Your Ultimate Guide of Things to Do in Edinburgh

There are so many things to do in Edinburgh that you’re spoiled for choice. This guide will get your Edinburgh holiday planning off to the best possible start 🙂

A view across Edinburgh and the Edinburgh Christmas festival, including ferris wheel and star flyer, in this ultimate guide to Edinburgh

Edinburgh at Christmas (yes, it IS actually sunny!!)

Welcome to Your Ultimate Guide of Things to Do in Edinburgh!!

While one of us has flowing red locks and fair skin, and the other has been known to wear a dress on special occasions, our ridiculous attempts at a Scottish accent scream to the world that we are anything but!

So, if we’re not locals why should you trust us and our so-called ‘Ultimate’ Guide of Things to Do in Edinburgh?

Six weeks is why!

That’s right, this was no FIFO jolly, here one day and gone the next. We gave Edinburgh six weeks of our life to get a sense of what it’s like to truly live like a local.

Of course, we couldn’t possibly experience everything Edinburgh had to offer. As hard as we tried, we didn’t eat all the haggis. Too many alleys of the Old Town went unexplored. We didn’t even learn that most soothing of instruments, the bagpipes.

But…six weeks IS a long time, and it gave us the perfect opportunity to capture our experiences, both the good AND the bad, in this very comprehensive guide to Edinburgh.

St Giles Cathedral on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh at sunset, in this ultimate guide of things to do in Edinburgh

St Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh


So, Edinburgh is your destination?

Congratulations, because you couldn’t have chosen a better city!

Our radar o’ skepticism was on full alert as we planned our own time in Edinburgh. I mean, surely SOMEONE must have had a bad experience?

But no. Like a Proclaimers record on repeat, every single person raved about the people, the landscapes, the history. Everything dammit!

We tried our hardest to dig up the dirt, but in all our travels the worst we could find was a bizarre predisposition for brown sauce and batter.

But before you get started, it’s worth noting that this wee guide to Edinburgh is not wee at all. As Jimeoin would say…”It’s bloody HUGE!”.

In keeping with our passion for all things edible, we’ve broken it up into digestible pieces that you can consume at your leisure; food for the gluttonous, activities for the easily distracted, itineraries for the lazy planners among us…and more!

So, put the bairns tae bed. Pour ye self a cup of tea. Or better still, a dram of Scotland’s finest whisky. Put yer feet up and see for yourself if this really is the ultimate guide of things to do in Edinburgh!

Want to skip ahead? Just click one of these links!

Part 1: A Foodies Guide to Edinburgh

Part 2: Where to Drink in Edinburgh
Part 3: Best Outdoor Activities in Edinburgh
Part 4: Serious Stuff to Do in Edinburgh (castles…museums…you get the gist)
Part 5: Fun Things to do in Edinburgh
Part 6: A Calendar of Festivals in Edinburgh
Part 7: Where to Stay in Edinburgh
Part 8: How to Get Around Edinburgh
Part 9: Two Awesome Edinburgh Itineraries

Part 10: Essential Things You Need to Know About Edinburgh


A Foodies Guide to Edinburgh

Fork comes before Foot, so that’s where we’re starting!

When you mention Scotland and food in the same breath, the first thing you’ll be hearing is haggis! And fair enough. Where else will you have the opportunity to taste a lamb’s paunch bulging with boiled offal?

As tasty as it is, there is far more to Scotland than just haggis. Some dishes are more hidden than others, but if you take the time and do your research (ie. read this section!), we’re sure you’ll be pleasantly surprised at what you find.

If we were to make a sweeping generalisation, it would be to point out that Scotland’s cuisine, as with all countries, is a product of its geography and climate. In Scotland’s case, particularly the climate.

It gets mighty cold for much of the year. To combat the elements, you’ll find the Scots indulging in hot, hearty meals that fill you up good and proper. Forget your fancy 12-course degustation, this is nan’s rustic cooking at its best!

Traditional Scottish Food

Haggis

A bowls of Scottish haggis, neeps and tatties, in this ultimate guide of things to do in Edinburgh

Scottish Haggis, Neeps and Tatties

Let’s get the big kahuna out of the way first.

It may not sound tempting, but the combination of heart, lungs, and liver, with minced onion, suet, oatmeal and spices, all stuffed into a lamb’s stomach and boiled…is actually really tasty when done right.

It’s hard to find one made fresh as it’s such a complicated process, but do try and track down one from Stornoway if possible. They were recommended to us by a lot of locals as being the best in Scotland.

Failing that, the McSweens version from your local supermarket isn’t too bad at all. It’s a little bit wrong, but they even have a vegetarian option.

Porridge

What better way to start your morning in subzero temperatures than with a bowl of silky smooth, piping hot porridge? We found many of the bed and breakfasts (B&Bs) included this in their cooked breakfast. An entrée, if you will!

If you’re on the run, or just looking for a cheap, filling option, you can also pick up a bowl from Greggs for only £1.

Haggis, neeps and tatties

Haggis, what and what?

Neeps are not those things on your chest that go hard in a Scottish winter…it’s the local name for boiled and mashed swede. Likewise, tatties are a not-so-fancy name for mashed potato.

Together, they are the traditional accompaniment to a steaming, quivering mound of haggis.

Arbroath smokies

A plate of arbroath smokies (fish) with toast and butter, in this ultimate guide of things to do in Edinburgh

Arbroath Smokies

Subtly smoked haddock, the flesh of this Scottish fish is soft and delicate and is typically eaten for breakfast, often with a couple of knobs of butter and hot toast.

Unfortunately, we didn’t see Arbroath smokies offered in too many places around Scotland, let alone Edinburgh. We’re guessing you should find them in their home town of Arbroath though! They are a real feature of Scottish cuisine and have even achieved a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) due to the unique history behind this dish. If you do see them on the menu, make the most of it and give them a try!

Cullen skink

We’ve seen plenty of skinks on our hiking adventures, but never thought to cook one up. Not enough meat on them bones…

Oh…not that type of skink?

Similar to a chowder, but perhaps more rich and intense in flavour, cullen skink is essentially a creamy haddock soup. It’s your perfect anti-freeze, and you’ll find most pubs will have it on their menu as an entrée.

High tea

A plate of sweets at The Colonnades at the Signet Library, in this ultimate guide of things to do in Edinburgh

Sweet Treats at The Colonnades at the Signet Library, Edinburgh

You can’t visit the UK and NOT indulge a high tea! We kept our eyes open in London but the prices were horrendous. On the other hand, The Colonnades at the Signet Library in Edinburgh provided us with a fantastic array of morsels and represented very good value indeed. More on this further down…

Oatcakes

Who knew the humble oatcake could taste so good? The Scots have been loving these for the last 2,000 years, and they’ve learnt a trick or two in that time. Paired with a decent cheese from I.J. Mellis, a dab of damson jelly, and a glass of decent wine (no, not the prosecco!) and your afternoon is sorted.

Tunnocks Tea Cakes

Two Tunnocks Tea Cakes from Edinburgh, one bitten and one wrapped, in this ultimate guide of things to do in Edinburgh

Tunnocks Tea Cakes, Edinburgh

Oh, Tunnocks…

“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…”

Forget the running of the bulls, it all started with our traditional ‘running of the aisles‘; wandering the chocolate and biscuit sections of the local ScotMid in search of exotic new sweets.

Shiny wrapper, brightly coloured, and very nicely priced…why not?

Oh. My. Goodness.

What had we unleashed?!

Is there even a limit to how many of these a human being can consume? Because if there is, we didn’t reach it!

Fluffy clouds of meringue, with a delicately thin shell of chocolate (there’s a dark chocolate version as well!), perched atop a light and buttery biscuit base…it’s perfect simplicity in a mouthful!

This probably says more about us than Scotland, but in our opinion, Tunnocks Tea Cakes are the pinnacle of Scottish cuisine 😀

Cranachan
Our eyes lit up when we discovered cranachan. Crunchy and slightly caramelised oats, whipped cream, berries, a dash of whisky and a drizzle of honey…delicious!

Fish and chips

Good old fish ‘n’ chips. Everyone talks about the UK as the home of the best fish and chips, but you know what? We were so disappointed.

This isn’t food snobbery; just ask Andrew how many times he’s ducked down to the local shop at lunchtime for a piece of fish and a bag of minimum chips!

Perhaps it’s a cultural thing, but the batter always seemed to resemble a thick, hard, coffin shell. The fish inside wasn’t bad, but when we had to hack our way through the oily carapace just to get there…nope. And the chips…don’t even get us started…

It’s an institution so you have to try it, but don’t get your hopes up.

Deep fried Mars Bar

<shudder> We didn’t take one for the team. Do we regret it? Not really.

It’s one of those late-night, ridiculously drunk options that make perfect sense on the night…carpe diem etc…that you’ll live to regret the following morning, if not minutes later…

If you insist in punishing yourself, these guys have a good round up of options.

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Where to eat in Edinburgh?

There are so many options for eating out in Edinburgh that you’re spoiled for choice. To help you out, these are some of the places that we really enjoyed and that we think you will too!

Breakfast

The main room at Loudons Cafe and Bakery, in this ultimate guide of things to do in Edinburgh

Loudons Cafe and Bakery, Edinburgh

Who? Loudons Café and Bakery

What? A café and bakery that pride themselves on a menu that balances tradition and innovation nicely. Scottish favourites such as porridge or a full cooked breakfast are available, yet the more adventurous might like to try the ‘Benny Hoots Mon’ (haggis, black pudding and bacon, topped with poached eggs and homemade chutney) or ‘Black and Blue’ (black pudding, fresh pear and stilton topped with poached eggs and hollandaise sauce).

How much? Most dishes are less than £10

Where? 94b Fountainbridge in Edinburgh’s west end, just a short walk from either New Town or Old Town.


Cheap and cheerful

A pork roll with gravy from Oink Pork Roast, in this ultimate guide of things to do in Edinburgh

Oink Pork Roast, Edinburgh

Who? Oink Hog Roast

What? Freshly roasted pork heaped onto a bread roll, with a choice of sage and onion, apple sauce, chilli relish or haggis on top. We recommend the haggis!

How much? From £2.95 for a small ‘piglet’ roll to £4.95 for a large ‘grunter’.

Where? Two stores, Grassmarket and Canongate.


High tea

People enjoying high tea at The Colonnades at the Signet Library, in this ultimate guide of things to do in Edinburgh

High Tea at The Colonnades at the Signet Library, Edinburgh

Who? The Colonnades at the Signet Library

What? A taste of refinement, luxury, and downright decadence, all within the surrounds of a gorgeous 19th century library. Their selection of teas is not only excellent, but they are bottomless as well, so you can try them all if you feel like it! Whether it’s their sandwiches, savouries or desserts, after this experience you’ll never look at high tea the same ever again.

How much? £30pp.

Where? The Signet Library, Parliament Square, behind St Giles’ Cathedral. Check their website for their opening hours and to make your online booking.


Food trucks – ‘The Pitt’

Smoke in the air and people eating street food at 'The Pitt' , in this ultimate guide of things to do in Edinburgh

‘The Pitt’ Street Food, Edinburgh

Who? “The Pitt” Street Food Yard

What? Every Saturday an industrial yard is transformed into a street food haven, with more than 40 vendors from around the country cooking up a storm! Later in the evening, you’re likely to enjoy some live music as well.

How much? As little or as much as you like. £2 entry fee per person (it keeps out the riff-raff). Children are free and pooches are welcome.

Where? 125 Pitt Street, Leith. The #7 or #11 buses will take you to within a 2-minute walk. The area looks dodgy, but you’ll be fine.

Food trucks – Fountainbridge

Who? Fountainbridge Street Food Fridays

What? Every Friday (except during winter), from 11 am to 7 pm a variety of street food traders set up shop by the side of the beautiful Union Canal to serve up delicious street food. The vendors are different from week to week, so you can keep coming back for something new!

How much? As little or as much as you like.

Where ? Eastern end of Union Canal (behind Akva).


Quality dinner

Chefs preparing food at the Edinburgh Food Studio, in this ultimate guide of things to do in Edinburgh

Edinburgh Food Studio

Who? Edinburgh Food Studio

What? A 7-course tasting menu, often hosted by local and international guest chefs, driven by and celebrating the constantly changing seasons. The room is only small, so numbers are limited and you’re guaranteed a lot more interaction with the chefs and wait staff. Dinners are held every Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening.

Fair warning, if you’re a foodie then this is one of the best things to do in Edinburgh and you cannot miss this fantastic experience!

How much? £42 for the meal per person, and an additional £35 for matched drinks.

Where? 158 Dalkeith Road on the south side of central Edinburgh. The #14 and #33 buses run right past the venue.

Hot tip!!

Scotland can be VERY expensive when it comes to meals. If you find yourself a really nice restaurant but you’re put off by their prices (as happened to us numerous times), have a look at their lunch time menu.

Most venues offer a set menu special that can be nearly half the price of the same meal in the evening. The range will be reduced, but the service and quality will be no different. This even applies to Michelin starred venues!

Other places we tried…

Lunch at Three Birds, in this ultimate guide of things to do in Edinburgh

Three Birds, Edinburgh

  • The World’s End (The Royal Mile) – A good array of traditional Scottish dishes, but with execution letting them down. A cosy atmosphere with a small selection of beers on tap.
  • The Bow Bar (Old Town) – A laid back ale and whisky bar with a tidy lunch menu. This is where you go to mix with the locals.
  • The Scran and Scallie (Stockbridge) – Sister venue to Michelin-starred Kitchin. This outstanding gastro pub has an innovative menu and great atmosphere, but you’ll pay for it.
  • Bread Meats Bread (Westend/Tollcross) – Standard burger fare. Good for a quick feed.
  • Montpelier’s (Bruntsfield) – A local haunt for two decades now with a menu that balances old favourites and modern innovation nicely.
A frozen Union Canal in Edinburgh at sunrise in black and white, in this ultimate guide of things to do in Edinburgh

Union Canal, Edinburgh

  • The Counter on the Canal (Bruntsfield) – Serving up hot, well-made coffees at four tiny locations across Edinburgh. Our favourite was the small boat on the Union Canal.
  • Artisan Roast (Bruntsfield) – What started as a pop-up for the 2011 Fringe Festival has evolved into a permanent Bruntsfield fixture. Knowledgeable baristas and great coffee.
  • Good Brothers Wine Bar (Stockbridge) – The perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of Edinburgh. An interesting wine list and a very moreish menu of small dishes.

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Michelin stars

You’ll be excited to hear that four venues in Edinburgh have been awarded one Michelin star.

“A stylish, long-standing restaurant…”

  • 21212, 3 Royal Terrace, Edinburgh.

“…skilful, innovative and features quirky combinations…”

“…something of an Edinburgh institution…”

  • Kitchin, 78 Commercial Quay, Leith.

“…From nature to plate…”

Hot tip!!

Bone marrow and ox tongue lunch at Scran and Scallie, in this ultimate guide of things to do in Edinburgh

Scran and Scallie gastro pub is the sister restaurant to Kitchin, with chefs Tom Kitchin and Dominic Jack bringing standards just as high, but in a more relaxed and inviting atmosphere. The menu is incredibly diverse, and it’s all very, very Scottish. Your wallet will also thank you!

It’s the perfect option for those that either can’t get into Kitchin (they book out very early), or need to watch their travel pennies.

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Markets

There are five markets in Edinburgh that you should put on your list:

  • Stockbridge Market – Every Sunday from 10am-5pm in Jubilee Gardens, a 15-minute walk north of Edinburgh’s New Town.
  • Tram Stop Market – Every Saturday from 11am to 5pm near the entrance to St Mary’s cathedral, and York Place tram stop, in Edinburgh’s New Town.
  • Grassmarket Market – Every Saturday from 10am-5pm down at the Grassmarket, a 5-minute walk from Edinburgh’s Old Town.
  • Leith Market – Every Saturday from 10am-5pm at Dock Place in Leith.
Walking through the stalls of the Edinburgh Farmer's Market, in this ultimate guide of things to do in Edinburgh

Edinburgh Farmer’s Market

Edinburgh Farmer’s Market is all about getting to know the local producers and their quality smallgoods, vegetables, baked goods and other produce. In a world where many entrepreneurs are labeling their gatherings as ‘farmer’s markets’, the Edinburgh Farmers Market has been accredited by FARMA, so you know you’re getting the real deal.

Scotch eggs for sale at Stockbridge Market, in this ultimate guide of things to do in Edinburgh

Stockbridge Market, Edinburgh

The Stockbridge, Grassmarket, and Leith markets are all organised by the same group ‘At the Market’. Whether it’s freshly cooked food, handicrafts, jewellery or beauty products you’re looking for, there’s bound to be something of interest. Keep an eye out for the venison haggis at Stockbridge Market every second Sunday of the month!

The Tram Stop Market can easily fly under the radar, but the fruit and veg are renowned among locals for their quality, and you can also pick up hot food to eat on the go.

Hot tip!!

Looking up at Edinburgh Castle from the Grassmarket at sunset, in this ultimate guide of things to do in Edinburgh

An extra incentive to visit the Grassmarket Market is the view from the western end. Looking to the north you’ll find yourself graced with one of the best views of Edinburgh Castle you’ll find anywhere in the city.

It’s even better at night when the lights are switched on and its tall stone walls are placed into dramatic relief!

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Food tours

We love a good food tour. They can be the perfect way to introduce yourself to a new city and get your bearings. All while stuffing your face full of local delicacies!

But…they can also be ridiculously expensive, miserly on the food, and/or simply a Contiki tour for the masses. Yes, we’re food snobs, deal with it 😊

They are one of the first activities that we look for in a destination, and whenever we’re doing our research we are always looking for four things:

  • The food – Is it reflective of the local traditions and history? Does it tell a story? Is it quality? Is it mass produced, or is it artisanal?
  • The venues – Are they owned and run by locals? Do they reflect the history of the destination? Are they ‘authentic’?
  • The tour – How long is it? What districts of the city does it visit? How is the guide going to communicate? How many people are likely to be on the tour?
  • The price – Speaks for itself.

A food tour must offer great value before we start reaching for the wallet. Otherwise, we’ll simply build our own. In fact, even if it is good value, there’s every chance we’ll still build our own because it’s so much fun!


In Edinburgh there are two food tour companies that are very popular; Eat Walk Edinburgh, and Edinburgh Food Safari.

A disclaimer first, we haven’t tried either tour personally, but as you’ll soon see, our research is VERY thorough.

Eat Walk Edinburgh

Eat Walk Edinburgh offer two tours, with one based in the Canongate district (the lower section of the Royal Mile) for £55 and taking three hours, and the other covering both the old and New Towns for £59 and taking three and a half hours.

  • The food – A big red flag popped up as soon as we started reading more about their tours. On their website in each of the tour descriptions there are references to food from other countries. Feedback on TripAdvisor supports this. Sorry, but that’s a big fat ‘no’ for us!
  • The venues – This aspect seems to be covered nicely, with many old Scottish buildings being visited.
  • The tour – Ear-pieces seem to be the go with these tours. The tour leader speaks and it gets piped into your ear. Personally, we hate this approach. It creates a barrier between yourself and the tour guide. Again, feedback online suggests that technical difficulties aren’t uncommon, and the last thing you want is someone coughing in your ear. ‘Eat Walk’ offer numerous food tours across the UK…not a problem in itself, and we aren’t saying that is happening here, but it can breed high turnover and poor quality.
  • The price – It’s about what we would expect for a half day tour in the UK.

As you can probably guess, this wasn’t the tour for us. Don’t get us wrong, we’re sure you’d have a great time and get to sample some awesome food and drink, but it sounds like a shallow exploration rather than a deep dive.

Edinburgh Food Safari

The safari suit alone was nearly enough to make us pull the trigger on this tour!

Edinburgh Food Safari also offers two tours, both £50, both 3 hours long, with one based in Stockbridge (a short walk north of the New Town) and the other around Broughton Street (on the northeastern edge of the New Town).

  • The food – Excellent. You can tell that there are some historical mainstays in the mix, and it seems very consistent across both tours. We did note that they mix up the experience from week to week, so you can’t guarantee that you’ll get haggis, for example. Some may not mind, but for us, if you’re visiting a place like Scotland and you’re only doing one food tour, we’d be expecting haggis to be on there every single time.
  • The venues – Very good. It’s hard to beat the Royal Mile and the Old Town (as per the Eat Walk tour) for old buildings though!
  • The tour – Nell, the safari-suited owner, is clearly an expert in her own backyard and further afield. She’s been in the industry a long time and knows her food inside out. A big tick! We’re not totally sure, but we don’t think they use the ear pieces.
  • The price – Very good.

Our thoughts on Edinburgh food tours?

If food is your ‘thing’ and you’d love to use a food tour as a way of finding your feet in a new city, then we’d recommend the Edinburgh Food Safari. It seems to provide a more comprehensive perspective on Scottish food and has that air of authenticity that is so important to us. We were so close to booking it ourselves, and if we’d only been in town a few days (rather than six weeks!) then we probably would have signed up.

Alternatively, if you do have some time in Edinburgh then why not design your own food tour?

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Design your own food tour

When we aren’t traipsing around the bush, we love to use food in guiding our feet around a city.

It is so rewarding to do the research and then finally turn up on that doorstep and taste that dish you’ve been dreaming about for months.

Planning your own foodie itinerary will create memories that last a lifetime.

There’s always an element of unpredictability as well…but that just adds to the excitement!

The map linked below highlights all of the food options in Edinburgh that we experienced, and is a great place to start planning your own itinerary!

~ Click Here to Plan Your Own Food Tour ~


Supermarket roundup

A Co-Op (ScotMid) supermarket at sunset, in this ultimate guide of things to do in Edinburgh

Co-Op (ScotMid)

If you’re like us and keen to save a dollar by self-catering, you’ll be wanting to know what the supermarket scene is like in Edinburgh.

In short, you’re spoiled for choice. They come in all sizes and price ranges, and no matter where you are you’ll probably find an off-licence within walking distance of your accommodation.

The big ones are Marks & Spencer, Morrisons, Waitrose, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Co-Op (Scotmid), Lidl, and Asda. Many of these also have mini versions of themselves scattered around town.

M&S is the most upmarket and you’ll obviously pay more, but the quality and range is good.

Morrisons and Waitrose are your next tier down and are probably reflective of your typical large suburban supermarket anywhere in the western world.

Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Co-Op are your convenience style stores. Decent range, but you’ll pay for the convenience.

Lidl and Asda are your bulk-buy outlets. Limited range, average quality, great on price.

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Where to Drink in Edinburgh

Long, cold winters. Plenty of barley in the cellar. Too much time on those Scottish hands. Alcoholic beverages were inevitable really!

Here’s a good summary of what’s available around town…

Whisky

It had to make an appearance somewhere, didn’t it?!

As hard as we’ve tried to become the closest of friends, the relationship hasn’t worked out. We aren’t whisky drinkers and we never will be. A real shame considering how long we spent in Scotland, the world’s whisky epicentre!

In Edinburgh itself there aren’t any distilleries. The closest you’ll find is Glenkinchie, a 30-minute drive to the east of the city.

What you will find in town are a number of whisky tasting venues, stocked full of whiskies from all over the country and just waiting for you to stop by and ask for a wee dram!

Whiski Rooms – Located just off the Royal Mile, near Edinburgh Castle, Whiski Rooms offer a number of tasting options including ‘An Introduction to Whisky Tasting’, ‘Whisky and Cheese Tasting’ and even ‘Whisky and Chocolate Tasting’. Prices start at £22.50pp.

Scotch Whisky Experience – Also located just off the Royal Mile but to the south, this is the home of the world’s largest whisky collection. It’s highly likely that even a pair of whisky heathens like us would find something in there that suited our palate. Starting at £15pp, there are numerous tasting tours on offer.

Gin

Now we’re talking!

‘Mother’s ruin’ might have been its nickname in days of yore, but that was when dead cats were the accidental flavour of choice (allegedly!). The gin scene has exploded in recent years and Edinburgh is in the thick of it.

Edinburgh is lucky enough to have four gin distilleries; two of which are open to visitors.

A table of empty bottles and glasses at the conclusion of a tour at Edinburgh Gin, in this ultimate guide of things to do in Edinburgh

Edinburgh Gin Tour

Edinburgh Gin Distillery (juniper, coriander, citrus peel, angelica, orris root, milk thistle, pine, heather) – You’ll find these guys at the western end of the New Town. Some might call it a cellar; but the first thing that came to our minds was a den of iniquity! There are three tours on offer, ranging from £10 up to £75pp, including one option where you can make your very own once-off bottle of gin! They are only small, and extremely popular, so you will need to book ahead.

A man telling us the story behind Pickerings gin at the Edinburgh Foodies Festival, in this ultimate guide of things to do in Edinburgh

Pickerings Gin, Edinburgh

Pickerings (juniper, coriander, cardamom, angelica, fennel, anise, lemon, lime, cloves) – We loved the passion and story-telling brought by Pickerings to the Foodies Festival in Edinburgh. You could tell that he loved the product and wanted us to share in that spirit (literally!). The distillery is to south of Edinburgh’s Old Town in the Summerhall, and is a 15 minute walk from the Royal Mile. They offer one tour, at £10pp. Where else will you get the chance to have a tipple at a place called the ‘Royal Dick Bar’? Guffaws aplenty…

Firkin Gin (juniper, coriander seed, angelica root, orris root) – This small distillery is based out at Leith. We tried their product at the Edinburgh Food Festival and thought it was exceptional. You’ll find their small-batch gins across the UK.

Darnley’s View (juniper, lemon peel, coriander seed, angelica root, elderflower, orris root) – Another small gin distillery in the west end of Edinburgh. They are linked to the Kingsbarns whisky distillery out at St Andrews where you can also taste their gins.

Multi-venue – If you’d like to cover off a multitude of gin venues in one hit, then have a look at tours by Gin Journey. For £52pp you’ll get to try five gins and five cocktails across five different venues. It’s all chauffeured, so no worries about the boys and girls in blue! For something a little bit different, they also offer a negroni tour.

Beer

Edinburgh has a long history of breweries, with up to 35 in operation at its peak in the early 1900s! These days you’ll find eleven breweries in and around Edinburgh, with many offering tours. Belhaven (our favourite), Innis & Gunn, and Caledonian are some of the larger names you should look for, while Brewdog, the Edinburgh Beer Factory and Stewart Brewing offer a smaller scale perspective.

Irn Bru

A can of orange Irn Bru from Edinburgh, Scotland, in this ultimate guide of things to do in Edinburgh

Irn Bru

Strictly speaking, Irn Bru shouldn’t be on this list because it actually originated in Falkirk. But it’s considered by many, next to whisky, to be Scotland’s second national drink! If you’re only going to be in Scotland a wee while, then you really should track down a can of this garishly orange, outrageously sweet, yet utterly delicious soft drink.

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Outdoor Activities in Edinburgh

After all that wining and dining it’s time to get some balance back into your holiday!

Scotland is renowned for its inspiring scenery and Edinburgh presents its own unique facet to any traveller prepared to step off the pavement and onto the trail.

Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean hiking boots and backpacks (mostly), as you’ll find that most of Edinburgh’s best natural attractions are right in the middle of town. Some are in plain sight, others are hidden…but they’re all on our map that you’ll find in the ‘Itineraries’ section.

Read on to find out more about these fantastic things to do in Edinburgh!

Arthurs Seat (Holyrood Park)

The view across Edinburgh from Arthurs Seat, in this ultimate guide of things to do in Edinburgh

Arthurs Seat, Edinburgh

If there is one hike you must do in Edinburgh, it’s the one to Arthur’s Seat. We’ve done a lot of walks in our time and this would easily rate as one of the best ‘city’ walks you will find anywhere. We found an early morning jaunt to be the perfect way to get our bearings on this sprawling, beautiful city. It also gives you a chance to say hello to the Edinburgh locals and their dogs!

The views from this ancient volcanic plug are stunning, both across the centre of Edinburgh but also towards the Pentland Hills, Portobello Beach, and more. Even if you don’t make it to the summit, Holyrood Park is beautiful in itself. The ruins of St Anthony’s Chapel are a nice diversion, and the Salisbury Crags impressive.

It isn’t a difficult walk, but some fitness will be required, particularly for the last steep-ish section. What you do need to prepare for is the chill! It will be a few degrees cooler than down below, and if the wind is blowing (and it probably will) then wind-chill will come into play. Take a jumper and jacket!

Cost – Free!!

How much time to allow? – 2 to 2.5hrs

How to get there? A 15-minute walk south of the Royal Mile. It stands out like the dog’s proverbials. You can’t miss it.

Calton Hill

Looking across Edinburgh from Calton Hill at sunrise, in this ultimate guide of things to do in Edinburgh

The View from Calton Hill, Edinburgh

Calton Hill is located at the eastern end of Princes Street just a few minutes’ walk from the shopping precinct. While it isn’t as high as Arthur’s Seat, the unique views across centre of town at rooftop level are just as good. Row upon row of chimney pots, the looming Scott Memorial, Edinburgh Castle in the background…the photo opportunities are excellent, particularly if you get yourself up there before sunrise.

Cost – Free!!

How much time to allow? – 30 minutes (or longer if you find the National Monument of Scotland and other buildings up there to be of interest)

How to get there? From the eastern end of Princes Street, keep walking east and up the hill. It’s signposted clearly.

Water of Leith and Dean Village

Water of Leith and Dean Village, in this ultimate guide of things to do in Edinburgh

Water of Leith, Edinburgh

On the northern side of Edinburgh’s New Town is the picturesque district called Stockbridge. With a real Dickensian feel, these are the cobblestone streets and sandstone terraces that we used to imagine when reading as a child.

The poetically named Water of Leith is the river that runs through Edinburgh, with its mouth to the Firth of Forth in Leith. A walkway can be found on its green banks, and while it’s only a short walk to the Dean Village you’ll be constantly stopping and admiring either the landscape or the architecture, imagining what it might have been like hundreds of years ago. It’s like a medieval fairytale village, transported to the 21st century! The old mills no longer turn, but the old stonework and winding alleys remain. Your camera is going to get a big workout!

Cost – Free!!

How much time to allow? – It’s a 10 to 15 minute walk from Edinburgh’s New Town. For the walk itself allow 45 minutes to an hour.

How to get there? – From the main street of Stockbridge (having walked from town), turn left down Saunders Street and you’ll find the entrance directly in front of you and clearly marked.

Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

Looking at the glasshouse at the Royal Botanic Garden, in this ultimate guide of things to do in Edinburgh

Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

A slightly longer walk from the city centre, also along the Water of Leith, the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is an oasis of calm. A maze of paths criss-cross the gardens, with plenty of lawns on which to have a picnic (if you don’t feel like eating at the Terrace Café or Gateway Restaurant) or simply rest your feet and soak up the Scottish sun on one of its rare appearances. We recommend checking their website for opening hours, as they vary from day to day, and depending on the season.

Cost – Free (except the Glasshouse, where entry is £5.50 for adults, with children under 15 free)

How much time to allow? – A 30-minute walk from the city centre, and then as much time as you like exploring the gardens.

How to get there? – Once you get to Stockbridge you’re half way there. Turn right onto St Bernard’s Row, then left onto Arboretum Ave and keep going until you see the gates on your right-hand side.

Hot tip!!

The ‘Secret’ Garden

The secret garden of Dunbar's Close, in this ultimate guide of things to do in Edinburgh

As you meander up the Royal Mile it’s easy to find yourself focused on the big attractions like St Giles’ Cathedral and Edinburgh Castle. If you slow down and have a peek into some of the many little ‘closes’, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by what they might reveal. At a glance, they may look closed off and uninviting, but if take a few more steps you might just find another tiny world opening up before you!

One in particular worth exploring is Dunbar’s Close. A throwback to the 1770s, apparently Robert Burns the legendary poet even frequented this tiny green corner of Edinburgh, no doubt to enjoy an oyster or two from Mrs. Love’s oyster cellar, and a tankard of ale!

These days it’s the perfect place to find a bench by the gardens and enjoy your lunch in solitude.

Cost – Free!!

How much time to allow? – As long as you need

How to get there? – At the bottom end of the Royal Mile, keep an eye out for ‘Ye Olde Christmas Shoppe’ in red, and ‘Holyrood Souvenirs’ in blue. Between them is a narrow lane with a gate at its end. Behind that gate is the secret garden!

Dalkeith Country Park

A winding road, cows, and people walking in the middle of Dalkeith Country Park, in this ultimate guide of things to do in Edinburgh

Dalkeith Country Park

If you’re looking for something off the tourist trail and that will give you a great perspective on the Scottish East Lothians, then Dalkeith Country Park could be exactly what you’re looking for.

We spent a month house sitting in Dalkeith and our excursion to the park in subzero temperatures was one of the highlights. Frosty meadows, the last of the autumn leaves strewn across the ground, shaggy cows steaming in morning sun…it was all very un-Australian and we loved it!

There’s plenty there for the whole family. Fort Douglas playground will keep the children occupied for hours in its treehouses and along its wooden gangways. There’s a cosy café inside the Restoration Yard, and if you’re looking for breath of fresh air you can explore the 1000 acre park via the numerous trails taking you through forests, over streams and past all manner of farm animals. Bikes are available for hire as well.

Cost – £1pp (fully refunded on the purchase of anything from the Restoration Yard)

How much time to allow? – Give yourself at least half a day, if not the whole day if the conditions are good!

How to get there? – By car, take Gilmerton Road to the south east for 30 minutes to Dalkeith. By bus, take either the #3, #33 or #49 and hop off once you get to Dalkeith (approximately 40-45 minutes). The gates are at the top end of High Street.

Pentland Hills

One regret we had of our time in Edinburgh is that we didn’t make it out to the Pentland Hills. They have many trails for avid walkers, and we’ve heard the views of Edinburgh from the top are quite special.

Cost – Free!!

How to get there? – We recommend checking the Pentland Hills website, as there are numerous bus combinations that can get you to the various trailheads.

Leith Promenade

A row of terrace houses under a red sky at sunset in Leith, in this ultimate guide of things to do in Edinburgh

Leith Promenade, Edinburgh

There’s something about sunsets and promenades. Watching the colours turn; blue, orange and red, and listening to the sound of small waves gentling caressing the coarse sand.

Leith’s shipping days are long gone, replaced in recent years by a plethora of cafes, restaurants and other shops. You can even walk aboard the ship that once upon a time was the Queen’s own; the Royal Yacht Britannia.

Cost – Free!! (admission to the Royal Yacht Britannia will cost you £15.50 for an adult, or £44.50 for a family)

How much time to allow? – Give yourself a half day to do Leith justice.

How to get there? – There are many buses that will get you to Leith; check the excellent Lothian Buses website for more information. By car, it will only take you 10 minutes.

Union Canal

Moored boats on the Union Canal, in this ultimate guide of things to do in Edinburgh

Union Canal, Edinburgh

Our Airbnb was located right next to Union Canal, so we had the pleasure of strolling its paved banks to and from Edinburgh central nearly every day.

If you’re mad keen, or perhaps just mad, following it into the setting sun will eventually find you in Glasgow!

For a couple of Aussies used to much warmer winters, it was quite a novelty to see the canal iced over and ducks scrabbling about. The coffee from The Counter on the Canal (yes, it’s served from a boat!) warmed us up though. We’d heard good things and they didn’t disappoint.

Bikes can also be hired at the city end of the canal, a great idea considering how flat the terrain is.

Alternatively, why not combine a walk by the canal with Fountainbridge Street Food Fridays?

Cost – Free!!

How much time to allow? – An hour should be more than enough to soak up the ambiance, and see a less-trafficked part of Edinburgh.

How to get there? – Get yourself onto Fountainbridge on the western outskirts of the city centre, and then look for Akva on your left-hand side. Follow the walkway around back and you’ll find the end of the Union Canal. It should only take you 15-20 minutes from Edinburgh’s New Town.

Bruntsfield Links and The Meadows

Bruntsfield Links in Edinburgh at sunrise, in this ultimate guide of things to do in Edinburgh

Bruntsfield Links, Edinburgh

As we were wandering one of Edinburgh’s many parks, the thought occurred to us, “These guys really don’t have any idea about how to keep things flat”.

It turns out we were walking on Bruntsfield Links, which back in the 1600s used to be a golf course!!

It’s a lovely part of town, and you’re likely to come across many of the locals enjoying the sunshine with either family or pooch in tow.

For a longer walk, if you keep walking southeast you’ll find Bruntsfield merging with The Meadows, a very large parkland that circles the lower boundary of The University of Edinburgh and almost reaches as far as Holyrood Park.

Another great option during the day, but to err on the side of safety we don’t recommend a night time walk by yourself.

Cost – Free!!

How much time to allow? – An hour or two should be enough to do a loop around both Bruntsfield and The Meadows. Allow longer if you feel like stretching out on the grass for a little while 😊

How to get there? – Walking south from the Royal Mile you should hit The Meadows within 15-20 minutes.

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Serious Stuff to Do in Edinburgh

Our home in Australia has an ancient indigenous culture, but our western history encompasses only a little more than 200 years.

To be walking through a city like Edinburgh that has existed for more than a thousand years was so surreal! No matter where we looked or what we did, we were surrounded by buildings, streets and monuments steeped in history, all with fascinating stories to tell.

And to think it was all done without an ounce of Vegemite! Just imagine what could have been…

Hot Tip!!

If the cultural attractions are what really excite you about the things to do in Edinburgh, then it would be well worth considering one of the many tourist passes available. Single-entry tickets can cost an absolute truckload, so if you know for sure that you’ll be wanting to visit more than one attraction, get one of these passes and it will almost pay itself off in no time!

Royal Edinburgh Ticket – £51pp for adults, this ticket will get you entry into the ‘Big 3’; Edinburgh Castle, the Palace of Holyrood House, and the Royal Yacht Britannia. It’s valid for two days and also includes the use of the Edinburgh ‘Hop-on Hop-off’ bus tour. You’ll save 25% compared to buying single tickets alone.

If you’re going to be spending time outside Edinburgh, then you will also want to consider buying one of these three passes:

Drop by the Visit Britain site for more information on the included attractions, the period of validity, and other fine print.

The Royal Mile

Looking up the Royal Mile in Edinburgh at sunset, in this ultimate guide of things to do in Edinburgh

The Royal Mile, Edinburgh

From Holyrood Palace, up the cobblestoned hill through the ‘Old Town’, all the way to Edinburgh Castle is Edinburgh’s famous Royal Mile.

But it’s not really a mile. The Scot’s being their intractably independent selves decided that their ‘Scots’ mile would be just that little bit longer than the English, of course!

In theory, it could cost you nothing to stroll along this time capsule from medieval times, but the reality is that you’re going to want to step inside one of the olde-worlde pubs, the tartan-mongers shop fronts, or perhaps dally for a wee while and soak up the dulcet tones of Scotland’s iconic musical instrument, the bagpipes!

We’ve already mentioned the ‘secret garden’. Other attractions you’ll find dotted along its length include St Giles’ cathedral, the ‘Heart of Midlothian’, and at its highest point, ‘The Esplanade’ where the world-famous Edinburgh Military Tattoo is held every August.

That’s not to mention the numerous restaurants, cafes, souvenir shops and other modern tourist attractions that are also there, waiting to deprive you of your last Scottish pound!

There’s a lot to love about the Royal Mile, but there’s also a lot to be desired in its overbearing commercialism. It’s mostly love though!

Cost – Free!!

How much time to allow? – You could walk it in 20 minutes, but you’re better off allowing an hour or two as your eye is bound to be caught by something shiny!

How to get there? – It’s a mile long, so you’d be doing well to miss it. It’ll be clearly marked on any map, running east-west from Holyrood Palace to Edinburgh Castle.

Edinburgh Castle

Looking over the ramparts and a canon at Edinburgh castle, in this ultimate guide of things to do in Edinburgh

Edinburgh Castle

Geographic uncertainty will last mere seconds as you wander the streets of Edinburgh. No matter where you are in the city, the imposing stone walls and notched parapets of Edinburgh Castle are visible, high on its volcanic plug. At times reminding you of Edinburgh’s feudal history, and at others of the incredible New Year’s light show you may have been lucky to witness as part of Hogmanay, soaring above its stone walls in a blaze of neon lasers.

It was with mixed emotions that we stepped back onto the Royal Mile after a couple of hours spent exploring the castle’s cold interior.

It was a real privilege to set eyes on The Honours of Scotland (colloquially known as the ‘crown jewels’) and marvel at the exquisite workmanship of a bygone era. We were touched by the story behind the tiny grassed garden where lay the dearly departed hounds of the commanding officers. The unforgettable ringing in the ears as the One O’Clock Gun kept time, just as it had in the 19th century for the world’s maritime fleets navigating the Forth of Firth. And how many can say that they’ve set foot on flagstones trod centuries ago by soldier, priest, and royalty?

And yet, even in the depths of winter the hordes of other tourists jostling for the perfect selfie. The depressive fatalism with a dash of jingoism at the National War Museum, opening our eyes to just how abhorrently violent we humans really are. And then there was the hit to our hop pocket; £17 for an adult and more than a half hour wait in subzero temperatures for the privilege of such a gouging!

Whether you enjoy Edinburgh Castle or not will probably be determined by your style of travel and sense of value. For us, as iconic as it is, it wasn’t worth it. But we’re sure that those with a passion for history will have a ball!

Cost – £17 for adults, and £10.20 for children. This includes a free guided tour as well, if that’s your thing.

How much time to allow? – Two hours (not including ‘queue’ time).

How to get there? – Follow the Royal Mile all the way to the top.

Hot Tip!!

We didn’t have to stand for a half hour in the queue, waiting to buy tickets. If we had been a little bit more thorough in our planning we would have placed an online order for ‘fast track’ tickets through the Edinburgh Castle web store. The price is the same, but you get to jump the queue on arrival!

St Giles’ Cathedral

St Giles Cathedral on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh at sunset, in this ultimate guide of things to do in Edinburgh

St Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh

Old mate St Giles was a good bloke. Patron saint of not only Edinburgh, but lepers as well!

More than 700 years old, St Giles’ Cathedral (or ‘High Kirk of Edinburgh’, to use its correct name) is a magnificent piece of architecture both inside and out. The ceiling of the Thistle Chapel is simply astounding in its detail, and the stories painted on the cathedral’s stained glass windows are vivid and evocative.

It’s dark inside, but if you think your camera is up to the job (no flash!) then a £2 donation is all that’s needed.

St Giles’ isn’t a museum, with services held daily at noon, and five times on a Sunday. Visitors of all denominations (or none) are very welcome.

Cost – Free!! (or £2 donation if you’d like to take photos inside)

How much time to allow? – 30 minutes should be enough.

How to get there? – St Giles’ Cathedral is in the heart of the Old Town, on the Royal Mile.

Scott Monument

Looking across the Edinburgh Christmas Festival to the Scott Monument and Star Flyer which is spinning around, in this ultimate guide of things to do in Edinburgh

Scott Monument and Star Flyer at Night, Edinburgh

Walking up North Bridge for the first time into Edinburgh’s new city, our jaws just about hit the frosty floor when we saw the Scott Monument.

It’s huge. It’s dark. And it’s very, VERY gothic!

More than 60m high, the enormity of this statue reflects the deep esteem held by the Scots for Sir Walter Scott. Rob Roy, The Lady of the Lake, Ivanhoe…they were all written by this prolific novelist, poet and politician.

Most guide books will try to tell you that there are only two ways to see the monument; either from the ground, or by paying £5 to climb its 280 steps to a viewing platform. But there’s actually a third, ridiculously terrifying way of getting up close and personal with Walter…go in December when the winter festival is being held, and you can hitch a ride on the Star Flyer!

Round, and round, and round, until you either giggle with glee, or puke. Either way, you’ll be enjoying the best view of the Scott Monument in Edinburgh!

Cost – Free from ground level, £5pp if you climb it from the inside, and the Star Flyer will cost less than £10pp.

How much time to allow? 30 minutes.

How to get there? As you approach Princes Street in Edinburgh’s New Town from any angle, just keep your eyes peeled for the evil looking, yet strangely beautiful black and gold sandstone monstrosity.

Scottish National Gallery

The Scottish National Gallery is a grand old building, and it houses Scotland’s national collection of fine art.

Cézanne, van Dyck, Gauguin, Monet…we aren’t art aficionados but even we’ve heard of some of those names!

Cost – Free!! (except for the occasional special exhibition)

How much time to allow? – Depending on your passion for the arts, between an hour and a full day.

How to get there? – Take a stroll down Princes Street and look for the large sandstone building on the southern side.

Palace of Holyrood House

Commonly called ‘Holyrood Palace’, this is where Madge (aka Queen Elizabeth II) puts her dainty feet up whenever takes a holiday in Scotland.

As the palace is still in use by Her Majesty you can’t access all areas. However, access is permitted into the State Apartments and the apartments of Mary, Queen of Scots, dating back to the 1500s.

To momentarily transport yourself back to Victorian times you could also stop by the ‘Café at the Palace’ for an afternoon tea of home-made sandwiches and cakes, and a pot of loose-leaf tea. How very British!

Cost – £12.50pp, including an audio tour.

How much time to allow? – 1-1.5 hours.

How to get there? – The Palace of Holyroodhouse is at the easternmost end of the Royal Mile, on the fantastically named thoroughfare ‘Horse Wynd’. Car parking is available right next door if needed.

Greyfriar’s Bobby

A close up view of the Greyfriar's Bobby statue (a small terrier) , in this ultimate guide of things to do in Edinburgh

Greyfriar’s Bobby, Edinburgh

Every Bobby dog we’ve ever known has been a legend, and Greyfriar’s Bobby is no different. The story goes that when his owner died and was buried in Greyfriar’s Kirkyard, Bobby the distraught Skye Terrier spent the next 14 years sitting on the grave, pining for his departed master!

On Bobby’s death, a statue was raised in recognition of his devotion (Edinburgh’s smallest listed building!), and in the graveyard, a granite headstone has been raised in memory of the pint-sized pooch.

Cost – Free!!

How much time to allow? – 15 minutes

How to get there? – Greyfriar’s Bobby is found on the corner of Candlemaker Row and George IV Bridge in Edinburgh’s Old Town, and is only a few minutes’ walk to the south of the Royal Mile.

Hot Tip!!

Looking up Victoria Street, Diagon Alley from Harry Potter, in this ultimate guide of things to do in Edinburgh

If you’re a Harry Potter fan then you’ll be wanting to get yourself down to Victoria Street in the Old Town quick smart! The graceful curves and high terraces were J.K. Rowlings’ inspiration for Diagon Alley, and as you wander it’s multiple levels you’ll see why.

While you’re there you might want to pick up some of Scotland’s best cheese from I.J. Mellis, or perhaps settle in with a pint of ale at The Bow Bar and watch the world go by.

National Museum of Scotland

The National Museum of Scotland is good for two things; old stuff, and photographers.

The ‘old stuff’ is plentiful, from home and abroad, with the curators ensuring that objects with links to either Scotland or Scottish archaeologists are highlighted. And speaking of ‘stuff…remember Dolly the cloned sheep? You can even view her stuffed remains!

Photographers? You’ll fall in love with the architecture of the Grand gallery.

Cost – Free!!

How much time to allow? – From 30 minutes to all day, depending on your interests.

How to get there? – The National Museum of Scotland is on Chambers Street, on the southern side of the Old Town. It’s only a short walk from the Royal Mile, and an even shorter walk from Greyfriar’s Bobby.

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Fun Stuff to Do in Edinburgh

While at a glance Edinburgh may seem to be all stone and steel, dig a little deeper and there are some really fun ways to pass the time!

The Stand Comedy Club

Billy Connelly is probably the most famous comedian of all time, and that witty, irreverent, belly-aching tradition continues at The Stand Comedy Club.

Every Monday you can catch ‘Red Raw’ where you’ll get to laugh at/with Edinburgh’s up-and-coming comedic talent, while on Sundays you can join in with Stu and Garry for their ‘Free Improv Show’. That’s right, it’s absolutely free! If that’s not enough, on most other days of the week you’ll also find the more established comedians plying their hilarious trade. Drop by their website for the full schedule.

Cost – Stu and Garry’s Free Improv Show on a Sunday is free, with other shows generally costing less than £15pp.

How much time to allow? – Leaving before the end of the show is rude, mmmkay…?

How to get there? – You’ll find The Stand Comedy Club at 5 York Place in the north-eastern corner of Edinburgh’s New Town. Very walkable from most central hotels.

Murrayfield Stadium

Anyone who claims to love their rugby (union, not league!) can’t visit Edinburgh without booking in a visit to the home of Scottish rugby, Murrayfield Stadium. Tours are available from Monday to Saturday at 11am, and on Tuesdays and Thursdays an extra tour is offered at 2:30pm, giving you the opportunity to put yourself in your sporting hero’s shoes, just for a moment!

International rugby fixtures are common, as are local matches during the season in winter. The stadium also plays host to the occasional concert as well. Check their website for more information.

Cost – Tours cost £10pp.

How much time to allow? – Tours take 90 minutes.

How to get there? – Murrayfield is in Edinburgh’s western suburbs, and is serviced by tram and bus. If you feel like stretching the legs you could also walk, but allow an hour to get there. Keep in mind that they won’t store your bags for you while you’re on the tour, and if you’re there for a Saturday tour it’s cash only!

Maison de Moggy

Cats. Such polarizing creatures. At Maison de Moggy half the population would no doubt spend their hour worshipping these feline deities, while the other half would silently plot their demise.

Fabian, the Norwegian Forest Cat. Alain, the Ragdoll. Coco, the British Shorthair. So chic. So capricious. Get acquainted at Scotland’s first ever cat café!

Cost – £7pp

How much time to allow? – Bookings last for an hour, and you can book back-to-back slots if you’d like longer.

How to get there? – Maison de Moggy is at 17-19 West Port on the southern side of Edinburgh’s Old Town, right next to the Grassmarket.

Rolling Haggis Zorbing

As they say in their own words, zorbing is:

“…an extreme activity which involves two brave souls being securely strapped into a giant inflatable and ball hurtling downhill at 25mph.”

We can’t understand why there is no exclamation mark because it looks absolutely insane!!

Either with water (expect to get very wet), or dry (expect to get very dizzy), this has the potential to either make or break your stay in Edinburgh. YOLO, right?

Cost – From £45 for two people.

How much time to allow? For the ride? Not so long. The recovery? A lifetime.

How to get there? Rolling Haggis are located to the southwest of Edinburgh, on the edge of the Pentland Hills (mentioned above in the ‘Nature and Outdoors’ section). There are age, height, and weight restrictions, so check the details on their website just to be sure.

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Festivals in Edinburgh

When you live in such cold climes, it’s essential that you find something to take your mind off your frost-bitten digits.

Edinburgh’s diversion is festivals. LOTS of festivals!!

The most famous of these would have to be the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (funny freaks unite), Hogmanay (New Years Eve), and the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo (which after nearly 40 years of lies and deceit from the ABC we learnt is not actually held on New Years Eve, despite it being televised at that time every single year back in Australia!).

While these are extremely popular, there are so many other festivals being held throughout the year that it wouldn’t matter when you visited, you’re bound to find something of interest.

Some of these do overlap months, so make sure you check their respective websites for more details.

That should keep you busy!! 😀

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Where to Stay in Edinburgh

Basing yourself in a great location is one of the biggest challenges when visiting a city for the first time. Get it right and you won’t need to worry about wasting time getting to all the best attractions. Get it wrong and at best you’ll be up for a long commute, while at worst you might find your backpack missing or a feeling of anxiety every time you step outdoors!

Every city has its good and bad districts, with the best ones typically costing an arm and a leg. While we have been known to splash out occasionally, we generally aim for those areas that are just outside the city centre, are still easily walkable (exploration is half the fun right?!) and that offer that sweet spot in terms of price.

Airbnb is a great option in Edinburgh, and that’s how we found the perfect accommodation on the western edge of the Bruntsfield district. We always self-cater, so Airbnb tends to meet our needs in that respect also, and particularly when they offer discounts for week/month long stays!

Would you like to save $$$ on your first Airbnb booking? Who wouldn’t!

All it takes is 3 super easy steps:

  1. Click through this link to Airbnb
  2. Make a booking and pay for it through Airbnb’s booking system
  3. Complete your stay

You’ll then receive a very tidy credit on your next Airbnb booking!!

How easy is that? 😀

Hotels are obviously everywhere, but they will always come at a premium, particularly the closer you are to either the Old or New towns of Edinburgh. If you don’t want or need to self-cater, or if you’re only in town for a few days, then a hotel could be the way to go.

One hotel chain we discovered in Scotland that offer great value is Premier Inn. They seem to target mid-range business travelers who need a good night’s sleep, without the costly bells and whistles.

There are six scattered throughout central Edinburgh and Leith. Check them out and see if they meet your needs!

District overview

For the full story regarding city districts, you’re always best to ask a local. In saying that, staying in Edinburgh for so long gave us enough time to get a good feel.

Central Edinburgh (Old Town / New Town)

  • Close to pretty much everything of note in Edinburgh.
  • Generally, very high quality.
  • An expensive district in which to stay.
  • If you have a car, parking may be problematic and/or costly.

Stockbridge

Stockbridge main street, in this ultimate guide of things to do in Edinburgh

Stockbridge, Edinburgh

  • Very close to the shopping and buzz of Edinburgh’s New Town.
  • Ridiculously pretty, with an olde-worlde village vibe.
  • Central to excellent food and market options.
  • Will cost you.

Tollcross and West End

  • Close to both Old Town and New Town.
  • Plenty of affordable eating options.
  • A good all-rounder.

Morningside / Bruntsfield

A church in Bruntsfield, in this ultimate guide of things to do in Edinburgh

Bruntsfield, Edinburgh

  • One of the more affluent parts of Edinburgh.
  • Plenty of pubs and high quality cafes/restaurants.
  • Beautiful architecture and lovely parks.
  • A 20-minute walk from central Edinburgh.
  • May cost you, however bargains can be found.

Leith

Looking across the Firth of Forth in Leith, in this ultimate guide of things to do in Edinburgh

Leith, Edinburgh

  • Positioned on the banks of the Firth of Forth.
  • ‘Up and coming’ district that has seen a lot of new development.
  • Shopping options are plentiful.
  • Excellent restaurants are in the area, including two with Michelin stars.
  • A long walk from central Edinburgh, however public transport is excellent.
  • Some say the western suburbs of Leith can be a little ‘unsavoury’ (the gritty movie Trainspotting was filmed there for a reason!).

Where did we stay?

Bruntsfield in Edinburgh in black and white, in this ultimate guide of things to do in Edinburgh

Bruntsfield, Edinburgh

So, after all that where did we stay?

We found ourselves a great Airbnb on the northern side of Bruntsfield, right next to the Union Canal. It was only a 15-minute walk into town and provided us with so many great café and coffee shop options. There were two large supermarkets no more than 15 minutes’ walk from our apartment, and Bruntsfield Links was an oasis in the middle of the city. Public transport options were also plentiful and close to our front door.

We can’t recommend the area highly enough. It has the potential to be costly, so do make sure you do your research. But if you can find a gem then lock it in and you won’t be disappointed!

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How to Get Around Edinburgh

Edinburgh ticks off most of the transport options available to a traveler. Here’s an overview of the main options, with links to more detailed references if you’d like more information.

By foot

While it’s a reasonably large city, most attractions are located within easy walking distance of central Edinburgh. There are some small hills to be climbed, but nothing that will cause you to raise much of a sweat.

Walking is by far the best way to get around Edinburgh, and as a bonus…it’s free!!

If you prefer to have someone guide you around town, there are a number of free walking tours you can sign up for, including a ghost tour!


Buses

The Lothian Buses network in Edinburgh would have to be one of the simplest and most effective we’ve come across anywhere.

Bus routes crisscross the entire city, and if you’re located anywhere within a few kilometres of central Edinburgh then the chances are very good that a bus will stop somewhere nearby.

There are so many transport companies that epically fail when it comes to their website, but again, Lothian Buses have produced a real winner. You can even track the bus locations in real time!

The only downside of the system is that it is on the costly side, with single trips £1.60, regardless of distance traveled, and day tickets £4.00. There’s also a ticketing app for your mobile phone that allows you to buy tickets electronically and then activate prior to jumping on the bus. Other ticket types are available, so check their website for more information.

One really good way of getting to know a city is by booking a ticket on a ‘Hop On/Hop Off’ bus. Edinburgh Bus Tours offer a number of different tours in different parts of the city, with tickets £15pp for adults. The tours operate every single day of the year, they last around an hour, and they depart every 15 minutes.

Car

It didn’t matter who we spoke to, every local agreed that driving around Edinburgh is a pain in the posterior. Considering that the roads evolved from alleyways and streets designed for horses and you can understand why!

Parking is difficult to find and is also costly. Many of the roads in central Edinburgh are also restricted to buses, trams, and taxis at peak times, meaning you’ll probably end up walking anyway. If convenience is really important to you, or you’re thinking of exploring the outer suburbs or countryside, then have a crack, but it isn’t recommended.

Did you know…?

We could not believe our eyes when traveling between London and Edinburgh on the train. We had stopped midway to pick up passengers when we noticed one chap bring his little bulldog on board!

It turns out that the UK, including Edinburgh, is really dog-friendly. In the weeks that followed, we saw these beloved pooches welcomed into pubs, buses, and cafes. Do check the local laws, and always be mindful of those around you, but how cool is that?!

Tram

After much political wrangling and juggling of finances, Edinburgh’s single tram line commenced operation in 2014, linking Edinburgh Airport to central Edinburgh.

Tickets used on the tram network are the same as those used for buses, with fare structures also very similar. The main difference being that a single trip that incorporates Edinburgh airport will cost £5.50 (rather than £1.60 for any other journey by tram).

Drop by Edinburgh Trams for more information.

Train

A limited rail network is available across Edinburgh. However, it is designed to cater for local commuters from the outer suburbs (and beyond) rather than tourists. The Scotrail website is the best place for more information.

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2 Awesome Edinburgh Itineraries

Slow travel is our philosophy. But you know what? That can be so unrealistic. Whether it’s the boss who needs you back at work next week or the family commitments that take priority, sometimes you can only afford to spend one or two days in a new country or city, right?

After living for more than 6 weeks in Edinburgh, these two itineraries are what we consider the best of the best, and we guarantee they will help you make the most of every precious minute!

Keep in mind that during summer the longer daylight hours mean you’ll be able to squeeze two or three more destinations into your day. Huzzah!!

Looking at Edinburgh under snow from Holyrood Park in black and white, in this ultimate guide of things to do in Edinburgh

Edinburgh from Holyrood Park

One Day in Edinburgh

Morning

  • Calton Hill
  • Arthurs Seat and Holyrood Park

Afternoon

  • The Royal Mile
  • Scott Monument
  • Princes Street Gardens
  • Stockbridge
  • Water of Leith and Dean Village

Evening

  • Dinner: The Edinburgh Food Studio

Two Days in Edinburgh

Day 1 (south side)

  • Arthurs Seat and Holyrood Park
  • The Royal Mile
  • Edinburgh Castle
  • Greyfriar’s Bobby
  • Victoria Street
  • The Grassmarket

Day 2 (north side)

  • Scott Monument
  • Princes Street Gardens
  • New Town Shops
  • Edinburgh Gin Tour
  • Stockbridge
  • Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh
  • Water of Leith and Dean Village
  • The Stand Comedy Club

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Essential Things You Need to Know About Edinburgh

Pronunciation: It’s ‘Eh-dinn-bruh‘, NOT ‘Eh-dinn-burg‘!! Don’t be that guy or gal.

Language: English and Scottish Gaelic

Population of Edinburgh: 1.3m

Time Zone: GMT (UTC)

Daylight savings in summer: Yes

Currency: Pounds sterling (can also be used throughout the UK)

Mobile internet coverage is… : Excellent

Drive on the… : Left-hand side

Electrical outlet: Type G

Drinking the local water is… : Perfectly fine

Toilet paper is: Flushed

For more information (yes, more!) we strongly encourage you to drop by the Visit Scotland website. It’s an absolute treasure trove of ideas!

Alternatively, there are many Facebook groups dedicated to helping you plan your holiday in Scotland, such as Scotland Time and Scotland From the Roadside.


If you were debating whether or not to include Edinburgh in your travels, debate no longer!

A week or more would be nice, but even if it’s only for a day or two, to soak up the centuries of history and revel in the fresh, biting air of the north makes for one fantastic life experience.

As you can probably tell, we are always looking for the value in a destination, and Edinburgh has it in spades. While it IS possible to spend a small fortune, through this Ultimate Guide of Things to Do in Edinburgh we hope we’ve provided you with plenty of rock-solid recommendations for how you can explore Edinburgh, have a truck load of fun AND save a pound or two at the same time 🙂

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And then…?

A highland cow with large horns in Scotland

Highland Coo

Edinburgh wasn’t the only destination that we visited in Scotland. How could we travel all that way and NOT get lost in the Highlands?! 😀

The North Coast 500 (NC500) is one of the world’s premier road trips, and we spent nearly two weeks (in winter!!) exploring some of the most amazing scenery you’ll find anywhere on planet earth.


Click here for… “Your Ultimate Guide to Driving the NC500 in Winter”


Highland coos, marauding sheep, hiking in the hail, getting bogged in the snow…it’s got the lot!

We kept a daily diary, so if you’d like to follow our adventures and get some kick-arse inspiration for your own NC500 road trip, then this is the perfect place to start:

We also spent a week in London before traveling up to Edinburgh. Let’s just say that it was an ‘interesting’ experience! You can read all about it here:


Ach, aye, many thanks, laddies and lasses, and happy travels!

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