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9 Best Things to Do in Edinburgh

mother india cafe edinburgh

Harry Potter film site and home to one of the most attacked European castle in the 18th century, Edinburgh is filled with history and character. Here are 9 best things to do in Edinburgh to make the most of your trip.

1. Walk the Royal Mile

royal mile things to do in edinburgh
Royal Mile

For those training into Edinburgh, the Royal Mile in Old Town is one of the first places you’ll set foot on once you arrive in the city.

The stretch is filled with cobble-stones, historical buildings, and you’ll quickly spot Edinburgh Castle sitting majestically at the end of the road.

2. Visit Edinburgh Castle

edinburgh castle
Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle is one of the most attacked castles in Europe!! The majestic castle is also what inspired the look of Hogwarts in Harry Potter. Plus, the fact that it’s sat atop a hill for nearly 800 years shows how impressive Scottish masonry was back in the day.

If you’re looking to go inside Edinburgh Castle, buy your tickets in advance. They do sell out especially during peak travel season.

Wanderer Tip: Princes Street Gardens is a great place to get a full view of Edinburgh Castle and the hill it sits on.

3. Take a Day Trip to the Scottish Highlands

scottish highlands
Scottish Highlands

Having only traveled to U.S. national parks (e.g. Canyonlands, Acadia) in the last two years, I was very excited to experience mother nature in a whole new way via the Scottish Highlands.

The Scottish Highlands always held a mysterious place in my heart, and seeing it in person was an entirely different experience.

We toured the Highlands with Timberbush Tours and hit some incredible spots, including the Three Sisters mountains and the Glenfinnan Viaduct (where the Jacobite “Harry Potter” steam train passes through).

Wanderer Tip: If you decide to do the drive yourself, make sure to stop by the town Pitlochry for some delicious Scottish ice cream!

4. Do a Whisky Tasting

whisky tasting edinburgh
Whiski Bar & Restaurant

If you’re a fan of whisky, you’re in for a treat. Scotland is well known for producing amazing single malt Scotch Whisky, and you can get a taste for the whiskeys produced from the different Scottish whisky regions – Speyside, Islay, Lowland, Highland, and Campbeltown – right in Edinburgh.

We did our tasting at the Whiski Bar & Restaurant. The staff were great, and I learned so much about how to properly taste whiskey. I highly recommend!

5. Venture Down a Close

advocate's close edinburgh scotland
Advocate’s Close

Walking down a close is one of the most unique and best things you can do in Edinburgh. A close is essentially an alleyway that leads to a residential community. It was how the Scottish developed gated communities back in the day.

Because taller buildings have been built on top of the closes over time, the closes give the illusion that there’s a city beneath Edinburgh.

Two closes I recommend visiting:

  • Mary King’s Close: this is the only close you can visit where a guided tour and experience is offered. Come here to get a re-enactment of Edinburgh history during the bubonic plague and experience how the lower economic classes lived during the seventeenth century.
  • Advocate’s Close: There are maybe 100 closes along the stretch of the Royal Mile. If you just want to check out a close on your own and not have to pay for a guided tour, you can definitely do it. Advocate’s Close is my favorite close in Edinburgh because it gives you a view of the Scott monument.

Here is a map of all the closes that you can look for in Edinburgh!

6. Hike Up Arthur’s Seat

arthur's seat best things to do in edinburgh
Arthur’s Seat

When traveling to big cities, I like to mix in some nature where possible. I was super stoked when I learned that there were a few urban hikes you can do right in the heart of Edinburgh.

Arthur’s Seat is a must do while visiting Edinburgh. It’s a dormant volcano that is also the tallest hill in Edinburgh.

There are several hiking routes you can take. We didn’t do much research beforehand and accidentally took the steepest route (Purple route in Geowalk’s guide) up the hill. The views were incredible and I wouldn’t have gone up through any other route. If I were to do it again though, I’d definitely come more prepared with hiking clothes and shoes since the hike does get pretty steep!!

7. Eat at an Indian Restaurant

best indian restaurants in edinburgh mother's india cafe
Mother India Cafe

Due to the big Indian population in the UK, there are many great Indian restaurants sprinkled throughout the country, including in Edinburgh.

We tried a few Indian restaurants and loved all of them!

  • Mother’s India Cafe: A no-frills restaurant in Edinburgh with the cutest storefront, Mother’s India Cafe was one of my favorite places to get Indian food in the city. This place serves what I imagine homemade Indian food would taste like.
  • Dishoom: If you’ve researched Indian food in the UK, you’ve probably heard of Dishoom! This trendy restaurant is inspired by Iranian cafes in Bombay in the 1920s. I’m getting hungry just thinking about the delicious buns that came with the Pau Bhaji.

8. Have a Cup of Coffee at The Milkman

coffee shop in edinburgh the milkman
The Milkman Edinburgh

You can’t visit Europe without having at least one pastry from a cafe. Lucky for you, Edinburgh has the perfect cafe for you to start your morning at: The Milkman.

Have a delicious cup of Flat White and a Chocolate Croissant while sitting by the window and admire the architecture and cobble stone streets that define Edinburgh. It’s also a great place to recharge after a long day of walking and sightseeing.

9. Take a Picture with the National Monument at Calton Hill

the national monument calton hill edinburgh best things to do
The National Monument at Calton Hill

If the hike up Arthur’s Seat is too strenuous or you simply don’t have enough time, Calton Hill is a great alternative as one of the best things to do in Edinburgh.

Calton Hill is also different from Arthur’s Seat in that there are a few different monuments sitting at the top of the hill and are quite the spectacle.

My favorite is the National Monument because of how small it can make you feel! The architecture of the National Monument was also inspired by the Parthenon in Athens. How cool is that?!

Edinburgh: A Unique City with a Rich History

Edinburgh is probably one of the most unique places I’ve traveled to.

On the one hand, Old Town and Edinburgh Castle allow you to take a quick trip back in time. On the other hand, strolling down the Royal Mile and visiting the Glenfinnan Viaduct make you feel as if you’ve walked into the fictional world of Harry Potter.

I hope this itinerary will help you explore all that the city has to offer!

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