Things to do in Edinburgh

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    Edinburgh skyline: Scotland's picturesque captal

    Photo courtesy of Shaiith/iStock

Get Your Bearings in Edinburgh

By Simon Hill
Edinburgh Expert

See & Do
Stay
Eat
Party
Shop

Things to See

You may feel like you've stepped into a time machine when you visit the Old Town, and you have to make sure that you visit Edinburgh Castle and St. Giles Cathedral. There are so many other things to do in Edinburgh that you might struggle to pack it all in. Art lovers need to explore The Mound and seek out the portrait gallery. The National Museum is fun for the whole family with many great activities for kids. If the weather permits, head for the Royal Botanic Gardens or climb Arthur’s Seat for some unforgettable views.

Hot Tips:

Always take an umbrella and buy a day saver ticket on the bus so you can explore everything the city has to offer.

Where to Stay

Edinburgh has a huge range of accommodation options to suit every taste and budget. The city center has cheap hostels and chain hotels as well as chic boutique hotels, luxury apartments and fabulous five-star Victorian and Edwardian hotels. The city also has a host of B&Bs which can be very good value for money.

Caution:

Book city center hotels well in advance to avoid disappointment.

Hot Tips:

Edinburgh is not a huge city and has very good bus links, so you can save a little money by booking a room outside the center of town without wasting too much time on travel.

What to Eat

Edinburgh has everything from world class fine dining restaurants to gastropubs and lovely little cafes. You’ll find cuisine from all over the globe, as well as some very good Scottish restaurants. Leith waterfront is home to some of the city’s best restaurants including wonderful fresh seafood; head to Newington or Tollcross if you’re on a tighter budget.

Caution:

Do not be tempted to try a deep-fried Mars bar. Most self-respecting fish and chip shops do not serve this novelty item, and most Scots would go a long way to avoid eating one!

Be Sure to Sample:

Haggis may be Scotland's national dish, but the deliciously smoky and comforting Cullen Skink is hard to beat.

Places to Party

Edinburgh has an incredible number of pubs and bars; everything from chic cocktail bars to traditional pubs and cozy drinking dens. Most of the clubs are located around the city center and the Grassmarket, and a wide range of musical styles are represented. During the Edinburgh International Festival and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, there are literally hundreds of live music events, plays and comedy acts. For this, most city center and Southside bars are granted a late license. 

Caution:

Getting a taxi in Edinburgh in the late evening is very difficult, and nearly impossible during the Festival. If you're planning to burn the candle at both ends, pick a hotel near the city center.

Hot Tips:

The best shows in the Festival sell out early, but if you're prepared to take a chance and wait, you can pick up bargain tickets at the "Half Price Hut" at the bottom of The Mound near Princes Street Gardens.

Where to Shop

Edinburgh is a great place for shopping, especially for unique and memorable gifts. Princes Street is home to the large department stores, including the iconic Jenners, and George Street has some wonderful independent clothing shops and jewelers. The Royal Mile has a wealth of touristy souvenir shops while Stockbridge has many quirky gift shops and great gourmet food shops. The Grassmarket, Newington and Tollcross are home to more bohemian clothing stores and some treasure trove secondhand stores.

Avoid:

Unless you're looking for a novelty item or joke present, avoid the corny souvenir shops on Princes Street and the Royal Mile. You can usually recognize them by the blaring bagpipe music and the tartan tat on display!

Best Local Souvenir:

An authentic kilt made for you.

Things to do in Edinburgh


Edinburgh is known for...

Five of Edinburgh's most unique features and characteristics.

1. Hogmanay:

There is only one place to be at New Year and that’s Edinburgh’s world famous street party. Princes Street is pedestrianized for the event and the fun kicks off in the early evening with the spectacular Edinburgh Castle as a backdrop. There is a concert in Princes Street Gardens and a ceilidh on The Mound for some traditional Scottish dancing before the midnight fireworks extravaganza. Entertainers, hot food, outdoor bars and an unforgettable party atmosphere make the Hogmanay celebrations in Edinburgh a little bit special. If you really want to welcome the New Year in style then look no further.

2. Learning:

Edinburgh has long held a reputation for excellence when it comes to education. The Scottish Enlightenment of the 18th century saw amazing advances in philosophy, economics, engineering, architecture, medicine, geology, law and many other fields. Edinburgh boasted some of the most influential figures of the age including Adam Smith, David Hume and James Watt. Even today the city has four universities and conducts first class research that influences the world, particularly in the sciences. The premier institutions, the University of Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt, attract some of the finest minds and the city is known for its highly educated workforce. 

3. The Festival:

There is always something on in Edinburgh but each summer you’ll find the largest cultural festival in the world which encompasses the Edinburgh International Festival, the Festival Fringe and the Military Tattoo, amongst others. There are live shows of every description, world class comedy, live music, film premieres, author workshops and a whole lot more. Most of the events take place in August and the atmosphere in the city is incomparable with street performers, countless shows spread across impressive and makeshift venues, and parties that go on deep into the night.

4. Pubs:

You will never go thirsty in Edinburgh because there are more pubs per square mile than any other city in Europe. You’ll find drinking dens of every description in the Scottish capital and no matter what your favorite tipple is you’ll find something to satisfy you. Real ales and whisky are obvious specialities and many of Edinburgh’s bars offer gastronomic delights as well, from toasties to three course meals. The Grassmarket and Rose Street are famous pub crawl locations but visitors seeking a quieter pint should venture down to the Leith Shore.

5. History:

With the skyline dominated by the castle and the cobbled Royal Mile leading down to Holyrood Palace there is no escaping the history of Edinburgh. The Old Town is incredibly popular and you’ll feel like you’ve been transported back in time as you explore the alleys and gaze at the centuries-old architecture that surrounds you. Even the Georgian grandeur of the New Town has a distinct historical character. Edinburgh has seen the Picts, the Romans, the Reformation and the Enlightenment, the Union of Scotland and England and the Jacobite rebellion. Scotland’s capital has a truly rich history worth exploring.