Home to a variety of incredible historical and cultural landmarks, Edinburgh is one of the most popular destinations in Europe. From the fringe fest and foodie delights to haunted spots and incredible hikes, it’s not possible for anyone to be bored during their time exploring the capital of Scotland.
Whether you’re heading to Edinburgh for a few days, weeks or months (lucky you!), there is always something going on no matter what you enjoy getting up to.
Make sure you also read our 5 secrets to Edinburgh.
We also collected the best hostels in Edinburgh – compared. Are you planning to travel around Scotland? Then plan your itinerary with the best hostels in Scotland. We even included our preferred itinerary and map.
Let us explore Edinburgh first. Here are what awaits you…
- Edinburgh Fringe Festival
- Edinburgh Food Festival
- Edinburgh Castle
- Camera Obscura
- Calton Hill
- Arthur’s Seat
- Edinburgh International Book Festival
- Edinburgh Ghost Bus Tour
- Underground Beer Tasting
- Royal Botanic Gardens
- Edinburgh Dungeons
- The Royal Mile
- The Elephant House
- Kyoto Friendship Garden
- Leith District
- The Cameo
- Real Mary King’s Close Tour
- National Museum of Scotland
- North British Distillery Company
- Blackford Hill
- Dean Village
- Greyfriars Kirkyard
- Victoria Street
- Grass Market
- Princess Street Gardens
- Palace of Holyrood House
So, if you’re planning your trip and wondering what to add to your itinerary, we’ve got you all covered in our guide on 26 of the most fun things to do in Edinburgh.
1. Edinburgh Fringe Festival
We think Edinburgh is a great place to visit at any time of the year. However, the Fringe Fest is something really special. You definitely can’t experience something like this anywhere else in the world.
From comedy to the theatre to dance, you are guaranteed to find a live show to fit your niche.
Taking place over the course of three weeks in August, it’s the ultimate Edinburgh bucket list event and we couldn’t recommend it more.
2. Edinburgh Food Festival
Did we hear someone say deep fried mars bar?
If you’re heading to the Scottish capital during July, you better come hungry as the Edinburgh Food Festival is in town.
Taking place in George Square Gardens, this free festival brings together food and drink producers, street food vendors and culinary masters from across Scotland. Throughout the 10-day event, you will have the opportunity to sample both sweet and savory dishes.
These include freshly caught Scottish seafood and an icy treat from the award-winning Alandas Gelato.
Note: This is definitely not a summer event to be missed.
3. Edinburgh Castle
If you haven’t heard about Edinburgh Castle, we don’t really know what to tell you.
As one of the city’s most famous landmarks, you can’t leave without paying a visit here, if not just for the insane panoramic views of the city.
A visit inside the magical castle starts from £17.50 per person when booked online.
Or you can book a ticket in Get Your Guide, skip the long lines and be accompanied by professional guides.
4. Camera Obscura
We wouldn’t say it’s a secret as such but Camera Obscura is definitely unique.
With 5 floors of puzzles, mazes, and optical illusions, this place is like a fairground funhouse except for adults too – win!
Grow to the size of a giant, make your way through their magical Mirror Maze and view Edinburgh in Victorian times through a special camera. You can bet you’ve never spent a day as you will here before so be sure to pack your camera and get some shots for the ‘gram.
5. Calton Hill
Exploring Edinburgh isn’t complete without a trip up Calton Hill.
Located a short walk from the city center at the end of Prince’s Street, this spot houses numerous Scottish monuments and buildings.
If you’re looking for panoramic views of the city’s skyline, locals recommend heading here for sunrise and/or sunset.
6. Arthurs Seat
If you’re not done finding seriously amazing spots to capture the best views of Edinburgh, the infamous Arthur’s Seat is the one for you.
At 251m above sea level, it’s the highest point of Holyrood Park and takes around two and a half hours to complete but we can assure you it’s definitely worth it. Grab your trainers, pack your backpack and get ready to take in the stunning cityscape.
7. Edinburgh International Book Festival
Edinburgh is a city with a rich literary history so it’s little surprise that it is home to Edinburgh International Book Festival, the biggest celebration of words and stories in the world.
Taking place during August, the festival welcomes hundreds of authors each year for days of talks, debates, and events.
Book lovers can’t miss out on this exciting event.
8. Edinburgh Ghost Bus Tour
Do you believe in ghosts?
Well, the Edinburgh Ghost Bus Tour will have you on the edge of your seat.
As the conductor takes you on a trip across the city, he’ll recount hair-raising stories about landmarks including Edinburgh Castle, Greyfriars Kirk, the Royal Mile and more.
Look out for a few dark passengers joining you too – it is a ghost tour after all…
9. Underground Beer Tasting
Fancy tasting the local ale? Join your fellow travelers at The CoURT at CoDE Pod Hostels and head underground to their vaults for a unique beer tasting experience.
It’s the ideal opportunity to get to know people from around the world while trying out a local beer or three.
10. Royal Botanic Gardens
The Royal Botanic Gardens is the second oldest gardens in the UK – and arguably the most impressive.
Get back to nature and, take in the stunning views and look out for the wildlife that calls this place home.
In the spring and summer, It’s the ideal spot for a picnic and as the weather cools it’s perfect for wrapping up warm and exploring with a coffee in tow.
11. Edinburgh Dungeons
Getting spooked in this city is pretty easy and a tour of the Edinburgh Dungeons will definitely do it.
With the help of actors and special effects, the tour will recreate some of the capital’s darkest tales. From wild witch trials to the tales of a notorious serial killer duo, Burke and Hare, you will have the opportunity to immerse yourself and learn more about Edinburgh’s history.
12. The Royal Mile
There is a tonne of things to see and do in Edinburgh but sometimes experiencing a city can simply be walking the streets and soaking up the atmosphere.
We recommend a stroll along the cobbled streets of the infamous Royal Mile and hey, it’s totally free too – bonus!
13. The Elephant House
Are you a Harry Potter fan? Well if you’ve always dreamed of heading to Hogwarts, you have to visit The Elephant House in Edinburgh.
Combine getting your caffeine fix with experiencing the cute little cafe where JK Rowling penned the wizarding world over coffee and cake.
14. Kyoto Friendship Garden
We all need to chill out and get some zen during our travels – and the Kyoto Friendship Garden is the place to visit for this.
Located on the grounds of Laurieston Castle just a little out of the city center, this peaceful Japanese garden is a real hidden gem.
Hey, even some people who call Edinburgh home don’t know about this spot (and it’s also another place that is totally free to visit)…
15. Leith District
If you have a few days to spare while exploring Edinburgh and want to escape the bustle of the city center, make a visit to the buzzing port district of Leith.
Home to some of the best craft breweries in the world, this creative area is ideal for sipping on a quality beer or three.
You should also take a stroll along the iconic waterfront which is dotted with some seriously amazing seafood restaurants where you will be served up the freshest catches from the nearby ocean. This day trip is 100% worth it.
16. The Cameo
Movie buffs can’t miss out on a trip to Edinburgh’s very own century-old boutique cinema.
Screening both indie and mainstream films, The Cameo has something for everyone.
As you head into this iconic cinema, it will feel like you have been transported back to another era and is definitely an experience you won’t forget.
17. Real Mary King’s Close Tour
Underground beneath the Royal Mile – the most famous street in the city – is The Real Mary King’s Close.
If you’re intrigued, take up the opportunity to go on a tour which will transport you back in time to the 1600s and learn all about Edinburgh’s unique (and maybe haunted?) past.
With a whole lot of history, explore this underground time capsule which is actually dubbed as one of the most haunted places in Scotland.
18. National Museum of Scotland
Did you know the National Museum of Scotland is in the top 20 of the most visited museums and galleries in the world?
If you are really interested in learning more about the natural world, art, design, science, technology and Scottish history, you can find it all in one place here.
After taking in the unique exhibitions on show, catch the terrace lift up to the 7th floor and enjoy the views across the city.
19. North British Distillery Company
Scotland is famous for its whiskey and even if you’re not a huge fan, you should sample a dram or two during a tasting experience.
As one of Scotland’s oldest and largest Scotch grain whiskey producers, the North British Distillery Company in the south-west of the city is a great activity for people visiting the city.
20. Blackford Hill
If you want to explore the great outdoors but fancy an easier and more relaxed hike, we recommend a popular local spot, Blackford Hill.
Grab your trainers, stroll up to the top with your mates and take in the views of the city.
21. Dean Village
From being called the city’s hidden gem to the ultimate spot for Instagrammers, Dean Village has a pretty great reputation.
Just a 20-minute walk from the city center, the peaceful village is packed full of stunning Tudor buildings. The picturesque area could easily be mistaken for something out of a fairytale so you should add it to your ‘must-see’ list for sure.
22. Greyfriars Kirkyard (haunted Cemetery!)
Greyfriars Kirkyard – which has been dubbed Scotland’s most haunted cemetery – is an absolute must-visit at any time of year.
Most famous for the city’s beloved canine Greyfriars Bobby – a loyal dog who stayed by his master’s graveside for years after he died – it’s also the home to an aggressive poltergeist who was a persecutor of Scottish Presbyterians.
During your trip there, you can follow in the footsteps of JK Rowling who actually took inspiration from the headstones for some of her characters including McGonagall and Tom Riddle. Not one for those who scare easily but definitely a unique Edinburgh experience.
23. Victoria Street
If you’ve been scrolling Instagram while planning your trip, you will have most probably come across Victoria Street.
As one of the city’s most famous (and photogenic) spots, wander along the cobbled streets and take a few photos with the colorful buildings as the perfect backdrop.
There are also a number of quirky independent shops to pick up presents for your loved ones back one – and for treating yourself, of course…
24. Grass Market
Known in the past as a medieval marketplace, Edinburgh’s Grassmarket area is nowadays a quirky spot for a great night out.
You will find a variety of traditional Scottish bars and pubs here with different types of music for all tastes so everyone can get excited for a really good night. With a great atmosphere guaranteed, be ready to dance the evening away.
25. Princes Street Gardens
It’s pretty hard to miss Princes Street Gardens while exploring the city and it’s a good job because it’s a super popular place for both locals and tourists.
Offering the perfect views of the castle as well as Scott Monument, the garden is ideal for when you feel like lounging on the grass with a picnic or a great book – or even striking a pose for the ‘gram by Ross Fountain.
It’s also home to the infamous Christmas market during the festive season so if you’re here in the run-up to one of the most popular times of the year, you know where to head for mulled wine and more.
26. Palace of Holyrood House
The Palace of Holyrood House is the official residence of the British monarch in Scotland, Queen Elizabeth II.
If you’re fancying getting a feel for how royalty lives, the Palace is actually open to visitors when she is not in residence.
The tour – with tickets starting from £15 – gives you the explore the staterooms of the incredible 17th-century building where members of the royal family have got married in recent years. So, get practicing your royal wave.
Summary: Best Things to do in Edinburgh
Phew! Now, that was a seriously long list of things to do during your time in Edinburgh, right? We hope you’ve been taking notes and have now got a jam-packed itinerary you can’t wait to experience.
We highly recommend to read as well our guide to best hostels in Edinburgh. We compare here the coolest hostels in town for solo-travelers and all types of travelers.
Not the hostel type? Then check here where to stay in Edinburgh for first-timers. This guide covers hotels and apartments too.
Check out more of our city guides here:
Find all our city guides here.
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Thanks, safe travels and enjoy Edinburgh!
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Hostel Packing List
It is time to see what you should pack in your backpack or suitcase. Make sure you always pick a quality hostel, it totally reduces the things you need to pack. Here is our ultimate hostel packing list. It features 23 items you should really throw in your backpack.The most important things to pack are:
- eye mask
- key chain flashlight
- the right backpack, the Nomatic (our review of Nomatic here) or Lowe Alpine Lightflite 45 Pack
- packing cubes
- generic padlock (fitting all locker types)
- quick-dry travel towel
- universal power adapter
- travel-sized toiletries