Best Sightseeing in Edinburgh

Seek Out the Spectacular, Memorable Sights of the City of Edinburgh

Edinburgh is a great city for sightseeing. From the delightful medieval cobbled streets of the Old Town complete with Gothic spires and the imposing form of Edinburgh Castle to the sleek and distinguished classical lines of the New Town, visitors are spoiled for choice.

Edinburgh’s skyline is dominated by the castle, and it is not for nothing that this fascinating building (the site of so much bloody history) is one of Scotland’s most visited attractions. To delve further into Edinburgh’s, often turbulent, history why not pay a visit to the hauntingly beautiful Greyfriars Kirkyard to hear tell of the loyal terrier Bobby who refused to leave the grave of his master? While you are there, spare a thought for the unfortunate Covenanters imprisoned, tortured and executed there, and keep a watchful eye out for the Mackenzie Poltergeist – claimed by some to be the world’s best attested ghost!

Perhaps now a change of pace and a visit to the stately and majestic Palace of Holyroodhouse or a chance to explore the Royal Yacht Britannia for a glimpse of the many benefits of regal privilege. Alternatively, head for the Royal Botanic Gardens to enjoy the rich cornucopia of nature’s bounty and take in the spectacular views of the city.

Much of the city is best viewed on foot, although you can also take advantage of regular bus tours and hop on and off as you pass an attraction which catches your eye.



The penguins are one of the main attractions at Edinburgh Zoo. See them walking or swimming in the globe's largest penguin pool. It is also the only place in the UK where you'll find giant pandas. The couple, called Yang Guang and Tian Tian, is hugely popular. The zoo has been open for over 100 years now, and you can expect to find thousands of different species on show, from koala bears to the Violet Turaco to the White-faced Sari monkey. The chimps have a special interactive enclosure and visitors following the Budongo Trail can get up close and personal with them. There are also lots of interactive activities for kids.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: Delightful penguins, gorgeous giant pandas and cheeky chimpanzees make Edinburgh Zoo a great addition to any sightseeing itinerary.

Simon's expert tip: The pandas are so popular that you have to book an appointment to see them, make sure you book in advance to avoid disappointment. You can get cheaper tickets if you book online at least three days in advance.

Read more about Edinburgh Zoo →

Outside the City

This ruined medieval castle was built in the 14th century and gradually added to over the centuries until it fell into disrepair in the 1700s. Mary, Queen of Scots recuperated here after an illness following the birth of her son, James VI, who would later become James I of Great Britain after the Union of the Crowns. The structure is a fascinating example of a medieval castle and much of it still stands, including the tower house and the defensive walls. It's an excellent place for exploring, set in lovely grounds and it affords visitors great views of the surrounding area to the south of Edinburgh. If you love castles and the sense of history they inspire then this one should be on your list.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: Craigmillar Castle is one of Scotland's best preserved medieval castles and a great place to explore.

Simon's expert tip: If you want a quieter castle to explore then head out of the city center to find these impressive ruins.

Read more about Craigmillar Castle →

The Scott Monument, dedicated to the prolific bestselling author Sir Walter Scott, is one of Edinburgh's most famous structures. It is also the largest monument dedicated to a writer anywhere in the world. Rising heavenwards from the verdant slopes of Princes Street Gardens in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle this Gothic Victorian spire is an impressive 200 feet tall with a vertigo inducing 287 steps to its summit. Visitors who brave the climb are rewarded with some of the most spectacular views of the city of Edinburgh. Those who decide to forego the climb can still enjoy the beautiful sculpture of Sir Walter Scott and his dog which stands at the foot of the tower, and enjoy an ice cream in its shade.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: The Scott monument is an impressive Victorian Gothic tower which is one of Edinburgh's most instantly recognizable landmarks.

Simon's expert tip: If you do manage to climb to the top don't forget to ask for a certificate recognizing your achievement.

Read more about Scott Monument →


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 Sightseeing because: For a glimpse of how the other half live, who can resist the chance to explore the Royal Yacht Britannia?

Simon's expert tip: Entry is through the adjacent Ocean Terminal which offers free parking.

Read more about Royal Yacht Britannia →

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 Sightseeing because: Even if you don't have time for the full tour, the Scottish Parliament is a fascinating building well worth exploring.

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.

Read more about Scottish Parliament →

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 Sightseeing because: No sightseeing tour of the capital would be complete without a visit to the idyllic and serene Royal Botanic Gardens.

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.

Read more about Royal Botanic Gardens →

Greyfriars Kirk is a beautiful sixteenth century church located in the heart of Edinburgh's Old Town. It is surrounded by a churchyard in which over 80,000 people have been interred since it was dedicated in 1561. One of its most famous residents is Greyfriar's Bobby, a loyal Skye terrier who refused to leave the grave of his owner and who was cared for by local people until his death. He is immortalized in a lovely statue located just outside the entrance to the churchyard. Greyfriars also has a darker history. The church was the site of the signing of the National Covenant in 1638 and the churchyard the site of "Covenanter's prison" where hapless soldiers on the losing side of the Battle of Bothwell Bridge in 1679 were interred and executed on the orders of Lord Advocate Sir George Mackenzie (aka "Bluidy Mackenzie") whose poltergeist now reputedly haunts the area.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: Greyfriars Kirkyard is a beautiful sixteenth century church and cemetery with a fascinating and macabre history.

Simon's expert tip: If you are of a daring disposition you can visit the covenanter's graveyard at night with one of Edinburgh's ghost tours and brave the Mackenzie poltergeist.

Read more about Greyfriars Kirkyard →

The Palace of Holyroodhouse was built in 1128 and served as the main residence for the Kings and Queens of Scotland from the 15th century onwards. It is in fact still the Queen's official residence when she visits Edinburgh. When she is not residing here, you can tour the home. This palace contains much of the history of Mary Queen of Scots. There is a plaque put up in recognition of her secretary, David Rizzio, who was stabbed by her jealous husband. There is a collection of portraits of Scottish monarchs, although artist Jacob De Witt may have taken a few liberties! You'll also find a wide collection of relics from the 16th and 17th centuries, each possessing a piece of Scotland's history.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: The stately splendor of the Palace of Holyroodhouse is not to be missed on any sightseeing tour of Edinburgh.

Simon's expert tip: Make sure you get the audio guide to uncover the secrets of Holyrood Palace.

Read more about Palace of Holyroodhouse →

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 Sightseeing because: With a host of fascinating exhibits and great interactive displays the National Museum of Scotland is one of Edinburgh's best attractions.

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.

Read more about National Museum of Scotland →

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 Sightseeing because: Edinburgh Castle dominates the capital's skyline and is a great introduction to the turbulent history of this beautiful city.

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.

Read more about Edinburgh Castle →


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.

After...  More About Simon