Travelling to Edinburgh? Not sure what to do when you get there? Then let us help you explore the Scottish capital with our pick of things to do, from going to world-famous festivals to enjoying stunning views over the Firth of Forth.
1. Go to the world’s biggest arts festival
Edinburgh is the ultimate festival city and sees celebrations all year round, but especially in the month of August. This is when the largest arts festival in the world descends, with Fringe acts, comedy geniuses, and high-kicking Scottish ceilidhs, while every night up at the castle, the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo goes off with a bang. And there's plenty to enjoy for free, too, as entertainment spills out onto the city's streets.
2. Climb up high for incredible city views
Some of the best British walks are found in Edinburgh. Great news if you’re on a budget as walking is totally free! In Holyrood Park, that lies on the edge of the city, you can get your outdoors fix plus a taste of Scotland’s natural landscapes. The open moorland soars up to the 800m peak of Arthur’s Seat, a rugged, extinct volcano. You’ll get spectacular views back over the city and out to the Firth of Forth. After an easier climb? Head up Calton Hill at the end of Princes Street. This hill was formed from the lava and ash that erupted from Arthur’s Seat millions of years ago.
3. Listen for the 1 o’clock gun at Edinburgh Castle
Make your way up to Edinburgh Castle, perched on its volcanic rocky outcrop in the heart of the city, and at 1 o’clock every day you can witness this long-honoured tradition. Established as a time signal for ships in the nearby Firth of Forth estuary, today the ceremony is watched by tourists - fingers in ears - as the gun is loaded with a blank cartridge and fired on the strike of precisely 1pm. You can see Edinburgh Castle and more with VisitBritain's Royal Edinburgh Ticket.
4. Follow in the footsteps of JK Rowling
Fans of Harry Potter will be eager to get a cup of coffee in the same spot where JK Rowling first conjured up her stories about the bespectacled wizard. The Elephant House was her coffee shop of choice when living in Edinburgh as a fledgling writer, and today a plaque honours her as a former customer. And whatever you do, be sure to go on the excellent Harry Potter Walking Tour of Edinburgh!
5. Discover Scotland's history along the Royal Mile
This historical road runs through the heart of the Old Town of Edinburgh, from the lofty castle down to Holyrood Park. Whichever way you stroll along the Royal Mile you’ll soak up the atmosphere of the city - a great free activity. Look out for the narrow cobbled alleyways and steep stone staircases with overhanging lanterns that are called ‘closes’. Stop off for a taste of medieval life at John Knox House and The Real Mary King’s Close or reminisce in the Museum of Childhood.
6. Explore Princes Street
You’ve explored the old, now it’s time to check out the New Town. Well, in Edinburgh’s terms this means around the 18th century onwards. Princes Street is the smart main thoroughfare of the city that looks over to the towering Old Town beyond Princes Street Gardens. The gardens make a peaceful stretch running parallel with the bustling shopping street. Here you can climb the 200ft Scott Monument, or see globally important works in The National Gallery of Scotland.
7. Meet the animals at Edinburgh Zoo
For a fun family day out, head to Edinburgh Zoo.The kids will love the chance to come face-to-face with all their favourites, including penguins, koalas and giant pandas! Keep an eye out for special events too, from late summer openings to zoo keeper experiences.
8. Board the Royal Yacht Britannia
Step aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia that’s moored in Edinburgh’s docks at Leith and you’ll get an intriguing insight into the life of the Royal family. Home to The Queen and the Royal Family for over 40 years, see where Her Majesty and Prince Philip slept during numerous sea voyages. For a more traditional view of the Royals, pay a visit to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the Queen’s official residence in Scotland.
9. Eat at Edinburgh Farmers’ Market
Consistently rated one of the world’s best farmers’ markets - not to mention a top place to eat in Edinburgh - this foodie fest takes place every Saturday on Castle Terrace. You’ll find fresh local produce from more than 50 stall holders here, all with stunning views of Edinburgh Castle in the background. Feast on speciality Scotch eggs, perfect pies and gourmet marshmallows. And don’t forget to pick up some edible souvenirs for friends back home.
10. Sample some Scotch Whisky
There are some fabulous pubs in Scotland, ranging from cosy and traditional to hip and contemporary. For your first taste of true Scotch Whisky though, you’d do well to head to Edinburgh’s award-winning Scotch Whisky Experience. There’s nothing they don’t know about Scotland’s national tipple, so ask as many questions as you like. Depending on your level of enthusiasm, you can sign up for a 50-minute introductory tour, go for an in-depth masterclass or even combine a tasting with a perfectly paired dinner.
Edinburgh is around 7 hours 30 minutes north of London by car, but you’ll be surprised how easy it is to get there via public transport. Check out our blog, 6 amazingly easy ways to get to Scotland, for inspiration on how to travel via plane, train and bus.