After our weeklong trip in Ireland, I was lucky enough to be able to sneak in a few days in the incredible city of Edinburgh. Edinburgh is simply amazing (besides the cold weather) and should be on everyone’s bucket list as the city is both historical and simply beautiful. There is so much history to this city, but it strays away from being the kind of place you visit just to wander through dull museums. We’ve put together some of the top things to do in Edinburgh to help guide you along in making the most out of your trip!
Top things to do in Edinburgh – Incredible Sights, Museums & More!
- You will see the gorgeous Edinburgh Castle from all over the city because it sits up on a hill, but actually visiting it will be worth your while too. There are so many historical figures who have walked those halls since the 12th century. Because of this it’s one of the most visited attractions in Scotland, don’t be surprised by the crowds. Although there are lots of people the grounds are so vast you won’t feel crowded. Prepare in advance by booking tours or buying a “skip the line” ticket. One of the neat things to see are the crown jewels of Scotland. The Queen’s chamber, the great hall, and a chapel are some of the other must-sees. Plus, the jails are such an interesting look back at the history of Scotland and the wars they fought.
- * Pro Tip* – If you are going during the summer, order the skip the line ticket and save yourself a good amount of time. Check Current Prices Here!
Take a walk along the Royal Mile & Hold an Owl
After you visit Edinburgh Castle had right down the road that leads to Edinburgh Castle called the Royal Mile. This street is filled with great shops, live entertainment, and delicious restaurants. One of my favorite things I did on the Royal Mile was hold an adorable owl from the local animal rescue. I also loved the innovative street performers who knew how to entertain a crowd. This street does get crowded during the summer time so be prepared for some crowds.
Trust me, you want to see this city from above and Arthur’s Seat is the perfect lookout spot to do it. It’s the highest point of the most popular park in town, Holyrood Park. From Arthur’s Seat you will have unobstructed views of just about every other one of these top 10 things to do in Edinburgh, from the sea to the majestic castle.
Of course, this spot has some history to itself as well because just about everything in Scotland seems to be tied to legend. For one, you will be standing on top of a dormant volcano, but you will also be able to see a fort and structures that date as far back as 2 A.D. It’s also rumored to be the spot of King Arthur’s castle Camelot, which your little travelers probably learned about in school. You do have to take a steep walk to get up to this viewpoint, but I wouldn’t quite call it a hike. Also, it will fill at least a few hours of your day. The best part about it all? It’s free!!
Royal Botanic Garden
Since 1670, scientists have been experimenting and creating new plants in the Royal Botanic Garden of Edinburgh. The gardens span of 70 acres and it’s all beautifully manicured. In fact, it is said to be on of the best botanical gardens in the world. It’s divided into sections that contain a specific type of plants, meaning you can explore all day finding new things. There’s also an old mansion on grounds that has been converted to an art gallery. The garden is a great place to escape the city for a bit and get in touch with nature, especially if you’re in Edinburgh on a sunny day. Don’t forget to snap plenty of photos.
The Edinburgh Dungeon
I am not the one who likes to be scared or gory things for that matter, but the Edinburgh Dungeon was a surprising delight. First off, I was scared as could be going into the dungeon, it turns out there are just a few scares along the way, so it wasn’t that bad. The cast that acts out the scenes are great, they are both funny and also great at interacting with the guests. The tour takes you through the actual history of some of the horrific things that happened in Scotland’s past and ends in a ride that is quite the surprise (I won’t ruin it for you). Check Current Prices Here!
Visit the Royal Yacht Brittania
I’ll admit it, I am a sucker for the royalty. Ever since we visited London there is something that fascinates me about all the royal hoopla. The Royal Yacht Brittania is a pretty fascinating tour. The Royal Yacht Britannia was home to Her Majesty The Queen and the Royal Family for over 40 years. Now berthed in Edinburgh, you get to tour each room of the royal yacht. See the staterooms, the dining room, photos of the royal family. It really is a great self guided tour. Check Current Prices Here!
See some hairy coos & Have some afternoon tea
One of the things I wanted to see so badly was one of those adorable Hairy Coos in Scotland. Unfortunately, everywhere I turned it was a one day trip to go see these cute little guys. Luckily, I did find one place with some Hairy Coo’s right on the property. At the Prestonfield House you can go and enjoy some wonderful afternoon tea, but then also go visit their two hairy coos on the property. Talk about a two for 1. You also don’t have to do high tea and just enjoy seeing those cute coos for free. Check Prices of Afternoon Tea Here
Eat at The Scran and Scallie-
The atmosphere and the food at this classic gastropub are awesome that will take you back in time. The restaurant was created by two Michelin star chefs and they focus on using seasonal, local foods. They serve lunch, dinner, and have a full bar stocked with top-notch liquors, beers, and wine. You can try some traditional Scottish fare which they refer to as “scran” or go with something basic like a burger. It’s a family-friendly restaurant, which we always appreciate.
Visit Camera Obscura –
When someone recommended the Camera Obscura to me as one of the top things to do in Edinburgh, I was a little skeptical. I didn’t understand why they would recommend going to a place filled with optical illusions. While it seemed great for kids, it seemed odd to recommend to a couple. I was wrong. Yes, the Camera Obscura is filled with illusions that my husband and I had fun with, but the real treat is the camera obscura itself. Atop the building, you enter a dark room. Using one mirror and three lenses you can see a live view of all Edinburgh in one room. It was absolutely fascinating and definitely worth the price of admission.
Visit the Inspiration for Diagon Alley
If you love Harry Potter like my daughter Ella does, you have to head to the street that is the inspiration for Diagon Alley. This cute little street is filled with colorful shops (and now many Harry Potter memorabilia shops). It’s located just a few blocks away from the Royal Mile and if you really love Harry Potter you can also check out the coffee shop where J.R. Tolkien wrote one of the Harry Potter books.
This will definitely be a different beach experience than your typical day on a vacation in the tropics, but nonetheless it is worth experiencing. This part of town is charming and as many would say just a little “wonky”. The beach is clean and still a nice sight to see even when the weather isn’t quite so nice. There’s markets and artisans and musicians scattered along the shoreline. You can grab a quick bite to eat or a coffee at one of the many cute cafes or restaurants.
National Museum of Scotland
Some museums are just worth seeing, and when in Edinburgh the National Museum of Scotland is one of them. There are tons of different exhibits meaning there should be something to meet everyone’s taste, from art to a t-rex skeleton. They also house a display for the first mammal to ever be cloned, Dolly the sheep. The museum is pretty central in the city and admission is free. To avoid wasting any time, make sure to map out the exhibits you are actually interested in so that you can head straight for those.
Real Mary King’s Close
Want to experience a little of the underground world while in Scotland? Mary King’s Close is made up of quaint narrow winding alleyways that were once the busy streets of a medieval downtown Edinburgh but have since collapsed. Now, there are stories of scary grisly events and it being haunted. More than just the scary side, it’s where the majority of people lived their lives in that time period which makes for some interesting sites. The tour guides will tell you all about it and stay in character surprisingly well. Tours start at around $20 for an hour of exploring and learning all about the history. Don’t bring along little ones that are easily frightened though!
Take the Hop on Hop Off Bus Tour
The Hop on Hop off bus tour is a great way to get around Edinburgh. There are three different lines which takes you to the different areas in Edinburgh. The guides are fun and give you unique information about the historic city. We took the green line and enjoyed stops at the Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace, & Georgian New Town
Palace of Holyrood House
The Palace of Holyrood House is a great place to visit in Edinburgh. The queen of England still stays at the Holyrood House everytime she visits Scotland. The self-guided audio tour provides some great history and the grounds are absolutely beautiful. Check Current Prices Here!
You are going to want to spend some time in Edinburgh listening to live music and Sandy Bell’s is sure to offer some of the best traditional folk from 9 pm on weekdays and 2-4 pm on weekends. Of course, they offer plenty of beer and whiskey options to try out while you listen and sing along. Click here to check out their website and see exactly what they have going on during your time in Edinburgh.
Museum of Childhood
I did say this wouldn’t be a trip full of wandering boring museums. However, this one is far from boring and one of the best family attractions in the city. It focuses on the experience of childhood from the 18th century to today. You can check out toy trends and maybe get a little nostalgic. Did I forget to mention it’s free?
One of the best ways to catch a little bit of local culture is to visit a market like Stockbridge. Make sure to taste some yummy foods from right around town, like cheese and pastries. Make sure you arrive hungry! There’s also usually some live music to check out and artisans to buy the perfect souvenir from. The market is open Sundays year round from 10 am to 5 pm.
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