It’s simply impossible to run out of things to do and see in Edinburgh. Here’s our guide to the city’s must-see attractions.
This 12th-century fortress dominates the city’s skyline and continues to win the title of ‘Top UK Heritage Attraction’ year after year. Of all the city’s famous landmarks, the Castle is not one to miss.
Situated at the top of the Royal Mile in Edinburgh’s Old Town, the Castle is open 9:30am – 6pm in the summer and 9:30am – 5pm in the winter. You can buy tickets at the entrance, or online (as of Jan 2014, adult tickets cost £16 and child tickets cost £9.60).
The official Scottish residence of the UK Monarch, this 16th-century palace is where Queen Elizabeth spends part of her summers, entertaining guests at her famous garden parties.
The palace, as well as the ruins of Holyrood Abbey that sit behind it, is located at the bottom of the Royal Mile on the edge of the sprawling Holyrood Park. Its opening hours are 9:30-16:30 in the winter and 9:30-18:00 in the summer (as of Jan 2014, admission costs £11.30 for adults, £10.30 for students and over-60s and £6.80 for under-17s).
Docked on the waters of Leith, just north of the city centre, Her Majesty’s Yacht Britannia was decommissioned in 1997 and is now open to the public. A tour of the yacht offers a fascinating insight into the lives of the Royal Family, as well as the 271-person crew that helped run the vessel.
The yacht’s opening hours are 10:00-15:30 for Jan, Feb, March, Nov & Dec, 9:30-16:00 for April, May, Jun & Oct and 9:30-4:30 for July, Aug, Sep (as of Jan 2014, adult tickets cost £12.75, over-60s tickets cost £11.50 and tickets for children aged 5-17 cost £7.75).
Edinburgh’s most beloved pooch, this wee Skye Terrier famously spent 14 years guarding his owner’s grave – a heartwarming tale of friendship and loyalty. The statue of Greyfriars Bobby sits on the corner of George IV Bridge and Candlemaker Row.
Situated on the corner of George IV Bridge and the Royal Mile, this statue of the 18th-century Scottish philosopher is more than just a monument – it’s a good luck charm too! According to local legend, rubbing Hume’s left big toe is good luck.
Towering over Edinburgh’s New Town, this Victorian Gothic structure, built in 1841 in honour of the Edinburgh-born novelist Sir Walter Scott, is one of the city’s most iconic landmarks. For just £4 you can walk the 287 steps to the top. Don’t forget your camera!
The official unofficial Harry Potter tour of Edinburgh, this guided walk is perfect for Potter fans wanting some behind-the-scenes insight into the magical wizarding world described in the books and films. The tour leaves from just outside Greyfriars Bobby Bar (near the Greyfriars Bobby statue) and is completely free (you can tip the guide at the end if you’d like). Days and meeting times vary depending on the season, but you can find updated information on their website.
Discover the places that inspired Harry Potter on your own by visiting the following landmarks:
– Elephant House – The famous cafe where JK Rowling first scribbled her notes for Harry Potter on a napkin, the Elephant House is a must-visit for Potter fans touring Edinburgh. Located on George IV Bridge, the cafe offers a delicious selection of cakes and shortbreads, plus a stunning castle view out the back window.
– Victoria Street – Rumoured to be the street that inspired ‘Diagon Alley’, this cobblestone hill in the city’s Old Town embodies all that is special about Edinburgh. It’s easy to see how the winding street could have inspired Rowling’s vision of a bustling Diagon Alley.
– Greyfriars Kirkyard – Wandering through this 16th-century cemetery, you may notice a few familiar names on the moss-covered gravestones. Indeed, the grave of Tom Riddell and Edinburgh poet William Topaz McGonagall are said to have inspired the characters of Tom Riddle (Lord Voldemort) and Professor McGonagall.
– George Heriot’s School – It’s been said that this private school in Edinburgh’s Old Town was Rowling’s inspiration for Hogwarts, the school of witchcraft and wizardry.
– Jacobite Steam Train – For those who’ve dreamt of a ride on the magical Hogwarts Express, it’s worth taking the Jacobite Steam Train from Fort William (about 130 miles northwest of Edinburgh) to Mallaig. Whilst this would be a separate excursion away from Edinburgh, a scenic ride over the iconic Glenfinnan viaduct, made famous in the Harry Potter films, won’t disappoint.
The darkest, most sinister offering from established Edinburgh ghost tour company Mercat Tours, this guided walk through the Blair Street Underground Vaults is arguably the scariest ghost tour in the city. Note: this one’s too spooky for children.
The famous Mary King’s Close, once a bustling labyrinth of tenement houses, has a very supernatural reputation. A tour of this re-opened alleyway includes stories of plague victims, gruesome murder and, of course, ghosts.
This ‘bone-chilling’ tour takes you down into Edinburgh’s vaults and reveals the terrifying truth behind the city’s history of torture. It’s not for the faint of heart.
Who better to lead a ghost tour than the ghosts themselves? These Edinburgh ghost tours are led by the ‘ghost’ of Adam Lyal, a highwayman executed in Edinburgh in 1811.
Edinburgh’s most famous natural landmark, the hill known as ‘Arthur’s Seat’ sits in the gorgeous Holyrood Park just east of the city centre. Hiking to the top takes about 25-minutes and the views are simply breathtaking.
Northwest of the city centre, Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Garden is the ideal place to take refuge from the hustle and bustle of the city. The sprawling green space is made up of more than 70 acres of blossoming gardens, plus several glasshouses, a gift shop and a nice café. The gardens are open daily from 10am to 4pm in Nov-Jan, from 10am to 5pm in Feb & Oct and from 10am to 6pm in Mar-Oct.
Formerly the Nor Loch (drained in the late 18th century), this sunken city centre park is known for its colourful flower beds, spectacular Castle views and several iconic monuments (Ross Fountain, statue of poet Allan Ramsay and the Scottish American War Memorial, to name just a few). The park runs parallel to Princes Street – you can’t miss it!
This large green space – complete with children’s play areas, tree-lined pathways and a couple of cricket pitches – is the city’s main gathering place in the summer. Situated behind the University buildings, just on the edge of Edinburgh’s Marchmont neighbourhood, the park is a popular hangout for students, picnicking families and anyone interested in a pick-up game of football.
If you would like to explore further afield than Edinburgh there we recommend the following tour operators.
Greyline offer one and three day tours of Scotland leaving from Edinburgh and exploring areas like Loch Ness, Loch Lomond, Roslyn Chapel and St Andrews.
Heart of Scotland’s 5-star graded, small group tours have been specially designed to include famous sights as well as some hidden gems that many tourists never see. Since 2001 they have proudly toured Scotland in their famous Wee Red Buses, experiencing and enjoying Scotland.