Scotland’s capital is a buzzing hive of historical discovery and contemporary charm.
Explore castles, palaces, and underground cities in the heart of the Old Town, or climb extinct volcanoes for unbeatable city views.
Considered as one of the best places to visit in the UK, Edinburgh is well-placed for central Highlands tours too, with all the lochs, peaks, and fishing villages you could wish for.
Here are some of the best things to do in Edinburgh. Which ones will you try?
1 – Explore Edinburgh Castle
This famous Scottish icon is a must-see on your first visit to the city.
Dating back to the 12th century, Edinburgh Castle sits imperiously on a hill overlooking the Old Town.
Head inside to discover the Crown Jewels of Scotland, the Stone of Destiny, and the regal Great Hall.
See the famous One O’Clock Gun – Mons Meg – and visit the National War Museum of Scotland.
Read more about Edinburgh Castle tickets price.
2 – Visit the Palace of Holyroodhouse
Standing majestically at the end of the Royal Mile, the Palace of Holyroodhouse is the official residence of the Queen when she is in Scotland.
It was also the home of the unfortunate Mary Queen of Scots.
Visitors can tour 14 grand state rooms and the Queen’s Gallery which hosts exhibitions from the Royal Collection.
Stop by the abbey ruins and gardens before leaving.
Read more about Palace of Holyroodhouse tickets price.
3 – Walk down the Royal Mile
Strolling down the Royal Mile is one of the most iconic things to do in Edinburgh – this is a great place for first-time visitors to start exploring.
The route slices through the Old Town, connecting the castle with the Palace of Holyroodhouse.
Absorb the rich history as you pass beneath imposing tenement houses, negotiate narrow passageways, and take photos of the main sights.
4 – Get down to earth in the Real Mary King’s Close
Unveil hidden histories buried deep beneath the Royal Mile in the surreal and spooky Real Mary King’s Close.
Walk along the labyrinth of underground streets with your costumed guide, and explore the eerie remains of 17th-century houses.
Hear stories about the real-life residents whose legacies were sealed off from the world for over 400 years.
5 – Tour the Royal Yacht Britannia
Step on board the Royal Yacht Britannia and see how the Queen lived while sailing on this famous vessel.
Stroll along the decks, poke your head into state apartments, and imagine what it would have been like being part of the crew.
This floating residence gives a fascinating glimpse into the lives of the British Royal Family before the boat was decommissioned.
6 – Head underground inside the haunting vaults
Keep your wits about you as you head deep underground into the ancient city vaults, on a journey of dark discovery and ghostly goings-on.
Your local guide will regale you with scandalous tales from the former slums and red-light district as you walk through the tunnels.
Learn some of the city’s most shocking secrets, and maybe encounter former inhabitants on this chilling tour.
7 – Sightsee in the Old Town
The heart of Edinburgh’s history is in the Old Town, where cobbled streets lead curious visitors down secret closes (alleys) and through ancient squares.
Explore the castle and stroll along the Royal Mile, before admiring the blue ceiling in St. Giles’ Cathedral.
Pay your respects to loyal Greyfriars Bobby in the kirkyard, and visit Holyrood Palace which is the Royal Family’s official Scottish residence.
8 – Take a hop-on hop-off bus tour
Explore the city at your own pace on a fun hop-on hop-off bus tour.
Bag a seat on the top deck for the best views, as you drive by famous sights like Edinburgh Castle, Holyroodhouse, and the Grassmarket.
Learn the stories behind this extraordinary city with the audio commentary, and jump on and off whenever you want.
9 – Enjoy a magical Harry Potter tour
One of the most popular things to do in Edinburgh is a Harry Potter tour, which visits locations that inspired J. K. Rowling to write her famous books.
Walk through the historic streets, find out your Hogwarts House, and see Tom Riddle’s grave in Greyfriars Kirkyard.
Test your wizard knowledge with an audio-visual quiz, and see the café where the books were penned.
10 – Solve mysteries on a scavenger hunt
Put your sleuthing skills to work in escape room style games that show you a whole new side to Edinburgh.
Discover how Sherlock Holmes is linked to the city, and complete creative puzzles using a special spy kit.
Follow scavenger hunt clues to Edinburgh’s famous landmarks, and explore hidden gems well off the tourist trail in your quest for success.
11 – Explore the Scottish Highlands
See the best sights in Scotland on a day trip from Edinburgh.
Soak up the dramatic scenery of Glencoe and Rannoch Moor, and visit the old stomping grounds of feuding clans.
The tour meanders along the shores of Loch Linnhe, with stops at the Great Glen, Fort Augustus, and of course Loch Ness.
Keep an eye out for highland cows along the way!
12 – Feel the heat on a whisky tour
Whisky tasting is a bit of an institution in Scotland, and nowhere more so than in Edinburgh.
This earthy amber nectar really hits the spot, especially on a cold day, with different landscapes producing distinctly different flavors.
You can join a tour in Edinburgh or pick up the well-trodden Whisky Trail on a day trip to other central Scottish distilleries.
13 – Feel energized on a Mysteries & Murders walking tour
Looking for spooky things to do in Edinburgh?
Then muster your courage and take to the streets on a walking tour in pursuit of haunting legends and tales of gruesome murders.
Visit a burial ground and cemetery to learn about body-snatching and vampires.
Then climb Calton Hill – the eerie site of chilling witch trials and pagan rituals.
14 – Cruise on Loch Lomond
Head into the Highlands and roam the heartlands of William Wallace and Rob Roy.
Loch Lomond is one of the most beautiful locations in the Trossachs National Park, with pretty settlements nestled on the shores and legendary outlaw caves hidden in the woods.
Take a cruise and enjoy breath-taking views of the surrounding mountains and islands, and stroll through the ancient village of Luss.
15 – See the Outlander filming locations
Walk in the footsteps of Jamie and Claire as you visit some of the places used to film the popular time-travel series.
Explore the 16th-century village of Culross – which you will recognize as Cranesmuir – and Doune Castle, which stood in for Castle Leoch.
Watch out for Captain Randall at Blackness Castle, and stay away from any standing stones, you know, just in case!
16 – Visit St Andrews & Fife’s Fishing Villages
The medieval town of St. Andrews is home to the oldest University in Scotland, where Prince William studied for his degree.
Look inside the country’s largest Norman cathedral, and swing by one of the world’s most famous golf courses.
Then enjoy a scenic drive to the traditional fishing village of Anstruther for a hearty dose of cobbled street and harbor charm.
17 – Sample local delicacies on a food tour
Combine cultural history with culinary discovery on a food tour in the heart of the city.
Walk through the cobbled streets with your knowledgeable guide, and stop at several different eateries to sample some traditional Scottish fare.
Tuck into “neeps and tatties”, creamy cheeses, and authentic haggis, with a wee dram of Scotch or local gin to wash it all down.
18 – Take a day trip to Alnwick Castle
Down in the medieval kingdom of Northumbria, Alnwick Castle stands proud as one of the most prominent castles in the UK.
You might recognize it from the movies – the castle has had starring roles in Harry Potter and Downton Abbey.
The fortress is still inhabited today, but you can take a tour of the magnificent state rooms and explore the extensive grounds.
19 – Photograph The Kelpies
Named after mythological transforming beasts, the Kelpies are one of Scotland’s most famous sights.
These 30-meter-tall sculptures were erected to honor the heavy horses of Scotland that were used in industry over the centuries to pull barges, ships, and plows.
Located in Falkirk, the 300-tonne Kelpies are the biggest equine work of art in the world and are an astonishing feat of engineering.
20 – Visit the National Museum of Scotland
Discover the wonderful world of science, natural history, and international culture at the vast National Museum of Scotland.
Journey through time from the dinosaurs to the space age, and find a treasure trove of exhibits along the way.
There are several self-guided trails to try, showing you hidden corners and secret artifacts that many visitors often miss.
21 – Ride the Jacobite Steam Train
Follow in Harry Potter’s footsteps as you meander through the Scottish Highlands on the legendary Jacobite Steam Train.
What the Hogwarts Express lacks in wizardry today, it makes up for in magical scenery through its vintage windows.
You can ride the train on a day trip from Edinburgh, or as part of a multi-day tour taking in highlights like Skye and Loch Ness.
22 – Cycle through Edinburgh on a bike tour
Jump in the saddle and take to the historic streets on a scenic ride with a local guide.
Enjoy secret gardens and incredible panoramic views from Arthur’s Seat, then follow an old railway path for a different perspective of the city.
Worried about the hills?
Then fear not, the electric bikes will help you up those pesky inclines in no time.
23 – Feel the thrills on a canyoning mission
For an adventurous day trip from Edinburgh, have a go at canyoning here in the Highlands.
Fun for beginners and seasoned explorers alike, shooting down waterfalls and jumping into plunge pools feels a long way from the busy city.
Scramble up ravines and abseil off overhangs as you see Scotland in a whole new light.
24 – Soak up the views from Calton Hill
For sweeping panoramic views over the city skyline, make your way to Calton Hill.
The walk up this UNESCO World Heritage Site only takes a few minutes, and the reward is definitely worth the effort.
At the top, you will encounter the imposing National Monument, as well as a handful of other commemorative structures celebrating the lives of Robert Burns and Nelson.
25 – Admire the Rosslyn Chapel
See if you can crack the Da Vinci Code at Rosslyn Chapel, which was made famous by Dan Brown’s novel and film. Founded in 1446, the chapel is still used today as a place of worship.
Visiting the chapel is one of the most popular things to do in Edinburgh.
Keep your eyes peeled for the mysterious carvings that make it so famous.
26 – Lick your lips at the Chocolatarium
Visiting the Chocolatarium is one of the most scrumptious things to do in Edinburgh, with lots of Scottish-themed treats to get your taste buds tingling.
Follow the journey of cocoa from bean to bar, and sample inventive chocolate flavors like haggis, chilli, and gin.
Have a go at making your own souvenir treats and take home a chocolate Nessie or Edinburgh Castle.
27 – Hunt monsters at Loch Ness
See if you can spot the legendary Nessie, Scotland’s most famous resident, on a cruise across Loch Ness.
This freshwater lake is surrounded by rolling hills and green valleys, making for enviable vacation photos.
Back on dry land, explore the crumbling ruins of Urquhart Castle – a loch-side stronghold that has witnessed 1000 years of battles, sieges, and even miracles.
28 – Indulge in a Harry Potter themed dinner experience
Climb aboard a vintage double-decker bus and trundle past historic sights that were the inspiration behind the world’s most famous wizard.
Harry Potter fans will love seeing where the magic all began, and finding out more about J. K. Rowling’s creative insights.
Tuck into an Italian feast and a glass of bubbly as you sit back and enjoy the ride.
29 – Taste beer on a brewery tour
Go behind the scenes on an Edinburgh beer factory tour, and discover the insider secrets behind the city’s famous local brew.
Learn how ale is made from your expert local guide, and enjoy tasting a few tipples direct from the brewing tanks.
Some tours include snacks to compliment your beer sampling, and of course, you can buy some bottles to take home.
30 – Party the night away on a pub crawl
The nightlife in Edinburgh is pumping, so start your evening with a pub crawl around all the best bars in town.
Enjoy live music and free shots, with skip-the-line admission giving you VIP access – always good if it is cold out!
Meet fellow revelers from all over the world and sample some Scottish whisky to get you in the mood.
31 – Be brave in Edinburgh Dungeon
Uncover the city’s torturous past with an immersive tour around the dark Edinburgh Dungeon.
Encounter evil witches, and tiptoe through a cannibal lair on your journey through the city’s unsavory history.
The grisly tales and intriguing characters are brought to life with professional actors and special effects to make your experience totally spine-tingling.
Make sure you visit with friends for added courage.
32 – Tour the bonnie Isle of Skye
Take a 3-day tour of Scotland’s famous island, home to dramatic landscapes, colorful villages, and a wealth of heritage.
Stop at the much-photographed Eilean Donan Castle and tragic Glencoe along the way.
On Skye, venture up Quiraing Pass, or admire basalt columns at Kilt Rock where a magnificent waterfall tumbles into the ocean.
Visit Dunvegan Castle before returning via the stunning Cuillin Hills.
33 – Discover Stirling Castle
Step through the grand entrance to Stirling Castle and discover a 16th-century world of knights, ladies, and courtiers.
The castle is one of the most significant historical sights in Scotland, and was the favorite residence of many Stewart kings and queens.
Dress up in period costumes and play medieval instruments in the palace vaults, and explore the Great Hall and Royal Chapel on a guided tour.
34 – Discover Camera Obscura & the World of Illusions
Enter a mind-boggling world of impossible illusions with swirling light vortexes and mirror mazes everywhere you turn.
Confused? Then remember, nothing is as it seems.
Get hands-on with the interactive exhibits, and have fun with quirky visual effects.
Then head up to the Victorian Camera Obscura, and drink in 360-degree views of the city from the roof terrace.
35 – Muster your spirits on a ghost tour
Cities with long and turbulent pasts are packed with ghosts and ghouls – and Edinburgh is no different!
If you dare to roam the streets after dark you may bump into restless spirits and infamous traitors, so keep your wits about you.
Take a guided walking excursion or see eerie sights like the Edinburgh Castle and Greyfriars Kirk on an evening ghost bus tour.
36 – Enjoy a Three Bridges cruise
See Edinburgh from a different angle on a 90-minute sightseeing cruise along the Firth of Forth.
You will have front row seats for views of the three bridges, including the UNESCO World Heritage Forth Railway Bridge.
Swing by Inchcolm Island with its medieval abbey and spectacular city panoramas, and see if you can spot seals and puffins along the rocky shores.
37 – Stroll through the Royal Botanic Gardens
Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Gardens are among the finest in the world, with 72 acres to explore and enviable city skyline views to photograph.
Make sure you visit the internationally renowned rock garden and take a scenic stroll beneath the colossal redwood trees.
Meanwhile, the Chinese Garden boasts over 1600 exotic plants that carpet the hillside in a fusion of color.
38 – Discover Roman Britain at Hadrian’s Wall
Explore the edge of the Roman Empire on a journey back in time at the historic Hadrian’s Wall.
Cross the English-Scottish Border at Carter Bar and learn why the Romans feared what lay north of the divide.
The highlight of the day is visiting Housesteads Roman Fort down in Northumberland National Park where you can walk along the wall and pose for photos.
39 – Explore the Georgian House
This restored residence in the New Town is home to an astonishing collection of period costumes and grand furnishings.
Scottish artists quite rightly steal the scene at the Georgian House when it comes to paintings, with exhibits from Ramsay and Raeburn.
Wander through stately rooms and see how the other half lived in the days when entertaining was done on a grand scale.
40 – Tuck into afternoon tea
Of all the quintessentially British things to do in Edinburgh, taking afternoon tea tops the list.
Sip inventive tipples from china mugs and nibble on haggis bonbons while eyeing up the sweet treats.
Kill two birds with one stone by enjoying your afternoon tea onboard a vintage bus that drives past iconic sights. Or relax in a restaurant and pair pastries with gin.
41 – Learn how to throw axes
Harness your inner warrior and unleash the power you never knew you had while hurling axes at targets.
The expert weaponry team will help you master basic techniques and turn you into an axe ninja in no time.
Battle your friends and see who can bag the most bullseyes – take plenty of photos to commemorate your new skills.
42 – Chart history at John Knox House
Take a wander through the rooms of the last surviving medieval dwelling on the Royal Mile and discover Edinburgh’s history through the lives of its former occupants.
Dating back to 1470, John Knox House has been home to jewelers, traitors, and of course Knox himself – a Scottish minister and Reformation leader.
Keep an eye out for time capsules and a dragon’s nest!
43 – Climb Arthur’s Seat
Have you ever climbed a volcano?
Well, this is your chance, because Arthur’s Seat is actually an extinct volcano, right here in town.
Located next to Holyrood Palace, the peak is the site of an ancient hill fort and a great place to stretch your legs on the trail.
The round-trip climb to the top takes a couple of hours, and the views are superb.
44 – Plunge down rapids while rafting
Get the heart thumping with a rip-roaring rafting day trip through the scenic Highlands of Scotland.
Float lazily down the river, admiring the heather-clad hills and grassy valleys.
Then hang on tight as you hurtle through the bubbling rapids.
Keep an eye out for native wildlife along the riverbanks, and enjoy the pristine nature passing you by on all sides.
45 – Watch the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo
Take your seats up by the castle for a thrilling cultural night out at the world-famous Edinburgh Tattoo.
Watch in amazement as military bands, marching regiments, and entertaining performers parade down Castle Hill in their finery.
There will be bagpipes and plenty of tartan kilts, so make sure you pack your camera.
This August festival is popular, so book your tickets early.
46 – Tour the Edinburgh Gin Distillery
Hidden in the heart of the West End, Edinburgh Distillery is a must for gin-lovers.
Take a guided tour to discover the city’s ancient gin heritage, and learn how the award-winning botanical tipples are made.
Of course, you will get to taste some of the gins afterward – we recommend the rhubarb and ginger for a belly-warming boost on a dreich Scottish day.
47 – Spot ancient mills in Dean Village
A favorite with photographers, characterful Dean Village sits beside the Water of Leith and was once the water mill district of the city.
You can still see the remains of some of these mills today as you stroll along the river.
Head to Well Court, the most famous building in the village which used to house the mill workers during the 19th-century.
48 – Relax in Princes Street Gardens
Lying in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle, Princes Street Gardens provide a welcome respite from the bustle.
The park occupies a valley that connects the old and new parts of the city, with plenty of green space for strolls and picnics.
Highlights include the floral clock and the Scott Monument – an iconic landmark dedicated to Scotland’s most famous writer, Sir Walter.
49 – Stir your creative soul at the Scottish National Gallery
The Scottish National Gallery is known for housing one of the best fine art collections in the world.
As you explore the chambers and halls, keep an eye out for masterpieces by the likes of Rembrandt, Constable, and Botticelli.
There are works by Scottish painters too, with offerings from greats such as Ramsay and Raeburn gracing the walls.
50 – Wander through the ancient Grassmarket
Head to the historic marketplace and soak up the vibrant atmosphere and striking architecture of the surrounding buildings.
Formerly a thriving cattle and horse auction site, today the Grassmarket is buzzing with trendy restaurants, boutique shops, and upmarket bars.
Enjoy a drink in the haunted White Hart Inn, and walk the cobbled streets in the footsteps of many a famous historical figure.
51 – Blow your mind at Dynamic Earth
Prepare to be wowed by science at one of Edinburgh’s most intriguing attractions – Dynamic Earth.
Have a go at fun experiments, delve into thought-provoking discoveries, and learn about climate change through the power of storytelling.
Then watch inspiring shows in the 6K digital planetarium, and experience primeval forces of nature as you go on a journey through space and time at Dynamic Earth.
52 – Visit the Scottish National Portrait Gallery
Stand face to face with the famous characters who have shaped the path of Scottish history through the centuries.
Wander through the galleries, and see if you can find Bonnie Prince Charlie, the poet Robert Burns, and Mary Queen of Scots.
The Scottish National Portrait Gallery building is impressive too, with its red sandstone Gothic-style façade featuring prominently on the city skyline.
53 – Discover the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art
The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art is spread across two buildings in a pretty nature park.
Its exhibition halls showcase everything from world-class sculptures to surrealist artworks. There is even a bit of Dali in there!
Head outside to try out the sensory sculpture trail, complete with an audio tour that tells the story behind the art you are seeing.
54 – Explore Craigmillar Castle
Once used as a refuge by Mary Queen of Scots, Craigmillar Castle sits outside the city walls and is easily visited by public transport from the center.
There are several nooks and crannies to investigate, and you can climb the ancient tower house which boasts a great hall and a prison.
The views across the city are superb – you can even spot Edinburgh Castle from here!
55 – Be entertained at the Festival Theatre
Located right in the heart of Edinburgh, the Festival Theatre dates back to 1928 and is known as Scotland’s top opera house.
Many famous faces have delighted audiences here, including Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy, and even David Bowie.
Today the theatre hosts a wide range of local and international performances, from dance and comedy to jazz and drama.
56 – Go wild at Edinburgh Zoo
Meet Tian Tian and Yang Guang – the only two giant pandas in the whole of the UK.
Edinburgh Zoo is home to all the big hitters, including fearsome Sumatran tigers and cheeky meerkats.
Enjoy daily talks and watch the animal antics at feeding times, or become a keeper for the day and get hands-on with some of your favorite species.
57 – Discover the Museum of Edinburgh
The Museum of Edinburgh is easy to find on the Royal Mile, and is a must-visit for anyone wanting to delve into the depths of the city’s history.
Wander through the labyrinthine 16th-century buildings admiring local artifacts, Scottish crafts, and war memorabilia.
Then learn about the story of Greyfriars Bobby – a devoted Skye Terrier who loyally guarded his owner’s grave for years.
58 – Go shopping on Victoria Street
Amble down the cobbled crescent famously lined with colorful buildings, and treat yourself to a bit of retail therapy.
Built in the early 19th century, historic Victoria Street oozes old-world charm, and is rumored to be the inspiration behind Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley.
You can buy everything from wizard wands to local art, or pop into a café for a pot of tea.
59 – Take a spin in a luxury car
Feel the need for speed? Then make yourself comfortable behind the wheel of the ultimate supercar and see if you can set a record on one of the oldest racing tracks in Scotland.
Be like James Bond in a shiny Aston Martin or relish the roar of a Ferrari beneath your fingertips – the choice of vehicle is yours.
60 – Go fishing
Cast your line and see if you can land a salmon or trout on a traditional Scottish fly-fishing trip.
Whether you choose a loch or river as your hunting ground, the scenery will be off the scale when it comes to wild natural beauty.
A professional guide will share top tips about fishing techniques and local lore, helping you learn the rhythm of this special environment.
61 – Visit Blackness Castle
Outlander fans will recognize the mighty 15th-century walls of the imposing Blackness Castle, which sits majestically overlooking the Firth of Forth.
Once an aristocratic residence, this proud fortress was a formidable war stronghold over the centuries.
Explore the ancient halls and walk along the walls of this former state prison for superb views out over the river.
62 – Stroll through The Meadows
Take a breather from seeing the sights and enjoy a walk around this vast green public park.
The Meadows is just south of the historic city center, with plenty of pathways to explore.
The kids will enjoy burning energy on the city’s largest play area, and the grassy lawns are perfect for romantic picnics beneath the trees during summer.
63 – Enjoy a day trip to Leith
Located right beside the water, Leith is one of Edinburgh’s most vibrant neighborhoods.
This port district has been artfully regenerated over the years and makes a great escape from the crowds of the city center.
Sip craft beer at microbreweries, see where the Queen slept on the Royal Yacht Britannia, and try fresh local seafood at the restaurants.
64 – Catch a show at the King’s Theatre
Built in 1905, the iconic King’s Theatre is the place to go if you want to watch performances in a historical setting.
The ornate interior will transport you back in time, with a choice of box or stall seating.
Take in a pantomime, opera, or play and enjoy a drink in the mock-Tudor bar before the show.
65 – Dine in Michelin star restaurants
For refined contemporary banquets, Number One in the swanky Balmoral Hotel is a favorite with locals – the grouse with sausage and blueberries is particularly tasty.
66 – Laugh out loud at The Stand Comedy Club
Sit back with a pint or cocktail and prepare to spend the evening chuckling away with your friends.
The Stand Comedy Club is one of the best entertainment venues in Edinburgh, welcoming local acts and international stars to its stage.
Feel part of the show in this intimate setting and enjoy a night to remember.
67 – Sleep in historic hotels
No visit to Edinburgh is complete without a night in a historic hotel, and there are plenty to choose from. Go back in time at Dalhousie Castle or Balmoral Hotel, and slumber in four-poster beds in the haunting Witchery if you dare.
Follow in the footsteps of explorers at Channing’s Hotel, or head to The Scotsman which was once home to the city’s favorite newspaper.
There are so many incredible things to see in Edinburgh that you could fill a month, let alone a few days. Hopefully, this curated list will help you decide which attractions and sights to include on your vacation itinerary.
Do you have somewhere to stay? Check out the best hotels in Edinburgh for a range of accommodation options in this beautiful city.
If you are arriving by plane, you might want to consider booking an airport transfer ahead of time, to make sure you get the best deal.
Once you’ve smashed through the Edinburgh bucket list, make sure to check out the list of fun things to do in Glasgow, right next door!
We wish you an excellent holiday in Edinburgh!