Edinburgh is such a fun city. Bagpipes round the clock, friendly pubs, rolling hills in the distance. It has both the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ and is sure to keep you well entertained!
Edinburgh is only a short train ride from where I live in Northern England, so I have been there many times and have tried most of what it has to offer. I love going to Edinburgh and I have narrowed down a list of my favourite things to do in this gorgeous city.
Central Edinburgh is divided into two parts: new town and old town. Basically, the castle and historical buildings are up at the top of the hill – this is old town. The new and modern shops and restaurants are at the bottom of the hills – this is new town.
Both new and old are worth checking out! Which means you should prepare to do lots of walking … and lots of flights of stairs. There are many little alley ways and several passages that all lead to the same place…the top or the bottom of the hill essentially!
Don’t worry, you can reward yourself for all that hard work with a pint at a quaint Scottish pub at nearly any time of the day 😉
1. See the Castle
Personally, I wouldn’t bother paying to go inside. The view from the outside is gorgeous and I have heard that the inside just isn’t worth the (overpriced) fee they charge.
You will see the castle from all over the city, but I recommend you get up close and soak it in. There is a large area in front of the castle so you can get some photos.
If you look over the wall just to the side of the castle, you’ll get an amazing view of Arthur’s Seat, a massive hill in the distance, as well as some of the rest of the city.
Great instagram material!
2. Camera Obscura
I would describe Camera Obscura as half museum, half fun house. It is full optical illusions and interactive ‘exhibits.’
This is probably my #1 recommendation when I know someone is visiting Edinburgh!
I have been twice and would definitely go back again! It is perfect for all ages and all interests. It’s not just your typical ‘fun house mirrors’ (though they do have some of those, too!)… it is so much more than that.
There is also a great viewing deck on the roof top that allows you to take in so much of the city unobstructed. You can take some great photos up there.
See the view from the rooftop below…and admire my husband’s dorky Christmas jumper 🙂
And, best of all, they put on a little show for you using the ‘camera obscura.’ It’s a very clever piece of old technology that uses a tiny little mirror as a sort of CTV/live camera footage of the city. Prepared to be massively impressed and see loads of the city (live!) from a tiny little theatre room.
Once you purchase your tickets, you can stay as long as you’d like and you can even leave and come back. There are several floors of optical illusions and interactive aspects to explore.
Camera Obscura is located RIGHT BY the castle. There are some fun mirrors outside making it easy to spot. You just walk right in and pay for your entry.
3. Go to a ‘Hidden’ Bar
Ever fancy a cocktail at an ‘underground’ bar disguised as a barber shop? Well, I will let you in on a little secret! There is a super suave (HIDDEN) cocktail bar in Edinburgh called Panda & Sons.
From the street, it looks like an old fashioned barber shop (cute and retro). But there will be a doorman waiting just inside who will let you know if there is a room for you downstairs in the secret cocktail bar.
My husband and I only had to wait a few minutes before there was a table open and then we were escorted down.
The drinks they offer are incredible! The bar tenders are so talented and have the super complex and intricate menu memorised. You can get a swanky cocktail served in a mini top hat, or a trendy cocktail served in an old fashioned Chinese food ‘to go’ box.
The picture below doesn’t do it justice, but we were having too much fun and didn’t think to take pictures of some of the more aesthetically impressive drinks. But hey, at least we captured the free popcorn they bring to your table (SCORE!).
There are drinks that smoke and steam, and sophisticated drinks that are a simple twist on the classics you already love. It is definitely worth a visit!
4. Go to a Pub (or Several…)
Have a pint! What else is there to do on vacation!? The pubs nearest the castle will likely be busiest, which can definitely be fun! But if busy is not your style, just wander a few blocks away and things will be slightly more quiet.
There are also some very modern pubs and bars in the ‘new town’ side of Edinburgh if you aren’t in the mood for the ‘traditional’ pub.
Pub food can also be pretty tasty! Stop in a pub for an easy lunch or dinner. You can also stop in for breakfast but many pubs do not open until 11 or so, so be prepared for that.
Scotch eggs are a local favourite and I would recommend you try one if you get the chance. It is a cooked egg, wrapped in sausage, and then breaded. Yum!
Something to note: If you are traveling with someone who is under 18, they may not be allowed in the bars or pubs nearest the castle unless they are having a meal. Even if they do not try to drink, they cannot be in the pub unless they are eating! Simply go for a pub in new town if you have an underage child with you and would like to have a drink.
5. Do Some Shopping
Whether you have modern taste or are looking for some Scottish goodies, Edinburgh has it all.
New town: If you want to do some modern shopping, Princes Street has it all! There is an H&M, Topshop, Northface, Barbour, and LOADS more. The entire street is lined with shops and there are plenty of side streets offering more shopping, as well.
It is easy enough to get lunch between shopping. I recommend just taking a chance on a random place – spontaneity is one of my favourite aspects of travel!
I also recommend walking back (away from the castle) a block or two behind Princes Street and the major stores, as there are some quite pedestrian streets with some lovely little shops and cafes. At night, there are often lights hanging from the buildings and it is really atmospheric and cute!
Old town: Old town, near the castle, offers loads of little shops with endless souvenirs. While there are shops that offer typical trinkets and gifts, there are also shops that sell really high quality Scottish goods. For example, my husband bought me a lovely handbag with a feminine tartan pattern.
A Scottish wool scarf or a plaid change purse would make a great gift for someone if you want more than a magnet or keychain!
6. Hike Arthur’s Seat
Arthur’s Seat is the name of a hike. You can walk to the trail (there are several ‘starting points’) from Edinburgh.
The views from the top…and the entire way up for that matter… are incredible! You can see the city and the water and rolling hills in the distance.
This photo was taken by my friend and it makes me laugh every time I look at it because SHE WASN’T EVEN AIMING THE CAMERA!
I literally ran and jumped into the air while shouting ‘TAKE MY PICTURE’ and she fumbled with the phone in her hand and snapped a photo without even looking at the screen. And this was the result! How perfect was that timing?!
It is an easy to moderate hike that will just take a couple of hours, but I do recommend sensible shoes and clothing. The first time I did the hike – I hadn’t planned on doing it so I just did it in jeans and ankle boots and I was fine but you’d be more comfortable in sneakers and perhaps leggings!
The second time I went, I wore a sweater, leggings and hiking shoes (pictured) and was a bit more comfortable.
7. Christmas Markets
Obviously this is a seasonal suggestion but still worth mentioning! The Christmas markets in Edinburgh are HUGE! There are endless stalls of foods and little gifts.
The markets are just across from Princes Street.
If you go to the Christmas markets, I would highly recommend going during the week, and before school holidays if you can (so at least 2 weeks before Christmas).
I went very near to Christmas on a weekend, and it was so crowded, I could hardly move from stall to stall. I must admit that many of the stalls repeat the same items so you don’t need to walk around all of them.
However, the atmosphere is lovely and Christmassy with loads of lights and Christmas trees dotted about. The food and drink are quite pricey, so I would suggest just splurging on one or two treats and enjoying the free option of ‘browsing.’
Pro Tip: There is a store called Primark on Princes Street. It is a chain that sells very inexpensive clothing and they always have fun ‘ugly’ christmas sweaters! My friend and I picked out these matching numbers above to wear to the Christmas markets for SO cheap! Highly recommend!
If you have not been to a Christmas market in Europe before, they offer lovely, soul warming, hot drinks. Mulled wine is a must – it’s just a hot, sweet wine that feels so Christmassy and festive. It will warm your soul 🙂
Happy travels and feel free to comment with your own suggestions, questions, or ideas!