Edinburgh is Scotland’s charming, medieval capital city, and one of the most fascinating destinations within the entire United Kingdom. Though not as large as Glasgow, Edinburgh has a lot to offer visitors. With the Gothic Old Town, sweeping natural landscapes, and the largest annual arts festival in the world, the city has something for every traveller. UNESCO-listed architecture and hiking spots aside, Edinburgh also has a thriving nightlife scene to ensure a fun and memorable time.
Whether you’re currently planning a trip to Edinburgh or simply wondering about the city’s attractions, this ultimate travel guide is here to help. Here you will learn all about the best of Edinburgh, from places to see, things to do, foods to eat, and hotels to stay at. Follow along this Edinburgh, Scotland travel guide to get an idea of what your upcoming trip could be like.
This ultimate travel guide to Edinburgh will show you all the most beautiful places in Edinburgh, what to expect when visiting, where to stay in Edinburgh and things to do in Edinburgh which will help you in planning a trip to Edinburgh.
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How to get to Edinburgh
Edinburgh Airport (EDI) is only about 15 kilometres from the centre of the city. It’s the busiest international airport in Scotland, so finding a convenient flight certainly won’t be a problem.
There are multiple different routes to take from the airport to reach your accommodation. Trams run every seven minutes from six a.m. until just before 11 p.m. and take around 35 minutes. A single ticket for an adult costs £6, or you can snag a return for £8.50. There’s also an express bus departing every 10 minutes, which takes roughly 25 minutes in regular traffic. Single tickets for adults are £4.50 or £7 return.
Already in the UK? Taking the train from Liverpool, Leeds or London is another option if you’re not in a hurry. Arriving at the stunning Edinburgh Waverley railway station will definitely set your sightseeing trip off to a fantastic start.
What to expect in Edinburgh
Wondering what to expect from any Edinburgh travel adventures? Fortunately, you don’t need to prepare too much, as the main language spoken by 99% of the population is English. Scots and Scottish Gaelic are minority languages today, and the locals speak a dialect known as Scottish English instead.
As Scotland is a part of the United Kingdom, the pound sterling is used. You’ll see the currency written as £ or GBP. There’s no expectation of tipping in Edinburgh or anywhere else in Scotland, as staff receive a reasonable minimum wage. However, if you do wish to leave a small tip for excellent service, it will be appreciated.
How to get around Edinburgh
Edinburgh has a WiFi-friendly tram route and 24-hour bus services. Since many of the top attractions are within the centre of the city, you’ll be able to get around a lot of the time on foot. If you want to plan your journey in advance, use the Lothian Buses timetable to see how you can get around Edinburgh and what it will cost. You can also check out the Edinburgh Trams website to see which attractions are near each of the 15 stops.
Other than public transport, there are over 1,000 black cabs you can hail or pre-book. City Cabs and Central Taxis are the most reliable companies to go with.
The best time to visit Edinburgh
June, July, August and September are the warmest months in Edinburgh. The weather is often unpredictable throughout Scotland, so these are the safest times of the year if you want the best temperatures to explore freely.
There are a number of fun festivals held during August, including the world-famous Edinburgh Fringe Festival. This arts festival, the largest in the world, runs for over three weeks and features a range of shows and performances. This is perhaps the best albeit busiest time to be in Edinburgh, as you’ll leave with a rich experience and tons of memories.
The city occasionally receives snow in January, which is always an exciting event for locals. However, you shouldn’t expect any special outdoor winter activities. That being said, Edinburgh can be a pleasant time to spend your Christmas break if you can’t visit mid-year.
Things to do in Edinburgh
This city has a mixture of beautiful natural attractions and historic landmarks to occupy your time. Here are a few of the top things to do in Edinburgh during your travels:
The most notable attraction in the city is, of course, Edinburgh Castle. Perched atop Castle Rock, this historic fortress is an iconic piece of Edinburgh’s skyline. Humans have lived in the area since the second century AD, and the site was a royal residence between the 12th and 16th centuries.
By the 17th century, the structures were converted into a military barracks, and by the 19th century, the fortress had become an important part of Scotland’s history and heritage. Entrance tickets for adults cost £17.50 online when booked in advance or £19.50 at the gate. The price includes a free, optional guided tour around the main parts of the castle.
The Royal Mile
Castlehill, Lawnmarket, High Street, Canongate and Abbey Strand make up Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, a series of streets running through the centre of the Old Town. The ancient thoroughfare is considered the heart of the city and spans exactly one mile (or 1.6 kilometres). During the Edinburgh Festival, the streets are filled with buskers and entertainers.
Wandering the cobblestone alleys is the ultimate way to get an overview of the city’s sights. Stop and enjoy a coffee (or whiskey) at one of the charming cafes or do a spot of shopping while you’re there.
The Palace of Holyroodhouse
The Palace of Holyroodhouse at the east end of the Royal Mile is the current residence of Scotland’s monarchy. Originally constructed as a monastery in 1128, the Gothic palace was built next to the ruined abbey in the 16th and 17th centuries. The existing layout is a quadrangle shape, which is 70-metres long in both directions.
Throughout most of the year, the historic apartments of Mary, Queen of Scots and the 17th-century Great Gallery are available for the public to view. You can also see the 19th-century forecourt fountain, which is a replica of the fountain at Linlithgow Palace.
Camera Obscura and World of Illusions
One of the most unique and captivating things to do in Edinburgh is to stop by the Camera Obscura and World of Illusions. This Old Town attraction was conceptualized in the 1800s by entrepreneur Maria Theresa Short and further developed by sociologist Patrick Geddes.
Today, the six-floor tower showcases interactive exhibitions that are both interesting and educational, and are guaranteed to make you feel like a kid again. The World of Illusions uses light, colour, puzzles, a mirror maze and a vortex tunnel to create optical illusions. The Camera Obscura on the top floor projects a virtual tour of Edinburgh and offers a panoramic view of the city as well.
The experience will cost you £16 as an adult, with concession prices for students, seniors and children. Tickets are valid for the entire day, and you are free to come and go as you please until the late closing time.
Princes Street Gardens
Take time out from the historic sightseeing and relax outside for a while. The Princes Street Gardens are made up of two parks near the Edinburgh Castle along Princes Street.
The area is great for a leisurely walk or to enjoy a picnic with friends and family. Take note of the Neo-Gothic Scott Monument in the East Garden. In the West Garden, spot the Floral Clock and the magnificent cast-iron Ross Fountain.
The High Kirk of Edinburgh
Also known as the Cathedral of Saint Giles, the High Kirk of Edinburgh has been the city’s most important religious site for almost a century. The 12th-century Norman-style church built by King Alexander I survived until the late 18th century, when significant restoration was undertaken and the building was temporarily subdivided into three churches.
The impressive 15th-century crown steeple and intricate Thistle Chapel make the cathedral a favourite architectural landmark as well. The Burns Window shows off abstract themes in vivid stained glass, and many heraldic carvings have remained from the late medieval period.
The mountain known as Arthur’s Seat is the most notable peak in Edinburgh’s Holyrood Park and is frequently referenced in mythology and literature. The hill reaches a height of 250 metres and provides stunning panoramic views over the city. If you’re looking for a straightforward hillwalk, begin your ascent near Dunsapie Loch on the eastern side.
What to eat in Edinburgh
Scottish cuisine includes a few unique dishes, though many cooking traditions are shared with British and European cuisine. If you’re eager to try some of the local food while you’re in Edinburgh, here are a few things you can sample:
- Rumbledethumps: A traditional dinner or side dish with mashed potatoes and shredded cabbage and onion
- Haggis: A savoury sheep pudding with onion, oatmeal and various spices, and the national dish of Scotland. It’s often served with neeps and tatties, which are mashed turnips and potatoes
- Sticky toffee pudding: A favourite British desert commonly enjoyed in Scotland, consisting of a moist sponge cake with toffee sauce and served with vanilla custard
- Fish supper: A classic fish and chips fare with a unique, tangy brown sauce (simply called salt and sauce when ordered)
- Shortbread: Typically associated with Christmas, this popular biscuit originates from Scotland and is made with sugar, butter and oat flour
Where to stay in Edinburgh
There’s plenty of luxury to be found at The Edinburgh Grand. In the heart of Saint Andrew Square are 50 extravagant apartments in all shapes and sizes to suit any number of guests. The interior design is classy yet cosy with period features. All apartments include a fully equipped kitchen and dishwasher, perfect for longer stays or anyone that likes to cook for themselves.
A superb mid-range accommodation option is the Murrayfield Hotel and House. The property has a welcoming bed and breakfast feel with many stylish touches. All of the rooms have their own individual style and decor, and a full Scottish breakfast is available to start your day off well.
If you’re wondering where to stay in Edinburgh on a budget, look no further than The Baxter. Any hesitations you have about staying in hostels will disappear once you see the standard of cleanliness and gorgeous contemporary design. Located by the Edinburgh Waverley railway station in the New Town, it’s an ideal base for getting out and exploring the surrounding areas.
Tours to do in Edinburgh
One of the best tours to go on is the Edinburgh Castle Walking Tour. Skip the lines and head straight into the castle with your tour guide to learn all the secrets. You’ll visit the National War Museum, see the Crown Jewels of Scotland, and wander through Crown Square. After the tour is over, you’ll have time to wander around at your own pace.
Maybe you’d rather wander at night, in which case the Edinburgh Ghost Tour is perfect for you. If you didn’t already know, the city is allegedly one of the most haunted in the United Kingdom. A two-hour evening tour of the city will take you to visit the creepy Blair Street Underground Vaults while your guide tells you spooky stories of Edinburgh’s darker side. If you’re feeling freaked out, not to worry, as you’ll have the chance to chill out afterwards at Megget’s Cellar and down a dram of Scotch whisky.
Day trips from Edinburgh
A trip to Scotland means a trip to Loch Ness. This large freshwater lake in the Scottish Highlands is best known as the home of the folklore creature the Loch Ness Monster. The Loch Ness sightseeing cruise is completely optional, however. On a 12-hour small-group day trip, you can see small Scottish villages, wander through Cairngorms National Park, and learn about the history of Glencoe. It’s a must for anyone who loves nature and wants to see the country’s scenic side.
Another full-day tour from Edinburgh can take you to some of the country’s best historic landmarks. Firstly, visit Rosslyn Chapel, an intricate 15th-century chapel that was featured in the film ‘The Da Vinci Code’. Next up, see the partially-ruined Melrose Abbey monastery, where the heart of Robert the Bruce is buried. Admire the picturesque views from the Cheviot Hills, then walk along Hadrian’s Wall, a defensive fortification from 122 AD.
Recommended tours in Edinburgh
- Loch Ness, Glencoe and the Highlands Small-Group Day Trip from Edinburgh
- 3-Day Isle of Skye and Highlands Tour from Edinburgh
- 5-Day Best of Scotland Experience from Edinburgh
- The Magical Highland Tour Including the Jacobite Steam Train Journey
- Skip-the-Line Edinburgh Castle Walking Tour
- West Highlands, Lochs and Castles Small Group Day Trip from Edinburgh
- St Andrews and Fife Small Group Day Trip from Edinburgh
- Royal Edinburgh Ticket with Hop-On Hop-Off Tours, Edinburgh Castle Admission
- Highland Lochs, Glens and Whisky Small-Group Day Trip from Edinburgh
- Hadrian’s Wall, Roman Britain & the Borders Small Group Day Trip from Edinburgh
- 1-Hour Real Mary King’s Close Underground Tour in Edinburgh
- Outlander Palaces and Jacobites Tour from Edinburgh
- Whisky Masterclass Experience in Edinburgh – 10am start