Edited by Holly Jenson
Although it’s the capital of Scotland, Edinburgh has never been considered a city by the locals, it’s just our big town. Compact, with dense winding streets featuring historic landmarks and architecture of all ages, there’s so much to explore. I was born in the borders and the city has always been my home town, and I love discovering new things about where I now live. One of my favourite Edinburgh activities is discovering weird and wonderful facts, and my city has so many of them! My love of architecture and history has taken me all over the city, so I’ve rounded up the top 10 things to do in Edinburgh, so you can uncover the hidden gems most visitors miss.
One of the top Edinburgh attractions, the castle dominates the skyline of our city and is a definite must-see. Archaeologists have found bones and pottery on Castle Rock dating back to the Iron Age (2800 years ago!), which was before the castle was ever built, so this is a great example of our history. I am really passionate about architecture and one of my favorite things about this place is that you can see different time periods from the variations of brickwork in the design from all the times it’s been taken over, demolished, and rebuilt; it’s a great taste of the history and culture of the city. There is a big open space in front of the castle with an amazing view of the skyline. You can see the dense and winding old town and the concise grid structure of the new town, so it’s a great way to get your bearings and experience the city’s past and present. The castle is an amazing landmark and definitely an Edinburgh must-see.
One of the best things to do in Edinburgh is take the short walk down to Stockbridge. Just downhill from the city centre, Stockbridge was recently regenerated to become one of the fanciest parts of town. There is a really lovely park as well as lots of independent cafes and a market where local producers sell their wares. With rows of traditional Scottish houses with climbing ivy and flowers, coming to Stockbridge allows you to experience a Scottish village without leaving Edinburgh. You can spend the afternoon wandering around the shops or picking up some street food from the market to enjoy al fresco in one of the many greens, this is the perfect place to unwind. Stockbridge is a great location to escape the busyness of the town centre and a true hidden gem of our city; it’s one of the best places to visit in Edinburgh
Dynamic Earth is one of the most fun things to do in Edinburgh and is a perfect family-friendly day out. Built as part of the Millennium Commission, Dynamic Earth explores the origins of our planet as well as its potential futures in exciting 4D exhibitions. On your interactive tour, you can reach out and touch the icebergs, feel the force of molten lava beneath you and gaze at the northern lights. I always recommend this place to friends as you learn so much and there are so many exhibits, you can easily spend a few hours here. Sitting in the heart of Holyrood, this place is also within walking distance to Holyrood House and Arthur’s Seat, so you won’t need to travel far for a fun-filled day of sightseeing. Dynamic earth is one of the top Edinburgh attractions and a real one of a kind experience, you won’t find this anywhere else!
Calton Hill is another viewpoint with a stunning panorama of the city. Just a ten minute walk from Waverley Station, the hill has some random Greek pillars (no one knows why they’re there!) which make an amazing picture when you’re looking out over the panorama. From the observatory you can see Leith (the residential part of the city), the Forth River and if you arrived by ferry you can see the ships come and go. Although I usually discourage people from visiting the touristy shops but there is one thing you need to take advantage of. If you’re of Scottish or Irish descent, the shop owners here can help you find your family tartan! Using your last name, you can uncover years of history and see your very own family crest; it’s a remarkable way to connect with the city in a way that’s personal to you, and you can take home a souvenir that’s truly worth having. With plenty to explore, Calton hill is an Edinburgh must-see and a great way to see the city without facing the steep climb of the Royal Mile.
Despite its central location, Grassmarket is another one of Edinburgh’s hidden gems that visitors only seem to stumble upon by chance. Hiding behind the castle in the old town, this is where they used to hang people hundreds of years ago; there’s even an indent in the concrete from where the gallows used to stand! Having a drink at the pub The Last Drop is a great way to experience local culture, but watch out, some say it’s haunted! You can find an old noose in a glass case here, as well as plaques telling the history of the area; it’s a really interesting way to learn about the country’s past. The buildings all feature traditional Scottish stone and there are lots of historic and vintage-style shops, you feel as though you have entered another era! The sweet shop sells a rainbow of traditional Scottish sweets that are the best in Scotland (in my opinion) - I’d recommend getting a mix and trying them all. Wandering these winding streets is one of the most fun things to do in Edinburgh and the perfect way to experience our history and food culture.
Palace of Holyrood House
If you’re interested in royalty, Holyrood House is the perfect place for you! Oozing elegance and grandeur, this is where the Queen of England stays whenever she visits Scotland, and it’ll always be one of the top 10 things to do in Edinburgh. Sitting at the end of Edinburgh’s historic Royal Mile, the palace was built in the 12th century and has housed famous monarchs such as Mary Queen of Scots and Bonnie Prince Charlie. You can tour the majestic walls and gaze at the glamour of the 17th century décor, this place has always been at the heart of royal history. After exploring the beautiful grounds, It is just a short walk to the parliament building and Queen Mary’s bathhouse for more historical discovery. Holyrood House is the picture of opulence and taking a tour here is a great way to relax and immerse yourself in our culture
If you’ve exhausted your guidebook and are still looking for what to do in Edinburgh, a definite must-see is Arthur’s seat. One of my favorite things about my hometown is its greenery; it’s really rare to have so much nature amongst a densely packed city. One of the most fun things to do in Edinburgh is to climb to the top of Arthur’s Seat and admire the sweeping panorama. A top tip from me, take the shallow pathway! The steeper side is made up of old stone slabs and is a lot windier; it can leave you feeling a bit unsteady. I am a big fan of folklore and that’s why Arthur’s seat will always be one of my favorite Edinburgh attractions. Thought to be the location of King Arthur’s Camelot, Arthur’s Seat has been featured in numerous novels over hundreds of years as a point of wonder and mystery. This is a great place to stroll, clear your head and soak up the breathtaking view.
Photo credit: www.flickr.com/photos/afagen/25714570027
Cowgate is historically where cattle were brought into the city by farmers, but today it is the heart of Edinburgh’s night scene. The streets are always vibrant and full of life, coming for a drink here is one of the best things to do in Edinburgh at night. When you mention the Cowgate to people, they will often recommend the club Hive, do not listen to them! This underground bar is always packed so tightly that you can’t dance and it is generally full of students. The best place for a relaxed and affordable night out here is definitely Bannerman’s. Their live music is an acquired taste (usually heavy metal) but there are plenty of quieter areas to enjoy an array of Scottish whisky with friends.
Royal Botanic Garden
Another Edinburgh attraction which is often overlooked is our Royal Botanic Garden. 70 acres of beautiful grounds feature colorful flowers, giant trees, and spectacular exotic plants. The enormous glasshouse is home to over 3000 exotic plants from all over the world, you could spend a whole afternoon exploring this place. There are a number of water features where you can feel your worries float away, locals like to come here to relax with a good book. The garden is so well-loved that Edinburgh Gin has created a special savory gin in honor of them, infused with fresh herbs. Originally designed to be a growing garden for herbs, fruit, and veg, the grounds are now an amazing Edinburgh must-see that you shouldn’t miss.
Discover Harry Potter’s Beginnings
Something that really appeals to my nerdy side is all of Edinburgh’s ties to Harry Potter. JK Rowling got a lot of inspiration for her books from ordinary places around the city. The best place to get your magic on is Victoria Street. The most photographed street in Scotland, this is where Rowling got her inspiration for Diagon Alley; you can see the resemblance from all of the quirky shops and cobbled paths. You can also visit Greyfriar’s Kirkyard, a graveyard where the author plucked a lot of the names for her books. While you’re in the area, have a drink at Greyfriars Bobby’s Bar. The pub is named after the statue which sits in front of it, honoring a dog who came to the pub every day after its owner (a regular) died. The story of Greyfriars Bobby is one of those touching tales that you can find in our cozy cobbled streets, it’s what the city’s all about!
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