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The Best Things to Do in Edinburgh, Scotland

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If you ever planned to travel to Edinburgh, then be ready because this city has it all! Home for half a million people, this British capital city receives over 1.5 million tourists visit it every year. There are so many great things to do in Edinburgh, Scotland, and we know you'll just love it.


It's one of those places that have it all; an incredible history (with buildings that will make you walk through their story), a new town adapted to today's modern needs, and a super romantic old port area that will captivate your attention.


Enjoy what Scotland's capital city has to offer. Let's check out the best things to do in Edinburgh, Scotland.

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Where is Edinburgh, Scotland?

Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland, and in the south of the country. (There is a lot of controversy about whether or no Scotland is actually considered its own country, as it is part of the UK). Just north of England, it is located on the East coast of the landmass that England, Scotland, and Wales make up.

Where is Edinburgh, Scotland

Edinburgh is located in the south of Scotland, just north of England.


How to Get to Edinburgh, Scotland

Being the capital, the most popular city to visit in Scotland is Edinburgh, and the easiest to visit. Edinburgh has an international airport, which takes just 30 minutes to get to with the tram (it goes every 7-15 minutes).


If you're coming from England, the closest airport to Edinburgh is Newcastle, which is just 86 miles away.


Local Adjustments

While you travel there are things that you may forget about, that could be different from where you are coming from. Here are a few of the local adjustments to keep in mind when traveling to Edinburgh, Scotland.


Language

The official language in Scotland is English. The Scottish accent is much stronger than some other areas of the UK, especially depending on the region you visit. Being a big city and closer to England, Edinburgh has a milder accent than other parts of Scotland.

 

Currency

The currency used in Scotland is the British pound. As of the update of this article (June 2022) 1 USD is equal to 79 pence, and 1 euro is equal to 93 pence. Credit cards are able to be used almost everywhere, so you probably won't need to carry much cash on you.


Outlets

Scotland uses the same plug types as the rest of the UK, which is type G. Plug type G has 3 rectangular prongs in a triangular shape.


The standard voltage in Scotland is 230 V and the standard frequency is 50 Hz. If you are traveling to Edinburgh from the US, you will have to get an energy converter (which is not the same as an adapter).


Water Potability

The water in Edinburgh and all of Scotland and the UK is very clean, and perfectly safe to drink from the tap. We suggest bringing a refillable water bottle and filling up at fountains instead of purchasing bottled water.


Tipping Culture

The tipping culture in the UK is pretty standard all around. The average tip is 10% of the bill, and you can always leave a little extra if the service is great.

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Things to Do in Edinburgh, Scotland: What to See

First let's take you sightseeing. Here are the best things to do in Edinburgh, Scotland when it comes to sites.


1. Edinburgh Castle

There are countless castles around the UK and Europe; they say "once you've seen one, you've seen them all". Nevertheless, this historical fortress is fascinating and it has a lot to offer. Also, this one stands on a volcanic rock, making it one of the must things to do in Edinburgh, Scotland.


Archaeologists have established human occupation of the rock since at least the Iron Age (2nd century AD). How amazing is that?! Inside you will find all kind of chambers, halls and even a recreation of the vaults. Pirates and prisoners of war were once held in here in the 1700s and 1800s hundreds.


Another cool thing to watch when you travel to Edinburgh is the One O'Clock Gun. Every day at 1 pm (expect for Sundays) they fire a gun as an old sign of maritime clock set, first created in the XIX century.

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle is one of the highlights of the city.

2. Scottish National Galleries

Located right in the heart of the city, the Scottish National Galleries will quench the thirst of any curious tourist. You can find them at the foot of the Mound on Princes Street.


You might want to set aside a nice amount of hours to really appreciate some masterpieces and exhibitions in here.

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3. Bramble

Bramble is a gem that is well hidden among the streets of Scotland’s capital Edinburgh. It is actually considered a popular haunt for bartenders, so you know it’s going to be good. Once you find it, you will not desire to leave at all. The cocktail bar features a handful of private nooks and crannies for intimate drinks.

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4. Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

It really doesn't matter if you're an art lover or not, the Gallery of Modern Art will blow your mind. Comprising two incredible buildings, you can find masterpieces from the XX century to nowadays.


To mention some artists, you will find art from french painter Henri Matisse, the big Pablo Picasso, English contemporary artist Emin, as well as some other Scottish contemporaries.


5. Lauriston Castle and Gardens

If you travel to Edinburgh but want to move a bit away from the main attractions in the city center, you should definitely come visit Lauriston Castle & Gardens. This is the perfect place to go for anyone looking for a piece of Scottish history, as well as peace and quiet. 


First built in the 16th century, this incredible piece of architecture offers daily guided tours to enjoy the castle's Edwardian interiors. A little tip? there's a Japanese Garden next to it where you can really go relax after!

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6. Edinburgh Dungeon

A fun way of learning some history is one of the definitions of Edinburgh Dungeon. Walk through this underground tourist attraction with 11 shows, 15 actors and 2 rides. Visitors go on a journey through 500 years of Edinburgh's history where they meet actors performing as some of Edinburgh's most infamous characters,


The shows are laced with tongue in cheek, gallows humor typical of the Dungeon brand.


7. Dynamic Earth

Dynamic Earth is a great place for science & entertainment. You can find this attraction in the Holyrood area, beside the Scottish Parliament building and at the foot of Arthur's seat.


In here you will find exhibitions with the story of our planet, and will also experience the ShowDome, a high-definition, 360 degrees movie experience. It is definitely a good place to learn a bit more about nature, and to warm up before a good hike.

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8. Holyrood Palace

Holyrood Palace is the official residence of the British monarch in Scotland, Queen Elizabeth II. It served as the principal residence of the Kings and Queens of Scots since the 16th century. it is now a setting for state occasions and official entertaining.


You can find it at the bottom of the Royal Mile when you travel to Edinburgh, at the opposite end to Edinburgh Castle. The Queen spends a week in here at the beginning of each summer.


9. Camera Obscura

Camera Obscura is a one-of-a-kind attraction when it comes to things to do in Edinburgh, Scotland. This bizarre museum will make you do a double-take about what you experience. Among its main features, you'll find yourself in a mirror maze, or trying to stay on your feet in a vortex tunnel.


The best part about this modern museum is that visitors can (and should) touch everything. So forget about everything you know about museums and visit Camera Obscura.


10. Mary King's Close

Mary King’s Close is a 17th century set of alleys located more or less on the opposite side of St Giles Cathedral. Unlike the closes that you can still go through, this network of streets hides from all eyes, since it was buried a few centuries ago.

Above were built the City Chambers (the current headquarters of the City of Edinburgh), and the underground universe of Mary King’s Close, once full of homes and businesses, was forgotten and frozen in time.

Today the visit to The Real Mary King’s Close takes place underground. If you are curious about the Edinburgh Underground, this is a fascinating occasion to travel back in time and discover how life passed there centuries ago.

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11. St Giles' Cathedral

St Giles' is one of Scotland's most important medieval parish church buildings. The current building was begun in the 14th century and extended until the early 16th century.


Since the medieval period, St Giles' has been the site of nationally important events and services. The services of the Order of the Thistle take place here. Alongside housing an active congregation, the church is one of Scotland's most popular visitor sites, attracting over a million visitors every year.


12. Royal Botanical Garden

Founded in 1670 as a physic garden to grow medicinal plants, today it occupies four sites across Scotland. If you've ever been to a Botanical Garden, you know just how beautiful these natural spots are.


If you travel to Edinburgh, make sure to come & visit for a relaxed day where you can breathe fresh air and enjoy nature's beauty.


13. Craigmillar Castle

Welcome to a Castle that is not only closely involved with the city of Edinburgh, but plays an important part in the story of Mary Queen of Scots. Originally a simple tower house residence, Craigmillar castle grew into a complex of structures and spaces as each owner improved its comfort and facilities.


Craigmillar was among the first of this type of castle to be built in Scotland. The original tower house of the late 1300s is at the core. The rest of the building began in the early 15th century, and over the next 250 years the castle became a comfortable residence surrounded by fine gardens and pastureland.

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14. Museum of Edinburgh

The Museum of Edinburgh is housed in a luxurious setting, a massive 16th century mansion known as Huntly House because of the Latin inscriptions on its façade.


In it you will find some extraordinary objects such as the original plans of the new city or a model of the old city dating from the time of Mary Stuart (Mary I of Scotland).

There is even a small exhibition dedicated to the famous Greyfriars Bobby dog, who became a hero after waiting at her master's grave for more than a decade.


15. Edinburgh Vaults

The Edinburgh Vaults or South Bridge Vaults are a series of chambers formed in the nineteen arches of the South Bridge in Edinburgh, Scotland, which was completed in 1788. There are a lot of stories around them that nowadays captivate tourist's attention.


The vaults were used throughout time to house several things. From taverns and  workshops for cobblers and other tradesmen, to storage space for said merchants.


In later years, the vaults were a hotspot for the homeless and for criminal activity such as illegal gambling taverns, illegal whisky distillery and, according to rumour, body snatchers stored corpses there overnight.

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Things to Do in Edinburgh, Scotland

Now that you're done sightseeing, here are a few other great things to do in Edinburgh, Scotland.


1. Hike Arthur's Seat

If you're looking for the best things to do in Edinburgh, Scotland, then this is a must! Great views and easy hikes await at the top, so you should definitely take a moment and consider visiting Arthur's seat. This is an extinct volcano, main peak of a group of hills just outside the city. 


Robert Louis Stevenson described as "a hill for magnitude, a mountain in virtue of its bold design". You can basically climb it from any direction, but there's a guided trail that's super easy to follow. We made the mistake of trying to climb down from a different part, and ended up in a super steep descent, so be careful!

things to do in Edinburgh, Scotland
Arthurs Seat, things to do in Edinburgh, Scotland

Arthur's Seat has the best views of Edinburgh.

2. Ascend Calton Hill to the National Monument

The Calton Hill stands beyond the east end of Princess Street, and it's part of UNESCO's World Heritage. On the top of it you will find Scotland's National Monument. This is a memorial to the Scottish soldiers and sailors who died fighting in the Napoleonic Wars.


According to the inscription it is intended to be "A Memorial of the Past and Incentive to the Future Heroism of the Men of Scotland". Not only a great historical spot, but also an amazing viewpoint of the city.


3. Visit Leith, the Maritime Centre

Leith is the old maritime centre of Edinburgh. For a long time, it was Scotland's leader in several industries for many centuries. Some of them were glass, soap, wine & Whisky storage, and even lime juice.


Its golden times are far behind now, but you can still find several restaurants, bars and shops with a unique touch that make Leith a great place to visit.


4. Eat at Restaurant Martin Wishart

If you're a big fan of prestigious restaurants and exquisite European cuisine, then this is a great spot for you. Located in Leith, this restaurant has won a Michelin star in 2001 and have retained ever since.


Here you'll find delicious dishes prepared using classical French techniques & the finest Scottish ingredients that you will only find if you travel to Edinburgh!


5. Whiskey Tastings

One beverage that Scotland has mastered throughout time is Whisky. If you're into it, this is your Disneyland; if you're not, what a great opportunity you have! Since Scotland is a world capital of this beverage, you will be able to taste and learn from the best.


The Scotch Whisky Experience is one of our personal favorites, but feel free to try the one you find more convenient.


6. Attend an Event in Summerhall

Summerhall is an arts complex and events venue in Edinburgh. Formerly home to the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies of the University of Edinburgh, it is now a major Edinburgh Festival Fringe visual and performing arts venue.


In its many rooms you will find art exhibitions, drama and music performances, libraries, small museums, educational & research programmes, artist studios, arts organisation offices, and workshops.


Moving Around Edinburgh, Scotland

As a big capital city, the majority of the city’s top attractions are in the city centre and if you’re staying near the Royal Mile, it’s likely that you won’t need to take more than a few buses during your stay.


Things to Do in Edinburgh, Scotland by Public Transport

Places of interest that might be best to get to by public transport are the Royal Yacht Britannia, the Royal Botanic Garden or even Portobello Beach. For all of those, you can move around by bus, tram or even taxi.


Buses run 24 hours a day in Edinburgh and have frequent services. Find out more about the tickets, routes, bus companies and timetables on their official Edinburgh transportation site.


Edinburgh trams has 15 stops that connect the Airport with the New Town. Discover its route, timetable and schedule on the offiical tram page.


Private Transportation in Edinburgh

Edinburgh's taxis are very similar to London's black cabs. We usually don't recommend to use them because public transportation in these places works just fine, but feel free to use them if you want to get to your destination with your own comfortable space. Discover the current taxi fares and other useful information here.



Things to Do in Edinburgh, Scotland: Extras

Didn't get enough? Here are a few more of our recommendations for things to do in Edinburgh, Scotland.


Dean Village

Dean Village ("dene" in Scottish means "deep valley") was a prosperous place for over 800 years. In the area there were 11 factories working with the watermills located around the River Leith.

The commerce suffered a notable decline to the point of becoming a poor and decaying place around 1960. Ten years later, realizing that it was a peaceful place very close to the city, they began the rehabilitation of the town. area to make it one of the most desirable residential areas.


A small bridge over the river and beautiful stone houses, preserved since the seventeenth century, constitute this charming town. It's full of places of interest such as the Water of Leith and the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. If you travel to Edinburgh, this is a great spot off the beaten path.

Dean Village, things to do in Edinburgh, Scotland

Dean Village is one of the most charming areas around Edinburgh.

Bross Bagels

Really? Bagels in Scotland? Well, if you are a big fan of bagels (or even if you're not) Bross Bagels is a place you want to visit. The owner comes from Canada, the bagel capital of the world that always overlooked by the other bagel capital of the world, New York.


Let us just mention this: if you read the words "bagel" and "Canada/New York" in the same sentence, you got to believe it's going to be good!

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If you're ready to travel to Edinburgh to see its magic, you will notice there's a lot to cover. So make sure to save some days in order to appreciate all of the amazing things to do in Edinburgh, Scotland!


And if you're traveling through the UK & Europe, make sure to check out all the travel guides we have ready for you to get the best out of your trip!


Need help booking your trip? Well, we're here to make your travels more affordable, less stressful, and much more exciting. Want to learn more about Scratch Your Mapa Travel Planning Services? Take a look at some of our travel planning services.


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