Going to Scotland? Then you need to visit Edinburgh, its mandatory. Here is everything you need to know before visiting the Scottish capital.
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After spending several days driving and exploring Glasgow and the highlands it felt so good arriving in beautiful Edinburgh. We were even welcomed with sunshine, which was a wonderful surprise after all the rain we had encountered so far on our Scotland road trip. The three of us fell head over heels with the charming Edinburgh and we had such an incredible time!
Our time in Scotland’s capital was spent learning about the exciting and brutal history of Edinburgh, admiring impressive buildings and enchanting streets, exploring sights from Harry Potter and Outlander, and sipping the best whisky we could find. Edinburgh is such an interesting city with loads of things to see, and I cannot recommend it enough.
Keep reading this complete travel guide to Edinburgh and get all the info you need to make it your next dream trip. I hope you enjoy the read!
Table Of Contents
How To Get To Edinburgh
There are plenty of options on how to get to Edinburgh by both air and ground transportation.
By air: Most major airlines fly into Edinburgh Airport, which is only 30 minutes from the city centre by car/taxi, bus or tram. Flying into Glasgow Airport is also an option. Take the Airport Express 500 bus from the airport to Glasgow city centre (20 min), and catch the train to Edinburgh (45 min).
By ground: Edinburgh is well connected to the rest of Scotland and United Kingdom by train and bus services. Why not combine a trip to Edinburgh with a trip to Glasgow, London or Manchester? Look up connections at Omio.com.
Where To Stay In Edinburgh
There are a ton of great options on where to stay in Edinburgh, and you can find accommodation that is suited for every need and budget. My best tip is to pick a place with a central location. That way you’ll be able to walk pretty much anywhere in Edinburgh and you won’t have to spend too much time or money on transportation.
As we were on a budget on our trip to Scotland we chose to book a private room at SafeStay Edinburgh. It’s a hostel with a very central location just off the Royal Mile – a great choice if you’re on a budget. Our room was spacious, always clean and the beds were comfy. The staff were very both nice and helpful, too.
CoDE Pod Hostels – THE CoURT: A cool hostel located in an old building that once was a prison, a courthouse and police chambers. Book a cozy sleeping pod in a shared dorm, or get more privacy by choosing one of their 12 «sleeping cells» – a private room with your own bathroom that looks like a luxurious prison cell. Such a fun concept!
ibis Styles Edinburgh St Andrew Square: Modern and stylish hotel which is also budget friendly. Located in lovely New Town, this one is perfect for those who love shopping, too.
Wilde Aparthotels by Staycity Edinburgh Grassmarket: These 4 star apartments located below Edinburgh Castle in Old Town come in all sizes. An amazing option for families or groups traveling together.
The Witchery by the Castle: Impressive 5 star hotel by Edinburgh Castle that looks like it came right out of a JK Rowling novel. An enchanting choice if you’re in the mood for something special, if you’re on your honeymoon or just appreciate world class accommodation.
Places To Eat In Edinburgh
The capital of Scotland has a great selection of restaurants, pubs and bars for every taste. Here are 7 places to eat in Edinburgh you should visit.
OX184 / 184-186 COWGATE
OX184 was the first place we grabbed a whisky and a bite once we arrived Edinburgh, and it did not disappoint. The place has a cool vibe, great food, a chill atmosphere and the most important thing in Scotland: a killer selection of whisky (and other drinks). We liked OX184 so much we kept going back for a night cap every night haha.
DEACON’S HOUSE CAFE / 304 LAWNMARKET
The most adorable little café right off the Royal Mile you need to pop by for breakfast, brunch or lunch. Enjoy a scone with a cup of tea in their outdoor seating if the weather allows it.
THE WITCHERY / 352 CASTLEHILL
Harry Potter fan or not, this restaurant is a must for anyone seeking a magical dining experience.
THE LAST DROP / 74-78 GRASSMARKET
Great little spot located at the historic Grassmarket, one of the coolest neighbourhoods in Edinburgh in my opinion. Delicious food and selection of beer.
THE DOME / 14 GEORGE STREET
Located in a building that was once Physicians’ Hall and later housed The Commercial Bank Of Scotland, The Dome is unique restaurant and bar you need to see. Especially if you’re visiting Edinburgh around Christmas.
THE GUILDFORD ARMS / 1-5 WEST REGISTER STREET
A classic Victorian restaurant and bar located in the not-so-new New Town neighbourhood in the centre of Edinburgh. They have a great selection of whisky and beer, and their haggis can be ordered as a starter – perfect if you’d just like a little taste (which you should).
ST GILES CAFÉ & BAR / 8-10 ST. GILES STREET
The coziest café right off the Royal Mile. The perfect place to enjoy a great breakfast before a long day of sightseeing, or to pop by for some coffee and a croissant in between shopping.
What To Do In Edinburgh
Wondering what to do in Edinburgh? Don’t worry, there are so many different things to do in Scotland’s capital, so you won’t be bored even if you try. Here are my best ideas on what to do in Edinburgh.
1. Walk The Royal Mile
The Royal Mile is Edinburgh’s mile long main street, which is impossible to avoid when in Edinburgh. It stretches from the Palace of Holyroodhouse in the east to Edinburgh Castle in the west and houses more restaurants, museums and souvenir shops than I can count. Although it is very touristy, there are some great sights there you can’t miss, in addition to the mentioned castle and palace, like St Giles Cathedral and Real Mary King’s Close.
2. See The Largest Whisky Collection In The World
… while enjoying a glass (or a flight) at The Scotch Whisky Experience. We did and I highly recommend it! We had so much fun learning about the history of Scotch whisky and how its made, and not to mention tasting the different aromas. Getting to see the largest whisky collection in the world, which consists of almost 3,500 bottles, was also cool. And the gift shop at the end was truly amazing. The three of us finished our tour with a flight of Whisky each, and lets just say it made the rest of the day even more fun.
3. Enjoy The View From An Extinct Volcano
If you’re up for a hike you should enjoy the view of Edinburgh from Arthur’s Seat, the top of an extinct volcano in Holyrood Park. Wear comfortable shoes, bring a jacket and have fun while spending a couple of hours outdoors. Don’t forget to keep an eye out for the Saint Anthony’s Chapel Ruins in the park, such a great spot for photos. If hiking is your thing you should also visit Calton Hill, where the National Monument is located.
4. Stroll Down Victoria Street
Another must-see street in Edinburgh is Victoria Street. Filled with colorful buildings and fun shops this lovely little street looks like a place from the books. More specifically the Harry Potter books, as Victoria Street is believed to be the inspiration behind Diagon Alley. Harry Potter fan or not, this street is a great place to stop by if you’re looking for unique shops or just fun place to take photos.
5. Explore The Historic Grassmarket
If you head towards the foot of Victoria Street you’ll eventually stumble upon The Grassmarket. This area is one of the oldest parts of Edinburgh and has an eerie history – from the 14th century it was used as both a market and a location for public executions! Luckily for us, The Grassmarket is now a very lively area (pun intended) known for its great restaurants and fun nightlife. I recommend grabbing a bite and a pint at The Last Drop before going shopping at Armstrongs Vintage.
6. Check Out A Museum Or Gallery
If you’re a history buff or art enthusiast (or if you just need a cool place to hide from the rain), there are a ton of incredible museums and galleries in Edinburgh worth considering. The most popular ones include National Museum of Scotland, Museum of Edinburgh, Museum of Childhood, Surgeons’ Hall Museum, The Queen’s Gallery, Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Scottish National Gallery, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (One & Two).
7. See Princes Street Gardens
Whatever you do in Edinburgh, do not miss out on visiting Princes Street Gardens. The gardens consist of two adjacent public parks located right below Edinburgh Castle and it instantly became my favorite spot in the entire city. Sunbathe, have a picnic by The Ross Fountain or go for a stroll while enjoying the most amazing view of the castle (which totally looks like Hogwarts from this side). Climbing to the top of the gothic victorian Scott Monument is also a popular thing to do.
8. Go Shopping
Shopping in Edinburgh is a lot of fun, and you’ll find something for anyone for sure. Here are some popular shopping streets and areas in Edinburgh:
• Royal Mile: Mostly souvenir shops.
• Victoria Street: Fun independent shops in beautiful surroundings.
• Multrees Walk: Luxury shops like Louis Vuitton, Mulberry and more.
• Princes Street: Lovely street by Princes Street Gardens with loads of popular chains like Primark, Zara, River Island.
• George Street, Rose Street & the rest of New Town: A large and varied selection of shops.
9. Discover Dean Village
Make time for a morning stroll along the river and historic buildings in Dean Village, one of the most beautiful areas of Edinburgh. Sadly I didn’t hear about beautiful place until after I got home from our Scotland adventure, so I’ll have to wait until my next Edinburgh visit myself.
10. Go On a Harry Potter Tour
Edinburgh was the birth place of Harry Potter in many ways. J.K. Rowling wrote parts of her famous book series here, and when exploring the city one can’t help but imagine it was here she got her inspiration from. There are a ton of sights to see in Edinburgh that any Potterhead out there shouldn’t miss out on, like Greyfriars Kirkyard, Victoria Street (aka Diagon Alley), Spoon Cafe Bistro and The Elephant House. You can either explore on your own or you can book a guided Harry Potter walking tour. If you have enough time on your hands you can also ride the Hogwarts Express in the Scottish Highlands!
11. Taste Haggis
A visit to Scotland isn’t complete without tasting their famous (and feared) national dish haggis. I’ve heard about haggis since childhood and it was surprisingly exciting to finally get to taste it myself. The three of us ordered haggis as a starter at The Guildford Arms and the result..? Well, we didn’t hate it. Its one of those things I’m sure is delicious if you’re used to it, but for me it wasn’t particularly good or bad. Which is great! The entire experience was really fun and although it wont top my list of favorite dishes anytime soon I still recommend you try it when in Scotland. Don’t have the stomach for it? At least get some haggis flavoured potato chips from the grocery store! Yum yum.
12. Visit Glasgow
Located less than an hour away, stopping by Glasgow is almost mandatory when visiting Edinburgh. So get on that train and spend a day (or a weekend if you have the time) exploring lovely Glasgow, I swear you wont regret it. I especially loved the cool street art, great shopping and wonderful restaurants and bars.
13. Visit Outlander Filming Locations
If you’re a fan of the tv show Outlander you should definitely check out some Outlander filming locations in Edinburgh. Midhope Castle (aka Lallybroch) and Blackness Castle (aka Fort William) are located only a 30 minute drive west of Edinburgh, and there are a many more sights across the country. The most exciting way to visit the Outlander filming locations is by renting a car and driving yourself, but booking a guided one day tour from Edinburgh is also a great option. Especially if your time is limited.
14. Explore The Scottish Highlands
If you have the time for it you should definitely explore the Scottish highlands. We did and it was hands down one of the most amazing trips of my life. Ever since I’ve recommend it to pretty much everyone I’ve met haha. My favorite spots in the highlands were Glencoe, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, Loch Ness, Inverness, Cairngorms National Park, and every inch of the breathtaking Isle of Skye.
DRIVE YOURSELF: For maximum freedom and flexibility I recommend you rent a car and go on a Scotland road trip. We spent 3 days driving around exploring the highlands and we got to see so much on our trip. However, I do recommend you spend like 4 or more days if you can, as our itinerary may be a bit hectic for some people. Read more about our itinerary in my Scotland Road Trip Guide.
BOOK A TOUR: It is also possible to explore the Scottish highlands by booking a guided highland tour from Edinburgh. This is probably the best option if you’re traveling alone and want to explore the area while making new friends, if you don’t want to drive yourself or if your time is extra limited.
15. Other Fun Things To Do In Edinburgh
There are a ton of great activities that you can do in Edinburgh, either with your friends, family or by yourself. One of the best parts about visiting a big city like Edinburgh is that there are so many fun activities to choose from! Everyone can find something they like, no matter what their interests are. We’re talking food tours, spooky walking tours, exhibitions, day trips and much more. Check out a ton of options here.
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