15 amazing things to do in Edinburgh

Edinburgh Castle Scotland1

For a fabulous weekend getaway that will leave you feeling like you’ve been away for months, I really think that you have to visit Edinburgh.

There’s a reason it makes number one spot on my best romantic cities in the UK list! I simply adore this city.

Just a hop on a plane or train from London, and you can be there in no time at all to make the most of all this Scottish wonder has to offer. And believe me, it has a lot to offer!

From an iconic wander down the Royal Mile, to experiencing J.K. Rowling claims-to-fame, or diving into fascinating geology at Dynamic Earth, I know that there’s something for everyone in this magical city.

I’ve visited Edinburgh countless times of the years and, based on these experiences, here I share my pick of the 15 best things to do in Edinburgh.

Author Bio: Jessie Moore

Jessie Moore is a luxury travel expert with years of experience travelling the world to find the best destinations, hotels and adventures.

1. Wander the Royal Mile

I’ve got to kick off with suggesting you take an amble along the Royal Mile. The Royal Mile is actually over 1 mile with an additional 107 yards, if I’m being picky!

It links the impressively majestic Edinburgh Castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the Queen’s official residence and a place packed with Scottish royal history.

It will of course feature amongst your top things to do in Edinburgh.

Royal Mile Edinburgh

This is a great way to start your trip to Edinburgh as it will give you a really good feel for this small and compact city as it runs right through the heart of the old town.

The little cobbled alleys which offshoot from the main thoroughfare will no doubt tempt you for a detour. 

Lots of Edinburgh’s attractions sit along the Royal Mile, from the Scottish Parliament to The National Gallery and the Real Mary King’s Close.

2. Enjoy outstanding Scottish fare

It’s tricky to nail down just a handful of places to suggest as fabulous places to eat in Edinburgh, as there are so many incredible options!

For something a little decadent, I highly recommend Forage and Chatter. The food is truly excellent, using locally sourced produce to create some genuine culinary masterpieces!

It’s located in the heart of Edinburgh’s West End, so it’s easily accessible. If you prefer to indulge in a delicious brunch, have a read of my guide to the best brunch spots in Edinburgh.

Or discover my pick of the best Michelin restaurants in Edinburgh for a spot of fine dining.

3. Do magic at the Department of Mysteries

If you’re a Wizarding World fan, or simply excited by all things themed, magical and fun, then I think you simply must visit the Department of Mysteries and their Magical Potions Tavern.

Without a shadow of a doubt, it is one of the best things to do in Edinburgh, especially if you love all things Potter.

There are two magically themed escape rooms (one is a short walk away) which aren’t just themed fantastically; they are mighty clever and engaging, even for the most die-hard escape artists.

I really recommend starting with The Prophecies Quest and then, if you’re completely hooked, fitting in Dark Lord Resurrection too.

What you really must do is order a Magic Potion and Magic Shot in the Tavern afterwards (non-alcoholic versions available and just as awesome). It’s an experience you’ll not forget!

Edinburgh is awash with things to do as a Harry Potter fan. From visiting the sites that inspired J.K. Rowling’s books to themed tours, there’s something for all Potterheads.

I really recommend heading to Victoria Street (which is a very quintessential and architecturally pleasing street) and visiting a store called Museum Context which is bursting with official merchandise.

If you get peckish, I can rate grabbing yourself a cracking bap stuffed with pulled pork and apple sauce, with crackling on the side, from Oink which is virtually opposite.

Discover more of my favourite Harry Potter things to do in Edinburgh.

4. The Real Mary King’s Close

Actually found under the Royal Mile, expect an immersive and impressive excursion into 400 years of Edinburgh’s history.

The character guides bring this incredible site to life and, if you weren’t a believer in Edinburgh’s spooky side before, I’m sure you will be by the time you finish your tour!

This is the only preserved 17th century street in Edinburgh, and it’ll really give you a fascinating insight into life during the Plague and lots of other times in history too. Can you hear the little girl crying?

5. Hike up Arthur’s Seat

Book: Edinburgh Private Tour – The Castle to Arthur’s Seat

Right, this isn’t your average city break! Slap bang in the heart of Edinburgh, in Holyrood Park, is Arthur’s Seat.

It’s a rocky outcrop which is the remains of an extinct volcano – yes, effectively it’s a mountain.

Standing proud at 251m above sea level and therefore dominating the Edinburgh landscape and affording incredible vistas, I think Arthur’s Seat has to be on your Edinburgh to-do list.

Arthur's Seat

There are a number of different routes which take you to the top. Now you could take the most popular, steep-but-fast route up from Dunsapie Loch.

It’ll give you the tick, but honestly, it’s not the full Arthur’s Seat experience in my opinion.

Instead, I recommend combining your hike with a trip to Dynamic Earth (see below) and walking up from the other side.

These routes are longer (albeit gentler) but the views are worth it. So, pack your walking boots for this city break!

6. Dynamic Earth

Opening times: Daily 10:00 – 18:00

Come down off Arthur’s Seat and enjoy the rest of your day at Dynamic Earth.

I’m sure it will bowl you over with its hands-on story of planet earth as you move through impressively interactive galleries.

Dynamic Earth Edinburgh

You’ll actually feel the rumble of seismic shifts and feel the piercing intensity of laying your hand on an iceberg.

Watch the Big Bang or explore the Rainforest. If evolution even just slightly fascinates you, then Dynamic Earth will satiate your curiosity. 

7. Camera Obscura and World of Illusions

Opening times: 09:00 – 22:00

For another cool thing to do in Edinburgh (and a great place to dodge in from the rain), take a visit to the Camera Obscura and World of Illusions.

As well as with the Camera Obscura itself (which is very clever), the rooftop boasts 360° views of the city.

Indeed, you’ll feel like you can almost reach out and touch the people walking up the Castle concourse!

Once you’re done up top it’s time to enjoy five other floors of bewildering and discombobulating illusions.

You’ll have tonnes of fun in The Vortex Tunnel, and will likely spend a ridiculously long time trying to navigate yourself out of the Mirror Maze (or was that just me?). 

The World of Illusions is consistently rated as one of the most fun things to do in Edinburgh, and I can see why.

8. The Scotch Whisky Experience


Ok, as you’d expect, this is a tourist mecca, but I think it’s still worthy of your time and attention. 

There are various tours that you can enjoy at The Scotch Whisky Experience, but if you’ve got kids with you then I’d recommend sticking to the Silver option.

You’ll be taken on a fascinating tour of how Scottish whisky is made, and the importance of the landscape in its development.

Scotch Experience

You’ll love the 360° aerial tour of Scotland zooming you outside of the city limits to places like Skye.

And the child in you will squeal with delight at the adult scratch-n-sniff card for discovering the different whisky aromas.

You finish off the tour with your very own dram of your own choosing (Irn Bru for the littlies), before spending some time in The World’s Largest Collection of Scotch Whisky.

You’re even given a crystal tasting glass which makes for a perfect souvenir of your Edinburgh trip. 

For an alternative option, I’d also really recommend the Johnnie Walker Experience.

9. Scottish National Gallery

Opening times: Daily 10:00 – 17:00

Before you even head to Scotland, I really think you should dedicate a couple of hours to watching Sunshine on Leith.

Homage to famous Edinburgh band, The Proclaimers, this is an upbeat musical film set in Edinburgh and showcasing it at its best.

Anyway, one scene that will etch its way into your feel good best-ever-movie-moments has The National Art Gallery as the backdrop, with the scene taking place on the infamous Mound.

Scottish National Gallery

So, for that reason alone (as well as lots of other Sunshine on Leith sites), you have to visit Edinburgh.

Inside the Scottish National Gallery, you can step away from the bustling streets to find a wonderful collection of fine art (both Scottish and international) spanning history from the Renaissance up to the early 20th century.

Be sure to stop for afternoon at Café Portrait – one of the best cafés in Edinburgh in my opinion.

If modern art is more your thing, then I’d also recommend the Gallery of Modern Art which is just a few minutes away and also really worth a visit.

10. Go shopping and take in views

Whether you want to relax away an hour or two in an authentic Scottish pub or stock up on shortbread alongside designer pieces, Princes Street is the place to go.

Here you’ll find contemporary shopping in a wonderful setting. 

Princes Street Gardens

While you’re here, I’d recommend popping into Princes Street Gardens and checking out the views from the top of the Scott Monument.

You’ll have to wend your way up 267 narrowing winding steps (not for the faint-hearted!), but I think the panorama is completely worth it.

And of course, while in Edinburgh, you must nab yourself a kilt in the tartan of your clan! There are several places on Princes Street, The Royal Mile and Victoria Street too. 

Want up to 25% off hotels?

Subscribe to my newsletter and get immediate access to my guide on how to save money on flights and hotels. Our weekly emails are filled with adventure inspiration, insider travel tips and exclusive discounts.

11. Edinburgh Castle

Opening times:

  • April to September: Daily 09:30 – 18:00
  • October to March: 09:30 – 17:00


Of course, I’m sure that top of your list of things to do in Edinburgh is going to be a visit to Edinburgh Castle. Wherever you go in the city, the Castle is there, providing a majestic backdrop.

There really is so much to do here that it can easily be a whole day excursion or more. Highlights include the 12th century St Margaret’s Chapel, Lang Stairs and witnessing the One O’Clock Gun.

12. The Edinburgh Fringe

Every August, for three weeks, Edinburgh takes its usual energy, vibe and eclecticism and takes it to the next level with The Edinburgh Festival Fringe – the world’s largest arts festival.

Expect show after show, music after music and everything from books to modern media galore.

The Fringe is intense, vibrant and so much fun. If you can handle the city being awash with even more tourists than usual, I really think you have to be there. 

With very similar dates to The Fringe, a bucket-list item is The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo.

These series of tattoos (shows, for those not in the know) are incredible military displays on the Castle esplanade. Expect bagpipes, marching, music and fireworks.

13. Journey beyond the city


One of the fantastic things about Edinburgh is that it’s perfectly positioned for exploring so much else in Scotland.

There are loads of things to do around Edinburgh, so I’m finding it difficult to pick just a few. Even better, if you go by train you get to experience the very famous Waverley Station. 

Loch Ness

One favourite of mine is a quick hop to North Berwick (foodie haven!) where you can choose between fabulous crab, seabass, line-caught mackerel and, of course, lobster at The Lobster Shack.

Or dip into Tom and Michaela Kitchin’s The Bonnie Badger.

Another favourite is the university town of St Andrews. Of course, Loch Ness is do-able in a day. I do love the crumbling ruins of Tantallon Castle and the nearby caves.

If you’re an Outlander or Monty Python fan, I also recommend a trip to Doune Castle (A.K.A. Castle Leoch to Jamie adorers…).

Discover my ultimate guide to the best day trips from Edinburgh.

14. Feel at home in Grassmarket

Just behind the castle is the area known as the Grassmarket. Although rich with history, this area is often considered to be the modern and thriving heart of the town.

Grassmarket Edinburgh

It’s packed full of independent stores and boutiques, eateries, bars and pubs. It’s quite a different shopping experience to Princes Street, so if you have time, I recommend both. 

15. Royal Botanic Gardens

Opening times:

  • November to January: Daily 10:00 – 16:00
  • October and February: Daily 10:00 – 17:00
  • March to September: Daily 10:00 – 18:00
Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh

There are few things quite so pleasurable to do on a pleasant summer afternoon in Edinburgh as the Royal Botanic Garden.

Just a mile from the city centre, the gardens are awe-inspiring (and scientifically really important!).

The views from here are worth it alone. There are 72 acres to explore, so I’d recommend packing a picnic and having some fun.

Edinburgh is a city that keeps on giving. You’ll need to be realistic and accept that you’ll be coming back again and again. That’s okay though – I’m sure you’ll want to! Once Edinburgh has got into your heart, it’s there to stay!

If you’re looking for somewhere to stay, I can wholeheartedly recommend Crescent House. This is where I stayed when I visited – the house is absolutely stunning, and the hosts Paul & Mike are so wonderful and welcoming.

Planning a trip to the Scottish capital? You may also like:

Want up to 25% off hotels?

Subscribe to my newsletter and get immediate access to my guide on how to save money on flights and hotels. Our weekly emails are filled with adventure inspiration, insider travel tips and exclusive discounts.

Pin it:

Jessie Moore
Jessie Moore

Jessie is a luxury travel expert with years of experience travelling the world to find the best destinations, hotels and adventures.

Find me on: Web | Instagram


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Want up to 25% off hotels?

Subscribe to my newsletter and get immediate access to my guide on how to save money on flights and hotels. Our weekly emails are filled with adventure inspiration, insider travel tips and exclusive discounts.