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Best Things To Do in Edinburgh

When you think Edinburgh, you might quickly conjure up images of grassy hills, rowdy pubs, a sea of tartan – but this ancient city has so much more to offer. Take a walk down Old Town's Royal Mile and you'll find yourself face to face with the iconic Edinburgh Castle. Explore the nearby seaside and you're likely to stumble upon the Royal Yacht Britannia. And if you're visiting Holyroodhouse Palace, you might suddenly fancy a wander up the adjacent Arthur's Seat or Calton Hill for some magnificent Scottish views. And come festival season in August, expect the city to be alive with libations as Edinburgh celebrates the beloved annual Military Tatto, Fringe Festival and the Edinburgh Festival. 

How we rank Things to Do
  • #1
    Arthur's Seat
    View all Photos
    #1 in Edinburgh
    Hiking, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Hiking, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    Arthur's Seat, located in the verdant Holyrood Park, affords one of the best views of the city. Standing 800 feet above sea level, Arthur's Seat is the highest point in the park, providing panoramic views of the sea and nearby sites, including attractions like Edinburgh Castle and the Scott Monument. If you're wondering how Arthur's Seat got its name, chances are you may never get a clear answer. Legend has it that it was the site for Camelot while others claim William Maitland, a Scottish politician, believed the name was derived from Ard-na-Said, a Gallic phrase meaning "height of narrows." The attraction was also a former volcano. Trails are accessible off of Queen's Drive near Holyroodhouse Palace, which is located at the base of Arthur's Seat. 

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  • #2
    Calton Hill
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    #2 in Edinburgh
    Hiking, Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Hiking, Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    If you're like the writer Robert Louis Stevenson, you might enjoy the view from Calton Hill; this spot was a favorite of his. One of the most popular vantage points for photo ops (and included in the city's UNESCO World Heritage site distinction), Calton Hill affords a majestic panorama of the city below – so don't forget to bring your camera, or make sure your phone is charged. Located east of New Town, Calton Hill is one of the country's first public parks, founded in 1724. Today, the hill supports several iconic buildings and monuments, so much so that it has been nicknamed the Athens of the North. Some of these structures include the Burns Monument, erected in honor of Scottish writer Robert Burns, the Nelson Monument, designed by Robert Burns, and the National Monument, modeled after the Parthenon but given the name "Edinburgh's Disgrace" for never having been completed. 

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  • #3
    National Museum of Scotland
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    #3 in Edinburgh
    Museums, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Museums, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    If Edinburgh Castle, the Royal Yacht Britannia and Holyroodhouse Palace don't quench your thirst for some Scottish history, take a trip to the National Museum of Scotland. The museum houses a whopping 20,000 historical artifacts spread out through its numerous, diverse galleries. Here, visitors will find exhibits dedicated to art and design, the natural world (which features a giant T. rex skeleton), history, archaeology and world cultures. And don't leave without visiting the Dolly the sheep display (named after Dolly Parton), the first mammal to ever be cloned from an adult cell. 

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  • #4
    Royal Botanic Garden
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    #4 in Edinburgh
    Parks and Gardens, Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Parks and Gardens, Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    If you're looking for some peace and serenity after a long day on the Royal Mile, the Royal Botanic Garden is the perfect place to rest your feet. This garden, which covers 70 acres, brims with so much beautiful foliage you're likely to forget that you're in one of Scotland's biggest cities. The Royal Botanic Garden houses 3,000 exotic plants from around the world, spread out among its 10 glasshouses, each with a different climatic zone. The garden is also very famous for its rhododendron flowers. The Royal Botanic Garden's collection of the flower is considered the world's richest assemblage of species rhododendrons, and the Edinburgh location has been seen as a major center for study since the late 19th century. After you've visited these famous flowers, take a stroll through the giant redwood trees in the Woodland Garden, or view the contemporary art gallery in the adjacent Inverleith House. 

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  • #5
    Camera Obscura and World of Illusions
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    #5 in Edinburgh
    Museums, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Museums, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    If you're traveling with kids, there is no better place in Edinburgh to bring them than Camera Obscura and World of Illusions. Located at the top of the heavily (tourist) trafficked Royal Mile, Camera Obscura is filled with enough colorful puzzles, games and optical illusions to keep the kids entertained for days. It's also the city's oldest attraction, having opened in 1835. 

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  • #6
    Palace of Holyroodhouse
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    #6 in Edinburgh
    Castles/Palaces
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Castles/Palaces
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    If you're one for the royals, a stop at the Palace of Holyroodhouse is a must. The palace is the official Scottish residence of the queen and has housed many other notable royal figures throughout history, including King George V, Charles I and Mary, Queen of Scots. When the current queen isn't home (she tends to visit during Holyrood Week, which takes place from the end of June to early July), visitors are welcome to tour parts of the property. Visitors are able to explore Mary, Queen of Scots' Chambers and the State Apartments, which include the Throne Room, the area where new knights are decided, the Morning Drawing Room, where the queen entertains private audiences and the Great Gallery, which houses portraits of all the kings of Scotland. During the summer months, travelers also have the opportunity to tour The Abbey by wardens dressed in ancient hunting garb.

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  • #7
    Royal Yacht Britannia
    View all Photos
    #7 in Edinburgh
    Museums, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Museums, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    Did you know Princess Diana and Prince Charles honeymooned aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia? You'll find the impressive yacht anchored at the Leith Docks, just north of central Edinburgh. Along with serving royal honeymooners (the Duke and Duchess of York used it as well), this yacht served as a residence for the royal family for more than 44 years. Throughout that time, the Royal Yacht Britannia traveled to 600 ports in 135 countries, clocking in more than one million nautical miles for 968 state visits. This not only made the queen the most traveled monarch in the world, but the total distance traveled is equivalent to circling the globe once a year. Visitors can now come aboard and tour the boat fit for a king, or rather a queen; everything from the crew's quarters to the State Apartments, which have housed the likes of Nelson Mandela and Ronald Reagan. You can even have tea in the Royal Deck Tea Room, the same place where the royals used to dine. 

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  • #8
    Royal Mile
    View all Photos
    #8 in Edinburgh
    Sightseeing, Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Sightseeing, Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    Stretching from the high-on-a-hill Edinburgh Castle to the Holyroodhouse Palace, the Royal Mile is both Old Town Edinburgh's main thoroughfare and one of the city's main streets. Here you'll find top attraction after top attraction, including the Scotch Whisky Experience and Camera Obscura and World of Illusions, as well as a big concentration of shops, restaurants and pubs housed in stunning architecture along this cobblestone street. Most travelers note the Royal Mile's propensity toward tourist traps; they also say it's a must-do considering all its amenities. The Royal Mile is seen by many as the center of the city, so be prepared for crowds at all hours. 

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  • #9
    Edinburgh Castle
    View all Photos
    #9 in Edinburgh
    Castles/Palaces
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Castles/Palaces
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Hoisted high atop Edinburgh, almost as if it's monitoring its city below, Edinburgh Castle is not only one of Scotland's most recognized landmarks, but one of the country's most-visited attractions. Not only has the castle housed various royals throughout history, but also once housed military prisoners and was the site of a back-and-forth capture with the English. Inside its stone walls (which survived a World War I bombing), some of the attractions available for visitors to view are the Honours (or crown jewels) of Scotland, St. Margaret's Chapel (Edinburgh's oldest building), Mons Meg (considered one of the greatest guns in medieval Europe), the National War Museum, The Great Hall and the vaults that once held prisoners of war (located under the Great Hall). 

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  • #10
    Scotch Whisky Experience
    View all Photos
    #10 in Edinburgh
    Tours, Wineries/Breweries
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Tours, Wineries/Breweries
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    If you're interested in broadening your whisky repertoire, you might enjoy spending time at the Scotch Whisky Experience. The Scotch Whiskey Experience features a variety of tours varying in price. The standard Silver Tour includes a whisky barrel ride through the production of scotch whisky, introductions to whisky aromas, a dram of whisky and a glimpse into the largest collection of scotch whisky (more than 3,300 bottles!). There's also a Gold Tour and Platinum Tour, which includes all that is offered in the Silver Tour as well as extras, including tastings of single malts. If you don't want to necessarily go on a tour but still want a taste of the experience, visit Amber Restaurant, located on-site. 

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