The Best Things to do in Edinburgh Scotland

what to do in edinburgh

Heading to Scotland and wondering what to do in Edinburgh? Be sure to check out these top sites and enjoy this beautiful and ancient city!

The Best Things to do in Edinburgh Scotland

what to do in edinburgh

I was lucky enough to have a few days after my visit to Ireland to hop across the pond and visit Scotland. I lived here with my grandma years ago when I was 9 and I have been anxious to return ever since. I can’t believe it’s taken me 10 years to return (wink, wink).

Cheapest Way to Get to Edinburgh Airport

Getting to Edinburgh from Ireland was cheap and easy, only costing me 23 Euros and a 1-hour flight! Also if you’re already in Scotland, I highly recommend that you hop a cheap flight to Ireland as well and follow this perfect Ireland itinerary.
Sometimes flights to London can be much cheaper from the US than flights to Edinburgh. A great cost-effective way to get there is to take the bus or train from London to Edinburgh, with fares as low as 20 pounds.

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Don’t have time to read a bunch of reviews & blog posts? Here are our top picks for visiting Scotland:

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Our favorite hotels in Scotland

Our favorite tours in Scotland

Renting a Car in Scotland

If you want to see authentic Scotland, I recommend you drive yourself. If you’re renting a car, there are two companies we prefer to use: Rental Cars and Expedia Cars. We have had no issues with them and have been able to find the best prices available.

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    The Best Things to do in Edinburgh Scotland

    There is so much to see all around Scotland, like the Isle of Skye , Glasgow, Inverness and more, but I used Edinburgh as my starting ground. I fell easily in love with this city that is a perfect combination of ancient and modern with a healthy dose of charm!

    Since this was a last minute trip, I hadn’t had much time to do research. I thought a basic “What to do in Edinburgh” post would be helpful for someone using the city as a base for their Scottish explorations. If you’re heading to Scotland, don’t miss Edinburgh and these awesome things to do there.

    1. Edinburgh Castle

    This iconic castle on a hill dates from the 12th century and is home to some of Scotland’s most famous history. Be sure you head to the great hall where presentations can be seen throughout the day. I had a great time watching a musician, costume and all,  teach us about medieval instruments. If you’re a fan of Scottish history, including Mary Queen of Scots, you’ll especially appreciate this magnificent castle, and it’s even more magical during Christmas in Edinburgh.

    Edinburgh Castle

    2. Elephant House Cafe

    Visit the birthplace of magic, where J.K. Rowling wrote the first five books in the Harry Potter series. You can see where she gained inspiration for Hogwarts and the magical wizarding world when you check out the view outside the cafe window. The cakes are yummy and affordable. Be sure to take a trip to the toilets to see the Harry Potter fan love all over the walls!

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    Elephant House Cafe

    Elephant House Cafe
    J.K. Rowling’s view as she wrote the first 5 Harry Potter books.

    Harry Potter Fan Art in the Toilets
    Harry Potter Fan Art in the Toilets!

    3. Victoria Street

    Don’t miss this colorful street full of cute shops, including several Harry Potter stores and a joke shop named Ahahaha! It’s one of the many streets in the UK that claim to be the inspiration for Diagon Alley, but I think this may be one of the best contenders. Be sure to visit the top of Victoria Street above the shops for an incredible view of this curved street.

    Victoria Street

    Store in Victoria Street

    4. Arthur’s Seat

    Edinburgh is a city built on several hills. The main peak of the Edinburgh hills is called Arthur’s Seat, deriving its name from the legends of King Arthur. It’s a fairly easy walk up and the views are worth it. Try to get there at sunrise if you can!

    Arthur’s Seat

    5. Calton Hill

    Another Edinburgh hill, Calton Hill is full of monuments and incredible views. You can’t miss the Athenian Acropolis jutting out in the skyline atop the hill. You’ll also have a great view of Arthur’s Seat from here.

    Calton Hill

    6. The Royal Mile

    Running approximately one mile between Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace are the streets and shops that make up Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, which consist of Castlehill, the Lawnmarket, the High Street, the Canongate and Abbey Strand. It’s full of adorable shops and beautiful views.

    The Royal Mile

    Caffe Prosecco Bar

    7. Palace of Holyroodhouse

    Palace of Holyroodhouse is the residence of the British monarch in Scotland, Queen Elizabeth II who stays here one week a year to carry out official business and ceremonies. You can tour the palace and also see the 16th century Historic Apartments of Mary, Queen of Scots.

    Palace of Holyroodhouse
    Source: Visit Scotland

    8. St. Giles Cathedral

    This 900-year-old church which was once a Catholic church, is now the main place of worship for the Church of Scotland in Edinburgh. Wander around and take in the incredible architecture and stained glass. If you want to take pictures of the inside there is a 2 Euro fee, but it’s worth it as the colors are just incredible. 

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    St. Giles Cathedral

    St. Giles Cathedral

    9. Scott Monument

    At over 200 feet, this monument to Sir. Walter Scott is the largest monument to a writer in the world! You can’t miss its huge spire on Princes Street. 

    Scott Monument

    10. Grass Market

    This historic market at the base of Edinburgh Castle is a great place to shop for souvenirs, grab an ice cream, and take in the view! Be sure to visit Mary’s Milk Bar for a creamy treat! We found beautiful vintage china (for cheap!), handmade scarves, leather bags, and cheese, just to name a few. 

    Grass Market

    Grass Market

    Mary's Milk Bar

    ice cream in edinburgh

    11. Princes Street Gardens

    This public garden in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle runs parallel to Princes Street along with the railway. Escape the busy streets and wander the royal botanic garden Edinburgh below the city centre in the shadow of the castle. 

    Princes Street Gardens

    There is so much to see and do in Edinburgh, but your time will be best spent taking in the beauty of the ancient walls by wandering from each of these sights. Edinburgh is an easily walkable city and that will be the best way to see the city and feel as if you’ve stepped back in time.
    These are all great ideas for your first visit. But there are also a lot of amazing off-the-beaten-path things to do in Edinburgh.Read More about Edinburgh:

    what to do in edinburgh

    Best Tours in Edinburgh Scottland

    Edinburgh Castle Tour

    Edinburgh Castle Tour

    The Edinburgh Castle – A Thousand Years of Majesty tour is one of the best ways to experience the city’s history. While exploring, your skilled guide will entertain you with stories about the castle’s history, which includes triumphs and defeats, ruling and rebels, and the fascinating personalities who have lived there throughout the years.

    Edinburgh Castle Tour

    Vaults & Graveyard Tour

    Vaults & Graveyard Tour

    If you want to experience a spookier side of Edinburgh, then the Vaults & Graveyard Tour is perfect. The tour will take you deep into Folklore, Legends & Myths, and an abundance of evil.

    This tour is not suitable for children under 12 years old, and only for children 15 above with supervision by an adult.

    Vaults & Graveyards Tour

    Edinburgh Guided Private Walking Tour

    Edinburgh Guided Private Walking Tour

    If you want to focus on Edinburgh’s historical, cultural, and architectural heritage, this Edinburgh Guided Private Walking Tour is the right choice. What’s great about this tour is that you can customize it according to your interests and the guide will provide detailed explanations along the way. You can also arrange pickup at any Edinburgh city centre Hotel.

    Edinburgh Walking Tour

    Edinburgh: The Scotch Whisky Experience Tour and Tasting

    Edinburgh: The Scotch Whisky Experience Tour and Tasting

    A not-for-be-missed experience when you joined Edinburgh: The Scotch Whisky Experience Tour and Tasting. On this tour, you will learn all about the history and art of Scotch whisky making while tasting some of Scotland’s finest whiskies.

    Here are the highlights of this tour:

    • Learn about the production of Scotch whisky
    • Discover the different aromas from the five whisky-producing regions
    • Enjoy a tutored dram experience in our famous Scotch whisky collection

    Edinburgh Whiskyy Experience

    Edinburgh: Royal Attractions with Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tours

    Edinburgh: Royal Attractions with Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tours

    Get to explore Edinburgh Castle, the Royal Yacht Britannia, and the Palace of Holyroodhouse on this Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour. This tour will give you a fantastic overview of Edinburgh’s royal attractions with an audio guide available in eight languages.

    Some of the highlights of this tour includes:

    • Get 48-hour access to Edinburgh’s hop-on hop-off sightseeing buses
    • Enter Edinburgh Castle, Holyroodhouse and the Royal Yacht Britannia
    • Immerse yourself in the history and legends of the Scottish capital
    • Save time and money with an easy-to-use attractions pass
    • Get an insight into why the Royal Yacht Britannia was so favoured by the Royals

    Hop on Hop Off Bus Tour

    Edinburgh: Harry Potter Magical Guided Walking Tour

    Edinburgh: Harry Potter Magical Guided Walking Tour

    What many tourists in Edinburgh look forward to most is the Harry Potter Magical Guided Walking Tour. On this tour, you will explore various location around Edinburgh which was inspirations for J.K Rowling’s books.

    Some of the highlights of this tour includes:

    • See the real Grave of Tom Riddle in Greyfriars Kirkyard
    • Discover the city that inspired JK Rowling’s famous books
    • Be sorted into your Hogwarts House
    • Test your Harry Potter knowledge and earn points for your house

    Harry Potter Walking Tour

    Have you been to Edinburgh? Anything I should add to this? I’ll be heading back to Scotland with my whole family in a few months. I welcome all suggestions!  I’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment, email me, or find me on Facebook or Instagram.

    Things to do in Edinburgh Scotland FAQ

    What is Edinburgh famous for?

    Edinburgh is famous for its unique tourist attractions such as the Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh Castle, National Museum of Scotland, Arthur’s Seat, Calton Hill, and more. It’s also popular for its vibrant cultural events and festivals like the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Edinburgh International Festival, and Hogmanay.

    Is Edinburgh in Scotland worth visiting?

    Yes, Edinburgh is definitely worth visiting! It offers something for everyone – from its fascinating history and culture to its vibrant nightlife. Plus, it has a great variety of attractions, activities, and food.

    Is 2 days enough for Edinburgh?

    2 days is enough for Edinburgh, my tip is to go on tours so you can maximize your time and learn more about the city. There are a lot of amazing guided tours that offer different ways to explore the city such as walking tours, private tours, bus tours, and more.

    What is the most visited place in Edinburgh?

    The Edinburgh Castle is the most visited place in Edinburgh, with over one million visitors every year. It is a historic fortress that offers stunning views of the city and houses several museums and artifacts.

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