Among Scottish cities, Edinburgh has no rival in beauty. The capital of Scotland is a dream for photographers, is rich in history, culture and has many fantastic sights. Edinburgh is not only famous for its fascinating museums and historic buildings, but it has a web of beautiful streets and excellent nightlife. It is also home to Scotland’s crown jewels. Some call it mysterious, others dreamlike. Edinburgh’s unique architecture and spooky past are a magnet for its visitors. Perhaps you don’t know it, but the city has a dark and twisted history and holds many secrets. Whether you explore the city for a day or longer, there are many attractions in Edinburgh. Take a look below and discover gorgeous places to visit in Edinburgh.
It is no wonder that Edinburgh has become one of the most popular places in recent years.
Gorgeous places to visit in Edinburgh
Here are our picks for the best things to do in Edinburgh, Scotland.
1. Edinburgh Old Town
Any visitor to Edinburgh has to explore its stunning historic district. Edinburgh Old Town is a historic neighbourhood full of beautiful architecture dating back to medieval times. Today, well-preserved Edinburgh Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Stroll through the Old Town and discover historic buildings, including the castle and also fantastic museums. Walk the cobbled streets and see centuries-old buildings separated by lanes or closes. Do not miss colourful Victoria Street, which is full of cute shops and tasty restaurants.
While you will need to pay an entry fee to visit many of the attractions in Edinburgh, there is plenty to do for free. Wandering the streets of Edinburgh Old Town is one of the best things to do in Edinburgh, and it will cost you nothing. Each twist and turn of Edinburgh’s narrow streets offer beautiful views of the Old Town. The historic houses, pretty squares and also buildings around the Royal Mile are worthy of its world-renowned reputation.
2. Edinburgh’s Underground town
Edinburgh’s Old Town has a labyrinth of streets and shops below current street level.
Those who would like to learn more about Edinburgh’s scary past should explore the lower levels of its medieval Old Town. Yes, that is right, there is a hidden part of Edinburgh underneath the city streets. Below the Old Town is a maze of unchanged streets. They have survived hundreds of years. Now, after many years, this unseen part of the city is open to the public. Edinburgh’s underground town is one of the unique attractions in Edinburgh, where you can learn more about everyday life in the medieval city.
In the past, Mary King’s Close was the busiest street in the medieval city. Today, it is one of the best-preserved streets, where you can unlock the secrets of Edinburgh’s buried past. Learn stories about people who lived in the buildings. Find out about the plague outbreaks that swept across the city. If you are not scared, take also the late-night ghost tour for more ghostly tales.
3. Edinburgh Castle
Begin your day with a trip to Edinburgh Castle, the most recognizable landmark in the city. Edinburgh Castle is one of the strongest fortresses in the kingdom and one of the best attractions in Edinburgh. It is also one of the most iconic buildings in the city and dominates the skyline. You may not know it, but this beautiful castle which has been at the centre of Scottish life for hundreds of years sits on the top of an extinct volcano. The fortress became a royal residence, served as a state prison and gun foundry. Today it is home to the Crown Jewels.
The iconic fortress on the rock is one of the most famous castles in Scotland. Therefore, Edinburgh Castle is one of the best places to visit in Edinburgh.
Today you can visit one of the most important buildings in the city. Explore the castle grounds and take a guided tour. Alternatively, listen to the audio guide and learn more about the castle history and famous people who once visited or lived within its walls. Highlights of your visit will be the oldest surviving part of the castle – St Margaret’s Chapel and National War Museum. And, of course, you will see the collection of the Crown Jewels, which is now on display in the palace.
Listen out for the gun firing from the castle grounds – it takes place daily at 1 pm (except on Sundays).
4. Royal Mile
The famous Royal Mile
You cannot visit Edinburgh without visiting the famous Royal Mile. It is one of the main streets and has some of the oldest buildings in Edinburgh. The approximately one mile long Royal Mile runs from Edinburgh Castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse at the bottom. Here you can find many shops, restaurants, churches and also narrow alleyways. Also, the Royal Mile is home to many attractions, such as museums or Camera Obscura and World of Illusions.
Walking cobblestoned Royal Mile is one of the best things to do in Edinburgh because it is one of the most popular parts of the Old Town.
5. Grass Market in Edinburgh
Also, take time to explore the vibrant Grassmarket, which you can find close to the Royal Mile. It was once the place of public executions and one of the main marketplaces in the city. Today Grass Market is one of the popular places to visit in Edinburgh. It is an excellent place to shop for souvenirs, and you can see the castle in all its glory from here. Besides, it is the heart of Edinburgh’s nightlife where you can find lively pubs and restaurants.
6. Camera Obscura and World of Illusions
To get an unusual view of the city, visit a quirky museum located close to Edinburgh Castle. Camera Obscura is, without doubt, one of the most popular attractions in Edinburgh. This museum has two main features. One of them is a collection of optical illusions, colourful puzzles and interactive exhibits. They are perfect fun for all the family. The other is an old-fashioned projector system which offers unique views of the city. Camera Obscura is one of the best places to visit in Edinburgh because it provides a unique way to see the city.
7. St Giles’s Cathedral
Next, stop at St Giles’ Cathedral, which you can also find on the iconic Royal Mile in the heart of the city. St Giles’ Cathedral surely is one of the popular attractions in Edinburgh. It attracts visitors from all across the globe.
Despite its name, it is not a cathedral but a parish church. The church named after Edinburgh’s patron saint has an unusual layout. Wander through the building and see beautiful architecture with a wooden interior and an impressive gold-leaf ceiling. Also, do not miss the beautiful Thistle Chapel.
Admission to St Giles’ Cathedral is upon donation. However, guided walking tours and rooftop tours are available for small groups for a fee. Make sure you book them in advance.
8. Palace of Holyroodhouse
After exploring the Royal Mile, visit the Palace of Holyroodhouse at the bottom of the road. The Palace of Holyroodhouse is one of the best places to visit in Edinburgh for history lovers. It is also the official Scottish residence of the Queen. When she is away, you can see the royal palace from inside. Take a tour and admire the chambers of Mary Queen of Scots, the State Apartments and the Great Gallery with portraits of all kings of Scotland. Also, you can explore the ruins of the neighbouring abbey.
9. Arthur’s Seat
From there, you can make your way to Arthur’s Seat, which you can find only a short walk from Holyrood Park. Arthur’s Seat is, without doubt, one of the famous attractions in Edinburgh. It is the highest point in Edinburgh and also a distinctive feature of the city’s skyline. Arthur’s Seat not only forms a part of the massive volcano that once stood here, but it also offers spectacular views of the city. The hike up to Arthur’s Seat is relatively easy – it will take you about 45 minutes to get to the top. You can choose from different trails depending on the level of difficulty you prefer.
Put on your hiking boots and hike up to the top of the ancient volcano. On a clear day, you can see for miles in every direction. The view from the summit is well worth the walk. Therefore, hiking Arthur’s Seat is one of the best things to do in Edinburgh.
For those who wonder how Arthur’s Seat got its name, chances are you may never get a clear answer. Some say that this was the site of the mythical Camelot, and Arthur’s Seat got its name after legendary King Arthur. Others believe that the name came from the Gaelic term. No matter what legend you prefer, climbing Arthur’s Seat surely is one of the best places to visit in Edinburgh.
10. Calton Hill, Edinburgh
One of the beautiful places to visit in Edinburgh is also Calton Hill. A steep set of stairs will bring you to Calton Hill, which offers one of the best viewpoints in Edinburgh. Calton Hill, which overlooks the entire city, is one of the first public parks in the country. It is much easier to climb than Arthur’s Seat, and it is closer to the centre. From here, you can see some of the best attractions in Edinburgh, such as the castle, New Town and Arthur’s Seat.
A collection of Greek-style monuments will be the highlight of your visit to Calton Hill. Admire the National Monument, which has a similar look as the Pantheon in Athens. Also, do not forget to explore Nelson Monument, Dugald Stewart Monument and the City Observatory. Take the gorgeous views of monuments and enjoy a beautiful panorama of the city below.
Visiting Calton Hill at sunset offers breath-taking views of the sun disappearing behind Edinburgh Castle. Therefore, visiting Calton Hill is one of the best things to do in Edinburgh at sunset.
11. Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh
Princes Street Gardens situated over a former sewer.
If you are interested in exploring parks, it is worth visiting Princes Street Gardens. Princes Street Gardens are one of the best places to visit in Edinburgh because it is the most popular park in Edinburgh. In the past, it used to be a site of a man-made loch. It became polluted during the Middle Ages. After draining the lake, it became one of the main outdoor spaces. Today, Princess Street Gardens offers an escape from the busy streets. The gardens which separate the old town from the new offer beautiful views of the castle. And, you can find here the Floral Clock, which is the oldest clock laid out in flowers in the world.
12. Scott Monument
If you are brave enough, climb a narrow spiral staircase up to the Scott Monument for impressive views of Edinburgh. The Scott Monument is one of the best attractions in Edinburgh because it is the largest monument to a writer in the world. The tower, built-in memory of the famous Scottish writer, sits on Princes Street in New Town. For a small fee, you can climb to the top of the monument and see the best views of Edinburgh. Also, there is a small museum on the first level where you can learn more about the life and work of the writer.
13. Dean village, Edinburgh
If you have a spare hour while visiting Edinburgh, make sure you take a stroll to Dean Village. Dean village is one of the most gorgeous places to visit in Edinburgh. It is a quiet residential area with a different feel than the rest of Edinburgh. It is historical, has unique architecture and is untouched by time. And it is also very photogenic. You can find Dean village with beautiful houses and the bridge just a twenty-minute walk from Princes Street. If you are lucky enough, you might even be able to explore the streets on your own.
14. Writer’s Museum, Edinburgh
If Scottish literature is your thing, then head to the Writer’s Museum, which celebrates the lives of three famous writers – Burns, Scott and Stevenson. The museum has a collection of portraits, manuscripts and also personal belongings of the writers. Visiting the Writer’s Museum certainly is one of the best attractions in Edinburgh for those interested in Scottish history. Also, exploring the Writer’s Museum is one of the free things to do in Edinburgh because you do not have to pay an entry fee here.
15. Edinburgh Zoo
If you are visiting Edinburgh with kids, head to Edinburgh Zoo, which you can find on the edge of the city. Edinburgh Zoo surely is one of the popular places to visit in Edinburgh for families with children. It offers a chance to spot giant pandas and the only knighted penguin in the world. Yes, you read that right – Edinburgh Zoo is home to Sir Nils Olav, the World’s Highest Ranking Penguin who resides in Edinburgh Zoo. Therefore, visiting Edinburgh Zoo is one of the top attractions in Edinburgh for kids.
16. Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh
Like many other cities, Edinburgh is home to Botanic Gardens. They are free to enter and are the perfect day out if you would like to relax in nature. Royal Botanic Garden is the second oldest botanic garden in Britain. It has thousands of plant varieties, such as exotic orchids and rhododendrons. The biggest draw of Royal Botanic Garden is undoubtedly its Victorian glasshouses with different climate zone. But, to access them, you will need to pay a small entry fee.
Relaxing in Royal Botanic Gardens is one of the best things to do in Edinburgh for free if you want peace and serenity.
17. National Museum of Scotland
The National Museum of Scotland is a place where to go if you would like to learn more about Scottish history. The museum contains thousands of historical artefacts, which you can find in numerous galleries. National Museum of Scotland is one of the best indoor attractions in Edinburgh. The entry is free, and the roof terrace offers excellent views of Edinburgh Castle.
What are the top 5 places to visit in Edinburgh?
- Edinburgh Castle
- Edinburgh Old Town and its underground town
- Scott Monument
- Calton Hill
- and also Arthur’s Seat
Have you been to Edinburgh in Scotland? What were your favourite places to visit in Edinburgh? Let us know in the comments below 🙂
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