Best Things to Do in Edinburgh

10 Edinburgh Attractions That Will Make Your Visit a Memorable One

The capital city of Scotland is the second most visited place in the United Kingdom after London. It is a stunningly attractive city with a wealth of fantastic attractions to explore. You can immerse yourself in Scottish history, enjoy some of the finest artworks in the world and take in the beauty of the natural surroundings that provide the backdrop for this historic city. There are also mysteries to investigate, royal influences to behold and a rich religious past.

Edinburgh may have a classically beautiful look, but it also has an exciting modern atmosphere and offers a rich mixture of culture. There is a lot to see on your visit so planning is essential and that's where this list comes in. Unlike the festival in the summer or the New Year celebrations in the winter, these places can be enjoyed all year round.

We have woven together a rich tapestry of delights to entertain, amaze and enthral the whole family. From the serenity of the Royal Botanic Gardens to the fascinating displays and exhibitions of the National Museum, or the majesty and wonder of Edinburgh Castle, there's something here to suit everyone.

Each attraction offers something a little bit different and they are all worthy of your attention. They bring together culture, beauty and history that will make your trip linger in the mind long after you bid the city a fond farewell.


The Royal Family used this yacht as a means of transportation to places all over the world. After 968 royal journeys, ownership changed hands. The boat now belongs to and is maintained by The Royal Yacht "Britannia" Trust. Today visitors can tour the quarters in the yacht, which is permanently anchored in Leith at Ocean Terminal. The Queen's room and the Captain's Cabin are as they were when the Royal Family used them so you can get a real flavor of the luxury they enjoyed. The Royal Deck Tea Room offers fresh baked scones and cakes, as well as soup and sandwiches that can be enjoyed with a glass of bubbly or a cold beer.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: The tour of the Royal Yacht Britannia is fascinating and offers quite an insight into the lives of the rich and famous.

Simon's expert tip: The Ocean Terminal shopping mall in Leith offers plenty of free parking and entrance to the yacht. Audio guides are provided and you can easily spend a couple of hours exploring. The Tea Room is expensive but there are plenty of reasonable cafes and restaurants in the mall.

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Midlothian Snowsports Centre boasts the biggest artificial ski slope in the UK and is the training center for the Scottish Olympians. There are two main slopes, two nursery slopes and a jump slope. They offer courses for adults and children, beginners and experts. Yet the fun is not limited to skiing. Enthusiasts can take part in snowboarding and snowblading and a range of freestyle features, such as the purpose built tubing runs. Thanks to state of the art floodlighting, the slopes stay open after the sun has set. There is also a lovely cafe with incredible views of the Pentland Hills and the city of Edinburgh.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Excellent year round skiing and exhilarating tubing runs make Midlothian Snowsports Center the perfect attraction for young and old.

Simon's expert tip: Make a bee-line for the travelator which is the fun way to get up the hill!

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Our Dynamic Earth

This phenomenal museum celebrates the beauty of the earth via innovative technology. It is situated at the opposite end of the Old Town from the castle, near Holyrood Palace in the shadow of the crags and Arthur's Seat. Interactive exhibits allow visitors to experience simulated earthquakes, tropical rainstorms, the ocean floor, ice ages, glaciers and mountains. Particularly interesting is the virtual tour around the eleven Earthscapes. It is educational fun for the whole family and can serve as a good introduction to concepts surrounding the formation of the planet, the creatures we share the earth with, and the growth of the human population.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Our Dynamic Earth is a great tourist attraction in a wonderful setting

Simon's expert tip: There are frequent special exhibits and events, so check up on the calendar before you go.

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Scotch Whisky Experience

There's a reason that Scotch whisky is world renowned - it's the best! Sampling Scotland's national drink is a must for visitors, so why not do it right and learn about what you are sampling? Funded by several big distillers, this tour teaches visitors about the history of whiskey, the way it is made, and the economic role the business has played. Though you'll pay a bit more, you can get a tour that allows you to sample five whiskeys and take a bottle home with you, just make sure you take the bus. The experts on hand can explain the aromas and flavors that you'll experience and they'll help you to find your own favorite.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: The Scotch Whisky Heritage Center is a great place to learn more about Scotland's national drink, and enjoy a wee dram.

Simon's expert tip: The largest whisky collection in the world is not to be missed, buy a ticket beforehand and bring your ID.

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If you're feeling adventurous then why not scale the rocky crags on the edge of town to get a closer look at Arthur's Seat? It is a dormant volcano that last erupted more than 300 million years ago. Though interesting by itself, the views from the rocky vista are amongst the best in the city. You'll enjoy an uninterrupted view of everything Edinburgh has to offer so make sure you take your camera. This is a large park, perfect for hiking, and it is fun for kids too, thanks to a lake full of well-fed ducks and swans. The name is popularly supposed to be a reference to King Arthur.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Arthur's Seat is a wonderful place for a walk and rewards you with panoramic views of the city.

Simon's expert tip: It is a bit of a climb to the summit but there are various approaches. For a gentle climb park at Dunsapie Loch and take either path. Alternatively you could start near Holyrood Palace. Make sure to explore the ruins of St. Anthony's Chapel to the north.

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The Scottish Parliament at Holyrood officially opened in 2004. This is where Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) meet to debate Scottish issues. It is open to the public and there are free guided tours available, generally on Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays. There are also exhibitions, a shop and a cafe. This stunning building lies at the bottom of the Royal Mile and was designed by Catalan architect, Enric Miralles. It is a source of some controversy in Scotland because it went massively over budget and a fierce debate still rages over whether it is beautiful or ugly. Decide for yourself when you visit.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: The Scottish Parliament offers an insight into the government of modern Scotland.

Simon's expert tip: The Debating Chamber is a fascinating space and not to be missed. You can even get a free ticket to visit the Debating Chamber and listen in to a debate when parliament is in session. Make sure you request a ticket in advance to avoid disappointment.

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Edinburgh is said to be one of the world's most haunted cities, and there are a number of tours available for those who will risk an encounter with the spirits. Some of the tours can be a little cheesy, with dubious historical accuracy and little in the way of scares. However, the tour that culminates in Greyfriars Kirkyard (run by City of the Dead tours) is a rather different affair. There have been hundreds of documented "attacks" by the Mackenzie poltergeist in the Black Mausoleum and the location is undeniably spooky. City of the Dead also run tours of the vaults under South Bridge (evocatively named Damnation Alley and allegedly home to the "South Bridge Entity"). These tours are not for the faint-hearted!

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: City of the Dead Tours offer a glimpse of Edinburgh's more macabre history and a few scares along the way.

Simon's expert tip: Check out their website for a gallery of ghostly images captured during tours.

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Royal Botanic Gardens
Photo courtesy of Calum McRoberts

Any plant or flower, rare and common, can be seen and enjoyed at the Royal Botanic Gardens. It was originally developed as a learning conservatory for students, but it has grown to become an example to the world. The rock garden, arboretum, and over 70 acres of shrubs, blooming plants, and trees are great fun to explore. There is also a serene Chinese Garden and a duck pond. Some of the plants date all the way back to the dinosaur age. You will also find exhibitions and interactive activities for children in the main building and there is a shop, a restaurant and a couple of cafes. On a sunny day you'll enjoy the peace and beauty you'll find here. There are also some spectacular views of the city.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: The Royal Botanic Gardens are both beautiful and serene and offer great views of the city.

Simon's expert tip: Make sure you visit the Terrace Cafe for gorgeous views of the castle, it's perfect for a picnic. You should also check out the John Hope Gateway where you'll find a great gift shop and sometimes events, displays or activities.

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Edinburgh Castle was a royal residence until the late 16th century and Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to James VI there (he went on to be James I of Britain). The 12th-century, Norman-style St. Margaret's Chapel still stands in its original form. Inside the castle, you can see the Honours of Scotland (crown jewels), the French prisons, the Stone of Destiny and the most famous cannon in the UK, Mons Meg. Be sure to check out the Witches' Well at the entrance to the Castle Esplanade, where women were burned for witchcraft during the 16th and 17th centuries. Plan to take a lot of pictures while you are here, because the view of the city from the castle is spectacular.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Edinburgh Castle is a great place to explore and learn about Scottish history, and also offers some incredible views of the capital.

Simon's expert tip: Make sure you are there to see the traditional One o'clock Gun being fired at 1PM every day except Sunday. If you want room to explore and capture some great photos then get there early because it can get very busy indeed.

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National Museum of Scotland
Photo courtesy of Simon Hill

The diverse collection at the National Museum of Scotland encompasses the history of Scotland along with exhibitions of international interest. You can learn all about Scotland's past from the age of chivalry through to the industrial revolution and beyond. You'll also find diverse displays on everything from the pharaohs of ancient Egypt to the samurais of Japan. The natural world, science and technology, discoveries, art and design, and world cultures are all explored. There are interactive elements and activities to suit children of all ages, including science experiments, musical instruments and unusual photo opportunities. There are also regular exhibitions and you'll find plenty of shops, cafes and restaurants. It is a fantastic location for the whole family.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: The National Museum of Scotland is a wonderful attraction with plenty to keep both young and old amused and entertained.

Simon's expert tip: There are lots of great, interactive activities for children and plenty to keep adults interested so this is fun for the whole family. Kids of all ages love the models of trains and engines because you can push a button to activate the displays.

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Meet Simon Hill

Simon has lived in various corners of Edinburgh over the last 18 years. He fell in love with the city as a small child after visiting the castle and returned to study Scottish History.

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