Things to Do in Edinburgh
When It Rains

The enchanting capital of Scotland usually has cold, rainy, and windy winters and rather mild summers — so many of the local points of interest are best enjoyed indoors when it's, frankly speaking, miserable outside. With that in mind, here's our list of the best things to do in Edinburgh when it rains.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best things to do in Edinburgh with kids.

The National Museum of Scotland

Number one on our list is, of course, the free National Museum of Scotland, the UK's most popular attraction outside of London. It boasts an extensive collection housed in two buildings: the Victorian building covers science and technology, natural history, world cultures, and European art and design, while the newer building contains artifacts related to Scottish history. From a 16th-century beheading machine from the Kingdom of the Scots to the stuffed body of Dolly the sheep, the first cloned mammal, there's plenty of stuff to keep the whole family wandering around for hours — especially while it's raining.

We've got an audio tour to help you navigate through the exhibition.

A museum of everything

Perfect for
A whole day with kids

St. Giles' Cathedral

What to do when it's a bit nasty outdoors, but you're determined to explore some landmarks? Head to the grand old Gothic cathedral, no doubt. Founded in the 12th century, St Giles' current edifice dates back to the 14th century. It's a functioning parish church and a major historic site located on the Royal Mile. Marvel at its stained glass windows, check out the intricate details and decorations, stone and wooden features, and don't forget to see the Thistle Chapel that was constructed for the Order of the Thistle, Scotland's order of chivalry: the Knights still meet here at least once a year.

Our walking tour of the cathedral has been created to aid you in learning about its history at your own pace.

Historic cathedral

Perfect for
History of religion buffs and admirers of Gothic church architecture

Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

This gallery hosts Scotland's impressive collection of modern and contemporary art. It occupies two buildings, Modern One and Modern Two, just under five minutes walk from each other, set in gorgeous sculpture parks.

Modern One houses sculptures by major artists such as Joan Miró and Henry Moore outside and artworks ranging from the early 20th century to the present day within, including Matisse and Picasso, Bacon and Hockney, Bourgeois and Hirst. Modern Two is home to the Stairwell Project, a large-scale work by Richard Wright, an extensive collection of Dada and Surrealist art, and work by the sculptor Eduardo Paolozzi including a recreation of his London studio.

Modern and contemporary art gallery

Perfect for
Art connoisseurs

Related tours:

The Palace of Holyroodhouse

The Holyrood Palace has been the official residence of the British monarchs in Scotland since the 16th century and stands at the east end of the Royal Mile. When the weather is nice, you can see the Palace as part of our walking tour of the Old Town. During the rain, however, it makes more sense to stay indoors and explore the historic chambers, staircases, and halls.

Among the highlights of the Palace are the King's bedchamber, the Royal Dining Room with its painting and the silver banqueting service, the Mary Queen of Scots chambers (check out the Darnley Jewel that is on display there), and the Throne Room that is used for receptions and other state occasions.

Royal history

Perfect for
Fans of royalty

Scottish National Gallery

Part of the National Galleries of Scotland, just like the already-mentioned Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, this museum is home to a great collection of fine art from the Renaissance to the early 20th century. Its 19th-century neoclassical building houses masterpieces by Botticelli, Titian, El Greco, Velázquez, Rembrandt, Landseer, Constable, and Turner. Scottish artists are well represented, including Ramsay, Raeburn, and Wilkie.

On top of everything, admission to the gallery is free — and we think that wandering through a free art gallery is one of the best activities on a rainy day in Edinburgh. Also, we've got our very own audio tour to guide you through the exhibition.

Fine art gallery

Perfect for
Culture vultures

The Balmoral

The Balmoral is a five-star hotel and Edinburgh's major landmark. Dating back to 1902, this Victorian building with elements of the traditional Scottish baronial style features an impressive 58-meter-tall clock tower. Immerse yourself in splendor, visit the hotel's Michelin-starred Number One restaurant, French-Scottish brasserie, or the oak-paneled whisky bar with over 500 varieties of Scotch. Enjoy the panoramic views overlooking Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh Castle, and Arthur's Seat.

If you're lucky, you might get a room next to the JK Rowling Suite, where she finished the final Harry Potter novel. We've got a walking tour of Harry Potter sites, but we wouldn't want you to be plodding around in the rain — so let's just leave it for later.

Luxury hotel

Perfect for
Those who are ready to splash out

Surgeons' Hall Museums

Dating from 1699, this impressive medical collection is laid out in four museums owned by The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh.

The Wohl Pathology Museum houses one of the largest collections of pathological anatomy in the world. The History of Surgery Museum presents Edinburgh's contribution to surgical practice. It highlights the College's connections with Joseph Bell, the prototype of Sherlock Holmes. Part of the exhibition is dedicated to the local murderers Burke and Hare, a pocketbook made out of the skin of William Burke is on display.

The Dental Collection demonstrates the development of dentistry from its earliest days to modern times, including rare artifacts from all over the world. Finally, the Body Voyager Gallery explores robotic technology in medicine.

Medical museum

Perfect for
Not the queasy ones!

Edinburgh Gin Distillery tour

Let's face it, whisky isn't everyone's poison. Some of us prefer the crisp, clear, juniper-flavored spirit — and Edinburgh sure has something to offer! Located close to Princes Gardens, the Edinburgh Gin Distillery presents a unique selection of beautifully crafted, vibrant, and naturally flavored gins and offers a range of experiences.

There is the gin tasting, where you'll get introduced to the history of the spirit, distillation and production processes. There's also a cocktail-making experience where a knowledgeable bartender will teach you to make classic cocktails. There's a very special Gin and Chocolate experience. Don't miss the shop: try the Seaside Gin to remind you of the salty breeze of the Scottish beaches.

Gin tasting

Perfect for
Gin aficionados


Dynamic Earth

Opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1999, Scotland's largest interactive visitor attraction is quite a popular place. Basically, it concentrates on the story of our planet and is a great learning experience and entertaining, of course.

The kids get to learn about the ways in which primeval forces shaped Earth, marvel at the forces of nature, and hear about the pioneers of Scottish marine science. The exhibits are as immersive and interactive as they can get to make it more exciting for the wee ones, including a real iceberg and an earthquake simulator. The real gem of the establishment is the incredible full-dome digital planetarium showing a wide variety of shows and movies.

Science museum

Perfect for
Families with kids

John Knox House

Built to a large extent in the mid-16th century, and with parts dating back to 1470, this picturesque building is one of the oldest in Edinburgh. It is actually a matter of debate if the famous Protestant reformer John Knox lived here during the 16th century or if his residence here is more of an invented tradition.

However, the house itself is a beautiful old building telling the story of the Reformation and showing how people lived in this area 400 years ago. Check out the romantic Oak Room on the top floor with its wood paneling and a hand-painted ceiling from the early 17th century. Overall, it's a cozy little place, and exploring its interiors is one of the nice things to do in Edinburgh when it rains, but bear in mind that the story of John Knox is also part of our walking tour of the old town.

Medieval building associated with a historical figure

Perfect for
Local history buffs and fans of old buildings

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The Writers' Museum

Another quaint little museum located in a historic building downtown, the lovely 19th-century Lady Stair's House, the Writers' Museum is devoted to the key figures of Scottish literature: Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson. It is home to an impressive collection of books, manuscripts, portraits, personal items, and objects that inspired the authors, such as Stevenson's wardrobe made by Deacon Brodie, whose double life served as a background for the novel The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

We really prefer such cozy museums for indoor activities in Edinburgh, yet when the weather is nicer, we can recommend exploring the wider area with our walking tour.

History and literature

Perfect for
Bibliophiles and fans of quiet entertainment

The Scotch Whisky Experience

You can't really visit Scotland and not try its signature drink — Scotch. Moreover, we're convinced that one of the most weather-appropriate activities for that time when it's wet and miserable outdoors is to have a few drams of the heartwarming amber spirit.

The Scotch Whisky Experience offers a great opportunity to do exactly that - and has been doing so for over 30 years. Here, you'll be introduced to a few different kinds of whisky and an informative guided tour, by the end of which you'll know much more about how Scotch is produced. Be confident you'll get to try some of the finest Scotches: in fact, 90% of the Scotch whisky industry is represented here.

Whisky tasting

Perfect for
Whisky connoisseurs and novices

The White Hart Inn

Located in the heart of Grassmarket, the White Hart Inn claims to be the oldest public house in Edinburgh. Parts of the building and cellar date back to 1516, and the rest of the pub is said to descend from 1740.

Among its well-known guests were Robert Burns, William Wordsworth, and the infamous serial killers William Burke and William Hare (or so they say — you can learn more about those guys as part of our dark history tour). Like most of the historic pubs, this one is reportedly haunted, with its resident ghosts slamming the doors, pulling the visitors' hair, throwing around plates and jars, and presenting themselves as a pair of severed legs in the cellar. Just the right place to be on a gloomy day, right?

In all fairness, it's actually a cozy and welcoming pub that serves very decent food.

Historic pub

Perfect for
Fans of beer and ghost stories

Museum of Edinburgh

We've got one more historic building housing a nice local museum for you: the Museum of Edinburgh, based in a real maze of 16th-century buildings on the Royal Mile. This one is dedicated — as you have probably guessed — to the origins, history, and legends of Edinburgh.

The exhibits include the National Covenant of 1638 and the collar and bowl of the loyal Greyfriars Bobby. Decorative arts are also featured, such as engraved glass and silver from Edinburgh and Canongate, costumes, clocks, Scottish pottery and porcelain dating from the 1760s. Generally, this is a quaint place where one should go just for the atmosphere. Our tour of the Royal Mile features this museum, too.

Local history

Perfect for
History buffs

The Royal Yacht Britannia

Her Majesty's Yacht Britannia, the former royal yacht of the British monarchy, was in service from 1954 until 1997. At present, retired and moored in Leith, it's a popular tourist attraction — and, considering that it is basically a floating palace, it counts as another exciting indoor attraction suitable for the poor weather.

The late Queen's beloved yacht is truly luxurious and has had a long diplomatic career: it visited more than 600 ports in 135 countries. During your visit, you'll get the chance to explore each of the five decks of the yacht and relax in the Royal Deck Tea Room. Check out the Sun Lounge: Her Majesty's favorite room on board, where she would enjoy breakfast and afternoon tea.

Royal ship

Perfect for
Fans of boats and royal history

I.J. Mellis Cheesemonger

The Mellis Cheesemongers is a proud family-run business that was established in 1993 and has been purveying farmhouse and artisan cheese ever since. Currently, they have stores in Edinburgh, Glasgow, and St Andrews. In the back of Edinburgh's Morningside store, there's the Cheese Lounge — a perfect spot to unwind with some wine and the Mellis signature cheeseboard.

The shop is the place to get some exceptional cheese — for yourself and your friends. Primarily concentrating on Scottish produce, Mellis also has some English, as well as French and other continental European cheeses from cow's, goat's, and sheep's milk. Accompaniments like quince paste, chorizo, olives, and truffle oil are also available.

Fancy cheesemongers

Perfect for
Cheese lovers


Georgian House

This magnificent 18th-century townhouse is located in the beautiful Charlotte Square in Edinburgh's New Town. Designed by Scotland's foremost architect of that period, Robert Adam, the luxurious house symbolizes the elegance and opulence of its era.

The fine collections of period furniture, porcelain, silver, and glass reflect the lifestyle of the Lamonts, the house's first owners. You can discover paintings by Scottish artists, including Henry Raeburn, Allan Ramsay, and Alexander Nasmyth. At the same time, the kitchen and servants' room give a glimpse of the life of the lower classes. Overall, the house is a great place for reflection on socioeconomic conditions, highbrow tastes, and inequalities that were typical for Edinburgh a few centuries ago.

Historic building

Perfect for
Georgian architecture aficionados

Kinloch Anderson Highlandwear store

Visiting Scotland would be unimaginable without getting some traditional Scottish clothing and gifts associated with Scottish heritage, such as its signature tartans.

Kinloch Anderson is a family-owned and managed company that has been operating for six generations since 1868. The company takes pride in the Royal Warrants of Appointment as Tailors and Kiltmakers to the Queen and the Royal Family. In fact, they have been supplying the royals since 1903 and, in particular, have been custodians of the Balmoral Tartan that can be worn only when permitted by the reigning monarch.

Even if you don't have a single drop of royal blood in your veins, though, you can get some gorgeous tartans — these are not exactly cheap, but totally worth every penny.

Traditional tartan shop

Perfect for
Fans of heritage and authenticity


The Cauldron Potion-Making Experience

Edinburgh is, of course, associated with Harry Potter and all things magic - remember, we've got a walking tour of Harry Potter sites. When the weather's nasty, though, you might really be in desperate need of some warmth as well as magic. Well, how about some (totally indoor) potion-making?

Potion Making at The Cauldron in Edinburgh is a fun, immersive experience drawing upon molecular mixology, science, and technology, but you also get to wear a cloak and wield a wand! Under expert guidance, you'll cast spells, brew some cocktails, drink some, and, if you wish, order even more from the bar. A non-alcoholic version of the Potions Experience is also available for juvenile wizards.

Interactive experience

Perfect for
Aspiring wizards and witches of all ages


The Chocolatarium

The streets are wet, the wind is nasty, and you've already seen all the major indoor attractions you could. Well, we bet there's one more thing that could make you cheerful — and no, it doesn't involve ghosts or historic architecture. How about some chocolate?

The Chocolatarium offers a variety of tours and experiences with a focus on chocolate. You'll learn where the sweet stuff comes from, see how it's made, and even get to create your very own chocolate bar. Other experiences focus on creating truffles or involve pairing chocolate with expertly selected single malts or wine.

Bear in mind that kids under the age of 6 are not allowed, but otherwise, they cater to all kinds of audiences, from couples to groups, hen parties, and older children's birthdays.

Chocolate experience

Perfect for
Curious sweet tooths

  • 1
    What to do in Edinburgh when it's cold?
    • The National Museum of Scotland
    • Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art
    • The Balmoral
    • The Writers' Museum
    • Edinburgh Gin Distillery tour
    • The White Hart Inn
    • The Scotch Whisky Experience
  • 2
    What are the best things to do in Edinburgh on a rainy day with kids?
    • The National Museum of Scotland
    • Surgeons' Hall Museums
    • Dynamic Earth
    • Camera Obscura
    • The Chocolatarium
  • 3
    What are the best indoor activities in Edinburgh?
    • The Palace of Holyroodhouse
    • St. Giles' Cathedral
    • Scottish National Gallery
    • Surgeons' Hall Museums
    • The Royal Yacht Britannia
    • The Writers' Museum

TOP 5 Tips for Visiting Edinburgh on a Rainy Day

  • Wear a raincoat rather than use an umbrella: Edinburgh is a notoriously windy city, and your brolly risks being flipped inside out.
  • Make sure you've got warm, waterproof, and non-slippery shoes to walk those cobbled streets.
  • Double-check the opening times and public holidays, and remember that most of the local museums close fairly early.
  • Bring a change of socks (or buy some classic argyle patterned socks — for example, at Pringle).
  • Go easy on that Scotch (and don't mix it with coke!).

Related tours: