What to see and do during your first time in Edinburgh

There’s never a dull moment in Scotland’s capital. But visiting a city that’s packed with historical attractions, world class restaurants, trendy bars and year-round cultural festivals – it’s hard to choose what you should see and do first.

To help you make the most of your first time in Edinburgh, we highlight the top things you definitely shouldn’t miss out on during your trip. Plus, we’ll also include some some tips for what to do on your second or third visit because let’s face it, one trip to this enchanting medieval city is just not enough!

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What to do in Edinburgh

Take in the views from Calton Hill

A woman takes a photo of Edinburgh from Calton Hill

A woman takes a photo of Edinburgh from Calton Hill

No trip to Edinburgh would be complete without experiencing the panoramic views over the city from Calton Hill. It’s a quiet place to relax and take stunning pictures, plus it’s only a five minute walk to the top. Set right in the city centre at the end of East Princes Street, its grassy slopes and towering Athenian acropolis are hard to miss.

Walk the Royal Mile

One of the main streets in Edinburgh that you’re sure to walk through is the Royal Mile, which runs through the the Old Town and connects the Edinburgh Castle all the way to the Palace Holyroodhouse. It’s cobblestone pathways are lined with some of the city’s best eating and drinking spots, as well as shops and tourist attractions.

Tour Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh's iconic castle looms over the city on a gloomy day

Edinburgh’s iconic castle looms over the city on a gloomy day

Dominating the city’s skyline perched high stop Castle Rock is the famous Edinburgh Castle. Built in the 12th century and serving as both a royal residence and a military fortress, Edinburgh Castle is one of Scotland’s most historic monuments and today one of the most popular tourist attractions. It’s recommended to spend at least two hours exploring the castle grounds and on-site tickets cost £18.50 for adults and £11.50 for children, but there is also the option to purchase tickets in advance online.

Visit the National Museum of Scotland

Encompassing the history of Scotland, natural wonders, world cultures and science all under one roof, there’s something for everyone at the National Museum of Scotland. Not only is it one of the most visited museums in the world, but it’s also one of the most interactive. Take advantage of the free guided tours and if the weather’s nice, don’t forget to check out the rooftop terrace up on level seven.

Have dinner at the Devil’s Advocate

Located in the historic Old Town, the Devil’s Advocate is a former Victorian pump house turned cosy modern restaurant. Sample modern Scottish cuisine while sipping exquisitely crafted cocktails made by award winning bartenders. But be sure to make a reservation if you plan on going during the weekend, as it can get quite full!

Stroll the Grassmarket

Wander around the colourful buildings of Edinburgh's Grassmarket area

Wander around the colourful buildings of Edinburgh’s Grassmarket area

The vibrant and colourful buildings of Edinburgh’s Grassmarket area are the perfect setting for a nice walk in the city. Browse the eclectic shops that line the street, have a drink at one of the many buzzing bars or stop for a scenic photo of the Edinburgh Castle in the background. If you’re craving something sweet, Mary’s Milk Bar is an old-fashioned ice cream shop offering some of the city’s best homemade gelato and flavoured hot cocoa.

Grab a drink at Panda and Sons

You would never know that there’s a beautiful speakeasy hiding just underneath a barber shop on Queens Street – if you didn’t know where to look. But if you were looking for the bar of a lifetime, you might enter the barbershop, go down the stairs and perhaps check out a certain bookcase. And maybe you’ll find yourself surrounded by expertly crafted cocktails, you’ll just have to find out for yourself.

Hike up to Arthur’s Seat

A hike that's well worth the view!

A hike that’s well worth the view!

For a proper walk in the centre of the city where you can experience stunning views in every direction, don’t miss Arthur’s Seat. Although it’s a fairly moderate hike that’s suitable for beginners, there are parts that can get a bit steep and rocky – so bringing a pair of sturdy boots or trainers is always a good idea. To get there, hope on a bus to Holyrood Palace and plan to spend at least two hours walking around.

And if you decide to return to Edinburgh for a second or third time…

Sample the national drink at the Scotch Whisky Experience

A bartender serves up some fine whisky cocktails

A bartender serves up some fine whisky cocktails

Situated at the end of the Royal Mile right next to the Edinburgh Castle, the Scotch Whisky Experience is a high tech attraction where you can fully immerse yourself into the world of whisky – it even includes a ride in a whisky barrel. Take a tour, visit the shop and restaurant or have a tasting of some really fine whiskies. There are several different types of tours available ranging from the basic £15 option all the way to tour and fine-dining experience that costs £73 per person.

Try haggis at a traditional pub

While it might not be the most beautiful dish you’ve ever seen, sampling some of Scotland’s infamous haggis is one to tick off the bucket list. Traditionally encased in animal stomach (although nowadays artificial lining is also a popular choice), haggis is a savoury pudding made of minced meat, onions, oatmeal and spices. You can find it on the menus of many pubs and restaurants all over the city, but some of the best ranked places include Arcade Bar, The White Hart and Hadrian’s Brasserie at the Balmoral.

Admire the picturesque Dean Village

Edinburgh's charming Dean Village is as pretty as they come

Edinburgh’s charming Dean Village is as pretty as they come

In the Stockbridge neighborhood just a short walk away from Princes Street lies the quaint Dean Village. You want find restaurants and shops here – but Dean’s Village is the perfect place to take a scenic leisurely stroll in a small residential area of town. Colourful old houses and lush flora line the Water of Leith river path, making the area feel like a picture out of a fairytale and something you definitely won’t want to miss.

Grab some food at the Stockbridge Market

Tucked away in a small corner at Saunders Street, the Stockbridge Market is a must-see spot for foodies and arts and crafts lovers. Open on Sundays from 10:00 to 17:00, it features artisanal goods from local producers and global street fare ranging from cakes and candies to gyoza and haggis.

Take a ghost tour at the Real Mary King’s Close

Journey back in time and explore the streets underground the Royal Mile to discover Edinburgh’s dark and mysterious past. Real Mary King’s Close is a preserved 17th century street where you can take a guided tour and learn about the people that lived, worked and died there years ago. Pre-book your tour online to guarantee a spot, as the daily tours tend to get fully booked.

Take in modern art at the Scottish National Gallery

Don't forget to stop by the Scottish National Gallery

Don’t forget to stop by the Scottish National Gallery

Housing Scotland’s national gallery of fine art including major names like Raphael, Van Gogh and Raeburn, it’s no wonder why the Scottish National Gallery is often regarded as one of the best art institutions in the world. Stop by and take a tour of the art, participate in a drawing class or bring the kids to a storytelling session. Entrance is free (except for special exhibitions) and the Gallery Gardens are a tranquil place to surround yourself in both nature and art.

Have a drink at the Dome Bar and Grill

Located on central George Street in Edinburgh’s New Town, The Dome offers a luxurious setting for coffee and tea, cocktails, lunch or dinner. Grab a seat in the opulent Grill Room, where you’ll be sitting right under the splendor of the dome itself. It’s a good idea to make a reservation in advance, as it can get quite busy – especially during the holiday season when the decor is taken to a whole new level of festive.

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