What to see in Edinburgh: guide with practical tips about the city

With its mysterious charm, a very rich historical and cultural heritage and an incredible number of World Heritage sites, Edinburgh is a unique city that attracts thousands of visitors from all over the world and of all ages every year. If you dream of get lost in its cobbled alleys, to take a leap into the past between Gothic buildings and underground galleries, or if you want admire the city from the top of a volcanic cone, the Scottish capital is undoubtedly the destination of your dreams. To help you find out what to do and what to see in Edinburgh, we have gathered all the useful information in this mini-guide!


  1. Edinburgh Castle
  2. Calton Hill
  3. Royal Mile and Sant'Egidio Cathedral
  4. Holyrood Palace
  5. Meadows
  6. Arthur's Seat
  7. Grassmarket and Victoria Street
  8. Scottish National Museum
  9. National Gallery of Scotland
  10. Scotch Whiskey Heritage Center
  11. Museum of writers
  12. Princes Street & Princes Street Gardens
  13. Mary King's Close
  14. Dark room
  15. Dean Village
  16. Other attractions to visit
  17. 8 things to do in Edinburgh
  18. User questions and comments

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1 - Edinburgh Castle

Arguably the most famous building not only in the capital but in the whole of Scotland, Edinburgh Castle will help make you feel like a true knight of bygone ages. It is a place with a timeless charm to walk between spiers, drawbridges and ancient cannons still in operation!

Among the main attractions that you will find inside the Castle, we point out: the David's Tower, a tower of enormous proportions; there Crown Square or the citadel located in the upper part of the castle, where the National War Memorial (established after World War I in honor of the Scottish fallen), the Great Hall and the Royal Palace. In addition, from the Castle Walls you can also notice the presence of the animal cemetery, where the deceased four-legged friends of the Scottish royal house are buried.

Buy tickets in advance: as the attraction is besieged by tourists, it is advisable to avoid peak times, show up at the entrance before the morning opening and above all book the guided tour in advance. The visit took at least a couple of hours.

  • it is located in the heart of the city in an elevated position. It can be reached on foot in a few minutes from any point in the historic center
  • open every day, from 9:30 to 16:00, except for the months of August and September when the opening hours are from 9:30 to 17:00.
  • £ 15,50 (€ 17,00) for adults, £ 9,30 (€ 10,00) for children up to 15 years

2 - Calton Hill

Like Rome, Edinburgh also has an urban fabric spread over seven hills. For this reason, the city has a great many viewpoints to take your breath away, including Calton Hill. Known for the presence of the Nelson Monument and the National Monument (defined by the locals as "a classical acropolis, unfortunately never completed!"), This hill allows you to enjoy a privileged perspective over the entire historic center and the New City .
Always a meeting place for university students, but also for families and for anyone who wants to enjoy a little privacy and relaxation from city life, it has now become one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city.

Calton Hill is a viewpoint that can be visited for free at any time of day. It is located east of the New Town, reachable on foot starting from the Castle in about twenty minutes.

Visit at sunset: if you love taking pictures, head here around the time of sunrise or sunset and you will be able to immortalize very suggestive shots to take home as a souvenir.

3 - Royal Mile and Sant'Egidio Cathedral

Starting from the square in front of the Castle, the Royal Mile is the main town street extending straight up to the Scottish Parliament. Very picturesque with i side alleys and stone buildings typical of Edinburgh, it is the ideal street for those who love walking, get lost in the souvenir shops e sip some excellent local whiskey in a pub.

Starting from the Castle, you will arrive at the Royal Mile in just 2 minutes on foot, following the obvious signs. Continuing along the Royal Mile, however, you arrive at the Cathedral in 4 minutes on foot.

Despite being one of the most touristic areas of the city, it is a very beautiful city area, whose flagship is represented by Sant'Egidio Cathedral, that is the gothic cathedral of the capital with its characteristic crown spire.

Follow it downhill: we recommend taking the road starting from the square of the Castle and going down towards the Cathedral and not vice versa. In this way, in fact, the road will be downhill and will be less tiring (especially if you spot dozens of purchases along the way).

4 - Holyrood Palace

Arguably the most beautiful building in the entire capital, Holyrood Palace is located at the end of the Royal Mile is the official Scottish residence of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, which usually spends a few weeks there during the summer months. It can only be visited when the queen does not reside in the palace, it is a quadrangular building, composed of a chapel, multiple galleries, royal apartments and an immense ballroom.
Next to it, you can also visit the remains of what was once the Holyrood Abbey, built in 1128 at the behest of the then King of Scotland David I.

Check the banner: To find out if Queen Elizabeth resides or in the palace, look at which flag is on the building's flagpole. If you see the Royal Standard of Scotland, it means the Queen is not there. If the British royal banner is waving instead, it means that the Queen is at home, and therefore you cannot visit the residence

  • from the Castle, you can reach the Palace of Holyrood in just 17 minutes on foot, along the High Street.
  • open every day, except Tuesdays and Wednesdays, from 9:30 to 15:00 (November to March) and from 9:30 to 16:30 in the remaining months of the year.
  • £ 16,50 (€ 18,00) for adults, £ 9,50 (€ 10,50) for minors. Free for children under 5.

5 - Meadows

Not just castles and viewpoints, the beauty that distinguishes Edinburgh is also the sheer amount of green areas scattered throughout the urban fabric.

One of the most popular in the capital is that of the Meadows, probably the largest and most well-kept in the city: not surprisingly, this is the favorite destination not only for tourists, but also for locals and university students. On good days, in fact, you will find runners, families with children intent on having a picnic, couples relaxing in the shade, in addition to numerous bagpipe players. If you want to get a glimpse of the local everyday life, this is definitely the place for you!

Meadows is always open and can be easily reached via the Levan Terrace bus stop, just a minute's walk away and served by bus number 24.

6 - Arthur's Seat

If Calton Hill is the most popular viewpoint for tourists visiting the Scottish capital, Arthur's Seat is certainly the most loved by all sports and trekking lovers. This volcano for years inactive, in fact, is one of the best solutions for those who want to practice a little outdoor physical activity, but also for those who want to take a break from metropolitan life. With its 251 meters high, the hill is high enough to constitute the highest point in the whole city (some have nicknamed it "the roof of Edinburgh"), but it's still easily accessible for most people. What's more, the view from the top of Arthur's Seat is truly priceless: in addition to all of Edinburgh, from up there you can see the sea in the distance, as well as the other grassy hills of the city.

Since Holyrood Palace, they leave 3 marked trails; the green one is the simplest and takes 30 minutes to walk. The blue path instead lasts about an hour and a half, the red one instead of at least two hours.
You can walk for free at any time of day.

Wear the right clothing: comfortable and waterproof shoes, semi-sports clothing, but above all a nice windbreaker that protects you from the cold wind that blows (even in the summer months).

7 - Grassmarket and Victoria Street

Among the picturesque streets of Edinburgh, Victoria Street stands out for its bright colors of the buildings, many of which host small shops and bookstores with a vintage atmosphere. Furthermore, a short distance from this super photogenic downhill street, is the lively Grassmarket square: once, livestock market and a place of public death sentences, as well as a haunt of terrifying murderers. Today it is a lively place where Scots love to spend their free moments of the day. For tourists, it is ideal for a lunch break or for a coffee break in one of the lovely local bars

Walking through Castlehill, the Castle will take you to Victoria Street in just 3 minutes. From there, Grassmarket is less than 2 minutes away. If you are near Prince Street, however, you can take a bus (10, 11, 15, 16, 24) stopping comfortably in Grassmarket.

Visit the market and the hidden staircase: the much appreciated city market takes place on Saturday mornings, a perfect opportunity for a visit. Also, not far from Grassmarket is The Vennel's hidden staircase, from which you can take photos of the super instagrammable castle!

8 - Scottish National Museum

To combat a gloomy day in Edinburgh, there is nothing better than spending quality time in one of the many museums in the city. The most visited of all remains the Scottish National Museum: it is a three-story state museum, in which they are grouped more than 10.000 objects divided according to the different themes: it ranges from geology and mineralogy, to robotics.

Very interesting for those who want to retrace the main stages of the country's history, it is a place that knows how to intrigue everyone, from adults to children. Among the pieces that most of all amaze visitors, however, there is one in particular that leaves everyone speechless: we are talking about embalmed remains of the famous Dolly sheep, the first cloned animal in the world.

  • the museum is located on Chambers Street. From Castellodista just over 5 minutes. By bus, the reference stop is George Heriot's School, served by bus 45
  • every day, from 10:00 to 17:00
  • Free

9 - National Gallery of Scotland

Close to Princes Street, this elegant neoclassical building is home to many important works of Western art from the Renaissance to post-impressionism. The collection is divided over three floors: the ground floor and the upper floor (south area) are the most visited areas as they collect works by great European artists active between the th and th centuries. Among the best known, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Cezanne, Monet, Rubens and so on. Still on the upper floor, but in the northern area, there are Italian painters prior to 1500: here stands the famous painting by Raphael "The Virgin and Child". Finally, the basement is dedicated to the Scottish art collection and temporary exhibitions.

  • the museum is located on The Mound hill, just 3 minutes walk from the entrance to the Castle. By public transport, you can take several buses stopping at the National Galleries of Scotland (23, 41, 42, 45, 67).
  • every day, from 10:00 to 17:00 (Thursdays from 10:00 to 19:00)
  • Free

10 - Scotch Whiskey Heritage Center

If you want to live one of the most significant experiences of a trip to Edinburgh, we advise you not to give up a visit to the very famous Scotch Whiskey Heritage Center, a paradise for lovers of this alcoholic drink. Thanks to audiovisual presentations, exhibition panels and expert guides, you will get to discover the history of authentic Scottish whiskey, retracing it from its origins to the present day. Also, inside the most stocked distillery in the city, you can taste typical food and drinks of the country, discovering how Scottish flavors combine with various local whiskeys. On the other hand, traveling is also this: discovering a country not only through its most important monuments, but also through its traditional cuisine and ... the favorite spirits of its inhabitants!

Buy the right ticket: there are different types of tickets, depending on the duration of the tour and the different solutions proposed. If you want to get a general idea of ​​the history and the most common varieties of Scotch whiskey, we recommend that you book the "Silver Ticket" (starting from £ 17,00, duration 50 minutes).

  • the distillery is located near Edinburgh Castle in the Old Town. Near the square of the Castle, you will find the signs that will lead you to your destination.
  • from Friday to Sunday, from 11:00 to 17:00
  • basic ticket from £ 17,00 (approximately € 18,50)

11 - Museum of writers

Another very interesting and very popular museum among the attractions of Edinburgh is the Writers' Museum, located in the Old Town, inside a wonderful building from 1622 known as "Lady Stair's House". Exposure is entirely dedicated to three of the best known Scottish writers of all time, that is Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson, the famous author of adventure novels of the caliber of Treasure Island. Manuscripts, books, portraits and everyday objects of these three characters will guide you along an exhibition of great historical and cultural interest. Among the most significant objects, we point out Robert Burns' desk and Robert Louis Stevenson's pipe.

  • the museum is located inside the Makars' Court, a short walk from the National Gallery of Scotland and the Cathedral.
  • Monday to Saturday from 10:00 to 17:00, Sunday from 12:00 to 17:00.
  • Free

12 - Princes Street & Princes Street Gardens

In addition to the Royal Mile, the other popular place for shoppers is Princes Street, one long street of shops and cafes which divides the old part of the city from the more modern one. In its vicinity there is also a lovely green area, from which you can admire the city castle in all its glory: the Princes Street Gardens. With an extension of more than 150.000 square meters, they constitute the urban park most appreciated by citizens and passing tourists who, taking advantage of the beautiful days, relax on the grass, stroll or have a picnic with friends.

The Princes Street Gardens are located exactly at the foot of the Castle and just 200 meters from the National Gallery and can be visited free of charge at all hours.
Inside the gardens don't miss the oldest flower clock in the world, dating back to 1903.

Don't miss out on Winter Wonderland: in December the gardens host a fantastic Christmas village, with markets, ice skating rink and a spectacular Ferris wheel.

13 - Mary King's Close

Along the Royal Mile, there is a hidden alley whose history is steeped in disturbing mysteries. We are talking about Mary King's Close, probably the best known alley in the city.
Only reopened to the public in 2003 and located below the Royal Mile buildings, this dark and damp alley was once home to Edinburgh's poorest citizens, who took shelter in its darkness waiting for the plague or some criminal on duty to put an end to a miserable existence.

It is certainly not one of the happiest attractions in the capital, yet it will offer you a different perspective, showing you how hard the lives of people on the margins of society must have been.

Mary King's Close is often included in the mystery tours that make Edinburgh one of the most loved cities by fans of the occult and esotericism, as well as one of the most visited on the occasion of Halloween!

Please note:: if you suffer from claustrophobia, better avoid having this experience!

  • the alley is located at the intersection of High Street and Cockburn Street, just 50 meters away from the Cathedral.
  • from November to March, from 10:00 to 17:00 (Friday and Saturday until 21:00). In the remaining months of the year, from 9:30 to 21:30.
  • full £ 16,50 (€ 18,10), reduced £ 14,00 (€ 15,00)

14 - Darkroom

If you are traveling with children or if you are the curious type and fond of special effects, you cannot miss a trip to the amazing Darkroom in Edinburgh.

Designed in 1835 by Maria Theresa Short and placed inside the Outlook Tower in the late 1800s, this ingenious system of mirrors and optical illusions (spread over five floors!) will literally shock you. Between holograms, 3D images and fluorescent colors, you will feel like you are crossing a magical world from which you will never want to leave. And if you think that all this was achieved more than a century ago, when computers and modern technologies had not yet been invented ... well, you will certainly not be able to remain indifferent!

To save money, buy your ticket online for Camera Obscura and World of Illusions.

Visit on a nice day: On rainy days or persistent cloud cover, the optical effects are reduced, so try to visit the attraction on a sunny day if possible. In addition, from the terrace of the building you can enjoy an excellent view!

  • the Darkroom is located at 549 Castlehill, next to the Scotch Whiskey Experience.
  • hours vary from month to month. We advise you to consult the appropriate section on the official site of the attraction.
  • full £ 16,50 (€ 18,10), reduced £ 14,00 (€ 15,00) - Buy online

15 - Dean Village

Finally, a self-respecting trip to Edinburgh cannot fail to consider a tour of one of the most interesting and authentic areas of the city: the Dean Village. Also known as "Water of Leith Village" due to the presence of the River Leith, this area was one of the richest in the city for over 800 years thanks to the ancient water mills. However, in 1960, with the modernization and the decline of local trade, Dean Village suddenly lost all its prestige, becoming one of the poorest areas of the capital. Fortunately, however, today the area has been completely redeveloped and transformed into Edinburgh's most picturesque and sought after residential area.

From the Castle, Dean Village is about a twenty minute walk towards Johnston Terrace. If you don't feel like walking, however, take bus 37 departing from Princes Street.

Do not get lost: the Dean Village is a rather labyrinthine agglomeration of houses and alleys from other times. If you lose your bearings during the walk, don't worry, just find the course of the River Leith that runs through the entire neighborhood.

Other attractions to visit

Edinburgh's attractions don't end here.
We also advise you not to miss: the Walter Scott Monument, located near Princes Street, la Magdalen Chapel (where the first General Assembly of the Reformed Church of Scotland was held in 1578) and the Royal yatch Britannia, the yacht of the British Royal House for over four decades (full £ 16,50, approx € 18,10).

Se you are traveling with children, do not miss a visit to the Edinburgh Zoo, where you can admire specimens of all kinds including the giant panda. (Access from £ 19,95 / € 21,70 for adults and £ 11,35 / € 12,30 for children under 15.) Finally, discover the natural wonders of the Royal Botanical Garden with over 2.400 special species.

As for i surroundings of the capital, if you get the chance try to take a half day trip to reach Cramond, a town located on the sea, famous for its fortifications dating back to the Second World War. Equally fascinating is the small but quaint village of Duddingston, home to Scotland's oldest pub, the Sheep Heid Inn, which opened in 1360.

8 things to do in Edinburgh

  1. Dark tour: To explore the mysterious side of the city, take part in the haunted and scary places tour. You will discover the National Museum, alleys and ravines of the center, ancient cemeteries and esoteric shops. From € 10,00 per person
  2. Have lunch at the Elephant House: located not far from the castle, it is rumored that the writer JK Rowling used to have lunch in this pub: right here, between one course and another, the draft of the first Harry Potter book seems to have been born!
  3. "Harry Potter" Themed Tour: After having a delicious snack in the pub, join a Harry Potter themed organized tour; did you know for example that George Heriot's School inspired the birth of Hogwarts ?! From € 35,00 per person
  4. Underground tour: but the most mysterious places in the city are hidden among the underground vaults, which we recommend you to discover through a tour to discover stories of ghosts, murderers and witch hunts. From € 35,00 per person
  5. Take part in the Fringe Festival: held every year in August and is the largest arts festival in the world. For the occasion, the Scottish capital comes alive with shows and entertainment from the first light of dawn until late at night.
  6. Do a chocolate tasting: the best place to taste it is the city Chocolatarium, which organizes daily sensory tours to discover cocoa and its derivatives. From € 20,00 per person
  7. Cruise in the bay: Edinburgh also has a romantic side, to be discovered on a bay cruise outside the city, during which you can admire the scenic Forth Bridge, the iconic suspension railway bridge. From € 16,00 per person
  8. Browse the Greyfriars Cemetery: among the graves present, there is one in particular whose story will remain etched in your heart: that of Greyfriars Bobby, a dog who remained near his master's grave for over 14 years. A statue and a bar are also dedicated to the dog.

Plan your stay in Edinburgh: flights and hotels

Edinburgh it is served by its own international airport, located just 12 km from the city center. From Italy numerous low cost airlines fly to Edinburgh Airport, including Easyjet.
The Scottish capital offers a wide choice between hotels, apartments but also hostels (very clean and at super advantageous prices!). If you want to experience the most picturesque atmosphere of the Scottish capital, we recommend you seek lodging around Castle Hill and along the Royal Mile, despite this being the most expensive and touristic area of ​​the urban fabric. Alternatively, move to the Città Nuova, where you can still enjoy all kinds of entertainment.

  • hostels starting from € 30,00 per night -
  • starting from € 90,00 -
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