Heading to Scotland and wondering what to do in Edinburgh, its incredible capital? Get ready to be blown away! This city is filled with history, both light and dark; beautiful architecture, mouthwatering vegan eats, and a plethora of activities to do! No doubt, you’ll fall in love with the city just like I did. Keep reading to find out my top 30 things to do in Edinburgh, Scotland!
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Visiting Edinburgh, Scotland is like visiting another world.
You take a step back in time; walking through the dark closes like they did 200 years ago, eating delicious haggis which has been around for decades, and exploring one of the many graveyards with century-old gravestones.
It’s exhilarating… and a bit creepy!
But there’s a lighter side to Edinburgh, too.
Climbing up to Arthur’s Seat during sunset to admire the city bathed in a golden hue, going on a free Harry Potter Tour to uncover secrets of the magical world, visiting Calton Hill to get a panoramic view of Edinburgh in all its glory.
This incredible city has so much to offer in its array of things to do, sites to see, and food to eat it’s unbelievable.
So, whether you’re searching for ghosts in its closes, yearning to uncover the city’s chilling history in the black of night, or admiring the architecture in the light of the sun, you’ll no doubt have a kick-ass time.
Without further rambling, here are my favorite activities and sites to see in Edinburgh!
Psst, don’t forget to read my other cool post on 15 crazy awesome places to visit in Scotland! You’ll find Edinburgh on the list, amongst other incredible destinations.
TOP THINGS TO DO IN EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND
1. Explore Edinburgh’s Castle
One of the top attractions in Edinburgh, the castle is a historic fortress which dominates any skyline of the city, as it sits atop an enormous hill — called Castle Rock — smack dab in the center.
When you visit Edinburgh, you can’t miss Edinburgh Castle — both visually (because it’s huge) and as a site to see.
Top tip? Go with a castle tour! Edinburgh Castle’s history is pretty cool and an experienced, knowledgeable guide can share it’s unique backstory with you better than any of the placards.
I recommend booking this Edinburgh Castle Skip-The-Line Tour that includes your castle ticket. (Because who wants to stand in line, amirite?)
2. Visit Greyfriars Kirkyard
Situated in the heart of Edinburgh since the 1600s, this notorious graveyard has been around for quite a long time, wouldn’t you agree?!
With a dark history of body snatchers creeping through the graveyard, an evil poltergeist terrorizing late night visitors, and Harry Potter characters lingering throughout, this Edinburgh attraction is worth the hype.
3. Climb Calton Hill
Who doesn’t love fantastic views of a beautiful surrounding city? That’s exactly what you get when you climb Calton Hill. And I say climb, but it’s more like a gentle uphill walk.
But while you don’t work very hard to get up there, you get such a rewarding view of the city! It’s definitely one of my favorite things to do in Edinburgh.
4. Walk the Royal Mile
No doubt, walking along the Royal Mile is one of the most typical things to do in Edinburgh — and with good reason! It’s where everything is happening in the city and it’s likely the most central place as well.
You’ll find cute shops, beautiful cathedrals, both castles, and many other things spotted along the Royal Mile. It’s so worth exploring!
5. Hike Arthur’s Seat
Ever see gorgeous, panoramic views of Edinburgh? They were likely taken on top of Arthur’s Seat!
This is the perfect place to get some awesome photos of Edinburgh from above, as well as get some great exercise. Hiking up Arther’s Seat takes about an hour but it’s so worth it.
6. Visit the Grassmarket
The grassmarket is so cool. While it doesn’t look very cool when you first come up to it, as it looks like a big empty square, it’s more about what happened there.
The history of the grassmarket and the stories of what occurred there. Like the Maggie Dickson story; she was hanged and came back to life! I mean there’s bit more to it than that but you’ll have to visit her pub to hear the rest of the story!
Also in the grassmarket, you’ll find tons of cool eateries, cafes, restaurants, and pubs, as well as little local shops. It’s a great place to explore!
7. Learn at the National Museum of Scotland
One of my absolute favorite places to visit and things to do in Edinburgh, the National Museum of Scotland is filled with unbelievably cool things.
Some of the displays and educational learning points include animals, geology, space, machinery, physics, Scotland history, and more.
It’s also a great place for children, as many of the displays are interactive! You can easily spend 4-5 hours exploring this place; it’s one of the best Edinburgh attractions (imo).
8. Admire St. Giles’ Cathedral
A beautiful cathedral smack dab in the middle of Edinburgh, the St. Giles Cathedral is definitely worth a visit — even if just for a few minutes (or seconds).
Since it’s along the Royal Mile, you can stop by quick when walking along it and snap a pic. It has a breathtaking Gothic architectural design and is the principal place of worship of the Church of Scotland in Edinburgh.
9. Explore the Closes
This is one of the coolest aspects of Edinburgh. Dotted along the Royal mile you’ll find these little pathways snaking through the tall buildings called closes.
There are numerous closes to explore, where you’ll find hidden gems and cool views.
10. Walk the Most Photographed Street in Scotland
Did you know the most photographed street in Scotland is called Victoria Street?
It’s also rumored to be the inspiration for Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter series! (Because, if you didn’t know, J.K. Rowling started the infamous series here — and you can snag a free Harry Potter tour in Edinburgh, too!)
11. Check Out Palace of Holyroodhouse
Also known as Holyrood Palace, this place is best known as the home for Mary Queen of Scots.
You can take a sweet tour through the palace exploring its 14 magnificent State Apartments, the romantic ruins of the 12th-century Holyrood Abbey, and the beautiful royal gardens.
12. Delve Into the Underground City
Did you know Edinburgh has an abandoned underground city? Even cooler, did you know you could explore it… at night?!
Heck yeah, it’s as creepy as it sounds. And heck yeah, it’s so freakin’ cool.
Also known as the Underground Vaults, aka the the largest system of underground caverns in Edinburgh, this extensive underground city was built in the 18th century and quickly became known as the home for utter misery.
13. Explore the New Town
While Edinburgh’s Old Town is the bees knees, it’s New Town is pretty cool, too. For example, did you know there’s an incredible pizza restaurant in the New Town that’s serving up mouthwatering vegan pizza?
All pizza aside, there’s also the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, The Scott Monument, Calton Hill, Prices Street and George Street (great for shopping!); and Edinburgh’s farmers market.
Psst, wanna get outta the city? Head to the Scottish Highlands to explore Loch Ness and Glencoe with Get Your Guide! This is a memorable day trip tour that’ll take you through the incredible Highlands, to several amazing Scottish castles, and across Loch Ness in a wondrous boat tour.
14. Do The Scotch Whisky Experience
Who else is a raging whisky fan? (Okay, I’m definitely not but if you are, this is a must-do Edinburgh activity!)
With nearly 6,000 reviews and a 4.5* rating, Edinburgh visitors who’re whisky connoisseurs truly love this experience.
You can learn more about that here.
15. Visit the Writers’ Museum
If you’re a big book person who loves all or one of these three great Scottish writers – Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson — then you need to head over to the Writers’ Museum!
Nestled away in a quiet close of the Royal Mile, this is one of the more underrated things to do in Edinburgh!
16. Uncover the Magic on a Harry Potter Tour
Magical wands, Lord Voldemort’s grave, Hogwarts, and the graveyard which inspired it all… need I say more? If you’re any sort of Harry Potter fan, this is a must-do in Edinburgh!
Although, if you aren’t a tour-y kind of person, take a look at these must-see Harry Potter sites!
17. Try Some Haggis (Preferably Vegan 😉)
When in Vegas, you walk the strip.
When in Rome, you visit the Vatican.
When in Scotland…? You try some traditional haggis!
But I’m gonna be honest with you… the non-vegan version of haggis doesn’t sound appetizing. Sheep’s heart, liver and lungs cooked in the sheep’s stomach lining? That’s a big no freakin’ thank you from me!
Although, you can find mouthwatering, vegan haggis at a highly-rated restaurant called Hendersens (which you can learn more about here in my vegan Edinburgh guide!).
18. Visit the Real Mary King’s Close
While the tourists and travelers wander about the Royal Mile and Old Town, those seeking to uncover the secrets of the Edinburgh flock to the Real Mary King’s Close!
Just 400 years ago, the destructive and detrimental bubonic plague, aka the Black Death, swept through Edinburgh like an ocean wave. To stop the madness from going any further, the city literally covered a network of alleys and homes, which have been preserved since the 17th century!
Nowadays, you can explore this hidden city, heading deep into what is now being called The Real Mary King’s Close. You can read all about it here from a fellow blogger On the Luce!
19. Rub Hume’s Toe
A weird tradition in the city, students attending the University of Edinburgh tend to rub the statue of Hume’s Toe when they need some good luck! Cool, eh?
The Hume statue has become sort of a charm for those wishing the philosopher’s knowledge rubs off on them!
So, as you stroll past Hume — who’s right in the city center — make sure to give his toe a lil’ rub.
20. Visit Hogwarts
As you stroll through Greyfriars Kirkyard, don’t forget to give a little wave to Hogwarts! Or shall I say, the school that inspired the fictional school for magical wizards in the infamous book series!
21. Go on a Free City Tour
Who doesn’t like saving a few dollars, am I right?
While sometimes the word “free” might bring to mind low-quality things, the opposite is true for free tours!
Now I’m being totally serious when I say… I LOVE the free tours in Edinburgh! Knowledgeable locals, cool sites, and captivating stories… nothing better.
22. Check Out the Scottish National Gallery
A beautiful building holding beautiful art galleries, the National Gallery houses Scottish and international works of art from the birth of the Renaissance to Post-Impressionism.
If you’re at all into art, don’t miss out on visiting this Edinburgh attraction! The neoclassical building is absolutely gorgeous and it features works of art by various important artists from around the world.
23. Visit Parliament Square
Parliament Square isn’t really the type of square that comes to mind when someone says “city square”, but it’s beautiful nonetheless.
Inconspicuously tucked away along the Royal Mile, you’ll find the Parliament House here (as you could have probably guessed), which was built all the way back in 1641.
But, the most prominent feature in Parliament Square? The statue of Charles II, the oldest of all of Edinburgh’s statues.
24. Say “Hi!” to the Renowned Greyfriars Bobby
Ah, Greyfriars Bobby! Also known as the dog (and dog statue) nestled in Greyfriars Kirkyard.
So, the story goes there was a gardener named John Gray who came to Edinburgh with his family and, unable to find work, joined Edinburgh’s Police Force as a night watchman.
To ward off loneliness, John brought in a companion… Bobby! A perky Skye Terrier ready for duty.
As the years went by, these two BFFs tore up the street — in a good way of course! But as time went on, John took up tuberculosis and unfortunately passed away… but Bobby never forgot his beloved master.
So, for the next 14 years, Bobby won the heart of the city by never leaving his masters grave! And that’s how the story goes.
Nowadays, stopping by Bobby’s statue is a favorite thing to see in Edinburgh!
25. Visit a Few Pubs
Who can pass up the chance to visit an older-than-the-United-States pub in Edinburgh for a refreshing pint, eh? I sure can’t!
Plus, who can deny that traditional Scottish pubs hold a special place in history? The Scots are pretty renowned for being able to hold their alcohol, especially that Scottish whisky!
26. Uncover the City’s Dark Secrets on a Ghost Tour
One of my all-time favorite things to do in Edinburgh? Uncovering Edinburgh’s dark secrets by going on a ghost tour!
Did you know Edinburgh has a deep dark history of murders, public torture, and disease? And that the city is famous for having numerous ghosts that stroll its closes when the black of night rolls around?
Sounds pretty cool, doesn’t it? Well, lemme tell you… it definitely is!
27. Explore the Museum of Edinburgh
A small humble museum tucked away along the Royal Mile, the Museum of Edinburgh showcases a wide range of stories, historical objects, and entertains visitors with interesting facts and jaw-dropping tales from over the centuries!
Even better, this museum is completely free! Making it one of my favorite Edinburgh activities.
28. Go on a Gin Tour
While Scotch whisky reigns king in this country, gin comes in queen! Little know that Edinburgh has a long-standing history — since the 1700s — of crafting up the love-it or hate-it liquor of gin.
Thus, going on a gin tour in the city is a great way to tap into the city’s fun side of history! Check out this full day tour of taste testing everything Edinburgh has to offer: whisky, gin, craft beer, and more!
29. Eat Some Mouthwatering Vegan Food
Did you know Edinburgh is one of the best vegan cities in the world? Holy moly, does this place offer up some mouthwatering, delicious vegan eats!
Interested in reading more? Click here to check out my full blog post on vegan eats in Edinburgh!
30. Explore One of the Many Graveyards
I’d go as far as saying Edinburgh is one of the top cities for cool graveyards… and yes, graveyards can most definitely be cool!
In fact, strolling through graveyards and peeking at all of the incredible ancient gravestones is damn near my favorite thing to do in Edinburgh! It’s ahhh-mazing.
Other Exceptional Things to Do in Edinburgh
So there are definitely other awesome things to do in Edinburgh that are not featured on this list.
Below you’ll find additional highly-rated sites, attractions, and things to do in Edinburgh that other travelers have recommended to me. However, I’ve not done these things for myself so I can’t share my own personal experience!
- Visit the Royal Yacht Britannia
- Stroll through the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh
- Experience Camera Obscura and World of Illusions (one of the top things to do in Edinburgh with kids!)
- Day trip to Inchcolm Abbey and Island
- Explore Dean Village (delivers insta-worthy Edinburgh photos!)
- Day trip to Midhope Castle (one of the best things to do in Scotland for Outlander fans!)
- Stroll through Princes Street Gardens (lovely place for takeaway lunch)
- Visit the Dynamic Earth Museum
- Learn about medical history at the Surgeons’ Hall Museum
- Plan your trip around the Edinburgh Festival Fringe
Map of the Best Things to Do in Edinburgh, Scotland
Interested in seeing a map of Edinburgh with pinpoints showing where the best things to do in the city are? Check out my helpful map below! Click on any pin to see what it is and where it is.
So, there ya go peeps! The ultimate list of the top things to do in Edinburgh, Scotland.
No doubt, this is an extensive list that encompasses pretty much everything to see in Edinburgh. If you can’t get to all things on the list, don’t beat yourself up! This city has it all; just being here is an incredible experience.
Are you thinking of visiting Edinburg? Which thing on this list sounds the best to you?! Let me know in the comments!
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