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Great Things to Do in Edinburgh

Updated on November 29, 2015

Edinburgh is an impressive city with a rich history and with lots to see and do. No matter how long you’re visiting for, you won’t run out of things to do in Edinburgh. From medieval castles to exhilarating hikes, there’s plenty to fill your itinerary with. There are a few things that no visitor to Edinburgh should miss out on. Make sure that you don’t miss the following sites and activities.

The Royal Mile

If you’re looking for a place to start, the Royal Mile is it. The Royal Mile runs between Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace, meaning you can easily meander along it in between seeing those two places. The Mile is made up of a few different streets, all distinguished by beautiful buildings, shops, and restaurants. If you want to do some shopping while you’re in Edinburgh, the Royal Mile is the place to do it.

If you’re looking for a wide selection for lunch or dinner, you’ll find many excellent pubs and restaurants along the Royal Mile. It’s also a great place to walk along and take in the atmosphere. The Royal Mile is centuries old and includes a number of Edinburgh’s historic sites, including St Giles’ Cathedral, Mary King’s Close, and Canongate Kirk. You can very happily spend an afternoon wandering the Royal Mile.

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Edinburgh Castle

If you’re visiting Edinburgh, don’t miss the castle. Sitting atop a hill in Edinburgh’s Old Town, you’ll catch glimpses of it from all around the city. The castle is Edinburgh’s premier tourist site, and there is a lot to see. At £16.50, it’s one of the city’s more expensive attractions, but you’ll get plenty of value for the ticket price.

Edinburgh Castle is more accurately described as a fortress, containing a collection of buildings contained within a stone wall. Occupation of the castle site dates back to the 2nd century, and there has been a royal castle there since at least the 12th century.

Most of the current buildings date to the 16th century or after, with a few exceptions, such as St Margaret’s Chapel, which dates all the way back to the 12th century. If you visit, you can spend hours touring the exhibits held in the castle’s different buildings. Sites include the castle’s great hall, regimental museums, royal palace (housing the crown jewels), battery, and the national war museum. If you can, plan you visit to be there at 1:00 pm, and you can see the castle guards shoot a historic gun. And of course, leave some time to enjoy the view; from the castle walls, you can look out over all of Edinburgh.


Holyrood Palace and Holyrood Park

If after visiting the castle you haven’t had enough of impressive historic building, walk down the Royal Mile to Holyrood Palace. This palace is the official Scottish residence of the British monarch. The site of the palace dates back to a 12th-century abbey. In the early 16th century, the royal family constructed a palace connected to the abbey.

In the 1560s, Mary, Queen of Scots, occupied the palace. Today, you can tour her apartments and the other State Apartments in the palace. If you’d prefer not to pay for admittance (tickets are £11.60), you can still enjoy the view of the beautiful palace exterior. Then spend some time in the surrounding Holyrood Park.

Arthur’s Seat

The highlight of Holyrood Park is Arthur’s Seat, the highest point in Edinburgh. If you’re lucky enough to get some nice weather during your visit, a hike up to the top of Arthur’s Seat is one of the best things to do in Edinburgh. Getting to the top is a relatively easy hike.

If you walk up from the east, by Dunsapie Loch, you can follow a gradual grassy slope up to the top. If you’re feeling more adventurous, you can talk Piper’s Walk, which is a steeper and quicker climb. Either way, at the top you’ll be 251 meters above the city. Arthur’s Seat provides fantastic views over all of Edinburgh.

St Giles’ Cathedral

St Giles’ Cathedral, also known as the High Kirk of Edinburgh, is one of the most beautiful buildings in the city and is definitely worth a visit. It’s located right on the Royal Mile, so you can easily fit it into your site-seeing schedule. The cathedral dates back to the 14th century, and it boasts some outstanding gothic architecture.

If you visit, you can enjoy some exquisite vaulted ceilings, stained glass windows, and intricate stonework. It’s also a very affordable site to visit; the cathedral recommends a donation of £3.00.

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Scott Monument

The Scott Monument is one of the most striking features of Edinburgh’s skyline, second only to the Edinburgh Castle. The monument is located in Princes Street Gardens, making it easy to visit from popular Princes Street. The Scott Monument is a Victorian Gothic structure stretching over 61 meters high. The monument was built to honor Sir Walter Scott, the famous Scottish author, and there is a statue of him at the bottom of the monument.

Rising above the author is a sandstone tower ornately decorated with figures from Scott’s novels and a series of delicate arches. The monument was built in the 1840s and is a distinct reminder of the past in comparison with the manicured grass and Princes Street Gardens and the modern shops on Princes Street. You can simple enjoy the view of the monument from below, or for £4.00, you can climb a series of spiral staircases to the top.

Scottish National Gallery

If you’re at all interesting in art, the Scottish National Gallery is a must-see. Set in a 19th-century neoclassical building on Edinburgh’s scenic Mound, the gallery itself is impressive to behold. The Gallery also boasts a remarkable collection with 5 exhibitions and 15 additional displays. If you visit, you’ll be able to see both Scottish and international art dating from between the Renaissance and the early 20th century.

The gallery’s collection includes artwork by van Dyck, Bernini, Botticelli, Degas, El Greco, Goya, Monet, Raphael, Rembrandt, Blake, van Gogh and Velázquez, among many others. If you are looking to see more art in Edinburgh, you can also visit the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art or the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. There’s plenty of art to see, whether you want to make it the focal point of your trip or spend a couple of hours one afternoon.

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