Edinburgh is a historic and beautiful city in Scotland that’s packed with fun festivals, iconic attractions, unique museums, and opportunities to taste some delicious homegrown spirits. Families, couples, and solo travelers love exploring the highlights and soaking up the serene scenery of the gently rolling hills. Here are our top picks for things to do in Scotland’s capital city, Edinburgh.
One of the most well-known sites in the entire region is Arthur’s Seat. It’s located in Holyrood Park and offers impressive views of the surrounding landscape from this high point. It is an extinct volcano, and legend says that this is where Camelot was located and how the site got its name. You can hike the uphill trail to the top, but make sure to wear sturdy boots and bring plenty of water. There are no admission fees for this essential Edinburgh experience, and Holyrood Park is open 24 hours a day all throughout the year.
Awesome panoramic views can also be taken in at Calton Hill, which is east of New Town and one of Scotland’s very first parks. The site is closely associated with the literary work of Robert Louis Stevenson, and iconic monuments and buildings are located here. The acropolis here is an unfinished monument that was designed to be a replica of Athens’ Parthenon. Nelson’s Monument is also here to remember the British admiral who led a victorious charge at Trafalgar. The climb to the top of the hill is pretty easy and particularly scenic at sunrise or sunset.
Scotch Whisky Experience
Scotland is well-known for its whiskey, and you can try some for yourself at the Scotch Whiskey Experience. There are various tour options that show guests how whiskey is made, what the production facilities look like, and include tastings. Fifty-minute Educational Tours are £13, 50-minute Silver Tours are £15.50 and include a tasting, 70-90-minute Gold Tours are £27 and include four regional single malts, and 90-minute Platinum Tours are £38 and offer an extended collection viewing. You can also take an in-depth Morning Masterclass or do the Taste of Scotland that includes whiskey and food pairings at the award-winning restaurant.
Edinburgh Gin Distillery
However, whiskey and scotch aren’t the only spirits that Edinburgh is known for. There’s also a great gin distillery in town that’s popular among tourists and locals. Celebrate the city’s gin-making heritage by taking a Gin Discovery Tour, Gin Connoisseur Tour, or Gin Making Tour. Favorite spirits made here include Seaside Gin, Cannonball Gin, and Christmas Gin, as well as specialty liquors made with raspberry, elderflower, rhubarb and ginger, pomegranate and rose, and plum and vanilla. The distillery has one location in the heart of the West End and another at the Biscuit Factory in Leith.
Royal Botanical Garden
Spanning dozens of acres, the Royal Botanical Garden is a lovely place to relax and slow down your pace of travel. There are thousands of exotic plans here in climate-controlled greenhouses and a particularly impressive rhododendron collection. The garden is open every day except for Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. There is no admission fee to see the gardens; however, glasshouse admission is £6.50 for adults and £5.50 for children. For refreshment, you can grab a meal, snack, or drink at the Gateway Restaurant, Terrace Café, or East Gate Coffee Bar.
The most recognizable landmark in this region is the Edinburgh Castle, which is also one of the most-visited attractions in the country. This has been the home to kings and queens and also served as a military prison. Top sights to see here include the Mons Meg gun, St. Margaret’s Chapel, the crown jewels, and the vaults under the Great Hall. The castle is typically open from 9:30am to 5pm, and admission for adults is £17 and for children is £10.20.
National Museum of Scotland
To learn about the city of Edinburgh and get a better overall understanding of the region, make sure to visit the National Museum of Scotland. There are tens of thousands of artifacts here that range from art to dinosaurs and world cultures. Families with children enjoy coming here because there is so much to see and learn about. Admission to the museum is free and donations are welcome. Opening times for the museum are daily from 10am to 5pm except for Christmas Day, Boxing Day, and New Year’s Day.
Shopping on Victoria Street
Shop-a-holics will definitely enjoy taking a stroll down Victoria Street to browse the shops. There are lots of independent boutiques here that sell clothing and books, as well as lots of dining and drinking opportunities to refuel mid-day. Also on this charming street, you can see the inspiration for the Harry Potter books, buy Harry Potter memorabilia, and visit the famous jokes and novelties shop called Aha Ha Ha.
Camera Obscura and World of Illusions
For a unique museum experience, make a stop at the Camera Obscura and World of Illusions. It is along the Royal Mile and packed with puzzles and optical illusions that fun to experience for both adults and kids. The actual Camera Obscura is a large dome structure where you can see a projection of the landscape onto a viewing table. Favorite features include the vortex tunnel, mirror maze, a humorous tour guides. This is actually the oldest tourist attraction in the city and has been entertaining visitors since 1835. Standard admission prices are £15 for adults and £13 for students and seniors. The opening hours vary by season.
Compare Old Town and New Town
Old Town is a section of the city that is densely populated and has many traditional houses and narrow alleys. August is a fun time to visit Old Town because it’s when the Edinburgh Fringe and Festival takes place. The other part of town is called New Town, which has grand squares and wide avenues that date back to the 18th century. This is a great area for designer shopping and learning about art and architecture. Take some time to explore and compare both sections to town to see which one appeals to you the most!