Top 10 Things to do in Edinburgh

The capital of Scotland since the 15th century, Edinburgh is known around the world for its historic architecture but also as a center for culture and education. Both its Old and New Towns are listed together as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and events like Hogmanay and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival attract thousands of additional tourists to this already popular destination. A great city to visit at any time of the year, Edinburgh has many different attractions. Continue reading to discover our recommendations for the top 10 things to do in Edinburgh.

10. Edinburgh Gin Distillery

Edinburgh Gin Distillery Scotland may be better known for its whiskey, but the Gin Distillery is among the top things to do in Edinburgh. Visit Edinburgh Gin Distillery for an informative look at how gin is made. The distillery is underground, giving it a little more intrigue (and sometimes making it difficult to find!), and although it’s quite small the low admission price and fun tour makes this a worthwhile attraction, and you get to try a sample at the end!

9. Royal Botanic Garden

Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh Founded in 1670 to grow medicinal plants, the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh has been at its present site since 1820. It’s the second oldest botanic garden in the UK, and is a lovely place to spend an afternoon whether or not you are interested in flora. Entrance to the gardens is free, while the greenhouses do have an admission fee. Renowned for their diversity, the gardens are beautifully laid out and are great to visit at any time of the year because there’s always lots to see.

8. Royal Mile

Royal Mile in Edinburgh The Royal Mile is the busiest and most popular street in the city’s Old Town, but, it’s not just one street, it’s a collection of five! The stretch that’s called the Royal Mile is about one Scots mile long – that’s slightly longer than a standard mile, and it stretches across Castlehill, Lawnmarket, High Street, Canongate, and Abbey Strand. Lined with fancy Victorian buildings, the Royal Mile is filled with shops, restaurants, and pubs. If you’re looking for somewhere to buy souvenirs, add the Royal Mile to your list of what to do in Edinburgh.

7. The Scotch Whisky Experience

Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh
The Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh. © Jeff Whyte /

Although this place may look like a tourist trap, it’s actually a highly rated Edinburgh attraction! If you’re interested in finding out all those questions you were afraid to ask about whisky and scotch, this is the place to go. The tour starts with a quaint barrel ride – a journey through how whisky is made, then an informative look into all the different varieties, and of course, no whisky experience would be complete without trying some of them!

6. National Museum of Scotland

National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh
National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. © Anton_Ivanov /

The National Museum of Scotland has such a lot to see that you could easily spend an entire day visiting, and there’s plenty to keep all ages interested. The great thing about this museum is the free admission, so you can break your visit up into several smaller ones if you want to pick out the features you’re most interested in. The exhibits are very varied, covering Scottish history and culture but also with such things as Ancient Egyptian artifacts, an early version of the guillotine invented in Scotland, and the stuffed remains of the cloned Dolly the Sheep.

5. Real Mary King’s Close

Real Mary King’s Close in Edinburgh
Real Mary King’s Close in Edinburgh. ©

Perhaps a little scary for the youngest visitors, the Real Mary King’s Close attraction is a fascinating look at what life was like in Edinburgh around 250 years ago. Mary King’s Close was sealed and built over by the City Chambers, and although partially demolished, a section remained where stories of hauntings and murders were common. Opened as a tourist attraction, this is now a top thing to do in Edinburgh. Visitors take guided tours to learn about the history and to discover what lies beneath the Royal Mile.

4. Royal Yacht Britannia

Royal Yacht Britannia in Edinburgh
Royal Yacht Britannia in Edinburgh. © Chris Jenner /

Take a look at how the British royal family used to travel, onboard the now decommissioned Royal Yacht Britannia. Launched in 1953, and in operation until 1997, a tour around this ship provides a fascinating insight into the tastes of the Royal Family, and particularly of the Queen. There is still 1950s décor on the yacht, and you’ll find that the decorations are far less fussy than you might have imagined! Get the audio guide for the full tour experience on this not-to-be-missed thing to do in Edinburgh!

3. Arthur’s Seat

Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh Most city skylines are full of high-rise buildings, but not in Edinburgh! Here, the highest point is Arthur’s Seat, a 250-meter (822ft) high hill that sits about 1 mile (1.6km) east of the city center, in Holyrood Park. While Arthur’s Seat is impressive to look at from the city, the best thing about this Edinburgh attraction are the views from the top of Arthur’s Seat, back to the city. This high viewpoint provides panoramic city views, and views of the surrounding countryside, and can be fairly easily climbed by walking from the city center.

2. Holyrood Palace

Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh The Palace of Holyroodhouse is the official residence of Queen Elizabeth II in Scotland, and it sits at the opposite end of the Royal Mile to Edinburgh Castle. Built between 1671 and 1678, the palace has been home to the Kings and Queens of Scots since the 16th century, and, when the queen is not in residence, many areas of the palace are open to the public including the historic 16th century Apartments of Mary, Queen of Scots. Use the guided audio tour for the best insight into this Edinburgh attraction.

1.Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle The most famous landmark in the city is Edinburgh Castle. It’s a historic fortress, sitting perched on top of Castle Rock, and it dates as far back as the 12th century. Far from being redundant, Edinburgh Castle is still in use today, with parts being used by the British Army, but it’s as a tourist attraction that the castle flourishes, receiving over a million visitors every year, especially around the Edinburgh Military Tattoo. The castle should definitely be on your list of what to do in Edinburgh, whether you want to wander around it, see its museums, or just enjoy the views!