Top ten things to do in Edinburgh

There is so much beauty and history in Edinburgh that you can spend days getting to know your favourite parts of it. Here’s my list of the Top 10 interesting things to do in Edinburgh if you are visiting Scotland for the first time:

1. Free Walking Tour: The tour starts from the Starbucks on the Mile and lasts about 3 hours. The guides pepper the facts with humour, making it overall a fun tour. They work for tips only. The tour will give you the general layout of the town, and also acquaint you with the legends and celebrities connected with the city. You would probably see the St Giles Church, the Elephant Café (where JK Rowling used to write before becoming JKR), the Heriot School (inspiration behind Hogwarts), the Writers Museum, Princess Street Gardens etc.

2. Ghost Tour: This one is usually a paid tour and full of drama and gory stories, as expected. You will also be taken to the cemetery and on to Calton Hill, from where you can get a lovely view of the city below as well as a Parthenon-style incomplete Monument.

3. Visit Edinburgh Castle: Located on top of Castle Hill, the 12th century castle is the result of years of building, rebuilding and renovation. I am glad I paid extra for the audio guide, it’s of a high quality and allowed me to explore at my own pace. You can easily spend an entire morning wandering around here. This is probably one of the most popular things to do in Edinburgh.

4. Climb Arthur’s Seat: If you have a reasonable level of fitness, climbing up to Arthur’s Seat can be a fun activity. It is an extinct volcano and Edinburgh’s highest hill, offering fantastic views. Early morning or evening would probably be the best time to go.

5. Walk the Royal Mile: The lower part of the Mile especially Canongate is a nicer area than the upper half, less crowded and touristy. You just have to veer off into any of the narrow lanes leading off the main road and you find yourself in beautiful little residential areas with gardens and flower-boxes in the windows and that kind of thing.

royal mile
The Royal Mile

6. Party at the Grassmarket: If you ask at your hostel or hotel about popular things to do in Edinburgh, this would probably be high up on the list. Grassmarket in the Old Town is a vibrant and lively area full of pubs and restaurants. You can choose to pub crawl, or have a casual dinner with friends, or sit in the central square and people-watch.

7. Try the local food: Popular Scottish dishes include Haggis (minced liver, heart and lungs of a sheep mixed with oatmeal, onion and spices) usually eaten along with neeps (turnips) and tatties (potatoes). I was lucky enough to find a vegetarian version of the dish at The Last Drop pub. You can also try Black pudding, Leek and Tattie soup, Scotch pies, shortbread, sticky toffee pudding and the fabled deep fried Mars bars!

veggie haggis
Vegetarian haggis (!!) with neeps and tatties

8. Take a tour to the Highlands: I took a three-day backpacker’s coach tour to the Highlands and Skye from Edinburgh, and it was just amazing. If you prefer you can hire a car and drive yourself. The highlands are beyond scenic, and you will find some great photo ops everywhere you go. More detailed post on this part, to follow someday soon!

9. Visit a distillery: Lovers of Scotch whisky cannot miss this. A number of companies run tours from Edinburgh to various local distilleries, covering the history and process of whisky production with tastings thrown in.

10. Cultural immersion in New Town: New Town on the other side of the bridge can be termed the cultural hub of the city. It has some highly rated museums such as the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, etc. New Town also has The Edinburgh Playhouse, the largest working theatre in the UK, which routinely stages musical productions.

I hope this list will someday help someone out there who is planning a trip to beautiful Edinburgh. To me, it was a walk down memory lane just putting this together. More posts to follow soon, on my tour to the Highlands and the Isle of Skye!

Two Traveling Texans
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36 thoughts on “Top ten things to do in Edinburgh”

  1. I can’t believe I missed so much on my trip to Edinburgh We were there during the fringe festival so we spent our whole time running between shows. I would love to go back and hike up Arthur’s seat and eat everything I can find that is covered in black pudding. How was the veggie haggis?

    1. I’ve never attended the fringe festival, how was it? The veggie haggis was surprisingly not so bad, it was kind of like an Indian dish that we make here which is like a savoury porridge with veggies lol.

  2. I had no idea how much i missed on my trip to Edinburgh (it was the festival so we were just running around watching shows). I would love to hike up Arthur’s Seat and eat everything I can get my hands on that is covered in black pudding!

  3. This is an amazing, thanks for sharing your experience in Edinburgh, what really cool is that you can get the chance to visit the Elephant Cafe where JK Rowling used to write before he was discovered. I also love that the schools there was used as an inspiration for Hogwarts! I really enjoyed reading this! thanks for sharing!

  4. Thanks for sharing, these top things to do in Edinburgh. I really love how detailed it is as I read your post. What really cool is that you can take the chance to visit to Elephant Café where JK Rowling used to write before he gets discovered and the Heriot School where they got an inspiration for Hogwarts. I feel like the streets are also from Harry Potter. Wow! I really enjoyed this post of yours!

  5. Ooh! I love ghost tours. I can’t believe I missed out on going to Edinburgh when I lived in London. A visit to the distillery also sounds like a great plan and so does the food. I’ve always wanted to try the haggis.

    1. Wow, if I’d lived in London I’d have spent a fair amount of my free time exploring Scotland and Ireland, because I’m so fascinated by these countries 🙂
      Now the haggis I had was a veggie version so obviously I have no idea what the real thing tastes like 😀

  6. Edinburgh is way up high on my list – and it’s truly a great idea to combine it with hiking the highlands.
    Actually, I had Haggis at a Scottish friend’s house – it was a vegetarian version and simply delicious!

  7. Love the idea of climbing up a volcano for Arthur’s Seat! I imagine the view has got to be just stunning. The tip about taking the lower part of the Royal Mile is very helpful and would be more up my alley (no pun intended!) of what I’d like to see.

  8. I’m afraid of ghosts, but every time I see a ghost tour I want to do it. I also love whiskey, so I definitely have to do that in Edinburgh.

  9. Omg, this post just put me back to my trip to Scotland. I so want to go back again. I loved everything about Scotland, its highlands, castles, valleys, omg I am so thrilled to read this post. Thanks for sharing this post with us.

  10. There’s a ton on your list I have yet to do such as walking to Arthur’s seat and a distillery. however I have to add one other as it is a hotel I love. Go stay at the Sheraton in Edinburgh or at the least visit the day spa. They have a fantastic rooftop spa with tons of different spa rooms and facilities. It is a great way to end a day and I believe they do a twilight offer

  11. Wow, all these Edinburgh tips sound amazing! I would love to do the ghost tour, must be a unique experience. Since I am from Germany and love castles, I would also love to see the one in Edinburgh. Thanks for sharing all these helpful tips!

  12. Oh the walking tour sounds amazing, you can go at your own pace to see the things that interest you. And the ghost tour, yeah that has piqued my interest for sure. And definitely I’d want to photograph the Highlands. A wonderful list!

  13. What a great list! Somehow, we hadn’t heard of Arthur’s Seat, but we’d love to get a look over Edinburgh. Ghost tours are always so much fun! With the history of Scotland, we’re sure there are some fun – and some gory – tales to tell! Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard.

  14. It’s been far too long since we visired Edinburgh. Thanks for the reminder!

    My highlight was Arthur’s Seat and learning all about whiskey in the museum.

  15. Great list of what to do. We love Edinburgh and have done the Mary Jane walk which was very interesting, next time we will check out the other walks you have mentioned, the Ghost Walk looks fun! #TheWeeklyPostcard

  16. I have been to Edinburgh in the past and was thoroughly enchanted by the city. Such a fantastic mix of history and modern times. I would go back in a heartbeat. Glad you had fun in Scotland including treks in the incredible Highlands. #TheWeeklyPostcard

    1. I too would love to visit again Deborah! Thanks for dropping by. For some reason your comment went into the spam folder, sorry for the late reply 🙂

  17. I am going back to Edinburgh in a few weeks for a wedding. Since the weather is not ideal I figured its probably a good time to check out some museums. We won’t have much free time, so which of the museums would you recommend? #TheWeeklyPostcard

    1. The National Museum would be a good idea. It covers a lot. And if you’re interested in art, then the National Gallery. There’s also a tiny Writers Museum housed in an old house with memorabilia and manuscripts of writers like Burns. It’s in the old town.

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