Day trips from Edinburgh

14 Fabulous Things To Do In Edinburgh!

As one of Scotland’s oldest cities, Edinburgh is a city that effortlessly combines culture and nature in the same space. Edinburgh has something for everyone, whether you’re after adventure or looking for a quieter staycation. In this post, I’ll talk about some of my favourite things to do in Edinburgh, from enjoying its beautiful views at the top of Arthur’s Seat to exploring its endless array of fascinating museums. So get ready to plan your perfect trip!

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Edinburgh is Scotland’s capital city and is one of the most visited cities in Great Britain. It’s easy to see why with its medieval old town, elegant Georgian new town, and endless gardens and public spaces to explore. 

There are so many things to do in Edinburgh that visiting them all is impossible, especially if you are short on time. I recently spent five days in the city and saw most of the highlights and some of the lesser-known things to do. So here I’m giving my top 14 things to do in Edinburgh for those planning a trip to this fabulous city!

I never managed to visit all of these places myself, but I have heard great things about them, so I’ve included them in my list. I covered a variety of experiences, from exploring castles, stately homes, and family-friendly attractions to hikes, wildlife, and museums, so hopefully, there is something for every type of traveller.

14 fabulous things to do in Edinburgh:

1. Edinburgh Castle

14 Wonderful things to see and do in Edinburgh

Edinburgh Castle is the most famous landmark and visited attraction in Edinburgh, with over 1 million visitors each year. Visiting the castle is one of the best things to do in Edinburgh, especially if you enjoy learning about local history. It sits predominately on Castle Rock, looking down along the Royal Mile dominating the city landscape.

Inside the castle, you can marvel over Scotland’s crown jewels and the historic Stone of Destiny. Visit the oldest building in Scotland at St. Margret’s Chapel, and discover how prisoners of war were treated in the 1700s. You can also visit monuments, exhibits and museums, such as Scotland’s National War Museum. You will also get some of the most amazing views over Edinburgh!

If you are not too fussed by crowds, then a popular time to visit is around 1 pm when they fire the gun on Mills Mount Battery. This tradition goes back to 1861, when it was used as a time-keeping device for ships in the harbour.

If crowds aren’t your thing, I recommend getting there early, as soon as the castle opens, and if possible, booking tickets in advance. The queues by mid-morning are extreme, especially during popular summer months! I was there in September, and the ticket line was still pretty bad.

For those with Historic Scotland membership, entrance to the castle is free. It is also free for 2nd-year members of English Heritage and Cadw and half-price for 1st-year members.

Check out my guide if you want to read more about visiting Edinburgh Castle.

2. Edinburgh Zoo

Edinburgh Zoo is a popular attraction for animal lovers and families. Many people especially go to catch a glimpse of the Giant Panda. It’s the only place in the UK to see them. However, I’ve been to many Zoos and have seen Giant Panda at Chiang Mai Zoo in Thailand, so I gave this place a miss. However, if this interests you, I’ve heard great things about this zoo, including the chance to walk with the penguins.

Update March 2024 – The Giant Panda are no longer at Edinburgh Zoo after being returned to China earlier this year.

The penguin parade happens when the penguins decide to walk outside their enclosure with their keepers. However, as this is entirely voluntary for the penguins, there is no guarantee that they will leave the enclosure on any given day.

3. Whisky Experience

If you love Whisky or want to learn more about this famous Scottish drink, a tour of the Scotch Whisky Experience is a must! Again, I didn’t visit, as the smell of whisky makes me feel sick (I drank far too much of it when I was younger!). However, if you don’t have this issue, you can take one of the tours or enjoy a meal and drink in the restaurant. The tours last from 50 minutes to 3 hours and cost between £23 and £96.

4. Walk the Royal Mile

Another one of my favourite things to do in Edinburgh is exploring the Royal Mile. The Royal Mile connects Edinburgh Castle down to Holyrood House. 

This road is the most famous street and runs through medieval Edinburgh. The Royal Mile is a Scots old mile, although not used since the 18th century, and is 1.81 km long. As you can imagine, this is also one of the busiest roads in Edinburgh and is closed off in parts, only allowing pedestrian access. Along the Royal Mile, you will find an abundance of souvenir and whisky shops, restaurants, cafes and museums.

You will likely find yourself up and down this street many times. I recommend walking down its many closes and exploring its secret courtyards and shops.

5. Climb Arthur’s Seat

As you walk down the Royal Mile towards Holyrood house, you will find the towering remnants of an extinct volcano, Arthur’s seat.

If you are brave enough to hike up to the top, you will be blessed with the most amazing views of Edinburgh, including the docks and the Forth Rail Bridge in the distance. 

I climbed up to the peak around 6 pm to watch the sunset and was surprisingly met with about another 100 people doing the same! I couldn’t blame them; the views were truly spectacular, and the sunset was beautiful. 

Be warned, It’s colder up the top than below, so make sure you bring some extra warm clothes and snacks. The climb is relatively easy, depending on which trail you use; some are worse than others. The quicker routes are generally the steepest, making it harder for some.

6. Head Up Calton Hill

If Climbing up Arthur’s Seat is too much for you, maybe have a go at Calton Hill. This hill sits towards the end of Princes Street, and you can’t miss it if you are in Edinburgh because it resembles the Acropolis of Athens. 

This unfinished monument, the ‘National Monument’, was built in 1822 but never finished. It was meant to be a replica of the Parthenon in Athens as a memorial to those who died in the Napoleonic wars. You will also find Nelson’s Monument, which has a famous time ball mechanism that ships used to set their clocks.

Calton Hill is a lovely hillside park with beautiful views of Edinburgh and Arthur’s Seat. The plus point is that it only takes 5-10 minutes to walk up the stairs on the south side of Regent Road.

Edinburgh 3-day itinerary, the perfect guide

7. Head Underground

Unknown to most people, underneath the Royal Mile is a secret world of underground vaults and even some old medieval streets. There are many different tours to take, but these are the two I did.

You can book many of these underground tours and walking tours online; however, you can also book them in the street; you will see lots of advertisers along the top of the Royal Mile, near the Cathedral, looking for people to join in tours. You will also find many free walking tours available.

The Real Mary King’s Close tour was my favourite of the two. You enter another world as you explore Edinburgh’s only preserved 17th-century Street. The street is underneath what is now known as the Council Chambers, and as this is a government building, you cannot take photos, which is a shame. 

Update March 2024 – This tour is that good; I’ve done it three times on three separate trips to Edinburgh!

The tour begins by giving you a history of how the street became underground (it never used to be) and goes into a lot of detail about the ordinary lives of those who lived there, as well as the story of the night Mary Queen of Scots found herself here. The entrance to the tour is on the Royal Mile across the way from St Giles Cathedral. Tours run every 15 mins until 9.30 pm.

The other tour I took was the Double Dead Tour run by City of the Dead Tours, which covered the underground vaults and Greyfriars Kirk. I took the 8 pm tour as I didn’t fancy the late-night tour by myself, at least at 8 pm it was still dark enough to be slightly scary or so I thought. The tour itself was excellent however there were a few moments when my heart leapt out of my chest! I won’t spoil it by giving away any details, but If you are up for a good ghost tour, this is the one to do.

8. Check Out The Museums

Edinburgh has a vast array of museums, all within walking distance from the Royal Mile; some of my favourites were The Museum of Scotland, Museum on the Mound, Museum of Childhood and the Surgeons Hall Museum. Many of these museums are free to enter but request small donations.

The Museum of Scotland is absolutely massive with incredible architecture. This museum is over 3 floors and has a vast inner courtyard with galleries on either side displaying a diverse collection taking you on a journey of the history of Scotland and around the world.

The Museum of Childhood, this museum takes you back on the history of childhood and toys. It has a vast selection of old toys from across the generations and explores other aspects of growing up, such as schooling, clubs, clothing, health and holidays.

Surgeon’s Hall Museum may not be for everyone, but I found it especially interesting as I was a theatre nurse at the time. Entrance is £9.50, but NHS workers get a discount at £6. This was probably my favourite museum and one of the best things to do in Edinburgh.

The museum is owned by the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, founded in 1505 and originally opened as a teaching museum for students. The collections, including bone and tissue samples, artefacts and works of art, have been open to the public since 1832. This is a wonderful museum if you are interested in health, and there are a variety of interactive displays and computer simulations.

9. Visit Royal Yacht Britannia

The Royal Yacht Britannia was once the floating palace of Her Majesty Queen Elisabeth for over 40 years and has been voted Scotland’s Best Attraction by Visit Scotland for 12 years running! 

The yacht is located away from Edinburgh City Centre in Leith Docks Ocean Terminal Shopping Centre but is easily accessed by Bus; Lothian Buses number 11 and 22 run every 10 minutes, and the site also has free parking.

The tour itself is a self-guided audio tour which guides you through the ship across its many decks, visiting the private Royal quarters, including the Queen’s bedroom, the room in which Charles and Diana spent their honeymoon, as well as the crew quarters, work areas, right through to the engine room.

I believe the ship can get very crowded at peak times, so I recommend arriving early or later in the day; I went around 3 pm, and it wasn’t too crowded. If you feel hungry, you can have afternoon tea in the ship restaurant or head to the Ocean Shopping Centre, where you will find plenty of restaurants and shops.

10. Palace Of Holyrood

At the bottom of the Royal Mile, you will find Holyrood Palace. This palace is the official residence of the Queen in Scotland and served as the principal residence of Scottish royalty since the 16th century, including Mary Queen of Scott’s and Bonnie Prince Charlie. As well as taking an audio tour around the historic rooms that have held many a state visit, you can also wander the beautiful gardens and visit the remains of the 12th-century Holyrood Abbey.

Just to let you know, because this is an official royal residence, you cannot take photos inside the palace.

11. Visit Dean Village

If you fancy escaping the hustle and bustle of the city, then a walk to Dean Village is sure to relax and recharge your batteries. Dean Village is about a 15-minute walk from the Royal Mile. However, most people don’t realise this little gem exists. The Village is small, but after exploring the beautiful, peaceful surroundings, you can walk along the river back towards town; along the way, you will also find St Bernard’s well.

You won’t find any cafes or shops here, just beautiful old architecture and greenery, so much so you’ll think you have been transported somewhere in the countryside.

12. A Day Out To Cramond Island

If you want to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, then take a day trip out to Cramond Island. This trip was one of my favourite things to do in Edinburgh! This little gem is easily accessed by Lothian bus number 41 from the city centre. The little village of Cramond has a beautiful little harbour and numerous walks along the shores.

You can also walk along the causeway at low tide to visit the peaceful Cramond Island. However, you must check tide times before crossing, as many people have been stranded. It is best to arrive early in the morning; I arrived at 9 am, which gave me around an hour to explore the island before getting back to the mainland.

14 Wonderful things to see and do in Edinburgh

13. Walk Across The Forth Road Bridge

Just 30 minutes out of Edinburgh by Lothian bus number 43, you will arrive at South Queensferry. This lovely peaceful town has pretty houses and shops and a long promenade looking out towards the River Forth and its three spectacular bridges. 

Most people come to look at the famous Forth Railway Bridge, but if you are feeling energetic, you can walk across the Forth Road Bridge. Be warned, it’s longer than you think, taking me around 45 minutes to walk across it. However, the views from the bridge are excellent and well worth walking across, not for those scared of heights!

If you don’t feel like walking back across, you can either get the bus back or take the train back to Edinburgh Waverley Station.

Day trips from Edinburgh

14. Harry Potter Trail

If you are a massive fan of Harry Potter, then there are plenty of Harry Potter sites to explore, from the cafes that J.K. Rowling sat in whilst writing the books to the places and names that inspired the stories. 

The most popular way to explore the Harry Potter trail is by taking a walking tour, as I’m not that into Harry Potter I never felt the need to do this. However, if this interests you, I recommend this free Harry Potter walking tour, which takes you to all the sites that inspired Hogwarts and the characters within.

So there you have it, my recommended best things to do in Edinburgh. You probably won’t want to visit every place on this list, but I hope it gives you a good starting point for planning your trip to Edinburgh.

Where To Stay In Edinburgh

Whatever your budget, many hotels, guesthouses and hostels are located within the city centre and close to most of its attractions. The best area to stay in is the old town, close to the Royal Mile, here most of Edinburgh’s attractions will be right on your doorstep. For the best deals on hotels, I recommend using

$$$$ – Waldorf Astoria Edinburgh

Situated just a 1-minute walk from Princes Street, the Waldorf Astoria Edinburgh was built in 1903 as part of Edinburgh’s central railway station. Rooms at this 5-star luxury hotel each have a flat-screen TV, a luxurious bathroom with designer toiletries, fluffy bathrobes, and unobstructed views of Edinburgh Castle. Prices start at £250 a night for a classic room and £900 for a suite with a castle view.

$$$ – The Inn On The Mile

Situated on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh city centre, The Inn on the Mile offers an alternative luxury hotel experience of staying in one of Edinburgh’s most prestigious historic landmarks. Princes Street and Edinburgh Waverley Rail Station are 450 yards away. Prices start at £200 a night for a classic room and £300 for an executive room with a city view.

$$ – Ibis South Bridge – Royal Mile

The Ibis South Bridge is my go-to hotel in Edinburgh. It is ideally situated close to the Royal Mile and is great value for money. The hotel has Ibis Sweet Beds, air-conditioned rooms, a flat-screen TV, a desk, a hairdryer, and tea and coffee facilities. All have en-suite bathrooms with shower and complimentary toiletries. Prices start at £100 a night for a standard double room and £150 for a Premier room with a sitting area.

$ – Kick Ass Greyfriers Hostel

Boasting a shared lounge, a terrace as well as a bar, Kick Ass Greyfriars (18+) is situated in the centre of Edinburgh, 900 yards from Royal Mile. With free WiFi, this 4-star hostel offers a 24-hour reception and tour desk. The non-smoking property is set 450 yards from the National Museum of Scotland. Dorm beds start at £16 a night and offer a great budget option for solo travellers. If you are unsure about staying in hostels, check out my guide to surviving hostels.

All prices are based on a stay in April 2023; expect to pay double in July/August and New Year.

Final Thoughts

Edinburgh is a beautiful, historical city with plenty to do. From exploring the Palace of Holyrood to climbing Arthur’s Seat, you’ll never get bored. If you plan a trip to Scotland, add Edinburgh to your itinerary and check out some of these 14 must-do activities.

Thanks so much for stopping by; I appreciate everyone who takes the time to read and make it to the end! I have lots of exciting new content in the next few weeks, so make sure you pop back to catch up! 

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Happy travels!

14 Best things to do in Edinburgh
14 Best things to do in Edinburgh

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