31 BEST Things to do in Edinburgh [May 2021]

From the medieval Old Town and elegant neoclassical buildings, Edinburgh isn’t just the capital of Scotland, it’s also the cultural heart of the country.

Whether you’re fascinated by Scottish lore, the mystery of Loch Ness, or simply hoping for a vacation with plenty of diversity and history, Edinburgh is the place for you! Solo travelers, couples, and families can all find something for everyone to enjoy in Edinburgh.

To plan ahead for your vacation, take a look at this list of top attractions and activities in Edinburgh to help you maximize your time traveling!

Table of Contents

Our Favorite Places to Stay in Edinburgh!

Whether you’re hoping for a place close to the nightlife scene or something more family friendly, check out these top picks for where to stay in Edinburgh!


Haystack Hostel

The Best Budget Option in Edinburgh

Haystack Hostel

Haystack Hostel is our pick for the best budget option in Edinburgh

  • 18th century Georgian building!
  • Close to Princes Street

Right in on the action with easy transportation options, the Haystack Hostel is the perfect place to stay if you’re on a budget, but don’t want to sacrifice quality.

With 24-hour reception, a shared kitchen, Wi-fi, and laundry service, you can rest assured that all the bases have been covered to help you enjoy your time in Edinburgh!


Stay Central Hotel

The Best Mid-Range Option in Edinburgh

Stay Central Hotel

Stay Central Hotel is our pick for the best mid-range option in Edinburgh

  • Right in the center!
  • Historic 1621 building

From the beautifully restored building with an outdoor courtyard space to the modern room facilities, the Stay Central Hotel combines old-time charm with contemporary style.

Within walking distance are numerous top landmarks and attractions as well as all the local pubs, restaurants, and shops of the Old Town!


Aparthotel Adagio Edinburgh Royal Mile

The Best Luxury Option in Edinburg

Aparthotel Adagio Edinburgh Royal Mile

Aparthotel Adagio Edinburgh Royal Mile is our pick for the best luxury option in Edinburg

  • Close to attractions
  • Get your personal space

Need a home-away-from-home in Edinburgh? The Adagio Edinburgh apartments are the perfect way to have personal space while still being walking distance from numerous city attractions!

You’ll have your own kitchenette, available continental breakfast, and 24-hour reception to make sure all goes smoothly during your stay.


The 31 Best Things to do in Edinburgh


#1 – Visit the Edinburgh Castle

Visit the Edinburgh Castle

One of the top landmarks of Edinburgh

  • Panoramic city views!
  • Amazing historic landmark
  • Learn about ancient battles!

By all accounts the crowning jewel of Edinburgh, the famous Edinburgh castle is a great spot to begin your exploration of the city.

The mighty position the castle occupies on a hill above the city also awards you some excellent opportunities for photographs that capture this important landmark!


Need more specifics? Find out where to stay in Edinburgh based on what you want to do there!

#2 – Tour the St. Giles Cathedral

Tour the St. Giles Cathedral

Photo Credit – Viator

  • Incredible Thistle Chapel!
  • 14th century construction
  • Photographs with a permit

One of Edinburgh’s most stunning landmarks on the skyline is the St. Giles Cathedral.

A top historic site of the city, this beautiful cathedral is still used as a place of worship and if you’re lucky there might be a concert performance or holiday festival during your time in the city!

Are the possibilities overwhelming? Take a tour in Edinburgh to get the most with the least stress!

#3 – Go on a Bike Tour around the City

Go on a Bike Tour around the City

A great way to sightsee in Edinburgh

  • Exercise and sightsee!
  • See a lot in a little time
  • Top attractions of Edinburgh!

The bike-friendly streets of Edinburgh city make it a great place to take a cycling tour, especially during the summer!

You’ll have the time to visit all the major sites and learn some interesting backstories from a local guide!


#4 – Learn Something New at the National Museum of Scotland

Learn Something New at the National Museum of Scotland

One of the best free things to do in Edinburgh (Photo Credit – TimeOut)

  • Scottish royal artifacts
  • Interactive displays!
  • Great family activity

The National Museum of Scotland holds an impressive collection of art, historic artifacts, and numerous engaging learning displays making it a great place for people of all ages!

With restaurants, a café, and various planned events, you can easily make a trip to the museum a full day of fun.

Let’s make this simple. These are the best hotels in Edinburgh!

#5 – Discover the Palace of Holyroodhouse

Discover the Palace of Holyroodhouse

One of the best historic tours in Edinburgh

  • Famous city landmark!
  • Learn about the history
  • Can’t miss the photo opportunities!

The official residence of the Queen of Scotland, the Palace of Holyroodhouse doesn’t set a limit to grandeur and style!

A tour of the palace gives you the unique opportunity to learn more about the history of Scotland as well as capture some truly spectacular photos of this impressive castle-like residence.


#6 – Climb the Scott Monument

Climb the Scott Monument

One of the best cheap things to do in Edinburgh (Photo Credit – Youtube @John Wilson)

  • Dedicated to Sir Walter Scott
  • Famous Scottish writer!
  • Great city views

Edinburgh boasts the largest monument dedicated to a writer in the world! The impressive Scott Monument has become an iconic site for the city.

For just a small fee, you can have the full experience of climbing the spiral stairs for a view out over Edinburgh!

Have some time in Edinburgh? These are our favorite day trips from Edinburgh!

#7 – Try a Few Traditional Scottish Foods

Try a Few Traditional Scottish Foods

You might be in for a surprise of deliciousness!

  • Haggis anyone?
  • From street snacks to desserts!
  • Unique tasting experience!

Take a food tour through Edinburgh to try the signature dishes of Scotland at authentic and local venues!

From fine cheeses to scrumptious fresh scones, Edinburgh is overflowing with delicious recipes and fine dining!


#8 – Stroll around the Princes Street Gardens

Stroll around the Princes Street Gardens

One of the best outdoor activities in Edinburgh

  • Great place to relax
  • Outdoor events!
  • View the Edinburgh Castle

If you happen to have a sunny day in Edinburgh, the Princes Street Gardens are a great place to make the most of the sunshine!

In addition to pleasant places to walk or have a picnic, you can also enjoy the perfect perspective for photographs of the Edinburgh Castle.


#9 – Visit the Kingdom of Fife

Visit the Kingdom of Fife

One of the more unique things to do in Edinburgh

  • Traditional fishing villages!
  • Beautiful seafront views
  • See the Scottish landscape

A perfect day trip from Edinburgh, the Kingdom of Fife gives you the chance to see what traditional Scottish fishing life was like.

The ancient towns are still dotted with charming cottages, cobblestone streets, and local cafés and tea shops perfect for a day of enjoying Scottish village life.


You may not have heard this in History class! Read up on Edinburgh’s impressive past!

#10 – Tour Ancient Roman Sites

A must-do for history lovers in Edinburgh

  • The incredible Hadrian’s Wall!
  • Great day trip
  • Amazing history!

During the height of the Roman Empire, Scotland became the final frontier for the Romans.

Today, there are still remnants of the once-mighty Romans including Hadrian’s Wall and old Roman forts once used for battle. Join a tour to learn about these sites and enjoy the Scottish countryside for a fun adventure out of Edinburgh.


#11 – Explore the Land of King Arthur

Explore the Land of King Arthur

A very cool thing to do in Edinburgh (Photo Credit – visitscotland.com)

  • Great outdoor activity
  • Close to the city!
  • Imagine legendary scenes

Just outside the city center is the remnants of a dormant volcano known as Arthur’s Seat. It is here that it is believed the legends of King Arthur originated!

If you’re up for a hike, you’ll be awarded a spectacular view out over the city of Edinburgh when you reach the top!


#12 – Sample a Few Local Whiskeys

Sample a Few Local Whiskeys

  • Drink like the locals!
  • Learn about the history
  • Finest Scottish products

On a whiskey tasting tour of the city, you’ll learn for yourself how special Scottish whiskey is!

In addition to all the samples, you’ll also have the chance to get a deeper look into the history of the Scottish whiskey making process and how the trade has changed over time.


#13 – Take a Photo of Greyfriars Bobby

Take a Photo of Greyfriars Bobby

There’s a special story behind the statue! (Photo Credit – theedinburghreporter.co.uk)

  • Unique landmark
  • Famous historic figure
  • Legendary terrier of Edinburgh!

If you’re hoping to get some photos of the iconic landmarks of Edinburgh, make sure to include the statue of Greyfriars Bobby!

According to local legend, this small terrier dog kept watch at his owner’s graveside for 14 years in mourning. The popular little statue has become a favorite spot for tourists to snap some photos!


#14 – Go to the Legendary Loch Ness

Go to the Legendary Loch Ness

If you’re lucky, you might spot the monster….

  • Mystical lake of Scotland!
  • Top tourist attraction
  • Great day trip from Edinburgh!

If you’re coming to Scotland, you have to pay a visit to the legendary Loch Ness! It’s the perfect photo opportunity, history lesson, and adventure combined!

You might not get to see the monster, but you can decide for yourself whether the fable is real after hearing the story from a local.


#15 – Take in the View at Calton Hill

Take in the View at Calton Hill

Photo Credit – bestloved.com

  • Numerous festivals and events
  • Great panorama of the city!
  • Visit the City Observatory

Known as being one of the best places to enjoy the Edinburgh skyline, Calton Hill is also the site of the City Observatory which boasts a rooftop terrace for an even loftier perspective!

Enjoy a meal at the restaurant and learn about the history of the hill at the small museum.

#16 – Blow Your Mind at the World of Illusions

Blow Your Mind at the World of Illusions

Great thing to do in Edinburgh with kids

  • Fun for all ages!
  • Over 100 interactive illusions
  • Enjoy the rooftop terrace

Things are never the way they seem at the World of Illusions! This fun, interactive museum is a great family activity when traveling to Edinburgh.

From mazes of mirrors to light vortexes, the museum even boasts one of the best rooftop views out over the city!


#17 – Delve into the World of Art at the Scottish National Gallery

Delve into the World of Art at the Scottish National Gallery

Things to do in Edinburgh this weekend (Photo Credit – Tripadvisor)

  • Free entry!
  • Scottish and international artists
  • Must-visit for art lovers!

Spanning from the Renaissance to the 20th century, the Scottish National Gallery is one of the country’s most highly acclaimed museums.

From extensive permanent collections to intriguing temporary exhibits, it would easy to spend a whole day browsing the galleries if you’re a serious art fan!


#18 – Venture Beneath the City

Venture Beneath the City

Be warned, this tour is not for the faint of heart!

  • Vaults under the Old Town
  • Unique character of Edinburgh!
  • The spooky side to the city

While Edinburgh may be a charming city today, the past has a darker side. Delve into the world of witch hunts and criminals in the eerie underground vaults of the Old Town.

It’s a unique learning opportunity but be prepared to get spooked since some places are still haunted according to local legend!


#19 – Enjoy a Peaceful Moment in the Royal Botanic Garden

Enjoy a Peaceful Moment in the Royal Botanic Garden

One of the best ways to enjoy nature in Edinburgh (Photo Credit – thetimes.co.uk)

  • Escape city traffic!
  • Entrance is free!
  • Relaxing and tranquil setting

This historic garden of Edinburgh once resided in Holyrood Park, though it was moved in 1820 to its current location.

The park is a great place to go if you’re hoping to escape city crowds and enjoy the peace and serenity of the pleasant gardens and pathways!


#20 – Tour the Scottish Highlands

Tour the Scottish Highlands

One of the best places to experience the magic of Scotland

  • Best scenery in Scotland!
  • Amazing historic castles
  • Visit the lochs!

The highlands of Scotland are one of the country’s defining characteristics!

Full of historic sites like the Urquhart Castle and beautiful lochs such as Loch Cruise and Loch Lomond, you’ll have countless great photo opportunities of gently rolling hills and peaceful woodlands!


#21 – Walk around the Neighborhood of Leith

Walk around the Neighborhood of Leith

Photo Credit – list.co.uk

  • Great local restaurants!
  • Up and coming art district
  • Perfect city scenery

A historic area of Edinburgh that has continued to change and evolve over time, Leith is a charming neighborhood full of a quirky energy all its own!

Spend a leisurely afternoon walking around to explore the local shops, visit the historic Leith Theater, and try some signature dishes from the local eateries!


#22 – Step into the World of Harry Potter

Step into the World of Harry Potter

One of the best fun things to do in Edinburgh

  • Explore real magic!
  • Numerous filming sites for the movies
  • Must-do for Harry Potter fans!

If you read the Harry Potter books and dreamed of being a witch or wizard yourself, now is your chance!

Many of the film scenes were shot in Edinburgh, including Diagon Alley and Hogwarts school! No wands required, but you’re certain to have a magical experience!


#23 – Explore the Art Scene in Summerhall

Explore the Art Scene in Summerhall

A great way to get in on the art scene in Edinburgh (Photo Credit – traveler.marriott.com)

  • Great variety in performances
  • Food and bars!
  • Fun multi-arts venue

This up-and-coming art venue of Edinburgh continues to make headlines for its singular exhibitions, films, and performances!

Check out the schedule before coming to Edinburgh to get in on the action yourself, or just visit to enjoy the ambiance and a delicious local meal.


#24 – Visit Scotland’s First National Park

Visit Scotland’s First National Park

  • Beautiful Loch Lomond
  • See Stirling Castle!
  • Learn about Scottish legends

Famous for becoming the first National Park of Scotland, The Trossachs National Park has been given the nickname “The Highlands in miniature.”

Taking a day trip from Scotland is a great way to see the beautiful landscape, photograph some amazing castles, and maybe even take a boat ride on Loch Lomond!


#25 – Laugh Your Head off at The Stand

A ‘cool’ thing to do in Edinburgh in winter

  • Great comedy performances!
  • Seasoned and new artists
  • Fun evening activity

Needing to lighten the mood? The Stand comedy venue sill certainly put a smile on your face, and maybe give you a side-cramp from laughing too much!

Check out what performers are scheduled during your time in Edinburgh, especially if you’re looking for indoor activities if you’re visiting when it’s cold out!


#26 – Enjoy Afternoon Tea

Enjoy Afternoon Tea

A great way to enjoy local culture

  • Traditional Scottish experience!
  • Great seasonal options
  • Delicious Scottish treats

What better way to relax in the afternoon than with a traditional Scottish tea-time experience?

From a variety of loose-leaf tea, to fresh-made pastries, to fresh seasonal produce items, your taste buds will be delighted by the flavors and variety!


#27 – Watch a Performance at the Festival Theater


  • Beautiful historic building
  • World-famous performers!
  • Learn about the ghost story

The Festival Theater was built from what remained of the Empire Palace Theater which originally opened in 1892. While the renovations provided state-of-the art technology, the Festival still preserves a historic charm!

Check out the calendar of events for a fun night of music or a great play while you’re in Edinburgh!


#28 – Visit the Isle of Skye

Visit the Isle of Skye

Walk into the world of Scottish fables

  • Home of Scottish legends!
  • Amazing geology
  • Kilt Rock and Quiraing mountain

One of Scotland’s top natural attractions, the Isle of Skye has some of the most breathtaking views in the whole country!

Along the Trotternish Peninsula, you can learn about ancient Scottish folklore, photograph the amazing geologic sites, and stand in awe of the coastal scenery.


#29 – Get Outside at The Meadows

One of the best public parks in Edinburgh

  • Great wide, open space!
  • Bring a picnic
  • Seasonal attractions

Whether you want to get some practice in at one of the tennis courts or simply enjoy the fresh air outside, The Meadows is a great outdoor retreat right in the center of the city!

In the summer, it’s a popular place to barbecue, and even in the winter, you can enjoy a nice walk around the space.

#30 – Go Shopping on Victoria Street

Go Shopping on Victoria Street

A top shopping area in Edinburgh (Photo Credit – bbc.com)

  • Charming local boutiques
  • Contemporary fashion stores
  • Dining, shopping, and sightseeing!

Victoria Street is one of downtown Edinburgh’s biggest attractions; this winding pedestrian-friendly street boasts some of the best shopping venues in the city!

Spend a day browsing the stores for the latest and greatest items in the fashion industry, or pick up something unique from one of the local stores.


#31 – Take a Tour of the Royal Yacht Britannia

Take a Tour of the Royal Yacht Britannia

Experience what it means to be a royal

  • Official royal yacht!
  • 40 years of operation
  • Over 1,000 missions!

Once used for official sea voyages for the Royal family of Britain, the Royal Yacht Britannia has become one of the top attractions in Edinburgh!

Tour the 5 decks, amazing views of the waterfront, and enjoy refreshments in royal style at the Royal Deck Tea Room.


If you’re planning a trip to Scotland, Edinburgh should be on top of your list! This amazing historic city captures all the best qualities of the country from the numerous in-city attractions to easy day trips to explore other places!

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About the Author Aaron Hovanesian

Born in Los Angeles, Aaron Hovanesian is one of the original staff writers for Hotel Jules. Having backpacked the world as a young man, Aaron now prefers to travel the world in luxury, proudly staying in the world's most amazing hotels and properties. When Aaron is not traveling he lives in Western Colorado he can be found brewing his own beer (probably an IPA) or spending time with his two amazing golden retrievers.