Things To Do In Edinburgh
Edinburgh, 'The Inspiring Capital', as it brands itself certainly has a lot of inspiration on offer. This world-renowned festival city is packed full of historical sights, period architecture, gardens and museums to keep you entertained.
Science and medicine, world culture and history, economics and even toys are subjects catered for in Edinburgh’s Museums. Its Old Town boasts one of the finest Gothic cityscapes in Europe, whilst the Georgian New Town offers a wealth of sightseeing gems and eateries (see no.11 in this list). Wander across to Holyrood Park for sweeping views atop Arthur’s Seat. And of course, no visit to Edinburgh would not be complete without taking in the splendour that is Edinburgh Castle and Royal Yacht Britannia at Leith.
To make the most of your trip to Edinburgh, consider giving the following activities a try:
1) Edinburgh Castle:
Edinburgh Castle is a spectacular old fortress and one of the most popular tourist attractions in Edinburgh. Visitors to Edinburgh will hear the One O’clock Gun fired which allows ships in the Firth of Forth to set their maritime clocks to enable them to navigate oceans. The castle is where visitors can view the crown jewels of Scotland and the Stone of Destiny. The stone will only leave Scotland for the next coronation ceremony in Westminster Abbey.
2) Royal Yacht Britannia:
The Royal Yacht Britannia is one of Edinburgh’s most popular visitor attractions. The Royal Yacht was retired from over 44 years in the service of the British Royal Family. A comprehensive audio tour is included in the admission price providing details on all 5 decks in 27 different languages.
Visitors can enjoy seeing the state apartments and Royal bedrooms, glimpse life below decks for the crew, sample home-made fudge from the NAAFI and see the Rolls-Royce Phantom V that used to travel on Britannia. In the visitor centre is a wonderfully detailed 11 foot LEGO model of the Royal Yacht Britannia.
3) Mercat Walking Tours:
Edinburgh's most renowned walking tour operator, Mercat Tours, run daily tours from sun up till sundown, with themes ranging from the historical to the paranormal. Join them on a night time descent into the subterranean Blair Street Vaults or uncover the secrets of the Royal Mile and Edinburgh Castle.
4) Edinburgh Bus Tours:
Though a fairly compact city, Edinburgh is actually served by three hop-on hop-off bus tour services. These are available to book individually, or as an all-access bundle (Grand Ticket). Upgrade to the Royal Ticket for additional entry to three top attractions: Edinburgh Castle, the Palace of Holyroodhouse and Royal Yacht Britannia.
Rabbie's also offer their own 2-hour mini coach tour of the city, and for lovers of the paranormal there's the nightly Ghost Bus Tour. Learn more about Edinburgh's bus tours in our article about each of the services here.
5) Rabbies 1-Day Tours From Edinburgh:
Experience 'Scotland in day' during your trip to Edinburgh by embarking on a 1-day trip to the Highlands or Borders with Rabbie’s Trail Burners. Each trip is led by an experienced tour guide, and conducted from the comfort of a luxury Mercedes mini coach.
Regular stops offer participants a chance to experience Scotland's natural beauty up-close and personal. Wander through rugged fields of heather where real-life tales of truimph, love and tragedy unfolded throughout the nation's history. Visit famous castles that continue to inspire modern film and television. And most importantly, make memories that'll have you itching to discover more!
6) Edinburgh Dungeon:
The Edinburgh Dungeon is a comedy horror-themed attraction featuring immersive theatrical sets, professional actors and two rides. You'll be transported back to the darkest periods in Scottish history to witness its bloodiest events and spookiest characters. Audience participation is key, so there's every chance you or your friends could be accused of murder or witchcraft! Scotland did have a thing for burning witches after all.
Interested? Grab your tickets and brace for 11 exciting live shows. Note that dates around the Halloween season sell out fast and should be booked well in advance. If you're looking for other Halloween-themed things to do in Edinburgh see our article on the city's top Halloween activities.
7) The Real Mary King's Close:
Whether you're superstitious or not, abandoned buildings can often be creepy, forlorn places. Enter Mary King's Close, an entire 17th century street once open to the sky, now sealed-off, frozen in time and reputedly haunted. While its name is today synonymous with murder, squalor and plague outbreaks, these associations (exaggerated or not) belie the fact that Mary King's Close is a fascinatingly preserved piece of living history.
Since reopening to the public in 2003, visitors have been able to explore the close for themselves as part of the The Real Mary King's Close Experience. These 1-hour tours run every day and are led by a professional costumed guide. You'll hear stories of what it was actually like to live on the close from the 16th to early 19th centuries, plus darker tales that gave Mary King's its grim reputation.
8) St Giles’ Cathedral:
St Giles’ Cathedral is located between Edinburgh Castle and the Holyrood Palace on the Royal Mile. As well as an impressive crown spire the cathedral features medieval carvings, beautiful stained glass windows and an Italian marble Holy Table weighing in at over 9 tonnes. Other notable features include a Thistle Chapel for the Knights of the Order of the Thistle, a magnificent brass eagle lectern and an intricately carved pulpit. The cathedral is also home to a bronze statue of John Knox and the National Covenant of Scotland.
9) National Museum Of Scotland:
There are many specialist museums in Edinburgh but it is the National Museum of Scotland that is home to collections that celebrate the nation’s people, history and culture. Historical artefacts date back to the primeval age through to modern times. The view from the roof garden is truly spectacular, offering 360° views of Edinburgh. The statue of Greyfriars Bobby is located directly across the road from the National Museum. Bobby, a little Skye terrier is famous for having guarded his owner’s grave for over fourteen years in the Greyfriars Kirkyard.
- More Free Activities In Edinburgh | Read Here.
10) Palace of Holyroodhouse:
Situated at the lower end of the Royal Mile next to the Scottish Parliament Building is the Queen's official residence in Scotland - Holyrood Palace. It's here that Elizabeth II carries out her official engagements and ceremonies early each summer. In 2019 these dates will be from May 14th to the 25th, during which time the palace will be closed to the public.
On most other days of the year, however, Holyroodhouse is accessible for a £15.00 fee (adult price). Inside you'll be treated to a remarkable exhibition exploring the lives and habits of Scottish and British royalty across the centuries. The rooms themselves form the core of the experience: the lavish State Apartments, the Royal Dining Room, the Throne Room and more. These beautifully decorated spaces feature original works of art and furniture from (mostly) the 16th century onwards.
One of the building's most intriguing rooms is the bedchamber of Mary, Queen of Scots', who lived at the palace between 1561-1567. It's reached by ascending a narrow staircase to the oldest area of the building, where your audio guide will reveal tales of political intrigue and personal drama. Be sure to also spend time in the Great Gallery, the Palace Gardens and Holyrood Abbey - a separate medieval building with its own regular guided tours.
11) Explore Stockbridge:
Originally a separate entity from the rest of the capital, Stockbridge was incorporated into Edinburgh as the New Town expanded during the 19th century. Architecturally, certain streets are more akin to the Old Town, with others such as the picturesque Circus Lane mews serving to connect and blend the two districts. It's a place well worth checking out if you'd like to venture beyond the main attractions in the city centre.
Have a look at our things to do in Stockbridge article to get a feel for the area and its landmarks.
12) Scotch Whisky Experience:
The Scotch Whisky Experience is a renowned visitor attraction on the Royal Mile offering expert-led, multisensory insights into Scotland's national drink. Typical tours last 50 minutes and include: a novelty ride explaining the history and production of Scotch whisky, a viewing of the world's largest Scotch whisky collection, and the all-important complimentary dram. Under 18s are offered a glass of Scotland's other national drink - Irn Bru. Adult guests also receive a crystal whisky tasting glass.
13) Dynamic Earth:
Not far from St Giles Cathedral and the National Museum of Scotland is Edinburgh's dedicated natural history attraction. Dynamic Earth is an interactive exhibition space engaging visitors with the history of planet Earth and the forces of nature that continue to shape it. Icebergs, oceans, time and space, dinosaurs and tropical rainforests can all be explored under one roof. Highlights include the 4Dventure (a 3D film with special effects) and immersive documentary screenings in the 360° ShowDome.
14) Camera Obscura And World Of Illusions:
This award-winning attraction at the top of the Royal Mile is an interactive celebration of something we can't seem to get enough of these days: optical illusions and photographic trickery. Picture a circus hall of mirrors, blend it with Snapchat's most popular filters, and you'll get an idea of what to expect at Camera Obscura's World of Illusions.
The main attraction consists of over 150 illusions spread out across 5 floors. Visitors can loose themselves in the void of an infinite universe, shrink to half their size, or even serve their head with a salad.
World of Illusions is joined by the original Camera Obscura, a room-sized projection device whose technology predates cinema by hundreds of years. Edinburgh's camera obscura was set up during the Victorian era as a spectacle to wow curious visitors. With its interactive tabletop projection of the city of Edinburgh, this deceptively simple contraption is just as fun to play with now as it was them.
To top it all off, the Camera Obscura has its own rooftop viewing platform from which you can gaze our across the entirety of Edinburgh.