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Bucket list destination:

Edinburgh

  • Edinburgh, Edinburgh Region, United Kingdom (UK)

Last updated: 19 June, 2023
Expert travel writer: Lucy Gillmore

The Scottish capital is a place of staggering beauty; mooching around the cobbled streets and gazing at the craggy castle, you’ll feel as if you’ve stumbled onto a film set.

The medieval Old Town and 18th-century neoclassical New Town were awarded World Heritage status in 1996, but on top of all the history seeping from the stonework, there are parks galore and the city is a stone’s throw from the beach.

There’s also a vibrant cultural scene, with royal palaces, cutting-edge art and the odd festival you might have heard of. Add in gourmet restaurants and cosy pubs, and this is perfect city break territory.

Orientation

A city of two compact but hilly halves, Edinburgh is split into the medieval Old Town, huddled below the craggy castle, and the Georgian New Town with its gracious crescents and elegant terraces.

Princes Street, the city’s main shopping street and busiest street, and the green slither of Princes Street Gardens, divide the two.

The so-called ‘Royal Mile’, Edinburgh’s tourist central, is a 1-mile-long thoroughfare through the Old Town, linking Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace at either end. It’s actually a succession of streets – Castlehill, the Lawnmarket, the High Street, the Canongate and Abbey Strand.

Off to the northeast of the city lies the smartly revamped docklands at Leith, Edinburgh’s foodie hotspot.

Tours, tickets & transfers

16

Our selection of the best Viator tours of this destination, plus helpful tickets and transfers

Underground Walking Tour in Edinburgh

  • Edinburgh

Underground Walking Tour in Edinburgh

Viator

Visit the infamous hidden and supposedly haunted vaults beneath the South Bridge in Edinburgh Old Town. Hear tales of how the poor and unfortunate lived in these former slums. Explore these dimly lit vaults by candlelight, once the haunt of criminals, body snatchers and witches alike, said by some to now be occupied by a few of the spirits of these inhabitants long since dead. Each vault has stories of crime, disease, death and lots more... with which your guide shall enlighten you in all the gory details! You will see a genuine witchcraft temple, recently used by a Wiccan coven and you will enter their former temple. Join us to learn why it is no longer safe for them to practice their craft in that vault. DARE you step inside the infamous stone circle?

Price £20

Min age 5

Rating 4.72 / 5 [5279 ratings]

Tour supplied by:

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Edinburgh Darkside Walking Tour: Mysteries, Murder and Legends

  • Edinburgh

Edinburgh Darkside Walking Tour: Mysteries, Murder and Legends

Viator

See Edinburgh’s shady side. The gruesome and the glorious. The ghostly and the ghastly. This 2-hour tour is a wickedly entertaining walk on the wild and dark side of the Scottish capital. Explore the spots where murders, monsters and mayhem have become things of legend, and visit Old Calton Burial Ground or Canongate Kirkyard, two of Edinburgh’s most chilling cemeteries. Throughout the tour, hear real-life tales of witches, body-snatchers, vampires, cannibals and more from your entertaining guide.

Price €24

Min age 0

Rating 4.77 / 5 [3290 ratings]

Tour supplied by:

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City Sightseeing Edinburgh Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour

  • Edinburgh

City Sightseeing Edinburgh Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour

Viator

Explore the historic and vibrant city of Edinburgh in your own time, with an award-winning unlimited 24 hour hop-on hop-off bus tour. From the open-top deck you’ll have a fantastic 360 degree view of the spectacular surroundings, which are a blend of stunning natural beauty, and wonderfully historic architecture. This Scottish sightseeing adventure will take you to all of Edinburgh's key points of interest, including Waverley Bridge, Grassmarket, Johnston Terrace, Old Town, Canongate, Palace of Holyroodhouse, Our Dynamic Earth and much more! There's also an informative audio tour commentary on the double-decker bus, so you can make sense of the fabulous sights you're experiencing. With access to 14 stops around the city, and the ability to hop on and off the bus as much as you please within the given time period, you can truly immerse yourself into the culture of this charming destination.

Price £16

Min age 5

Rating 4.28 / 5 [2052 ratings]

Tour supplied by:

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Website >

Ghost Bus Tour of Edinburgh

  • Edinburgh

Ghost Bus Tour of Edinburgh

Viator

Prepare to be scared silly on a 1-hour ghost bus tour around Edinburgh’s ghoulish haunts. Under the guidance of a creepy onboard conductor, cruise around Edinburgh’s most terrifying and impressive sights, such as Greyfriars Kirk, Edinburgh Castle and the Royal Mile. Ride in a double-decker 'Routemaster' vintage bus and feel your hairs stand on end as you hear shocking tales of grisly executions, unspeakable tortures and grim grave robbers. Discover the city’s sinister side and steel yourself for some frights on board.

Price £21

Min age 5

Rating 4.24 / 5 [2024 ratings]

Tour supplied by:

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Website >

Old Town Walking Tour History and Tales in Edinburgh

  • Edinburgh

Old Town Walking Tour History and Tales in Edinburgh

Viator

This walking tour is designed to give you a broad understanding of Edinburgh, it's history and culture.  The tour runs for around two hours taking in many of the sites of the Old Town which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We strive to be informative yet entertaining on this tour, delivering an overview of Edinburgh with the passion it deserves.

Price £14

Min age 5

Rating 4.88 / 5 [1547 ratings]

Tour supplied by:

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Website >

Travel advice

When to go

For most of the year Edinburgh is laid-back, low-key and calm, but come the summer season (which kicks off in July with the Jazz and Blues Festival) the city’s alter ego emerges. It’s as if the capital comes off its medication and goes a little wild as festival frenzy takes hold. This can be a positive or negative depending on your perspective.

Hotel prices soar, restaurants are fully booked and the crowds are crushing, but the flip side is the city sizzles. The Hogmanay celebrations over New Year are also classed as peak season.

Getting there and away

The airport is eight miles west of the city centre. The airport bus into town is very straightforward, quick and cheap, departing from outside the terminal building and dropping you around half an hour later at Haymarket station or in the centre of town near Waverley, the main train station. There are also plenty of taxis, taking around 25 minutes to the city centre.

Getting around

One of the beauties of Edinburgh is that it’s easy to get around on foot – as long as you’re relatively fit. It’s not flat and those cobbles can cause problems, but it’s compact and exploring the alleys and backstreets gives you a real sense of history. There’s also a good bus network and taxis are plentiful if you’d rather hitch a ride, but the never-ending tram-works mean driving can be stressful.

Where to stay

Old Town, New Town or wild card Leith? First-time visitors who want to be in the thick of things should opt for the medieval Old Town or Georgian New Town.

The Old Town is more touristy, chaotic and crowded but has a real buzz. The elegant, leafy New Town is quieter and has more of a local feel.

However, nowhere is exactly far away. Leith is worth throwing into the mix, with its batch of boutique hotels, gastropubs and Michelin-starred eateries on the sleek waterfront – and just a short taxi ride from town.

Where to eat or drink

The gentrified docklands down in Leith are a real foodie enclave with no fewer than four Michelin-starred restaurants, along with gastropubs, seafood restaurants and bars lining the shore.

The chic neighbourhood ‘villages’ of Stockbridge and Bruntsfield, meanwhile, have plenty of cute eateries and bars away from the crowds.

For raucous nightlife, head to the bars along George Street and the Royal Mile.

Where to shop

You’ll find all the high-street staples along Princes Street, higher-end boutiques on George Street and designer labels off St Andrew Square.

The Royal Mile has plenty of tartan tat, but you can also browse specialist whisky shops, Scottish cashmere emporiums and kilt-makers here, while nearby Grassmarket has vintage chic and homespun Scottish labels.

Head to Southside’s Bruntsfield village and William Street in the West End to mooch around independent boutiques.

Destination guides

1

Other guides relevant to this destination

Scottish Highlands

  • Scottish Highlands, United Kingdom (UK)

Ruins of Kilchurn Castle on the edge of Loch Awe with brown hills behind

Destination guide

Magnificent mountain scenery slashed by silvery lochs and peppered with brooding castles: all laden with rich Scottish heritage, history and tradition. Drive the NC500 road trip, or ride on the spectacular West Highland Line.