Edinburgh is home to the Royal Mile. The city center is best explored on foot. It is a popular tourist destination and offers a lot of different options including: hiking, gardens, castles, palaces, monuments, cathedrals, whiskey, and restaurants.
Things To Do & See
Any trip to Edinburgh should include a walk along the royal mile. Situated at one end is the Edinburgh Castle. One of the top tourist attractions, the castle is swarming with people. Purchase the Scotland Explorer Pass or alternatively purchase tickets online, to avoid the queue. (It is one of the priciest attractions in Scotland.) We would recommend an audio guide to help provide additional history and detail on the castle.
A well done audio guide is included in the entrance fee. The audio guide will take you on an hour and a half tour of the palace (room by room), and provide you with some details on Scottish history and the royalty. Be sure to visit the gardens.
3) Holyrood Park
Wonderful hikes with views back on the city center. One of the most popular is the hike to Arthur’s Seat. The hiking paths can be crowded on weekends when the weather is favorable. If headed towards Arthur’s Seat, follow the path to the left that curves up around the mountain (much easier ascend than the one that goes right towards Salisbury Crags). Pick up a map from the little hut across the street from the Holyrood Palace. For a less crowded experience, hike along the top of Salisbury Crags.
Scotland and scotch are synonymous. No trip is complete without a scotch tasting. If your time in Scotland is limited to Edinburgh city center, this might be a good option for you. Reservations can be made in advance online. (Must be booked at least 24 hours in advance.) Or just stop by to take the tour. We did not have a chance to do while in town, due to the line, but it was recommended by a friend (and on TripAdvisor).
5) Princess Street Gardens
Located right off of Princess Street, these gardens are beautifully maintained and offer some great views back up on the Edinburgh Castle. Enjoy a picnic or just a moments rest.
6) National Gallery
The National Gallery is located off of Princess Street (next to the Princess Street Gardens). The Gallery features paintings by Scottish artist, along with some impressive more well known European artists. Entrance to the gallery is free.
Day Trips From Edinburgh
There are many day trip options from Edinburgh. We elected to stay in the city center for a few nights to explore the sites on foot. We then rented a car to explore the country-side, but found that we could make a base in Edinburgh (outside the city center where parking was available and free) and explore some of the nearby sights and towns as day trips. Note: We purchased the 7 day Explore Scotland Pass, and thus we utilized it as a basis to determine which sights to see (There may be other sights worth seeing that are not included in our list.) We saved a lot of money (and saw more sights that we would have) by purchasing the pass. It covers sights such as the Edinburgh Castle, Stirling Castle, Melrose Abby, Iona Abbey and the St. Andrews Castle & Catherdral. Visit the Historic Scotland website for additional details.
1) St Andrews
The home of golf is located about an hour Northeast of Edinburgh. Although we elected to stay in the area for a couple of days, this sights could be easily be done on a day trip from Edinburgh. See the St Andrews destination summary for additional details.
Stirling & Doune
Located about an hour northwest of Edinburgh are the cities of Stirling & Doune. Both cities are home to a historic castle that is worth the a visit. The cities are also between Glencoe & Edinburgh, and can be paired with the scenic drive down A82 into Glencoe. Or alternatively, can be visited on the return (to Glasgow or Edinburgh) from the western islands of Skye and Mull.
- Stirling Castle: Set up on the hill from Stirling, this castle is considered the entry point to the highlands. The military assumed use of this castle and modified many of the historical buildings. Restoration has been in progress since the 90s to try and restore some of the buildings to their glory days. Take one of the free guided tours to provide you background and history of the castle. Home of King James V, check out the wood carvings. Also, visit the tapestry shop (until 2014) to see the creation of a tapestry in progress.
- Doune Castle: The location where the Monty Python & the Holy Grail was filmed. The free audio guide provides details on the history as well as what scenes were filmed at the castle.
3) The Scottish Boarder Towns – Melrose, Dryburgh, Smailholm, & Jedburgh
Located about an hour southeast of Edinburgh are the towns of Melrose, Dryburgh, & Jedburgh. Each is home to a historic Abbey. Entrance and a free audio guide is covered by the Scotland Explorer Pass.
- Melrose Abbey: One of the most well know Abbeys, Melrose was home to the White Canons (follows St Benedict) for a few hundred years. Like most Abbeys (and Cathedrals) in Scotland, the historical battles between England and Scotland cause much damage to the historical structure. By far, one of the busiest Abbeys.
- Jedburgh Abbey: An impressive Abbey that was home to the Augustinian Black Canons. This Abbey is worth the trip to see the impressive remains. Jedburgh is also a nice town for a afternoon refreshment or meal. (The Queen Mary Scott home is also located in town.)
- Dryburgh Abbey Sir Walter Scott was buried at this Abbey. It is near a river just on the outskirts of town. Our visit on a summer Saturday afternoon coincided with a wedding. We were able to observe the wedding party (and bag-pipper) but not all the Abbey had to offer.
- Smailholm Tower: On a clear day this tower boast beautiful views across the country-side. Sir Walter Scott spent his childhood on a farm nearby. If a fan of Sir Walter Scott, then the exhibit (and hour long audio-guide) is good. Otherwise, if you are in the area, have the Explorer Pass, and it is a nice day then make it a quick visit for the views.
There are countless pubs and restaurants in Edinburgh. The Grass Market area has a wide selection of options. Here are a few other options we encountered during our stay.
1) The Southern
A specialty burger place located just outside of city center. (Located halfway between city center in the Alba House B&B.) We tried the Pioneer burger (rosemary mushrooms, bacon, and Swiss cheese) and the Bohemian burger(chili Gouda, sliced turkey, rocket and prosciutto). Served some of the tastiest burgers we had while in the UK (and Ireland), and sweet potato fries! Also offer up a good selection of Scottish beers on tap.
This restaurant is located downstairs from the Whiskey Experience on the royal mile. We enjoyed a late (light) lunch here one afternoon…and watched a rain shower pass.
1) Alba House
A terrific bed and breakfast located near the center of Edinburgh. The rooms were spacious, clean, and had a dependable wireless internet connection. Our host was wonderful and very helpful. We also enjoyed the morning feasts. We would definitely recommend!
2) Dalmahoy (by Marriott)
Located outside of the city center, the Dalmahoy has a fantastic fitness center and free parking. It was the perfect location to base ourselves in order to do day trips around Edinburgh. There is also a park and ride a few miles away, which offers service into the Edinburgh city center. Outside of the hotel, golf course/fitness center, and couple of onsite restaurants, there is not a lot of other services located close by.