Edinburgh is renowned for being one of Europe’s most lively and friendly cities. It offers visitors the best of both worlds: urban attractions, and beautiful natural landscapes, there’s plenty of choice to suit everyone. If you want to explore more of what the Scottish capital has to offer here are some of the best things to see and do in easy-to-navigate Edinburgh. 

The Royal Mile

Resting like a gem near Holyrood Park, The Royal Mile is a succession of streets through Edinburgh’s Old Town which connect Edinburgh Castle and Palace of Holyroodhouse. The distance between the two royal residences is exactly a mile, hence its name, which it was given in the 16th century.

Along the cobbled streets, there are five sections to explore: Castle Esplanade, Castlehill, Lawnmarket, the High St and Canongate. Don’t miss the 15th-century grey behemoth, St Giles Cathedral, which was restored in the 19th century, and The Witches Well, a fountain that commemorates the Edinburgh women executed on suspicion of witchcraft between the 15th and 18th centuries. 

Other things to look for include Cannonball House, which has a cannonball lodged into its west wall (don't worry, it's unlikely to be embedded during a battle, more a municipal solution left there by engineers marking the height for the city's first waterpipe), and former Victorian church houses like John Knox House, which dates from 1470, the oldest building on the Royal Mile.

The Edinburgh Military Tattoo at Edinburgh Castle at sunset
If you time your visit right you can catch the Edinburgh Military Tattoo or another major event like Hogmanay © Morag Fleming / Shutterstock

Edinburgh Castle

No visit to the Scottish capital would be complete without seeing Edinburgh Castle. Originally built in 1103 on a large craggy rock, Britain’s most besieged castle can be seen from almost every corner city. 

Home to both Mary, Queen of Scots and Bonnie Prince Charlie, the royal residence also houses Britain’s oldest Crown jewels, known as the Honours of Scotland. They include an imperial golden crown, decorated with pearls and large amethyst, the silver-gilded Sceptre of Scotland and the Sword of State which was a gift to James IV in 1507 from Pope Julius II. Year-round guided tours give visitors a sense of what life was like at the castle. 


Dean Village

 In a city as beautiful as Edinburgh, it can be hard to stand out, but the tranquil Dean Village – which officially became part of the city in 1826 – just about takes the crown. Set next to the Water of Leith, which languorously rolls on past, this former grain milling area to the northwest of the city center is a photographer's dream model. 

Look out for the red sandstone of Well Court which hangs over the river. It was built in the 19th century for the owner of The Scotsman newspaper, Sir John Findlay. Other photo opportunities include the 106ft-tall (32m) Dean Bridge, which is the work of civil engineer Thomas Telford who designed the A5 road from London to Holyhead, and the Germanic-looking daffodil-yellow timber-fronted houses.

Man looking at Hollyrood Park and Arthur's Seat from Calton Hill with snow
Rocky hills provide ever-changing panoramic viewpoints: here Arthur's Seat from Calton Hill © Jonathan Smith / Lonely Planet

Arthur’s Seat  

An unmissable landmark, Arthur’s Seat provides visitors with spectacular views of the city. Some 350 million years ago, these lurching green hills within Holyrood Park formed an active volcano. Long extinct, it's now hikers and visitors that stream down its steep banks like lava. Keen for breathtaking panoramic vistas of Edinburgh from above? You’ll see its spires and rooftops, the Firth of Forth, Murrayfield Stadium, the Pentland Hills and beyond from up here. 

Arthur’s Seat itself is a former hill fort surrounded by three defensive siblings. Self-guided tours of the site are available as a free podcast. Download the Hidden Trax app.

Scottish National Gallery

Edinburgh has plenty of great art galleries, but the Scottish National Gallery is its best. Located just off Princes Street, this imposing neoclassical behemoth dates back to the 1850s. It’s built by William Henry Playfair, who also designed the iconic Dugald Stewart Monument, the Royal Scottish Academy and over 15 other landmarks in the city (yes, including “Edinburgh's Disgrace”, the National Monument of Scotland, his unfinished ode to Parthenon in Athens)

Art enthusiasts can view Van Gogh's Orchard in Blossom (Plum Trees), Lobster Telephone by Salvador Dalí and the transcendent Wandering Shadows by Scottish artist Peter Graham, among many others. There are paintings here too by Glasgow's prodigal son, Charles Rennie Mackintosh. The gallery has a restaurant and cafe that serves up traditional Scottish dishes such as haggis and black pudding, with overlooking views of the city landscape.

Inside Camera Obscura and World of Illusions is a major tourist attraction in the Old Town, Edinburgh, Scotland.
Camera Obscura and World of Illusions is a favorite tourist attraction in the Old Town © Mariusz S. Jurgielewicz / Shutterstock

Camera Obscura

Close to the Royal Mile, Camera Obscura & World of Illusions is an observatory established by Maria Theresa Short in 1853. First established as a museum of art and science, today a spiral stairway leads up to an observatory at the top of the Outlook Tower where you will find the camera obscura, a device that uses lenses and mirrors to throw back a visual of the whole city onto a large screen.

Guides provide historical background to the devices used here and the quirky rooms leading up to the tower such as the vortex, a tunnel that seems to spin, and a mirror maze immerse visitors in different types of optical illusion.

Princes Street

Built in 1767, the historic Princes Street takes its name from the sons of King George III. Once a smart residential street, it's now the heart of Edinburgh's central shopping district. As well as independent stores, major high street brands and plenty of places to eat (try Sir Walter's Cafe in the Gardens, or Castello), the nearby Princes Street Gardens are a must. 

Not only a great place for a breather, the park has some lovely unique features worth seeking out including the recently-renovated Ross Fountain, a turquoise-and-gold, Beaux Arts–style water feature first erected in 1872, and a large floral clock (July to October) which is made anew each year from some 35,000 flowers.

New Town architecture in Edinburgh Scotland
Edinburgh's New Town is blessed with beautifully well-preserved Georgian architecture © pidjoe / Getty Images

The Georgian House 

A lesser-known attraction in Edinburgh’s New Town, the Georgian House was built in the late 17th century by acclaimed architect Robert Adam, the neoclassical revivalist whose exhaustive works include Pulteney Bridge in Bath and Harewood House near Leeds. As you’d expect for the Architect of the King's Works, the property is charmingly luxurious. 

There are paintings here by famed Scottish artists, including John Simmons, and oodles of Regency charm. The vast Drawing Room, which takes over the entire first floor, houses a square piano (the center of the room was for dancing), whilst the Dining Room has a wonderful drop-leaf dining table, a walnut longcase clock from London and black, gilt-carved chimney glass. Visitors can also see the Parlour, the Kitchen, the Basement and the Servants Quarters.

Mary King’s Close

Okay, so the immersive characters might not be for everyone, but The Real Mary King's Close offers a unique perspective on Edinburgh. Located beneath the Royal Mile, this labyrinth of 17th-century alleyways and streets stand almost as they were some 250 years years ago when the City Chambers were simply built on top of them. The tours here take you back in time with characters dressed in period costume adding to what is a memorable experience.

Outside the Victorian Tropical Palm House, the oldest glasshouse at the Royal Botanic Gardens.
Outside the Victorian Tropical Palm House, the oldest glasshouse at the Royal Botanic Garden © Prettyawesome / Shutterstock

Royal Botanic Garden

 Known locally as the Botanics, this sprawling 70-acre garden has more than 13,500 species of plant to discover across six different gardens. Look for the rare Catacol whitebeam, endemic to the Isle of Arran, located near the huge Victorian Glasshouses, which themselves are home to some of the world’s most endangered plants. There are also a number of tropical palms to discover as well as dwarf daffodils, snowdrops and1000 types of rhododendron.

Museum of Childhood

The first of its kind in the world, the Museum of Childhood homes all things related to children. From 19th-century Victorian dolls and a Raleigh Chopper bicycle to long-forgotten board games like Quintro and a 1920s voice-activated toy called Radio Rex, this place won’t just keep the kids amused, it will revive nostalgia in adults too.

Two women walking in Holyrood Abbey at Palace of Holyroodhouse, Holyrood district.
Explore the atmospheric ruins of Holyrood Abbey at Palace of Holyroodhouse © Will Salter / Lonely Planet

Holyrood Abbey

Founded by David I in 1128, all that remains of Holyrood Abbey are its ruins. But what magnificent ruins they are! The walls of this mighty Gothic church are still intact and the arched window frames and decorative detail on the front-west facade show how important this place of worship was. 

Later, the cloister precinct became Holyroodhouse where the royal family stayed when they were in Scotland. Guided tours help visitors to admire the architecture and learn more about the former abbey's significance.

The Chocolatarium

Chocolate lovers will be thrilled with The Chocolatarium in Edinburgh, located just off the Royal Mile. Visitors can expect to indulge at the micro chocolate factory and learn how the sweet treat is made. Ninety-minute guided tours take you through the growth of chocolate and even gives you the chance to make your very own bar to take home.

Edinburgh Zoo

Ideal for families, the 85-acre (34-hectare) Edinburgh zoo is home to more than 1000 rare and endangered animals and is world-renowned for its conservation efforts. Located on the top of Corstorphine Hill, the views back across the city are nearly as compelling as the wildlife.

Open since 1913, the wildlife park offers visitors a chance to see penguins, Sumatran tigers, monkeys, birds, fish, frogs and a whole host of different animals, including two of the rare greater one-horned rhinos. It is also the only zoo in Britain with giant pandas and koalas. Add in feeding shows, live events and screenings – and there is plenty here to fill a day.

Stockbridge Sunday Market in Edinburgh
Join the locals browsing produce at Stockbridge Food Market on a Sunday. Getty Images

Stockbridge Food Market

From warm, artisan loaves and thick Germagrain batards to filling East African gambos and fragrant three-lentil dahl with coconut and ginger, gourmands will not be disappointed with Stockbridge Food Market

Located in a small park between Saunders and Kerr Streets, just northeast of the beautiful Circus Lane mews, this Sunday showing of traditional Scottish food (think haggis or tablets, a traditional Scottish sweet that's similar to fudge) and superb international grub (huge pans of aromatic paella and delicious, nduja burrata taglioni) is where the foodies can be found.

Gladstone’s Land

Gladstone’s Land is an historic 17th-century tenement house on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, which was plucked from the jaws to demolition and lovingly restored to its former glory. Expect thick, dark-wood beams, period furniture and hand-painted ceilings as well as a retelling of the stories of those who lived there. 

Royal Yacht Britannia

If you like the thought of exploring a former royal family holiday home then step aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia for a guided tour of the world famous yacht. The Royal Yacht has travelled more than a million miles and its grandeur is exhibited in its 412ft (125m) build. It is moored in Leith Port and visitors are invited to explore the royal decor or indulge in a majestic afternoon tea.

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