery: Free for permanent exhibitions, some at RSA have a fee.
things to do in edinburgh scottish national gallery of modern art

Nestled in a picturesque setting with extensive grounds, the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art houses an impressive collection of modern and contemporary art, featuring works by renowned artists like Picasso, Warhol, and Hockney.

The two buildings, Modern One and Modern Two, each offer a distinct experience with their thought-provoking exhibitions and interactive installations. The gallery hosts a variety of workshops, talks, and temporary exhibitions, making every visit unique. Whether you’re an art connoisseur or simply curious, the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art presents an engaging cultural experience, adding a contemporary twist to Edinburgh’s diverse attractions.

The gallery’s tranquil sculpture park, dotted with striking artworks, provides a serene escape from the city’s hustle.

7. National Museum of Scotland

Visit National Museum of Scotland things to do in Edinburgh

If you are a museum lover then this will be at the top of your list when looking for things to do in Edinburgh. The National Museum of Scotland is situated on Chamber’s Street in the old town and is a fine Victorian building that opened in 1866.

The National Museum is free and the extensive range of topics covered is fantastic. Whether you’re interested in Scottish history, technology, inventions, world cultures, music, natural history, royalty, gory history, ancient civilizations, or natural disasters, it will have something for you.

You could definitely spend a lot of time in the National Museum, which welcomes over 2 million visitors a year, so make sure to plan accordingly.

If the weather is nice, make sure to head up to the rooftop terrace where you can take in some incredible views of the city and the surrounding area.

8. Visit or Climb the Scott Monument

Scott Monument things to do in Edinburgh Scotland

The Scott Monument, located at the eastern end of Princes Street Gardens, is not only one of the city’s most impressive monuments It also offers some unique views of Edinburgh Castle and other Edinburgh attractions.

Dedicated to the famous Scottish author Sir Walter Scott, the Scot Monument is a Gothic spire standing tall in the heart of the city. As you ascend the 287 steps to the top, you’ll be rewarded with unparalleled vistas of the Edinburgh skyline and its surroundings. Climbing up the narrow staircase of the Scott Monument may be one of the more adventurous things to do in Edinburgh but make sure to stop on the first level and learn a little more about the revered Scottish writer Sir Walter Scott.

Along the climb, you can pause at the viewing platforms to admire the intricate design and the sculptural details depicting characters from Scott’s novels. The monument’s location in Princes Street Gardens makes it a convenient stop for visitors exploring the city center.

Built-in 1832 to commemorate the death of Sir Walter Scott, this gothic spire stands 200 feet high and is intricately decorated with beloved characters from his books. If you are interested in literature and the writings of Sir Walter Scott as well as Robert Burns, Robert Louis Stevenson, and other Scottish writers we also recommend visiting the Writers Museum near the Royal Mile.

9. Climb Calton Hill

Best Things to do in Edinburgh Scotland

The top of Calton Hill is one of the best spots for a spectacular view of the Edinburgh skyline, especially at sunset. It is a much easier climb than Arthur’s Seat, taking less than ten minutes to reach the top from Regent Road.

The top of Calton hill is home to the Nelson Monument (that looks like a sort of upside-down telescope), the National Monument, which is designed similarly to the Parthenon in Athens in Greece, and the City Observatory.

Even though the national monument remains unfinished 200 years later, it’s still very popular among visitors. Calton Hill is also a great place to enjoy the fireworks above the castle during Hogmanay.

10. Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

fun things to do in Edinburgh Scotland Royal Botanic Gardens

The Royal Botanic Garden is situated outside the city centre by the lovely village of Stockbridge and has been there since the Victorian era. It is another great place to get away from the crowds and enjoy nature, but here it is cultivated nature, with many beautiful flowerbeds. There are gardens and flora from many different countries including China, Japan, France, Spain, and Australia.

  • Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh Hours: Daily 10am-6pm.
  • Cost: Gardens free. Glasshouse £6.

11. Mary King’s Close

things to do in edinburgh The Real Mary King's Close

The Real Mary King’s Close is one of the coolest things to do in Edinburgh, mainly because it is all underneath the streets of Old Town and the Royal Mile.

What was once one of the busiest streets in the city was covered by construction back in the 19th century. But you can get a look at what life was like between the 16th and 19th centuries with a tour of the Real Mary King’s close.

You can only explore the area with a designated guide, so we suggest booking a guided tour to get the most out of this great Edinburgh attraction. FYI, there are no photos allowed on the tour.

12. Camera Obscura & World of Illusions

things to do in Edinburgh Camera Obscura and World of Illusions

Camera Obscura & World of Illusions is by far one of the most fun things to do in Edinburgh, especially if you are visiting Edinburgh with kids. This attraction is made up of 2 different areas. The first is the World of Illusions, which is several floors of magic displays, optical illusions, interactive exhibits, and other fun things that everyone will enjoy. Make sure to try the Vortex!

But the main attraction is on the roof, which is the Camera Obscura. This is basically an old-fashioned projection system, but the demonstration and the story behind are what make this the star attraction. If cameras and magic are not too much of interest, the views from the rooftop over Edinburgh are definitely worth it as well. You can read the reviews and book your tickets here.

13. St Giles Cathedral

Visit St Giles Cathedral interesting things to do in Edinburgh

There is no shortage of churches in Edinburgh and most are quite impressive. But if you decide to visit only one of them you should make it to this one. It is hard to miss the crown-shaped steeple of St Giles Cathedral which dates back to the 14th century and is an icon of the Edinburgh skyline.

Located close to Old Town and the Royal Mile, it is impressive from the outside but I find the inside to be really beautiful. Don’t miss the Thistle Chapel (make sure to check out the ceiling) or the rooftop tour to make the most of your time there. Admission is upon donation and you can purchase a photography permit for 2 pounds at the information desk if you want to take photos inside, which I recommend.

14. Royal Yacht Britannia

Royal Yacht Britannia things to do in Edinburgh

You cannot visit Edinburgh and not visit The Royal Yacht Britannia in Leith. It is definitely one of the most popular things to do in Edinburgh.

This floating museum was Her Majesty the Queen’s ex-Royal Yacht. Built back in 1953 it served as the Royal Yacht until it was decommissioned in 1957. Several decks are open to the public to view the various staterooms and public rooms of the vessel.

You can take the audio tour to get all the inside royal details or you can have Afternoon Tea at the Royal Deck Tea Room for the full experience. Since it is Scotland’s Best Attraction according to the tourism site, you will want to book your ticket in advance to avoid the crowds.

  • Hours: 9.30 am-4.30 pm.
  • Cost to visit the Royal Yacht Britannia: £17.00/15.00 concession, £8.75 for children 5-17.

15. Georgian House Museum

The Georgian House is a museum in Charlotte Square, which showcases the lifestyle of the high Georgian society in Edinburgh’s New Town (George Street). Built in 1796, and located in New town, its first owner was John Lamont, who was the 18th clan chief of the clan Lamont.

He moved to the city centre to find the best education for his sons and the best husbands for his daughters. People interested in Georgian times, architecture, and lifestyles would enjoy visiting the Georgian House at No. 7 Charlotte Square.

  • Note: They are closed at the moment. Please check their website for up-to-date hours.
  • Hours: Summer hours (April-October) 10 am-5 pm daily. Winter hours (November-March) 10 am-4.15 pm daily.

16. Scottish National Portrait Gallery

Visiting the Scottish National Portrait Gallery things to do in Edinburgh
Scottish National Portrait Gallery

The National Portrait Gallery is one of Edinburgh’s best art galleries. If you are a fan of portraiture, then this is one of the things to do in Edinburgh that you don’t want to miss. It holds hundreds of paintings of distinguished Scots from royalty, lords, and ladies, to artists, poets and writers.

The gallery has a mix of mediums, from oil paintings to watercolors, to photography. Also, there is a statue of Robert Burns – Scotland’s bard – welcoming in the foyer.

17. Take a Ghost Tour

Taking a Ghost Tour best things to do in Edinburgh Scotland
Haunted Edinburgh Tour

Edinburgh is reputedly one of the most haunted cities in the world. One of the factors that contribute to this includes the hundreds of plague sufferers who were walled in, in the old streets underneath the Royal Mile.

Another factor is all the hangings that happened in the Grassmarket, where some of the unhappy souls, and grieved innocent people hanged haunt the city. This is my favorite Ghost tour in Edinburgh. Great guides and actually quite scary.

18. Princes Street Gardens

Things to do in Edinburgh princes street gardens

Princes Street Gardens is located in the middle of Edinburgh, on Princes Street right beneath Edinburgh Castle. They used to be the site of the Nor Loch – the North Loch which was drained when the New Town was built in the 1760s. The gardens have a wonderful view of the castle, and it is a great place to stroll or stop for a picnic.

They are also home to the Edinburgh Christmas market. If you are visiting in the winter you want to make sure to take this in.

19. The Grassmarket Gallows

Grassmarket Gallows in Edinburgh Scotland

The Grassmarket is a bustling part of Edinburgh, which has great nightlife and places to eat, as well as an intriguing past. Situated in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle to the south, it is named, as it was the market where all animals that ate grass –as well as the grasses to feed them – were sold.

The bustling square hosts a food and craft market on Sundays and has a plethora of great old character-filled pubs to visit and great restaurants to sample Scottish or international food. Common criminals who had been sentenced to death were hanged here on the spot, which now is a raised platform with a cross on it.

Some infamous Edinburgh criminals such as mass murderer William Burke and thief Deacon Brodie met their end here.

20. Harry Potter in Edinburgh

Things to do in Edinburgh Harry Potter

You cannot say you have completed the best things to do in Edinburgh without taking in some of the Harry Potter attractions. JK Rowling lived in Edinburgh when she started writing Harry Potter, and during most of her time writing the tomes, so there are lots of links to the stories for those interested. If you are a Harry Potter fan you will love Edinburgh.

To get the best Harry Potter experience, take a tour. This Harry Potter Walking Tour is one of the best in the city and is really affordable.

21. Tour the Harry Potter Locations in Edinburgh

Harry Potter Locations in Edinburgh

You don’t need to take a guided tour to enjoy Harry Potter locations in Edinburgh. You can visit many by yourself. Here are a few of my favorites.

The Elephant Café – On George Fourth Bridge. This is a café where Rowling did a lot of writing during her early stages of the books.

Greyfriar’s Kirk – The grave of Scottish poet McGonagall was the inspiration for the character Ms. McGonagall, as Rowling enjoyed the irony of naming a very literate and clever character after someone infamous for his terrible poems.

Hogwarts – The description of Hogwarts is said to be an amalgamation of inspiration from three private schools in Edinburgh, Stuarts Melville, Fettes College, and George Heriots. All three schools aren’t far from the city center, with George Heriots situated right behind Greyfriar’s Kirkyard if you visit there, so are easy to go to see.

The Boy Wizard Shops– Harry Potter shops called The Boy Wizard are popping up around Edinburgh for all your Potter merchandise needs. There is currently one on South Bridge, The Royal Mile, inside the Tartan Weaving Center right next to the Castle downstairs, and one just opened in Edinburgh airport!

22. A Scotch Whisky Experience

Try scotch Whiskey Experience best things to do in Edinburgh Scotland

You cannot visit Scotland and have a Scotch Whisky experience. Scottish Whisky is famous, and it is Dave’s favorite spirit. Even if you aren’t a scotch drinker, a Scotch Whisky experience is a fun tour to learn about the whisky process and to understand why it is so popular worldwide.

For those who are looking for just a taste, I recommend The Silver Tour, which is their most affordable, and if you are more of a connoisseur, check out the Platinum Tour or the Masterclass. This place can get pretty busy, so I suggest grabbing a Skip the Line Ticket, especially if you visit Visit Edinburgh during the summer.

Edinburgh offers many scotch tours throughout the city, and I have done a few. The Scotch Whisky Experience above is my favorite, but if you want to check some more of the city try this History of Whiskey Tour.

This highly-rated tour takes you through one of the world’s largest collections of Scotch whisky. Discover the art of blending and the secrets of single-malt whisky across our five whisky-producing regions.

23. The Edinburgh Dungeon

Edinburgh has a long and tumultuous history. Visiting The Edinburgh Dungeon is a must if you like exploring a little of the macabre. This experience is done well with live actors, special effects, and underground rides.

Walk the plagued roads of 1645, avoid Burke and Hare and you could even face prosecution at trial. The Edinburgh Dungeon holds late-night events as well that are adults only. You are guaranteed to have a good time.

24. Greyfriars Bobby

Greyfriar's Bobby best things to do in Edinburgh
Greyfriars Bobby

Greyfriar’s Bobby is the tale of a wee dog from the Greyfriars area of Edinburgh. His is a tale of friendship and devotion. A kind local policeman named Jock Grey adopted a little Skye terrier and named him Bobby when he was just a couple of weeks old. The pair soon became the best of friends, going everywhere, including the local pub by Greyfriar’s Kirk (church), together.

Sadly after only two years together, Jock passed away from tuberculosis, and Bobby was left masterless. The wee dog was broken-hearted, so he spent every night of the rest of his life – another 14 years – sleeping on Jock’s grave. He was taken in by the community, given a license by the Lord Provost of Edinburgh, and has been a folk hero since.

Many people have taken to rubbing the statue of Bobby’s nose for luck and taking a photo with him, so don’t miss visiting the city’s favorite canine.

25. Climb Arthur’s Seat and walk in Holyrood Park

what to do in Edinburgh Scotland Arthur's seat and Holyrood Park

If you are looking for the best views of the city then you will want to climb up to the top of Arthur’s Seat for sure. Arthur’s Seat and Salisbury Crags are the hills in Edinburgh’s city center and can be seen from almost anywhere in the city.

It is the site of a 350 million-year-old extinct volcano. The last eruption was more than 100 million years ago. Arthur’s Seat used to be a royal park (you can see from noting the crowns on the lamps on the way in), but was gifted by the Queen to the people, so is now a public park (Holyrood Park).

The easiest route up to Arthur’s Seat is to take the grassy slope on the east side from Dunsapie Loch on Queen’s Drive. It takes about 30 minutes to reach the top and is a relatively easy hike (but a bit steep). Make sure to dress for the weather as it can quite windy at the top.

We suggest heading up to Artur’s Seat for Sunset. The views of the city are magnificent and you are only 15 minutes from the city center. If you are looking for an alternative for sunset, Calton Hill is great.

How Much Time Should You Spend in Edinburgh?

Visiting Edinburgh Scotland

Like most places, the amount of time you need in a city is solely dependent on how much you want to see and do.

We recommend spending at least 3 Days in Edinburgh, in order to take full advantage of visiting all the main Edinburgh attractions like Old Town, Arthur’s Seat, and Calton Hill as well as some of the more unique things like a ghost tour.

If you are really into Scottish history and Museums you might want to give yourself a little longer.

When is the best time to visit Edinburgh?

best things to do in edinburgh when to visit

The best time to visit Edinburgh is in the summer. There are a lot of things happening and you are going to get the best weather. August is also the month when a lot of festivals take place such as the Edinburgh international festival, so you will want to factor that into your planning. The only caveat is that it will be quite busy.

If you want to visit when it is a little less crowded then the shoulder seasons of Spring and Fall are for you. Accommodation prices are a bit lower and the main attractions are less busy.

Don’t write off winter though, especially if you want to visit the Edinburgh Christmas Market.

How to Get to Edinburgh

There are direct flights to Edinburgh from any of the UK’s major cities and around Europe.

Plus many major cities are connected to the Scottish capital by train. The main train station is the Waverley Train Station but you can also take the train to Haymarket.

Buses also operate between London and Edinburgh.

Getting Around Edinburgh

The beauty of a compact city like Edinburgh is that you can easily access a lot of the main attractions on foot. If you are not into doing some walking (and some hill climbing) you can access the cities efficient bus and tram lines as well as the well-run taxi service.

There is also the HOHO Bust that is offered free for 48 hours on the Edinburgh Pass, another great way to get around.

Final Thoughts on Visiting Edinburgh

And that is my guide to the best things to do in Edinburgh, Scotland. Visiting these Edinburgh attractions should give you a great starting point when planning your trip to Edinburgh.

Regardless of whether you are visiting for a week or a weekend, I have tried to include things that are free to do as well as a lot of low-cost items. I hope you enjoy visiting my city as much as I do living here.

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