Edinburgh is an absolutely incredible city packed full of amazing sights to behold. After visiting recently, I wanted to create a full guide of all the best places to visit so you make the absolute most of your time in the capital!
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For now though, here is my full guide to a short stay in Edinburgh.
Explore Old Town
Edinburgh’s ‘old town’ is named so as it was once the only town in Edinburgh i,e., it was the city in its entirety. The main street that runs through the old town, The Royal Mile is the oldest street in the city and is what connects the castle at the top to the rest of the city.
If you have time while you’re here then I would recommend going on one of the many walking tours of the old town because there are so many interesting local legends and stories about old Edinburgh which are worth knowing!
The most iconic sight within the city is absolutely Edinburgh Castle. There has been some kind of castle upon the hill since the iron age (and for those who also don’t know when that was, it was 1200BCE). Yet it was only declared a world heritage sight in 1993.
The castle is a little expensive to visit in my opinion as it is £15.50 for adults and £9.30 for children between 5-15 years old (tickets are currently reduced as some areas are closed due to covid and usual prices are £17.50 for adults and £10.50 for children). However, it is free to visit on St Andrews Day which is a Scottish National Holiday.
There is quite a lot to see within the castle but I do think my favourite part of visiting was simply the view as it is such an incredible sight over the whole city. Aside from the view, you can also learn about the history of the castle, the wars fought over it and its recency.
Make sure to be there at around 1pm to see the firing of the 1 o’clock gun!
If you want to find more information about Edinburgh Castle and book your tickets you can do so here.
There is so much history in the old town that almost every street had some significance for you to explore! Victoria Terrace is a really pretty street with lots of different coloured buildings and quirky shops. Any Harry Potter fans will be glad to know that there are lots of merch stores down here and it gives a lot of Diagon Alley vibes.
Grassmarket is a great street to visit for a number of reasons. It was named so as it used to be the location of the cattle market which were marched up and down Cowgate Street. They really had no imagination in Old Edinburgh! Grassmarket was also used as an execution site for many years too. I wouldn’t want to be in that area at nighttime!
Cowgate is also home to the South Bridge Vaults. Old Town is essentially on two levels caused by the hill the castle sits on. The Royal Mile also sits on the top whereas Cowgate street is on the underside. And buried under the city are the underground vault. These vaults are caused by nine arches of a bridge which are almost all underground apart from one still being visible; South Bridge which passes over Cowgate.
If you like ghost stories and are interested in the shady underbelly of Old Edinburgh then I do recommend visiting the vaults as they are pretty interesting. You can book tickets online here and it does sell out usually so get in quick.
If you want to experience the really old parts of Edinburgh then look no further than the Flodden Wall; The original old walls of Edinburgh. Back before the city expanded it was completely walled off to protect against the invasion of the English. Parts of this are still standing and you can see them here.
A big chunk of the wall is hidden in Greyfriars Kirkyard. For any harry potter fans this is arguably a must. There are many graves in here which inspired the names of some characters, including Tom Riddle. That is if you can find them! We searched for a little while but felt really awkward wandering the graveyard, especially when there was an actual funeral going on in the church…
While you’re here though then you have to say hello to the statue of Greyfriars Bobby. This statue is a lifesize replica of a Skye Terrier who supposedly guarded the grave of his deceased owner for 14 years at the end of the 1800s. This statue is just outside the graveyard. Make sure to touch his nose for good luck as you’re passing!
Just down the road from the Royal Mile is the Scottish National Museum. Now then I know some people will instantly be switched off at this point and have no interest in a museum. However, hear me out. The Scottish National Museum was so much better than I was expecting!
When I’d asked for recommendations while we were away, a lot of people said to go and visit simply to go up to their observation deck and take in the view back over the city towards the castle. And we did this and it was worth it (although Carlton hill was better in my opinion!). But the museum itself was full of so many great exhibits. In none covid times there are so many interactive elements that would keep anyone entertained for hours.
The building itself is incredible. From the outside, it looks like a typical dull building you’d find in any city. when you go in, you start in the basement but when you head up to the main museum the inside is open and bright. There are various rooms off full of the exhibits. They even do free walking tours at various times of the day.
Did I mention this museum is free? If while you’re in Edinburgh you have some rain (which you’re probably going to get at some point!) then this is an ideal place to go to get out of the wet!
As I mentioned already, the new town is named so it is the extension of Edinburgh. And for that reason, there is a lot less history here and a lot more modern elements. There are also a lot more hotels over this side so if you are staying, you’re pretty likely to be over this side. If you are looking for food then a good place to look is on George Street because there are a load of chain restaurants and unique ones along here in the new town. Or you could have a look at my post all about where to eat and drink in Edinburgh here! So here is everything you need to know about Edinburgh’s New Town.
Princes Street Garden is perhaps one of the most prominent places in New Town and depending on the season, often has a lot going on. Especially at Christmas when their Christmas Market is on.
Have a read of my review from 2021 to find out more about it HERE!
If you’re visiting Edinburgh and want to see it in its best light then I implore you to visit Calton Hill, especially at sunset. There are a load of monuments up there to see but none are anywhere near as impressive as the view over the city. If you’ve ever seen any shots of Edinburgh this is probably one of them!
Shopping is perhaps one of the other great selling points of the new town. There is a great mix of huge department stores, classic high street favourites and quirky unique stores. Edinburgh is a really great spot for shopping. Princes Street itself is full of high street shops, and the further away you go the less known the stores are. There is also a great shopping centre just off St Andrews Square called the St James Quarter which is pretty new and full of great shops!
The West End and Dean Village
If you have the time while you’re visiting the city then you should definitely try and get out to Dean Village. It use to be a milling community but now looks like a film set from one of the live-action Disney films. It is just a really pretty place to walk around and experience but if you want to do something a bit unique while you’re visiting, this is it!
From here you could take a stroll along the Waterway of Leith. Unfortunately, it was closed when we visited due to the path being obstructed by some fallen trees or something. But if it is open while you’re there then give it a go and let me know what it’s like!
While you’re out here, you could also explore the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. Truth be told, I do not care for modern art, however, the museum is free to visit and has a lot of good reviews online. So if you fancy a visit (or it’s a rainy day and you want an indoor attraction) then it could be a good spot for you. The buildings themselves are amazing to look at themselves.
Another area of Edinburgh less visited by tourists is Stockbridge. Here there are a few main spots you should visit. The first is the picturesque street of Circus Lane. It’s famous really for being a beautiful street and nothing more, but I do think it is worth a wander down if you have the time.
The main attraction in Stockbridge is the Royal Botanic Gardens. Made up of 28 hectares of glasshouses full of natural beauty, this free attraction is apparently not to be missed. Ironically, we didn’t have time to visit when we went! So this is another one which you will have to tell me if it’s worth it! It is a little out of the city centre however there are busses running to it from princes street.
Leith is the only district of Edinburgh that I have never been to. The main reason people visit is to see the Royal Brittania yacht which is a former holiday home of HM The Queen. On your visit, you can get an insight into the queens travels and her tastes. For any royal lover, it is meant to be a great exhibit. The other thing Leith is known for is its pubs. If you are looking for a good pub crawl this is supposed to be the place to go!
This is the top of my list of things to do next we go! Arthurs Seat is a hill that offers incredible views over the city; Especially at sunrise or sunset! Apparently, it only takes 45 minutes to get to the top, and I’ve seen Instagrammers climb it in trainers so I don’t think it’s too difficult to do. But it is a hill so it will be cold and windy at the top in the winter so be careful when doing it!
So to summarise, here are the 5 things I highly recommend you do on your visit to Edinburgh:
- Walk up to Edinburgh castle. Its beautiful from the outside and if you don’t want to pay to go inside you’ve still experienced it.
- Explore old town. Find a walking trail online, the Lonely Planet one is really good, or book a walking tour. Just do one and I promise it will unpack another level to the city for you!
- If you’re going at christmas, visit the Edinburgh Christmas Market. I know I bash it a little in my post but it is a really festive experience.
- Climb carlton hill. This is the one thing that pleasently surprised me and I can’t believe its took us till this trip to the city to find it! Just add it to your list!
- Get out of the city a little bit and explore Dean Village or Stockbridge to see the less touristy and more authentic city of Edinburgh.
I hope you have enjoyed this post and my other Edinburgh content! This is the last piece I will be posting on the city (for now anyway) so I hope you’ve enjoyed it. You can read my other two posts below. And if you enjoy my writing and want to see what I create next then drop your email address below to be notified of all my new blogs!
Stay Safe and Happy Adventuring!
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