In today’s post, I’m going to share my top ten places to visit in Edinburgh, Scotland!
Edinburgh, Scotland, is an amazing city that is filled with culture and history.
There’s so much to do in such an easily accessible city that it can be hard to know exactly where to start!
During a recent trip, I had the opportunity to spend six days in Scotland’s capital, exploring the best attractions the city has to offer.
Here are my top ten favorite attractions in the city:
Best Places To Visit In Edinburgh, Scotland
1. Edinburgh Castle
Perched beautifully over the entire city, Edinburgh Castle is the crown jewel of all the historic sites in town.
Visitors get a peek into what life was like for those in centuries past, and can see several historic sites that span centuries in just one location.
From the oldest building in Edinburgh (St. Margaret’s Chapel, built in 1174) to the breathtaking Scottish National War Memorial, Edinburgh Castle is not to be missed!
Spectacular views of the entire city are everywhere at the castle. I found myself imagining what the view would have looked like during the time of Mary, Queen of Scots.
Edinburgh Castle is easily one of the top places to visit in Edinburgh!
Tips for visiting: Either buy your tickets in advance or arrive before opening, as line for entry and to visit some of the attractions can get very long very quickly.
2. Royal Mile
Edinburgh Castle is connected to another great attraction, Holyrood Palace, by an amazing street called the Royal Mile.
This old cobblestone street is filled with shops, restaurants, and historic attractions that will make any traveler stop and take notice.
In fact, several of the other items in my top ten are located along the Royal Mile.
Walking along this road gives you an immediate sense of the history of this place. Street performers, including bagpipers and other local musicians station themselves along the way, adding a fun and festive atmosphere to the walk.
We found ourselves here on three out of the six days that we were in Edinburgh, and found something new to explore each time.
Take the time to explore some of the side streets for some absolutely amazing and unexpected views of the city.
Tips for visiting: Start your day by taking a taxi to Edinburgh Castle. After you finish your visit there, work your way downhill along the Royal Mile.
The street is steep and the walk can be pretty strenuous if you start at Holyrood Palace and work your way up. Your calves will thank me later!
3. Scotch Whiskey Experience
As you leave Edinburgh Castle and head down the Royal Mile, you can’t miss the Scotch Whiskey Experience on the right hand side of the street.
The Scotch Whiskey Experience was one of the best places to visit in Edinburgh because it was nothing like what we expected it to be.
Complete with a Disney World style ride and a tour of one of the largest Scotch Whiskey collection anywhere in the world, the Scotch Whiskey Experience is a fun and interesting way to learn more about one of Scotland’s most famous exports.
This tour is top of the line, with each guide being an expert on Scotch Whiskey, from the historic drink’s origins to whiskeys currently available in their shop.
During your tour, adults complete an evaluation to determine which whiskey they’ll enjoy sampling the most. Guests are then given a sample of this whiskey to try.
Adults with any interest whatsoever in whiskey will find this attraction to be educational and fun.
Tip for visiting: Upgrade to the Gold Tour and experience a wonderful additional whiskey tasting in the exclusive tasting room.
4. Victoria Street
Victoria Street proved to be my favorite place to spend time in all of Edinburgh, and also proved to be the best place to find souvenirs!
Just a short walk down the hill from the Scotch Whiskey Experience, turn right onto George IV Bridge. Walk one block and you’ll find the beginning of Victoria Street on your right.
This short, colorful, and historic street is said to be J.K. Rowling’s inspiration for Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter books.
Filled with unique shops and restaurants, this street contains so much color and personality. I found some fantastic and unique souvenirs at Swish, John Kay’s Shop, and Museum Context.
The upper promenade of the street includes some wonderful local restaurants, but our favorite was Howie’s, located on the main level. They serve fresh, seasonal cuisine, and always have something fantastic and intrinsically Scottish on the menu.
I found myself longing to go back to Victoria Street again and again, just to enjoy the view.
Tip for visiting: If you place your order before 6:30, Howie’s has a fantastic deal for a two course dinner. DO NOT skip dessert here. Order the Sticky Toffee Pudding and you won’t regret it!
5. Real Mary King’s Close
For a completely unique and sometimes spooky experience, head back up to the Royal Mile and visit the Real Mary King’s Close.
This tour explores the “Hidden History of Edinburgh” by taking visitors underground, to explore the old streets and homes that were basically entombed when the city constructed new buildings directly on top of the old ones.
Tour guides are in costume and character throughout the tour, and modern technology is utilized in a few places to really bring the experience to life.
This tour was definitely one of the best places to visit in Edinburgh, just due to the unique nature of what we saw during the tour.
Tip for visiting: No photography is allowed during the tour, so invest in some of the memorabilia in their awesome gift shop.
6. St. Giles Cathedral
Situated in the heart of the Royal Mile, Saint Giles Cathedral was founded in 1124 and is still operating as a church today.
Not only does this building hold religious services, it is also plays host to many concerts, lectures, exhibitions, and civic ceremonies.
St. Giles also houses Thistle Chapel, home to the Order of the Thistle, the greatest order of chivalry is Scotland. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth is the sovereign of the order, and appoints those to the order who have made significant contributions to national life in Scotland.
The cathedral’s website puts it best when it says that Thistle Chapel’s “neo-gothic woodwork and stunning gold-leaf ceiling makes it one of Edinburgh’s must-see hidden gems.
Tip for visiting: While entry to the church is free, the upkeep of the cathedral is funded by donations and I encourage you to leave a few pounds in the donation boxes provided around the church.
There is also a 2 pound fee for the privilege of taking pictures inside the cathedral. It is more than worth the cost to capture some of the amazing architecture and beautiful decorations inside this historic building.
7. Palace of Holyroodhouse
At the bottom of the Royal Mile, you’ll find the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the Queen’s official residence when she visits Edinburgh.
Walk through room after room, each of which has been the scene of hundreds of historic moments in Scotland.
The State Apartments feature ever increasing elegant decor as you walk onward through the palace.
The personal chambers of Mary, Queen of Scots are a highlight of the tour. These rooms were backdrop for some of the most shocking and scandalous events in Scottish history.
Just the portraits alone make make it one of the best places to visit in Edinburgh.
The gift shop also has some cool items if you’re a fan of the Royal Family.
The ruins of Holyrood Abbey are beautifully haunting, and the gardens surrounding the palace are a peaceful place to rest and enjoy the glorious view of Arthur’s Seat.
Tips for visiting: Definitely utilize the included audio tour to get the full experience.
8. Calton Hill
Once you’re ready to venture away from the Royal Mile, head over to Calton Hill for some of the most amazing views of the entire city of Edinburgh.
Calton Hill features several historic buildings and structures, including Nelson’s Monument, the Burns Monument and St. Andrew’s House, and the half-finished National Monument.
Calton Hill is an easier climb than Arthur’s Seat, the other famous hike in the area, and will render pictures just as stunning.
Hit up this area around sunset for some really special views.
Tips for visiting: If you enter the park from the south side, closest to Princes Street, be prepared for A LOT of steps. It is a bit of a hike, but it’s definitely worth every step.
9. Royal Yacht Britannia
The Royal Yacht Britannia was home to the Queen and the Royal Family for over 40 years, serving as both an official vessel and a vacation home.
Now permanently berthed in Edinburgh, a tour of the yacht offers an intensely personal look into the royal family.
Personal family photos of the queen and other members of the royal family fill each room, and the audio tour explains the use and importance of each artifact in the yacht.
Take the time to enjoy a lovely afternoon tea in the Royal Deck Tea Room, and be sure to spend some time in the gift shop which offered some of the best souvenirs of all of the places I visited while in Edinburgh.
Tips for visiting: The yacht is located in the area of Leith, just a short bus ride from the city center. The entrance to this exhibit happens to be inside the Ocean Terminal shopping mall, something I hadn’t realized when I was trying to find the attraction.
10. Dean Village
One of my favorite experiences while in Edinburgh was the quiet and restful walk I took through picturesque Dean Village.
This ancient milling village is hidden away just five minutes from Princes Street.
The calm stream that runs through the village creates a lush oasis in the middle of the city, and the incredible architecture that surrounds the stream leaves you feeling transported into another era. B
e sure to bring your camera and take your time as you wander along the beautiful paths and over the idyllic bridges.
Tips for visiting: Please remember that this is a residential district, and be respectful of the people who live here. While strolling the streets is welcome, trespassing into private gardens and properties is not.
Other Places to Visit in Edinburgh
Edinburgh is a city full of activity and history, and while these are my top ten places to visit in Edinburgh that I got a chance to experience during my time in the city, there is still lots more to see.
The Edinburgh Dungeons, Camera Obscura & World of Illusion, Dynamic Earth, Princes Street, and all sites that inspired J.K. Rowling to write the Harry Potter books, just to name a few!
There are hundreds of wonderful restaurants and lots of tours that would appeal to anyone!
We found that GetYourGuide.com had lots of great tour options for in and around Edinburgh.
Edinburgh is a city that deserves a visit from every world traveler!
Wanna know where to find the best stuff to bring home from Scotland? Check out my post on The Best Places To Buy Souvenirs In Edinburgh!
The Top Ten Places To Visit In Edinburgh, Scotland