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Things to do in Edinburgh

Things to do in  Edinburgh

Welcome to Edinburgh

Steeped in Celtic and medieval history—and fondly nicknamed Auld Reekie—Edinburgh is a UNESCO World Heritage–listed city widely considered the prettiest in Scotland. Edinburgh Castle’s mighty fortifications dominate the skyline, while the Royal Mile sweeps through the old town to the city below. From the annual Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo to the Edinburgh Fringe, the city hosts a stellar selection of festivals and celebrations that draw crowds from all over. No visit to Edinburgh is complete without a taster of Scotch whisky, and if you’re looking for a change from the city streets, the soaring peaks of the Scottish Highlands are never far away.

Top 15 attractions in Edinburgh

Edinburgh Castle

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Edinburgh Castle—with its fortress walls, cobbled promenades, and winding stone steps—has loomed over Scotland’s capital city for more than 1,000 years. Steeped in history, the former royal residence is now a museum, featuring detailed exhibits; period artifacts, such as the Scottish Crown Jewels; and dark dungeons that illuminate the castle’s storied past.More

Royal Mile

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The atmospheric Royal Mile thoroughfare cuts through the historic core of Scotland’s capital city, Edinburgh, extending for slightly more than a mile from Edinburgh Castle all the way to the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Both sides of the partly pedestrianized street are bordered by historic granite buildings bearing shop display windows piled high with symbols of Scotland, from tartan to whisky to shortbread. In between the former tenements and taverns are darkened arm-width-wide alleyways, known locally as closes.More

Edinburgh Old Town

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The historic heart of Edinburgh, UNESCO-listed Old Town, is home to the city’s most visited sights. Its central artery is the Royal Mile, which connects Edinburgh Castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, and is lined with top attractions including St. Giles Cathedral, Camera Obscura and World of Illusions, and the Scottish Parliament Building.More

Forth Bridge

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The Forth Bridge, the distinctive red-hued cantilevered railway bridge that arches over the Firth of Forth close to Edinburgh, is one of Scotland’s most recognizable symbols. A triumph of engineering, the bridge is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its 1,709-foot (521-meter single cantilever span is the second-longest in the world.More

Stirling Castle

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Perched above the city of Stirling on a chunk of volcanic rock, this mighty Scottish fortress has seen it all, from attacks by Robert the Bruce to the coronation of the infant Mary Queen of Scots to the premiere of the movie “Braveheart” in 1993. In addition to the impeccably recreated Royal Palace interiors and the sheer amount of history held within its robust walls, the castle also offers superb views over Stirling and Scotland’s green hills and valleys.More

Palace of Holyroodhouse

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Set amid splendid gardens at the foot of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, the Palace of Holyroodhouse is the official Scottish residence of the British royals, who first decamped here from nearby Edinburgh Castle back in the 15th century. The complex grew from a 12th-century abbey, whose ruins can still be seen on the grounds, into a full-fledged Baroque palace complete with elaborate plasterwork, sumptuous furnishings, and a number of tapestries. The palace is perhaps most famous for having hosted to the rather unfortunate Mary, Queen of Scots, whose beloved secretary was slaughtered here by her jealous second husband.More

St. Giles Cathedral

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The official church of the Church of Scotland, St. Giles Cathedral and its famous crown spire tower over the Royal Mile in Edinburgh’s Old Town. With a history stretching back over 900 years, St. Giles is renowned for its beautiful stained glass windows, ornate Thistle Chapel, and busy concert calendar.More

Grassmarket

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Steeped in history, the Grassmarket is located directly below Edinburgh Castle and is just a minute’s walk from the famous Royal Mile and the National Museum of Scotland. A vibrant and historic area, here visitors can soak up the medieval atmosphere while marvelling at one of the most iconic views in the city, the mighty Edinburgh Castle.A stroll over the George IV Bridge leads to the Greyfriars Bobby statue and through some of Edinburgh’s oldest and most famous streets, including Candlemaker Row, Victoria Street, and West Port.The Grassmarket was traditionally a meeting point for market traders and cattle drovers, with temporary lodgings and taverns all around. It was also once a place of public execution, and a memorial near the site once occupied by the gibbet was created in 1937 to commemorate more than 100 people who died on the gallows in a period known as The Killing Time.Nowadays, the old market area is surrounded by pubs, clubs, shops, and two large hotels. Most buildings in the area are Victorian, with several modern buildings on the area’s south side.More

Arthur's Seat

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One of several peaks in the long-extinct volcanic ridge that towers behind Edinburgh, Arthur’s Seat offers hill walking in the heart of the city. Set within the 640-acre (260-hectare) Holyrood Park, it’s also the site of a 2,000-year-old hill fort. On a clear day, the summit promises spectacular views of the cityscape.More

Calton Hill

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Looming over Edinburgh’s UNESCO World Heritage-listed Old Town, Calton Hill is one of the seven hills that the Scottish capital is built on. Come here for 360-degree views that encompass Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace, and, on a clear day, the Firth of Forth.More

Scottish Parliament

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The Scottish Parliament complex, opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 2004, sits across from Arthur’s Seat at the end of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile. Known for having one of the most innovative and controversial designs in Britain, Parliament is a must-see on any Edinburgh itinerary; various tours are available for those who want to explore the building.More

National Museum of Scotland

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Set across two buildings—one Victorian and one modern—and featuring a collection of more than 20,000 artifacts, the National Museum of Scotland is one of Edinburgh’s top visitor attractions. The diverse exhibits cover anything and everything to do with Scotland, including natural history, art, fashion, science, and archaeology.More

Scott Monument

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One of Edinburgh’s most recognizable landmarks, the Scott Monument is a tribute to celebrated Scottish author and Edinburgh native son Sir Walter Scott. This imposing gothic tower stands 200 feet (61 meters) tall and dominates the skyline of New Town. Climb the 287 steps to the top for splendid views over the city.More

Loch Lomond

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Straddling both the Scottish Highlands and the Lowlands, this island-studded loch boasts the largest surface area of any of Scotland’s lakes. It’s also one of its most famous, thanks in no small part to a well-known Scottish folk song that speaks of its “bonnie banks.” The lake’s mirror-clear waters reflect the crags and peaks that rear up around it, most notably the 3,195-foot (974-meter) Ben Lomond on its eastern shore, whose summit offers views of both Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park.More

John Knox House

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The medieval John Knox House is one of the oldest buildings on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile. Knox, a prominent Reformation leader, is thought to have lived here in the 16th century, and the building now hosts tours chronicling the life of Knox and the houses’ other famous resident, James Mossman, goldsmith to Mary, Queen of Scots.More

Trip ideas

Top activities in Edinburgh

Underground Walking Tour in Edinburgh

Underground Walking Tour in Edinburgh

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US$17,34
Loch Ness, Scottish Highlands, Glencoe & Pitlochry Tour from Edinburgh
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Isle of Skye, The Highlands and Loch Ness- 3 Day Group Tour from Edinburgh
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The World Famous Underground Ghost Tour
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Ghost Bus Tour of Edinburgh

Ghost Bus Tour of Edinburgh

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Loch Ness Glencoe and The Highlands from Edinburgh
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Edinburgh Afternoon Tea Experience
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Operators have paid Viator more to have their experiences featured here

Recent reviews from experiences in Edinburgh

star-5
Proper introduction to Edinburgh :)
Caitlin_F, Nov 2022
Royal Mile Guided Walking Tour in Edinburgh
I’ll be back next summer with my parents and will make sure to take them on this tour.
star-5
Wonderful day trip!
Sadie_M, Nov 2022
Highlights of Scotland Luxury Private Tour With Scottish Local - Customisable
Definitely would recommend this day out if you’re looking to see a bit of more of Scotland outside of Edinburgh!
star-5
Good cheap tour of the city
Martine_C, Nov 2022
Edinburgh Hop-on Hop-off City Tour
Really good way to see around the city and good price I would recommend to anyone visiting Edinburgh
star-5
Perfect way to see St Andrews from Edinburgh
Richard_R, Nov 2022
St Andrews & the Fishing Villages of Fife Small-Group Day Tour from Edinburgh
Just a perfect day out tour from Edinburgh and a great way to see St Andrews and some fantastic villages in the Kingdom of Fife.
star-4
Short but interesting history of the darker side of Edinburgh
Catherine_C, Oct 2022
Underground Walking Tour in Edinburgh
I wish there was more of the vaults to visit, I thought it would go longer and deeper.
star-5
This tour is a must!
Catriona_B, Oct 2022
The World Famous Underground Ghost Tour
My kids loved being transported back in time and it was great to see a side of the city that you can't get to without someone who knows the way round.
star-4
Worth it
Maitee_Q, Oct 2022
Edinburgh Darkside Walking Tour: Mysteries, Murder and Legends
The tour gave me a chance to see parts of Edinburgh I wouldn’t have done alone (at night).
star-5
Perfect day trip from Edinburgh
molford, Oct 2022
St Andrews & the Fishing Villages of Fife Small-Group Day Tour from Edinburgh
Perfect day trip from Edinburgh to visit the beautiful town of St Andrews as well as a few other small villages.
star-5
For a true Harry Potter fan
jenniferfrasier, Oct 2022
The Potter Trail Private Tour
Our guide was knowledgeable and it was fun to see Edinburgh through the eyes of JK Rowling and see some of the various places that inspired her writings.
star-5
Wonderful Tour!
Arlene_H, Oct 2022
Rosslyn Chapel, Dunfermline Abbey and Stirling Castle Day Tour from Edinburgh
We enjoyed being able to visit these three important historical sites.
star-5
Rich is the best!
Parker_M, Oct 2022
Edinburgh Castle Tour: Fast-Track Guided Tour in English
My mom and I wanted to visit the Edinburgh Castle, but we figured it wouldn’t be nearly as fun without knowing more about the history while going through the grounds.
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Highlands, Laughs, and Drams
Wolfgang_R, Oct 2022
Highland Lochs, Glens and Whisky Small-Group Day Tour from Edinburgh
We liked the stops for the waterfall & queen’s view.
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The locals’ Edinburgh
Tara_C, Sep 2022
Tour of the Water of Leith and Dean village
The tour was relaxed, easygoing and a fantastic opportunity to see “the locals’” Edinburgh.
star-5
Amazing Harry Potter themed guided tour
Myra_S, Sep 2022
JK Rowling' s Harry Potter Walking Tour in Edinburgh
It was so cool to see and walk around beautiful Edinburgh and I definitely recommend this tour for anyone who has an interest in the Harry Potter series.
star-5
Exquisite way to view the sights of Edinburgh.
Todd_P, Sep 2022
Edinburgh Sky to Sea Bike Tour by Manual or E-Bike
Seeing Edinburgh from sky to sea was a fantastic way to see this beautiful city.
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Walking with Rosin
Tanya_C, Sep 2022
Walking Tour of Edinburgh's Old Town - History and Tales
She provided great facts on various attractions in Edinburgh.
star-5
Amazing tour!
Cheney_F, Sep 2022
Underground Walking Tour in Edinburgh
I have already told my family and friends about the experience, and now they can’t wait to visit Edinburgh, to find out what the underground was really like.
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Underground night tour
Jeff_W, Sep 2022
Small Group Edinburgh Night Walking tour including Underground Vaults
It was fun to see the vaults.
star-4
Interesting Vault Tour
Adriana_F, Sep 2022
Edinburgh Darkside Walking Tour: Mysteries, Murder and Legends
Interesting tour to see the underground vaults.
star-5
Definetly a must when you visit Edinburgh !
GuyPearson, Sep 2022
Edinburgh Sky to Sea Bike Tour by Manual or E-Bike
Best way to see a lot of the outskirts of Edinburgh .
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All about Edinburgh

When to visit

Edinburgh truly comes to life in the summer, when the city hosts a number of festivals, including the world’s largest performing arts festival, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. This is peak season, though, so summer visitors should be prepared to contend with large crowds and higher-than-normal hotel rates. Spring is a good alternative if you’re not planning to attend the festival; the city is particularly beautiful when the flowers in parks and gardens are in full bloom.

Getting around

Most of Edinburgh’s main attractions can easily be reached on foot—in fact, wandering around the history-filled streets is the best way to get a feel for city. If you need to travel longer distances, to see attractions like the Royal Yacht Britannia in Leith, hop on one of the city’s convenient buses: you can buy tickets on the bus, but you’ll need exact change. The city’s tram network is of little use to visitors.

Traveler tips

The Secret Herb Garden, which is nestled in farmland on the edge of the Pentland Hills, on the outskirts of the city, is an ideal place to escape Edinburgh’s crowds. Spend a few relaxing hours wandering the grounds, shop for potted herbs, have a coffee or lunch in the vine-filled café and bistro, and pick up a bottle of gin from the on-site distillery.

A local’s pocket guide to Edinburgh

Will Thompson

Will lived and studied near Edinburgh during his university years. He also worked for the Fringe Festival during the summertime.

The first thing you should do in Edinburgh is...

download the Transport for Edinburgh app. Bus and tram are by far the easiest ways to cross the city.

A perfect Saturday in Edinburgh...

includes a trip to the Camera Obscura, lunch on the Royal Mile, and a walk around Holyrood Park or the Royal Botanical Gardens. Finish up with dinner and drinks in New Town.

One touristy thing that lives up to the hype is...

the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, a whole month of art and theatre. You never know what you might see, especially with the Street Events along the Royal Mile.

To discover the "real" Edinburgh...

head south of Princes Street and towards the Meadows where you can enjoy all the great Edinburgh architecture, as well as the city’s parks.

For the best view of the city...

you should hike to Arthur’s Seat at the top of Holyrood Park. If you want an easier walk, take a quick trip up to Edinburgh Castle instead.

One thing people get wrong...

is believing that fried Mars Bars are something locals actually eat. However, if you do want to try one, you’ll find them in some Edinburgh chip shops.

People Also Ask

What is Edinburgh famous for?

Edinburgh is often said to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It’s famous for its historic attractions, which include its castle and the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Old and New Towns, and its literary heritage. Edinburgh is also famously a festival city, home to the world’s largest art festival.

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What should I not miss in Edinburgh?

As well as visiting Edinburgh Castle and wandering around the Old Town and New Town, you should make time for the excellent National Museum of Scotland, whose collection includes everything from ancient Egyptian artifacts to works by Scottish artists and designers, and a cloned sheep. Best of all, it’s free to enter.

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What is the most visited place in Edinburgh?

With up to 2.2 million visitors a year, the National Museum of Scotland is Edinburgh’s most visited attraction. Edinburgh Castle attracts a similar number of visitors each year, making it the city’s most-visited paid attraction. The Scottish National Gallery and St. Giles Cathedral are the next most visited attractions.

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How can I spend 3 days in Edinburgh?

With three days in Edinburgh you’ll have enough time to thoroughly explore both the Old and New Towns, as well as the city’s most famous attractions, including Edinburgh Castle, the National Museum of Scotland, and the Royal Yacht Britannia. You’ll also have time for a day trip to Rosslyn Chapel or North Berwick.

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Is Edinburgh a safe city?

Yes, Edinburgh is generally a safe city. You are unlikely to have any problems wandering around the city during the day. Even at night you’re unlikely to have any problems as long as you stick to the main streets and well-lit areas—it’s best not to walk across the Meadows on your own at night.

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Is Edinburgh expensive?

No. Edinburgh is not particularly cheap (and living costs for residents can be high) but neither is it expensive to visit compared to other major European cities—and it’s certainly more budget-friendly than London. Prices for hotels and eating out are quite high, but are balanced by the number of free attractions you can visit.

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