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25 Best things to see & do in Edinburgh

  • Edinburgh, Edinburgh Region, United Kingdom (UK)

Last updated: 15 June, 2024
Expert travel writer: Lucy Gillmore
  • Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom (UK)

Man on floor in front of queen statue in a play

Bucket List Experience

Edinburgh Festival

Edinburgh sizzles with festival fever during the summer and the choice is mind-boggling. The Edinburgh Festival is actually four festivals running concurrently – the Edinburgh International Festival, Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Edinburgh Art Festival, and Edinburgh International Book Festival. Big-venue acts are flown in for the International Festival; the Edinburgh Fringe sees a mad medley of more than 3,000 offbeat comedy, music, and dance acts.

The world’s largest arts festival – four festivals in one – turns Scotland’s conservative capital into a show-stopping prima donna. and theatre acts. The Royal Mile becomes a swirling sea of impromptu performances, face painters and tourists.

It’s crowded and crazy, so accept it or avoid it. The season is unmissable – dip in and out, and enjoy an exhausting but exhilarating maelstrom.

Good for age: 13+

Duration: 1 month

When: August

Freq: annually

  • Edinburgh , Scotland, United Kingdom (UK)

bands marching across the forecourt at dusk in front of the grandstands

Bucket List Experience

Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

Cannons thundering, military bands marching, drums rolling, pipers playing, fireworks blazing across the night sky: the Tattoo, set against the dramatic backdrop of Edinburgh Castle, has amazed audiences for more than 60 years.

The 90-minute show, which also includes state-of-the-art light displays and 1,000 musicians, singers and dancers from all over the world, is brought to an end by the soulful lament of a lone piper. It’s a spectacular, emotional rollercoaster.

Adult price: £25

Good for age: 6+

Duration: 90 minutes

When: First 3 weeks August

Freq: annually

  • Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom (UK)

Looking up the hill at Edinburgh Castle

Bucket List Experience

Edinburgh Castle

The brooding castle looming over the city is the iconic image of the Scottish capital and notches up more than a million visitors each year. Tick it off for the views alone: to the north the Firth of Forth and the Kingdom of Fife, to the south the Pentland Hills.

The fortress and royal palace, with dungeons and a 12th-century chapel, forms a sprawling complex that also includes the National War Museum.

If you can, time your visit to coincide with the one o’clock gun, which has been fired almost every day since 1861 – apart from Sundays, Good Friday, and Christmas Day.

Adult price: £17.50

Good for age: 4+

  • Edinburgh , Scotland, United Kingdom (UK)

The Scotch Whisky shop on the Royal Mile highlights one of Scotland's chief attractions.

Bucket List Experience

Scotch Whisky Experience

If you can’t make it to a distillery, this is the next best thing.

Fully guided tours educate and inspire visitors about Scotch whisky, covering all aspects of production, geography and appreciation. You can experience the whisky-making process and pick up some fascinating snippets of history along the way. Tours also include a nosing and tasting, as well as a glimpse of the largest Scotch whisky collection in the world (3,384 bottles of Scotch Whisky).

If you’re not up for the full, tutored tour, the whisky sommelier in the downstairs bar ‘Amber’ will select your perfect dram from over 450 whisky varieties. They can also advise on a Scottish cheese or tapas accompaniment.

Adult price: £17

Min age 18

Good for age: 18+

  • Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom (UK)

Massive Haggis food dish with knife stuck in it.

Bucket List Experience

Edinburgh’s best food & drink

Edinburgh is the epicentre of Scotland’s vibrant food and drink scene. Once the butt of gastronomic jokes, for years now it has been celebrated instead for the bounty of its natural larder.

The capital’s restaurant scene is geared less towards Michelin star counts – although it has a smattering of these – and more towards field-to-plate and communal dining experiences, driven by chefs specialising in culinary acrobatics and pushing the boundaries, such as Aizle’s Stuart Ralston and Fhior’s Scott Smith.

There are more and more speciality food stores and delis springing up (stock up on local venison charcuterie), artisan bakers (tuck into smoked salmon bagels) and cheesemongers on every corner. Once there was one farmers’ market in the shadow of the cathedral – now there are five.

Good for age: 18+

Duration: Any

  • Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom (UK)

View of the beautiful internal gallery with high white vaulted ceiling

Bucket List Experience

National Museum of Scotland

Up until recently, many large-scale museums were dull, dusty and stuck in the past. Now, though, they strive for the wow factor, and the state-of-the-art National Museum of Scotland, which reopened in 2011 after a £47 million revamp, is a prime example.

The Grand Gallery is an airy atrium housing the four-story Window on the World installation, while 16 other spellbinding galleries explore Scotland’s history, culture, art and design, fashion, science and technology. There are also galleries devoted to Ancient Egypt, East Asia and Pacific Islanders.

Good for age: 16+

  • Edinburgh , Scotland, United Kingdom (UK)

Exterior view of the Royal Yacht Britannia from front side angle

Bucket List Experience

Royal Yacht Britannia

One of the most famous ships in the world, this luxury yacht served the British Monarchy for over 44 years in multiple capacities, from official state visits to family holidays, travelling over a million nautical miles.

Now an immaculately-kept museum, you can tour five different decks, including the Bridge, the State Apartments and the crew’s quarters.

You can stop for an afternoon cream tea where the Queen herself would have sat in the Royal Gallery.

Adult price: £18

Good for age: 8+

  • Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom (UK)

A photo of the Palace of Holyroodhouse, official residence of the Queen in Scotland, a stone building with small pointed turrets

Bucket List Experience

Palace of Holyroodhouse

Once the home of Mary Queen of Scots, today it’s used as a residence when the British Monarch is visiting. Rebuilt during the 16th and 17th centuries, the Palace of Holyroodhouse is an elegant pile at the bottom of the Royal Mile with a ruined abbey, art gallery and obligatory gift shop.

Mooch around the Royal Apartments, still used for official business, and snoop around Mary Queen of Scots’ chambers for a fascinating peek into the life of the monarchy past and present.

During the summer (1 May-30 Sept) you can book a private half-hour tour of the gardens, exploring their history and seeing parts of the grounds normally closed to the public.

Adult price: £17

Min age 3

Good for age: 13+

  • Edinburgh , Scotland, United Kingdom (UK)

Far beneath the medieval streets of Edinburgh’s Old Town is one of its grittiest and most atmospheric, labyrinthine attractions.

As the capital’s elegant New Town was being built, many of the cramped, plague-ridden streets and tenements in the Old Town were simply bricked over. This is a real glimpse of 17th-century life rather than a Disneyesque experience.

Actors in character along the way include Mary King herself (an independent woman and successful merchant), a maid, a doctor, a poet – all weaving tales of daily life. It’s dark, it’s damp, it’s Les Miserables Scottish-style – with a touch of gallows humour.

Adult price: £19

Min age 5

Good for age: 5+

Duration: 1 hour

Seabirds at Bass Rock

  • North Berwick, Scotland, United Kingdom (UK)

Seabirds at Bass Rock

Experience

The quaint seaside town of North Berwick (45 minutes by car or 30 minutes by train from Edinburgh) is a must for nature lovers and tweeters, and a great day out for any visitor to the region.

Bass Rock, a striking 10m-high monolith 2km off the shore, is home to the largest colony of gannets in the Northern hemisphere.

First, stop by the state-of-the-art Scottish Seabird Centre to learn about the colony and other wildlife in the area, then book onto one of their boats trip out to the Rock to bird-spot. The 3-hour guided tour allows you to alight at the rock itself (age 16+ only); other 1-hour tours involve cruises around it, spotting birds and other local wildlife.

After grab fish and chips on the harbour from the Lobster Shack and ice cream on the shore. If you’re there for dinner, book in to local chef Dean Banks’ relaxed seafood restaurant Dulse.

Adult price: £30

Good for age: 4+

Duration: 1+ hours