20 Best Things to Do in Edinburgh: Delving into Scotland’s Historic Capital

Things to Do in Edinburgh

Scotland’s majestic capital, Edinburgh, brimming with ancient history, dramatic landscapes, and cultural treasures, offers visitors an array of memorable experiences. As one of Europe’s most beautiful cities, it strikes a remarkable balance between natural beauty and architectural splendor.

When exploring things to do in Edinburgh, there are many standout attractions dominate most itineraries. Each provides a unique perspective of the city, its history, and its character.

1. Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle
Photo: Twitter/Tracy Hogan

Edinburgh Castle, perched atop Castle Rock, offers breathtaking views of the city and is a cornerstone of Scottish history. Exploring this ancient fortress is undoubtedly one of the essential places to visit in Edinburgh. The castle houses several attractions including the Crown Jewels, the Stone of Destiny, and St. Margaret’s Chapel, the oldest building in Edinburgh.

Visitors can marvel at the impressive Great Hall, explore the Royal Palace, or stand in awe of the mighty Mons Meg, a giant medieval siege gun. With its rich history and prominent location, Edinburgh Castle provides an incredible journey through Scotland’s past and a vantage point that simply cannot be missed.

Entry Fee: GBP 22.00; Location: Check Map
Address: Castlehill, Edinburgh EH1 2NG, United Kingdom.

2. The Royal Mile

The Royal Mile
Photo: Google Maps/Oscar Cruz

Running through the heart of the city from Edinburgh Castle down to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the Royal Mile is a historic thoroughfare brimming with shops, restaurants, pubs, and historical sites. Walking the Royal Mile is undoubtedly one of the top things to do in Edinburgh.

As you stroll, be sure to visit the many closes (narrow alleyways) leading off the main street, each with its unique history. The Royal Mile also houses many of Edinburgh’s most popular attractions, including St. Giles’ Cathedral, the Museum of Edinburgh, and the Real Mary King’s Close. Whether you’re shopping for Scottish woolens and whiskies, dining on traditional Scottish fare, or soaking up the vibrant street performances, the Royal Mile promises a lively and enriching experience.

Entry Fee: Free; Location: Check Map
Address: Edinburgh EH1 1QS, United Kingdom.

3. Arthur’s Seat

Arthur’s Seat
Photo: Google Maps/TanviR

For those who enjoy the great outdoors, a climb up Arthur’s Seat, an ancient volcano and hill located in Holyrood Park, is one of the most invigorating things to do in Edinburgh. This natural wonder, standing 251 meters above sea level, offers panoramic views of the city and beyond.

Hiking to the top is a favorite activity for locals and tourists alike. The walk is manageable for most fitness levels and takes about an hour. The sense of accomplishment upon reaching the summit, coupled with the stunning views of the city skyline, the North Sea, and the surrounding countryside, make Arthur’s Seat a memorable addition to any Edinburgh itinerary.

Entry Fee: -; Location: Check Map
Address: Edinburgh EH15 3PY, United Kingdom.

4. Palace of Holyroodhouse

Palace of Holyroodhouse
Photo: Google Maps/Ophélie C

The Palace of Holyroodhouse, the official residence of the Queen in Scotland, is another must-visit while in Edinburgh. Located at the bottom of the Royal Mile, the palace is steeped in royal history and architectural elegance. A visit to the Palace of Holyroodhouse provides a glimpse into royal life, making it one of the most fascinating places to visit in Edinburgh.

Within the palace, visitors can explore the State Apartments, which showcase beautiful tapestries and other works of art. Another highlight is Mary, Queen of Scots’ Chambers, where the tragic queen lived and where dramatic events in her reign played out. The beautifully landscaped gardens and the ruins of Holyrood Abbey add to the palace’s allure.

Entry Fee: GBP 19.50; Location: Check Map
Address: Canongate, Edinburgh EH8 8DX, United Kingdom.

5. Calton Hill

Calton Hill
Photo: Google Maps/Rafael Rodriguez

Calton Hill, located at the eastern end of Princes Street, offers another great opportunity for panoramic views of the city. Home to several iconic monuments including the National Monument, the Nelson Monument, and the Dugald Stewart Monument, Calton Hill is a significant landmark in the city.

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Walking to the top of the hill is quite easy, and once there, you’ll be rewarded with stunning views that stretch out over the city to the Firth of Forth. Whether you visit during the day to admire the vistas or at sunset to bask in the golden hues, exploring Calton Hill is definitely one of the most beautiful place to visit in Edinburgh.

Entry Fee: Free; Location: Check Map
Address: Edinburgh EH7 5BN, United Kingdom.

6. National Museum Of Scotland

National Museum Of Scotland
Photo: Google Maps/Daniel Copping

For culture and history enthusiasts, a visit to the National Museum of Scotland is among the top things to do in Edinburgh. The museum boasts a vast collection that covers natural history, world cultures, art and design, science and technology, and Scottish history and archaeology.

From the fossil remains of a Tyrannosaurus Rex to ancient Egyptian artifacts, Dolly the Sheep (the first cloned mammal) to the Lewis Chessmen, the museum offers a journey through time and across continents. With its interactive exhibits and engaging displays, the National Museum of Scotland provides a fun and educational experience for all ages.

Entry Fee: Free; Location: Check Map
Address: Chambers St, Edinburgh EH1 1JF, United Kingdom.

7. Camera Obscura

Camera Obscura
Photo: Google Maps/Camera Obscura & World of Illusions

For a mix of entertainment, optical illusions, and fantastic city views, a visit to Camera Obscura and World of Illusions is a unique and fun thing to do in Edinburgh. Established in the 19th century, this attraction near the top of the Royal Mile offers five floors of interactive exhibits.

The highlight is the Camera Obscura show itself, a fascinating optical device that projects a live moving image of Edinburgh onto a viewing table. The attraction also features a rooftop terrace that offers 360-degree views of the city. From mirror mazes to holograms, vortex tunnels to a swirling light tunnel, Camera Obscura offers a thrilling sensory adventure.

Entry Fee: GBP 21.95; Location: Check Map
Address: 549 Castlehill, Edinburgh EH1 2ND, United Kingdom.

8. Edinburgh Zoo

Edinburgh Zoo
Photo: Google Maps/Mark Drysdale

A trip to Edinburgh Zoo, located in the city’s Corstorphine area, is one of the most exciting and family-friendly things to do in Edinburgh. As the only zoo in the UK that houses koalas and giant pandas, it offers a unique opportunity to see some of the world’s most beloved species.

Home to over 1,000 rare and endangered animals across a 82-acre parkland, Edinburgh Zoo provides an educational and enjoyable day out for all ages. Highlights include the daily penguin parade, the UK’s largest outdoor chimpanzee enclosure, and various interactive sessions throughout the day. The zoo’s commitment to conservation and animal welfare also makes it an enlightening visit.

Entry Fee: GBP 16.50; Location: Check Map
Address: 134 Corstorphine Rd, Corstorphine, Edinburgh EH12 6TS, United Kingdom.

9. Holyrood Park

Holyrood Park
Photo: Facebook/Robert Dunn

Holyrood Park, located right in the heart of the city, is a royal park adjacent to the Palace of Holyroodhouse. The park’s high hills and cliffs, glens and lochs offer a wild piece of highland landscape, making it a fantastic place for walks, picnics, and enjoying scenic views.

The park’s highest point, Arthur’s Seat, offers panoramic views of the city. Other points of interest include St Anthony’s Chapel and Salisbury Crags. Exploring Holyrood Park provides a wonderful opportunity to enjoy nature without leaving the city, making it a must-do when considering things to do in Edinburgh.

Entry Fee: -; Location: Check Map
Address: Queen’s Dr, Edinburgh EH8 8HG, United Kingdom.

10. Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh

Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh
Photo: Google Maps/Khaled Abdelbaki

Dynamic Earth offers an interactive journey through our planet’s history, making it one of the most educational tourist attractions in Edinburgh. Visitors can explore the Earth’s past, present, and future through engaging exhibitions and experiences.

From witnessing the Big Bang and exploring the depths of the ocean to feeling the chill of a polar ice cap and standing in the heart of a tropical rainforest, Dynamic Earth provides a fascinating journey through the natural world. This engaging attraction brings scientific concepts to life, making it a must-visit for families.

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Entry Fee: GBP 9.50; Location: Check Map
Address: Holyrood Rd, Edinburgh EH8 8AS, United Kingdom.

11. Scott Monument

Scott Monument
Photo: Google Maps/Roberto Savarese

The Scott Monument, dedicated to the famous Scottish author Sir Walter Scott, is a stunning Victorian Gothic monument in the heart of the city. This landmark on Princes Street is the second largest monument dedicated to a writer in the world, making it a significant place to visit in Edinburgh.

Visitors can climb the 287 steps to the top of the monument for unparalleled views of Edinburgh’s skyline. The journey up involves four levels, each providing fascinating insights into Scott’s life and works. For those who appreciate literature and history, a visit to the Scott Monument is both rewarding and enlightening.

Entry Fee: GBP 20; Location: Check Map
Address: Princes St Gardens, Edinburgh EH2 2EJ, United Kingdom.

12. The Edinburgh Dungeon

The Edinburgh Dungeon
Photo: Google Maps/Leo Jung

For those seeking an exhilarating, slightly spine-chilling experience, a trip to The Edinburgh Dungeon is one of the most entertaining things to do in Edinburgh. This immersive attraction uses live actors, theatrical sets, and special effects to recreate historical events and chilling tales from Scotland’s past.

Visitors can navigate their way through the eerie world of Scottish history, encountering characters such as the cannibal Sawney Bean, the witch Agnes Finnie, and the notorious grave robbers Burke and Hare. Combining education and entertainment, The Edinburgh Dungeon ensures an unforgettable journey through the city’s dark past.

Entry Fee: GBP 18.50; Location: Check Map
Address: 31 Market Place, Edinburgh EH1 1DF, United Kingdom.

13. The Real Mary King’s Close

The Real Mary King's Close
Photo: Google Maps/The Real Mary King’s Close

The Real Mary King’s Close is another intriguing attraction for history enthusiasts. Tucked beneath the Royal Mile, this series of hidden 17th-century streets offers a fascinating glimpse into Edinburgh’s past.

Guided tours led by costumed characters provide captivating narratives about the life and times of the close’s former residents. From stories of everyday life and the plague years to local legends and folklore, a visit to The Real Mary King’s Close is one of the most unique things to do in Edinburgh.

Entry Fee: GBP 23; Location: Check Map
Address: 2 Warriston’s Cl, Edinburgh EH1 1PG, United Kingdom.

14. Museum Of Childhood

Museum Of Childhood
Photo: Google Maps/Dani

The Museum of Childhood, the first museum in the world dedicated to the history of childhood, offers a nostalgic journey through time. Located on the Royal Mile, the museum showcases a vast collection of children’s toys, games, clothing, and artifacts spanning several generations.

The museum provides a fascinating look into how childhood has evolved over the centuries. With its interactive displays, nostalgic exhibits, and a variety of activities for children, the Museum of Childhood is a captivating and enjoyable attraction for visitors of all ages.

Entry Fee: Free; Location: Check Map
Address: 42 High St, Edinburgh EH1 1TG, United Kingdom.

15. Scottish National Portrait Gallery

Scottish National Portrait Gallery
Photo: Google Maps/C. Mark Malinovski

Art and history lovers should not miss the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. Housed in a stunning neo-Gothic building, the gallery holds an extensive collection of portraits of famous figures from Scottish history and culture, including Mary, Queen of Scots, Robert Burns, and Sir Walter Scott.

The gallery’s works span multiple periods and styles, ranging from traditional oil paintings and sculptures to contemporary photographs and multimedia displays. In addition to its artistic value, the gallery offers insightful historical narratives, making it one of the most enriching things to do in Edinburgh.

Entry Fee: Free; Location: Check Map
Address: 1 Queen St, Edinburgh EH2 1JD, Inggris Raya.

16. Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh
Photo: Google Maps/Didi Lanz

For nature lovers, a visit to the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is one of the quietest places to visit in Edinburgh. Founded in 1670, the gardens stretch over 70 acres and showcase more than 13,500 plant species from around the world.

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With its stunning landscapes, diverse plant collections, glasshouses, and exhibitions, the Royal Botanic Garden provides a serene escape from the city’s bustling energy. Whether you want to learn about botany, photograph beautiful plants, or simply enjoy a peaceful walk, the garden offers a refreshing and educational experience.

Entry Fee: Free; Location: Check Map
Address: Edinburgh EH3 5NZ, United Kingdom.

17. The Queen’s Gallery

The Queen’s Gallery
Photo: Google Maps/Rosalie Cauchi

Located within the Palace of Holyroodhouse, The Queen’s Gallery exhibits works of art from the Royal Collection. The gallery hosts changing exhibitions throughout the year, showcasing a wide range of art and artifacts, including paintings, sculptures, ceramics, and jewelry.

The Queen’s Gallery offers a glimpse into the extensive artistic collection of the British royal family. With its focus on art and royal heritage, it is an enriching and elegant addition to the list of things to do in Edinburgh.

Entry Fee: GBP 19.00; Location: Check Map
Address: Palace of Holyroodhouse, Canongate The Royal Mile, Edinburgh EH8 8DX, United Kingdom.

18. St Giles’ Cathedral

St Giles' Cathedral
Photo: Google Maps/Stewart McIntosh

St Giles’ Cathedral, also known as the High Kirk of Edinburgh, is a prominent feature of the city skyline and a spiritual focal point for centuries. The cathedral is renowned for its beautiful stained glass windows, impressive Rieger organ, and the Thistle Chapel, home to the Knights of the Thistle, Scotland’s chivalric company.

A tour of this historic and architecturally stunning cathedral offers a chance to delve into Edinburgh’s religious history and appreciate its artistic heritage. With its quiet tranquility amidst the city’s hustle and bustle, a visit to St Giles’ Cathedral provides a peaceful and enlightening break.

Entry Fee: Free; Location: Check Map
Address: High St, Edinburgh EH1 1RE, United Kingdom.

19. The Royal Yacht Britannia

The Royal Yacht Britannia
Photo: Google Maps/The Royal Yacht Britannia

The Royal Yacht Britannia, now berthed in Leith, Edinburgh’s port, offers a unique insight into royal life. Once the floating residence of Queen Elizabeth II during state visits, the yacht is now a five-star visitor attraction.

Onboard, you can explore the royal apartments, crew’s quarters, the engine room, and even the laundry, all preserved as they were during the royal use. This peek into the royal lifestyle makes The Royal Yacht Britannia an intriguing and popular item on the list of things to do in Edinburgh.

Entry Fee: GBP 18.50; Location: Check Map
Address: Ocean Dr, Leith, Edinburgh EH6 6JJ, United Kingdom.

20. The Scotch Whisky Experience

The Scotch Whisky Experience
Photo: Google Maps/Menge Valley

For those interested in Scotland’s national drink, The Scotch Whisky Experience is a must-visit. This immersive attraction provides an informative and entertaining journey through the world of Scotch whisky.

Guests can enjoy a barrel ride through a virtual distillery, view the world’s largest collection of Scotch whisky, and, of course, participate in a tasting session. Whether you’re a whisky connoisseur or simply curious about the famous spirit, The Scotch Whisky Experience offers a memorable and enjoyable journey.

Entry Fee: GBP 21; Location: Check Map
Address: 354 Castlehill, Edinburgh EH1 2NE, United Kingdom.

Conclusion

From the majestic Edinburgh Castle, the bustling Royal Mile, hiking through the highland landscape of Holyrood Park, engaging with optical illusions at Camera Obscura & World of Illusions, and savoring the flavors at The Scotch Whisky Experience, there’s no shortage of things to do in Edinburgh.

The city effortlessly combines history, culture, and natural beauty, providing a rich tapestry of experiences that captivate all who visit. Whether you’re a history buff, a lover of urban exploration, or an outdoor enthusiast, the vibrant Scottish capital has something for everyone. These three iconic sites provide an excellent starting point for delving into all the incredible experiences Edinburgh has to offer.

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Hannah J

Hannah specializes in travel and lifestyle content. She has an innate ability to capture the essence of a place, from bustling city streets to serene mountain landscapes.