Discover top things to do in Edinburgh Scotland. A visit to this historic Scottish city makes you want to explore every nook and cranny to experience its full charm and character.
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 with its endless list of architectural masterpieces to discover.
Edinburgh Scotland 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 City Pass to save money and jump on a Hop On Hop Off bus tour. These tours will give you a good overview of the city and some of the history.
This introduction will help with your choices to explore Old Town and New Town and the many museums, monuments, memorials and galleries to explore.
The tour will help you get comfortable with the layout of the city.
There are different tours and packages available, including attraction discounts. We found we could buy our Edinburgh Castle tickets in advance to avoid the long lineup at the ticket booth.
At the moment the City Pass is not available due to COVID but you can purchase a Royal Edinburgh Pass in advance for access to several attractions and bus tours.
10 Top things to do in Edinburgh Scotland
1. George IV Bridge
View historic Grassmarket from the George IV bridge. The popular lunch spot Elephant House is at 21 George IV Bridge.
Elephant House is known as “the birthplace of Harry Potter”. Writer JK Rowling would work on some of the earlier Harry Potter books here.
Other famous author patrons include Alexander McCall Smith and Ian Rankin. Read more about famous writers of Scotland.
Take a free historic walking tour of the Grassmarket. Some of the oldest streets in Edinburgh can be found in this charming area.
There are many shops, restaurants and pubs to explore.
A Farmers Market is held every Saturday.
See the famous monument and grave site of a devoted little dog. Find out more about the Grassmarket area.
3. National Museum of Scotland
Discover the history and culture of the Scottish people at the National Museum of Scotland.
Be sure to stop by the Natural World, Modern Science and Technology as well as the Art, Designs and Fashion galleries.
Of note, the Silver Casket is on display until November 1, 2022. This important Scottish heritage piece is thought to have been owned by Queen Mary.
Tickets to the museum do not need to purchased in advance.
4. Holyrood District
Throughout the Holyrood District there is a unique mix of modern and historical architecture.
See the award-winning Scottish Parliament building. Free 45-minute guided tours are offered on Mondays and Fridays to learn more about the history, architecture and art. The tours are popular and should be booked in advance to avoid disappointment.
Discover the rich history of famous Scottish Royals at Holyrood Palace.
The palace is the Queen’s official residence while visiting Scotland.
Celebrate the historic reign of The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee marking 70 years of dedicated service. The special Platinum Jubilee Display is on until September 25, 2022.
Palace of Holyroodhouse sits at the opposite end of The Royal Mile from Edinburgh Castle.
Book a tour.
5. Edinburgh Castle
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 an inactive volcano.
View the Scottish Crown Jewels and explore its dungeons. Find out more about Edinburgh Castle.
6. The Scott Monument
The Scott Monument is a huge impressive Victorian Gothic structure built to honour the famous Scottish writer Sir Walter Scott after his death in 1832.
Construction of the monument started in 1840. It is the largest tribute built to commemorate a writer.
At the moment this popular attraction is closed due to post pandemic maintenance. No scheduled opening date has been shared yet.
Before the COVID closure, in June 2018, this popular tourist attraction imposed crowd control restrictions.
At that time, according to a Scotsman newspaper article, only 24 people an hour are allowed to climb 287 steps up the more than 200 foot tall monument.
Read more about famous writers of Scotland.
7. St. Giles’ Cathedral
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.
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.
The St. Giles’ Cathedral is open to the public during its regular hours and guided tours are available to book in advance.
8. The Royal Britannia Yacht
The Royal Yacht Britannia is one of the top attractions in Edinburgh.
There are five decks to explore on the yacht. Tickets should be booked in advance.
A selection of soups, sandwiches, cakes and beverages are available for purchase in the Royal Deck Tea Room.
9. Visit a Gin Distillery
There are two gin distilleries to check out in Edinburgh.
Edinburgh Gin Distillery is close to Edinburgh Castle. At this distillery there are two experiences offered and both included the history of gin making in the UK.
- Create, bottle and taste your own London Dry gin or
- Taste five gins and/or liqueurs
Pickering’s Gin is located 15 minutes from the Royal Mile in the heart of Edinburgh at Summerhall. There are a few different tours available and a chance to sample four types of gin.
10. Scotch Whisky Experience
The Scotch Whisky Experience is right next to Edinburgh Castle on the Royal Mile.
Take one of the tours and see the massive Diageo Claive Scotch Whisky Collection of 3,384 bottles. The bottles, collected over a 35 year period, depict five different scotch categories, of various costs and rarity.
What are the types of scotch whisky?
There are five different types of whisky: blended, blended malt, blended grain, single malt and single grain.
How do you spell whisky?
Did you know that there are two different ways to spell whiskey? In Canada and Scotland it is spelled whisky and in Ireland and the US it is spelled whiskey.
Quick Facts about Edinburgh Scotland
- Edinburgh is a UNESCO City of Literature. – Discover famous authors of Scotland
- 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.
- Edinburgh was named the second greenest city in the United Kingdom in recent study.
- Edinburgh Castle sits on Castle Rock an inactive volcano.
- Many public executions took place in Grassmarket from the 1660s, including witch trials and the religious hangings of over 100 people in the 1680s.
Looking for more adventures?
Top things to do in historic Grassmarket, Edinburgh
Top 10 things to do in Isle of Skye, Scotland
Alaska Cruise Guide – Explore the best ports of call
Top 10 scenic drives in Canada that will leave you in awe
White Pass and Yukon Railway one of the most scenic rail trips in the world with video
Have you been here? Want to go or have other tips or comments. We'd love to hear from you.