Just over forty minutes by plane from Dublin is a place I try to see once a year and have always considered my second home. I never tried to conceal the fact that somewhere between living there, moving back to Ireland and revisiting Edinburgh city over the last 12 years, it slowly grew on me.
I know I talk a lot about living in the moment. And it still is a backbone of our travel philosophy, yet sometimes I like to look back and think about the things I am grateful for.
To have spent three years living in Edinburgh where I had a chance to meet some of the most incredible and compassionate people on this planet makes my heart swell up to the point of erupting out of my chest.
For three years, my feet were firmly planted on the Scottish soil, and I could not have been happier with space I was occupying. My time in Scottish capital was filled with spontaneous road trips, playfulness, deep conversation topics and bearly any sleep. And above all those years were filled with love and warm hearts.
A beginner’s guide to Edinburgh: the best attractions in the city
Scotland is famed for its love of myth and legends, so don’t be surprised when you find out that the Scottish national animal is a unicorn.
One other thing you’ll be surprised to discover while visiting; thanks to the abundance of green spaces, unique attractions, art galleries and great food, the quality of life in Edinburgh is nothing short of amazing.
Travelling to Edinburgh has brought back fond memories of our time there, and I was having fun re-visiting our old stomping grounds from when we lived in the city back in 2005.
After my trip, I made a list of the best things to do to fall under Edinburgh spell. Sure enough, you won’t be able to do everything listed in one single trip, remember – it took me over a decade and a half to discover the real beauty of it. Just have a look, and we hope we inspired a few of you to visit this beautiful city.
Let your soul grow and find some breathing space by visiting beautiful Edinburgh.
”Edinburgh is an experience. A city of enormous gifts, whose streets sing of history, whos cobbles tell tales.” – Alan Bold
#1. Visit Edinburgh Castle
Located smack in the middle of the city is a must-see place that’s steeped in history and offer excellent views of the city- Edinburgh Castle. Sitting on top of an extinct volcano and dating back to the 7th century, Edinburgh Castle is one of Scotland’s top attractions.
Make sure you allow enough of time to enjoy exhibitions, museums, chapels and of course the Crown Jewels of Scotland. If the current entrance fee of £17.50, when booked in advance or £19.50 at the castle’s gate, is too expensive, my advice is – walk to the castle gates anyway – you’ll find fantastic views over the city and great photo opportunities.
*Our Crossings Tip: It always amazes me how many times Edinburgh castle comes into view while walking around the city. Head over to Grassmarket and find the Vennel from where you can make a cool picture of the castle.
#2. Climb Calton Hill
Every time I visit Edinburgh, I always make my way to Calton Hill. Calton Hill is a place from where you can enjoy Edinburgh Festival or New Years Eve fireworks combined with the orchestra from higher ground. It is also one of the top areas for great photo opportunities, especially at sunset or sunrise.
Calton Hill, with it’s unfinished, Athenian-like structure is located very centrally and is easily accessible. Here you’ll find several historic buildings and monuments – Political Martyr’s Monument, the Old Royal High School, the National Monument and the City Observatory.
There are several paths leading to the top of the hill; for easy access walk to the far end of Princess Street past the Waverly Station and then go to either Regent Road on the Southside or Royal Terrace on the Northside.
#3. Wander around Leith
I might be a bit sentimental including the district of Leith, situated on the north side of the city on the list, but this place is like no other! We used to rent an apartment for a couple of years while living in Edinburgh and can highly recommend all the bistros, restaurants and bars around there.
Once a neighbourhood with a very rocky past – think about those bold scenes from Trainspotting movie – Leith is slowly transforming into a trendy and sought out neighbourhood.
To get there, you can follow a Leith Walk which is the main route from the city centre to Leith, that starts at the East end of Princess Street and goes all the way down to Ocean Terminal Shopping Center. Here you can also find the 5-star Royal Yacht Britannia, once a floating residence to Her Majesty The Queen and The Royal Family.
Go for a relaxing stroll along The Shore of Leith, listen to the screeching seagulls, watch swans loaf about in the calm water and take photos of the boat reflections. Great food and drinks are also guaranteed here, nestle in Teuchters Landing – a traditional style freehouse – for lunch or stop by Roseleaf Bar, a family run business, where cocktails are served into a teapot.
#4. Walk the Royal Mile
The Royal Mile or the High Street runs through Edinburgh Old Town, starting at the Edinburgh Castle all the way down to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, Scottish residence of the British monarchy. Canongate, High Street, Castlehill, Abbey Strand and Lawnmarket make up Edinburgh Royal Mile.
The Royal Mile is partitioned into four sections – Canongate, High Street, Castlehill, Abbey Strand and Lawnmarket – each offering a great variety of attractions like ST. Giles Cathedral, free museums, bustling bagpipe players, Christmas shops, and visually striking Parliament Building.
Get ready to be entirely swaddled by the incredible architecture because every single restaurant, tartan and tourist shop is sitting pretty in the buildings with castle-like towers and triangular roofs.
*Our Crossings Tip: Best things to look out for a while meandering downhill or uphill are unique passageways like Ancor and Advocates close and little green spaces such as Chessels Court.
#5.Explore Edinburgh neighbourhoods
Like Stockbridge, located towards the north. It’s filled with little antique and crafts shops, artisan bakeries, river walks and gourmet food shops. From here, you can enjoy Water of Leith, historical Dean Village and the beautiful Royal Botanical Gardens. The area is very popular with writers, artists, and musicians, with one of its famous residents being the lead singer from ‘Garbage.’ I love its positive vibe.
Grassmarket, once a livestock marketplace dating back to 1477, is another excellent and lively neighbourhood to visit and even to base yourself in when visiting Edinburgh. Expect cobbled streets, eventful pubs and smashing vegan & vegetarian cafes and restaurants like Pumpkin Brown.
#6. Visit The Royal Botanic Gardens
The Royal Botanic Gardens, located in Stockbridge, dates back to more than 300 years, covers 7 acres and has 10 incredible glasshouses – a dream for every plant and photo enthusiast chasing the most amazing light. In the Woodland Garden, you’ll find towering redwoods and at the Chinese Hillside – famous rock garden.
Entry’s free to the Royal Botanic Gardens, but it costs £6.50 for adults if you wish to explore glasshouses.
#7. Go up to the top of the Scott Monument
And keep your camera ready, it doesn’t matter what angle you take photographs of the city below, it always looks incredible. Now, before you go, there are 287 steps you have to climb to reach the top of the Gothic monument built for Sir Walter Scott, with the last few meters quite narrow but still manageable.
This 200-feet spire, reaching eternally to the sky, is located in the New Town on Princes Street, and you’ll find beautifully stained glass windows and incredible views.
*Our Crossings Tip: Admission to the monument is 8 GBP and for the official website, opening times and admission costs click here.
#8. Enjoy views from Arthur’s Seat
If the suns out on your visit to Edinburgh, and you feel like going on a small hike, then head for a higher ground!. Sitting 250 metres above the sea level, this dormant volcano is part of Holyrood Park, and it’s a great place to stretch your legs. The walk to the very top takes around 45 minutes (depending on your fitness level, of course) and offers you the very best city views.
#9. Visit the Writers Museum
Known worldwide not only as number one festival destination but also as a birthplace of my much-loved writer Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle Edinburgh city is a doorway to many opportunities.
Rewarded the world’s first UNESCO City of Literature award, Edinburgh is book lovers paradise with an incredible array of bookshops, libraries, live events and literature tours, assured to fulfil your soul and mind with intriguing tales.
Just a few steps from the Royal Mile, sitting in one of the courtyards, is Writers Museum. Although JK. Rowling tends to steal the limelight with the Harry Potter books; there are few more word-class authors worth mentioning like Walter Scott, Robert Burns, and Robert Louis Stevenson.
Getting there: Lawnmarket, Lady Stair’s Close, Edinburgh EH1 2PA, United Kingdom. Opening Hours: Monday to Sunday: 10 am – 5 pm, Admission: Free of charge.
#10. Go on a day trip
The Scottish capital is a perfect starting point for a day trip. Book an organised tour and head into Highlands or choose a multi-day trip along NORTH 500 to be inspired by the variety of the scenery, adventures and places to explore because there is more to Scotland than guidebooks will tell you.
- Loch Ness / The most popular day trip from Edinburgh, usually around 12+ hours long, takes visitors through the varied landscapes of the famous Scottish Highlands with an opportunity to see Glen Coe, Highland Cows and Loch Ness.
- Rosslyn Chapel / A fantastic full-day tour where you get to travel over the UNESCO–listed Forth Bridge to visit Rosslyn Chapel, Stirling Castle and Dunfermline Abbey. Highlights of the trip – Wallace Monument and Abbey Kirk.
- Hadrian’s Wall / A great trip to see the UNESCO World Heritage Site Hadrian’s Wall as well as visiting Northumberland National Park, the Irthing Valley and the Southern Uplands.
*Our Crossings Tip: If you prefer to travel independently, there are loads of little day trips you can plan using public transport. We would recommend – North Berwick, St. Andrews, Stirling Castle, Glasgow and South Queensferry.
#11. Stroll through Circus Lane
Probably, most Instagrammed street in Edinburgh, Circus Lane is always a joy to meander up and down. Believe the hype, this place is as beautiful and floral in real life as on your social media feed.
Situated in Stockbridge area, just behind the St Stephen Street Circus Lane is a very atmospheric spot with lots of greenery and many photo opportunities. I visit this place every time I’m in Edinburgh and want to clear my head and wander away from tourist crowds.
#12. Enjoy Edinburgh Festivals
While the beauty of this place lies in its intimate squares, quirky alleyways and enticing courtyards, Edinburgh Festival Fringe or Edinburgh Hogmanay, both very much sublunary and world-class wizardly events, usually are the real show stoppers. Having experienced the festival for three consecutive years, I have to say that I haven’t seen anything quite like it.
- Fringe Festival / running for 3 weeks in August, Fringe Festival is the worlds biggest arts festival that offers everything from theatre and comedy to 6am closing times and incredible fireworks.
- Hogmanay Festival /is one of the world’s most significant New Year celebrations. This incredible event takes over the whole city for three days with music, unusual activities, incredible fireworks and loads of fun.
*Our Crossings Tip: Visit edinburghfestivalcity.com for the comprehensive list of all the festivals taking place in Edinburgh.
#13. Relax in Princess Street gardens
Did you know that Edinburgh has more trees per head of population than any other city in the UK? Princess Street Gardens is a public park situated in the heart of the city and are beautiful to visit throughout the year. Here you’ll find cast-iron Ross Fountain and Floral Clock which is redesigned every year.
How to get to and around Edinburgh
Flights / The simplest way to get to Edinburgh is by plane. Edinburgh Airport is very well connected with Europe, Turkey and the USA.
Train / Edinburgh railway station has fast rail services to London, and if you live in the Uk, taking the train from London, Leeds or Liverpool to beautiful Edinburgh Waverly Station is another great option if you are not in a hurry.
Airlink 100 / The best way to get into the city if you arrive by aeroplane is by Airlink bus which travels all the way to the Waverly Bridge. The buses run 24 hours, leave the terminal every 10 minutes and it takes around 30 minutes to get to the city. Tickets cost £.4.50 for the single and £7.50 for the return journey.
Getting around / Once in Edinburgh, which by the way is a very easy city to navigate with the New Town one and Old town on the other side – you have several options. You can wander around on foot, use a bicycle or choose the bus or tram.
Buses / Lothian buses run throughout the city and can take you to attractions like Royal Yacht Brittania and Edinburgh Zoo. Unlimited bus and tram tickets costa £4 for adults and £2 for children. Download their mobile app for live departure times and daily updates.
*Our Crossings Tip: Lothian Buses do not offer change, so have the exact amount of money when purchasing tickets from a bus driver.
Where to stay in Edinburgh
On your first trip to Edinburgh, you will most likely spend time visiting top tourist attractions, and that’s why staying central is a good choice. Edinburgh is a relatively compact city with the New town and Old town being the most central areas. You can also look into staying at one of the hotels/hostels located at West End and Leith-all very well linked to the city centre.
Accommodation in Old Town
The Royal Mile, which runs from Holyroodhouse and Scottish Parlament to Edinburgh Castle and vice versa, is where you’ll find many tourist accommodations options from budget hostels to luxury hotels. This is a very central place with the most photographed tourist attractions – think Victoria Street, Gladstone’s Land, Cockburn Street and many beautiful churches – all in one place.
Accommodation in New Town
Princess Street that runs through the heart of the city is where aplenty hotels are located that offer fantastic views over the Princess Street Gardens and Edinburgh Castle. With the display of Neoclassical and Georgian architecture, Edinburgh New Town is where Waverly station, Scott Monument and The National Galery of Scotland is located.
Check out Old Waverly Hotel with its elegant accommodation and 24hour desk just steps away from the main shopping and dining establishments.
Even if you are used to privacy, don’t be afraid to give hostels a try. The Baxter Hostel can change the way you look at hostel experience; this is where tidy rooms, clean bathrooms, friendly people and comfortable space lets you get a good night sleep just 200meters away from the central railway station.
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Now, over to you!
Have you been to Edinburgh? Let us know in the comments!
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