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 and a cup of coffee. Discover what a ‘hairy coo’ really is. 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: Harry Potter Magical Guided Walking Tour

2. 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 Vaults: Ghost Tour

3. Edinburgh Vaults: Ghost Tour

Wander through Edinburgh's Old Town and explore the infamous Edinburgh Vaults on a bone-chilling guided tour that uncovers the city's torturous past and a haunted present. Take to Edinburgh's historic streets and listen as your guide tells you tales of the city's dark and gruesome history as you are led along the Royal Mile on cobblestone streets. Hear stories of murder, hangings, and even witchcraft.  Venture below ground and enter the city vaults, one of Edinburgh's most haunted sites. Hear stories of stomach-churning medieval torture devices, for those with a strong enough constitution to learn about times gone by.  Discover why the vaults have often been regarded as one of the scariest places on earth by paranormal experts. Get to know the history of the site and the ghosts that frequent it.

Edinburgh: Underground Vaults Tour

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

5. 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: Real Mary King's Close Guided Tour

6. 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. 

Edinburgh: Late-Night Underground Vaults Terror Tour

7. 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 Vaults: Ghost Tour with Greyfriars Kirkyard

8. Edinburgh Vaults: Ghost Tour with Greyfriars Kirkyard

Take to the historic streets of Edinburgh's Old Town, visit the Greyfriars Kirkyard graveyard, and explore the infamous Edinburgh Vaults on a bone-chilling guided tour that uncovers the city's torturous past and a haunted present. Listen as your guide tells you tales of the city's dark and gruesome history as you are led along the Royal Mile on cobblestone streets. Hear stories of murder, hangings, and even witchcraft.  Stop at what is regarded as the most haunted graveyard in the world at Greyfriars Kirkyard and discover the legend of Greyfriars Bobby. Venture below ground and enter the city vaults where medieval torture exhibitions await those with a strong enough stomach to learn how these devices were used in times gone by.  Experience why the vaults have often been regarded as one of the scariest places on earth by paranormal experts. Get to know the history of the site and the ghosts that frequent it.

Edinburgh: Haunted Underground Vaults and Graveyard Tour

9. 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: Skip-the-Line Walking Tour of Edinburgh Castle

10. Edinburgh: Skip-the-Line Walking Tour of Edinburgh Castle

Discover the home of Mary Queen of Scots on this guided walking tour of Edinburgh Castle. Admire the 16th-century Great Hall where parties and feast took place. Learn about the bloody history of the kings and queens who lived in this castle.  Meet your guide and walk to Edinburgh Castle which dominates the city skyline from its seat on the extinct volcano of Castle Rock. Stroll on the castle's promenade and hear about the the origins and sieges of the castle. View where the Royal Military Tattoo is performed. Enter the castle and make your way to the three museums and two prisons. Go to the National Monument to the fallen of Scotland and a canine cemetery. See the oldest building in the city at the Chapel of Saint Margaret. Be captivated by the grandeur of the Great Hall and a Royal Palace. After the tour you will have time to explore all of the buildings inside the castle until its closure.

Frequently asked questions about Edinburgh

What top attractions are a must-see in Edinburgh?

What are the best day trips and excursions from Edinburgh?

The best day trips and excursions from Edinburgh are:

St Andrews

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

4.6 / 5

based on 71,913 reviews

As a family of 4 with 2 young children we did the Harry Potter walking tour and it was excellent. I was a little anxious making a 4 and 7 year old walk for 2 hours at 6pm but they absolutely loved it as did us grown ups. Kieran (the guide) was brilliant, really engaging, enthusiastic and knowledgeable. He did a quiz throughout which everyone enjoyed taking part in and had loads of fun and interesting facts. I would highly recommend!

The whole experience from the start of the journey to the end was fantastically rewarding and worth spending every penny. This was all possible not just because of the natural beauty but our undoubtedly the best tour guide so far Paul and our bus driver Adam. Paul is a jolly person with great humour and his passion for Scottish history and The landscapes were mesmerising and the history attached made it more intriguingly beautiful

I recommend, I'd go once again. Tour guide Jim provided excellent service, he shared so many facts about Scotland. I really enjoyed the trip.

The tour was well organised,our tour guide and driver were both very nice and helpful men.

It was a wonderful experience, make sure you feed the famous celebrity cows!