Best Tours and Excursions in Edinburgh

Explore Edinburgh and the Surrounding Area with Tours and Excursions

Few cities in the world can boast the rich history of Edinburgh. It is a beautiful city full of hidden gems and wonders to uncover through exploration. If you have an interest in the old kings and queens of Scotland, the religious turmoil, or some of the murky events in Auld Reekie’s past then a tour is a great way to find out more. Wandering the cobbled streets of the Old Town is highly recommended for anyone, but if you want to find the best spots and be entertained with some historical stories, and maybe the odd tall tale, then a walking tour is for you. Cadies and Witchery Tours offer an insight into Edinburgh's often gruesome past, and those with a daring disposition might brave the Covenanter's Prison with City of the Dead Tours. Fans of Harry Potter will love the Potter Trail.

You may also enjoy a day or two outside the city exploring the stunning scenery of the Scottish countryside, exploring the ruins of old castles, or having a wee dram or two at a whisky distillery. There are plenty of terrific excursions to choose from if you want a day trip that reveals a bit more of Scotland. Hairy Coo offer great excursions all over Scotland and you only pay as much as you think your tour was worth.

In this roundup we pick out the best tours and excursions. There’s plenty of informative history, breath-taking beauty spots, creepy shenanigans in the dark, and hidden treasures to uncover. 


Outside the City

You have a wide choice of tours with Afternoon Tea Tours from chocolate or whisky lover's tours to Scottish aviation history, golf or castles. Whatever your interest these intimate private tours for small parties will have something to interest you. If you can't decide then chat to the hosts and arrange your own individualized tour that takes in the sights and tastes that you don't want to miss. The guides are friendly and they will pick you up from your accommodation and take you wherever you want to go, revealing interesting spots along the way. For a genuine insight into Scotland from a couple of locals Afternoon Tea Tours is a good option.

Recommended for Tours and Excursions because: Afternoon Tea Tours can be tailored to your interests and the hosts are very friendly.

Simon's expert tip: If you can't decide then why not indulge yourself with the whisky and chocolate tour.

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The Potter Trail is a lively and entertaining tour of Edinburgh with fans of the highly popular Harry Potter books and films in mind. The history and architecture of the old Town of Edinburgh inspired JK Rowling, and she wrote her first book in a rather famous Edinburgh coffee house - which you will visit on the tour. You will explore the narrow wynds and cobbled streets of the old Town and visit the grave of Lord Voldemort. You will also learn about the world's worst poet - and find out which Hogwarts teacher is named after him. This lighthearted tour is great for families, and even those who are not Harry potter fans will be entertained by the enthusiastic tour guides. there is no cover charge - if you like the tour, tip your guide.

Recommended for Tours and Excursions because: The Potter rail is a must for Harry Potter fans, and great fun even for those who are not.

Simon's expert tip: Tours leave at 3pm from outside Greyfriars Bobby Bar at the top of Candlemaker Row. Check their website for dates.

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Small group tours and excursions to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland is what Rabbie's is all about. You can select from Rabbie's Trail Burners, which are single day tours to destinations such as Loch Ness, Loch Lomond and St. Andrews, or you can embark on longer tours that will take you as far as Orkney or the Isle of Skye. They run tours that last up to five days. The tour guides are excellent, very knowledgeable and professional, and they'll take you to some wonderfully beautiful spots and regale you with fascinating stories. Bear in mind that day tours to far flung places will start early and involve a lot of travel.

Recommended for Tours and Excursions because: Rabbies have won many awards for their tours of Scotland and they have a wide range of destinations

Simon's expert tip: The longer tours will take you to some really interesting places and introduce you to a completely different side of Scotland.

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Edinburgh is a city of stories and legends, and this tour is a great way to learn the most unique tales. You'll get to stroll down the evocative lanes of this history-laden city while hearing about the Great Fire, the man who survived when a building fell on him, and much more. You'll see the small quirks that make the city unique and learn why they came to be, from native guides who know how to spin a yarn. A variety of tours are available including ghost tours and underground tours. The tours last between one and two hours and are always entertaining.

Recommended for Tours and Excursions because: Mercat Tours' "Secrets of the Royal Mile" is a fascinating tour with polished and knowledgeable guides

Simon's expert tip: The historical tours are packed with information; the ghostly tours are a bit more about entertainment.

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This award-winning tour was introduced in 1996 and has since grown in both scope and reputation. Participants get an up-close view of the city while learning about the literary greats that lived there. The Scottish Literary Renaissance, led by the likes of Scott, Stevenson and Burns, is recounted by witty dramatists who put on quite a show. Finish with a pint in the same pubs where these writers relaxed and worked. This is a fairly short tour with ample opportunity to imbibe as you'll stop off at a few pubs along the way. There's literary entertainment and the chance to ask questions and chat in between.

Recommended for Tours and Excursions because: The Literary Pub Tours are a great excuse for a dram and a good chat, whilst improving your mind!

Simon's expert tip: A whisky at each pub along the way will make this more enjoyable but the alcohol is not compulsory.

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You can't beat a free day out. The Hairy Coo - Free Scottish Highlands Tour is a day excursion from Edinburgh which operates on a tips only basis. You'll see the Forth Bridges, the Wallace Monument in Stirling and get a taste of the Highlands in the Trossachs National Park. There's a lunch stop at Aberfoyle and a visit to Monty Python's Doune Castle. You'll meet some hairy coos provided they aren't hiding. A small group size and knowledgeable guide make this tour a lot of fun and you'll get a real taste of Scotland outside the capital city. They do also operate a popular paid excursion to St. Andrews and the Tullibardine whisky distillery.

Recommended for Tours and Excursions because: Hairy Coo tours are free, so guides work hard to entertain you and earn their tips.

Simon's expert tip: Make sure you book in advance and note that children under 12 are not allowed to go.

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If you want a break from more traditional sightseeing activities and you fancy indulging yourself in a spot of gentle hedonism then why not embark on the Eat Walk Edinburgh tour? This is truly a foodie's dream with stops throughout Edinburgh's Old Town and New Town for specially prepared taster dishes, wine samples and a wee whisky. If you are looking for a leisurely activity that might give you a few ideas for unique places to eat and drink that are off the beaten path then this tour is for you. You'll also learn some interesting tidbits of history and delve into the stories behind the establishments you visit along the way.

Recommended for Tours and Excursions because: Eat Walk Edinburgh offer a gastronomic treat for foodies and a novel way of exploring the capital.

Simon's expert tip: This is a great opportunity to sample haggis and whisky for new visitors to Scotland.

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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 Tours and Excursions because: The City of the Dead tour is possibly Edinburgh's scariest ghost tour.

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

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These free tours of Edinburgh work on a tips only basis and will introduce you to some of the highlights of the city. The exact tour you'll get depends on the guide but you can expect plenty of history, some great story-telling, and a food or drink stop. You should get a real insight into the history of Edinburgh but you can also expect to explore some of the more modern attractions that the city has to offer. You can book online or just turn up and queue for a place. Sandemans run free tours in various cities across Europe and they have a decent reputation.

Recommended for Tours and Excursions because: Sandemans offer free tours with charismatic and enthusiastic guides.

Simon's expert tip: Wear comfortable shoes and dress for the weather because your tour could last three hours or more.

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The macabre side of Edinburgh and its grisly past make for a terrific tour topic. If you enjoy scares and laughs in equal measure then the ghostly Witchery tour is definitely for you. You'll stalk around the Old Town with a dead man for a guide and you can expect to encounter phantoms and spooky tales along the way. These walking tours run throughout the evening but they're definitely more street theater, thrills and silliness than serious history. This is a really fun activity, suitable for older kids and great for big groups. Gruesome witch hunts, plagues, body-snatching and executions form the bulk of this journey into darkness but the humor keeps things fun.

Recommended for Tours and Excursions because: The Caddies and Witchery Tour gives a great insight into the often macabre history of Edinburgh

Simon's expert tip: This is a great way to explore some of the back alleys and courtyards of the Old Town which are so much more atmospheric at night.

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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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