10 Fascinating and Cheap Things to Do in Edinburgh: Our Guide

Updated on:  
February 9, 2022
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Edinburgh is the exciting capital city of Scotland. Known in Gaelic as Dùn Èideann and nicknamed Auld Reekie, Edinburgh boasts a captivating fusion of fascinating history and cool modernity.

Named as a City of Literature, Edinburgh has a fabulous blend of culture, heritage, and architecture. You’ll also find a vibrant shopping scene, pulsating nightlife, and lots of terrific places to eat. Plus, the city hosts numerous festivals and events throughout the year. With so many enticing things to do in Edinburgh, there’s definitely never a dull moment!

Whether you’re planning a couple’s escapade, a mate’s getaway, a family trip, or a solo city break, be ready to discover the all-around best things to do in Edinburgh, Scotland. From budget activities to our top choices of things to do in Edinburgh, we'll guide you to explore this amazing city full of wonders!

What Should I Not Miss in Edinburgh?

Traditional Edinburgh bagpipe at festival playing
Photo by Lynda Hinton on Unsplash

Before we go too in-depth into what you can do in Edinburgh, I've gotta give a huge shoutout to an amazing activity that you definitely should not miss.

While there are many cool things to do in Edinburgh, an absolute must (if visiting over summer) is experiencing the splendour of the yearly Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. Part of the wider series of Edinburgh Festivals, the amazing tattoos take place every August. You can watch incredible musical performances from several military bands, including those from the British Armed Forces as well as military groups from overseas. And, the grand displays take place right outside the majestic Edinburgh Castle.

What Can You Do in Edinburgh for Free?

Amazing view from a mountain top in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Photo by Yves Alarie on Unsplash

If you’re planning a budget trip to Edinburgh, you’ll be pleased to know that there are numerous terrific free attractions and activities to help stretch your funds further. The city is packed with free museums and galleries, including the National Museum of Scotland, the Scottish National Gallery, and the National Gallery of Modern Art.

Visit beautiful religious sites for free, like the stunning St. Giles Cathedral, the gorgeous St. Mary’s Cathedral, and the ornate cemetery of Greyfriars Kirkyard. Soak up sweeping city views from Arthur’s Seat and Calton Hill. Enjoy the peace and quiet in Edinburgh Botanical Gardens, explore the charming Dean Village, and stroll near the sea in Leith.   

How Can I Spend 3 Days in Edinburgh?

Sunset view of the Port of Leith in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Photo by Alana Harris on Unsplash.

If you just have three days to spend in Edinburgh, make sure you split your time between the Old City and New City for a better understanding of the dynamic Scottish capital. Try to also visit the Port of Leith for a different perspective of Edinburgh.

The Old City is compact and easy to explore by foot; you’ll probably be surprised by how much you can see in a relatively short space of time! Alternatively, you can book tickets for a hop-on hop-off bus tour to hit the highlights with minimal time.

Plan to visit a few headline attractions and spend time simply wandering the historic streets—there are lots to see!

If you can stay for longer, you can also schedule day trips to nearby destinations, such as Glasgow, Rosslyn Chapel (which featured in the Da Vinci Code), and the Highlands. When looking at things to do in Edinburgh, how far is Loch Ness is a fairly common question. Unfortunately, the famous lake is around a three-and-a-half-hour drive away from Edinburgh, so a day trip to try and spot Nessie is probably out of the question!  

What Are the Top Ten Things to Do in Edinburgh?

Whether you’re visiting for a long weekend or a couple of weeks, you’re sure to have a fabulous time in Edinburgh! These are ten of the best things to do in Edinburgh, Scotland, for a fun-filled trip.

1. Marvel at Edinburgh Castle

The classic Edinburgh Castle on top of a giant boulder.
Photo by Jörg Angeli on Unsplash

Perched on top of a gigantic rock, the mighty Edinburgh Castle overlooks the city’s streets. Visiting the magnificent fortress is one of the ultimate top things to do in Edinburgh. With a history that stretches back for more than one thousand years, the castle has seen much action over the years. Explore the battlements and soak up the sweeping vistas, see old cannons sitting on the walls, visit the onsite war museum, be wowed by the Great Hall, and ogle the oldest crown jewels in Great Britain. You can’t miss the booming gun salute at 1 pm each day.

2. Step onto the Royal Yacht Britannia

One of Edinburgh’s most recent attractions, a visit to the Royal Yacht Britannia lets you see the luxury of life aboard a royal vessel. No longer in use, the mighty yacht was once used by the royal family for state visits. Full of lavish décor and furnishings, the yacht also contains a huge selection of items gifted to the royal family from overseas dignitaries.

3. Take a Photograph of the Scott Monument

Scott Monument in Edinburgh Scotland
Photo by Vishwajeet Sawant on Unsplash

Dedicated to Sir Walter Scott, an eminent Scottish writer, the Scott Monument stands at a towering 61 meters tall. The handsome monument showcases striking Victorian Gothic designs. You can climb up the 280-plus narrow, winding steps for great city views.

4. Visit the BT Murrayfield Stadium

One of the favorite things to do in Scotland for rugby fans, the large BT Murrayfield Stadium is the home of the Scottish Rugby Union. Peek behind the scenes on a stadium tour, visit the changing rooms, and step out onto the pitch. There are lots of sporting memorabilia to admire, and you’ll learn plenty about the energetic game, proud Scottish wins, and more.  

5. Enjoy Grandeur at the Palace of Holyroodhouse

Palace of Holyroodhouse in Royal Mile, Scotland filled with royal artworks and treasures.
Photo by Emran Yousof on Unsplash

The Palace of Holyroodhouse is an elegant palace and an official royal residence of the monarch. Located at the end of the Royal Mile, the stunning building has been a Scottish royal home since the 1500s. Admire the artworks in the Queens Collection, be dazzled by the State Apartments, stroll through the gorgeous gardens, stand in awe in the Throne Room, and feast your eyes on an abundance of sparkling treasures. You can also look around the Gothic and Romanesque ruins of Holyrood Abbey.

6. Find the Secluded Dunbar’s Close and Garden

Sitting in the delightful and tucked-away Dunbar’s Close and Garden is one of the most romantic things to do in Edinburgh for couples. Escape the busy city streets and relax among the colorful flowers, formal plant beds, and leafy foliage of this olde-worlde 17-century garden.

7. Have a Family Day Out at Edinburgh Zoo

Tiger at the Edinburgh Zoo
Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

One of the most popular things to do in Edinburgh with kids, the large Edinburgh Zoo is home to many species of animals from all around the globe. Especially famous for its penguins, it is the only zoo in the UK with giant pandas. Come face to face with creatures like lions, monkeys, koalas, zebras, rhinos, birds, hippos, deer, giraffes, tortoises, and many, many more. There are lovely walking trails and great places to stop for a bite to eat. The indoor habitats also make visiting the zoo among the ideal things to do in Edinburgh when it rains.

8. Question Your Perceptions at the Camera Obscura and World of Illusion

Dating back to the 1830s, the historic Camera Obscura and World of Illusion is one of Edinburgh’s more unique attractions. Pass through the mirror maze and see an assortment of amazing optical illusions before climbing up to the rooftop camera obscura for terrific views over the city.

9. Sample Fire Water at the Scotch Whisky Experience

Variety of Whiskeys at a local Scotland replica distillery
Photo by Edward Howell on Unsplash

Join a tour of the Scotch Whisky Experience to see what a (replica) distillery looks like and discover fun facts about the famous Scottish whisky. One of the most unusual and fun things to do in Edinburgh is to take a ride in a whisky barrel car! Of course, you can sample a range of fiery whiskies too. And, for even more whisky fun, you can hop between Edinburgh’s lively bars and try many drams.

10. Descend into the Edinburgh Vaults

Visiting the spooky Edinburgh Vaults is one of the most memorable things to do in Edinburgh at night. Built into the arches of the 1788 South Bridge, the chambers were once used as storage areas, taverns, and workshops, and later as illicit gambling dens and moonshine distilleries, as well as squalid dwellings by impoverished and homeless people. Today, the eerie vaults are surrounded by legends and paranormal tales. Would you dare to explore the dark tunnels and caverns?!   

Even MORE Awesome Things to Do in Edinburgh

Harry Potter film scenery at Edinburgh
Photo by Peter Cordes on Unsplash

Still got time to spare? Take a walking tour around the city to discover places featured in Harry Potter. Feel a shiver down your spine at the Edinburgh Dungeon. Relax on the sandy shores of Portobello Beach. Get free tickets for a tour of the Scottish Parliament. Walk over to Cramond Island at low tide. Shop till you drop along Princes Street. Travel back in time at Mary King’s Close. Join a ghost walk. Have a tipple at Edinburgh Gin Distillery.

There really is so much to do in Edinburgh! 

Plan Your Edinburgh Adventure with Pilot

What are you waiting for? These amazing and fascinating places and experiences has me already on Pilot planning my trip there. Speaking of Pilot, have you heard about us? You and your travel gang can use Pilot’s awesome social trip planner to organize your getaway. Super easy to use, you can tailor your trip to your taste. There’s definitely no need to miss out when exploring Edinburgh. No compromise either!

Looking for even more travel inspiration? Learn about hot destinations, uncover trending travel news, and read stories to fuel your wanderlust when you sign up for FlightDeck—our cool travel newsletter.

Until next time, I'll see you on Pilot planning our amazing trips either to Edinburgh or to the other cool destinations!

Published on:  
June 8, 2021

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