As the Capital of Scotland, Edinburgh is a very popular tourist destination. But I can vouch that it is much more than that. Edinburgh is actually one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. It is a quaint mediaeval town with charming streets, good food and friendly people.
Did you know that Edinburgh was the first city to be called the UNESCO city of literature? As such it has a connection with the likes of J.K. Rowling, Robert Burns, Walter Scott and many others. Edinburgh is a must on any tour of Scotland and I sincerely hope I get to visit it again soon. Here is my guide to help you plan your visit.
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When to visit
There is no bad time to visit Edinburgh. Each season will just give you a different experience. If you are looking to save money and stay away from the crowds you can get great deals from September to November or February through May. If you are looking for warmer temperatures or to enjoy the festival season then June through August is when you should go.
What to do
- Climb an extinct volcano. Arthurs seat which can be seen from pretty much from anywhere in the city center is a pretty easy climb and you are rewarded with some of the best views in Edinburgh. I recommend an early morning climb. If you are up for it then watching the sun rise over the city is a treat of a lifetime.
- Take a hike. For another incredible view of the city take a hike up Calton Hill. I enjoyed a late afternoon climb and then watched the sun set over Edinburgh. Breathtaking!!!
- Visit a castle. Edinburgh Castle is probably the most recognizable icon in the city. From barracks to the crown jewels and everything in between, this is a great place to visit. If you time it right you can hear the canon shots.
Scotland is filled with Magical castles. You can read more about Edinburgh Castle and 13 other Magical castles to visit while in Scotland here.
- Go to church. St. Giles Cathedral is the principal place of worship of the Church of Scotland in Edinburgh. It is also a beautiful establishment and one worth visiting.
- Have a dram or two. If you want to learn more about Scotland’s most notable beverage then you can sign up for the Scotch Whisky Experience. You get a nice sample at the end and if you have kids they will enjoy the ride and interactive tour.
- Get some culture and history. The National Museum of Scotland has many things under one roof – enjoy the natural world, world cultures, art and design, science and technology, and Scottish history. Best of all it is FREE.
- Walk the Royal Mile. Yes this may be a very touristy street but it is bustling with activity and is a must see on any visit to town.
- Escape the city. Go for a walk down the Water of Leith and head to the quaint Dean Village. It is beautiful walk and a great escape. Close to the city but makes you feel as if you are miles away.
- Meet some friendly ghosts. Take a ghost tour or visit the underground city of Mary Kings Close. There is no shortage of companies that want to share their knowledge of the gruesome history and legends of torture, hangings and more.
- Spy on the Royals. Visit the Palace of Holyrood which is the official home of the British Monarchy in Scotland. For over 500 years this has been home to Kings and Queens when visiting Scotland.
- Be a Potter head. Edinburgh has many sites for those who love Harry Potter. Discover them all here.
- Escape reality. Visit the Camera Obscura and World of illusions. A fun interactive museum that will have you believing in magic once again. Pro tip: It also has one of the best views of the city from its roof top.
Have I convinced you to visit Edinburgh? If the above was not enough then here are 10 reasons why you should visit Scotland this year.
Bonus – See the best of Edinburgh with a local
- Take an Instagram walking tour of Edinburgh. The Balmoral hotel has paired up with Ian Black to take you on an unforgettable walking tour of Edinburgh. Ian is one of Scotlands most popular Instagrammers which I featured in my 10 Scotland Instagram Accounts you Should Follow. This tour is a photographers dream as you are shown the best places in Edinburgh to photograph. To book yours click here.
Where and what to eat
From Michelin rated restaurants to small and homey, Edinburgh has it all. For me a restaurant that was family friendly was a requirement since I visited Edinburgh with my husband and 2 girls aged 11 and 8. Here is but a small list of some great restaurants you should consider:
Oink – Located on one of my favorite streets in Edinburgh, Oink is a great lunch stop. They have good prices and delicious slow-roasted hog rolls filled with pulled pork that is taken directly from the piggy in the window. It is served with a choice of haggis or sage and onion stuffing, apple or chilli sauce, crackling or not. This is clearly all about the pig so vegetarians should abstain.
Edinburgh Larder Café – The Edinburgh Larder has a traditional hardy breakfasts and simple but good lunches. Everything is fresh and has a homemade feel. It is a favorite amongst locals.
The Mussel & Steak bar – This restaurant is all about simple tasty food. The black pots of sweet muscles are the star attraction at the Mussel & Steak bar but it is also a great spot to taste haggis. They had an amazing appetizer of phyllo dough filled with haggis.
Twenty Princes Street – For a fancy treat and a great steak you can’t go wrong with this one. It is an award winning restaurant with an eclectic menu and inventive drinks.
Where to stay
This is where Edinburgh began and it is arguable the most central area in Edinburgh. It encompasses the Royal Mile which is a boulevard with four segments bearing different names: Castlehill, Lawnmarket, High Street, and Canongate. This is the area we stayed in when visiting. We needed a family room that would fit 4 people and I was looking to use my points with IHG therefore we chose to stay at the Holiday Inn Express on the Royal Mile and we had a very pleasant stay.
This is the section north of old town and home to Princess Street which is the cities best and most crowded shopping street.
Outside the city center
Most will choose either Leith or Calton if staying outside the city center. Leith is the cities major harbor. A beautiful waterfront with lots of shops and restaurants.