Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital, and home to almost 500,000 people, is the second most visited tourist destination in the UK (after London), attracting a million overseas visitors a year. The natural beauty of its hills and parks along with its historic and cultural landmarks and its medieval Old Town do not disappoint.
What are the Best Things to see in Edinburgh?
Edinburgh Castle is a world-famous icon that sits atop Castle Rock overlooking the city and has a long and rich history as a royal residence, military garrison, prison and fortress. (See our Top 12 Scottish Castles)
Historic Old Town
In old town, not far from Edinburgh Castle you can’t miss St. Giles’ Cathedral also known as the High Kirk of Edinburgh, which is the principal place of worship of the Church of Scotland. Its distinctive crown steeple is a prominent feature of the city skyline, at about a third of the way down the Royal Mile which runs from the Castle to Holyrood Palace.
A Victorian Gothic monument to Scottish author Sir Walter Scott and the second largest monument to a writer in the world.
Mary King’s Close
Is a historic close located under buildings on the Royal Mile, in the historic Old Town area of Edinburgh.
The Scottish Parliament Building is the home of the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood, within the UNESCO World Heritage Site in central Edinburgh, and just a 3-minute walk from Holyrood Palace. The Scottish Parliament is usually open to visitors 6 days a week – Monday to Saturday and an ideal option for a brief visit.
The Palace of Holyrood House or commonly referred to as Holyrood Palace, is one of the official residences of Queen Elizabeth II.
Salisbury Crags and Arthur’s Seat
Across Queen’s Drive to the south of Holyrood Palace sits Holyrood Park with the majestic Salisbury Crags and Arthur’s Seat. Arthur’s Seat is an extinct volcano, which is considered the main peak (known for hiking and sightseeing) of the group of hills in Edinburgh, and form most of Holyrood Park. A climb over Salisbury Crags and onto Arthur’s Seat affords a breathtaking view of Edinburgh and, particularly, Edinburgh Castle.
A short 15-minute walk from Holyrood House, is Calton Hill, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and famous for some of the city’s historic monuments. The National Monument atop the hill was inspired by the Parthenon in Athens. Calton Hill has some of the city’s best views and if you get there early enough, the best sunrises.
Edinburgh Waverley railway station
The station is the principal station serving Edinburgh, the capital city of Scotland. It is the second busiest station in Scotland, after Glasgow Central.
Victoria Street in the Old Town has to be one of the most photographed locations in the city. Its gentle curve and colourful store fronts make it a favourite spot for photos.
With JK Rowling crafting the Harry Potter books in Edinburgh it’s now considered a Harry Potter pilgrimage site. With its array of vibrant buildings, numerous shops of all sizes and descriptions, cobblestones streets, it’s no surprise that Victoria Street is the inspiration for the fabulous Diagon Alley.
- Diagon House on Victoria Street with its very small floor space and narrow staircase is not to be missed for someone looking for all things Harry Potter
- The Elephant House Café at 21 George IV Bridge is a wonderful café serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, where J.K. Rowling often spent her time writing and staring out the window at Greyfriars Kirkyard, an ancient graveyard with the Grave of Voldemort (aka Tom Riddle)
- George Heriot’s School – Said to be the inspiration for Hogwarts
- And lastly, the beautiful Balmoral Hotel where The Deathly Hallows was written in one of the guest rooms.
For shoppers, High Street has many stores and beautiful boutiques. Be sure to pick up a beautiful wool scarf and Walker’s Short Bread Cookies!
Royal Yacht Britannia
We also explored the former yacht of the Queen, the Royal Yacht Britannia which is housed on the waterfront at the Ocean Terminal. An audio guide is available as you explore the 5 decks, from the bridge and the engine room, to the royal apartments. Is it worth seeing? We thought so, as this is an important part of the royal’s history.
Edinburgh – Fit for Foodies
While many people think of Scotland, they may think of Haggis, but Edinburgh has the highest number of Michelin-starred restaurants in Scotland, and third in the UK rankings, with the highest number of Michelin stars. Edinburgh also boasts more casual options from the same chefs.
How many days do you need to visit Edinburgh?
You could spend much more time getting to know the city, but 3 days allowed us to see the highlights of Edinburgh.
Getting Around Edinburgh
It’s easy to walk to all the tourist spots in and around old town and getting to further destinations such as to the Ocean Terminal by taxi is pretty inexpensive.