Having visited Edinburgh a few years ago for Hogmanay, I was thrilled when Audrey and I had a chance to return again. This time we traded out winter jackets for fall attire, and the milder weather meant we spent a lot more time exploring areas outside of Old Town and New Town. We had one full week in Edinburgh, and aside from exploring the sights, we also made it our mission to sample a lot of the food, ranging from traditional Scottish dishes to contemporary Scottish cuisine.
The following is a travel guide for foodies showcasing 20 things to do in Edinburgh.
VIDEO: Our 20 things to do in Scotland travel guide
20 things to do in Edinburgh
1) Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle is easily the most iconic site in the city, and because it dominates the skyline, you’ll naturally get to view it from numerous vantage points across the city. As fun as it is to photograph it from a distance, a visit to the castle is an absolute must. You’ll want to give yourself plenty of time to explore Edinburgh Castle, because it is not just a single building.
Some of the things you can do once inside include a tour of the Royal Palace, viewing the Crown Jewels, stepping inside St. Margaret’s Chapel and wandering around the National War Museum. In other words, don’t plan a rushed visit!
2) Scotch Whisky Experience
How often do you get to blend your own Scotch Whisky? The Scotch Whisky Experience offers a variety of tours and we ended up taking the Blend Your Own session.
We had a really fun afternoon learning to identify various aromas in whisky, but the best part was the blending session. We each walked away with our own personalized bottle to take home as a souvenir.
VIDEO: Drinking Scotch Whisky in Edinburgh, Scotland
3) Royal Mile
The Royal Mile is easily the most hectic and touristy street in Edinburgh’s Old Town and it features an eclectic mix of pubs, shops and restaurants; however, it is still certainly worth a visit. Here you can pick up all kinds of Scottish souvenirs including kilts, tablet and tartans.
If you’re here in the summer you can also check out the famed Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
4) Edinburgh Walking Tours
Edinburgh is a city offering more random tours than I’ve witnessed anywhere else. Of course, you can take a standard city tour but you also have a haunted tour, a literary tour and a Harry Potter tour worth considering. And that is just a few of them! Basically, there is something for everyone.
5) Haggis, neeps & tatties
No visit to Edinburgh would be complete without some haggis, neeps and tatties. One of our favorite restaurants to have this traditional Scottish dish is Whiski Rooms. For this delicious meal we frequented this fine establishment with our good pal Rob – a gregarious gent of many travel quotes and other interesting anecdotes about life.
The place itself has a cozy yet laidback atmosphere while the food and service is ace.
VIDEO: Eating Haggis, Neeps and Tatties for lunch in Edinburgh, Scotland
If you’ve never tried Haggis before let me start off by saying it tastes much better than it sounds! What exactly does it consist of? Well, haggis is sheep’s pluck containing heart, liver and lungs along with spices, oatmeal and onions cooked inside of the sheep’s stomach. It is often served with neeps and tatties (Scots for turnips and potatoes) and a plentiful amount of gravy.
It is a savory dish that sticks to your ribs. Although I’d recommend having it anytime of year, it certainly is the kind of food that is most appreciated during fall and/or winter. My suggestion is to just drown it all in gravy and dig right in. You may be pleasantly surprised. I certainly was.
6) Holyrood Palace
Located at the bottom of the Royal Mile is Holyrood Palace. This is the official residence of the British monarchy in Scotland and it is a place steeped in history. You can grab a headset on your way in and enjoy an audio tour of the palace at your own pace marveling at the Royal Collection of art.
7) Holyrood Abbey and Garden
Nestled just behind Holyrood Palace is Holyrood Abbey and Garden. I recommend wandering around here at a leisurely place to relax and snap photos of the palace.
8) Edinburgh Gin Distillery
If hunkering down in a cozy den and sampling numerous kinds of gin sounds like a fun way to spend an afternoon, then you’ll love Edinburgh Gin.
VIDEO: Visiting Edinburgh Gin Distillery Tour in Scotland
Learning about the equally tragic yet humorous history of gin in Edinburgh was a big highlight of the tour, and we had a wonderful guide who kept our entire group engaged. After learning about the history of gin, we ended up moving into the den for the sampling session.
Be sure to try the Cannonball; coming in at 57.2% it was the most potent gin I’ve ever had.
9) National Museum of Scotland
If you only have time for one museum during your trip to Edinburgh make sure it is the National Museum of Scotland. The museum offers numerous exhibitions with notable artifacts including the Migdale Hoard, Bute Mazer and the stuffed remains of Dolly the first cloned sheep.
As a bonus tip be sure to head to the seventh floor for some of the most underrated views of the city.
10) Princes Street Garden
Princes Street Gardens is another great place to visit, especially on a sunny day. If you had visited during the Medieval Ages, you would have found a swampy, polluted loch, but today it’s one of the nicest green spaces in the city.
It is perfect for picnics, family outings, leisurely strolls and first dates.
11) Dean Village
Maybe the most underrated and picturesque place we visited in Edinburgh was Dean Village. Offering a refreshingly calm and chill vibe you are mere minutes away from the city core yet you feel far enough removed. Meaning ‘deep valley’, one of the best vantage points is from the Water of Leith.
Our suggestion is to come early in the morning when no one else is around and be sure to bring your camera.
12) Calton Hill
One of the easiest hikes (more like a walk) is to journey up to the top of Calton Hill. Here you’ll find Edinburgh’s most iconic monuments including the Stewart Dugald Monument, The National Monument and the Nelson Monument.
Although it is a short and easy climb you’ll be amazed at the views you get of Edinburgh city, the Fifth of Forth and the surrounding countryside.
13) Scott Monument
If you’re afraid of heights you may want to sit this one out. I personally am but instead I mustered up enough courage points to wind my way around a tiny spiraling staircase to the top of Scott Monument. Built in honour of Scottish writer, Sir Walter Scott, it is the largest monument dedicated to a writer in the world.
As you ascend to the top you’ll have access to different viewing platforms where you’ll have a bird’s eye view of the New Town.
14) Royal Botanic Garden
Although it just started to rain as I visited, for a little taste of nature, you can visit the Royal Botanic Garden which is a comfortable walking distance from New Town. The impressive gardens are free to visit although entry to the concessions and glasshouse is £3.50.
15) Eat Walk Edinburgh
If you like eating as much as we do ,consider taking a food tour with Eat Walk Edinburgh. The half and half component of the tour was really appealing as we had an opportunity to learn more about the history of Edinburgh while burning off calories in between bites.
VIDEO: Scottish Food and Edinburgh city tour in Scotland
We popped into restaurants, shops and pubs which I thought was a great way to keep things interesting and I really enjoyed having an opportunity to interact with some of the shop owners who are very passionate about what they do.
One of the highlights was visiting the Fudge House. I’ve got an on-demand sweet tooth and fudge is a bit like my kryptonite but I loved getting to sample a few flavors before choosing one bar out of twenty different varieties to eat on the way home. I kid you not, it was the hardest decision I had to make all week. 😉
16) Closes in Old Town
Another great way to explore Edinburgh by foot is to wander down the tiny closes. These small alleys were often named after a memorable occupant, and the Old Town is full of them including Mary King’s Close, Anchor Close and Carrubber’s Close.
17) St. Giles Cathedral
While you’re wandering around the Old Town, you’ll notice the iconic landmark St. Giles Cathedral along the Royal Mile. Also known as the High Kirk of Edinburgh it was named after the city’s patron saint.
18) Scottish National Gallery
As the national art gallery of Scotland it is definitely worth paying a visit to the Scottish National Gallery. Located on The Mount in central Edinburgh nearby the Scott Monument this neoclassic building houses national and international art dating back to the Renaissance up until the 20th century.
19) Scottish National Portrait Gallery
If you’re over on Queen Street check out the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. With over 300 paintings and sculptures along with 25,000 prints and drawings and a whopping 35,000 photographs, you’ll want to set aside a decent chunk of time to properly explore this massive collection of portraits.
20) Nightlife in Edinburgh
Edinburgh is not surprisingly blessed with legendary nightlife whether it’s a cozy pub, a live band, or a ceilidh you’re after there is something for everyone.
Edinburgh Photo Essay
Well, that’s a wrap from Edinburgh, Scotland! Now it is your turn. Have you visited Edinburgh before? Is it a city that you’re itching to explore? Anything in the guide you feel we missed out on? Please let us know in the comments section below.