Edinburgh, the capital city of Scotland and one of the most vibrant cities in the United Kingdom, is truly a gem. Thanks to the world-famous Fringe Festivaland the unique buzz that is Hogmanay (you’ll never experience a New Year’s Eve like it), it is firmly established as one of the most festive cities in the world (like Rio, only the weather doesn’t provide quite as much sunshine, or as many G-strings). But as you’d expect from a British city, it also has a proud, rich history to boot.
The city centre of Edinburgh is home to dozens and dozens of historical buildings and areas, as well as a ton of ‘haunted’ sites. Apparently, the Scots like a good ol’ scare. Edinburgh Castle dominates the city from its vantage point on top of a (hopefully) extinct volcano. From it, the tourist-thronged Royal Mile leads towards Holyroodhouse and the heart of the Old Town, where every step you take, every move you make is weighted by the past.
Not that Edinburgh is just some one-trick town of history. It’s also got great restaurants, a heck of a nightlife and, thanks to Princes Street, some of the best shopping in Scotland. No matter what time of year you go, whether it’s the height of summer when it’s light until close to midnight, or the depths of winter when it’s dark by 3pm, Edinburgh is geared up for having fun.
Best of all, though, there are men in kilts. Go and see if those rumours are true.
Edinburgh’s Top 10
10. Museum of Scotland This place has the best exhibits in the country and welcomes thousands of visitors every day.
5. Royal Botanic Gardens Great for a chill-session and to experience the ever-so-calming effect of flora.
4. Cramond Village: Set around the mouth of the river Almond with its pretty moored yachts, this is one of the most picturesque places in Edinburgh. It was first established as a fort by the Romans in 2nd Century AD.
8. Edinburgh Ghost Tour Edinburgh ghost tours are world-famous. Explore the many historic and haunted Scottish sites. The guides are great value.
3. Palace of Holyroodhouse The official residence of the Queen when she’s in town. Do you think they have a ‘Home Sweet Home’ plaque?
7. Edinburgh Zoo Come and see the only koalas in the entire United Kingdom, as well as other cuties.
2. St Giles Cathedral It’s really old, it’s really big and it’s absolutely magnificent.
6. Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre Discover the whisky-making process and sip on some samples. Then some more. Aaand then a few more. Then you’ll realise why some people call Edinburgh ‘intoxicating’.
1. Edinburgh Castle You could easily spend all day at the city’s icon. Fantastic views, a bloody, brutal history. What more could you want?
- Edinburgh Castle – It dominates the city skyline and offers a fabulous opportunity to discover some true heritage.
- Gilmerton Cove – Lies hidden beneath the streets of Edinburgh in a fascinating series of passageways that can be explored on guided tours.
- Scott Monument – A spire rising to the height of 200 feet dedicated to Sir Walter Scott and offering one of the best views of the whole city.
- Holyrood Palace – Her Majesty The Queen's official Scottish residence and a real eye opener.
- Greyfriars Bobby Memorial — A small but heart-warming tribute to the loyal hound who spent 14 years at his master's grave.
Edinburgh Art & Culture
- Edinburgh International Festival – This world-famous celebration transforms the city every August, featuring theatre, dance, opera and music across the whole capital.
- The Royal Yacht Britannia – One of Scotland's most popular attractions, with visitors able to explore five decks of the Royal Family's floating palace.
- The Edinburgh Film Festival – Comes to the city every June and brings with it famous faces from the big screen.
- The National Galleries – Houses world class-exhibitions, and the free entrance means that to miss is would be inexcusable.
- The National Museum of Scotland – A two-for-one offering, with the Royal Museum and the Museum of Scotland housed next door to each other in a modern structure.
- Old Town – Narrow streets from Medieval Britain are lined with quaint little shops that sell great mementos.
- Princes Street — A hectic thoroughfare lined with all manners of shops.
- George Street – Boasts exclusive outlets and sophisticated boutiques.
- The West End – Packed full of diverse stores, from fashion to quirky gift shops.
- Grassmarket – This vibrant area overlooked by a castle is a great place to find unusual souvenirs.
Edinburgh Gay & Lesbian
- CC Blooms — A very popular gay bar covering all types of musical tastes.
- Blue Moon Cafe – In the Broughton Street area, it has been the meeting place for local gays longer than anywhere else.
- The Claremont Bar – A gay restaurant with a top-class menu.
- Divine Divas – A lesbian get-together at the venue once a month is incredibly well attended.
- Habana – Close to Princes Street, this bright spot is aimed at a younger crowd and features a glass brick bar that has something of a reputation.
- Holyrood Park – Offers great walks and wildlife in a unique, historical landscape right in the heart of the city.
- The Royal Mile – One of the most famous streets, not just in Edinburgh but throughout the world, presents a fascinating walk.
- The Royal Botanic Gardens – Has become internationally renowned for its horticultural development and attracts huge numbers.
- Princes Street Gardens – A scenic route from east of the city to west passes beneath the shadow of the imposing castle.
- The Meadows – A fantastic place to visit in the summer is packed with folks playing, walking their dogs or relaxing.
- Murrayfield Stadium – Home to the national rugby union team and a great place to be part of the atmosphere, or just to take a tour.
- Meadowbank Sports Center – The place to go for athletics, exercise, squash courts, all-weather pitches and the velodrome.
- Torphin Hill Golf Club – Offers stunning views of the city whilst taking in a leisurely round.
- The Midlothian Ski Center – An all-year resort with artificial snow proving almost as good as the real thing.
- Ainslie Park Leisure Center – Features a top-class swimming pool and multipurpose sports hall.
This is Edinburgh’s historic core, so you’re in for some top-notch attractions. Start on a royal note with Edinburgh Castle and Palace of Holyroodhouse, which hosts the Queen’s Gallery and a collection of royal art, then get spiritual at St Giles Cathedral (which predates the Norman Conquest).
For something truly unique, head under the Royal Mile to take a tour of Mary King’s Close, a warren of hidden, haunted streets from the 16th Century. Although obviously laid on for tourists, it has a more authentic feel than the Edinburgh Dungeon, which has more of a theme-park vibe (although is still very well done and is a fun way to scare the bejesus out of the kids).
This area is an extension of the historical hub as well as Edinburgh’s main shopping and commercial district, so make sure you bring your every pound and penny. Head to Princes Street for popular brands, department stores and big ol’ malls, George Street and Multrees Walk for snootier tastes and, finally, Broughton Street and Leith Walk to release your inner hipster.
Once you’ve melted your credit card, climb the massive Scott Monument, built to commemorate the life of the famous novelist Sir Walter Scott. To keep the cultural theme going, the National Gallery of Scotland and Georgian House are both worth a visit.
In truth, though, so much of New Town is Georgian in design, you can probably get enough of a sense of time and place without heading inside to admire particularly lacy tablecloths. Unless particularly lacy tablecloths happen to be your thing, of course.
These neighbouring areas are directly north of New Town and home to the impressive Royal Botanic Garden as well as ‘6 Times’, a work by artist Antony Gormley. The work is comprised of six, full-size human figures along the Water of Leith. It’s pretty cool stuff.
P.S. If you’re after a good meal and some vintage shopping, this is where to come. Dozens of second-hand and antique stores line the streets, as well as some great Indian restaurants.
Calling all Dan Brown fans: if you want your chance to find the Holy Grail (good luck), make sure you visit Rosslyn Chapel, a masterpiece of stone carvings and intricate art. If you’re done with history, check out the coolness that is The Royal Observatory. Here you can peer through the UK’s biggest telescope and spy on the neighbours. The ones on Mars, that is.
Home to Murrayfield Stadium, where Scotland entertains – and, in that friendly Scottish way, usually loses to – visiting national rugby teams. Edinburgh Zoo is also here, where you can watch the adorable Penguin Parade and pat some koalas (who are very far from home).
Visit Lauriston Castle, a 16th Century house-cum-museum that boasts spectacular interiors and a beautiful Japanese friendships garden. If you’re up for a little day trip, hop on a bus and visit Cramond, a picturesque seaside village where you can grab a bite to eat and soak up the scenery and friendly atmosphere.
Edinburgh Eat & Drink
The Elephant House Enjoy a coffee or a hearty meal at the place where J.K. Rowling wrote most of the first Harry Potter novel. Cool.
Dionika Seafood is the absolute specialty, but you can also grab some Spanish. Food, that is.
The Raj This restaurant isn’t fancy, but the curries will set you on fire (in a good way). Don’t forget to finish your night with a hookah session.
Opal Lounge If you want to dance to some house and electro and hang with the coolest kids in Edinburgh, this is your place.
The Sheep Heid Inn Scotland’s oldest pub (est. 1360) just makes you feel all cosy and snug. Grab a meal and enjoy the low-key atmosphere.
Oloroso This rooftop restaurant has great views and a delectable menu to boot! The scallops are the bomb.
E:S:I This place has a modern, art-gallery vibe and boasts epic steaks.
Dragonfly This chic bar/lounge is in the heart of Old Town and serves up the best cocktails.
Thai Pad The best Thai in town! This colourful eatery serves up intricately decorated plates with authentic, mouth-watering Thai.
The Witchery Location, location. This luxe eatery is right by Edinburgh Castle. It serves up modern cuisine and, yes, they do have haggis.
Royal Week is the Queen’s traditional week-long stay at the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Exciting! Her visit begins with the ancient tradition of the Ceremony of the Keys and then once she’s officially shacked up, she attends to a bunch of Scottish business, including throwing one hell of a garden party. What a rock star! You probably won’t score an invite, but the city is positively buzzing so you’ll have a good time regardless. Her visit is usually around the end of June.
The Edinburgh Art Festival welcomes local and international artists and presents a wide range of exhibits and events. Whether you like traditional works or something a tad more out-there, you’ll find something to satisfy your arty tastes from July to September
One of the most iconic Scottish events is the Edinburgh Tattoo, a unique blend of music, dance and military-related shenanigans. Millions have watched the event in the grounds of Edinburgh Castle since its debut and it’s one of the biggest attractions in the city. Head on over in early to late August.
Crowds swarm the cobbled streets of the city for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival every August. It’s basically an arts festival on crack – everything from comedy shows, musicals, exhibitions and circus tricks are paraded in the streets as well as at a variety of venues around the city. Some BIG stars first made their names here.
Hogmanay is the Scottish New Year’s Eve. Join the crowds swarming along the Royal Mile and sing along with the heartiest rendition of Auld Lang Syne (written by Scotsman Robbie Burns) you’ll ever hear.
When To Go
People visit Edinburgh at any time of year, but if it’s sun and warmth you’re after, head over in late May to September. Not surprisingly, these also happen to be the busiest and most festive months in the city.
- Winter average: 5°C (41°F)
- Spring average: 14°C (57°F)
- Summer average: 21°C (70°F)
- Autumn average: 10°C (50°F)
What To Miss
Alcohol-related street violence is a bit of a problem in Edinburgh (and the UK in general), so drink responsibly and don’t rile up any rowdy, drunk dudes.
Making fun of the accent or the whole kilt thing won’t do you any favours.
The heart of Edinburgh is very easy to walk around in terms of distance, but some of the more scenic streets are a little on the steep side. Pace yourself, though, and you won’t have any difficulty. Otherwise, buses are the best way to reach further-flung areas.
Humble, hardy Edinburgh, with a proud and rich history, has phenomenal tourist appeal. Edinburgh city is just one superb example of what the country has to offer. Easily one of the most picturesque in Europe, Edinburgh has enough architectural wealth to earn the affection of international tourists. Indeed, the Old Town and New Town of Edinburgh are World Heritage Sites and provide the urban population of more than 1.2 million people much to boast about to friends and family who dwell abroad. A favorite amongst the Scottish community, students and tourists, Edinburgh is one of the most popular travel destinations in Europe.
With a history of settlement that dates back thousands of years, where do you start in a city like Edinburgh? From a purely logical sense, why not begin with the incomparable site that looms over the city. From the summit of Castle Rock, the complex of Edinburgh Castle dominates the scenery and represents peerless history.
With records of human habitation that date back to the 9th century BC, the Castle is a major landmark today. St. Margaret's Chapel, adjacent to the main structure, is a wonderful example of Norman architecture. Built around 1100, no other structure in Edinburgh is older. Other attractions of note include the National War Museum, Great Hall and Royal Palace.
Most tourism in Edinburgh takes place in the Old Town and New Town. The former, with famous Royal Mile streets that maintain the original medieval plan of the area, has some of the best architecture in the city. Notable sites include the National Museum of Scotland, Law Courts and St. Giles' Cathedral. A spiritual home for over 900 years, the Cathedral features a dramatic, cavernous interior, magnificent stained glass and vital city monuments.
The New Town of Edinburgh is not so in the literal sense. The area dates as far back as 1765 and features beautiful Georgian manors, with much Age of Enlightenment design influence. The shops on lovely Princes Street, the National Gallery of Scotland and Balmoral Hotel are prime New Town eye candy.
More Info On Events
Edinburgh is a hotbed of festivals and concerts. The Edinburgh Fringe is famous for avant-garde international acts and performers and remains the arts festival of record in the world. The offshoot Comedy Festival is now a top draw in the city as well, just one in a number of events the Fringe supports throughout the year.
Other notable festivals in the city include the Jazz and Blues Festival, International Book Festival, Art Festival and International Science Festival. There is hardly a theme or occasion the city of Edinburgh does not celebrate with a festival, it seems.
In the same vein, the annual Hogmanay party that spans from New Year's Eve to the Bank Holiday of January 2 is the best time to be in the city. Over 300,000 people attend the epic street bash, held on Princes Street and the Royal Mile.
In general, Edinburgh has a temperate maritime climate, with mild conditions, even in winter.
- Winter (November to February) 0-9°C
- Spring (March to May) 1.5-14°C
- Summer (June to August) 9-19°C
- Fall (September to October) 6- 16°C
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