The cobblestone streets, historic old stone buildings, weathered pubs and nighttime revelry that goes on in Edinburgh, Scotland, are some of the main reason people want to visit this incredible city in the United Kingdom. There’s an overwhelming sense of history in the old part of the city of Edinburgh, and a stylish modernity in the new part of the city that is authentic and inviting to visitors.
It’s not a cookie-cutter city that you look around and wonder why you went there, like many big cities can be. There’s a special feeling in Edinburgh that makes you fall in love instantly.
You’ll know what I mean the second you set foot on the Royal Mile. You’ll feel like you’re a part of what makes Edinburgh so unique, and you’ll want to stay a while and see that this place is all about.
While you’re in the area, we encourage you to look at taking a drive up to the East of Scotland for some great views, food, and whisky in Fife and Dundee.
Check out these top 10 reasons to love Edinburgh
1. Edinburgh Castle
Not just the castle itself, but the immense amount of history that surrounds it and the other nearby buildings, draws you right in and makes you feel like you’re actually part of the city’s long history. We loved the cobblestone streets that lead up to the castle that’s perched atop Castle Rock at the top of the Royal Mile. The views of the city below are incredible, and the feeling of being among the ancient remains of a time past, like the world’s oldest cannon and Scotland’s Crown Jewels, is worth battling the crowds that flock there. It’s one of the best Edinburgh tours you can go on. Click here to book “skip the line” tickets for the castle so you won’t have to wait in line.
2. Afternoon Tea at the Museum of Scotland
A very English thing to do, having afternoon tea in Edinburgh is a must. There are plenty of options to choose from, but I loved the elegant surroundings and great view at Tower Restaurant in the Edinburgh Museum. Not only do you get a chance to wander through the museum while you’re there, the afternoon tea experience is very nice. The sandwiches, scones and various sweets were served alongside your choice of tea and throw in a glass of Champagne for good measure.
3. Holyroodhouse Palace
The Royal Family stays at Holyroodhouse Palace while visiting Edinburgh. If they’re not in town, the palace is open for public tours. Unfortunately for us, the Palace was closed while we were there, so we didn’t get to go anywhere but the gift shop, but you’ll definitely want to make this one of your top priorities.
You’ll learn all about the past royals who have lived there and visit the Royal Apartments and Throne Room as well as Mary Queen of Scot’s Chambers. There are audio tours you can buy that will guide you through your visit, or for a more personal experience, sign up for one of their private tours.
4. Late Night Ghost Tour
A dark history filled with witches and the tortured souls of spirits will haunt you as you walk along the narrow alleys and streets of the city on a guided ghost tour. There are a number of companies to choose from — Mercat Tours, City of the Dead Tours and the one we choose to go on The Cadies and Witchery Tour, which was very fun. You’ll do a lot of walking around, discovering secret alleys and hearing spooky stories from Edinburgh’s past. Just watch out for ghosts!
5. Walking the Royal Mile
One of my favorite things to do while in Edinburgh was walking the Royal Mile. The “mile” stretches from the Edinburgh Castle all the way down to Holyroodhouse Palace. In between are tons of shops, restaurants, pubs, museums and attractions, like Camera Obscura, which is good for killing a couple of hours (especially if it’s raining), the Scotch Whiskey Heritage Center and Mary King’s Close and Parliament buildings. I could easily spend an entire day walking around, just looking at everything — add in stops to all the attractions and you’d need a whole week to get through it.
Here are 10 other free things to do in Edinburgh.
6. Trying haggis for the first time
Haggis might not be at the top of your list of food to run out and try, but when visiting Edinburgh it’s practically required. Why not put away your preconceived notions of the dish and give it a try. Haggis is made out of “offal” (sheep’s heart, liver and lungs), mixed with onion, oatmeal, suet and spices then encased in intestine or sausage casing. It’s nothing to be afraid of and actually tastes pretty good. You may be surprised how much you like it — it you just give it a try!
7. Enjoying a couple pints in a local pub
You have to visit a pub and drink whatever the locals are drinking while you’re in town. There’s no lack of pubs to choose from, ranging from quiet spots to sip a glass of Scotch to rowdy club-like bars where the beer flows freely. Try Last Drop or Black Bull in the Grassmarket area. We also like the White Hart Inn. Along Grassmarket, you’ll find literally dozens of options, some playing live music, some playing sports — so just take your pick and settle in for a couple of pints.
8. Scotch Whisky Experience
Perhaps it’s a little cheesy — you ride through a make believe distillery in a whiskey barrel while learning all about the process of making Scotch — but it’s also a great way to learn how to smell and taste Scotch properly and how the refining and aging process works. My favorite part was the vault that contains the world’s largest collection of Scotch Whisky. You also get to keep the glass that you tasted from, which makes a great gift for someone back home.
⇒ Book a tour at the Scotch Whisky Experience.
9. Late-night revelry
Edinburgh, more than any other city I’ve stayed in, is extremely festive after dark. Locals gather at the clubs to drink and enjoy life until the wee hours of the morning — and then they sing loudly together on the way to the next club. Since your sleep is almost guaranteed to be interrupted by the revelry, you may as well join em! George Street is a good place to start — just go where the music is playing and have a good time. Warning: You may find yourself singing at the top of your lungs with the locals long after midnight.
10. Eat Exciting food
Maybe people don’t flock to Scotland for its food — the thought of eating haggis has most people rethinking their appetite — but Scottish food has a certain appeal to foodies and adventurous eaters, nonetheless. Traditional fare like haggis, neeps and tatties and black pudding can be found in many of the restaurants and bars throughout the city.
Try The Dome for a traditional meal in grand style, find a spot at the award-winning George Street Bar & Grill, or if you want to keep with the feeling of the city, stop by The Witchery, near the Edinburgh Castle, for a unique and tasty dining experience. We had the good fortune of running into this amazing pork eatery called “Oink” that was incredibly delicious. They even served the cracklin’ on the sandwich for extra crunch!
(And when you finish these, here are EVEN MORE things to do in Edinburgh – 70 more to be exact!)
Where to Stay in Edinburgh
Looking for the best hotels in Edinburgh? We recommend the Radisson Blu Hotel on the Royal Mile. The hotel is in a fantastic location, close to everything, walking distance to all the top attractions. The rooms are designed well, with modern art work and quality linens. There’s a restaurant on site. And the price is very reasonable. You really can’t beat it. ⇒ Read reviews of the Radisson Blu on Tripadvisor.com
These are only a few of the top reasons you might fall in love with Edinburgh. Check out this list by our friends at The Trusted Traveller for a few more things to do in the Edinburgh. It’s such a lively and vibrant place to visit, I’m sure you’ll find dozens more reasons to love it there. What are your favorite things about Edinburgh?
Laura Lynch, creator and writer of Savored Journeys, is an avid world traveler, certified wine expert, and international food specialist. She has written about travel and food for over 20 years and has visited 70+ countries.