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Best things to do & places to stay:

Last updated: 17 December, 2022
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.

The bucket list experiences our writer says you must do in this destination

Edinburgh Festival

Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom (UK)

The world’s largest arts festival – four festivals in one – turns Scotland’s conservative capital into a show-stopping prima donna.

Best for ages: 13+ | Free | 1 month

Belmond Royal Scotsman

Scottish Highlands, Scotland, United Kingdom (UK)

Europe’s most luxurious hotel train offers a relaxing introduction to the Highlands, with stops including country houses, castles, gardens, Loch Ness and world-renowned Scottish whisky distilleries.

Best for ages: 25+ | £4,000 | 2-7 nights

Other worthwhile experiences in this destination if you have the time or the interest

Camera Obscura - two people inside a mirrored room
Experience

Camera Obscura

Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom (UK)

The city’s oldest purpose-built tourist attraction, at the top of the Royal Mile, is topped with a periscope that transfers images of Edinburgh’s skyline onto a table-top.

Best for ages: 4+ | £16 | Around 1 hour 45 min

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Edinburgh Dungeon
Experience

Edinburgh Dungeon

Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom (UK)

An underground yomp through the darkest episodes in the city’s history, including the story of body-snatchers Burke & Hare, a torture chamber and the Grassmarket Gallows – a re-creation of when Edinburgh’s central square was famous for its hangings.

Best for ages: 10+ | £18

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market stalls on the street with blue and white striped awnings
Experience

Edinburgh Farmers’ Market

Edinburgh , Scotland, United Kingdom (UK)

In the shadow of the castle, the original farmer’s market has jauntily striped stalls stocked with sauerkraut, smoked salmon and Arbroath Smokies. Held every Saturday from 9am-2pm, 3 mins walk from Edinburgh Castle.

Best for ages: 18+ | Free

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A view of the Jupiter Artland, showcasing the artwork
Experience

Jupiter Artland

Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom (UK)

A contemporary sculpture park, in the grounds of gracious Bonnington House, on the edge of Edinburgh is peppered with works by Charles Jencks, Cornelia Parker, Antony Gormley and Anish Kapoor.

Best for ages: 4+ | £10

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

 JK Rowling’s Edinburgh and the Writing of Harry Potter 4hrs

JK Rowling’s Edinburgh and the Writing of Harry Potter 4hrs

Edinburgh

JK Rowling... she’s sold a few books - what?! ✒ On this tour, we dive deep into her history. Learn to use failure as a springboard, be insp...

£30 | Rating 4.83 / 5 [178 ratings]

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City Sightseeing Edinburgh Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour

City Sightseeing Edinburgh Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour

Edinburgh

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 t...

£16 | Rating 4.26 / 5 [1588 ratings]

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Edinburgh - Dark History

Edinburgh - Dark History

Edinburgh

Ah, Edinburgh! They don't call it "The Jekyll & Hyde City" for nothing. During the day, a respectable figure, with its astonishing...

£14 | Rating 4.96 / 5 [273 ratings]

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Edinburgh Darkside Walking Tour: Mysteries, Murder and Legends

Edinburgh Darkside Walking Tour: Mysteries, Murder and Legends

Edinburgh

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 ...

€24 | Rating 4.77 / 5 [2776 ratings]

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Our writer’s picks of the best places to stay in this destination

Market Street Hotel

Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom (UK)

A cool, central upside-down design hotel with a rooftop terrace and champagne lounge. Perfect for those who love cool design and champagne sundowners.

Official star rating:

Cheval Old Town Chambers

Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom (UK)

Chic, contemporary design and a family and pet-friendly ethos come as standard in these luxury apartments in Edinburgh’s medieval Old Town.

Official star rating:

Witchery by the Castle

Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom (UK)

A flamboyant, historic bijoux bolthole in the shadow of the castle, its sumptuous suites the most romantic in Edinburgh. For lovers and history lovers who want to step back in time.

Official star rating:

Cheval Abbey Strand

Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom (UK)

History-steeped aparthotel with contemporary designer interiors, perfectly located for sightseeing at the bottom of the Royal Mile.

Official star rating:

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.

Our writer’s recommended itineraries for this destination