The Ultimate Guide to Visiting Scotland in Summer

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Places to visit in Edinburgh in Summer

I can’t really create a list of the best places to visit in Scotland in summer without mentioning the country’s capital city of Edinburgh.

This amazing city has got so much going for it I don’t really know where to begin, so if you’re planning to spend any time in this country you really should make a visit here your top priority.

Edinburgh is one of the most-visited cities in Europe and is only narrowly beaten by London as the favourite destination for most international visitors, but you might be wondering why it’s so highly regarded.

Well, apart from the fact it’s impossibly pretty (think Harry Potter style castles, palaces and secluded backstreets and you’ve got it), it has more than enough attractions to keep visitors entertained for days, if not weeks.

Monumental castle? Check. Jaw-droppingly ornate palace? Check. Beautifully atmospheric medieval city centre? Yup, check again, with a thousand other tourist attractions thrown in for good measure. Check, and indeed, mate.

Let’s take a look at a few of the city’s highlights below…

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle

Address: Castlehill, Edinburgh, EH1 2NG
My complete guide: A Guide to Edinburgh Castle

Literally no introduction is needed for this attraction because it’s the one place in Scotland that practically every visitor has already heard of.

Edinburgh Castle has been the focal point of the city for the best part of a thousand years and it continues to draw people to it to this day, with over 70% of Scotland’s tourists claiming a visit to the castle is their top priority.

Bit of a mind-blowing fact for you – Edinburgh Castle is officially the most-visited attraction in Scotland, with annual visitor numbers exceeding 2 million people. 2 million! No wonder the queues are so horrendously long in summer.

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Even so, if you can brave the crowds you’ll find a lot to look at when you visit and it’s big enough that you could spend the majority of your day there if you explore every nook and cranny, which goes some way to justifying the crazily expensive entry tickets I guess.

Highlights of this historic attraction are the Argyll Battery (the main courtyard near the entrance) where the famous One O’Clock Gun is fired daily – at 1pm no less – and the Palace Yard where you’ll find the enormous cannon known as Mons Meg.

The oldest building in Edinburgh can be found next to Mons Meg which is a private chapel built by King David I, and a bit further round lies the Half-Moon Battery where the iconic lone piper plays his sombre tune during the spectacular Edinburgh Military Tatoo each year in August.

The castle is managed by Historic Environment Scotland who’ve done a fantastic job of including displays and exhibitions throughout the castle and they’ve got loads of staff to answer any questions you might have, but if I was you I’d ask them directions to the Royal Palace before you do anything else.

The palace gets incredibly busy from mid-morning on but you’ll miss most of the crowds if you get there early, and by doing so you’ll be able to view the Honours of Scotland (the nation’s crown jewels) and the former Royal Apartments at your leisure.

Head across the courtyard and you’ll find the National War Memorial where memorials to Britain’s armed forces are held, with the Great Hall directly opposite and the Queen Anne building joined to its side.

The Great Hall contains a collection of weaponry (including an example of the huge Scottish Claymore) while the Queen Anne building is the venue of a really good, if expensive, cafe and restaurant.

Holyrood Palace

Holyrood Palace

Address: Canongate, The Royal Mile, Edinburgh, EH8 8DX
My complete guide: A Guide to Holyrood Palace

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Holyrood Palace lies at the bottom of the Royal Mile, the medieval high street that connects the castle at the top to the palace at the bottom.

If you’re in Edinburgh then you’ll inevitably end up on the Royal Mile at some point as it’s the main tourist attraction for the Old Town – a UNESCO World Heritage Site that remains one of the best examples of 15th-century architecture in Europe.

Holyrood Palace is the official residence of the British monarchy in Scotland and just like Buckingham Palace, its London equivalent, you can explore many of its rooms on a self-guided tour.

To my mind, a visit to the palace is a must-do if you’re sightseeing in Edinburgh and it’s one of those attractions that manages to leave a lasting impression, just like the castle at the opposite end of the Royal Mile.

Highlights include the King’s Bedchamber in the east wing and the Great Gallery, with the former featuring fascinating collections of artworks and the latter showcasing a highly impressive gallery of paintings.

But a visit to this historic attraction doesn’t have to centre around the buildings because the Royal Gardens are worth a visit in their own right, and they offer a great opportunity to soak up the summer sun.

The gardens are spectacular (there’s no other word for them) and are a lovely place to wander around, especially with the dramatic peaks of Holyrood Park forming a backdrop. I totally recommend you spend time exploring the park which is why I’ve included it next in this list, but not before you’ve explored the rest of Holyrood Palace.

The north-west tower is a favourite with many tourists as it’s the part of the building where Mary Queen of Scots took residence, and the old rooms are chock-full of tapestries, paintings, and objects from the time of the doomed queen. Fascinating stuff.

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If you want to see even more artworks I recommend heading to the Queens Gallery near the palace entrance where for a small additional fee you’ll get to see masterpieces not found anywhere else in Britain, with a bonus being that the exhibitions are rotated regulalrly so there’s always something new to see on a later visit.

While initially seeming a bit pricey the entry tickets are actually decent value because they’ll allow you free re-admittance for one year – which is great if you return to the city and find yourself looking for something to do.

My top-tip with the tickets is to purchase a ‘Royal Visit’ pass which includes admission to the Palace, the Queen’s Gallery and a garden tour – more than enough to keep you occupied for an entire day.

Holyrood Park

Holyrood Park

Address: Queen’s Drive, Edinburgh, EH8 8HG
Website: A Guide to Holyrood Park

It’s summer, you’re in the sweltering (ok, maybe not that hot… how about mildly warm?) Scottish capital, and you’re feeling stuck for places to visit that don’t include trotting about inside stuffy old buildings. Where should you go?

The answer to that has to be Holyrood Park, the 650-acre green space situated right in the heart of the city.

I’ve got another fact for you (I’m full of useless facts) – did you know that the highest point of the park, the 800-foot peak known as Arthur’s Seat, is actually the remnant of a long-extinct volcano?

Yep, there’s a volcano right in the middle of Edinburgh!

The story of Arthur’s Seat begins 340 million years ago with a series of volcanic eruptions that formed the crags and peaks that we can see today throughout the park.

Those volcanic flows inspired the 18th-century academic James Hutton to form his theories on how the earth was formed, which was the basis for the science of modern geology.

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But there’s more to this park than scientific history.

Holyrood Park is basically a mini version of the Scottish Highlands and it’s a brilliant place to get away from the noise of the city centre on a warm summers day.

You can wander around its spiders-web of paths and see lochs, trees, and an abundance of Highland-style landscapes if you like, but the highlight has to be climbing to the top of Arthur’s Seat for the panoramic views of the city.

It’s a bit of a scramble in places but it’s well worth the effort so if you feel like a bit of exercise I recommend taking the most direct route which is to head east from Dunsapie Loch and follow the well-worn path to the top.

Once you get there you’ll find a trig point on top of a rocky plateau with gorgeous views in every direction. It’s a must-do if you’re in Edinburgh in the summer.

Edinburgh infographic

Edinburgh infographic

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Craig Smith

Out About Scotland founder. Scotland explorer extraordinaire. Tourist attraction aficionado. Enthusiast of all things Scottish. Follow my adventures in Scotland on social media.