9 Best Things for Couples to Do in Edinburgh

Last Updated: by Craig Neil.

As well as being the capital of Scotland, Edinburgh is one of the most-visited cities in the world thanks to its incredible collection of historic buildings, ancient castles and atmospheric medieval streets.

Discover a collection of the best things to do in Edinburgh for couples with this guide which features information about each location along with useful visiting advice.

places to visit in Edinburgh

Tours of Edinburgh for Couples

Edinburgh is one of the best places in Scotland to experience everything that makes the country such a magical destination for tourists.

There are fantastic museums around every corner (and many of them are free), dozens of historic buildings to explore, beautiful parks to wander around, and Scotland’s finest collection of tourist attractions including Edinburgh Castle, the Camera Obscura, and the Scotch Whisky Experience.

It’s possible to just wander about and see what you find, but a professional tour guide will be able to take you to the most popular sights as well as some that even the locals don’t know about.

There are dozens of tour operators willing to take visitors around Edinburgh, but the best ones are found on Get Your Guide.

This company offers free cancellation for all bookings and features only the very best activities and tours.

If you’re visiting Edinburgh but aren’t sure where to go when you get there, I recommend at least booking a ticket for the hop-on-hop-off bus which visits all of the main attractions in the city from the iconic castle to the stunning Holyrood Palace.

Edinburgh Zoo

Edinburgh Zoo

Out About Scotland Complete Guide to Edinburgh Zoo

No introduction needs to be given to Edinburgh Zoo. Not only is it one of the largest and most respected zoos in Britain, but it’s also one of the most-visited tourist attractions in Scotland.

The zoo is set across 82 acres of parkland on Corstorphine Hill and it’s absolutely chock-a-block full of animals, from favourites such as lions, tigers and giraffes, to beautiful tropical songbirds, fascinating creepy-crawly insects and mesmerizing creatures of the world’s oceans.

Edinburgh zoo even has a few claims to fame, most notably the fact that it’s the only zoo in Britain that houses pandas. The pandas are part of an ongoing breeding programme that hopes to see Edinburgh with some furry black and white babies in the future, though sadly (as of 2021) none have made an appearance.

In addition to the pandas there’s also Penguin Rock which is one of the largest and oldest penguin enclosures in the world. Edinburgh Zoo has the proud accolade of being the first in the world to breed penguins and the daily ‘penguin parade’ is now the zoo’s most-watched event.

While the attraction is primarily aimed at families with children it’s also undeniably one of the most fun things to do in Edinburgh for adults, and especially for couples out on a date.

Mary King’s Close

Real Mary Kings Close

Out About Scotland Complete Guide to Mary King’s Close

This attraction is located a few hundred yards up The Royal Mile from John Knox House, almost opposite St. Giles Cathedral.

It’s another historic attraction, but this one aims to offer light-hearted entertainment more than act as a museum so it’s perhaps the best alternative for couples to experience ‘Auld Reekie’.

The attraction centres around Mary King, a real-life merchant who owned a successful shop on The Royal Mile in the 17th century.

However, as with most of Edinburgh at that time, the alley where her shop was located fell into squalor and it eventually became infected with the plague, a devastating disease which decimated the population of Scotland.

Today, visitors can explore the story of Mary King and Auld Reekie with costumed guides who will take you beneath the modern city streets into the dark enclosed alleyways that were covered over for hundreds of years but are now fully restored to how they would have looked during the time Mary King was alive.

You’ll walk through underground vaults and tiny rooms where entire families lived their lives, as well as hear the tales of the plague doctors that worked down there, and you might even feel the chill of one of the close’s resident ghosts!

The Scotch Whisky Experience

The Scotch Whisky Experience

Out About Scotland Complete Guide to The Scotch Whisky Experience

This attraction is located opposite the Camera Obscura and almost next door to the Edinburgh Castle esplanade, so as you can imagine it’s a rather popular place for tourists to visit.

The Scotch Whisky Experience will take you on a voyage of discovery into Scotland’s best-loved export with a series of exhibitions and guided talks that delve into the history of whisky, how it’s made, and why each region of Scotland is able to create such subtle variations of single malt.

The tour begins with a whisky barrel ride that shows you how a distillery operates before bringing you to a tasting room where experts will give you an overview of each of Scotland’s whisky regions while serving you a sample from each one.

There’s also a whisky collection to view (the world’s largest), an excellent café and restaurant to enjoy traditional Scottish dishes, and a very well-stocked shop where you can pick up a bottle or two of your favourite whiskies.

For whisky-loving couples, this is easily one of the best indoor date ideas in Edinburgh.

Camera Obscura & World of Illusions

Camera Obscura World of Illusions

Out About Scotland Complete Guide to Camera Obscura and World of Illusions

Scotland’s oldest purpose-built tourist attraction is located on The Royal Mile just a couple of minutes’ walk from the city’s iconic castle and more-or-less opposite the Scotch Whisky Experience.

Camera Obscura and World of Illusions began life as a collection of telescopes created by renowned telescope maker Thomas Short in the early 19th century. The collection’s original home was sited on the top of Calton Hill, but it moved to its present location on Castlehill in 1851.

Since that time the main attraction – the Camera Obscura – has wowed countless tourists who are amazed by the 200-year-old camera which projects an image of the city onto a giant display panel.

Maybe it’s not quite so impressive in these days of high-tech gadgets, but it’s a fascinating thing to see nonetheless.

The remainder of the Camera Obscura is dedicated to optical illusions and you’ll find an array of holograms, mirror mazes and light and sound displays across six floors, with the upper-level opening up to a panoramic viewing terrace that offers superb views of Edinburgh Castle and the Old Town.

If you’re looking for fun date ideas in Edinburgh this attraction should be at the top of your list.

Calton Hill

Calton Hill

Out About Scotland Complete Guide to Calton Hill

Edinburgh is well known for the number of historic buildings and monuments that are spread across the city. One of the best locations to see them is on top of Calton Hill – a natural landmark that’s easily walked from the city centre.

The hill lies to the east of Princes Street, sandwiched between the ever-popular OMNi Centre and the Scottish Government building on Waterloo Place.

There’s an incredible amount of history to discover on Calton Hill and it’s one of the best places in Edinburgh to stand and look at the stunning cityscape, with the twinkling waters of the Firth of Forth to the north, the mighty peaks of Holyrood Park to the south, and the hubbub of Princes Street to the west.

Highlights include the National Monument of Scotland with its unfinished stone columns that were built to mimic the Parthenon in Athens, and the Nelson Monument which is a tower with a lookout platform that commemorates Admiral Lord Nelson.

Calton Hill has been further developed in recent years and the site of the city observatory is now an art gallery, a museum, and a restaurant with panoramic views of the city which is one of the most romantic places to eat in Edinburgh.

Holyrood Park

Holyrood Park

Out About Scotland Complete Guide to Holyrood Park

No visit to Edinburgh is complete with visiting Holyrood Park. This enormous green space is one of the largest public spaces of any city in the world and it sprawls across an impressive 650 acres in the middle of the city.

You’ll have no problem making your way to Holyrood Park as you simply need to point yourself in the direction of its highest point – Arthur’s Seat – which is an 800-foot rock pinnacle that dominates the city skyline.

Pretty much every visitor to Edinburgh makes a beeline to this remnant of an ancient volcanic plug as it offers stunning 360° views from the top – as you’ll see from the virtual tour below.

Other highlights of Holyrood Park are the ruins of St. Anthony’s Chapel which is the oldest surviving building in the city, Salisbury Crags where the science of geology began, and the Radical Road which is a historic path that runs through the park.

There are also a couple of scenic lochs (best to check Google Maps to find them) and lots of grassy areas where you can hide away from the busy city amongst the heady vanilla-smelling scent of gorse bushes. Holyrood Park is basically the perfect spot for a summer picnic.

John Knox House

John Knox House

Out About Scotland Complete Guide to John Knox House

John Knox House on The Royal Mile is one of the few surviving medieval buildings in the city. Unlike much of the Old Town that was demolished by the Victorians, this historic house has remained unchanged since the time it was built in 1470, thanks to its most famous occupant, John Knox.

Knox was one of the most influential men of his era and his battles against Mary Queen of Scots are almost as infamous as the exploits of the house’s other famous resident, the royal goldsmith James Mossman.

You’ll discover the stories of both of these men when you visit John Knox House as well as artefacts from the time of Knox and information panels that explain the history of Edinburgh before it became the centre of the Scottish Enlightenment.

This 550-year-old building isn’t the biggest attraction in the city but it’s certainly one of the most interesting, so if you’ve ever wondered how Edinburgh became the city it is today, John Knox House definitely deserves a place on your sightseeing itinerary.

St. Giles Cathedral

St Giles Cathedral

Out About Scotland Complete Guide to St. Giles Cathedral

This is another historic attraction located on The Royal Mile, but unlike Mary King’s Close and John Knox House, St. Giles Cathedral is completely free to enter (although you can give a voluntary donation at the entrance).

The cathedral has been the focal point of religion in Edinburgh for more than 900 years but the building that we see today is a ‘new’ construction which dates back to the 14th century after the original was destroyed by fire.

It’s a truly stunning building, perhaps not quite as impressive as Glasgow Cathedral but certainly more decorative with its Gothic spires, distinctive steeple and enormous stained-glass windows.

The fact that it’s slap-bang in the middle of The Royal Mile also means it’s one of the city’s most-visited attractions.

Inside, you can marvel at the medieval stone carvings dotted around the nave as well as the extraordinarily ornate Thistle Chapel. Perhaps the best feature though is the stained-glass windows which flood the inside of St. Giles Cathedral with dazzling displays of multi-coloured lights.

If you can, I recommend joining one of the free guided tours that allow you to view the cathedral’s rooftop where you’ll get a highly memorable view across Edinburgh.

If the rooftop tour isn’t running you can return later in the day to join the free guided walking tours that explain the history of the cathedral and the role it played in Edinburgh’s past.


Leith in Edinburgh

Out About Scotland Complete Guide to Leith

Leith is a district of Edinburgh that you’ll find two miles to the north of Princes Street. Once a busy fishing harbour it’s now best known as the trendy place to go if you want to enjoy the best bars and restaurants outside of the city centre.

There are a couple of reasons why Edinburgh’s locals choose Leith for a meal out instead of Princes Street.

First off, because it’s not as much of a tourist haunt the prices are a wee bit cheaper. Second, there’s a great hipster atmosphere in the area thanks to the efforts of Edinburgh council who completely revamped it in the 1980s.

Two recommendations for places to eat are The Kitchin which is a Michelin-starred restaurant that’s frequently cited as one of the best in Scotland. They serve a blend of Scottish and French cuisine that absolutely delicious along with one of the best whisky menus I’ve ever seen in a restaurant.

A Room in Leith is situated close to The Kitchen but it’s a bit cosier and serves equally tasty dishes. Primarily concentrating on game and seafood they only serve local produce along with locally crafted drinks and they even have a waterfront pontoon which makes a great space to relax in summer.

Leaving food and drink behind, if you walk a half-mile west you’ll find Ocean Terminal which is a good place to do a spot of shopping, as well as the Royal Yacht Britannia which is one of the highest-rated tourist attractions in Scotland.

The former royal yacht is permanently moored there and is a genuinely fascinating place to visit – and the restaurant on the upper deck serves the best cream teas ever!

Discover more places to visit in Edinburgh with: The Best Places to Visit in Edinburgh – Ultimate Visitor Guide.

Frequently Asked Questions

Where is Edinburgh located?

Edinburgh is located in Southeast Scotland, south of the Firth of Forth estuary, east of the North Sea coastline, and north of the county of West Lothian.

Edinburgh is Scotland’s capital city and it is one of 32 council areas in the country. It is Scotland’s second-most-populous city and the seventh-most populous city in the United Kingdom.

Why is Edinburgh famous?

Edinburgh is best known for its fabulous tourist attractions that can be found throughout the city centre. The most famous of these is Edinburgh Castle which is Scotland’s most-visited attraction, regularly drawing over 2 million visitors each year.

Other top-rated attractions include Holyrood Palace, The National Museum of Scotland, The National Gallery of Scotland, Holyrood Park and The Royal Mile.

When did Edinburgh become a city?

Edinburgh has existed for over 1,000 years and it was originally a settlement centred around Castle Rock that was occupied by the powerful Votadini tribe.

Because the fort on Castle Rock was so easily defended it eventually became a royal palace, and Edinburgh was given full city status by royal decree in 1633.

Why is Edinburgh called ‘Edinburgh’?

The name Edinburgh is thought to originate from the occupation of Castle Rock by King Edwin of Northumbria in the 7th century.

In Old English, burgh means fort, and it is believed the name given to the castle – ‘Edwin’s burgh’ – transitioned over time into ‘Edinburgh’.

What top attractions are a must-see in Edinburgh?

Edinburgh is a city with a rich history and many cultural attractions. Some of the top attractions that are a must-see in Edinburgh include:

Edinburgh Castle
The Royal Mile
The Palace of Holyroodhouse
The National Museum of Scotland
Arthur’s Seat
The Scott Monument
The Royal Yacht Britannia
Dean Village
Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

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Craig Neil

Craig Neil is the author, photographer, admin, and pretty much everything else behind Out About Scotland. He lives near Edinburgh and spends his free time exploring Scotland and writing about his experiences. Follow him on Pinterest, Facebook, and YouTube.