Discover top things to do in Edinburgh Scotland, Athens of the north.  A visit to this historic Scottish city 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 with its endless list of architectural masterpieces to discover.

Edinburgh is known as Athens of the North because of the neoclassical architecture of New Town.

Top things to do in Edinburgh - Athens of the north - The neoclassical architecture of New Town Edinburgh is based on classic Greek design. Discover things to do in medieval Edinburgh. Explore Old Town and New Town along with the many museums, monument, memorials and galleries of this historic city. Photo Credit: Wendy Nordvik-Carr

Athens of the North – The neoclassical architecture of New Town Edinburgh is based on classic Greek design. Photo Credit: Wendy Nordvik-Carr

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.

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 from the Hop On Hop Off driver to avoid the long lineup at the ticket booth.

Top things to do in Edinburgh - Start your visit to Edinburgh with a Sightseeing Hop On Hop Off Bus Tour. Discover things to do in medieval Edinburgh. Explore Old Town and New Town along with the many museums, monument, memorials and galleries of this historic city. Photo Credit: Wendy Nordvik-Carr

Start your visit to Edinburgh with a Sightseeing Hop On Hop Off Bus Tour. Discover things to do in medieval Edinburgh. Explore Old Town and New Town along with the many museums, monuments, memorials and galleries of this historic city. Photo Credit: Wendy Nordvik-Carr

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.

The Elephant House is a popular spot for lunch in Edinburgh and is known as “the birthplace of Harry Potter”. Photo Credit: Wendy Nordvik-Carr

The Elephant House is a popular spot for lunch in Edinburgh and is known as “the birthplace of Harry Potter”. Photo Credit: Wendy Nordvik-Carr

2. Grassmarket

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.

Top things to do in Edinburgh on the historic trail

Discover things to do in medieval Edinburgh. Explore Old Town and New Town along with the many museums, monuments, memorials and galleries of this historic city. Photo Credit: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©

Top things to do in Edinburgh - visit the Grassmarket

Discover Grassmarket things to do in medieval Edinburgh. Photo Credit: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©

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.

4. Holyrood District

Throughout the Holyrood District there is a unique mix of modern and historical architecture.

Scottish Parliament

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.

Holyrood Palace

Discover the rich history of famous Scottish Royals at Holyrood Palace. Palace of Holyroodhouse sits at the opposite end of The Royal Mile from Edinburgh Castle.

Visit the Scottish Parliament - Discover things to do in Edinburgh. Explore Old Town and New Town along with the many museums, monument, memorials and galleries of this historic city. Photo Credit: Wendy Nordvik-Carr

Top things to do in Edinburgh – Visit the Scottish Parliament. Photo Credit: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©

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.

Top things to do in Edinburgh - Take a tour of Edinburgh Castle. Photo Credit: Wendy Nordvik-Carr

Top things to do in Edinburgh – Take a tour of Edinburgh Castle. Photo Credit: Wendy Nordvik-Carr

Top things to do in Edinburgh - Take a tour of Edinburgh Castle. Photo Credit: Wendy Nordvik-Carr

Top things to do in Edinburgh – Take a tour of Edinburgh Castle. Photo Credit: Wendy Nordvik-Carr

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.

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 are allowed to climb 287 steps up the more than 200 foot tall monument.

Read more about famous writers of Scotland.

Climb to the top of the Scott Monument in historic Edinburgh, Scotland. Photo Credit: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©

Climb to the top of the Scott Monument in historic Edinburgh, Scotland. Photo Credit: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©

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.

historic St. Giles' Cathedral in Edinburgh, Scotland. Photo Credit: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©

historic St. Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh, Scotland. Photo Credit: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©

A bride arrives for her wedding ceremony at St. Giles' Cathedral. Discover things to do in medieval Edinburgh. Explore Old Town and New Town along with the many museums, monument, memorials and galleries of this historic city. Photo Credit: Wendy Nordvik-Carr

A bride arrives for her wedding ceremony at the historic St. Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh, Scotland. Photo Credit: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©

Discover things to do in Edinburgh. Explore Old Town and New Town along with the many museums, monument, memorials and galleries of this historic city. Photo Credit: Wendy Nordvik-Carr

Discover things to do in medieval Edinburgh. Explore Old Town and New Town along with the many museums, monument, memorials and galleries of this historic city. Photo Credit: Wendy Nordvik-Carr

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 named the second greenest city in the United Kingdom in recent study.
  • Edinburgh Castle sit 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.

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