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Things to do in Edinburgh

You'll discover everything from whisky to Harry Potter, or even some bodysnatchers, in Scotland's captivating capital.

Our most recommended things to do in Edinburgh

Edinburgh: Loch Ness, Glencoe & the Scottish Highlands Tour

1. Edinburgh: Loch Ness, Glencoe & the Scottish Highlands Tour

Head for the Highlands, whether in search of the Loch Ness Monster or just a scenic day trip from Edinburgh. After pickup, relax on the bus and listen to the guide’s entertaining commentary. Visit Kilmahog for an introduction to the famous Highland Cows (depending on the time of year) and a cup of coffee. Next, travel up the road to Glencoe and enjoy a 10-minute photo stop in front of the unforgettable Highland views. Have lunch in the Fort William area, where your guide can advise you on where to eat. If you're interested in the mysteries of the kilt, you can even get a ‘wee’ kilt introduction here. Then be whisked to Loch Ness itself. Customize your experience at Loch Ness. Choose to visit the majestic Urquhart Castle, and hop on a boat in search of ‘Nessie’, as the locals call it. Or simply hang out on the pier and grab a coffee with gorgeous views. On the way home, make a short snack stop in Pitlochry, a beautiful village in the heart of the country, before returning to Edinburgh.

Edinburgh: Edinburgh Castle Guided Tour w/ Fast-Track Entry

2. Edinburgh: Edinburgh Castle Guided Tour w/ Fast-Track Entry

Begin your tour by the statue of Adam Smith on the Royal Mile. Walk towards Edinburgh Castle as your guide sets the scene, explaining the significance of the Castle and mentioning some of the key characters who have helped shape it. Once inside, let your guide walk you through the Castle complex. Hear their in-depth knowledge of the Castle's main buildings and attractions, including the Argyle Battery and One O'clock Gun, the Hospital Square and Western Panorama. See the Castle dungeons and military prison, the Black Banquet and Thomas Randolph's daring castle raid. Encounter St Margret's Chapel, Mons Meg, the Crown Square, and The Honors of Scotland. After the tour, enjoy some time at your leisure to explore the castle museums (not accessible during the tour).

Edinburgh: Underground Vaults Tour

3. Edinburgh: Underground Vaults Tour

This guided walking tour takes you beneath the streets of Edinburgh's Old Town into a dimly lit space that many considered to be haunted. Your tour visits the vaults of the South Bridge that date back to the 1700s. These are the same vaults mentioned on Most Haunted Live as one of the scariest places on earth. Learn how the vaults have been used over the years, the living conditions endured by the poor and homeless residents, and the spirits that are supposed to haunt them. The darker side of Edinburgh's history will unfold as you wander through the candle-lit underground area. From your guide, you'll hear about the Burke and Hare murders and the persecution of witches. Discover the characters who stalked the streets of Edinburgh, and the paranormal stories associated with the vaults. The Haunted Vaults tour option will cover slightly more paranormal and ghost stories. Step into the torture exhibition and explore how and why these items were used.

Edinburgh: Real Mary King's Close Guided Tour

4. Edinburgh: Real Mary King's Close Guided Tour

Step down into Edinburgh’s hidden history at The Real Mary King’s Close, voted Scotland’s Best Heritage Tourism Experience. Discover over 400 years of history and learn about the intriguing stories of Edinburgh’s past residents.  From the deadly plague epidemic to a famous royal visitor, there is a myriad of tales just waiting to be told. Journey through time and find out why the Close, once open to the skies and bustling with trade, came to be underground.  An experience rooted in social history, this 1-hour character-guided tour also includes an immersive walk-through of the city’s uniquely preserved streets and spaces, all located underneath Edinburgh’s famous Royal Mile. Expect a truly unique glimpse into the city’s past. 

From Edinburgh: Loch Ness, Glencoe, Highlands & Ben Nevis

5. From Edinburgh: Loch Ness, Glencoe, Highlands & Ben Nevis

Depart Edinburgh on an air-conditioned luxury coach (max 57 seats). Pass Stirling Castle and hear your tour guide tell tales of William Wallace and Robert the Bruce and the bloody battles fought out on these lands. First, arrive at Callander town, nestled at the foot of the Trossachs. Next, drive through Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. Your Scottish guide will tell you about Rob Roy MacGregor, the infamous Highlander. Follow in the footsteps of James Bond ("Skyfall") and Harry Potter ("Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban") as you travel to the stunning Highland valley of Glencoe. Hear the eerie story of the Clan MacDonald massacre of 1692. Travel through Fort William, home to Ben Nevis, which at 4,409 feet is the highest mountain of the British Isles. Arrive on the south bank of Loch Ness in the charming village of Fort Augustus, where lots of cafes, shops, and restaurants offer a relaxing lunch. Stroll along the banks of the Caledonian Canal, then experience Loch Ness on an optional 1-hour boat cruise. Try to catch a glimpse of "Nessie," the legendary Loch Ness Monster. Admire the impressive Commando Memorial at Spean Bridge with views of the Nevis Range. Enter the Cairngorms National Park and discover "Monarch of the Glen" country. Drive along Loch Laggan before the roads climb above the Grampian Mountains. Travel over the Pass of Drumochter, linking the northern and southern Central Highlands. Experience the majesty of a mountain pass created by glacial activity during successive Ice Ages. Finally, stop briefly in the beautiful Victorian town of Pitlochry before heading back to Edinburgh city center, arriving at approximately 8:30 PM.

Edinburgh: Harry Potter Magical Guided Walking Tour

6. Edinburgh: Harry Potter Magical Guided Walking Tour

Enjoy a Harry Potter-themed walking tour across Edinburgh. See the city where JK Rowling found inspiration for Hogwarts, her famous characters, and discover the place where she wrote the books. Have your Harry Potter trivia tested with an audio-visual quiz, and earn points for your house. Find out which Hogwarts House you’re in, and whether you’re a pure-blood, a muggle, or a squib. Visit the Grave of Tom Riddle in Greyfriars Kirkyard, and pass JK Rowling’s golden handprints outside City Chambers. See all this and more on a magical guided tour.

Edinburgh: Haunted Underground Vaults and Graveyard Tour

7. Edinburgh: Haunted Underground Vaults and Graveyard Tour

Join a guided walking tour to Greyfriars Graveyard and learn about one of Edinburgh's most famous canine residents and hear stories about notorious criminals. See Gothic mausoleums and learn about notable burials as you explore the grim history of the cemetery. Continue with a visit to the nearby Edinburgh Vaults, located in the arches of South Bridge. Hear about regular paranormal occurrences and how some of the characters from history have never really left. Discover the former home of the destitute, witches and a hellfire club, and hear how the haunted vault is now possessed by something truly evil.

Edinburgh: Glenfinnan, Fort William, and Glencoe Day Tour

8. Edinburgh: Glenfinnan, Fort William, and Glencoe Day Tour

Try a Glenfinnan, Glencoe, and Fort William adventure, beginning in the heart of Edinburgh city center from Royal Mile. Take in the scenery of classic modern Hollywood films. Depart Edinburgh's bustling streets, pass some of its most iconic sights like Edinburgh Castle on your way out, and begin your journey north into the rugged Scottish Highlands. Stop for refreshments at the gateway to the Highlands in Callander before continuing to Glencoe. Drive through the land where James Bonds' Skyfall was filmed. See the backdrop to some scenes from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Pause here for photos and to learn all about the history of Glencoe, including the massacre of the MacDonald clan in 1692. From the atmospheric Glencoe, travel further along the banks of Loch Linnhe to the Highland town of Fort William, which sits at the foot of Britain's tallest mountain - Ben Nevis. Stop here to stretch your legs and have an early lunch break. Next, continue on to Glenfinnan Viaduct, the location of many Harry Potter scenes, encased by the shores of Loch Shiel. See the location of the Jacobite Steam Train, and of “Black Lake”. Take in the setting for the Triwizard Tournament, and the loch on which Hogwarts sits. Continue on to Glenfinnan Monument, which symbolizes one of the most important events in Scottish history; the 1745 Jacobite uprising. Next, departing Glenfinnan, you’ll begin your return journey to Edinburgh, stopping for refreshments at the small village of Pitlochry.

Edinburgh: Late-Night Underground Vaults Terror Tour

9. Edinburgh: Late-Night Underground Vaults Terror Tour

Join this late-night guided walking tour in English of Edinburgh to discover the city’s darkest and most frightening experience. Hear ghost stories of the city told above and below the ground of the Royal Mile. Walk through the famous wynds and closes of the Royal Mile, learning about the horrific living conditions of the population that once lived in these underground rooms. Listen to stories from your guide about murderers who roamed the streets and snatched bodies to sell to medical schools at the time. Then, hear stories of the scratching hauntress who leaves marks on her victims. Witness torture exhibits and learn how these devices were used in times gone by. Finally, go to the home of “The Watcher” ghost, and see the infamous stone circle vault, still decorated with pentagrams and spiritual symbols.

Edinburgh: The Scotch Whisky Experience Tour and Tasting

10. Edinburgh: The Scotch Whisky Experience Tour and Tasting

Take a guided whisky tour and learn the story of Scotland’s most famous product. Visit one of the world’s largest collections of Scotch whisky, with almost 3,500 individual bottles. Begin your tour with the story of the production and maturation process of single malt Scotch whisky. Then enjoy a sensory journey across Scotland, including an introduction to the five Scotch whisky-producing regions and an insight into their unique aromas and characteristics. Next, discover the art of blending, in the Blenders' Sample Room, learning the secrets of how the world-famous blends are created. Enjoy the chance to explore "one of the seven wonders of the Scotch whisky world", the glass vault containing one of the world’s largest collections of Scotch whisky (guests under 18 years of age will be given Irn Bru, a Scottish soft drink). Take home your crystal tasting glass as a souvenir. When you select the Gold Tour option, after enjoying a full guided Silver Tour, you'll then compare and contrast four regional single malts, while relaxing in the McIntyre Gallery. Assisted by experienced guides, and provided with tasting notes, you'll be able to sip like a true connoisseur.

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Frequently asked questions about Edinburgh

What are the best day trips and excursions from Edinburgh?

The best day trips and excursions from Edinburgh are:

Inverness

What are the best deals and discounts on activities and attractions in Edinburgh?

Insider tips: Planning a trip to Edinburgh

Laurence is a full time travel blogger and photographer, who shares his tips on travel and improving your photography on his website Finding the Universe. He used to live in London, and you can see his tips for spending two days in Edinburgh here.

What should I do on my first trip to Edinburgh?

Two highlights of the city that every visitor should experience are a visit to Edinburgh Castle, one of the oldest continuously inhabited structures in Scotland, and then the view from Calton Hill. For the former, this impressive castle is well worth spending at least a couple of hours visiting, and the regular tours are also worth joining. There's a lot to see and do here, from watching the 1 o'clock gun firing through to seeing the Scottish Crown Jewels. Calton Hill, at the other end of the city, is the perfect place to watch the sunset. It's also where you'll get best views of the city skyline.

What are some hidden gems to see in Edinburgh?

About twenty minutes walk south of the city centre there's an awesome venue called Summerhall. They host a range of live events throughout the year, as well as during Edinburgh's famous festivals. It's also home to both a gin distillery and a microbrewery. Tours of the former are possible, and you can try them both on site as well!

How much time should I spend in Edinburgh?

Edinburgh is not a huge city, so if you were organised with your time you could see most of the highlights in a day. However, two days would give you more time to experience all that the city has to offer.

What food is Edinburgh known for?

Edinburgh, and Scotland in general, is well known for a dish known as Haggis. This is often served with a full Scottish breakfast, but can also be ordered as a meal or as a burger topping. Whilst the ingredients list can be a bit terrifying, it is actually a delicious dish that is well worth trying while in the city.

What is the best way to get around Edinburgh?

Edinburgh is best explored on foot. The city is not too big, although visitors should be aware that the medieval streets can be steep and uneven! For attractions a little out of the city centre, there's a good public bus network as well as a tram.

What are the best months to visit Edinburgh?

If you want to visit Edinburgh when there's a lot going on, then August is the month to do just that. The city plays host to no less than five major festivals in the month of August, giving the visitor almost endless entertainment options. The next best time to visit is over New Years Eve, known as Hogmanay in Scotland, when the city usually throws a massive street party with incredible fireworks and live music performances.

What is neighborhood The Old Town known for?

The medieval city centre with its narrow cobbled streets and steep staircases is known as the Old Town. Next to it sits the 18th century "New Town", which is characterized by Georgian style buildings and wide boulevards. Both are well worth exploring.

What are the best neighborhoods for food?

Edinburgh has an excellent selection of restaurants to choose from in the city centre, stretched between the Old Town and the New Town. Most visitors will likely gravitate to one of the city's many pubs, which serve a wide range of hearty and traditional meals.

What are the best neighborhoods for shopping?

The main shopping street in the city is Prince's Street, where you'll find many of the standard high street shops. For tourist focused wares, including souvenirs and whisky, then the Royal Mile, which runs from Edinburgh Castle down to Holyrood Palace, is the best option.

What neighborhood should I stay in when I visit Edinburgh?

The best area to stay in the city is around the Old Town, somewhere between Edinburgh Waverley train station and the Grassmarket. This will put you in easy walking distance of the majority of attractions in the city.

Other Sightseeing Options in Edinburgh

Want to discover all there is to do in Edinburgh? Click here for a full list.

What people are saying about Edinburgh

Overall rating

4.7 / 5

based on 80,263 reviews

Great experience,lovely site seeing, tour guide was great and very friendly he made it very fun would definitely go again

We had a great day. Our guide Al was so friendly and knowledgeable. He kept us entertained all day. Very enjoyable.

Great information the tour guide was lovely and very helpful would 100% go again

Very good driver/guide '(peter) very knowledgeable and informative.

Fun and informative tour of the underground vaults!