Epic Edinburgh: 16 Things Not to Miss in Scotland’s Sensational Capital City

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Victoria Street Edinburgh Scotland

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Inside: From haunted tours to whiskey tastings, here’s your ultimate guide to what not to miss in Edinburgh Scotland.

With its magnificent architecture, stunning scenery, and fascinating medieval history, it’s no wonder Edinburgh Scotland is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. It also happens to be one of my favorite cities in the world.

From a lofty castle to underground haunted vaults, Scotland’s energetic capital city has plenty of things to see and do.

Whether you’re a Harry Potter fan (like my husband) looking to explore the real-life locations used in the films, or you’re simply hoping to soak up all that this incredible city has to offer, you’ll find everything you need to know to plan your visit to Edinburgh right here.

So, let’s get started!

What is Edinburgh Scotland famous for?

Scotland’s picturesque capital city is best known for its stunning architecture, rich medieval history, and vibrant arts and culture scene. And thanks to Edinburgh’s long, dark history and many haunted locations, including Mary King’s Close, the city’s well-known for its spookier side, too.

On a lighter note, Edinburgh is also one of the world’s best festival cities with the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe being the two most famous festivals held each year.

And finally, Edinburgh is a terrific home base (or just the ideal starting point) for exploring the rest of Scotland as my husband and I recently did.

We first visited the brilliant Scottish capital on our honeymoon, so it’s no surprise we found it to be simply magical.

Read More: The Great UK Road Trip! Scotland, England & Wales in 5 Days

We loved it so much, in fact, that we took our adult kids back a few years ago. And, of course, when planning our recent trip around the Scottish Highlands, we couldn’t resist yet another visit.

But as I began to compose my detailed post about the Highlands, I quickly realized that it was impossible to reduce our stop in Edinburgh to a simple paragraph or two.

Read More: The Bucket List Scotland Road Trip Itinerary in 7 Amazing Days

Sidebar: I had similar feelings about the spectacular Isle of Skye, so it also rated a separate, detailed post (if you’re planning a visit – and you should – it’s a must read).

Read More: Isle of Skye: 10 Irresistible Things to Do on Scotland’s Best Island

But back to Edinburgh, a city that easily stands alone as a terrific destination, whether you make it to the Highlands or not.

And thus, what follows is my own complete and thorough love letter to what I consider one of Europe’s most beautiful and unique cities.  

But first, let’s start at the beginning.

How to pronounce Edinburgh?

Sure, I consider myself pretty well-traveled. Yet, even I got this one wrong when planning our first visit years ago.

While seeking travel advice from a friend and recent visitor to the city, I tentatively floated the non-existent term “ed-in-berg” during our conversation. Luckily, she quickly corrected me before I could repeat the error elsewhere. Note to fellow Americans, it does not rhyme with Pittsburgh.  

There are actually two pronunciations of Edinburgh that are widely considered correct:

“ed-in-bruh” or “ed-in-buh-ruh”

I settled on the second option which seems to roll off the tongue slightly better for me. But whichever you choose, remember that the “ruh” at the end is the key here, and not “row.”

Best time of year to visit Edinburgh Scotland?

No matter what time of year you visit Edinburgh, there’s always something to do.

But if you want the best shot at warm and sunny weather (not something Scotland is particularly known for), the summer months of May to September are your best bet.

With one possible caveat…

What’s the worst time to visit Edinburgh? August.

I mentioned that the city is world-famous for its festivals and during the month of August Edinburgh is truly at full tilt.

That’s because there are half a dozen festivals taking place concurrently each August, most notably the largest two: Edinburgh Royal Military Tattoo (August 4-26, 2023) and the massive Edinburgh Festival Fringe (August 4-28, 2023).

During August, Edinburgh’s cobbled lanes are at max capacity and hotel rates soar to their lofty peaks. Despite that, there’s just something especially magical about Edinburgh in August. It’s the best time of year to experience this dynamic city reveling in what it does best – arts, culture, history, and just plain fun.

But if you’re not into either of these festivals, definitely avoid an August visit.

The Bottom Line: If you do visit Edinburgh during the month of August, be sure to add at least one event from each of these festivals to your must-do list.

Get in the Christmas Spirit in Edinburgh

Edinburgh is a marvelous city to visit at any time of year, but it’s especially enchanting during the holidays.

The entire city is decked out in festive decorations during the annual Winter Festival, delicious smells emanate from the Christmas market stalls, and you can stick around for the popular New Year’s festival, Edinburgh’s Hogmanay.

In 2022, the annual Edinburgh Winter Festival dates are November 19 – January 3, 2023. So, if you’re looking for a truly merry holiday experience, plan a visit to Edinburgh during the holidays.

Edinburgh Scotland Things to Do

How many days do you need in Edinburgh?

To see some of the best attractions that Edinburgh has to offer, you’ll need more than just a single day. In fact, you’ll need at least three or four days to tackle the majority of my list below.

But luckily, it’s entirely possible to explore many of Edinburgh’s highlights in two full days. Of course, if you can spare a little more time, this energetic city can easily keep you busy for 4-5 days.

Only have one day? Pick a few sights that interest you most and save the rest for your next visit. Trust me, once you’ve gotten a taste of Edinburgh, you’ll be back for more.

Best way to get around Edinburgh

Most international flights to Scotland land at Edinburgh Airport, located just 8 miles from the city center. From the airport, it’s a breeze to get to the city center. And once there, Edinburgh is a delightfully walkable city.

Yes, the usual taxis and shuttle services are widely available at Edinburgh Airport. But my favorite option to get into the city is the quick and easy tram system!

The station is located just outside the airport and trams run every 7 minutes. A return ticket from the airport to the city center will run you just £9 (be sure to always buy your ticket before boarding the tram).

You can find more information on routes and ticket prices on the Edinburgh Trams official website. And the odds are good your hotel is located pretty close to one of the tram’s many convenient stops around the city center.

And speaking of hotels…

Best Places to Stay in Edinburgh

As I mentioned, Edinburgh is a terrific walking city. That’s why I recommend staying in the heart of the city center where you can take full advantage of all that walkability.

All of the options listed below meet the walkability criteria and all offer private baths and air conditioning (my other two non-negotiables). With that in mind, here are my favorite hotel choices in Edinburgh, depending on your particular needs:

Best Hotel for Full-Service Luxury

The Balmoral Hotel – Opened in 1902, Edinburgh’s historic grand dame is more than just a hotel, it’s a 5-star destination (with a price to match). Features include a Michelin-starred restaurant, a decadent spa, a whisky bar boasting 500+ varieties of Scottish Whiskey, and, of course, top-notch service. For Harry Potter fans, Room 552 (now called the JK Rowling Suite) is where JK Rowling completed the final book in the series, Deathly Hallows.

Honorable Mentions: Sheraton Grand Hotel & Spa (one of my personal favorites from our honeymoon trip), the Waldorf Astoria Edinburgh – The Caledonian, and Cheval – The Edinburgh Grand

Best Hotel for Local Charm

Six Brunton Place – If you’re looking for local charm instead of a chain hotel, this cozy guest house is a terrific choice. From the tasty breakfast options to well-appointed rooms, it’s the perfect home away from home after a long day exploring the city.

Honorable Mentions: The Rutland Hotel and The Bonham

Best Hotel for a Tight Budget

Motel One Edinburgh Royal – Just a 5-minute walk from the train station and half a mile from Edinburgh Castle, this affordable hotel is the ideal choice for anyone on a budget. Rooms may be a little on the small side but they’re sparkling clean, modern, and stylishly decorated. Tip: It’s well worth the few extra bucks for one of the view rooms.

Honorable Mentions: CoDE Pod – The CoURT Edinburgh and Motel One Edinburgh Princes

Best Hotel for a Romantic Escape

House of Gods Royal Mile – Located just off the Royal Mile, this unique hotel fully embraces Edinburgh’s medieval, spooky vibe. Dark and decadent rooms feature plush, intimate interiors. Think sumptuous, mahogany woods and lavish amounts of velvet. More than just a hotel, this one is a truly extravagant experience and a great choice for a romantic getaway. Tip: Even if you don’t stay here, stop by for a cocktail in the hotel’s swanky lounge.

Honorable Mentions: The Witchery by the Castle, The Scotsman Hotel, and (of course) The Balmoral

Best Hotel for Families (or anyone who needs a little more space!)

Princes Street Suites – When you’re traveling with the family, extra space is key. And it’s hard to beat the roomy options at this all-suite hotel overlooking Edinburgh Castle. With everything from well-equipped studios to huge 3-bedroom apartments, you’ll find just the right fit for your family no matter how many beds you need.

Honorable Mentions: Braid Apartments by Mansley and Wilde Aparthotels by Staycity Grassmarket


The Best Things to Do in Edinburgh

I’m not over-stating it when I say that there are endless things to see and do in this wonderful city. But since it’s likely your visit does indeed have an expiration date, I’ve whittled things down to a list of what not to miss in Edinburgh.

Here are my 16 can’t-miss experiences that are sure to make your trip to this magical city one to remember.

And off we go!

1. Edinburgh Castle

This imposing fortress has played a pivotal role in Scottish history and is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the country.

Perched atop the imposing Castle Rock (a long-extinct volcano), this historic castle dates all the way back to the Iron Age. It’s the most besieged place in all of Britain and Edinburgh’s #1 attraction. And that’s why Edinburgh Castle deserves the top spot on every visitor’s must-see list (especially if you’re short on time).

Edinburgh Castle Scotland
Edinburgh Castle

Tickets are timed and sold only for a specific date. In the summer months, tickets can and do sell out so it’s a good idea to book in advance. (Note: When I checked recently the morning times were routinely sold out, but afternoon time slots were more readily available on short notice.)

And while Edinburgh Castle was once captured in just 30 minutes in 1639, you’ll want to allow at least 2 hours to hit the highlights. A true history buff could easily spend an entire day here, there is a lot of ground to cover. (My vote? Split the difference and plan on half a day.)

There are several suggested tour itineraries to guide your visit according to your interests. But a few of the most popular things to see are the Portcullis Gate, the Lang Stairs, St Margaret’s Chapel, Mons Meg, the Great Hall, and the Crown jewels.

And don’t forget to leave plenty of time to simply enjoy the spectacular, panoramic views over the city.

Edinburgh Castle City View
City views from Edinburgh Castle

If you like to explore at your own pace, the audio guide (£3.50 Adult/£1.50 Children) is a great way to learn as you go. BONUS: It can even be downloaded to your own device so you don’t have to wear one of those touristy headsets (just remember to bring a fully-charged phone or tablet with internet access).

Need to Know: Open daily from 9:30am – 6:00pm (5:00pm from October-March). Tickets are £18 for adults and £11 for children (5-15) and must be booked for a specific date and time. You can find more information on the Edinburgh Castle Official Website.

2. Take a stroll along the Royal Mile

Lined with historic buildings, shops, and cafes, this iconic street is the main thoroughfare in Edinburgh’s Old Town and the city’s central hub.

Connecting Edinburgh Castle with the Palace of Holyrood House, this expansive cobbled lane is actually a “Scot’s mile” (1.81 km). which is a wee bit longer than an English mile. It’s divided into several unique areas including Lawnmarket (popular with visitors due to the infinite number of souvenir shops) and High Street where you’ll find some of the city’s best restaurants and pubs.

The Royal Mile is the liveliest place to be during the wildly popular arts and culture festival – Edinburgh Festival Fringe – each August.

Royal Mile Edinburgh Scotland
Street performers on the Royal Mile

3. Palace of Holyroodhouse

Located at the end of the Royal Mile, this official residence of the British monarch is open to visitors during the summer months.

The palace has a centuries-long history as a residence to a long line of Scottish monarchs. Touring the grounds is self-guided with the use of a complimentary multimedia guide. Be sure not to miss the Throne Room, the Great Gallery, or the magnificent State Apartments, which are some of the most lavishly decorated rooms in the palace.

Need to Know: Summer Hours (April 1 – October 31) are 9:30am – 6:00pm. Closing time is 4:30pm the rest of the year. Closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays except during July and August when it’s open 7 days a week. Tickets are £18.50/Adult, £12/Young Adults (18-24), and £10.50/Children (5-17). For the latest hours and to book advance tickets, visit the Palace of Holyroodhouse official website.

Note: Keep in mind that Holyroodhouse is a “working palace” and closures can and do happen at any time on short notice.

4. The Camera Obscura and World of Illusions

Located on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, this popular kid-friendly attraction features a number of interactive exhibits, as well as – you guessed it – a camera obscura (you’ll need daylight hours to fully appreciate this one so plan your visit well before sunset).

Visitors can also enjoy panoramic views of the city from the Rooftop Terrace. Not only is this Edinburgh’s oldest visitor attraction, but I also suspect 10 out of 10 kids would rate it as their favorite.

Need to Know: Summer Hours 8:00am – 10:00pm daily. Tickets are £19.95/Adults and £14.95/Kids (5-15). Like Edinburgh Castle, tickets are for a specific date and time and advance booking is strongly recommended during the busy summer months. For more information and to book advance tickets, visit the Camera Obscura & World of Illusions official website.

5. The Royal Yacht Britannia

Launched in 1953, the Royal Yacht Britannia served as the floating palace of the Royal Family for more than 44 years. During that time, it became one of the most famous ships in the world, traveling more than a million nautical miles as a majestic ambassador of the Commonwealth. The Royal Yacht has hosted everything from state visits to Royal honeymoons.

In 1997, the yacht was decommissioned and converted into a museum located just outside Edinburgh’s city center in the port of Leith. Today, it’s one of Edinburgh’s most popular tourist sights.

Visitors can learn about the history of this swanky ship while exploring five well-appointed decks including the Bridge, the crew’s quarters, the engine room, and of course, the Royal-worthy State Apartments. And if all that exploring leaves you a bit peckish, pop over to the Royal Deck Tea Room for cakes and scones (naturally).

You can even spend a night or two aboard nearby sister ship, Fingal. Or, just a short stroll away, the 1920’s-era yacht Ocean Mist Leith has also been lovingly converted into a 17-room luxury hotel.

Need to Know: Summer hours are 9:30am – 6:00pm daily. Tickets are £18/Adult, £9/Children (5-17) and include the audio guide. For more information and to purchase advance tickets, visit The Royal Yacht Britannia official website.

Tip: The Royal Edinburgh Ticket (link) covers entry to Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace, and the Royal Yacht Britannia with a single ticket (£63 Adult/£34 Children).

6. National Museum of Scotland

I freely admit that I’m not generally much of a museum person when I travel. But for this one, I make an exception. One of the most popular tourist attractions in Edinburgh, the National Museum of Scotland is home to an impressive collection of artifacts.

Take a walk through centuries of Scottish history in the spectacular Grand Gallery. Learn about the tumultuous history of Mary, Queen of Scots, dabble in Scottish fashion (and why not?), and see life-size models of some of the world’s coolest creatures in the Animal World.

National Museum of Scotland Edinburgh
Grand Gallery, National Museum of Scotland

There are also a variety of interactive exhibits, so it’s a great place to visit with kids. Kid Bonus: There’s a miniature version of the museum made entirely from Legos and even one item of interest to Harry Potter fanatics (more on that in a moment).

If you only visit one museum on your visit to Scotland, this is the one.

Need to Know: Open daily from 10:00am – 5:00pm, admission is FREE (yet another great reason to go!). For the latest hours and more information, visit the National Museum of Scotland’s official website.

7. Edinburgh’s Best Harry Potter Sights

Edinburgh is widely considered to be the city where JK Rowling found the inspiration for the iconic Harry Potter series.

And Scotland’s quirky capital has more than a few wizard-worthy sights and movie-themed activities to satisfy even the most discerning Potterhead (like the one I married).

Here are 6 fun Harry Potter things to see or do in Edinburgh:

1. Greyfriar’s Kirkyard – Located near two of the coffee houses JK Rowling frequented in her early writing days, this graveyard may have inspired some of the character names. The most famous of these is the tombstone of Thomas Riddell (i.e. Lord Voldemort, birth name Tom Marvolo Riddle). You’ll also find tombstones for William McGonagall (perhaps the inspiration for Minerva McGonagall?) and Elizabeth Moodie (“Mad-Eye” Moody?). P.S. Those two coffee houses are The Elephant House (which you can visit) and Nicolson’s Cafe, which has long since closed.

2. Edinburgh City Chambers – J.K. Rowling was awarded the Edinburgh Award here in 2008 and her handprints were immortalized on flagstone to mark the occasion. Stop by to snap your photo with your own hands in her golden handprints. Do you have what it takes to write the next great novel series?

3. National Museum of Scotland – On display in the Kingdom of Scots on Level 1, don’t miss the Lewis chess pieces featured in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

4. Victoria Street – Just off the Royal Mile (on the way to Grassmarket), the colorful curve of shops and restaurants known as Victoria Street is rumored to be the inspiration for Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley. Whether that’s true or not, it’s without a doubt one of Edinburgh’s most Instagram-able streets.

Victoria Street Edinburgh Scotland
Victoria Street, Edinburgh

5. The Balmoral Hotel – Of course, for the ultimate Harry Potter experience in Edinburgh (and if money is no object), book Suite 552, the “JK Rowling Suite” at the Balmoral. The suite’s door is painted purple and boasts an owl door knocker. The room also features a glass-enclosed bust signed by Rowling to mark the occasion when she finished Deathly Hallows in this very suite on January 11th, 2007.

6. The Cauldron – Unleash your inner happy hour wizard with this magical “Potion Making” class. Allow me to translate. This is basically a whimsical lesson in brewing molecular cocktails cleverly rebranded with a robe and functioning wand. Harry Potter + Cocktails? Even a muggle will love it. Though you can choose to brew non-alcoholic cocktails, this one’s for adult wizards.

Traveling with the kids? Fear not, they also have a Wizard Afternoon Tea option where the whole family can grab a wand and conjure interactive teas. For pricing and more info, check out The Cauldron’s official website.

That covers the Harry Potter fans in the group, let’s move on!

8. Stop for a pint in Grassmarket

This historic market square located in the heart of Edinburgh is the hub of activity in the summer months. The Grassmarket area is home to cozy pubs, colorful shops, a variety of restaurants, and even a weekly farmer’s market.

From locals to street performers, Grassmarket is my #1 place to enjoy a pint on a sunny summer day and people-watch the day away.

Grassmarket Edinburgh
A summer day in Grassmarket

And now, let’s talk about some of the spooky sights that Edinburgh is famous for!

9. Get Spooked in the Edinburgh Vaults

The Edinburgh Vaults are a series of chambers located under Edinburgh’s South Bridge. Originally used to store goods in the 18th and 19th centuries, the vaults were later used as living quarters for the city’s poorest residents.

Allegedly, some of those former residents still haunt these underground halls, and – good news – you can check for yourself (if you want to). The vaults offer an eerie glimpse into Edinburgh’s torturous past. Take a tour with a costumed guide to hear all the chilling stories of crime and murder from days gone by.

Need to Know: You’ll need to book a guided tour to visit the vaults. Tours vary in price, take approximately 1 hour, and are often combined with other spooky local sights. Here are a couple of great options:

10. Experience The Real Mary King’s Close

For history buffs, The Real Mary King’s Close is a must when visiting Edinburgh. And if you only have time for one “haunted experience” while visiting Edinburgh, this is definitely the one.

Edinburgh’s unique narrow alleyways are called “closes,” a Scottish term alluding to their propensity to lead to private property, hence “closed” gates. Lurking beneath the Royal Mile, is perhaps the most famous Close, a series of claustrophobic alleyways with a disturbing history called Mary King’s Close.

Named for Mary King, an affluent widow merchant who resided here in the 17th century, this particular Close is a well-preserved labyrinth of streets, homes, and passageways. It was home to a bustling community that included a variety of social classes.

In 1645, Edinburgh was hit hard by the bubonic plague and due to overcrowding and unsanitary conditions in the densely-populated Close, the deadly disease spread like wildfire.

To prevent additional spread within the city, hundreds of infected residents were literally sealed up in quarantine within the Close. While they were provided with food, ale, and even medical care provided by one very heroic doctor, it’s a haunting part of the city’s history.

To this day, Mary King’s Close is considered the most haunted place in Edinburgh. This entertaining one-hour tour utilizes actors to tell the stories, myths, and legends of the Close throughout its captivating history. It’s an absolutely fascinating piece of world history and a must-do tour.

Need to Know: Tickets are £19.50/Adults and £12.95/Children (5-15, under 5 not allowed). Be sure to book in advance, this is one tour that nearly always sells out. For more information, visit the Real Mary King’s Close official website.

11. Hop on board the Edinburgh Ghost Bus Tour

To explore the lighter side of haunted Edinburgh, hop aboard the Edinburgh Ghost Bus Tour. The tour hits some of the most haunted locations in Edinburgh, including Greyfriars Kirkyard and the Royal Mile. It’s surely the most humorous way to learn about the city’s murderous history from grave robbers to plague victims.

Led by a classically-trained actor/guide dressed as a medieval executioner (naturally), this one is a killer night out for adults and kids alike.

Sidebar: When our adult kids suddenly decided we should do this after spotting the bus parked near Lawnmarket, I thought it would be stupid. I was wrong, it was actually a lot of fun. What do I know? (they made me write this).

Need to Know: Tours operate nightly and last a little over an hour, depending on traffic. You can book through a tour company but it’s cheaper (and just as easy) to book through their website. We booked our tickets same day (take that for what it’s worth). Tickets are £18/Adults and £13/Children (5-15). To book tickets and for more information, visit the Edinburgh Ghost Bust Tour official website.

Edinburgh Ghost Bus Tour
Hop aboard the Ghost bus!

12. Go dark in the Edinburgh Dungeon

The Edinburgh Dungeon is a 70-minute interactive walk-through experience. Incorporating special effects and theatrical sets with live actors, the experience takes visitors on a journey through 1,000 years of Edinburgh’s dark history.

From the courtroom to the torture chamber, take a walk back in time in the shoes of some of the city’s worst criminals.

Need to Know: Open daily 10:00am – 6:00pm. Tickets are £19.76 for Adults when booked in advance online (note that this attraction is recommended only for kids 8 and up). For more info and to purchase tickets, visit the Edinburgh Dungeons official website.

Okay, that’s just about enough of ghosts, goblins, and graveyards (*dusts off cobwebs*), let’s move on to my favorite subject, the best places to eat and drink in Edinburgh!

13. The Scotch Whiskey Experience

No visit to Scotland is complete without a taste of the famous national drink. And there’s no better way to educate yourself about the joys of Scotch whisky than with a visit to The Scotch Whisky Experience.

Located at the base of Edinburgh Castle along the Royal Mile, stop by to become a “one-hour-whisky-expert” with the Silver Tour experience. This basic ticket includes a tour of the distillery as well as a tasting session.

If you’re already a whiskey enthusiast, go for the next step up, the Gold Tour, which includes all of the above plus an additional 4 contrasting whiskies to sample.

Need to Know: Open daily from 10:00am – 5:00pm. Tickets are £19 for the Silver Tour, £32 for the Gold Tour. For more information and to book tickets, visit the Scotch Whiskey Experience official website.

14. Savor Edinburgh’s most unique dining experiences

Edinburgh is home to some of the best food in Scotland. From fresh seafood and local produce to traditional haggis (an acquired taste, for sure), there’s something for everyone to enjoy. And of course, enjoying a pint of ale at one of the ubiquitous cozy pubs around town is a must.

Here are just a few great places to wine and dine like a Scot:

1. Devil’s Advocate – Tucked away in Old Town Edinburgh along Advocate’s Close, this popular restaurant and bar is located in an old Victorian pump house. Known for inventive seasonal cocktails and 300+ whiskey selections, a visit to the bar is a must even if you don’t have time to stay for dinner.

2. The Witchery – Opulent, flamboyant, decadent. Just a few of the words used to describe Edinburgh’s most atmospheric restaurant. Located in an equally glamorous hotel, this exclusive dining experience is as unique as Edinburgh itself. Advance reservations are an absolute must.

3. The Last Drop – You can’t leave Edinburgh without visiting a traditional British pub. And this historic pub located in Grassmarket is a solid choice. The name commemorates the last hanging that took place in Grassmarket in 1864 and the pub’s understated exterior is a throwback to the architectural style of the era. Known for its wide range of real ales and classic pub fare, don’t miss the award-winning steak & ale pie.

4. Wetherspoons – A collection of trendy student pubs around the UK, stop for a pint in one of these iconic locations. Edinburgh is home to 6 Wetherspoons (including one at the airport in case you miss the others!), here are a few to try: The Standing Order, The Playfair, and The Booking Office.

15. Hit the Beach at Portobello

Does Edinburgh have beaches, you might ask?

Indeed, it does! And you don’t have to go far to find white sand and blue seas. Just a few miles from Edinburgh’s city center, Portobello Beach is a picture-perfect seaside suburb. Restaurants and cafes line a beachfront promenade framed by elegant Georgian and Victorian homes.

After a few days of sightseeing, it’s the perfect place to relax and escape the hustle and bustle of the city.

16. Get Out of Town! The Best Day Trips from Edinburgh

Have more time? There are tons of fabulous day trips from Edinburgh. You can book an organized tour. Or, if you want to explore Edinburgh’s surroundings on your own schedule, don’t be afraid to rent a car. Driving on the left isn’t so hard and Scotland’s road system is excellent.

We rented our car through RentalCars.com (my all-time favorite booking site) but there are lots of options to choose from in and around the city.

Tip: I recommend picking up the car at the airport so you don’t have to drive in the city.

But whether you decide to drive yourself or let someone else do the driving, get out of the city and explore Scotland’s stunning countryside! Here are some of my favorite day trips within a reasonable drive from Edinburgh:

1. The Scottish Highlands

It’s nearly impossible to do the Scottish Highlands any justice on a simple day trip. But if you’re short on time and just hoping to get a glimpse of this gorgeous landscape, a day trip is certainly better than nothing! Often, some of the day trips also include one or more of the places listed below.

For Harry Potter fans, be sure to pick a day trip that includes a visit to the Glenfinnan Viaduct.

2. The Legend of Loch Ness

The legend of the Loch Ness “monster” is synonymous with Scotland. Unexplained mysterious sightings at this deep, dark loch date back to 565 AD, and the iconic mystery continues to draw visitors and explorers to this day.

Full-day tours from Edinburgh typically also include nearby Urquhart Castle and the beautiful Glencoe. If you only have one day, an organized trip is your best bet due to the distance (the drive takes about 3 hours, one-way).

However, if you have more than one day to devote to the Highlands, I highly recommend renting your own wheels and spending one night in the area. There are plenty of things to see and having your own car will help you maximize your time.

Yes, they do drive on the left in Scotland. But as long as you’re comfortable with that, driving in Scotland is not difficult at all. Let’s just say it’s nowhere near as potentially traumatic as driving in Ireland.

Read More: How to Survive Driving in Ireland (and Actually Enjoy It!)

Whether you’re a die-hard golfer or just a history buff, St. Andrews is a fascinating place to visit. World-renowned as the birthplace of golf, the popular sport has been played here since around 1400 AD.

This one’s an easy day trip from Edinburgh, the drive takes less than 90 minutes one-way. There are plenty of day-trip options available or, again, just rent a car a drive!

When you get there, you can walk in the footsteps of golfing legends with a guided walk of the old course.

4. Balmoral Castle

The Scottish home to the Royal Family, Balmoral Castle is open to visitors each year from April until the end of July. When the Queen is in residence (beginning August 2, 2022) it’s no longer possible to visit.

I almost skipped this one on our recent trip due to reviews from visitors who were disappointed that you couldn’t see more of the inside of the castle. But we visited in early July and really enjoyed it! The grounds are magnificent and I felt it was worth the trip. Of course, we were already in Aberdeen and it’s a shorter drive from there.

From Edinburgh, this one is a trickier drive on your own and requires significant time spent on narrow country lanes. No big deal if you’re accustomed to that but a possible white-knuckle experience for those of us not comfortable driving on the left.

Need to Know: Opening times are 10:00am – 5:00pm from April 1st through August 2nd, 2022. For dates and tickets, visit the Balmoral Castle official website.

5. Aberdeen, Stonehaven & Dunnottar Castle

Aberdeen is another great Scottish city to explore and it’s easy to reach by train from Edinburgh (the journey takes about 3 hours) if you want to take a day trip on your own.

About a 2.5-hour drive north of Edinburgh (and just 25-minutes from Aberdeen) sits the magnificent Dunnottar Castle. Perched atop a rocky outcrop surrounded on three sides by the North Sea, it’s a true seaside beauty.

The adorable nearby village of Stonehaven makes the perfect waterfront lunch stop.

Need to Know: Open 361 days a year, summer hours are 9:00am – 6:00pm. For more information and to book tickets, visit the Dunottar Castle official website.

6. Glasgow

Just a short 40-minute train ride away, Glasgow is a terrific city to explore.

The city is home to a lively music scene and a number of museums, including the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum and the Riverside Museum. You’ll also find plenty of green space with several parks, including the Glasgow Botanical Gardens and Kelvingrove Park.

Wrapping up a terrific visit to Edinburgh

And that’s a wrap!

All of the wonderful, spooky, and delicious things to do in and around Scotland’s fabulous capitol city.

It’s your ultimate guide to what not to miss in Edinburgh!

There’s no doubt this uniquely beautiful city has a lot to offer. From its rich history and culture to its stunning architecture and scenery, there is surely something for everyone in Edinburgh.

So what are you waiting for? Plan your trip today and experience all that this incredible city has to offer!

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