22 of the best things to do in Edinburgh, Scotland

Looking for things to do in Edinburgh? Well, look no further, as this comprehensive guide will give you a wheeng (Scottish word for a huge amount) of information so you can make the most out of your time in Scotland’s historic capital city.

Travel writer, Edinburgh native and official Edinburgh tour guide Karen Worrall shares her extensive knowledge of her city with us. This will help guide you through some of the highlights of magnificent Edinburgh.

Things to do in Edinburgh

top things to do in Edinburgh Scotland Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh is full of stories. Historic stories, royal stories, gory stories, and ghost stories. It is a potent blend of old and new at every turn.

I’m going to give you my top tips of where to go, and what to see and do in this bewitching place.

There are some affiliate links in the post below where theplanetd will earn a commission if you make a purchase but there is no extra cost to you!

The Top Edinburgh Attractions

Edinburgh is living history. The Old and New Towns of Edinburgh’s city center is a World Heritage Site. Every street, alley, and almost every building has a tale to tell.

It has always been a hub of intellectuality. Innovations in science, medicine, geology, technology, and literature have all started here.

It is the home of JK Rowling, Arthur Conan Doyle, Alexander Graham Bell, and Greyfriar’s Bobby. It appeals to all tastes.

 

1. Edinburgh Castle

Things to do in Edinburgh - Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle 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.

Archaeologists think the castle’s site has been occupied since the Bronze Age.

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 can be seen close up in the castle, or seen a little and certainly heard from all of central Edinburgh going down to the First of Forth.

The gun was implemented to help with shipping and to keep time.

How to Visit Edinburgh Castle

Hours: Summer (April 1-Sept 30) 9.30am-6pm (last entry at 5pm). Winter (Oct 1-Mar 31) 9.30am-5pm (last entry 4pm).

Price: £19.50 gate price (£17.50 online), £16 gate (£14 online) concessions, children 5-15 £11.50 (£10.50 online). Under 5s free. Book tickets online for the reduced price.

What to see in Edinburgh Castle

  • Honors – See Scotland’s Crown Jewels and the Stone of Destiny. It has a colorful history of being stolen, which you can learn from going around the exhibit. The Honors of the Kingdom are among the oldest in Europe dating back to 1340
  • St Margaret’s Chapel – the oldest building in the castle, and in Edinburgh dating back to 1093, built for Queen Margaret. It is still used for worship and weddings.
  • The Great Hall - Decorated with weapons and intricate wood paneling as well as paintings of Monarchy. Late September until May, actors dressed as period characters give information about “their” life and times.
  • The War Memorial – The poignant memorial hall is dedicated to the soldiers who fell in the First and Second World Wars.
  • Mons Meg – The giant canon built in the town of Mons in Belgium was made to destroy castles.
  • Mary Queen of Scots’ chambers – The bedchamber where Mary gave birth to her only son James, who became her legacy and became the first King of both Scotland and England is worth climbing up to.
  • Prisons of War – Built in 1781, you can go in and see what the prison would’ve been like then.

Save valuable vacation time and book a Skip the Line tour of Edinburgh Castle. This 1.5-hour guided tour lets you skip the line and gives access to the castle, National War Museum, and National Monument. After the tour, feel free to explore on your own time.

Free cancellation within 24 hours notice.

2. The Royal Mile

what to do in Edinburgh The Royal Mile

The Royal Mile

The Royal Mile is the oldest part of the city.

This is Edinburgh’s Old Town and Old High Street. It is chock full of history and stories worthy of its own guide.

In brief, it runs from Edinburgh Castle all the way down the volcanic tail that takes you to Holyrood Palace – a mile down (well, pretty much, some people like to be pedantic and say its actually a few feet over a mile).

I’d recommend spending a few hours here, beginning at the castle (whether you go inside to visit or just take photos from the esplanade outside it) and working your way down – it is easier walking downhill!

The street itself is charming and has many traditional pubs with live Scottish music and Scottish menus and many places to have a scotch whisky experience.

It also has a plethora of souvenir and quirky shops, 49 of which sell tartan (I counted!)

Take time to walk down some of its many closes (small alleys) as they all have stories and many have plaques on the walls telling about these, and outside John Knox House there is a board with a lot of general info.

Hours: The street open 24 hours. Shops generally 9am-6pm, restaurants and bars generally 11am-11pm but some will differ.

Cost: Free to stroll.

back to top

3. Holyrood Palace

edinburgh sightseeing hollyrood palace

Holyrood Palace is one of the most important palaces in Scotland. It is used as a museum most of the year, and Scottish home for 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.

What to See in Holyrood Palace

It is made up of royal apartments and is home to thousands of works of art from the Royal Collection.

My favorite room was Mary Queen of Scot’s Bedchamber, as I loved the atmosphere of it up in the tower, with her small dining room attached.

things to do in edinburgh scotland Holyrood Palace

I felt very connected imagining what it would’ve been like for her to stay there, and how isolated it must’ve felt – all for her safety.

All of which was compromised anyway due to the traitorous behavior of her husband Lord Darnley from within.

Royal  Week

In Royal Week, every July, the Queen hosts her Garden Party (on July 4th in 2019).

  • She invites Scottish citizens who have done something worthy to help their community, industry or duties in philanthropy to be honored by the Queen.
  • She also gives the Honors during this week, recognizing outstanding service in many fields including knighting people or giving them an OBE.

It is worth a trip for anyone interested in Scottish and British history in general, monarchy, architecture, or art lovers.

Hours: 9.30am-6pm summer (April-October), 9.30-5pm winter (November-March).

Cost: £15/13.50 all concessions, £8.70 ages 5-17, free under 5. Adding Queen’s Gallery £20.20/£18.40 over 60, £17.90 student, £11.20 ages 5-17, under 5 free.

You can add on a visit to the Queen’s Gallery to see art from the Royal Collection for an extra fee.
If you have your ticket (for either) for cost treated as a donation, it is turned into an annual ticket for no extra charge.

back to top

4. National Museum of Scotland

Things to do in Edinburgh for free - National Museum of Scotland

National Museum of Scotland

The National Museum of Scotland is situated in Chamber’s Street in the old town and is a fine Victorian building that opened in 1866.

The museum is free and is very extensive.

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

Scottish Section of National Museum

The new Scottish section of the museum does its country proud.

It showcases a lot of important aspects of Scottish history, with an exhibition on the Stewart Royal dynasty, floors on technology and the industrial revolution.

There is a section dedicated to medieval torture instruments, statues, and paintings of royals.

There is also an exhibition on the Jacobite rebellion, clan maps, and important ancient artifacts.

Hours: 10am-5pm daily.

Cost: Free for permanent exhibitions.

There is access for disabled visitors.

Some temporary exhibitions have a fee of about £10 and change every two months.

back to top

5. Scottish National Gallery

Scottish National Gallery visit Edinburgh

Scottish National Gallery

The Scottish National Gallery is a fantastic art gallery 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.

What Artists are in the National Gallery

It has of art from Scottish artists such as The Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch (AKA The Skating Minister) by Henry Raeburn and The Monarch of the Glen by Edwin Landseer.

There is an impressive array of European Masters with works by artists such as Van Gogh, Cezanne, Gauguin, Canaletto, Caravaggio, and Rubens so appeals to almost all art fans.

There is currently a renovation going on outside the east side of the gallery. It is due to be complete by September 2020.

This will make the gallery more accessible for wheelchairs on every level and create a brand new gallery showcasing Scottish artists.

Hours: 10am-5pm daily (Thursdays extended until 7 pm).

Cost: Free for permanent exhibitions, some at RSA have a fee.

back to top

6. Arthur’s Seat

adventurous things to do in edinburgh arthur's seat

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 volcano. The last eruption was more than 100 million years ago.

The hills are located within Holyrood Park, which is one of the largest enclosed urban parks in Europe.

It 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.

Visiting Arthur's Seat

It is a great place to go for a picnic or walk up to get the best views of the city and beyond.

It takes about an hour to reach the summit, and there are three main paths to choose from.

The path to Dunsapie Loch is the gentlest and takes in Dunsapie Loch, which has lots of ducks and swans living in it.

There are three small lochs (lakes) within the grounds and it’s a great place to have a bit of nature right in the city.

Spring sees the gorse bushes (yellow bushes all over the hill), in bloom, and they smell like coconut, so are lovely to be near then.

It is the largest of Edinburgh’s 117 parks and is a great spot for nature lovers, hikers, and families.

Hours: Park open 24 hours, but hiking not recommended after dark due to steep drops at points.

Cost: Free.

back to top

7. Dynamic Earth

What to see in Edinburgh Dynamic Earth

Dynamic Earth

Dynamic Earth was built as part of the Millennium Project, in 2000.

It is an interactive range of exhibits that teach about the formation of the earth, geology, and how our planet has evolved since the Big Bang.

This is a great place for any age to visit, but especially families and people with younger children. It really makes science come alive in an interesting way for children (and adults).

Hours: Daily February-October 10am-5.30pm, July & August 10am-6pm.

Cost: Price at door £15.95/13.95 concession, £9.95 children. Online £14.50/12.50 concession, £8.95 children.

back to top

There are many fascinating exhibits and eras covered within the place. You are taken from one interactive exhibit room to the next by a series of hosts working there.

Stages of the Exhibit

  1. It begins with the visitor being taken in an elevator “time machine” back to the dawn of time 4.54 billion years ago.
  2. We “witness” the Big Bang, and how the universe, our galaxy, solar system, and the earth evolved.
  3. Next, we go into an exhibit to learn about and feel the power of a volcano that involves standing on a shaking platform in front of a screen with rock that turns to lava.
  4. Then we go into a large exhibit about how animals evolved from the primordial swamp and the era of dinosaurs.
  5. After this is a room with a video about glaciers and how they move and affect the earth.
  6. Following this is a room filled with a piece from an iceberg, which is very popular and everyone touches.
  7. Next up is a cinema with a film about the earth's various Biodomes.
  8. Upon leaving here you come out in the rain forest room where you witness a tropical storm.
  9. After leaving this final main room, you can go into the Showdome to watch the film We Are Aliens about the research on life on other planets.

 

8. Princes Street Gardens

Edinburgh Sights Princes Street Gardens

Princes Street Gardens

Princes Street Gardens is located in the middle of Edinburgh, right beneath the 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.

Hours: 24 hours.

Cost: Free.

Green Yonder gives a walking tour of the gardens that takes in the foliage, history and scenery of the city center’s most popular picnic spot.

back to to

Things to see Near Princess Street Gardens

Apart from the general prettiness of the gardens, there are a few great spots to visit.

  • The Scottish National Gallery is situated on The Mound halfway along it (see number 5).
  • At the West End, there is the Ross Bandstand. This is used for concerts and dancing throughout the year, especially in summer and for Hogmanay (Scottish word for New Year).
  • The Victorian House, which is a Victorian house once lived in by the garden’s gardener – currently under renovation – will open its café in June 2019.
  • The Floral Clock, which was first planted in 1903, and is the world’s largest Victorian floral clock, and is lovely to see from April until October.
  • There are lots of statues to visit in the gardens, including; famous Edinburgh poet Alan Ramsey, explorer Dr. Livingstone, Bum the Dog from San Diego (their Greyfriar’s Bobby), and writer Sir Walter Scott, underneath the Scott Monument.

9. Live Music

things to do in Edinburgh at night Live music at Sandy Bell’s

Live music at Sandy Bell’s

Edinburgh is a fantastic city for live music.

You can find live music available – and mostly free of charge – seven nights a week, as well as afternoons on Saturdays and Sundays.

Pick up a Gig Guide from any music venue, or check online for a comprehensive listing guide.

If you want to hear traditional Scottish music, the largest concentration of venues for this is in the Old Town, especially on the Royal Mile and by Potterow area.

For a taste of Edinburgh nightlife, take a Pub Crawl Tour where you'll enjoy four shots & unbeatable drink deals in each place along with drinking games, dancing, and even a shot of the bagpipes. For a full refund, cancel at least 24 hours in advance of the start date of the experience.

back to top

Suggested Live Music Venues

  1. The Mitre, The World’s End and The Royal Mile on the Royal Mile are always good choices.
  2. Sandy Bell’s on Forrest Road and Captain’s on S College Street are excellent choices for real Scottish ‘trad’ music.
  3. The Jazz Bar on Chambers Street is my pick for Jazz fans
  4. For rock fans, Whistlebinkies on South Bridge is always a fun raucous evening.
  5. The Jam House, previously owned by Jools Holland on Queen Street has great top 40 bands at the weekend.

Hours: Every evening, plus afternoons on weekends, more often during summer.

Cost: Mostly free, but some venues have a cover charge.

 

10. Go to a Ceilidh

 

Ceilidh at Stramash edinburgh england

Ceilidh at Stramash

While you’re in Edinburgh, you’d be missing out if you don’t attend a proper Scottish party, a Ceilidh.

Ceilidh is Gaelic for "party," and consists of a live band playing traditional Scottish Ceilidh dance music, with a “caller” who teaches the moves for the dances to the hall full of people, who then dance it.

There is no better way to really get stuck into Scottish culture and the psyche of the country in my opinion.

About Ceilidh

Scottish people (myself included) are taught Ceilidh dancing at school from a young age, so everyone knows all the steps and are very happy to help show visitors how it's done.

Ceilidhs are usually held in bars and a wee dram of whisky is usually part of the fun.

The festivities usually begin with the song The Gay Gordons as it’s a relatively simple dance to get everyone in the spirit and newcomers feeling comfortable.

This four-step dance is often followed by dances such as The Dashing White Sergeant, and St Bernard’s Waltz, moving onto more energetic dances The Canadian Barn dance, then more frenetic reels such as Eightsome Reel and usually the grand finale is Strip the Willow.

Where to Attend Ceilidh

There are quite a few venues in Edinburgh where you can attend a Ceilidh.

My favorite Places to attend Ceilidh are:

Stramash on the Cowgate (Wednesdays from 9pm, free)

Stramash is a casual, rowdy affair usually with a mix of about 1/3 Scottish to 2/3 international attendees.

Ghillie Dhu on Princes Street West End (Fridays and Saturdays £7 for Ceilidh ticket in Grand Hall, and dinner deals available too).

Ghillie Dhu is a little more formal and people tend to dress up a little more there, as it's held in the very grand Grand Hall.

What to Bring to Ceilidh

Wear comfortable shoes for dancing and bring as little as possible as you’ll no doubt want to be up dancing in no time (unless you’re with a group and have someone stay with purses, and Ghillie Dhu has a cloakroom).

Bringing only your phone and wallet that can fit in your pocket, or a small over-body purse is best, and not your best coat just in case drinks are spilled as the night gets rowdier.

Even if you don’t fancy dancing, Ceilidhs are a great way to hear Scottish music and see the Scottish way of partying, and they’re always a really fun evening.

Hours: Varied throughout city. Stramash Wednesdays 9/9.30pm-11/11.30pm. Ghillie Dhu Fridays and Saturdays from 9pm.

Cost: Ceilidhs vary throughout the city. Stramash free, Ghillie Dhu £7 Ceilidh ticket, from £15 to add meal.

back to top

11. Calton Hill

Calton Hill things to do edinburgh

Calton Hill

Edinburgh is built on Calton Hill, like Rome in Italy and Bergen in Norway.

The top of Calton Hill is one of the best spots for a spectacular view of Edinburgh.

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

These are all great to visit, as well as noting some of the unique design features such as the lions on the old oil lamps where the lamps were snuffed out.

Hours: 24 hours, but best during daylight hours for the views.

Cost: Free.

back to top

12. Royal Botanic Garden

what to see in edinburgh scotaland

The Royal Botanic Garden is situated 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.

What to see in Royal Botanic Gardens

Inverleith House in the center of the park is pleasant to visit and is open for various exhibitions throughout the year, as well as several festivals on the lawn outside it.

The large Victorian greenhouse, The Glasshouse, or Palm House has plants and cacti from hot countries and can be visited.

The main building has a free exhibit on ecology and the local environment, as well as a popular café, whose menu serves local produce.

The garden is great for a quiet stroll year-round, and during the Edinburgh Festival in August, there are performances of children’s shows.

Hours: Daily 10am-6pm.

Cost: Gardens free. Glasshouse £6.

back to top

13. Royal Yacht Britannia

The Royal Yacht Britannia what to do in edinburgh scotland

The Royal Yacht Britannia

The Royal Yacht Britannia is Her Majesty the Queen’s ex-Royal Yacht. It now serves as a floating museum.

Built 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.

How to Get There

To access the yacht, enter through the second level of the Ocean Terminal shopping mall. As you go in towards the yacht you pass a small exhibition with naval uniforms, and photos of memorable occasions that happened on the yacht.

Upon arrival are given a telephone-style handset, which has an audio commentary of the yacht.

Cross the gangway onto the top level of Britannia and begin your visit in the wheelhouse – a great place to take photos.

What to See

On the top deck, you'll see the flag store, which has flags for every country the yacht has been to in it, that would be flown out of respect when visiting.

While touring the yacht, you can view the officer’s dining area, Captain’s office and quarters.

You'll also view the private quarters of the Queen and Prince Philip, their sunroom, the Queen and Philip’s offices, and the Queen’s barge outside, which would’ve been used to tender her ashore.

The highlights of it for me were the main formal dining room, seeing the Queen’s personal rooms, the sunroom, and the officer’s bars.

It is very interesting for people who are interested in the British Royal family or Royal families in general even or anyone who has a special interest in ships.

Hours: 9.30am-4.30pm.

Cost: £16.50/14.50 concession, £8.75 children 5-17.

Book your audio tour ahead of time for $21 on GetYourGuide to gain insight into the lives of the royals. Easy cancellation within 24 hours.

back to top

14. Live Comedy

Live comedy at The Stand edinburgh festival fringe

Live comedy at The Stand

Edinburgh is a city renowned for its comedy.

Comedy takes center stage during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival every August with performances in many bars, cafes, restaurants, and parks.

Where to see Comedy in Edinburgh

Year round you can still find comedy seven nights a week, at the Monkey Barrell on Blair Street, Just the Tonic at the Caves in Cowgate and The Stand on York Place.

The Stand is my top pick as it has comedy on every night, as well as some late afternoon shows. Acts vary from famous comedians, to up and coming acts working the circuit and Monday nights they have Red Raw, where brand new comedians show their stuff.

One of my favorite events is the long-running hilarious Stu and Garry’s Improv Show every Sunday.

Comedy tickets can be booked online as well as at the door at many places, but booking in advance or arriving early is advised, especially for popular acts and to get a good seat.

Hours: Every night around the city. The Stand nightly plus some late afternoon shows, and Lunchtime Improv on Sundays show at 1.30pm, doors open at 12.30pm.

Cost: Varies per venue and show. The Stand Sunday Improv show free, Red Raw on Monday nights £3.

back to top

15. Georgian House

The Georgian House Edinburgh things to do

The Georgian House

The Georgian House is a museum in Charlotte Square, which showcases the lifestyle of the high Georgian society in Edinburgh’s New Town.

Built in 1796, its first owner was John Lamont, who was the 18th clan chief of the clan Lamont.

He moved to the city to find the best education for his sons and the best husbands for his daughters.

What to See in Georgian House Museum

The house consists of four levels and starts with a 15-minute video on the place and each of the rooms.

Explore the house to learn of the lifestyles of the family and servants in the house; Mr. Lamont generally spent much of his time keeping up appearances and entertaining.

You learn of the tough lives of the staff, with a young 12-year-old scullery maid working up to 16 hours a day, manservant Gilchrist running the house with the housekeeper, a cook and maid assisting with everything else.

The dining and drawing rooms that were used for entertaining are my favorite rooms as they were very elaborate and full of items with stories and history.

You can see some items that would have been state-of-the-art gadgets at the time, such as the bed warmer pot, salt pig, sugar stack, and commode.

People interested in Georgian times, architecture and lifestyles would enjoy the Georgian House.

Hours: Summer hours (April-October) 10am-5pm daily. Winter hours (November-March) 10am-4.15pm daily.

Cost: £8 adults, £6 concessions & children.

back to top

16. Scottish National Portrait Gallery

Scottish National Portrait Gallery

Scottish National Portrait Gallery

The National Portrait Gallery is one of Edinburgh’s best art galleries.

It is situated on Queen Street, which is parallel to Princes Street, conveniently centrally located.

It is free to visit and is the place to visit if you’re interested in portraiture.

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.

Robert Burns

Also, there is a statue of Robert Burns – Scotland’s bard – welcoming in the foyer.

This statue was originally located on top of the Burns monument on Regent Road by Calton Hill, but was moved as the gas works underneath the statue was damaging it. It now stands proudly in the gallery greeting visitors.

Hours: Daily 10am-5pm.

Cost: Free.

back to top

17. Ghost Tours

Ghost Tours top things to do in Edinburgh

Ghost Tours

Edinburgh is reputedly one of the most haunted cities in the world.

One of the factors that contribute to this include 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.

Discover Haunted Edinburgh

Some of the most haunted parts of the city are; Mary King’s Close, the Vaults under the Royal Mile, The Grassmarket, and Greyfriar’s Kirkyard.

There are many ghost tours to choose from in Edinburgh. Mary King’s Close, Haunted Edinburgh, and City of the Dead are all good scary options.

The Edinburgh Dungeon is another place where you can learn of Edinburgh’s dark and haunted past.

It is a good spot for teens to adults and leads you through multiple exhibits on some of the city’s dark characters including Burke and Hare the mass murderers, and Sawny Bean the cannibal.

You cannot walk around here unsupervised but you can take a led tour. (book ahead during busy seasons and at weekends year round as it is popular).

Hours: Varies depending on tour.

back to top

18. Churches and Graveyards

Churches and graveyards - Greyfriar’s kirkyard Edinburgh uk

Churches and graveyards - Greyfriar’s kirkyard

Edinburgh is full of fascinating churches that are worth a visit whatever your faith is.

These churches also are the final resting places for many famous people and characters from Edinburgh and names who inspired various writers to create characters.

Hours: All churches usually open 9am-6pm, sometimes later.

Cost: Free, but donations always appreciated in the churches to help keep them running.

Edinburgh is one of the world’s most haunted cities, and you can see for yourself on one of the many Ghost tours on offer. The Double Dead tour takes in the underground vaults, as well as a graveyard.

Mary King’s Close – One of the scarier tours, with an exhibition on site as well as a walking tour.

 

back to top

Recommended Churches to visit in Edinburgh

Here are a few of the most interesting churches and graveyards in my opinion and what to look out for there:

Greyfriar’s Kirk

Apart from the wee famous dog (see number 19) this grave has inspired more literature.

JK Rowling took inspiration for her character Ms. McGonagall in her Harry Potter novels from the grave of William McGonagall, who was infamously Scotland’s worst poet. She liked the irony of naming an extremely clever and good with words character after someone who wasn’t.

Canongate Kirk

Where The Queen worships when she is in Edinburgh. It has the grave and statue of poet Robert Ferguson who penned Auld Reekie. Sadly Ferguson died a pauper at aged 23, so Robert Burns (who was inspired to write poetry because of Ferguson’s writing) paid for him to be properly interred.

Location: Bottom of Royal Mile in Canongate section. A young Charles Dickens visited Edinburgh and was surprised to see a grave that he thought read “Ebenezer Scrooge, Mean Man”.

It actually read “Ebenezer Scrogge, Meal Man”, meaning a man who delivered meal and grain. But the idea that someone could’ve been so mean spirited in life to have “Mean Man” written on his headstone gave him the inspiration to create his character Ebenezer Scrooge and write ‘A Christmas Carol’.

St Cuthbert’s

One site of oldest Ecclesiastical site in Edinburgh. Hosts many choral concerts.

In the graveyard is the grave of Henry Raeburn, famous Edinburgh artist who painted ‘The Skating Minister’.

Location: On East End of Princes Street Gardens.

St Johns

Stunning protestant church with 16 gorgeous full stained glass windows portraying stories of the life of Christ, and with a Tiffany window.

Location: On East End of Princes Street Gardens.

19. Greyfriar’s Bobby

Greyfriar’s Bobby what to see edinburgh

Greyfriar’s Bobby

Greyfriar’s Bobby is the tale of a wee dog from the Greyfriar’s 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. Bobby became a well-known and loved character, befriending local people from children to the elderly.

Bobby helped out the community, and even saved people from a fire.

Sad Story, Happy Ending

Sadly after only two years together, Jock passed away from tuberculosis, and Bobby was left master-less. The wee dog was broken-hearted, so spent every night of the rest of his life – another 14 years – sleeping on Jock’s grave.

He was taken in by the community and given a license by the Lord Provost of Edinburgh and has been a sort of folk hero since.

You can see his statue, (which was created from the life of the dog, by Edinburgh sculpture William Brodie) just across from Greyfriar’s Kirk and graveyard where Jock Grey is buried and there’s a plaque to the little dog himself.

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.

Hours: Statue 24 hours. Greyfriar’s Kirk, usually 10am-6pm.

Cost: Free.

back to top

20. The Grassmarket

The Grassmarket what to see edinburgh

The Grassmarket

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.

Cows, sheep, pigs, and goats were led along the Cowgate to market. The market also sold all other manners of food, drink, clothes, and crafts.

The Gallows

However, it also had a dark side, as it was the site of the gallows. Common criminals who had been sentenced to death were hanged here in 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.

The names of the pubs around the square make a nod to this grizzly past with The Last Drop not referring to the last drop of the day, but your last drop ever.

Maggie Dickson's Pub

Maggie Dickson’s is named after a woman who was hanged for “killing” her child who was stillborn but didn’t actually die. She survived the hanging and as she couldn’t be tried for the same “crime” twice, she lived another 30 years with the nickname “half-hanged Maggie”.

Nowadays this bustling square still 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.

The Mussel and Steak Inn is my top pick in the area to go to for their lunchtime deals, and I’d recommend the mussel pot with the white wine and garlic sauce.

Hours: Square 24 hours. Bars generally 11am-midnight. Restaurants generally 12pm-10pm.

Cost: Free to stroll.

back to top

21. Harry Potter

things to do in edinburgh scotland mcgonaball grave

The grave of Scottish poet McGonagall was the inspiration for the character Ms. McGonagall

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.

Get the Complete Harry Potter Book Series written by JK Rowling on Amazon.

Harry Potter Locations in Edinburgh

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.

It claims this with a notice outside on the maroon façade and has a spot inside where you can leave notes to her that she occasionally comes to read.

My favorite note I read said, “Lord of the Rings was better.”

Greyfriar’s Kirk

As mentioned in number 18, 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!

There are several Harry Potter themed tours to choose from for real enthusiasts, and my pick is Potter Trails.

Hours: Various times for each place.

Cost: Browsing shops, looking at schools, and graveyard free. Tour prices vary.

back to top

Suggested Movie and TV Tours in Edinburgh

We use Viator and Get Your Guide when booking day tours and can confidently recommend their tours when visiting a city.

Harry Potter Tour of Edinburgh - J.K. Rowling starting writing her books while living in Edinburg.

Edinburgh: Outlander Locations Tour - This full day tour takes you and 3 friends (price per group of 4) to the iconic filming locations of Outlander.

2 Day Outlander Tour -  Viator takes the Outlander filming locations one step further and explores over two days.

Harry Potter Highlands by Steam Train - Board the Hogwarts Express and explore several key Harry Potter filming locations.

 

22. Royal Mile Free Museums

Tartan Weaving Center, free museum on Royal Mile edinburgh scotland things to do

Tartan Weaving Center, free museum on Royal Mile

The Royal Mile is home to several lovely, specialized museums, which are free and worth checking out.

Here is a rundown of them, in order from going from the castle down the hill.

back to top

Free Museums of Edinburgh

Tartan Weaving Center

Ever wondered how tartan is made? Well, head down into the basement of the weaving center to see the exhibit on how tartan is made, including seeing weavers in action on weekdays. If your family has a tartan, this is the place to find it and see what its like and buy a scarf if you like.

Writer’s Museum

This small but charming museum pays homage to some of Edinburgh’s most illustrious writers.

The main exhibits are on Robert Burns, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Sir Walter Scott, but also has new small exhibits paying tribute to more modern writers including JK Rowling.

Museum of Childhood

This museum is a great place to bring the kids and grandkids. It is idea for multi-generational trips as it showcases toys from the Victorian era through to today, so everyone has something to reminisce about. It has recently been refurbished so if you’ve been before, it’s worth another look.

Edinburgh Museum

This museum showcases information about old Edinburgh and the life and times of people living here and what life was like in the old town before modern conventions.

The People’s Story

This museum shows the story of various peoples in Edinburgh – mainly showing what life was life for the working classes.

There are waxworks with audio playing of the “locals” talking about their life, with characters such as a fishwife from Leith, soldiers, and housewives going for afternoon tea while their husbands go to the pub next door.

  • Hours: Square 24 hours. Bars generally 11am-midnight. Restaurants generally 12pm-10pm.
  • Cost: Free to stroll.

Information for Visiting Edinburgh - Resources

Best Time of Year to visit Edinburgh

Edinburgh is a busy city year-round and there is no bad time to visit Edinburgh, but there are better times for weather and crowds.

For the best weather in Edinburgh, June to August are the warmest months to visit. These are also the busiest time to tourism, so expect higher prices and more crowds.

But weather is unpredictable in Scotland so be prepared for rain at any time and pack layers and an umbrella.

August is the festival time in Edinburgh, so hotels and tourist attractions will be booked out.

Shoulder season - April to May and Sept to Oct is a good time to visit as the weather is mild and you will find better deals.

November to March is the low season and you'll find the best deals at this time.

During this time you'll be able to find cheaper flights and accommodation.

Since Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland with things going on year round, there is really no bad time to visit the city if you are dressed for it and prepared for rain.

back to top

Plan Your Edinburgh Trip

Edinburgh is on the Pound Sterling, or Great British Pound (GBP) £1 = 1.30 USD as of April 2019 - For up to date conversions get the XE Currency Converter App 

Make sure you have travel insurance. We never travel without it and recommend World Nomads for short-term trips.

If you are looking for something more long-term check out Allianz Travel Insurance.

Read more about the value of Travel Insurance here.

What to Pack for a Trip to Edinburgh

edinburgh packing list

Scottish the weather can be unpredictable.

Dressing in layers is always a smart move, and bring a small but sturdy umbrella.

Breathable lightweight clothing works best.

Being an urban center, a fashionable waterproof trenchcoat is a good recommendation. I prefer a coat with a hood and am a fan of Arc'teryx brand

Comfortable waterproof shoes or boots is a must.

Eagle Creek Plug Adapter - This all in one adapter is all you need for Edinburgh and other European and world travels.

Belkin Mini Surge Protector - A perfect accompaniment to the plug adapter this will help protect all of your electronics from unwanted power surges. We take this wherever we go.

Need Data? KnowRoaming offers unlimited data and roaming for $7.99 per day. PlanetD readers receive a 50% discount with code DDSave30. Read our review here.

For more advice on how to pack check out Packing Tips for Europe

Where to Stay in Edinburgh

Karen gave an in-depth breakdown of all the Neighborhoods in Edinburgh. 

To find the best Place to Stay in Edinburgh by Neighbourhood, click on the links below. They will take you to a break down of each area of Edinburgh and suggested hotels.

  • Leith – Not just a port, the most international part of the city has become a gastronomical hot spot.
  • Stockbridge – The trendiest “village” in Edinburgh, says hipster cool by the bucket load.
  • Old Town/The Royal Mile – This historic and haunted area’s cobbled streets make you feel as though you’ve gone back in time.
  • New Town/City Centre – Almost 200 years young, and filled with the best shopping as well as some of the most iconic streets like Princes, Rose and George Streets.
  • Morningside/Bruntsfield – Charity shops selling Prada, earl grey tea by the bucketload, and leafy parks line this upmarket part of the city.

How to Save Money in Edinburgh

Edinburgh has a thriving theatre, comedy and live music scene. Here you can find details of what’s happening while you’re in the city.

There are many apps in the UK that are useful for finding deals for restaurants, bars, tickets to events, galleries, activities, concerts etc. The three apps for Edinburgh that I use are;

  • Groupon – General site, with everything from lunch deals to haircuts, to spa breaks.
  • Itison – This site has a mixture of things on, and worth a look, especially for events and shows.
  • 5pm.co.uk – This is the site I check first for dining deals. Search by area or style of restaurant you’d like to find something tempting.

Getting Around Edinburgh

Edinburgh’s city center is mostly walkable, but public transport is widely available and pretty easy to navigate.

If you are planning on visiting several areas in a day, getting a day pass, weekend pass or week pass for the bus system is a smart move with Lothian Buses.

  • Single tickets are £1.70.
  • A day pass that is valid from 5 am, until midnight costs £4.00.
  • Weekly tickets on the bus cost £19.
  • Night buses are available too, simply look out for the N sign on bus stops and they cost £3.00.

You can find full details for timetables for Lothian buses here.

Hop On Hop Off – Edinburgh’s green Hop On Hop Off Bus begins its tour of the city’s major attractions from Waverley Bridge.

How to Get to Edinburgh

Getting to and from the Airport in Edinburgh

To go further afield, buses and trains leave regularly for Glasgow, south Lothian towns, and sunny Fife to the North from the St Andrews Square Bus station and Waverley Train Station respectively.

Take a private transfer to your hotel for only $17 USD

Ready to fly to Edinburgh Check out Cheap Flights here.

Find Cheap Flights to Edinburgh with Skyscanner

 

Final Thoughts

what to do in edinburgh scotland

Edinburgh is my city. I love it. I chose to live there out of so many places in the world as it has a little bit of my heart.

Edinburgh's New Town is almost three centuries old. It is built around two extinct volcanoes. It has a giant castle right in the middle of it holding court boldly welcoming in visitors.

It is beautiful.

 
Edinburgh is full of history, yet has always been forward-thinking and often led the world in terms of medicine, science, literature and the arts.

I believe this heady blend of the romantic old mixed with enlightenment and forward thinking will mean the city will appeal to everyone in some way.

Come and visit, I’m sure you’ll love it too. And if you’d like to come on one of my tours, check my website and drop me a line of when you’ll be there.

I think this quote by famous Edinburgh author Alexander McCall Smith sums up Edinburgh quite nicely:

“This is a city of shifting light, of changing skies, of sudden vistas. A city so beautiful it breaks the heart again and again.”

back to top

Did you enjoy what to see in Edinburgh? Why not save it for future reference to plan your next visit.

22 of the best things to do in Edinburgh

 

Author Bio

Karen Worrall is a freelance writer and travel blogger. Based in Edinburgh, Scotland, she has lived in six countries, including London in England, and sailed the seven seas entertaining on cruise ships for 13 years.

You can find her on Facebook, Instagram, and on her website Cruise Ship Karen.

Sharing is caring!


Join the Conversation

5 Responses to "22 of the best things to do in Edinburgh, Scotland"

Join the Conversation

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


*