The Best Places to Visit in Edinburgh – Ultimate Visitor Guide

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Edinburgh hosts 12 major cultural events each year including The Fringe (the world’s biggest arts festival) and Edinburgh’s Hogmanay (one of the biggest street parties in the world). Edinburgh is also a UNESCO City of Literature and its city centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Find out exactly what to do, where to go, and what to see in Edinburgh in this ultimate visitor guide.

edinburgh night

The best places to visit in Edinburgh – from castle to palace

There are a huge number of things to do in Edinburgh that offer locals and visitors alike a great time, whether it’s climbing to the top of an extinct volcano, wandering down the atmospheric medieval streets that join The Royal Mile or exploring the grandest castle in Europe, all in a compact city that’s easy to navigate and oozes culture and history from every nook and cranny.

In fact, Edinburgh has so many attractions it can get a bit overwhelming trying to decide which ones to visit – a task that’s made a thousand times more difficult for visitors who only have a day or two to explore this wonderful Scottish metropolis.

It’s not so bad if you live in the area because you can always come back another day, but how do you decide on the best way to spend your precious time if you’re a visiting tourist?

It’s a question I get frequently asked and in this article I hope to give potential visitors to Edinburgh the definitive guide for suggestions on where to go and what to do while they’re here.

The majority of the attractions in the list below are historic in nature – something that’s unavoidable when coming to a city with over a thousand years of history – but I’ve also included lots of modern attractions as well as a few in the great outdoors to balance things out.

Discover Edinburgh in 360° with this article: Virtual Tours of Attractions in Edinburgh.


Map of places to visit in Edinburgh

Click and drag to move and zoom in and out of this interactive map. Click the markers to visit each Out About Scotland attraction information page.

The Balmoral Hotel

Address: 1 Princes Street, Edinburgh, EH2 2EQ,

Contact details: Tel 0131 556 2414

Out About Scotland complete guide: The Balmoral Hotel

Balmoral Hotel

The Balmoral Hotel in Princes Street is one of the city’s most iconic buildings, and while it’s not exactly a tourist attraction in the truest sense, it’s more than worth visiting if you want to experience the finest dining in Edinburgh in beautiful surroundings that are steeped in history.

The hotel was built in 1902 by the North British Railway Company as a way to service the ever-increasing numbers of travelling business people who were arriving in Edinburgh via Waverley Station. It passed into the ownership of several hoteliers over the years but for the last three decades it has been run by Rocco Forte who have completely renovated it into a shining example of Scottish luxury.

Inside, visitors are welcome to relax in six different dining areas that all offer a slightly different experience. Brasserie Prince for example, is a French-themed bistro that is relaxed and informal, while Palm Court is set in an extravagant hall that’s flooded with natural light from a giant glass dome ceiling.

One area I have to recommend for an evening visit is The Balmoral Hotel’s Scotch bar which features one of the largest collections of single malt whisky in Edinburgh, with over five-hundred different bottles to sample at any time.

It’s not a large bar by any means but the atmosphere is warm and cosy and the staff are incredibly enthusiastic about whisky, so if you have any questions about ‘the water of life’ they’ll be more than happy to answer them.

If you’d like to take a virtual walk around the Balmoral Hotel check out my virtual tour below.


Calton Hill

Address: City Observatory, 38 Calton Hill, Edinburgh, EH7 5AA

Contact details: NA

Out About Scotland complete guide: Calton Hill

Calton Hill

Calton Hill is a large hilltop located close to the hustle and bustle of Princes Street where a collection of Edinburgh’s most famous landmarks are situated within a few hundred feet of each other.

The hill is included in the UNESCO World Heritage status that’s been awarded to the city which is hardly surprising considering the amount of history you will find there.

If you walk east from the city centre you’ll be guided by tourist information signs that direct you up the short walk to the top of the hill and from there you can take in breath-taking views of the city, from the rising faces of Salisbury Crags to the south to the dramatic views of the city centre to the west.

Once at the top you’ll find lots of interesting landmarks on Calton Hill including the National Monument, the Nelson Monument, and the City Observatory.

The National Monument is Scotland’s memorial to the Sottish soldiers and sailors who died during the Napoleonic wars and it’s the dominating feature of Calton Hill, while just a few yards away is the commemorative tower that honours Admiral Nelson.

Nearby to the tower is the Dugald Stewart Monument which offers a gorgeous view of Edinburgh and is one of the most-photographed landmarks in the city.

Calton Hill has recently been redeveloped as a tourist attraction by Collective, a group that has installed a restaurant, an art gallery and a viewing platform on the site of the old city observatory.


Camera Obscura and World of Illusions

Address: Castlehill, Royal Mile, Edinburgh, EH1 2ND

Contact details: Tel 0131 226 3709

Out About Scotland complete guide: Camera Obscura and World of Illusions

camera obscura edinburgh-min

Camera Obscura and World of Illusions is one of the most-visited tourist attractions in the city, helped no end by the fact that it’s located in the dead-centre of the main sightseeing area of Edinburgh.

Directly opposite you’ll find The Scotch Whisky Experience and Edinburgh Castle is located just a couple of minutes walk up Castle Hill, so three major tourist sites can be visited with hardly any walk between them.

At Camera Obscura, visitors get to experience a variety of optical illusions set across six floors inside a purpose-built Victorian building, with each floor dedicated to different displays of light and sound. One floor, for example, features a collection of holograms, while another has a spinning vortex wheel and a mirror maze.

Suffice to say you’ll never know what’s around the next corner as you walk through each room.

Although Camera Obscura is advertised as a modern attraction it actually has a lot of history behind it. The very first display was created as a way for an Edinburgh telescope maker to showcase his work in the early 1800s, but it was also used in an exhibition about urban planning before passing to a university and then to the current owners who added the modern light and sound shows.

The earliest display – the Camera Obscura – is located on the top floor where visitors can see an image of the Edinburgh city skyline projected onto a desktop. This was something that wowed crowds back in the 1800s and it’s still an interesting thing to see today.


Craigmillar Castle

Address: Craigmillar Castle Rd, Edinburgh, EH16 4SY

Contact details: Tel 0131 661 4445

Out About Scotland complete guide: Craigmillar Castle

Craigmillar Castle

Craigmillar Castle lies 4 miles (6.44 km) south of Edinburgh Castle in an area that’s rarely visited by tourists even though getting to it takes less than half an hour by bus (number 14) from Princes Street.

This castle is much smaller than its famous rival in the city centre, but it played an important role in Scotland’s history and was used extensively as a royal stronghold during times of political unrest in the capital.

Mary Queen of Scots stayed there several times, first as a guest and later in its jail, and you’ll discover more about the story of Mary and her time at Craigmillar when you visit thanks to a number of information panels dotted around the site.

The castle consists of a large tower house that was built in 1425 which is enclosed by an outer courtyard surrounded by high stone walls. It must have been a near-impenetrable fortress back in the day and it’s no wonder royalty chose to hide themselves away there, especially considering the tower house has walls that are an incredible eleven-feet thick!

Externally you can walk around the remains of formal gardens and explore the ruins of a private chapel, while inside there are lots of winding stairways to climb and enough nooks and crannies to keep kids occupied for a good hour or two.

Sadly, there’s no café at this Historic Environment Scotland site so if you need refreshments you’ll have to head back into the city, but before you do I recommend taking a walk around the heavily-wooded Craigmillar Castle Park which offers nice walks and plenty of places to sit and admire the view.


Cramond Island

Address: Cramond, Edinburgh, EH4 6NU.

Contact details: NA

Out About Scotland complete guide: Cramond Island

Cramond Island

One of the best reasons to visit Edinburgh is discovering how diverse it is in terms of landscapes. The city centre features a mix of medieval and modern buildings, there are huge green spaces at Holyrood Park and The Meadows, there are hills-galore including the Pentland Hills and Blackford Hill, and there are a number of coastal attractions including Portobello and Cramond.

The latter – Cramond village – lies on the north-west border of Edinburgh next to the opening of the River Almond where it meets the Firth of Forth.

The village is easily reached from Edinburgh city centre within half an hour by bus (numbers 41, 32 and 36) so it’s an ideal place to unwind away from the noise of Princes Street, with the nearby beach at Silverknowes offering a fairly wide expanse of sand as well as a popular walking boulevard.

Looking out to sea you’ll notice a WWII anti-tank barricade leading to a small island which is only accessible when the tide is out. To get there, check the tide timetable at the Cramond causeway and then walk along the barricade. It’s a short walk (maybe 20-minutes) but it’s impossible once the tide returns – which it does within a matter of minutes.

Cramond Island isn’t particularly big but there are lots of places to sit and enjoy the view with a large grass area in the middle and a couple of small pebble beaches at the edges. The northern side of the island has several derelict WWII storage buildings that are worth a look, but watch where you step as there’s a lot of broken glass in them.

The highest point of Cramond Island rises 68-feet above sea level where it offers a good spot to look across the Firth of Forth to Fife as well as lots of birdwatching opportunities towards the Forth bridges. The view is very pretty indeed and on a sunny day it’s downright stunning, but be warned in summer the island gets crowded with visitors, especially at the weekend.


Dean Village

Address: Dean Path, Edinburgh, EH4 3AY

Contact details: NA

Out About Scotland complete guide: Dean Village

Dean Village

Once the location of an 800-year-old grain milling industry, Dean Village is now best known for its beautiful architecture which features in so many iconic photos of Edinburgh.

Dean Village developed its numerous mills thanks to the Water of Leith which powered the milling stones that refined wheat crops brought in from around the Lothians. In its heyday, there were eleven working mills in this one small area of Edinburgh along with buildings to house the hundreds of mill workers.

The mills went into a slow decline in the 19th-century until a program of regeneration began in the 1970s, and today Dean Village is one of the most sought-after residential areas in Edinburgh.

Many locals go there to enjoy walking along the pathways that run alongside the river and the village has become popular as a hidden oasis away from Edinburgh’s crowds of tourists – although it’s actually only one mile from the city centre.

A good route to follow when walking through the village is to admire the stunning architecture of Wells Court and then continue down under Thomas Telford’s imposing Dean Bridge.

From there you can either follow the path onwards to Stockbridge with its vibrant cafés and bars or you can take a short walk up to the Modern Art Galleries on Belford Road.


Edinburgh Castle

Address: Castlehill, Edinburgh, EH1 2NG

Contact details: Tel 0131 225 9846

Out About Scotland complete guide: Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle is everything that’s great about the best Scottish attractions. It’s awe-inspiring, very old, in a stunning location and has more things to see and do than you’ll be able to fit into one visit.

There are ancient buildings to walk through, lots of interesting artefacts to look at, some excellent museums to wander around and a superb collection of exhibitions, gift shops, and cafés.

You can reach the castle entrance by following The Royal Mile to the very end of its northernmost point where you’ll be presented with a magnificent open courtyard.

This is where the world-famous Edinburgh Military Tattoo takes place every year where military bands and performers from all over the world come together to entertain a quarter-million tourists annually, watched by upwards of 100 million people on TV.

The Royal Palace is perhaps the most impressive section of the castle as it houses not only the royal apartments but also the great crown room which houses the Honours of Scotland.

These artefacts are the Scottish equivalent of the Crown Jewels held in the Tower of London and they’re no less magnificent, comprising a crown, sceptre and the Sword of State.

The Stone of Scone – the ancient stone upon which Scottish monarchs were crowned – is also held within the vaults of the crown room and all the exhibits are presented with lots of background information which is great if you’ve got inquisitive children with you.

Although tickets to the castle are a bit expensive it really is an amazing place to visit and it totally justifies its inclusion in this list of the best things to do in Edinburgh.

Edinburgh Sightseeing Advice
Planning to visit Edinburgh’s top attractions? You’ll save time and money by purchasing a pre-paid hop-on hop-off bus pass.
The pass allows unlimited travel in Edinburgh for 48 hours and includes free entry to Edinburgh Castle, the Royal Yacht Britannia and Holyrood Palace.
Buy your Royal Attractions Bus Pass here.

Gilmerton Cove

Address: 16 Drum St, Gilmerton, Edinburgh, EH17 8QH

Contact details: Tel 07914 829177

Out About Scotland complete guide: Gilmerton Cove

The Best Places to Visit in Edinburgh - Ultimate Visitor Guide 14

If you’d like to experience a completely different type of tourist attraction that has a fascinating history while being just a wee bit creepy, Gilmerton Cove should sit at the top of your sightseeing itinerary.

What you’ll discover when you visit is a series of man-made underground rooms that were dug out of the earth hundreds of years ago for a purpose that is still unknown to this day.

Gilmerton is a little tricky to find if you’re not familiar with Edinburgh so your best options for finding this attraction are to either get a taxi or take the bus (numbers 3, 29, 30, 33). Once at Gilmerton look for a small white building on Drum Street near the crossroad which looks unremarkable except for a couple of Gilmerton Cove signs in the windows.

Sadly, this attraction does not allow you to visit at any time (I guess due to safety concerns), so you have to book in advance for a guided tour that will take you through the cove to explore each chamber while listening to stories from the tour guide about how and why the caves were dug.

Some theories suggest the caves were originally smugglers tunnels that were expanded into store rooms over the years. Others suggest they were secret drinking dens (there are benches carved into the rocks), while other stories suggest the caves were the site of witchcraft rituals.

Whatever their true nature it’s unlikely we’ll ever know for sure, but we do know the tunnels stretch much further than previously thought thanks to recent surveys that suggest the tunnels of Gilmerton Cove could be twice as big as what is currently excavated.


The Grassmarket

Address: Old Town, Edinburgh, EH1 2HS

Contact details: NA

Out About Scotland complete guide: The Grassmarket

Edinburgh City Centre

The Grassmarket in Edinburgh is a bustling collection of pubs and restaurants which sit around a large open square at the southern edge of Edinburgh Castle. Because the district is so centrally located within the city you can easily find it by either walking west from the Cowgate or walking south from the Castle Esplanade.

The Grassmarket is full of Scottish architecture from the 17th-century and many of the high-rise tenement buildings that Edinburgh became famous for are still in use as private homes.

It really is a very pretty part of the city, especially at nearby Victoria Street which is famous for the colourful shopfronts that slope gently upwards towards the George IV Bridge.

Heading back down to the Grassmarket you might be surprised to see that the area is so spacious considering the rest of the Old Town is so compact and built-up.

The reason for this lies in the original purpose for which the area was used, namely as a place to sell horses and cattle – hence the name Grassmarket which derives from the time when grass was kept in the square to feed the animals.

This part of Edinburgh has been popular with tourists for a number of years due to the assortment of pubs that line the streets and it’s still enjoyed today with outside seating areas for a number of restaurants.


Greyfriars Kirk

Address: 1 Greyfriars, Edinburgh, EH1 2QQ

Contact details: Tel 0131 225 1900

Out About Scotland complete guide: Greyfriars Kirk

Greyfriars Kirk

Greyfriars Kirk sits in a prime location opposite the tower entrance of the National Museum of Scotland and just a few yards up from Candlemaker Row – the winding street that leads onto the Grassmarket.

The kirk is still very much in use as a parish church as well as being a tourist hot-spot for visitors keen to visit the wee Highland Terrier, Bobby. The story of Greyfriars extends back through many centuries and the old kirk is full of history as it’s one of the oldest surviving buildings outside of Edinburgh’s Old Town.

There’s a small museum on the site that tells the story of the religious history of Greyfriars from the time of the Franciscan monks to the present day, and it includes one of only a handful of the original copies of the National Covenant that was signed in the Kirk in 1638.

Visitors are free to walk around the outside of the kirk at any time and can explore the inside at times when there aren’t any services or events going on.

The kirkyard that surrounds the church is managed by a separate trust and walking through the site you can’t fail to be impressed by the number of tombstones, monuments and vaults that are crowded into such a small area.


Holyrood Palace

Address: Canongate, The Royal Mile, Edinburgh, EH8 8DX

Contact details: Tel 0303 123 7306

Out About Scotland complete guide: Holyrood Palace

Holyrood Palace

The palace of Holyrood House (as it’s officially known), is the main residence of the British monarchy in Scotland, located at the opposite end of The Royal Mile from Edinburgh castle. The palace has a long history dating back to the 12th-century and it’s still used to host state occasions to this day.

Holyrood Palace offers lots of activities for visitors including viewing the official staterooms of Mary Queen of Scots and the Throne Room, as well as exploring the ruins of Holyrood Abbey and the beautiful palace gardens.

The route through the interior rooms will take you on a tour of the history of the building including the 17th-century king’s apartments, the Great Gallery, and the 16th-century apartments where Mary Queen of Scots lived.

After visiting the inside of the palace the ruins of Holyrood Abbey are usually the last area to be explored which is an extremely atmospheric place and very photogenic.

Finally, no visit to an attraction like this would be complete without a visit to the café which is, of course, top-notch. The quality of the food on offer is amazing, and although it’s a little pricey it’s well worth the expense.

Edinburgh Sightseeing Advice
Planning to visit Edinburgh’s top attractions? You’ll save time and money by purchasing a pre-paid hop-on hop-off bus pass.
The pass allows unlimited travel in Edinburgh for 48 hours and includes free entry to Edinburgh Castle, the Royal Yacht Britannia and Holyrood Palace.
Buy your Royal Attractions Bus Pass here.

Holyrood Park

Address: Queen’s Drive, Edinburgh, EH8 8HG

Contact details: NA

Out About Scotland complete guide: Holyrood Park

Holyrood Park

Situated about a mile to the East of Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Park is an outstanding area of natural beauty that offers tourists and locals alike a haven of tranquillity in the midst of Scotland’s capital city. Although the park is located centrally inside Edinburgh it has an array of natural wonders to explore over its 650-acre wilderness.

Wild meadows, peaceful lochs, mountain-like ridges and swathes of gorse take visitors on a cross-country journey all within a few minutes walk from Holyrood Palace. On a quiet day when there are few tourists around it’s easy to forget you’re in a busy city and instead imagine that you’re way up in the Scottish Highlands.

The most accessible route onto the paths that lead into the park is to walk down The Royal Mile towards the Scottish Parliament Building where you can’t fail to miss the towering Salisbury Crags looming overhead.

You can walk around the perimeter of the park or you can follow the road that winds its way across it, but if you really want to experience the beauty of the place it’s a good idea to just follow the well-maintained pathway that runs through the centre.

If you’re feeling adventurous you can climb up to the 800-foot-high summit of Arthur’s Seat – the highest point in Edinburgh – to take in breath-taking views of the city. Be aware that although the path to the top is well-used it’s also a hard climb so anyone with a medical complaint might want to consider giving it a miss.


John Knox House

Address: Scottish Storytelling Centre, High St, Edinburgh, EH1 1SR

Contact details: Tel 0131 556 9579

Out About Scotland complete guide: John Knox House

John Knox House

The Royal Mile in Edinburgh is one of the best-preserved medieval streets in Europe – if not the world – and exploring its eclectic collection of tenements and high-rise buildings is one of the highlights of any visit to the city.

While many of the oldest buildings were demolished by the Victorians there are a few that have survived unaltered for hundreds of years, including the iconic John Knox House situated midway up the High Street.

John Knox was of Scotland’s most influential men of the 16th-century who became famous not only for his epic sermons in St. Giles Cathedral but also for his battles against Mary Queen of Scots.

Although Knox only spent a short time at the house his importance meant it became a museum to both him and the time he lived in, which visitors can experience when they explore each room in the three-storey building.

Each room is filled to the rafters with fascinating artefacts as well as displays that tell the story of the other famous resident of the house – James Mossman – who met a grisly end after being convicted of treason when he illegally minted coins in support of Mary Queen of Scots.

The lower floor gift shop joins onto The Scottish Storytelling Centre which features a reasonably-priced café, while the upper floors have restored artworks, furniture, and displays about Knox and Edinburgh in the 1500s when Scotland was entering the reformation

Visitors will discover what effects this change to Scotland’s religion had on ordinary men and women during a self-guided tour with audio guides that point out lots of interesting features you might otherwise miss.


Leith

Address: Leith, Edinburgh, EH6

Contact details: NA

Out About Scotland complete guide: Leith

Leith

The main shipping port at Leith has been instrumental in the development of Scotland as an important trading partner with Europe and this fascinating area of Edinburgh is definitely worth visiting today.

Although the industrialised areas of the port are still in use – with the extensive dockyard still receiving ships from all over the world – Leith is nowadays recognised for its trendy pubs, bars and restaurants.

After a long period of neglect, Leith was extensively redeveloped in the 1970s and it’s now regarded as one of the premier hipster hotspots in Edinburgh thanks to a significant program of regeneration over the last twenty years.

Highlights in Leith are the Ocean Terminal shopping centre with its wide variety of shops and restaurants and the Royal Yacht Britannia that’s permanently moored alongside.

Further inland is the Leith Farmers Market which is held every Saturday, and this bustling wee market has become a foodie mecca with sumptuous home-made produce tempting tourists wherever they turn.

Other attractions include Leith Late, an annual multi-arts festival held in June where some of the country’s best up-and-coming artists get to showcase their works to the general public, and Michelin starred restaurants like The Kitchin, and Restaurant Martin Wishart which serve top-class food in impressive 17th-century buildings.


Museum on the Mound

Address: The Mound, Edinburgh, EH1 1YZ

Contact details: Tel 0131 243 5464

Out About Scotland complete guide: Museum on the Mound

Museum on the Mound

Although Edinburgh trails behind Glasgow when it comes to free attractions there are a few that are definitely worth mentioning, including this one situated on The Mound overlooking Princes Street Gardens.

The Museum on the Mound is solely dedicated to money with a collection of interesting exhibits that include printed notes, the earliest credit cards, hundreds-of-years-old safes, and exhibits about crime and punishment.

The museum is run by the Bank of Scotland (one of the oldest banks in the world) and is housed in their grand head office that was built on more than a million cartloads of earth that were dug up when Edinburgh’s New Town was built (hence the name Museum on The Mound).

This is by no means one of the largest museums in Edinburgh but it’s most definitely one of the most interesting, and there are several exhibits that you’re unlikely to see anywhere else in Britain such as the display of £1 Million in banknotes and the oldest banknote in Scotland.

Perhaps the best thing about the museum is that there are lots of activities to keep children entertained including activity books, a safe-cracking display, and interactive coin-striking sessions.

Adults meanwhile, will no doubt enjoy looking at some of the earliest photos of Edinburgh and artefacts that show how and why Scotland’s oldest banks were founded.


The National Museum of Scotland

Address: Chambers Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1JF

Contact details: Tel 0300 123 6789

national museum scotland

The National Museum of Scotland is the largest museum in the country. Set across 5 floors, this popular tourist attraction in Edinburgh takes visitors on a voyage of discovery through a series of collections that range from East Asian exhibits to Scottish culture.

There is so much to do at The National Museum for Scotland that you will struggle to fit it all into one day, so my recommendation is to explore it over a couple of days alongside the other attractions in this article.

The museum is split into two halves – a Victorian arcade that has been recently restored and a modern gallery building. While the modern building is by far the largest area the Victorian building is more impressive thanks to its grand vaulted iron and glass ceiling and its wide-open galleries that line the main hall over three levels.

The galleries have been designed to appeal to adults and children alike and you’re guaranteed to find something that will interest you whether it is art and design, natural history, technology, archaeology or world culture.

Families will be kept entertained by exhibits that can interacted with and there are on-site cafés and shops to break up your visit. It’s remarkable that there is so much on offer and admission is completely free.


Princes Street Gardens

Address: Princes Street, EH2 2HG

Contact details: NA

Out About Scotland complete guide: Princes Street Gardens

Princes Street Gardens

Princes Street Gardens run alongside Princes Street (…obviously…) in Edinburgh and are a popular destination for tourists thanks to several landmarks including The Scott Monument and the Ross Fountain.

The gardens were built on top of the Nor Loch which was a polluted body of water underneath Edinburgh Castle that was drained in 1820. This green oasis in the heart of the city runs the entire length of Princes Street and over the other side of Waverley Station in an area that covers an impressive 37 acres.

Coupled with The Meadows and Holyrood Park it’s no wonder that Edinburgh is officially the greenest city in Britain.

There are a number of year-round features that make Princes Street Gardens a must-visit for any tourist, the foremost being the 200-foot tall Gothic masterpiece The Scott Monument. This beautiful stone structure is dedicated to the novelist Sir Walter Scott and it is, in fact, the largest monument dedicated to a writer anywhere in the world.

Other landmarks in the gardens include the Ross Bandstand and the Ross Fountain, which is one of the most elaborate fountains of any city in the UK and is a well-known tourist viewpoint with Edinburgh Castle dominating the background.

The gardens were originally one single stretch of land, but when the Scottish National Gallery was built the gardens were split into east and west sections with The Mound road joining the New Town and the Old Town.

Today, both sections are well-used but the east section is far busier at Christmas when it plays host to Edinburgh’s Christmas festival, while the west section is busiest in summer when it sets the stage for a number of music events.


Real Mary King’s Close

Address: Warriston’s Close, 2 High St, Edinburgh, EH1 1PG

Contact details: Contact form

Out About Scotland complete guide: Real Mary King’s Close

Real Mary Kings Close

Real Mary King’s Close is an underground tourist attraction on the Royal Mile which takes visitors beneath the city streets to experience what life would have been like in the 17th-century when Edinburgh was gripped in the clutches of the devastating bubonic plague.

At that time, Edinburgh had virtually non-existent sanitation and human waste was regularly thrown into the streets which attracted rats and the plague-carrying fleas that fed on them.

During a visit, costumed guides take groups down into the original alleyways of Mary King’s Close where they will see how hundreds of people lived in filthy conditions, and they will hear tales of the plague doctors that treated those unfortunate enough to contract the disease.

The guides also take groups into the deepest recesses of the underground chambers to visit some of the most haunted rooms in Scotland, including the spooky Annie’s Room which is said to be haunted by a 10-year-old girl.

Elsewhere, there are videos that retell the stories of real-life people that lived on Mary King’s Close, including Mary King herself who was a wealthy burgess that owned a successful clothes shop.

As with many of Edinburgh’s earliest streets, Mary King’s Close fell into ruin and was eventually sealed up and used as the foundations for new buildings, but it was re-discovered in later years and opened to the public thanks to this attraction which has renovated the site to exactly how it would have looked in the 1600s.


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The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

Address: Arboretum Place, Edinburgh, EH3 5NZ

Contact details: Tel 0131 248 2909

Out About Scotland complete guide: The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

Edinburgh Royal Botanic Gardens

One of the best botanic gardens in the UK is located in Edinburgh and a short bus ride from the city centre will allow you to explore over 13,000 different plant species in the most beautifully landscaped and manicured grounds you’re ever likely to see.

For tourists, the facilities at the RBGE easily match those found at any other Edinburgh attraction with cafés, a restaurant, snack stations, a gift shop and an information centre catering to the needs of visitors of all ages.

Due to their immense size the gardens can be entered via several different gatehouses so you’d be wise to pick up a map at the visitor centre to get your bearings at the start of your visit.

Although the gardens are free to enter it’s well worth paying the entrance fee to get into the premier attraction of the RBGE which is the incredible tropical jungle that lives inside the enormous glasshouses.

These glasshouses contain some of the oldest plants in the entire collection as well as some of the largest, which makes for a fascinating walk around the 3,000 exotic plants that have been sourced from all over the world.

Other highlights include a woodland garden, an enormous tree collection, a Rhododendron collection, alpine houses, and a botanic cottage (which is used for education and community sessions), while the visitor centre houses exhibitions that change on a regular basis.


The Royal Edinburgh Zoo

Address: 134 Corstorphine Rd, Edinburgh, EH12 6TS

Contact details: Tel 0131 334 9171

Out About Scotland complete guide: The Royal Edinburgh Zoo

Edinburgh Zoo

Set over 82 acres of parkland on the south-facing slope of Corstorphine Hill, Edinburgh Zoo is the second most popular tourist attraction in Scotland after Edinburgh Castle.

Edinburgh zoo has a huge amount of things to see and do, and with over a thousand animals to look at including lions, monkeys, penguins, tigers, and the only giant pandas in the UK, you’re definitely not going to get bored.

The enclosures that house these animals are exceptional, especially Penguins Rock which has Europe’s largest outdoor penguin pool and the Budongo Trail where you can watch chimpanzees in one of Europe’s most innovative man-made habitats.

Other enclosures are home to exotic birds, reptiles, insects and mammals from all over the world, with each habitat clearly signposted and marked so that you won’t ever find yourself getting lost.

Even so, as a top tip I’d recommend going to their maps and guides page which has an interactive map and a free downloadable pdf so you can get to grips with the layout before heading out.

Facilities available include a gift shop, two restaurants and a coffee shop, and there are several smaller fast-food eateries dotted about as well.


The Royal Mile

Address: Edinburgh, EH1 2PB

Contact details: NA

Out About Scotland complete guide: The Royal Mile

The Best Places to Visit in Edinburgh - Ultimate Visitor Guide 28

There aren’t many streets in the world that are a tourist attraction in their own right but Edinburgh’s Royal Mile easily takes the title on account of its fascinating mix of architecture and history.

Threading its way through the heart of the Old Town, the Royal Mile is a one-mile cobbled and paved road that links Edinburgh Castle at its top and Holyrood Palace at its bottom.

Not only will you pass St. Giles Cathedral, Gladstones Land and John Knox House as you meander up the gently sloped street, you’ll also pass many locations that will give you a glimpse into Edinburgh hundreds of years ago.

Top-tip: Keep an eye open for Makars Court, a quiet courtyard set back from the hustle and bustle of the main thoroughfare that’s home to The Writers Museum. Here you’ll find exhibitions and works from some of Scotland’s most famous writers including Robert Burns and Robert Louis Stevenson.

For the ultimate Royal Mile experience I’d suggest you sign up for a guided tour offered by one of the guides found hanging around the rear of St. Giles Cathedral near the Mercat Cross.

These tours are reasonably priced and professional, with each guide being an expert in the history of the murder and crimes that were part and parcel of the Old Town in years gone by.

The Royal Mile is also a tourist hub for its souvenir shops, pubs, and restaurants, all selling the best produce that Scotland has to offer. If you want to purchase genuine Harris Tweed goods, drink Scottish-brewed beer or buy a bottle of premium Scotch whisky, The Royal Mile will have something to offer you.


The Royal Yacht Britannia

Address: Ocean Terminal, Leith, Edinburgh, EH6 6JJ

Contact details: Tel 0131 555 5566

Out About Scotland complete guide: The Royal Yacht Britannia

Royal Yacht Britannia

The Royal Yacht Britannia is the former yacht of the British Royal Family which now takes pride of place at the Ocean Terminal shopping centre at Leith in Edinburgh.

Over the course of her working life Britannia sailed over 1 million miles around the world and she’s now open year-round for visitors to follow in the footsteps of world leaders as they walk through her beautifully ornate rooms.

As you walk round Britannia’s five main decks you can listen to an interesting audio guide that explains what life was like onboard not only for the royal inhabitants but also for the Royal Navy crew that manned her during her voyages.

Starting at the bridge, you pass through the state apartments, the crew quarters, and the engine room before finally reaching the Royal Racing Yacht, Bloodhound.

There are some fascinating parts of the ship which all ages will enjoy visiting, like the huge state banquet room with its massive dining table and the gleaming Rolls-Royce Phantom which used to travel on the ship along with the Royal Family.

If you fancy a little treat you can pick up some fantastic home-made fudge in the NAAFI sweet shop and there’s a highly recommended restaurant in the Royal Deck Tea Room where you can sample top-notch Scottish cuisine.

Edinburgh Sightseeing Advice
Planning to visit Edinburgh’s top attractions? You’ll save time and money by purchasing a pre-paid hop-on hop-off bus pass.
The pass allows unlimited travel in Edinburgh for 48 hours and includes free entry to Edinburgh Castle, the Royal Yacht Britannia and Holyrood Palace.
Buy your Royal Attractions Bus Pass here.

The Scott Monument

Address: E. Princes St Gardens, Edinburgh, EH2 2EJ

Contact details: Tel 0131 529 4068

Out About Scotland complete guide: The Scott Monument

scott monument

As I mentioned earlier in this article, Princes Street Gardens is home to a number of landmarks, the most prominent being the 200-foot tall Scott Monument.

The monument was built in 1844 in dedication to the Edinburgh-born novelist Sir Walter Scott and as well as being the most ornate structure in the city it’s also the world’s largest monument dedicated to a writer.

For a modest fee, tourists can climb the 288 steps that wind their way to the top of the monument onto viewing platforms that offer superb views of Princes Street and Princes Street Gardens.

The staircase is very narrow and towards the top it’s not possible to climb up if another person is coming down, so anyone that’s afraid of small spaces might like to give this attraction a miss.

There’s more to the monument than the viewing platforms though, as visitors can learn about Scott and his works in museum exhibitions housed on two of the floors, while those with sharp eyesight can try to find all 68 statues installed on the exterior.

A visit to this remarkable structure won’t take long (perhaps plan a half hour) but it’s an absolute must-do and is something I guarantee will be one of the most memorable parts of a visit to Edinburgh.


The Scottish National Gallery

Address: The Mound, Edinburgh, EH2 2EL

Contact details: Tel 0131 624 6200

Out About Scotland complete guide: The Scottish National Gallery

scottish national gallery

No visitor to the Edinburgh can fail to be impressed by the huge neo-classical Scottish National Gallery, or by the adjacent Royal Scottish Academy (RSA) building located behind it.

The galleries display some of the most significant art collections in the world including masterpieces by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Constable, Turner, Monet, and Van Gogh, while the biggest part of the collection covers the entire history of Scottish painting including works by Ramsay, Raeburn, Wilkie and McTaggart.

The present Scottish National Gallery was designed by celebrated architect William Playfair to house the national art collection of the RSA and it continued to house the collection until 1912 when the RSA moved into the building behind it.

After extensive remodelling the Scottish National Gallery re-opened with an emphasis on presenting a selection of the best Scottish and European art – a theme which remains to this day.

There’s an underground area that’s particularly popular with tourists as it houses an excellent restaurant and café, and a shop selling copies of some of the artworks that can be seen in both galleries.

The entrance is located at the same level as Princes Street Gardens and it’s a great place to visit for a bite to eat after spending time enjoying the nation’s collection of priceless artworks.


The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

Address: 75 Belford Road, Edinburgh, EH4 3DR

Contact details: Tel  0131 624 6200

Out About Scotland complete guide: The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

National Gallery Modern Art

The primary purpose of the National Gallery of Modern Art is to showcase the Scottish national collection of contemporary art dating from the early 20th-century to the present day, and the vast collection covers all forms of media across 6,000 pieces, from paintings and video to sculpture.

The galleries are divided into two separate buildings – the Modern One and the Modern Two.

Modern One is highly-regarded for its ever-changing exhibits, while the permanent collection includes dramatic pieces from renowned artists like Francis Bacon, David Hockney, Tracey Emin and Andy Warhol.

Across the road, Modern Two houses selections from the permanent collection as well as a continually updated catalogue of exhibits, and interested members of the public can view the history of modern art media in the comprehensive library and archive.

Externally, a sculpture park created by the landscape designer Charles Jencks dominates the lawn of Modern One where a huge serpentine mound surrounds a crescent-shaped pool of water along with lots of other sculptures and works of art.

The gallery provides a bus service to transport visitors from the Scottish National Gallery in the city centre out to the Modern Art Gallery and back again, while cafés can be found both in Modern One and Modern Two, along with souvenir shops, an art library and the book archive.


The Scottish National Portrait Gallery

Address: 1 Queen Street, Edinburgh, EH2 1JD

Contact details: Tel 0131 624 6200

The Best Places to Visit in Edinburgh - Ultimate Visitor Guide 34

The Scottish National Portrait Gallery contains the national collection of portraits, as well as the national photography collection, all of which are studies of famous Scots from various periods of history.

In total, the collection boasts over 3,000 paintings and sculptures, plus 25,000 prints and drawings and an incredible 38,000 photographs.

The building stretches out symmetrically on either side of the main hall and the artworks are displayed over an expansive three floors in rooms that still feature decorations installed by the Victorians.

Amongst the collection are several prominent figures from Scotland’s history that will be immediately recognisable including Mary Queen of Scots, Bonnie Prince Charlie and Flora MacDonald – the Jacobite heroine who helped the Bonnie Prince escape to France after his rebellion was crushed in 1745.

The gallery publicly displays an impressive 850 works at any one time, and facilities for visitors include an education centre, shops, café and disabled access.


The Scottish Parliament Building

Address: Edinburgh, EH99 1SP

Contact details: Tel 0131 348 5000

holyrood parliament

The Scottish parliament building in Edinburgh is the home of the Scottish government and it is a world-class example of modern architecture. Sitting at the bottom of The Royal Mile on 4 acres, the building is an unusual tourist attraction but it’s well worth taking a look around inside, especially as it’s free to get in.

The location where the Parliament building is located seems to perfectly sum up Scotland, with the natural wonders of Holyrood Park to one side, the majestic Holyrood Palace on another, and the historic Royal Mile running past it and up towards the centre of the capital city.

The building has won several international awards for its architecture and visitors are welcome to explore it year-round.

On non-sitting days (usually Mondays, Friday, and weekends) visitors can view the Main Hall and can access the public galleries of the debating chamber and the main committee rooms.

Guided tours are also available on non-sitting days which allow visitors to access the Garden Lobby and committee rooms, but visitors must be in the company of an official guide as they explore the building.


The Scotch Whisky Experience

Address: 354 Castlehill, Edinburgh, EH1 2NE

Contact details: Tel 0131 220 0441

Out About Scotland complete guide: The Scotch Whisky Experience

The Scotch Whisky Experience

If you’re on a visit to Edinburgh your trip won’t be complete without a visit to the Scotch Whisky Experience, located just a short walk from Edinburgh Castle Esplanade on The Royal Mile.

The attraction features tours and whisky tasting sessions along with a very enjoyable journey through the history of one of Scotland’s most famous exports, brought to you by several resident ghostly tour guides.

At the beginning of the tour you sit inside a whisky barrel which transports you back in time while taking you on a journey through a replica distillery. The story of the distilling process is told by the ghosts of the old distillery and at the end you get to have a whisky tasting session with one of the (alive) tour guides.

Each tour is led by a knowledgeable whisky expert who’ll teach you the history of whisky production from its earliest days to the multi-billion pound industry that it is today.

The high point of any of the tours has to be the whisky collection which has the record of being the worlds largest, housing an incredible 3,384 bottles. The collection took over 35 years to build and you’ll find it hard to believe that so many different types of whisky were ever created.

The Scotch Whisky Experience also features a superb whisky gift shop, a café and a restaurant.

If you love whisky I recommend joining the Scotch Malt Whisky Society: Become a member for exclusive access to the world’s biggest selection of single cask whisky


St. Giles Cathedral

Address: High St, Edinburgh, EH1 1RE

Contact details: Tel 0131 226 0674

Out About Scotland complete guide: St. Giles Cathedral

st giles

The distinctive 15th-century crown steeple of St. Giles Cathedral is one of the most-viewed features of any building in Edinburgh and it takes a place alongside Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace as one of the most historically significant buildings in the city.

The church has been a focal point for religious activity in Edinburgh for over 900 years (although the building that we see today traces its roots back to the 14th-century), and due to its central location on The Royal Mile it is a popular tourist attraction.

The church is still an active place of worship so visiting it might not be possible during times of prayer but during the week tourists are free to enter and explore the Cathedral as much as they like.

There are five services held every Sunday and on average fourteen take place in St Giles every week, often with the St. Giles Cathedral Choir singing in full voice. The choir is world-renowned and they have released several albums that can be bought from the gift shop, alongside other souvenirs to remind you of your time in Edinburgh.


The Water of Leith

Address: Visitor Centre – 24 Lanark Rd, Edinburgh, EH14 1TQ

Contact details: NA

Out About Scotland complete guide: The Water of Leith

Water of Leith

The Water of Leith winds 22 miles from the Colzium Springs in the Pentland Hills to Leith, and over the course of its journey it passes many famous Edinburgh landmarks.

Visitors to Edinburgh might not be aware of the river, but if you have a few days to explore the city you’ll be well-rewarded by a walk on the miles of quiet pathways that run alongside it.

One of the most popular entry points is at Stockbridge, well-known amongst Edinburgh locals for its cute gift shops and delicious bistros, and there’s a myriad of well-signposted paths that lead onto the riverside.

The Water of Leith walkway extends for 12 miles so if you want to do the entire route you might consider hiring a bike, although walking on foot is probably the best way to enjoy it as there are several sections that are broken by steps and gates.

Other popular entry points are Dean village where you can see the remains of Edinburgh’s watermills, and Bonnington which is another interesting site for the city’s old industrial heritage.

Top-tip: A good idea to plan your journey is to pick up a Water of Leith route map from any of the information centres in the city centre, but the visitor centre at the Slateford Aqueduct in south-west Edinburgh is preferred because it allows you to get a map and a coffee before heading onto the river footpath.


The best tours in Edinburgh

bus edinburgh

Edinburgh is a wonderful place to visit but sometimes it’s easiest to let someone else bother with planning where to go, and that’s where joining an organized tour comes into its own.

Organized tours have come a long way from the days of grumpy OAP’s crammed together on a run-down bus, and these days you’re more likely to find small groups of mixed ages being shown around by guides that are comedians as much as they are experts in the places they’re visiting.

A big benefit of joining a guided tour is that they can concentrate on a single aspect of a city, and Edinburgh is a prime example with tours that focus on the best places to sample a dram of whisky, the places where JK Rowling drew inspiration for Harry Potter, the secret underground vaults, and Edinburgh’s most haunted sites.

That being said, not everyone likes being part of a tour group which is why the other option for being shown where to go – the hop-on hop-off tour bus – is one of the most popular ways for visitors to see Edinburgh.

The following list features a selection of the best-reviewed tours held that are daily, along with an option for self-guided tours that includes pre-paid attraction tickets.

Harry Potter Guided Walking Tour – There must be a lot of Potter-heads out there because this guided walking tour is one of the highest-rated in Scotland on the Get Your Guide website. The tour will take you around the city to discover the secrets of Harry Potter, from the location of Tom Riddle’s tomb to the café where JK Rowling created the first in the series of famous books.

Edinburgh Underground Vaults Tour – Having done this tour myself I can report it’s a great way to see parts of the city that are otherwise off-limits to tourists. The vaults beneath Edinburgh’s streets date back hundreds of years and this spooky tour takes you deep underground to hear ghostly tales about witches, murders, and the people that spent their entire lives in the gloomiest recesses of Edinburgh’s Old Town.

Firth of Forth Boat Tour – Visiting Edinburgh doesn’t have to just mean walking around the castle, as this boat tour along the Firth of Forth demonstrates. The 90-minute sightseeing cruise starts off in picturesque South Queensferry and visits the UNESCO world heritage Forth Rail Bridge as well as Inchcolm Island and its atmospheric medieval abbey.

Royal Attractions Ticket with Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour – In my opinion, this is the best way for first-time visitors and weekenders to see Edinburgh. Purchasing a ticket means you get unlimited use of an open-top tour bus that continually drives between all the main tourist hotspots so you can visit each one at your leisure over two days. The pass includes free entry to Edinburgh Castle, The Royal Yacht Britannia, and Holyrood Palace, which are the three biggest tourist attractions in the city.

Edinburgh Ghost Bus Tour – For something a wee bit different, the Edinburgh Necrobus will take you to all the spookiest parts of the city with a tour guide that will tell you about the nefarious crimes of Burke and Hare, the plague victims that fill the graveyards, and the places where ghosts still roam the streets to this day.

History of Whisky and Whisky Tasting Tour – A visit to Edinburgh isn’t complete without a deep-dive into the history and folklore of Scotland’s most prized export. On this tour you’ll learn everything you ever wanted to know about ‘the water of life’ at a highly-rated whisky venue where you’ll sample four classic single malts.


Festivals in Edinburgh

Edinburgh Fringe

Edinburgh is one of the biggest festival cities in Britain and each year well over a million people head to Scotland’s capital to watch everything from arts shows to music events and Christmas extravaganzas.

These festivals run throughout the year so you’re pretty much guaranteed to find one staged in the city whenever you visit, but there are a couple that are absolute must-do’s if you’ve never been to Edinburgh before.

The first, of course, is the Fringe – the largest arts festival in the world. The Edinburgh Fringe Festival has been running since 1947 and from humble beginnings it now plays across 25 days in 300 different venues. More than half a million people attend the Fringe each year to watch upwards of 50,000 shows that include comedy, dance, theatre, music, circus acts and every other art form you can think of.

Another top festival is the Royal Military Tattoo which is staged in the esplanade of Edinburgh Castle and features a varied collection of military bands from across the globe in an exciting spectacle that includes acrobatics, motorcycle stunt riders, military demonstrations, dance acts, and the massed Scottish pipers of the British Army.

It’s a superb event that really has to be seen to be fully appreciated – but be aware the tickets sell out fast so I recommend booking your ticket as soon as possible.

Two other major festivals in Edinburgh are Edinburgh’s Christmas and Edinburgh’s Hogmany, the first of which celebrates Christmas (obviously) while the second centres around the new year.

The Christmas festival runs the entire length of December and is a riot of colour and sound where the city centre comes alive with fun fair rides, a German market, Christmas-themed theatre shows, an ice rink, and Santa’s winter wonderland. As a family-friendly festival it has to be one of the best in Britain, if not Europe.

Edinburgh’s Hogmanay, meanwhile, is geared more towards adults with lots of evening events including the famous torchlight procession through the city centre, the world’s biggest outdoor street party, and a number of live music events.

The city also hosts book festivals, art festivals, jazz and blues festivals, storytelling festivals and many others that alternate each year.

It’s easy to lose track of exactly what’s on at any given time so I recommend bookmarking the Edinburgh Festival City website which has news updates, times, and venue details for each festival.

Edinburgh FestivalDates
Edinburgh International Science Festival 4th to 19th April
Edinburgh International Children’s Festival 20th to 31st May
Edinburgh International Film Festival 17th to 28th June
Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival 17th to 26th July
Edinburgh Art Festival 30th July to 30th August
Edinburgh Festival Fringe 7th August to 31st August
Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo 7th August to 29th August
Edinburgh International Festival 7th to 31st August
Edinburgh International Book Festival 15th to 31st August
Scottish International Storytelling Festival 16th October to 31st October
Edinburgh’s Christmas Late November to Early January
Edinburgh’s Hogmanay 30th December to 1st January

Where to stay in Edinburgh

Scotland hotel room

As a city that thrives on tourism it’s no surprise there are hundreds of hotels to choose from, whether it’s a 2-star B&B on the city outskirts or a 5-star luxury hotel in Princes Street.

Sadly, as with any other tourist-centric city, Edinburgh’s hotels really ramp up their prices at peak times and it’s not uncommon for the same hotel room to increase by over 300% from one week to the next.

Christmas and new year are prime targets for inflated prices due to the popularity of the Christmas and Hogmanay festivals, but the whole of summer also comes with eye-watering room prices thanks to a combination of warm weather and the Fringe festival.

However, it’s possible to save a bundle on accommodation in Edinburgh by simply booking outside of the main tourist season, as you’ll see in the table below which compares the quiet month of January to the busy month of August.

Edinburgh city hotel (2 adults sharing per night) in AugustRatingCost
The Scotsman HotelLuxury£337
Ibis Edinburgh ParkBudget£125
easyHotel EdinburghBudget£109
Edinburgh city hotel (2 adults sharing per night) in January
The Scotsman Hotel Luxury£200
Ibis Edinburgh ParkBudget£44
easyHotel Edinburgh Budget£34

Where you decide to stay will completely depend on your budget but for most people the top priority will be staying as close to the city centre and its attractions as possible. With that thought in mind I’ve listed a few recommendations for Edinburgh hotels that are all located within 1 mile (1.61 km) of Princes Street.

Luxury Hotels (4 & 5 star)Budget Hotels (2 & 3 star)
The Balmoral HoteleasyHotel Edinburgh
The Scotsman HotelCoDE Pod
Cheval The Edinburgh grandCityroomz Edinburgh
The Rutland HotelYOTEL Edinburgh
Nira CaledoniaMotel One Edinburgh

Of these hotels the best of the bunch is The Balmoral Hotel which is located in a prime position next to Waverley train station and is as luxurious and refined as it’s possible to get. The hotel boasts six restaurants and bars and a wellness centre with a luxury swimming pool. You can discover the hotel in detail with my Complete Guide to the Balmoral Hotel.

The Scotsman is another luxury hotel in Edinburgh that’s just as upmarket as the Balmoral and features an even wider list of facilities. Guests can enjoy a 48-seat cinema, a highly-rated restaurant and enormous rooms – many of which include separate lounge areas.

Prices for the Balmoral and the Scotsman hotels range from under £200 to over £500 depending on the time of year and the type of room.

On the budget end, CoDE Pod and Cityroomz come highly recommended on almost all hotel comparison sites and both are in superb locations for city sightseeing, but I would have to give the nod to CoDE Pod – The CoURT (no idea why they’ve spelled it like that…) which is located in the heart of Edinburgh’s historic Royal Mile just 100 yards from the Real Mary King’s Close attraction.

One night in this city centre budget hotel costs as little as £50 in winter and only rises to £90 in the height of summer for a double room with a private bathroom, which is fantastic value when you consider its location and how easy it is to visit the city’s best attractions.

If you’re ready to book your Edinburgh hotel I recommend using the Travel Supermarket website which offers virtually every hotel in the city at frequently reduced prices that you’ll not find elsewhere.


Where to eat in Edinburgh

Fish chips food

Foodies are spoilt for choice when it comes to dining in Edinburgh as the city boasts many of the top-rated restaurants in Scotland where diners can savour dishes from every corner of the globe, whether they’re in the mood for pizza, curry, Thai, fusion or nouvelle cuisine.

All the best hotels have very good restaurants that you can’t really go wrong with, but you’ll need deep pockets if you’re thinking of eating in them each night, especially considering Edinburgh is officially the second most expensive place to eat in Britain after London.

As an example, The Balmoral Hotel invites visitors to its Michelin-starred Number One restaurant with a delectable 7-course menu that costs a not-so-delectable £110 per person, with a selection of matched wines costing an additional £75 per person.

Another high-class restaurant can be found just a few yards down Castle Hill near Edinburgh Castle where diners can relax in sumptuous surroundings at The Witchery.

This is my personal favourite of all the restaurants in Edinburgh as the decor is by far the most glamorous in the city and eating there is a real event – although it comes with a matching price. Expect to pay £60 for a seafood starter, £50 for a steak and £100 for a seafood platter, with bottles of wine that soar into the thousands depending on the year.

One for special occasions, perhaps – and the super rich.

These examples are extremes though, and those of us that aren’t mega-wealthy can have an equally enjoyable dining experience for less than £50 per person. There are so many restaurants in Edinburgh it wouldn’t be possible to include them all in one article but I’ll list a few of my personal favourites below.

Dishoom – 3a St Andrew Square, Edinburgh, EH2 2BD. An Indian restaurant that pays tribute to the Irani cafés that are prevalent in Bombay. With great food and classy surroundings, Dishoom is in a different class to the usual run-of-the-mill Indian restaurants.

Gaucho Edinburgh – 4a St Andrew Square, Edinburgh, EH2 2BD. A lavish Argentinian restaurant that serves the best steaks in the city. The dining experience at Gaucho is relaxed and informal but you won’t feel out of place if you dress up for a special night out.

Fazenda Edinburgh – 102 George St, Edinburgh, EH2 3DF. Fazenda is a Brazilian restaurant that centres around meat-based dishes from South America, although they do offer vegetarian and vegan options as well. Of particular note is their delicious lunchtime menu which has big portions at reasonable prices.

The Ivy on The Square – 6 St Andrew Square, Edinburgh, EH2 2BD. The Ivy is a fairly new addition to Edinburgh but it has already gained a following with diners looking to enjoy good quality British food at great prices. As an example, a two-course menu with a honey-baked ham starter and a roast salmon main costs just £17. Not bad for an up-market city-centre restaurant.

Wedgwood The Restaurant – 267 Canongate, Royal Mile, Edinburgh, EH8 8BQ. A visit to Edinburgh wouldn’t be complete without sampling traditional Scottish food, and one of the best places to try local Scottish produce has to be Wedgwood which serves dishes including Isle of Mull Scallops, Scottish roe deer, and mouth-watering Scottish cheese selections.

You may have noticed I haven’t yet included haggis, and that’s basically because it’s difficult to go to any restaurant in Edinburgh that doesn’t serve haggis, neeps, and tatties.

If you’re looking to sample Scotland’s best traditional food I recommend Whiski (119 High Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1SG) which has friendly surroundings, great food, and one of the best selections of single-malt Scotch in the city – after all, what else would you drink with Scotland’s iconic dish?


The weather and the best time to visit Edinburgh

rain

It could be argued there isn’t really a ‘best’ time to visit Edinburgh as there are always things to do and places to visit no matter the time of year. You’ll obviously have a great time in August when the Fringe is running, but you’ll also have an amazing time in December during Edinburgh’s Christmas festival.

Even the dark depths of winter has its benefits as the hotels dramatically reduce their prices in an effort to entice guests and tourist attractions are blissfully free of the crowds that heave through the city centre in the summer months.

I’ve created a guide to visiting Scotland in January that goes to some lengths to explain why coming here in winter can be equally enjoyable as booking a summer holiday.

That being said, there are two reasons that could have a significant impact on the time of year you come to Edinburgh, and that’s the temperature and the daylight hours.

Scotland typically sees the coldest months from November to February when temperatures rarely sit above 5 °C and are just as likely to hover around 0 °C. If you’re travelling here from a hot climate, it could make a visit rather uncomfortable, to say the least.

For a sightseeing trip to Edinburgh the temperature isn’t as important as the likelihood of rain though, and even if it’s mild you can feel utterly miserable if there’s a near-constant drizzle – which we typically see the worst of in autumn and early spring.

In addition to freezing drizzle, Edinburgh is renowned for the harr which is a thick mist that rolls in off the Firth of Forth. The haar can occur throughout the year and can last an entire day but is usually gone by midday. When it does appear it’s usually so thick it obliterates the sky which can make temperatures fall dramatically, even in summer.

The other point to bear in mind are the number of daylight hours we get in Edinburgh thanks to the city’s high latitude which ensures summer days bask in 17 hours of daylight but winter days see a much lower 7 hours. That’s something to bear in mind if you visit in December and January as you’ll need to plan visits to outdoor attractions (e.g. Holyrood Park) accordingly.

To be honest, all of this really isn’t important in a city like Edinburgh though because it’s so compact that walking anywhere takes no time at all and the public transport system is so good you’ll never have to wait long for the next bus or tram.

However, if Scotland’s weather is one of your main considerations for the time of year to travel I’ve compiled a list of what you can expect to experience each month – though bear in mind these are only averages and the weather in Edinburgh can change at the drop of a hat.

MonthTemp High in cTemp Low in °CRainfall in mmDaylight Hours
January61627.5
February71469.5
March924812
April1143914
May1464616
June1795917.5
July19116517
August18116115
September1695713
October1366810.5
November93608.5
December71637
Edinburgh weather averages

As far as recommendations go for the absolute best time to visit Edinburgh, as someone that lives in the city I would probably say August, followed by December.

As already mentioned, visiting in August means you’ll get to experience the Fringe as well as the Royal Military Tattoo. The atmosphere alone makes a visit in August worth it but you’ll also be able to enjoy warm weather and (hopefully) little rain. The downside, of course, is that everything will be more expensive.

December comes a close second for me as this is one city that feels amazing in the colder months – just take a walk along the medieval Royal Mile on a brisk winter’s day and warm up in a cosy pub to see exactly what I mean.

The other benefit of visiting Edinburgh in December is you get to enjoy the Christmas festivities which are rapidly becoming as popular as the Fringe. The city centre morphs into a dazzling light show in December with lots of decorations and fairground rides and there are a plethora of theatre shows including the cheeky pantos that are as British as fish and chips.


Travel in Edinburgh

edinburgh bus

Edinburgh is an amazingly compact city so visiting all the main attractions can easily be accomplished by walking – as long as you know where to go of course.

First-time visitors to the city have a few options if they’re not too sure about which direction to head in, which starts with the city’s bus network.

Edinburgh is served by two different bus companies, but one is far superior to the other. One operator is Lothian Buses which are distinguished by their red and gold livery, and the other is First Bus which have a silver, blue, and purple colour scheme.

Before I go any further I’ll get straight to the point and say don’t even bother with First Bus. While they’re the only option in many cities and therefore have a monopoly, in Edinburgh the home-grown Lothian Bus network blows them out of the water in every single department.

I’ve travelled all over the world and I’ve no hesitation in saying Edinburgh’s Lothian Buses rival any other city. Their vehicles are spotlessly clean, modern, arrive (almost) always on time and the network stretches to every corner of the city and the surrounding area.

Lothian Buses also run the new tram system which whisks travellers from the airport to the city centre in double-quick time, and an all-day ticket which allows unlimited travel across the city can be purchased for just a few pounds.

Tickets can be purchased via contactless readers on the bus or you can visit one of the city centre travel shops (there’s one on Waverley Bridge) where you can buy a pre-paid card or a book of tickets that will last a week or more.

If you’d like to see Lothian Bus routes, prices, and bus stops I recommend bookmarking the official Lothian Bus website as well as downloading the Lothian Bus app which has a fantastically useful bus finder that shows exactly where the next bus is on its route and how long it will take before it arrives at the next stop.

The other option for exploring Edinburgh is by taxi and thankfully there are dedicated taxi ranks near all the major venues that have official black cabs. You could book a minicab that will be a wee bit cheaper, but black cabs are superior in every regard and they have fixed rates so there’s no chance tourists will be taken for a ride (figuratively speaking…).

Two firms I recommend are Central Taxis and CityCabs, both of which have very good online booking apps.

Finally, as I mentioned at the start of this section, you can always just explore the city by walking. Everything really is within walking distance in Edinburgh and unless you have mobility issues you’ll find it easier and more enjoyable to soak up the atmosphere by setting off on foot with a good map in hand, plus you’ll save a bundle on bus and taxi fares.

If walking sounds like a good option to you I recommend purchasing the Collins Edinburgh Pocket Map (Amazon) which is small enough to always keep with you and features a detailed map of everywhere you need to find during your visit.

Used in conjunction with the Lonely Planet Pocket Guide to Edinburgh (Amazon) you’ll be able to breeze between all the top attractions with a minimum of fuss.


More articles about Edinburgh

Edinburgh

360° Virtual Tours of Attractions in Edinburgh – This article includes a compilation of the virtual tours included in the Out About Scotland Edinburgh tourist attraction guides. See the city like never before with detailed 360° photos you can view from any angle.

22 Interesting Facts About Edinburgh – Discover surprising facts about Edinburgh that will help you gain a better understanding of the city’s culture and history.

The History of Tourist Attractions in Edinburgh – Edinburgh is a city with over a thousand years of history, and in this article you’ll learn the stories behind some of the most iconic places that you’ll see during a visit.

Historic Buildings in Edinburgh – A Complete Guide – Not all of Edinburgh’s beautiful old buildings are open to the public, yet many of them have a fascinating tale to tell. In this article I explore a number of the city’s best-known buildings, from churches to council offices and many more.

Tips and Advice for Visiting Edinburgh – Edinburgh is one of the UK’s smaller cities but coming here for the first time can still be a bewildering experience. Discover everything you need to know about the weather, transport, accommodation, and what to see in this complete guide.

The Essential Tourist Guide to Edinburgh – Coming to Edinburgh for a weekend break is bound to raise questions about what to wear, what the crowds will be like and the best places to go shopping. In this article you’ll find answers to all these questions and many more.

Outlander Filming Locations in Edinburgh – As fans of the hit TV series Outlander will know, much of the first season was filmed in and around Edinburgh. Many tourists now come to the city on Outlander pilgrimages so this article explores all the locations where the most memorable scenes were filmed.

The 10 Best Things to do in Edinburgh on a Rainy Day – You can’t come to Edinburgh without expecting to experience at least a little rain – but that doesn’t mean your sightseeing plans need to be put on hold. Discover the top places to go and things to do in Edinburgh when the clouds roll in with this helpful Edinburgh travel guide.

The Ultimate Itinerary for a Day Trip From Edinburgh – Due to its location, Edinburgh makes a great base to explore other parts of the country and it’s possible to leave the city centre and be in the Highlands or Glasgow within a couple of hours. Find a selection of top tourist attractions you can visit in a single day from Edinburgh with this ultimate guide.

Murders and Executions in Edinburgh – Although Edinburgh is a modern bastion of civility, in days gone by it was one of the most dangerous and plague-ridden cities on earth. This article explores some of the worst atrocities from Edinburgh’s past including the crimes committed by the famous grave robbers Burke and Hare.

The History of Edinburgh – A Thousand Year Story – The history of Edinburgh is the history of modern Scotland as many of the country’s biggest political and religious upheavals spread out from the capital to the rest of the country. See where Edinburgh came from and how it got to where it is today in this article.

Edinburgh Travel Information – Find a concise overview of Edinburgh’s bus, tram, and taxi services in this article.


Edinburgh inforgraphic

Well, that wraps it up for this list of the best places to visit in Edinburgh and I hope it has given you some ideas for your next sightseeing trip to the city.

If this article has made you fall in love with Edinburgh I think you’ll enjoy reading my Guide to the Most Romantic Places in Scotland.

Discover more Edinburgh facts in this article: 22 Interesting Facts About Edinburgh.


Frequently Asked Questions

Is Edinburgh worth visiting?

As well as hosting 12 major cultural events each year (including The Fringe, the world’s biggest arts festival), Edinburgh was the first city to be granted the title of UNESCO City of Literature and it’s one of the few cities on the planet to have its centre elevated to UNESCO World Heritage Site status.

How do I travel to Edinburgh?

Edinburgh Airport lies 5 miles to the west of the city centre and has regular public transport links across the city and the surrounding areas. A regular airport bus is operated by Lothian Buses (the Airlink 100 service) which runs every 10 minutes, 24 hours a day from Waverley Bridge.

When are Edinburgh’s annual festivals?

Edinburgh International Science Festival: 4th to 19th April.
Edinburgh International Children’s Festival: 20th to 31st May.
Edinburgh International Film Festival: 17th to 28th June.
Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival: 17th to 26th July.
Edinburgh Art Festival: 30th July to 30th August.
Edinburgh Festival Fringe: 7th August to 31st August.
Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo: 7th August to 29th August.
Edinburgh International Festival: 7th to 31st August.
Edinburgh International Book Festival: 15th to 31st August.
Scottish International Storytelling Festival: 16th October to 31st October.
Edinburgh’s Christmas: Late November to Early January.
Edinburgh’s Hogmanay: 30th December to 1st January.

What are the top attractions in Edinburgh?

Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace, Holyrood Park, Calton Hill, The Royal Yacht Britannia, Edinburgh Zoo, The Royal Botanic Gardens, St. Giles Cathedral, The Royal Mile, The Scottish National Galleries, The National Museum of Scotland, Greyfriars Kirk, The Scott Monument.

More Scottish towns and cities articles

  • 360° Virtual Tours of Attractions in Glasgow
    There’s a lot to like about Glasgow. Not only is it Scotland’s largest city but it’s also the country’s cultural hub, with a dizzying number of world-class art galleries, museums, theatres and music venues. Discover the best places to visit in Glasgow in this article which includes an overview of the top attractions alongside high-definition 360° photographs.
  • 360° Virtual Tours of Attractions in Edinburgh
    As well as being the capital city of Scotland, Edinburgh is one of the most-visited cities in the world thanks to its incredible collection of family-friendly tourist attractions. Discover a collection of virtual tours of attractions in Edinburgh with this article, where you can explore each one through a series of high-definition and ultra-immersive 360° photographs.
  • Historic Buildings in Edinburgh – Complete Visitor Guide
    Edinburgh is Scotland’s premier tourist destination with over 4 million visitors coming to the city each year to explore its royal palace, majestic castle and imposing cathedral. Discover a selection of must-visit historic buildings in this article which are all located within walking distance of Edinburgh’s medieval Old Town.
  • The Essential Tourist Guide to Edinburgh
    Edinburgh. City of cobbled streets, winding alleyways and gothic architecture. This is the second most popular city in Britain after London so you might need a bit of help to plan your visit – which is exactly where this article comes in.
Places to Visit in Edinburgh

Don’t forget to bookmark Out About Scotland to discover the best places to visit in Scotland, learn what to do in each region and get suggestions for top tourist attractions to add to your Scottish sightseeing itinerary.

By Craig Neil

Scotland travel writer and specialist 360° photographer. Founder of the Out About Scotland travel website and Vartour virtual tours.