Things to Do in Edinburgh

Scotland's ancient capital city is a dramatic destination with winding medieval streets, an imposing Gothic castle and a stately Baroque palace. See our list of “must-dos” in Edinburgh.
By: Aefa Mulholland

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Photo By: Getty Images

Photo By: Thinkstock

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Photo By: Getty Images

Photo By: Wikimedia Commons

Photo By: iStock

Photo By: Getty Images

Photo By: iStock

Photo By: iStock

Photo By: subberculture, flickr

Ancient Edinburgh Castle

The glorious has been perched on this rocky hillside overlooking the city for over a thousand years. Queen Margaret, one of Scotland's patron saints, died here in 1093, and the ill-fated Mary, Queen of Scots, took up residence in the 16th century. Now a military fort, the castle houses the Stone of Destiny and Scotland's crown jewels.

Gallery Trio

Three more free-entry institutions, Scotland's national galleries, are dotted around the capital. The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art is housed in a dynamic duo of buildings west of downtown; the Scottish National Portrait Gallery is tucked just off Princes Street; and the jewel in the crown, the Scottish National Gallery, with its Rembrandts, van Goghs and Monets, holds court right on Princes Street.

Birds' Eye Views: Arthur's Seat

Fantastic photo opportunities await all those who clamber up the 3-mile trail to the top of this long dormant, 822-feet-high volcano. Just a mile from Edinburgh Castle, the craggy hill still has remnants of a prehistoric fort visible on its summit. The trail starts at the foot of the Royal Mile.

Back Street Social: Rose Street

Another shopping street, but one with a more social slant, Rose Street runs parallel to Princes Street for four busy blocks. It's a narrow lane, packed with pubs, cafes and fashion stores, jammed with shoppers by day and revelers by night.

Another Capital Address for the Queen: The Palace of Holyroodhouse

This palace was originally built by King James IV in the early 1500s and is still Queen Elizabeth II's official Scottish address today, but it's better known as having been backdrop to the soap opera-like life of the tempestuous Mary, Queen of Scots. She got married here twice and saw her second husband murdered within these walls. Today, visitors can explore the State and Historic Apartments and visit the art gallery, cafe and store.

Politically Correct: The Scottish Parliament

It's not all ancient wonders around here. The Scottish Parliament opened in 2004, a jagged, modern anchor at the foot of the ancient Royal Mile. Built after the Scottish Parliament reconvened after 300 years, it offers events and exhibitions on art, politics, science and influential Scots.

All Aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia

The Queen's former floating residence bobs at the docks of Leith now that it's not off doing diplomatic duty around the world. Visitors can explore all five decks, see the Royal Apartments and stop for afternoon tea and cake in the Royal Deck Tea Room.

A Royal Treat: Princes Street

A broad boulevard lined with upscale stores on its north side, Princes Street's south side is dotted with parks, monuments and museums. Its cafes make stunning spots to sit and look up at Edinburgh Castle, looming above.

Playtime at the Museum of Childhood

The Museum of Childhood has been entertaining Scottish kids in this historic 18th century building since 1957. With collections of toys, games, clothes and books that date from the 18th to 21st centuries and a puppet theatre, it's an ideal rainy day stop on the Royal Mile.

The Castle Hill: The Royal Mile

The Royal Mile links Edinburgh Castle with the Palace of Holyroodhouse, located a mile below. Steep, cobbled and flanked by tall, narrow buildings that date as far back as the early 1500s, the ancient street and myriad dark lanes that wind off it look like the set from "Harry Potter." It's not a coincidence that J.K. Rowling wrote her wizard books just off this historic street.

Leith's Reborn Docklands

Edinburgh's port since the year 1329, Leith lies at the point where the Water of Leith reaches the Firth of Forth and the North Sea. Once a rough and rowdy neighborhood, today Leith is awash with hip bars, chic eateries and boutique hotels.

Two-for-One: The National Museums of Scotland

A real bonus for those on a budget or saving their sterling; entry to Edinburgh's main museums are free. The National War Museum is housed at Edinburgh Castle, while the newly reopened National Museum of Scotland covers it all, from wildlife to world cultures and the wonders of science.