Top 10 Things to Do in Edinburgh
Heading to Edinburgh and wondering what to do? From spooky castles to charming parks, our guide has it all. Read on to discover the best of the Scottish capital.
Often described as the, “Athens of the North”, Edinburgh is full of history and mysteries at every corner. For over 500 years, Edinburgh has stood tall as Scotland’s arts and culture centre, despite its less than perfect weather. Its streets reflect traditional Scottish culture, with a twist of modernity. You can especially see this once you’ve visited both the Old and New Town of Edinburgh. So, where should you start your adventure, and what should you see while in the Scottish capital? Here are the Top 10 Things to Do in Edinburgh!
1. Edinburgh Castle
Easily the biggest attraction here is Edinburgh Castle. Built on an extinct volcano, this 12th century fortress draws in a big crowd year after year. Attractions inside the castle grounds include the Stone of Destiny, the Scottish Crown Jewels, and the army headquarters of the Scottish Division. The view is also a big hit and a great way to get your bearings in Edinburgh.
The Castle is part of the famous Royal Mile, which stretches from here to Holyroodhouse Palace, which is the Queen’s residence in Scotland. The Palace is a stunning example of Baroque architecture and also houses a large section of the Royal Collection, which you can view in the Queen’s Gallery. Edinburgh Castle is open seven days a week from 9.30am until 4.30pm.
2. Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre
Second on our list of top things to do in Edinburgh is a visit to the Scotch Whiskey Heritage Centre! When visiting Edinburgh, a trip here is an absolute must! How else are you going to get acquainted with the local culture?! You can take a variety of tours, where you’ll learn all about the production, history, and the best varieties of this incredible drink. Another upside of taking a tour? You’ll know exactly which bottle to stick in your backpack to take home as a souvenir!
3. Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art
If you’re an art junkie, then make sure you pay a visit to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. Artists on display include Lucien Freud, Adrian Wiszniewski, and Goya. Check out the sculptures in the garden by Henry Moore before heading over to the Dean Gallery. Here you’ll be wowed by Eduardo Paolozzi’s sculpture collection and surrealistic works by Dali, Magritte and Picasso. The National Gallery is open from 9am until 5pm, Monday through to Sunday. And if you’re looking for things to do in Edinburgh on a budget, this is a great option as entrance is free.
4. Royal Yacht Britannia
The Royal Yacht Britannia is another major tourist attraction in Edinburgh, and is especially exciting for those who have an interest in the Monarchy, or the world of majestic ships. The Royal Yacht Britannia served the Royal Family for over 44 years, and was often used everything from state affairs, Royal Honeymoons, and family holidays. Decommissioned on 11 December 1997, it’s now permanently docked at the Ocean Terminal in Leith. It’s open from 10am until 3.30pm everyday, and we recommend booking tickets online in advance.
5. Mary King’s Close
For something a little different, check out Mary King’s Close. Dating back to the 16th century, this network of streets is hidden away below road level. Tours of this unique location explore what life was like during the plague in the 17th century. And if you’re into spooky things, this will be a hit as it’s reputed to be one of the most haunted places in Scotland. The Supernatural History Tours are well worth it and give you the chance to make up your own mind about what really goes bump in the night. Mary King’s Close is located beneath the Royal Mile and can be accessed from Warriston’s Close.
6. Scott Monument
Have a thing for Gothic spires and breathtaking views? Then heading to the most iconic feature in the Edinburgh skyline should be next on your list. And if you’re a fan of literature, then you might already know that this monument is dedicated to Sir Walter Scott. It’s actually the tallest monument in the world dedicated to a writer, so it’s a cool fact to know before visiting!
7. Scottish Parliament building
For a taste of something a little more modern on the Royal Mile, pay a visit to the new Scottish Parliament building. The building was designed by competition winner Enric Miralles in 1998, and the roof of the building is based on the image of upturned boats. You can watch the parliament in action on Wednesday afternoons, Thursday mornings, and Thursday afternoons, but tickets are very popular so it’s a good idea to book at least a week in advance.
8. Head to the Park
If you’ve had enough of sightseeing and want to enjoy some urban green space, then head to a park! Our favourite is Queen’s Park, but it’s also known as Holyrood Park. This green expanse can be found close to the city centre and covers an area five miles in diameter. Originally developed by James V, the park showcases every aspect of the Scottish countryside, including mountains, marshes and moorlands. Why not walk off the city stress on one of the three most popular walks? Check out the Radical Road, the Hunters Bog, the Long Row, and on the way don’t miss the ruins of St. Anthony’s Chapel.
9. Arthur’s Seat
Have a thing for hiking? Then you’re in luck! Hike up this extinct volcano and enjoy some of the best views Edinburgh has to offer. Standing at 251m above sea level, you can see Arthur’s Seat from nearly anywhere in the city. And while it might look daunting, it makes for a relatively easy hike. Once you reach the top, you’ll be glad you hiked it!
10. Go Shopping on Victoria Street
And to finish off our list of the top things to do in Edinburgh, we suggest a shopping trip on Victoria Street. While the price tags at some of these shops might be a bit extravagant for the backpacker budget, there’s no harm in window shopping! The street itself is worth visiting for the beautiful architecture alone, but we’re certain a few shops, restaurants, or bars might draw you in.
Where to Stay in Edinburgh
Our top recommendation in Edinburgh is the centrally located St Christopher’s Inn. Guests can enjoy a range of perks while staying with St. Christopher’s, including discounts at their bar and restaurant, incredible activities, and ultra-cool themed rooms. Wonder what it’s like to stay in a bank vault? Try it out at the coolest hostel in Edinburgh!
Top Things to Do in Edinburgh
Now that you know where to go, it’s time for you to start planning your adventure to the Scottish capital. If you need more information to help you plan your vacation, click here for a range of helpful tips, city guides, food guides, and more. And for all the latest news at Famous Hostels, follow us or subscribe on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and Youtube.