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 the 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

You are positively spoiled for choice when it comes to Edinburgh’s hotels as you’ll find options scattered across the city to suit any budget or taste. If you’ve come to explore the historical Old Town and you really want to be steeped in the history of the city, then book yourself in somewhere on the Royal Mile. You’ll also find famous and comfortable hotels at either end of Princes Street. Further out, there are plenty of boutique hotels and old-fashioned guest houses that are sure to offer a warm welcome.

Caution:

Book city center hotels well in advance to avoid disappointment.

What to Eat

There’s no end to the delectable dining options in Scotland’s capital. If you’re after cutting edge modern cuisine and the finest seafood the city has to offer, then make for Leith in the North where you’ll enjoy a bustling waterfront restaurant scene. There are a few gems in the Old Town as well, but the New Town has more to offer when it comes to culinary delights. You’ll find great cafes in every neighborhood.

Caution:

There are some overpriced restaurants on the Royal Mile that don't justify the cost, so look a little further afield.

Be Sure to Sample:

Haggis — it's the national dish.

Places to Party

An incredible selection of pubs or bars can be found in Edinburgh, but the really lively night life scene is focused in the Old Town in a warren of winding streets and back alleys around the Royal Mile. There are various clubs where you can dance the night away and the city doesn’t sleep until the wee small hours. You’ll also find two great cinemas in the West End: the Filmhouse and the Cameo, not to mention the Usher Hall and the King’s Theatre. 

Hot Tips:

Check out the calendar for the Usher Hall - it's a wonderful venue.

Where to Shop

Princes Street is the main shopping thoroughfare and you’ll find two malls at the east end: the St. James Center and the Princes Mall. If you want to seek out independent Edinburgh shops with their own quirky style, then head south towards the student area of Newington. You can enjoy a quieter shopping experience at Ocean Terminal in Leith, which is also home to the Royal Yacht Britannia. 

Avoid:

Tourist tat and fake kilts in the cheap stores on Princes Street and just off the Royal Mile.

Best Local Souvenir:

An authentic kilt made for you.

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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.