Discover top things to do in Edinburgh, Athens of the north. A visit to Edinburgh, Scotland makes you want to explore every nook and cranny. Edinburgh’s Old and New Towns are currently designated UNESCO World Heritage sites. It is also designated a UNESCO City of Literature.
“[Edinburgh] is a city of shifting light, of changing skies, of sudden vistas. A city so beautiful it breaks the heart again and again.” – Alexander McCall Smith
There are so many wonderful things to do in medieval Edinburgh. It has an endless list of architectural masterpieces to discover. Edinburgh is known as Athens of the North because of the neoclassical architecture of New Town.
View our Trip Planning Tools to Scotland. Read more about Scotland.
Whenever we visit a city, we start with a Hop On Hop Off bus tour. These tours will give you a good overview of the city and some of the history. It will also help you get comfortable with the layout of the city. This introduction will help with your choices to explore Old Town and New Town and the many museums, monuments, memorials and galleries to explore. There are different tours and packages available, as well as attraction discounts. We found we could buy our Edinburgh Castle tickets from the Hop On Hop Off driver to avoid the long lineup at the ticket booth.
Top things to do in Edinburgh
- George IV Bridge – View historic Grassmarket from the bridge. Located at 21 George IV Bridge, you will find the Elephant House, which is a popular spot for lunch and known as “the birthplace of Harry Potter”. It’s the place where writer JK Rowling would work on some of the earlier Harry Potter books. Other famous author patrons include Alexander McCall Smith and Ian Rankin. Read more about famous writers of Scotland.
- Grassmarket – Take a free historic walking tour of the Grassmarket. It is a wonderfully charming area to check out. Some of the oldest streets in Edinburgh can be found here. There are many shops, restaurants and pubs. A Farmers Market is held every Saturday. See the famous monument and grave site of a devoted little dog Greyfriars Bobby.
- National Museum of Scotland displays the history and culture of the Scottish people. It also has the Natural World, Modern Science and Technology as well as the Art, Designs and Fashion galleries.
- Holyrood District displays a unique mix of modern and historical architecture. The Scottish Parliament is open to the public. Discover the rich history of famous Scottish Royals at Holyrood Palace.
- Edinburgh Castle was a Royal home to Mary Queen of Scots, James the VI and Queen Margaret. The castle sits high above the city on Castle Rock. View the Scottish Crown Jewels and explore its dungeons. Find out more about Edinburgh Castle.
- The Scott Monument – This huge impressive Victorian Gothic structure was built to honour the famous Scottish writer Sir Walter Scott after his death in 1832. It is the largest tribute built to commemorate a writer. Construction started in 1840. It is a very popular tourist attraction and crowd control restrictions were implemented in June 2018. According to a Scotsman newspaper article , only 24 people an hour will be allowed to climb 287 steps up the more than 200 foot tall monument. Read more about famous writers of Scotland.
- St. Giles’ Cathedral was founded around 1124. The cathedral, also known as High Kirk of Edinburgh, is located on the Royal Mile just down from Edinburgh Castle. It is home to The Knights Chapel of the Order of the Thistle.
- Edinburgh is a UNESCO City of Literature.
- Old Town and New Town Edinburgh is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- The Scott Monument is the largest tribute built to a writer.
- The Order of the Thistle has been around since the middle ages and it is Scotland’s highest honour of chivalry. Membership can only be granted by the ruling Sovereign to Scottish people or those of Scottish heritage.