A great destination for a day trip or a longer holiday, Edinburgh has a lot to offer in terms of things to do and sights to see. The city is especially appealing to those seeking architectural beauty, curious landmarks, and immersion in the Scottish way to be.
When it comes to things to do in Scotland, you’re really only limited by your imagination – the historic part of Edinburgh is filled with many charming street scenes. The medieval Old Town will win you over with its quaint Scottish pubs and bars, narrow, winding streets and centuries-old buildings.
There is always a huge amount going on to welcome and entertain visitors from all over the world, so join me on a tour around Edinburgh’s best bits and discover eight of the many reasons to love Scotland’s capital city.
#1. Edinburg’s Art Scene
Home to the biggest art festival in the world, and many unique contemporary Art Galleries, Edinburgh’s art scene is truly incredible and ahead of the game. You can start by visiting the National Portrait Gallery – with masterpieces from Turner, Rembrandt and Botticelli, and a huge selection of portraits of Scots. It’s filled with various artists and you could easily spend hours wandering around not only looking at the art but also amazing details in the building.
There are many contemporary art galleries that showcase the best and brightest work in Scotland and beyond. Here are a few worth checking out:
Arusha Gallery – The Arusha Gallery prides itself on exhibiting beautiful images and objects covering a range of mediums, including architecture, theatre design, and cinematography, as well as music and literature.
The Laurel Gallery – The Laurel Gallery can be found in Stockbridge in Edinburgh and specialises in showcasing work from local Scottish artists. Here, you can expect to find a range of paintings from local artists, as well as works in a variety of other mediums.
Fruitmarket Gallery – Located in the centre of the city, the Fruitmarket Gallery showcases the work of some of the world’s most renowned contemporary artists. Admission is free, with the gallery stating that it wants to provide visitors with an intimate encounter at no cost.
Dovecot Studios – This century-old tapestry studio is set in the heart of Edinburgh and comes with a rich history. Today, it works with a range of contemporary tapestry artists, who create rugs and textiles for exhibitions and private collections.
#2. The Incredible Architecture
Edinburgh is recognised around the world for its beautiful architecture.
Century-old castles, cobbled streets and old houses make the city a truly unique and one of a kind experience if you are an architecture lover. You can Admire St Giles Cathedral which dates back to 1124, visit the oldest part of Edinburgh Castle, St Margaret’s Cathedral or be in awe of the Gothic architecture at Scott’s Monument, affectionately dubbed the Gothic Rocket by Edinburgh natives.
Wander around Royal Mile and make sure you explore the enclosed courtyards with some of the quirkiest and oldest buildings in the city like Tweedale court dating back to 1576 which you can recognise from Outlander was the location of the bustling marketplace visited by Clare and Jamie.
Take a walk around New Town that was built out of necessity due to the overcrowding of the Old Town to see an asymmetrical arrangement of wide streets and row after row of Georgian buildings with wrought-iron balconies, attic room windows, balustrades and fanlights.
You’ll see that most of the buildings here are made from white sandstone and once were the homes of the elite, with doctors and lawyers residing here.
Step inside a former bank building on George Street, now a Weatherspoons pub to admire its ceiling, make sure you wander around the most stunning streets, designed by Gillespie Graham – Moray Place and check out Thistle Court.
#3. The thriving food & drink scene
Believe it or not, the Scottish capital is one of Europe’s most award-winning cities from a culinary standpoint, and with its long history and contemporary flair, Edinburgh offers a plethora of gastronomic experiences to choose from.
First-time travellers should be sure to try the traditional dishes that are a source of Scottish pride such as Scotch Pie, potato Scone or Lorne Sausage.
You may not be brave enough to try haggis, a warm meaty dish made from sheep pluck, but afternoon tea at luxurious Georgian Tea Room The Dome is a good place to start.
Local restaurants are moving with the times and embracing the fine regional produce on offer. Scotland’s capital city also boasts an impressive range of dining options with more restaurants per head than any other city in the UK. This includes five Michelin-starred restaurants – second only to London.
#4. Haunted Places
Scotland has long been associated with supernatural spectres, and ghost sightings and strange happenings have been reported across the country. Taking part in a walking tour is one of the best ways to find out about the gruesome tales that have been passed down the generations.
While most of them are more myths than hard facts, it’s a great way to understand more about the city.
Described as “one of the scariest places on earth” and “Scotland’s most haunted cemetery,” Edinburgh’s Greyfriars Kirkyard ancient resting place also contains the Covenanters’ Prison and the tombstone of Thomas Riddell Esquire, the real inspiration behind a famous Harry Potter villain, Voldemort.
You can also take a tour of the Edinburgh Vaults, hidden beneath the busy Old Town and see the series of chambers under the South Bridge, which dates back to the 1700s. Having been home to notorious criminals, as well as the poorest within society, the vaults are rife with legends and paranormal activity.
#5. Scottish Culture
What is it that makes the Scots Scottish? Is it the clans, beautiful landscape, the bagpipes or is it whisky?
Scotland’s culture can be traced back almost a thousand years and it’s just as alive today as it has ever been. With remarkable buildings dating back hundreds of years, being the home of one of the most famous universities in the world, there’s an awe-inspiring piece of Scottish culture and tradition at every turn.
Whether you choose to see traditional Scottish Highland and ceilidh dancing, experience the breath-taking reality of a hundred pipers skirling in uplifting unison or marvel at Victorian tenements, Edinburgh won’t let you leave without a sizeable dose of good old Scottish culture.
If you want an interesting experience during your stay in Edinburgh, the Loony Dook is not to be missed. On New Year’s Day, thousands of people don fancy dress and make their way down to the Firth of Forth river. Starting at South Queensferry, the costumed crowd of people then plunge themselves into the freezing waters.
To experience true Scottish culture, you can take part in many cultural events such as the annual celebration of Robert Burns’ life, the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo or the Scottish Storytelling Festival.
#6. Edinburgh’s Museums
If you are looking for a fun day out that includes history, culture and adventure all in one, you should check out one of the many excellent museums in Edinburgh. The city has museums that celebrate everything from childhood and money to famous local authors and notorious graverobbers.
The National Museum of Scotland underwent an extensive refurbishment which restored the original splendour of the Grade A listed Victorian building and introduced new, modern detailing such as cast-iron balconies and a soaring glass roof which, together, create an awe-inspiring ‘birdcage’ structure.
Head to St Cecilia’s Hall & Music Museum which is a concert hall that is also home to one of the most important historic musical instrument collections in the world. While the Concert Room regularly hosts concerts, the Music Museum has 400 instruments from across the globe.
Edinburgh is proud of its writing and publishing heritage and it has a museum celebrating the lives of some of its leading literary lights. The Writers Museum, accessed via the Makar’s Court, is a museum dedicated to the lives of Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson and Robert Burns.
#7. Edinburgh Festivals
There are 12 big festivals held in Edinburgh every year, and the biggest event is The Edinburgh Festival and Fringe.
Edinburgh’s population swells to more than double when people come from all over the world for the summer festivals. During the month of August, everything from small side-street venues to large concert halls brims with artists and festival-goers. This is because Edinburgh is home to the world’s largest arts festival – the Festival Fringe!
Established in 1947, the Fringe has become a world-class cultural event, taking place annually, over the month of August and drawing artists and visitors from all around the world. The festival’s open access policy allows anyone to participate and the shows range from comedy to dance to theatre to music and much more.
Hogmanay, which is the Scottish word for the last day of the year or New Year’s Eve, is also an amazing time of year to visit Edinburgh when the world’s biggest celebrations take place and play host to some of the world’s biggest parties! It dates back to 1993 and has evolved to become one of the greatest outdoor celebrations of New Year’s Eve in the world, lasting for about 3 days.
#8. The Fascinating Scottish History
Edinburgh has a rich history that dates back to the 7th century AD. Every street in the city is crammed with character, and there are so many hidden nooks and crannies that you’ll never be short of surprises.
Being over 900 hundred years old and brooding atop an impressive 700 million-year-old extinct volcano called Castle Rock Edinburgh Castle is the most sieged castle in all of Europe. It’s where Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to her only child and it’s a place brimming with history.
This iconic symbol of Scotland is a must-see on a trip to the city as it is a great place to start in understanding the region’s rich history. As you walk around its many rooms and corridors, don’t be surprised if you sense eerie vibes or hear ghosty whispers – Edinburgh castle is one of Scotland’s most haunted places.
One of the best places to learn about Scottish history is The National Museum of Scotland. The collections relating to Scottish culture, history, and antiquities is very impressive and educational.
#9. Well Maintaned Green Spaces
With an abundance of city centre gardens and local parks, it’s safe to say that nature abounds in the Scottish capital, and if you are an outdoors person, there are lots of green spaces you can visit as well as a distinct volcano known as Arthur’s Seat you can climb during your visit.
The location is featured in many books and films including T2 Trainspotting and One Day. It is relatively easy to climb and there are different routes, depending on ability level. The fastest ascent is from the east, where a slope rises above Dunsapie Loch.
The International Green Flag Award, the equivalent of a Blue Flag Award for beaches, is granted to parks around Scotland that enable exercise and benefit mental wellbeing, as well as provide a safe space for playing.
In 2019, the Capital impressively scooped the largest number of green flags of any local authority in Scotland, which were welcomed news to all the outstanding parks staff and communities who look after one of Edinburgh’s most treasured assets.
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Now, over to you!
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