Edinburgh is Scotland’s capital, a relatively small, hilly city of 500,000 residents. Edinburgh attracts over 1 million foreign visitors each year, making it the United Kingdom’s second most popular tourist destination.
Edinburgh has a rich history dating as far back as 8500 B.C. In the 18th century, Edinburgh thrived on several industries, including printing, brewing and distilling, and today has grown into a financial hub of the United Kingdom. Edinburgh hosts several festivals throughout the year, which may be worth planning your trip around.
Plan your trip?
Avoid hidden fees in the exchange rate while withdrawing from millions of ATMs abroad, paying in restaurants and shops, and buying your accommodation and flights using the Wise Card. You can hold up to 40+ currencies at once to spend in in over 150 countries, and convert them in real time with the free Wise app.
Need help planning your trip from start to finish? Check out these helpful links:
- Cheap flights
- Savings on accommodation from hostels to luxury hotels
- Affordable car rental options
- Affordable sightseeing tours and day trips
- Travel Adapter – All in one so you don’t have to carry a bunch around
This post contains some affiliate links for your convenience. Click here to read my full disclosure policy.
Royal Mile is Edinburgh’s main thoroughfare, where you will likely spend a lot of time when visiting. The cobblestone street is actually a succession of several streets that run from the Edinburgh Castle at the west end to the Holyroodhouse at the east end.
The Mile runs through Edinburgh’s Old Town, where you’ll find many historic buildings alongside Starbucks’ and nightclubs. Don’t miss the Royal Mile Market, where you can find arts, crafts and food made by local artisans.
Arthur’s Seat is the main peak of the range that looms over Edinburgh. One of the most popular Edinburgh activities is to climb to the top of Arthur’s seat for the great views of Edinburgh. Situated in Holyrood Park, which starts right at the end of the Royal Mile.
There are several ways you can reach the top of Arthur’s Seat, with most trails beginning near Holyrood Palace. Make sure you wear good shoes, it’s not a paved path and is a real hike that can be rocky and steep at times.
Palace of Holyrood house
At one end of the Royal Mile, and at the foot of Arthur’s Seat is the Palace of Holyrood house, which is the official Scotland residence of Queen Elizabeth II.
Parts of the building date back to the 16th century and has served as the main residence for the Kings and Queens of Scots since that time.
While the Queen still visits for a week at the beginning of each summer, certain areas of the palace are open to the public seven days a week.
Your entrance to the Palace includes admission to tour the 11th century Holyrood Abbey ruins on the grounds of the Palace.
Another easily recognizable hill, and UNESCO World Heritage Site, in Edinburgh is Calton Hill, which sits right in the middle of the city, and has an Athenian acropolis at the summit.
The hill offers excellent views of Edinburgh, especially at sunrise, and has several historic monuments and buildings.
At Calton Hill, you’ll find the National Monument, the Old Royal High School, Political Martyr’s Monument and the City Observatory. There are several paths to the top of Calton Hill, the shortest of which is just 5 minutes up a set of steep stairs.
National Museum of Scotland
With so much history in the United Kingdom, you might be surprised that the National Museum of Scotland was only formed in 2006.
The museum gets over 2,000,000 visitors per year, and admission is free. The museum was formed with the merger of two museums, and is therefore housed in two very different buildings.
The Museum of Scotland portion is in a very modern 1990’s building, while the former Royal Museum is in a 19th century building.
Inside, the Natural World galleries tell the story of our planet, while the World Cultures galleries display the history of people and possessions across the globe. The museum is open daily.
Royal Botanic Garden
Just a mile from the city center, The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh covers 72 acres and dates back 300 years. The Garden has 10 glasshouses which each house a different climatic zone with over 3,000 exotic plants from around the world.
At the Chinese Hillside, you can experience the world-famous Rock Garden and admire giant redwood trees in the Woodland Garden. The gardens are open daily and admission is free.
Camera Obscura and World of Illusions
One of Edinburgh’s most popular attractions on the Royal Mile is Camera Obscura and World of Illusion. Located in the Outlook Tower next to the Edinburgh Castle, the attraction has five floors of optical illusions and hands-on science.
This is an especially fun destination for families with kids or teenagers, and in addition to all of the fun exhibits, the glass-dome tower offers 360-degree views of Edinburgh.
In contrast to the historic cobblestones of the Royal Mile, Princes Street is Edinburgh’s high street. The busiest street in the city and is also home to the one of the world’s first floral clocks.
The Princes Street gardens contain a spacious public park in the center of the city, and holds regular concerts and events in the warmer months.
Royal Yacht Britannia
One of Scotland’s best attractions is a visit to the Royal Yacht Britannia. This Royal Yacht was in service to the Royal Family from 1954 to 1997.
The ship has had many famous moments in history, most notably as the host of Charles and Diana’s honeymoon in 1981.
Over 40 years in service, the Royal Yacht Britannia carried members of the Royal Family and dignitaries on nearly 700 foreign visits.
Today, the yacht is moored in Edinburgh and open as a museum. Upon entry, you’ll receive a complimentary audio handset tour. You’ll see the State Apartments and Royal Bedrooms, and the Rolls Royce Phantom that traveled with the ship.
Sitting on Castle Rock overlooking Edinburgh, Edinburgh Castle occupies a spot where Scottish Royal castles have stood since the 12th century. The site has alternatively served as a royal residence and a military fortress.
Most of the buildings remaining today date back to the 16th century or later, and today receives over 2 million visitors per year, making it most visited paid tourist attraction in Scotland, make sure to “skip the line“, so you don’t spend all day waiting to get in!
Some of the attractions for visitors include St Margaret’s Chapel, the Scottish National War Memorial, plus the crown jewels of Scotland.
Scotch Whisky Experience
After a day of hiking hills and exploring the history of Scotland, a visit to the Scotch Whisky Experience, on the Royal Mile, is a must.
The site includes tours, a gift shop and a restaurant that tell the tale of Scotland’s national drink through technology exhibits and a barrel ride.
You can enter a vault housing the world’s largest collection of Scotch whiskies and have a special tasting. The Whisky Experience is open daily, with several different tours available from a basic 1-hour “silver” tour to the “Taste of Scotland” tour which includes a seasonal Scottish tasting menu in the adjacent restaurant.
Museum of Childhood
Edinburgh has the first museum in the world focused on the history of childhood. The Museum of Childhood, in the former Salvation Army Hall on the Royal Mile, has a collection of children’s toys, dollhouses and games dating back several generations to the 1700’s.
Kids of all ages will enjoy five rooms filled with historic toys, including interactive exhibits and of course, a gift shop filled with toys you can take home. The museum is closed on Tuesday and Wednesday.
A quaint corner of Edinburgh is Dean Village, just 10 minutes from Princes Street, but a whole world away from the bustle of the capital city.
The Village lies on the banks of the Leith River, which at one time powered several mills, a few of which are still standing.
Dean Village is basically a residential neighborhood, so you won’t find many tourist attractions, restaurants or shops, but nonetheless, it’s a fun excursion in Edinburgh and the Leith River makes a great backdrop for photographers wanting a different view of the city.
St Andrews Day Trip
A great day trip from Edinburgh is a visit to the nearby seaside town of St. Andrews. St Andrews is famous for its many golf courses and the University of St. Andrews. By car, train or bus, St. Andrews is less than 90 minutes from Edinburgh.
Golfers of course will want to plan a visit to one of the courses, and most likely would want to spend a few days here to enjoy multiple courses. The medieval streets are lined with shops, restaurants and pubs.
Dan Brown and DaVinci Code fans will definitely want to plan a day trip to Roslin from Edinburgh. Only 7 miles south of the capital, Roslin is easily reached by bus. Rossyln Chapel is the main attraction during a day trip to Roslin, and is home to the Holy Grail, according to the Da Vinci Code.
The chapel dates back to the 15th century, while the nearby Rosslyn castle ruins date back to the 14th century. Roslin Village is a fun place to take an afternoon stroll, with Scottish pubs and eateries, plus small shops to browse.
Loch Ness, Glencoe and the Highlands Trip
While in Edinburgh this year, we really wanted to visit Loch Ness (after being told it wasn’t possible to see Loch Ness in 1 day during a Scottish Winter) and so we decided to join a Rabbies Tour to Loch Ness, Glencoe and the Highlands, a small-group day trip from Edinburgh.
Our driver Pete was a hooot! He had plenty of hilarious stories and made sure that we got to stop often for a lot of great photo opportunities. We got to see so much in our 12 hour tour. I would highly highly recommend it. You can either book via their website, through Viator or at the Rabbies Cafe on Waterloo street in Edinburgh.