City Guide – Edinburgh a guide for first timers

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.
    Views from the top of Arthurs Seat

     

  • 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!!!
    Sunset over Edinburgh from Calton Hill

     

  • 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.
    St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh

     

  • 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.
    Dean Village

     

  • 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.

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.

Pulled pork sandwiches at Oink

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.

Tomahawk steak at 20 Princes Street

Where to stay

Old Town

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.

New Town

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.

Have you visited Edinburgh? Feel free to share some of your favorites things to do, foods to eat and places to stay. This way I can make sure to check them out when I return.

Leave me a comment below or lets get social on Instagram or Facebook.

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41 Comments

  1. Joella. I never had an inkling to visit Scotland but your writings have awoken a desire
    Thank you
    Love you
    Mom

  2. This is such an amazing destination. The nature and architecture is something incredible. I didn’t know that they have an extinct volcano there. I’ll make sure to visit it.

    1. The hike to Arthur’s Seat is a must it gives great excercise and provides amazing views of the city.

  3. I always wanted to go to Edinburgh but for one reason or another I still haven’t. This is definitely not the usual city guide, because it suggests unusual and yet interesting activities… I mean the Harry Potter sites are something I never thought of! I’ll keep it at hand and show this to hubby, thank you for posting!

    1. There is much more to see and do than what I posted but those are all highlights worth exploring. There is something for everyone there and I know you will fall in love with it when you visit.

  4. Edinburgh is a gorgeous city! The architecture of the whole city itself, fascinated me so much! Yes, I decided to go here just coz of the UNESCO label and I was awe inspired!
    Did everything in your list except Museum and going out of the city!

    1. Yes the architecture is sure a marvel and I can spend hours taking pictures here. I see I have found another kindred spirit that loves reading and visiting UNESCO sites.

  5. Edinburgh is a wonderland for photographers – it’s on our bucket list. I would love to see and photograph the castles and countryside. The view from the volcano would definitely be on my itinerary.

    1. Jamie – you are correct. Edinburgh is a wonderland for the photographer. Not that I consider myself one. But I can certainly get lost in the beauty of the city and snap away picture after picture. So much history and charm and tons of activities.

  6. I LOVE Edinborough but I have learned so much in this post. Firstly I didn;t know there was an extinct volcano you can climb! I totally would have done that. I also have no idea it was a UNESCO City of Literature. That’s very cool!

    1. Claire – So glad you love Edinburgh and that you also learned something new. Scotland is a country that is full of surprises. So much for everyone to do. And Edinburgh is a must and a great way to start off a Scottish adventure.

  7. Beautiful guide with so much details. I totally agree with you that there is no bad time to visit Edinburgh. Each season will just give you a different experience. I visited it during the new year. Though it was a bit crowded but I thoroughly enjoyed it in spite of the cold and crowd 😛 I was lucky to do some of the things mentioned by you. Thanks for bringing back my memories.

    1. Must have been fascinating to experience the new year there. I would love to go during the fall. I think the crowds of the new year would keep me away

  8. As if I needed convincing to visit Edinburgh, this post reminded me why I need to go here. I love comprehensive guide and especially the destinations that you’ve shown here. I will definitely visit a castle or two, if I get there. The food looks amazing too!

  9. Castles of Scotland are on my wishlist. Edinburgh has lot many places to see. I will Climb up to volcano and viewing sunset from Calton hill first. As i love cultural part of the city so I prefer to live in Old City.

    1. There are many many gorgeous castles in Scotland. Some very well preserved and some are ruins. All amazing and with different history. If you like culture and history then you will love Edinburgh and Scotland

  10. I’ve never been to Scotland, although it has long been on my list of “must sees.” And I love that Edinburgh has been declared an UNESCO city of literature! I want to see the castles, sample the food and investigate some friendly ghosts — and I wouldn’t mind taking a hike around the city or up an extinct volcano while I’m at it. Thanks for sharing!

    1. I saved for 3 years before I visited and had it so built up in my head. I must admit is one of the places that surpassed my wildest dreams. Scotland is a must. Don’t hesitate. Plan and book your trip. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

  11. Oooh those two views from your climbs are gorgeous! We last went to Edinburgh I think 2-3 years back now, and we loved how much there was to see and do in the city, but also how easy it was to get out into the countryside too, as you suggest. Some fabulous eating to be had too!

    1. It is a fun city. But is has so much history, architecture and outdoor activities as well. So glad you also enjoyed it.

  12. Love this! Edinburgh is one of my favorite cities – totally agree that there’s no bad time, we visited in winter even though everyone recommended traveling in summertime – loved our experience at Hogmanay, and the landscapes were so beautiful underneath the snow. Great guide for first timers, I can’t wait to head back!

    1. I bet the crowds at Hogmanay were something else. But it must have been an experience like no other. Maybe will meet there one day

  13. This is so helpful and helps relieve the amount of time scouring the internet trying to find everything you shouldn’t miss on a first visit. We would love to go to Edinburgh, one day we will! We will reference this when we do!

    1. I really hope you will get to go. It is a wonderful city and Scotland an amazing country. I know you won’t be disappointed

  14. Never knew Edinburgh was the first city to be named UNESCO city of literature! You know what, there is place called Mahabaleshwar in India where a particular vantage point in the mountain(it’s no extinct volcano though) is also called Arthur’s Seat! And it’s quite popular with the domestic tourist crowd!Continent’s apart yet namesakes. 🙂

    1. I love those similarities. Maybe I will get to see the other Arthur’s Seat. Thanks for sharing that tidbit

  15. Holy cow! This is the perfect guide for someone who hasn’t been – speaking as one of those people! I can’t wait to get to Edinburg. I want to take my mom, so I’m sorta waiting on her to be ready. I’ve never heard of Dean Village, but it seems like the PERFECT place to escape the city!

  16. My parents took me to Scotland when I was too busy being a surly preteen to really appreciate it. This makes me think it’d be fun to talk my parents into going back. I want to hike up an extinct volcano!

    1. So funny the things we do not appreciate when we are teenagers. You should totally make a return trip.

    1. You really should visit Edinburgh and Scotland. It is such a fantastic place. Words cannot describe how special this city is. You must go and experience it on your own. I promise it will be worth it. And yes the views from Calton hill are to die for.

  17. I LOVE LOVE LOVE Edinburgh! I went 6 years ago when i was studying abroad and was absolutely obsessed. I climbed Arthur’s Seat but had no idea it was an extinct volcano til I read your post, oops.I wish I hadn’t missed Dean Village though – it looks so picturesque!

    1. How lucky that you got to spend a semester abroad. I hope my girls get the opportunity to do that when they are in college. Dean Village is easily missed. It is kind of hidden but so near the city. Maybe next time you visit you can explore Dean Village.

  18. I have never been to Edinburgh, but you’ve got me convinced to visit this city! The Arthur’s Seat climb sounds like an easy one and the view is stunning! I’m in!

    1. Arthurs seat is a nice climb. You have several options from easy to more strenuous. And the views from the top are wonderful. Hope you get to visit Edinburgh and Scotland.

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