Top Ten Things to do in Edinburgh

by Dr. Jessie Voigts /
Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture
Feb 12, 2018 / 0 comments

Edinburgh is one of the most fun cities in Europe - small enough to get around, but with character. It's the ancient capital of Scotland, and sits on seven hills, with the North Sea and the Firth of Forth right at your feet.

Top Ten Things to do in Edinburgh

Edinburgh is really two towns, Old Town and New. Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Edinburgh centers around two distinct landmarks - Edinburgh Castle (built on an extinct volcano!) and Arthur's Seat (another volcanic rock). There are many Edinburgh hotels to choose from, so figure out where you want to stay and explore from there. The city is small enough to walk anywhere you'd like, if you're able. And remember, pronounce it Ed-in-burrow.

Whether you head to Edinburgh for the food, whisky, culture, shopping, history, literature, the Festival, or the outdoors, you're sure to be happy.

Here are our top ten things to do in Edinburgh:

1. Eat well

Not only can you find amazing yogurt in the grocery store (rhubarb! black currant!), but the food scene is incredible. Scotland is known for its world-class food, caught locally. Try the fresh wild salmon, freshly caught seafood, Angus beef, Scottish lamb, and of course heather honey. But - Edinburgh is also a global cuisine mecca - you'll be able to find just about any international food if you so desire.

2. Shop!

Fancy a kilt? Shopping in Edinburgh is so much more than that. Shop on high street, or find local Edinburgh shops. From fashion at Solo Menswear, Totty Rocks, Peter Johnson, Corniche, and Sam Thoma to Joey Ds, Godiva, Concrete Wardrobe, 21st century Kilts (you knew I'd work that in), Elaine's Vintage Clothing, Herman Brown's, Chic & Unique, W.M. Armstrong's, Meadows Lamp Gallery, and a variety of antique stores.

3. Whisky!

Everyone has their favorite Scotch Whiskies. Want to sample them? Head to Royal Mile Whiskies (on Edinburgh's Royal Mile). It features over 1,000 Scottish (and international) whiskies. Knowledgeable staff, and of course an education.

4. Culture and the Arts

First and foremost, get yourself to the Military Tattoo. This happens in the summer, during the Edinburgh Festival. It's a glory of music, marching, and Scotland. Featuring precision marching and formations by Scottish regiments and other bands, it's a highlight of any visit to Scotland. I get chills just thinking of the times I've seen the Military Tattoo - massed bagpipes and drums are in my blood, I think. Scotland also has a plethora of art galleries, museums, performances, and cultural events...too many to list! Find a good guidebook, or let your eyes and ears be your guide!

5. Edinburgh Festival

This is more than one festival, actually. There's the Internatinal Festival, which offers performances in the arts (classical music, opera, ballet, drama). Head to the International Film Festival. You can also time it right to see the Fringe Festival, which features comic acts, drama, and performance art. And, you can come for the Book Festival, Jazz Festival, and Television Festival. Yes. Scots love a good Festival!

6. Music

Besides the bagpipes, you've got tons of musical options in Edinburgh. You can hear live music at the Jazz Bar, Montague Bar, Rat Pack Piano Bar, Electric Circus, Whistle Binkies, Sandy Bell's, Edinburgh Folk Club, Bongo Club, Liquid Rooms, Cabaret Voltaire, Club Ego, the Royal Oak, and more. For up to date information, buy a copy of The List Magazine and see what's going on.

7. History

Edinburgh Castle is a joy to see and experience (and what a view!). While here, make sure to see St. Margaret's Chapel (an 11th century building), the Scottish Crown Jewels, and the Stone of Destiny. Head to Real Mary King's Close on the Royal Mile and take a tour - you'll learn about this historical plague site, which is an underground nest of homes, shops, and history. You can visit the Palace of HolyroodHouse (the home of Mary Queen of Scots), Gladstone's Land (a 17th century merchant's house), Greyfriars Kirk (a church dating from 1620), and St. Giles' Cathedral (where John Knox preached). Be sure to schedule time at the Museum of Edinburgh.

8. Literature

Edinburgh is a City of Literature - literally. It was UNESCO's first City of Literature! Visit the National Library of Scotland, the Writers' Museum, the Scottish Storytelling Centre, Scottish Book Trust, Scottish Poetry Library, and many libraries! You'll know and walk in the footsteps of literary greats, including Robert Burns, Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson, Arthur Conan Doyle, Allan Ramsay, Robert Fergusson, and the more contemporary J.K. Rowling, Alexander McCall Smith, Ian Rankin, Liz Lochhead, James Kelman, Alasdair Grey, Dorothy Dunnett, Muriel Spark, Lewis GrassiC Gibbon, Neil M. Gunn, John Buchan, Hugh MacDiarmid. WOW!
You can shop for these aforementioned authors (and find new ones) at Edinburgh Books, Inky Fingers, Analogue books, and Elvis Shakespeare, among the many bookstores and spoken word performance venues.

9. Outdoors

Edinburgh is a walking city. One of the most romantic walks (according to the Locals' Guide to Edinburgh) is the Water of Leith, a walk from Stockbridge to the Modern Art Galleries, near Roseburn. You can also explore Hermitage of Braid, Blackford Hill, Arthur's Seat, the Pentland Hills, the grounds at Parliament, St. Margaret's Loch and St. Anthony's Well, the Dry Dam, Dunsapie Loch, Piper's Walk, Salisbury Crags, the Radical Road, and the Parage Ground. Get outside - it's beautiful!

Photo courtesy of flickr creative commons:

A perspective trick moves Edinburgh's New Town to the coast. Taken from Corstorphine Tower. How many Edinburgh landmarks can you spot?

Photo courtesy of flickr creative commons:

10. Golf

I had to mention it, since Scotland is the birthplace of golf. If you're a golfer, though, you already know this. Head a bit north of Edinburgh to St. Andrews, or ask the locals - there are SURE to be many recommendations for favorite places to tee off.

Captain David Campbell, Allan Robertson, Tom Morris, Bob Andrews, Sir Hugh Playfair and Watty Alexander. 'St Andrews Golfers'. National Galleries of Scotland Commons

Captain David Campbell, Allan Robertson, Tom Morris, Bob Andrews, Sir Hugh Playfair and Watty Alexander. 'St Andrews Golfers'. National Galleries of Scotland Commons




Note: This article was originally published in 2012 and updated in 2018