We love Edinburgh but know that when visiting this amazing city, it can often be daunting to decide where to start - see the castle? Have a whisky? Join in a ceilidh? So many guides out there recommend the same old boring stuff to do in the Scottish capital, so we wanted to recommend some interesting things to do in Edinburgh which are so good that the locals will be mad that we've included them in our guide. Let's get into it:
Head up Arthur's Seat
Walking up an 800ft hill might not sound like the perfect way to start your time in Edinburgh, but we think it is probably the best thing to do as soon as you've gotten off the train/plane (and left your luggage in the hotel, you don't want to be dragging that up). To get to Arthur's Seat you firstly need to head towards Holyrood, which we don't think is worth much more than a passing glance (although the park is pretty great). It shouldn't take you much more than 2 hours to walk up and down Arthur's Seat, and we think the views from the top of the city and beyond are well worth the effort. Plus, starting your time in Edinburgh with a bit of exercise will make every subsequent pint of beer and glass of whisky taste extra sweet.
Go to the Royal Botanic Gardens
If you want to enjoy the outdoors in Edinburgh without an 800ft climb, then the Royal Botanic Gardens are definitely worth a visit. Totally free to visit and only a 20-minute walk (or 5-minute bus) from town, a walk around the gardens is a great way to spend an hour or 2 away from the hustle and bustle of the city and cars. The Chinese Hillside area of the garden is a particular highlight, with some incredibly rare plants that you won't find anywhere else in Europe. When we reviewed a number of plant identification apps for a guide, we headed to the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh. Learn more here - rbge.org.uk
Go to Cramond Beach
We included Cramond Beach in our list of the best beaches near Edinburgh, but the beach is technically actually part of Edinburgh (although it does feel a million miles away from the mayhem of the Royal Mile). The main highlight of Cramond is walking over the causeway to the island at low tide, which is not only beautiful but also quite fun. The beach is only 5 miles from the city centre but a bus is definitely recommended.
Head to Edinburgh Zoo
Edinburgh Zoo is one of the best zoos in the entire UK, and if you want to get up close to an amazing array of animals then it's a place that you must head to during your time in Edinburgh. The team at Edinburgh Zoo has always done an excellent job at putting conservation at the heart of everything they do - for example, the UK’s only giant pandas stayed at Edinburgh Zoo for more than 10 years, helping to grow awareness of the extinction threats faced by this species, as well as inspiring people to donate money to help conserve the species. You'll find an amazing variety of wildlife at the zoo, and with 82 acres of space, there is plenty of space for everyone. It's very reasonably priced too, and there are regular buses from the centre of the city to the zoo. Learn more here - edinburghzoo.org.uk
Walk around the Edinburgh Fringe
The Edinburgh Fringe is the world's largest performance arts festival, and every August the whole of the city is taken over by music, dancing, comedy, and more. If you can time your visit to coincide with the Edinburgh Fringe Festival then we'd highly recommend you do so, as there is nothing like it. The best way to experience the Edinburgh Fringe Festival is on foot, mainly because there is so much to see and a big part of the experience is having people hand flyers to you as you're walking around. If you want to follow some good walking routes while you're in Edinburgh during the Fringe, try one of these routes that we've created on Google Maps:
- Start in Stockbridge and walk all the way up to Lothian Road
- Start in the Grassmarket and walk through the Cowgate
- Walk from the bottom of the Royal Mile to the top
- Start from the East end of Princes St and walk all the way down Leith Walk
Follow one of these routes and you're guaranteed to get a good taste of the Fringe!
Head up the Royal Mile (all the way up)
Take a trip to East Lothian
Do some karaoke
For some strange reason, you're spoilt for choice when it comes to karaoke options in Edinburgh. Don't question it, just embrace it. We think singing badly is one of the best ways to spend an evening in the capital of Scotland, and you've got a number of venues to choose from. You could go for something quite professional feeling - Supercube on George St. has to be booked but allows people to have their own private room where they can sing as loudly and as badly as they like without fear of offending anyone (apart from the people you're with). If you're looking for something a little more - ahem- "authentic", then Fox's Bar in Leith is the place to head to. Fridays and Saturdays you're guaranteed to get karaoke, but it's particularly rowdy on a Saturday (and the most fun).
Walk to Rosslyn Chapel
If you like walking then there is an excellent walk you follow from the centre of Edinburgh all the way to the beautiful Rosslyn Chapel - it's about an 8 mile walk so not a straightforward route, but it's a great way to arrive at this spectacular 15th century chapel. There are a few routes you can follow, but the we think the best and most appropriate route goes from St Giles' Cathedral, and the route goes like this:
- From St Giles', make your way to Niddry Street
- It's then a straight 2 mile walk from Niddy Street along to Cameron Toll Shopping Centre. This walk will take you past the Festival Theatre, Surgeons' Hall, and The Queen's Hall
- Once you reach Cameron Toll, turn right and follow Liberton Road onto Liberton Brae, onto Liberton Gardens for another 2 miles
- Follow Howden Hall road onto Burdiehouse Road, onto Straiton Road (past the Ikea), and keep following the A701 road until you reach the roundabout. Take the first left (there's a pavement)
- Follow this road for about a mile (take a moment to stop at the Roslin War Memorial if you have time), and you'll see Rosslyn Chapel signposted!
Hermitage of Braid Walk
One of the great things about Edinburgh is that although it's a proper city and has plenty of hustle and bustle in the centre of town, you're never far from quieter areas which are great for long walks and a bit of peace. The Hermitage Braid Walk is a route that you can follow which is just outside Morningside, but is ideal for people with dogs who want to let them off the lead for a bit. You can follow the route all the way up Blackford Hill if you wish, a lesser-known hill in Edinburgh but one which still allows you to enjoy amazing views of the city. The full route is just under 3 miles long and you can reach the start of the road by hopping on one of the Lothian buses to Comiston Road (either the 11, 15, or 15A). See a Google Map version of the route here.
Hire a bicycle
We love Edinburgh, but if we had 1 nitpick it would be the hills - say, for example, you fancy walking to the Botanic Gardens from the centre of town. The walk down is easy enough, but getting back up the hill can be very tiring!
Hiring a bike is a great way to explore Edinburgh, as the city has good cycle lanes (all the way down Leith Walk and elsewhere too) and cyclists are generally respected. Until recently, there was a 'Just Eat' cycle scheme which made hiring bikes very easy, but since that has been discontinued it's a little harder to hire a bicycle. Luckily, a number of companies and organisations within the city will let you hire a bicycle for a reasonable fee, here are some options you can try:
Cycle Scotland - based on Blackfriars St, prices start from £30 per day
Biketrax - based at Fountainbridge, prices start from £46 per hour, some great high end bikes for people who want something a little more advanced
Leith Cycle Co. - if you're based in the Leith area of Edinburgh then you could hire from Leith Cycle Co. - they've got a great range of bicycles you can hire, including bicycles with trailers for kids and even tandems! You can also hire electric bikes from here with prices starting at just £40 per day, which is very reasonable.
Pedal Forth - this shop is now based on Leith Walk as of late 2023, so it's another great place to hire from if you're in the Leith area. It's usually £20 per day from here which is very reasonable.