TOP 20 best things to do
in Edinburgh

Filled to the brim with arts and culture, historic landmarks and gorgeous landscapes, dark history, and buzzing nightlife, Edinburgh is surely an intense place to visit. We've put together a list with a few places to see and things to do in Edinburgh that, to our mind, are an absolute must when you're in Scotland's capital.

The National Museum of Scotland

One of the top Edinburgh tourist attractions, the National Museum of Scotland is a spacious and accessible (read: free, centrally located, and well-organized) museum. It seeks to preserve, interpret and make accessible for everyone the past and present of Scotland, other nations and cultures, and the natural world - sounds pretty ambitious, but we think it's been managing pretty well.

Whether you're looking for Scottish antiquities and cultural artifacts, or the wonders of the natural world, the National Museum has got you covered. A massive whale skull? Check. The Lewis chess pieces (the ones you've seen in Harry Potter)? Check. A T-Rex skeleton? Iconic tartan outfits by Vivienne Westwood? Stuffed body of Dolly the sheep, the first cloned mammal? All of these cool things (and many more) await you here. But hey, don't get lost - if you feel like this may happen, just take our self-guided audio tour.

A real museum of everything

Perfect for
A whole afternoon with the kids

Edinburgh Castle

A historic stronghold that used to be the residence of Scottish monarchs, a military fortress, and a prison of war, this castle is a massively important part of Scottish national heritage and the most popular paid-for visitor attraction in Scotland. Dating back to the 11th century, this imposing edifice is home to the Honours (Crown Jewels) of Scotland, the Stone of Destiny, the 15th-century siege gun Mons Meg, and the National War Museum of Scotland. A must-see, no doubt — and we've got a tour to help you explore it.

Clearly, it's not just the architecture or heritage that is so enticing: sometimes, more prosaic things play the most important role. Afternoon tea with egg and watercress on brioche at the local Tea Room in the heart of the castle, anyone? Or, perhaps, some signature Edinburgh Castle Whisky, a highland single malt Scotch aged ten years?

Historic sites and landmarks

Perfect for
Fans of all things grand and historic

The Royal Mile

Among all the things to do in Edinburgh, strolling along the Royal Mile is something that can't be missed. Right in the heart of the Old Town, this former processional route of monarchs stretches between Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse. It is a succession of streets where lots of major events take place. It is here that crowds gather annually during the Fringe Festival and watch the performances. It was this route that the late Queen's funerary procession took on its way from the palace to St Giles' Cathedral.

The Royal Mile contains numerous landmarks: Parliament Square, Canongate Kirk, the Heart of Midlothian, John Knox's House, and the Museum of Edinburgh — the list of places to be explored here is rather long. Our tour of the historic thoroughfare might just help you with all that!

Landmarks and historic sites

Perfect for
Your first day out in Edinburgh

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The Palace of Holyroodhouse

The King's official residence, this 16th-century palace is one of the most majestic things to see in Edinburgh. It stands at the end of the Royal Mile and is included in one of our walking tours of the Old Town.

Among the highlights of your visit will be the State Apartments with their gorgeous plasterwork ceilings and French and Flemish tapestries, and impressive King's Bedchamber. Check our Mary Queen of Scots' chamber with its original oak ceiling, the oldest section of the palace. Imagine the balls that Bonnie Prince Charlie held here in the 18th century. But our favorite part is the remains of the 12th-century Holyrood Abbey located just outside the palace: now ruined, this grand medieval abbey still looks magnificent.

Historic sites and royal history

Perfect for
Fans of opulence and grandeur

Greyfriars Kirkyard

Greyfriars Kirk is set in Greyfriars Kirkyard, a cemetery that was founded in the mid-16th century when the kirkyard at St Giles' could no longer accommodate the growing population of the city as a burial ground. The National Covenant, the document of major importance in Scotland's history, was signed here in 1638 by the local nobility opposing the proposed reforms of the Church of Scotland by King Charles I.

The kirkyard is the final resting place of many notable residents of Edinburgh and has some impressive sepulchral monuments. Perhaps most famously, it is associated with Greyfriars Bobby, a dog who slept by his master's grave for 14 years. Another well-known tomb is that of Thomas Riddell, the inspiration behind Lord Voldemort from the Harry Potter book series. Explore it with one of our tours!


Perfect for
Tombstone tourists

St. Giles Cathedral

St Giles' Cathedral, or the High Kirk of Edinburgh, was founded in the 12th century, while its current edifice dates back to the 14th century. The focal point of the Old Town, this Gothic cathedral is an architectural marvel and one of Scotland's most important parish churches. It played an important role in the Scottish Reformation: John Knox, its leader, served here as a minister. Inside, the church has over 100 memorials, gorgeous stained glass windows from the 19th century onward, and keeps one of the original copies of Scotland's National Covenant of 1638.

In case you are looking for things to do in Edinburgh and need some guidance, our walking tour of the cathedral has been created to help you navigate the space and learn about its history at your own pace.

Historic church

Perfect for
A few hours of exploring on your own

The Writers' Museum

Edinburgh sure cherishes its literary heritage: just think about the Victorian Gothic Scott monument, or visit the Edinburgh International Book Festival. If you're into Scottish authors, one of the best things to do in Edinburgh is to check out the Writers' Museum. It is dedicated to the three foremost literary figures: Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson.

Portraits, personal objects, and, of course, books are on display in this marvelous little museum. Burns' writing desk, the rocking horse he used as a child, and a plaster cast of his skull — one of only three ever made — are just a few of the curious items you can encounter here. The building itself, the 19th-century Lady Stair's House, is very nice with its narrow stairs, stone walls, and tranquil courtyard.

Local literary history

Perfect for
Bookworms and fans of nice and cozy museums

The Real Mary King's Close

A close is a generic Scots term for a small narrow alleyway, and Edinburgh does have quite a few of those sloping down from the Royal Mile. Mary King's Close is probably the most famous one. It was named after a merchant burgess who used to live on the close in the 17th century. The close was partly destroyed and has been buried for years since the 18th century.

Its legacy is that of a haunted and mystical place, with numerous tales of ghosts, plague, and murder permeating the walls of this underground web of dark streets. Paranormal investigations have focused on the close, and it has been the subject of numerous shows and podcasts that explored its seedy background. Currently, it is open to the public as a tourist attraction with costumed guides who are based on one-time residents of the area.

Historic sites

Perfect for
Fans of creepy little streets and grim urban legends


Dean Village

Feel like having a nice stroll not too far from downtown? Minutes away from Princes Street lies the bucolic Dean Village, one of the most charming spots around Edinburgh. Known as the Water of Leith Village in the past, it used to be a grain milling neighborhood for more than 800 years. You can still come across objects reminiscent of its industrial backgrounds, such as millstones and stone advertisements for bakeries. Since the 1970s, after decades of decline, the area has transformed into a peaceful urban oasis.

Snap a picture of the magnificent four-arched Dean Bridge, walk along the Water of Leith, see the 19th-century Well Court, a building designed to provide accommodation for local workers, and have a quiet moment at Dean Cemetery. We've got a tour to guide you through the area, too.

Historic neighborhood and waterfront

Perfect for
A day outside the city center

The Edinburgh Festival Theatre

Home to the Scottish Opera and Scottish Ballet, and one of the major venues of the annual Edinburgh International Festival, this historic theater sits on the spot where theatrical venues used to be located for the longest time in the city, since 1830. In the past, many celebrities performed here, including Charlie Chaplin, Laurel & Hardy, Margot Fonteyn, and David Bowie. Rumour has it the place is haunted by a specter of an illusionist who tragically perished in the 1911 fire.

Relaunched in 1994, the theater hosts a variety of shows and is the largest performance area in Scotland, with seats for almost 2,000 visitors. So, if you wish to see a show no matter if you're up for ballet, opera, musicals, or spoken word going to the Festival Theatre is pretty much a must-do (we particularly recommend their dance performances).

Performing arts

Perfect for
Avid theater-goers


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Scottish National Gallery

Inspired by Ancient Greek temples in its design, the neoclassical building of the Scottish National Gallery hosts an impressive collection of fine art from the Renaissance to the early 20th century. Masterpieces by Botticelli and Raphael, El Greco and Velázquez, Landseer, and Gainsborough are on display here alongside many others. The real highlight of the collection is the section on Scottish paintings, including works by Ramsay, Raeburn, and Wilkie. Check out the much-reproduced iconic painting The Monarch of the Glen, a stag portrait by Landseer.

This free museum is one of the top places for those looking for art-related things to do in Edinburgh. And in case you were worried you might get lost amongst the paintings, we've got you covered with our audio tour.

Art gallery

Perfect for
Fine art connoisseurs

Harry Potter Sites Self-Guided Walking Tour

Does fine art feel a little highbrow to you? No need to feel ashamed: Edinburgh can offer lots of down-to-earth and entertaining stuff to do as well. How about exploring the Harry Potter legacy of the city?

JK Rowling wrote her famous novels here, in Edinburgh. Our tour will take you on a journey between the iconic Harry Potter sites. Some of those are related to the author and her writing process from the humble cafe where the first book was written to the luxury hotel where Rowling finished her novels. Other locations are connected with the Harry Potter universe: notably, the cobbled and curving Victoria Street that has inspired Diagon Alley, George Heriot's School that Hogwarts is based upon, and Thomas Riddell's grave at Greyfriars Kirkyard.

Historic sites and contemporary literature

Perfect for
Harry Potter fans

Edinburgh Zoo

Among all the possible things to do in Edinburgh with kids, the local zoo is bound to provide a whole day of unforgettable experiences for children and adults alike. Spread across a vast parkland, it is home to more than 2,500 amazing creatures from all over the world. Events and activities are frequently organized here to help visitors connect with nature and learn about the animals.

Here, you can meet Scotland's only sloths and the UK's only Queensland koalas, marvel at the flock of graceful Chilean flamingos, and see Europe's largest outdoor penguin pool with three different species and over 100 local residents. The local garden has a rich horticultural tradition and boasts one of the most diverse tree collections in the region.


Perfect for
A fun day out for the whole family

Edinburgh: a Tour Through History of Crime

Edinburgh's history is chock full of dark secrets, sinister tales, and morbid characters. Add to this a rich literary heritage, the history of science and criminal justice, and mysterious Gothic streets, and you'll end up with a recipe for a perfect Victorian crime story.

Did you know that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was born and lived in Edinburgh, and Sherlock Holmes had a very real local prototype? Want to learn about the (again, very real) person and court case that inspired the dual personality of Henry Jekyll and Edward Hyde created by Robert Louis Stevenson? Feel like checking out where and how justice was served in the court and at the gallows? Our walking tour of the city's crime history has been developed specifically to aid you in making sense of its macabre past!

Gothic crime history

Perfect for
Victorian literature enthusiasts and budding detectives

The Balmoral

The iconic Balmoral Hotel, built as the North British (Railway Station) Hotel, opened in 1902 next to the Waverley Station. The Victorian building with elements of the traditional Scottish baronial style is famous for its 58-meter high clock tower with the clock that traditionally has been set to run three minutes fast to ensure that people don't miss their trains.

The Balmoral does feel more like a palace from the very moment you enter and are greeted by staff clad in the hotel's very own bespoke Balmoral tartan. There's an exquisite Michelin-starred restaurant called Number One, a few other eateries, and a very fine Scotch bar. Among the celebrities who stayed here were Laurel and Hardy, Elizabeth Taylor, Paul McCartney, and JK Rowling (by the way, the hotel is the final stop of our tour of Harry Potter sites).

Luxury hotel and landmark

Perfect for
Tourists who don't mind splurging out


Is it a nice sunny afternoon, and you're thinking about what to do in Edinburgh? If you haven't done so yet, it's time to explore the historic area of Grassmarket in detail. Since the 15th century, it used to be one of the main local marketplaces (selling horses and cattle, in particular). It also was a public execution site check out the gibbet 'shadow' on the pavement where the gallows once stood! (If you can't find it, our tour can help).

Historically, taverns used to be concentrated in the area and still are. Grab a pint at the White Hart Inn, which dates back to 1740 and claims to be the oldest public house in Edinburgh. They say its visitors included the famed poet Robert Burns and the notorious serial killers William Burke and William Hare (we've got their story covered as part of our other tour). Naturally, the pub is also haunted!

Historic neighborhood

Perfect for
A stroll (followed by a pub crawl)


Camera Obscura and World of Illusions

Camera Obscura occupies the Outlook Tower close to Edinburgh Castle and is ranked as one of the top things to do in town. Actually, being the oldest purpose-built visitor attraction in the city, it dates back to the 19th century. The tower has five floors of interactive exhibits featuring all sorts of optical illusions, mazes, mirrors, holograms, and tunnels, as well as an actual camera obscura that projects the views of the city on a table. Being primarily entertaining, this attraction is also educational and introduces the visitors to optics, photography, and the history of Edinburgh.

The thing that we love most about Camera Obscura? The bird's eye view of Edinburgh's attractions and landmarks that you've likely seen from the ground level, from a roof terrace. Trust us: it's mesmerizing.

Illusions & magic, observation point

Perfect for
Aspiring photographers and their parents

Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

One of Scotland's four botanic gardens, the Edinburgh site is a real national treasure. Established in 1670 as a physic garden to grow medicinal herbs, it has accumulated an extensive Herbarium with over three million specimens, the oldest of which was collected in 1697. Its living plants collection is one of the richest in the world, including over 13,500 species. Not just a tranquil park, this is a serious center for scientific research on biodiversity and conservation.

Stroll between the Rhododendrons and the Chinese Hillside, climb to the Rock Garden, explore the conifers in the Woodland Garden, and say hi to the fishes and ducks in the little pond. Also, the Gardens offer a beautiful view of the city's skyline why not sit back and relax for a bit after all that sightseeing?

Urban gardens

Perfect for
A picnic or a date

The Scotch Whisky Experience

What to do when you think you've partaken in all those cultural activities, seen the key landmarks, and done the major tours of Edinburgh's dark and not-so-dark corners? We might just have an idea. See, Edinburgh (and Scotland) is, of course, also famous for its whisky.

Not a connoisseur? Fret not! You're in for a treat, for it is here that you have a chance to learn something about the iconic spirit and its particularities. Here you can book a tour to expand your knowledge and try some of the finest Scotches. The Scotch Whisky Experience was created in 1988 when 19 individual companies joined forces to showcase local whisky to the world. The experience is truly comprehensive: 90% of the Scotch whisky industry is represented here. There's a shop, too: make sure to get some souvenirs!

Alcohol tasting and tour

Perfect for
Whisky lovers and novices

National War Museum

Located within Edinburgh Castle, the National War Museum tells the story of Scotland at war since the 17th century. The exhibition features a wide range of items, from military equipment to artwork and personal artifacts.

See the weapons, devices, and uniforms, from Highland broadswords to modern rifles, from protective suits to medical kits. Medals, souvenirs, and photos are proudly displayed here. Check out The Thin Red Line, an 1881 painting by Robert Gibb, the representation of Highland military heroism at the Battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War. WWI is, of course, well-represented. Make sure you say hello to the local stuffed resident — Bob the Dog, the regimental pet of the Scots Fusilier Guards in 1853-1860.

Our tour of the Castle covers the museum, too.

Military history

Perfect for
Visitors curious about Scotland's armed forces

  • 1
    What are the must-see attractions to visit in Edinburgh?
    • The National Museum of Scotland
    • Edinburgh Castle
    • Edinburgh Zoo
    • The Edinburgh Festival Fringe
    • The Royal Mile
  • 2
    What are the best things to do in Edinburgh with kids?
    • The National Museum of Scotland
    • Edinburgh Zoo
    • Harry Potter Sites tour
    • The Real Mary King's Close
    • Camera Obscura
    • Dynamic Earth
  • 3
    What are the best outdoor activities in Edinburgh?
    • Edinburgh Zoo
    • Holyrood Park and Arthur's Seat
    • The Royal Mile
    • Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh
    • Greyfriars Kirkyard
    • Harry Potter Sites tour
    • Dean Village
    • Edinburgh Crime tour
  • 4
    What are the best indoor activities in Edinburgh?
    • The National Museum of Scotland
    • Scottish National Gallery
    • The Palace of Holyroodhouse
    • St Giles' Cathedral
    • The Museum of Edinburgh
    • The Writers' Museum
    • The Balmoral Hotel
    • The Scotch Whisky Experience

Related tours: