A beginner’s guide to Edinburgh: the best attractions in the city

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.

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If you are a Harry Potter fan, then Edinburgh city is for you.
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Auld Reekie (Old Smokey) is a nickname given to Edinburgh as back in a day lots of wood and coal was burned for heating making the air full of smoke.

 

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.

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Visit Edinburgh Castle, discover its rich history and witness the firing of the One o’clock Gun (except Sundays, Good Friday and Christmas).

 

#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.

Several paths are 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.

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Incredible views over the city.

 

#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 area. 

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.

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The Royal Mile is packed with many different things to see and do.
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Royal Mile dressed in Christmas attire.

 

#5.Explore Edinburgh neighbourhoods

Like Stockbridgelocated 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.

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The Grassmarket, Edinburgh, Scotland.
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Victoria Street, situated near Grassmarket,  is one of Edinburgh’s prettiest streets.

 

#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.

Savour the flower gardens and take in the warm, clammy heat within the glasshouse. 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.

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Fun fact: The World’s only knighted penguin, Sir Nils Olav, lives at Edinburgh Zoo.

 

#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.

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Visit the Writers’ Museum and start to write your adventure stories in ink!

 

#10. 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.

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In total there are about 16 thousand historic buildings in Edinburgh.
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The impossibly pretty Circus Lane, Edinburgh.

 

#11. 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.

#12. 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.

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Princess Street Gardens are opened all year round, and the entrance is free of charge.

 

 

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.

Budget Backpacker is a great place to crash for budget-savvy travellers and Radisson Blue Hotel with its modern rooms adorned with uber-chic decor also features a stylish bar and a fitness centre.

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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Code Hostel Edinburgh, located on Rose Street, is a super cosy and bright hostel with comfortable beds.

 

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Now, over to you!

Have you been to Edinburgh? Let us know in the comments!

Let us know if you are plotting a visit to Edinburgh and have travel-related questions!

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Our Crossings follows the daily adventures of Latvian expats living in Sligo as they surf and explore the world

34 thoughts on “A beginner’s guide to Edinburgh: the best attractions in the city

  1. I have been to Edinburgh several times, the first in 1977 on my Honeymoon, when I met a lot of my relatives. As you say, lots to see and do. One of my favourites was the hike up Arthur’s Seat. Thanks for sharing. Allan

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    1. Hi, Allan and thanks for reading! Living in Edinburgh for three years was one of the most rewarding experiences so far! We had a chance to take part in world famous festivals and had a great opportunity to meet people from all walks of life. Have a good day 😀

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    1. It is a beautiful city, so beautiful and interesting that I could go back numerous times and never run out of things to see and do. Thanks for stopping by and safe travels 😀

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    1. Thanks for reading! Edinburgh is full of magic and it’s one of those places that slowly but surely grows on you. I’m going back again this autumn and can’t wait to see it dressed in an autumn attire

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I agree, it’s one of my favourite places, especially during the festive season when all the Christmas decorations are on and don’t even mention the Christmas tree, it’s just pure magic. That’s why I was delighted to visit Edinburgh last December. The Dome was looking even more beautiful than I initially remembered but that’s what happens when you come back as a visitor and see everything in a different light.

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  2. Love this! I went to Edinburgh kind of on a whim during my European travels, and it ended up being one of my favorite places! I did the one day tour to the Highlands, but I definitely want to explore that area more.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, Keely, can’t believe Edinburgh is one of your favourite places too! I was actually a little reluctant before moving to the Scottish capital from Dublin yet it ended up my favourite adventure of all. Thanks for reading and have a good day 😀

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  3. Great info! Love the Royal Mile and the Writer’s Museum! Also, easy and convenient shopping on Prince’s street in case you forget something, or need to buy another check bag for MORE souvenirs like we did! Lol!

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    1. Yes, that’s one of the things I love about Edinburgh – everything you might want and need is within a short walk or a bus ride away. Princess Street is perfect for shopping with all the shops beautifuly lined up. Thanks for reading and have a good day 😀

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  4. Sveiki! Tieši šodien domājam vai braukt uz Skotiju.. Šo blogu uztveru, kāzīmi, ka jābrauc.. 😀
    Paldies par informāciju!

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    1. Sveiki, cik jauki ir sazināties ar saviem tautiešiem, it sevišķi tikpat kaislīgiem ceļotājiem kā mēs! Skotija un Edinburga ir vienreizējas vietas kuras var apmeklēt un gūt daudz pozitīvu emociju! Ja ir kādi jautājumi, tad droši rakstiet! Jauku vakaru un priecīgu ceļosanu😀😀😀

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Paldies! 🙂 Noteikti jau radīsies jautājumi.. piesekoju ar, lai nepazūd kontakti! 🙂 Paldies par blogošanu! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much, It’s great to see there are other people just like me who love Edinburgh because by now my family makes silly jokes about my affection about this city and my burning desire to return again and again and again. Nevertheless, I’m going back in September and I can’t wait to wander around its charming streets! Thanks for stopping by and have a good day! Aiva xxx

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  5. Ha, what a coincidence, I actually visited Edinburgh recently on my very first solo trip. I agree with it growing on you. I will definitely visit again. it’s a city with so much character, and it doesn’t really matter which way you walk, there is always something cool, beautiful, or interesting to see, eat, and do.

    I’ve crossed off most of the things you listed, but not all of them, thank goodness. Now I have a good excuse to go back, hehe. Thank you for sharing your love of the city. ❤

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    1. Hi, Pamela! I’m actually travelling to Edinburgh in two weeks and looking forward to wandering around the city – there are few more things I’m yet to cross off my travel wish list!

      And I have to say – there’s certain magic when you visit Edinburgh in autumn. Those dim-lit alleyways, autumn colours and pale light coming from the shop windows always spark a healthy dose of creativity in me.

      Much to my delight I just happened to book my flight on a weekend that hosts Doors Open Days which means that every single tourist attraction can be visited for free, can you imagine?

      Thanks for stopping by and have a good day 🙂

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      1. Oh wow Doors Open Days! Amazing. I will be writing that down to keep in mind next time there is a similar event. That sound wonderful hahaha. Edinburgh just keeps getting better.

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