Edinburgh is the capitol of Scotland and the second most populated city in the country. When planning a trip to Scotland, Edinburgh tends to be the first place people are drawn to. From an Edinburgh castle tour, free Edinburgh attractions, to Edinburgh bus tours both in and outside the city, you’ll be sure to find something for everyone here for your Edinburgh itinerary.
There are many Edinburgh tours you can choose from. These tours allow you to not only see the city, but they also provide a lot of history and background that you might not get otherwise. The city is very walkable, so I’d check out some of the Edinburgh walking tours.
Along with things to do in Edinburgh Scotland, there are so many places to choose from to stay. There are amazing hotels, hostels, and Airbnbs options.
Another thing we’ll go over in this Edinburgh travel guide is where to eat. When it’s time for you to visit Edinburgh, you’ll be amazed at the restaurant options. Take a look at our Edinburgh food guide for our favorites. Everywhere we ate was so good, very reasonably priced, and good portion sizes too.
Overall, we look forward to helping make your Edinburgh travel easier with our suggestions and recommendations.
You have an endless amount of lodging choices in and around the city. There are cheaper options that include hotels. You can find Airbnbs rich with Scottish character, or you can stay in one the many hotels as a base for your Edinburgh sightseeing.
Premier Inn Edinburgh City Center (York Place)
Staying at Premier Inn Edinburgh City Center (York Place) sets you up to be in a great location! It has been highly reviewed by almost two thousand people! You can read those reviews here.
Premier Inn is a popular British chain hotel that provides everything you need. The room is modern, clean, and the AC works well. If you like a little white noise, the AC is the type that stays on through the night. There was plenty of desk space, a couch, and a closet like area with shelves and hangers. One thing I will say, request extra towels. They only had one full sized towel in our bathroom.
Check-in was a breeze. If you arrive early, they have a luggage room where you can store your things while you hit up places to visit in Edinburgh. If you arrive after the set check-in time, you can actually check-in using a self-service kiosk where it spits out your room keys like an ATM. It’s a pretty cool!
The hotel doesn’t offer a free breakfast, but the price of breakfast is worth it! It’s a huge buffet with a good bit of hot options. In addition to the hot items, they have made-to-order omelettes, porridge, and a couple of other options. They had a fruit section, pastries, fresh juices, and a fancy coffee maker. We ate here once, but I wish we had every morning before taking in the Edinburgh sights.
One more perk of this hotel: the location to the Edinburgh airport tram stop. To start your Edinburgh vacation from the airport, you literally get on the tram at the airport and ride it all the way to the York Place stop. The hotel is directly across the street. Easy peasy.
Below is a photo of the view from our room at Premier Inn Edinburgh City Center (York Place). If you’re ready to book your stay, click here.
Helpful Hint: If you’re staying here over a Monday evening, right down the street is a restaurant, Little White Pig, and they serve fresh Scottish pies. The pies are only on Monday evenings. This was one of our favorite meals.
Things to do in Edinburgh
Alright, if you google what to do in Edinburgh, you will find things like an Edinburgh underground tour, day tours from Edinburgh to add to your Scotland itinerary, free museums, the popular Edinburgh distillery tour, and the list goes on and on!
In this post, I’ll only share the Edinburgh tourist attractions that we actually did ourselves. We did enough to cover 2 days in Edinburgh and one of the highland tours from Edinburgh, so three days total. Believe it or not, most everything we did was absolutely free! The city is easy to navigate, with a little help from Google maps, so if you want, you can to walk to everything.
Arthur’s Seat was the absolute highlight of our trip to Edinburgh! Again, this is another free activity and you get to burn some calories while you’re at it. Hiking Arthur’s Seat is a must do in Edinburgh, and I’m going to go over the hike so you can know what to expect.
First off, the weather changes so quickly in Scotland. There was 10% chance of rain the day we hiked Arthur’s Seat and it ended up raining on us for about 30 minutes of the hike. So, dress in layers, maybe one being a light rain jacket….even if it’s sunny outside. Also, if it does rain, the rocks used as stairs can become rather slippery, so I’d wear shoes that can handle that and be very careful as you make your way up or down.
The elevation gain is just over 820 feet, so it’s not a bad hike at all. However, depending on your physical level, it can be somewhat challenging. There are steep climbs and A LOT of stairs. I think if you take your time, take plenty of breaks, you can make it. I saw a lot of people give up before they got to the top, because they reached a view that was “good enough”, but I highly recommend you push through.
For the record, we did this without bringing water or food. No backpacks…just ourselves. Overall, for an able body person, it’ll be pretty easy.
Once you reach the top, relax and take in the incredible views of Edinburgh. You’ll have a 360 view that will literally blow you away! Seriously, it’s very windy up at the top. If you feel like carrying a backpack, a picnic would be amazing! Before you get to the very top, there are wide green spaces that would be perfect to setup a place to eat and take a nap even.
Arthur’s Seat is ranked #1 for places to see in Edinburgh. I couldn’t agree more and I hope you add this to your Scotland travel itinerary, because you will not regret it!
Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh
The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh was another special place we visited. Not only is it free (unless you want to visit the ten glasshouses), but the gardens are so beautiful. There are about 70 acres of well-manicured gardens and paths. The gardens are a mile away from city center, and honestly, I recommend that you walk there. Here’s why: by walking that mile, you get to not only come across cool restaurants and shops, but you’ll pass a section of residential homes. Walking is a great way to explore the city and find little gems along the way. (This is how we found The Marshmallow Lady.)
If you are a fan of flowers, trees, and plants, then this is the place for you. They have all the plants labeled. With over 100,000 plants, this Living Collections is over 350 years old! There are wide, stroller friendly paths that lead you to different areas of the gardens. There are benches everywhere you turn, so plenty of relaxing rest spots.
Whether you’re seeing Edinburgh in a day or you’re staying longer, I rank the gardens as the #2 for the places to go in Edinburgh. Even for an hour or two….just to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Not only is it a nice escape, surrounded by beauty, but a visit to the world famous garden offers views over Edinburgh city, including views of Edinburgh Castle.
When looking for what to do in Edinburgh Scotland, walking The Royal Mile is a must! It’s called the Royal Mile because it’s almost an exact mile from the gates of the Castle to the gates of the Palace. Okay, so you have to explore this famous street, however, it is the center of the city which brings in all the tourists. It will be crowed.
Besides the crowds, the Royal Mile is covered in cool shops, pubs, and restaurants. Bag pipers and street performers are on just about every corner of the street. You can find kilts, scarves, shortbread, and many other Scottish souvenirs. The street has a great vibe and you’ll feel like you’ve been fully immersed in the Scottish culture.
National Museum of Scotland
Here’s another freebie to add to your Edinburgh to do list! Although it’s free, they do have a freestanding donation box in the entrance if you feel drawn to leave a little something. The National Museum of Scotland is such a cool place! First of all, it’s not boring and there’s SO much to do for kids, including hands-on exhibits. So, if you’re on a family trip to Scotland, and you are headed to Edinburgh, add this to your list!
The museum is massive, and if you want, you could spend an entire day here. What’s cool about this place is that it has so much history, but it also has so many fun things to do. On one hall, we saw kids and old folks alike playing with the exhibits. Scroll though the photos below to see more!
A few things to keep in mind: 1) Schedule the museum for a rainy day. It’ll be a nice place to explore and learn while staying dry! 2) They have restaurants and coffee shops in the museum. 3) They close at 17:00 (5:00pm), so make sure you schedule enough time so you don’t feel rushed.
Helpful Hint: No one really talks about this, but the museum has a huge rooftop terrace that overlooks all of the city. Who knew that the free museum would have one of the best rooftop views of Edinburgh?!
There are a few options on how to visit the Edinburgh Castle. You can do what we did and just explore the outside of it…for free. Now, you don’t get to go all the way around it, but I felt like we got closer to it than I thought we would. We also visited during Fringe Festival, and it was insanely crowded. The line to get tickets was wrapped all around from people trying to purchase tickets and the line was worth it to us.
That being said, touring the Edinburgh Castle is one of the most famous Scotland castle tours. We did look up pricing, and the tickets weren’t badly priced either. Get Your Guide offers numerous tours of the castle and you can purchase well in advance. They have a 24 hour, prior to the start of the tour, 100% refund/cancellation policy.
Edinburgh Castle is rich in military and royal history. It’s currently home to the oldest Crown jewels in all of Britain. Whether you walk around as much of the castle as you can for free or if you decide to take a tour, Edinburgh Castle is an Edinburgh must see.
Helpful Hint: If you’re lucky enough to visit Edinburgh in August, you should totally get tickets to the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. It’s an annual event held at the castle that includes international military bands along with the British Armed Forces.
The Scott Monument is one of the most famous Edinburgh landmarks. I mean, it’s literally know as the heart of the city center Edinburgh. This historic attraction was built in honor of the novelist/writer Sir Walter Scott, and the architect who was chosen to design this gothic style building, never lived to see the completion.
Around the Scott Monument you’ll find bag pipers, street performers, and food venders. The monument itself is actually a museum and you can climb all the way to the top. We didn’t know this when we saw it from the street, or we might have done it ourselves. I did see that there are only stairs in the museum, so if you want to see the view from the top, keep that in mind.
Loch Ness and Highlands Tour from Edinburgh
There are so many day trips from Edinburgh! When determining where to go in Scotland, a Scotland Highlands tour should be highly considered. First off, let me say this. IF you feel comfortable driving on the opposite side of the road, and you have plenty of time, I highly encourage you to drive yourself. Bottom line: You won’t be stuck on a giant bus with a ton of other tourists on a tour company’s timeline.
However, that might not be feasible, and I completely understand that Edinburgh day trips via bus might be the only way to see more of Scotland. We did one of the best Scotland tours, a highly rated bus tour. This exact one here. We decided to do one of the Scotland tours from Edinburgh because the rental car was very expensive for August, it was rainy, and honestly, I didn’t feel comfortable driving on the opposite of the road.
It was important for us to visit the Highlands and Loch Ness during our trip, so taking one of the Scotland day tours worked for us. It was a 12.5 hour tour that started on the Royal Mile, and we were on the bus the majority of the time. The tour operator had breaks planned out, but some were only about five minutes. Just long enough to stretch your legs before driving again.
Seeing the Highlands in person is amazing. It’s some of the most beautiful land and scenery. Not to mention, getting to see a Highland cow up close is super cool. Scroll though the photos to see the Highland cow. Included in this tour was also an option to cruise on the famous Loch Ness! This was the absolute highlight of this tour. I mean, how many people can say they’ve cruised the Loch Ness in search of Nessie?!
If you do the tour I shared above, they’ll offer three additional options: 1) Tour the Urquhart Castle for an hour and cruise Lock Ness for 30 minutes. 2) Cruise Loch Ness for one hour. 3) Free time hanging out around Loch Ness. We picked option one, and I recommend it.
Research and discover Scotland tours that you might be interested in. I highly recommend that you get out of the city…even for one day.
Helpful Hint: If you take the tour we did, I recommend you bring your own lunch. The lunch stop was short and rushed. If you have your own lunch with you, so can just relax while eating. Also, bring cash with you. The additional tour to cruise Loch Ness and explore the castle require you to pay cash.
Where to Eat in Edinburgh
You know, when we travel, we make food a priority. Trying local cuisine is part of the travel experience. So, whether you have one day in Edinburgh or more, we have a great list of restaurants to get you started on planning. Head to this post here for our Edinburgh food guide.
We cover a restaurant who serves breakfast all day, multiple coffee shops who make the pretties lattes, THE best dessert themed restaurant, and many good ole’ Scottish restaurants. Anyway, we got to Edinburgh not expecting much in terms of food, but we left with full bellies and smiles across our faces.
Helpful Hint: The Royal Mile is one of the top things to see in Edinburgh, however, the further away you get from this famous street the cheaper the food. Plus, I feel you’ll get more of an authentic meal if you distance yourself just a bit from the most touristy area of Edinburgh.
Whether you’re on a Scotland road trip or flying into Edinburgh for a weekend trip, we hope these experiences for your Edinburgh itinerary help you with your travel planning. We love that the city offers so many free things to do and see, so many tours from Edinburgh, so much great food, and so many choices of places to stay. Have the best time and safe travel to Edinburgh.