Edinburgh Dean Village

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The ten best things to do in Edinburgh

Plan your ultimate trip to the Scottish capital with our guide to the best activities, experiences and places to visit around the beautiful city

June 2020

By Tristan Parker

Why is Edinburgh frequently named as one of the best places to visit in the UK? After just an hour or two in this picturesque, atmospheric city, you’ll see why. For starters, it’s steeped in fascinating history, as well as being a haven for art lovers, architecture buffs and anyone who enjoys good food and drink – there are handsome pubs, lively food markets and hundreds of great restaurants and bars. Get a head start on planning your trip with our pick of the ten best things to do in Edinburgh.

The High Street in Edinburgh old town, the Royal Mile, Edinburgh

Wander Edinburgh's Royal Mile © Neale Clark/Robert Harding

1. Walk the Royal Mile

Set in the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town, the city’s most famous street is a must-visit when in town. As well as connecting two top sights (Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace), it also boasts shops, restaurants, pubs and photo-worthy stop-offs – not least the beguiling mix of medieval and modern architecture. Visit as part of a Princess shore excursion and tick off seeing some of the key Royal Mile attractions.

2. Explore subterranean streets at Mary King’s Close

One of the most interesting ways to dip into Edinburgh’s history is to head underground and marvel at The Real Mary King’s Close, a network of paths and rooms nestled beneath the city. This mysterious 17th-century wonder (which you can visit on a Princess shore excursion) is full of grizzly tales and – some say – ghostly guests, as you’ll learn on a guided tour.

Balmoral Afternoon Tea

Sink some fizz during afternoon tea at the Balmoral © Janos Grapow/Rocco Forte Hotels

3. Enjoy an exquisite afternoon tea at The Balmoral

Afternoon tea in the iconic Balmoral hotel is a seriously lavish affair. Set within the sumptuous Palm Court (featuring real palm trees and a Venetian chandelier), you’ll tuck in to all the usual afternoon-tea treats, accompanied by a huge selection of loose-leaf tea and – if you want to splash out – a glass of champagne. To make it all that little bit more heavenly, there’s even a harpist to provide a dreamy soundtrack.

4. Browse the day away in Stockbridge

You’re always guaranteed to find something interesting when wandering the cobbled streets of this pretty, arty area. One of Edinburgh’s most vibrant districts, its independent boutiques, cute cafés and gastropubs are always buzzing, and you’re only minutes away from the luscious Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh when you need to walk off the inevitable snacking – there’s no way you won’t be tempted by homemade raspberry custard brioches or rhubarb and rose loaf cake from local patisserie The Pastry Section.

Scottish Parliament Building

Cutting edge: The Scottish Parliament Building in Edinburgh © Eurasia/Robert Harding

5. Weigh up an architectural landmark at the Scottish Parliament

Even if you’re not big on architecture, it’s well worth visiting the Scottish Parliament to take in the eye-catching, fiercely modern building design. It has won numerous awards and still divides opinion, but always provokes a response. A tour of the inside is just as enlightening, where you can learn about the workings of the parliament itself.

6. See art from across the ages at the Scottish National Gallery

From Raphael to Roy Lichtenstein, the Scottish National Gallery offers a mighty collection of world-famous paintings, sculpture and photography, including a large collection dedicated to Scottish art. You can easily spend hours meandering through the rooms here. And if you need contemplation time afterwards, head to adjacent Princes Street Gardens, where you can also admire the gallery’s architecture from the outside.

Arthurs Seat Edinburgh

Arthurs Seat Edinburgh © Visit Scotland/Kenny Lam

7. Hike up Arthur’s Seat

For the best views of the city, you’ll need to give your thighs a mini workout by trekking up the city’s extinct, ancient volcano. It’s actually a relatively easy walk (as well as being an Edinburgh institution) and, once at the top, you’ll be more than 250 metres above sea level, giving you an unrivalled panorama of Edinburgh’s skyline. It’s no wonder that this adventure is one of the most popular things to do in Scotland.

8. Take some time out in a handsome pub

Edinburgh is positively packed with top-notch pubs, the best of which are the more traditional venues that feel like a home from home as soon as you step inside. There’s no shortage of choice, but you can’t go wrong at the Jolly Judge – complete with wooden-beamed ceilings and log fire – or the gorgeous Deacon Brodie’s Tavern, named after the man who inspired Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and featuring one of the most opulent pub ceilings around.

The Gin Room, part of the Distillery Tour or Gin Experience!

The vibrant, rainbow-coloured Gin Room at Holyrood Distillery © Holyrood Distillery

9. Have a wee dram at Holyrood Distillery

Thanks to this modern addition to the whisky scene, you no longer have to drive out to the Highlands to see Scotland’s most famous liquid export being produced. Take a tour of Edinburgh’s first single malt distillery in almost 100 years and learn about the processes behind making whisky (and gin), before sampling some of the goods.

10. Take a bite at Leith Market

There are various food markets to browse (and be tempted by) in Edinburgh, but Leith Market is a firm favourite if you want to nibble as you walk, rather than stock up on produce. There’s a big focus on artisan food and drink here – from hand-rolled croissants to big, hearty pasties, authentic curries to irresistible home-baked brownies.

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About the Author

Tristan Parker

Tristan Parker

Tristan is a journalist writing about travel, lifestyle and music. Writing has taken him all over the world, though he seems to spend a lot of time in Spain and Scandinavia, which is fine by him. His belief that you can learn a lot about a place by sitting in the local bar for a few hours has worked out well so far.