Do you know what are the best Edinburgh attractions for tourists? Edinburgh, the capital city of Scotland is located in Lothian on the Firth of Forth’s southern shore, the 7th largest city in the UK that is credited with 4,500 heritage-listed buildings and it is also a center of education.
Edinburgh falls under one of the most beautiful cities in the United Kingdom and attracts tourists from all over the world. Edinburgh was voted as United Kingdom’s best destination for young people in British Youth Travel Awards. Edinburgh is a city full of historical buildings, grand Georgian buildings, and gothic churches.
The Scottish capital incorporates sandstone and bronze-toned metals into its contemporary buildings in order to satisfy the heritage of the city which is exemplary, and the cityscape with blue lakes is beautiful and sophisticated. The city of Edinburgh is divided into two halves: the medieval old town that speaks of the city’s past with its Royal Mile and its 18th-century elegant new town with Georgian-styled buildings that witnessed the glorious Scottish Enlightenment.
Not just these but there are breathtaking highlands for hiking and strolling. The tremendous and rugged landscape of Edinburgh is so fascinating with the Royal Mile attracts tourists from all across the world. Many of the popular tourist attractions are located in The Royal Mile in Edinburgh which is situated along a sheer hill that runs from Holyrood Palace up to the cliff-top fortress.
Aside from scenic spots, the city of Edinburgh is well known for hosting parties and its festivals, like Fringe which is the world’s largest international arts and media festival, welcoming creativity and is celebrated for three weeks in the month of August, and much loved the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, the most legendary military spectacle of the world.
1. Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle is the most visited and most famous tourist attraction built on top of a hill, situated nearly 400 feet above the city, encircled by a massive wall. Edinburgh castle is a historic fortress that overshadows the skyline of Edinburgh. The castle rock is on top of an extinct volcano, there is evidence of human settlement here dating back to the bronze age.
The fascinating attraction of Edinburgh castle is the one o’clock gun, the one o’clock gun came into existence in the year 1861. Visitors gather here at 1 pm every day to see gunfire on Mill’s Mount Battery at Edinburgh castle except for Sundays, Christmas Day, and Good Friday.
From the inside, Edinburgh castle is filled with Scottishness, royalty, and grandeur. The Great Hall was built for King James iv that was used as a meeting room for the Scottish parliament until 1639. The Great Hall has a small window just above the fireplace known as ‘Laird’s lug’ that looks like a ventilation spot, but its real use was eavesdropping, allowing one to hear the conversation going on in the Great Hall.
Saint Margaret’s chapel is the oldest surviving building in Scotland within Edinburgh castle built in the early 12th century. Saint Margaret’s chapel was built to pay tribute to Queen Margaret, who according to stories died of a broken heart in 1093 upon hearing the news of her husband’s death.
It is Britain’s longest-occupied fortified location, the home of Scotland’s crown jewels and stone of destiny, which was used for the coronation of Scottish monarchs. This castle has been laid siege to 26 times as opposing clans and kings battled with swords and cannons.
The castle has faced hostile forces 23 times but still, it stands as a symbol of Scottish pride and spirit. The Military Tattoo is organized each year to provide the backdrop of the most famous events of Scottish history.
2. Old Town
The historical old town of Edinburgh is one of the most striking and architecturally significant places in the world, the better way to explore the town is by walking. The old town dates back to medieval times, it is lined up with narrow alleyways, wool shops, pubs, and many historical landmarks.
The most famous route begins at Lawn market, most of the tourist bus tour stops at Lawn market, and the bottom end of castle hill then continuing to the Grass market, the picturesque Victoria Street, the Scotsman Building in Cockburn Street concluding outside the Palace of Holyrood.
The Grass market used to be the city’s main marketplace in the 15th century with the principal stock-in-trade involving cattle and horses. In the present day, it is filled with good restaurants, cafes, and a market to buy souvenirs and farm produce.
Victoria Street in Old Town is one of the most photographed locations in Edinburgh. The beautiful curves and colorful shopfronts make it an ideal spot for tourists to click photos.
3. Edinburgh Zoo
Edinburgh Zoo was formerly known as Scottish National Zoological Park and was built in the year 1913, it is spread over 82 acres and is situated in Corstorphine, a suburb of Edinburgh. It is the second most famous attraction in Edinburgh receiving many tourists every year.
It houses about 1,000 rare species, UK’s only giant pandas, and Queensland koalas, and also the Edinburgh Zoo was the first zoo in the world to procreate penguins, the penguins are major attractions of the zoo. Corstorphine Hill gives an extensive view of Edinburgh’s skyline.
Edinburgh zoo is not just a place for a family day out but also a prominent center for the breeding of rare and endangered animals, preserving biodiversity, animals’ behavioral pattern research and study as well as organizing and participating in various conservation programs
4. Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art
The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art is located near Princes Street. It comprises two buildings, Modern One and Modern Two. The Scottish national gallery of Modern Art was founded in the year 1850 and has a scenic view of the castle of Edinburgh. The building of this Gallery is built in the Neoclassical style of architecture designed by William Henry Playfair.
The Scottish National Art Gallery consists of a collection of masterpieces from Italian, Spanish, French, English, and Scottish paintings. The paintings are from the early Renaissance period to the late 19th century, showing some of the magnificent works of Western art to the world.
The national gallery has a huge collection of paintings, sculptures, and works on paper. Visitors can explore sculptures by famous artists like Joan Miró, Henry Moore, Rachel Whiteread, and Barbara Hepworth. Apart from masterpieces of art, you can also discover cafes and gift shops.
5. Royal Mile and Princes Street
The famed Royal Mile is the busiest street in Edinburgh’s old town, occupied by little souvenir shops alongside. The main road that runs throughout the new town is known as Princes Street. With Bagpipers playing along the street, The Royal Mile is also filled with some unique Scottish things such as:
- The Tartan Weaving Mill, where one can get Scottish tartan weaved for them.
- Camera Obscura is an optical illusion-themed tourist attraction and has illusions that can be funny and dizzying.
- Scotch Whisky Experience is a heavenly place to be for fans of Scotch Whisky. Here they show all about producing Scotch Whisky, distribution, and how to taste it. The visitors can take a whisky barrel ride through a replica distillery. The world’s largest collection of Scotch Whisky is here only and it’s worth the visit even if you are not a fan of Scotch Whisky and want to learn about Scotland’s national drink.
- Lots of Scottish shops to buy things like kilts and socks, and much other Scottish clothing
6. John Knox House
John Knox House is a medieval building that dates back to 1470 and has been largely untouched since the 1550s, it is among the premier Edinburgh attractions. Its distinct architecture is evident that it was a prominent landmark for generations of writers.
John Knox was a Scottish reformer who founded the Presbyterian Church government in Scotland and also had influence over many other churches, John Knox lived here before he died in the year 1572.
He wrote many books including sermons and pamphlets about the religious and political phenomena of his time. John Knox House is now attached to the Scottish storytelling center, a unique place to preserve the storytelling culture of Scotland.
Although the mansion is now known as John Knox House when John Knox lived here it was owned by James Mossman who was a goldsmith of Mary Queen of Scots. Visitors can explore the remnants of the medieval Luckenbooths, which were rented out for shops back in the time, and learn about the history of the dispute between John Knox and Mary Queen of Scots. Experiencing John Knox’s wood-paneled department is also sufficiently good.
7. Edinburgh Dungeon
A tour to Edinburgh Dungeon gives a glimpse of Scotland’s darker and more gruesome history of plague, murders, cannibals, witches, and more. Edinburgh Dungeon has 11 live actors for a show two short underground rides that are nerve-racking because of using lots of scare tactics, obviously not suitable for the faint heart.
Here visitors can visit Sawney Bean and his cannibal family, the plague in Mary King’s, visitors can see live actors performing Burke & Hare.
The Edinburgh Dungeon is a good mixture of horror, terror, and laughs. It organizes late-night events for adults so it’s a good chance to explore Edinburgh at night.
8. Craig Millar Castle
Craig Millar Castle is one of Scotland’s most well-preserved castles, it lies just three miles southeast of Edinburgh city center. Craig Millar Castle existed since the 15th century and was used as a residence by many royals such as Mary Queen of Scots.
The stone architecture design of the castle is very unique and admirable, the grand hall of the castle and living chambers are the main highlights at Craig Millar Castle. Visitors can climb up the castle tower for an amazing view of the Edinburgh, Pentland Hills, and Salisbury Crags. Craig Millar was built as a tower house in the 1400s for Sir George Preston and his family it was expanded and improved over the centuries.
When Preston’s ownership came to an end during the 1660s, Craig Millar Castle was sold to Sir John Gilmer, but he was not able to renovate the castle as per the requirements of 1700s contemporary style, comfort, and taste and therefore decided to abandon it for a new residence.
For the next two centuries, it was left to be ruined. Craig Millar Castle is a great day out for the family, the castle stays open to visitors all year round except the 25th and 26th of December and the 1st and 2nd of January.
9. Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh
The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh was founded in the 17th century and is one of the leading botanical gardens in the world. It is also a center for the scientific study of plants, their diversity, types, and conservation. It includes magnificent Victorian-style glasshouses, and the famous Rock Garden, the garden is divided into various areas each dedicated to a variety of vegetation.
The spotlight of the garden is the Chinese Hillside, the Queen Mother’s memorial garden, and the Woodland Garden, there is history dating back to around 350 years that visitors can discover, and also the beautiful nature spread across 70 acres.
10. National Museum of Scotland
The National Museum of Scotland was founded in the year 2006 and was merged with the Royal Scottish Museum. It has a collection of prehistoric, and medieval objects, finds from archeological sites, and antiques from all over the world.
The notable objects in the display include Dolly the Sheep, which is the cloning of a mammal. There is also an ancient Egypt showcase and Jean Elizabeth Muir’s collection. The millennium clock is a very unique highlight of the museum, it is a Scottish innovation just like the Scottish Maiden which was a form of guillotine machine used specifically in Edinburgh, Scotland.
The National Museum of Scotland has an entire department of natural science, in this section all the items relating to natural history are displayed, this collection of natural history was initially transferred from the University of Edinburgh.
The museum has special exhibitions as well with tickets and there are gift shops to buy souvenirs of the visit. The Balcony Cafe is very popular at the museum for beverages and cakes. The view of the city from the terrace of the museum is scenic, it usually takes 3 hours to explore the museum completely and entry to the museum is free to anyone.
11. Dean Village
Dean Village is located at the very center of Edinburgh, one of the most charming villages in Scotland. It is a good escape point from the bustling city center of Edinburgh, it is so beautiful that it seems like a landscape from a fairytale, that sits on the banks of the water of Leith.
The settlement of Dean Village dates back to the 12th century and was a powerhouse of the industrial age because of the availability of water. Dean Village is a residential area filled with cute houses overlooking the river, the river houses various plants and animal species.
In the past, Dean Village was lined up with 11 working mills located on the strong currents of the city’s river. Later in the 20th century trade lessened the village was abandoned and started decaying as a settlement but the lush greenery, tranquility, and proximity of the village to the city center made it so renowned. In the present day, it is the most popular and sought-after residential part of Edinburgh.
12. Greyfriars Courtyards
Greyfriars Courtyards is a large historic graveyard that surrounds the Greyfriars Kirk Cook the old Scottish word for church. The graveyard has a reputation for being one of the most hunted graveyards in the world and also has a bittersweet infamous tale attached to it.
The story of Greyfriars Bobby, a Scottish terrier who spent 14 years guarding the grave of his owner until he died. Greyfriars Courtyards tell the historical account of those people who were entombed here.
Covenanters, body snatchers, assassins, and the people who were assassinated, this graveyard has an account of all these people. Greyfriars Courtyards is the perfect destination for visitors who want to know about Scottish ancient and gruesome history.
13. The Royal Yacht Britannia
The Royal Yacht Britannia is the most popular Edinburgh attraction. It is built on Clyde’s side; the erstwhile Royal Yacht Britannia was the British royal family’s floating royal residence during their foreign travels. It decommissioned in the year 1997 and sailed over one million miles before its decommissioning.
In present-day fastened up in front of the ocean terminal where visitors can walk the decks and staterooms with the help of an audio-guided tour and learn about the history of the ship. The ship has five decks including the Sun Lounge, the Engine Room, the tearoom where the royal travelers enjoyed afternoon tea with a panoramic view, and the Royal Deck.
The State Apartment is where the guests like Nelson Mandela and Winston Churchill once visited. The audio-guided tour of the yacht gives a glimpse into the everyday lives of the Royals.
14. Holyrood Palace
The Palace of Holyrood Palace stands at the end of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, this palace is the present-day Royal residence of the British monarch in Scotland. When the British monarch is at the palace, the guards march all the way down the royal mile.
But it is more famous for being the queen’s official residence, the ill-fated, doomed, and tragic Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots. In the present time, the palace has been preserved to showcase the royal lifestyle of the 17th century. The Mary queen lived here from 1561 to 1567, the highlight of the palace is Queen Mary’s bed chamber, which is filled with the items and events relating to her life.
It is here that her husband Lord Darnley controlled the pregnant queen Mary and murdered David Rizzio, Queen Mary’s Private Secretary by stabbing him 56 times, the neighboring room marks the spot where bloodstains show how he bled to death.
There are 14 magnificent and historic state apartments, and ruins of the 12th-century Holyrood Abbey. the royal gardens and they even have an on-site art gallery. The Holyrood Palace stays open for visitors throughout the year, a typical visit to the palace takes between 1 and 2 hours with the help of guided tours.
15. Holyrood Park
It is situated just opposite the Holyrood Palace, a place away from hustle and bustle of the city and ideal for hiking. Holyrood Park is the biggest green cover of Edinburgh city spread in 650 acres of land; Holyrood Park used to be a 12th-century hunting estate of neighboring Holyrood Palace.
The park has all the highlands, lakes, ridges, and plains. But most people and locals know this as Arthur’s Seat, Arthur’s Seat is a must-visit spot since it is the highest of the city’s seven peaks which is also a 350-million-year-old inactive volcano just like castle rock. Best place to get a glorious and beautiful 360-degree view of Edinburgh city when you are visiting Edinburgh. Arthur’s seat is believed to have originated from the infamous story of king Arthur and the possible location for Camelot.
16. Calton Hill
Calton hill is a UNESCO world heritage site of Edinburgh, located in the central city. Calton hill has several important historical monuments such as the National Monument of Scotland, a 12 columns memorial monument dedicated to the brave Scottish soldiers who lost their lives fighting in the Napoleonic Wars. The Nelson Monument on Calton Hill is dedicated to Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson, a reminder of his victory and death at the battle of Trafalgar in 1805.
The Burns monument situated at the foot of Calton hill is a monument of Robert Burns, the national poet of Scotland. The monument is built in a neoclassical style of architecture. The national monument on Calton hill called Edinburgh’s folly or Edinburgh’s shame was modeled after the Parthenon in Athens but funds to build the monument were not sufficient and the monument stayed incomplete.
17. Princes Street Gardens
Edinburgh is not just a city that just celebrates valorous nobles, but it has also given the world some of its great writers and stories. In Princes Street Gardens stands the world’s largest monument dedicated to a writer Sir Walter Scott shining in glory, who wrote epics such as Ivanhoe, Rob Roy, Waverley, and Old Mortality.
The monument looks like a gothic cathedral and has a height of 200 feet. The monument is decorated with characters from his novels and with his beloved dog. The Princes Street Gardens is an ideal place for strolling and for admiring lush greenery. The view of Edinburgh castle from Princes Street Gardens is panoramic and very picturesque. Visitors can climb up to the top for a great view of Edinburgh and visit the small museum on the first level of the climb to learn more about the life and works of Sir Walter Scott.
Nearby the writer’s museum is situated, a must-see spot for literature enthusiasts visiting Edinburgh, where more can be learned about Walter Scot, Rober Burns, and Robert Louis Stevenson. Edinburgh cast the magical spell of inspiration over contemporary writers as well, all the Harry Potter fans out there know that JK Rowling wrote the first two of the Harry Potter series in cozy nooks of the old town such as Elephant House Cafe.
18. Saint Giles Cathedral
Saint Giles Cathedral is the principal church in Edinburgh in the old town also known as the High Kirk of Edinburgh, it is a key feature of the city skyline. Saint Giles Cathedral was built in the 14th century, and it has several memorials of key figures in Scottish history. The main attraction of the cathedral is beautiful stained-glass windows and the original bell which dates back to the 15th century.
The stained-glass windows are considered to be among the best examples of Victorian stained-glass windows in Scotland. Saint Giles Cathedral is a major Edinburgh attraction and the perfect site to gain an understanding of Edinburgh’s history and ancient culture. The previous denomination of the church was Roman Catholic but later on during the period of the Scottish Reformation when John Knox became its minister the church was turned into a Protestant church.
Saint Giles Cathedral was elevated to Cathedral status by King Charles the first in the year 1637. Visitors can download the virtual tour onto their mobile phones, it helps to follow what the visitors are looking at outside.
Edinburgh is an alluring tourist attraction and welcomes lakhs of tourists throughout the year from all over the world. The Edinburgh tourist attractions are not only limited to historical monuments but it is a fusion place that has city life, cultural life, and historical significance. It should be on your bucket list if you like exploring every aspect of just one place.