My Top 65 Visitor Attractions in Edinburgh, Scotland
by David Wheater
If you’re visiting Edinburgh soon, I hope you’ll find this guide to my top 65 visitor attractions in Edinburgh useful.
Edinburgh has lots of fabulous things to see and do and is the ideal place to spend a long weekend discovering one of the finest cities in the world.
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Edinburgh is one of the most architecturally striking and historical cities in Europe. In addition, there are surprises around every corner, from dark medieval closes to beautiful parks and flamboyant street performers, making it a hugely exciting city to visit.
Although Edinburgh is a relatively small city, there's no shortage of inspiring places to visit. If you're here for just a day, start at the Castle and work your way down the Royal Mile to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the Scottish Parliament and Dynamic Earth. You're guaranteed a memorable day.
Visitors can save money in Edinburgh with the following tickets and passes:
The Royal Edinburgh Ticket
The Edinburgh City Pass
Historic Scotland Explorer Pass
National Trust for Scotland membership
Here are some of my top places to visit in Edinburgh and surrounding areas. Attractions have been divided into those located within the city and those located just outside. Please note that attractions have NOT been listed in any particular order.
1. The Royal Mile
At approximately a mile long, the Royal Mile is a series of ʻOld Townʼ streets connecting Edinburgh Castle at the top and the Palace of Holyroodhouse at the bottom. The Mile is built upon the sloping tail of glacial debris, left behind the volcanic plug on which the Castle is built. Some highlights of the Royal Mile include the Camera Obscura, Gladstone's Land, St Giles' Cathedral, the Scottish Storytelling Centre, Mary King's Close, the Palace, the Scottish Parliament and Dynamic Earth. You can see my video guide to The Royal Mile on my Youtube channel here: https://youtu.be/k9-UoaFdx84
2. The Top Royal Mile Closes to Visit
Don’t be afraid to walk down closes - many have some quite surprising architecture that’s all too easy to miss. Some of my favourites are: Milne’s Court, Riddell’s Court, Tweeddale Court, Makar’s Court and Lady Stair’s Close, Anchor Close, Trunk’s Close, Bakehouse Close, Dunbar Close (and garden) and White Horse Close.
3. Edinburgh Castle
Located at the top of the Royal Mile, itʼs staggering to realise that not only has there been a castle here since the 12th century, but that itʼs also built on an extinct volcano! Highlights include Scotlandʼs Crown Jewels, the Stone of Destiny, the 12th-century St Margaretʼs Chapel, the Regimental Museums and The Royal Palace. There's an excellent restaurant here and gift shop for souvenirs. If you can, it's very worthwhile taking a guided tour and waiting for the 1'Oclock gun, which still gives Edinburgh's residents a jump when they're shopping on Princes Street below! In the height of summer, it pays to try and get there early to avoid the long queues. You can pre-purchase tickets online.
4. Edinburgh Zoo
134 Corstorphine Road EH12 6TS
Opened in 1913, Edinburgh Zoo is one of the worldʼs leading zoos for education, conservation and research. The Zoo is located in 82 acres of very attractive parkland, about three miles west of the city centre. Highlights include talks by keepers, animal-handling classes, the world-famous daily Penguin Parade and the innovative Budongo Trail Chimpanzee House. The two giant pandas, Tian Tian and Yang Guang, are a must-see - but book in advance! Here's hoping the patter of tiny panda feet is heard soon!
5. The Palace of Holyroodhouse
Canongate, Royal Mile EH8 8DX
Standing at the foot of the Royal Mile, this beautiful palace has been the monarchʼs official Scottish residence since the 1920s and Her Majesty the Queen now spends a week here every summer. Highlights include the 17th-century former Kingʼs apartments, the Great Gallery and Mary, Queen of Scotsʼ apartments in the north-west tower, where David Rizzio was famously murdered! If you don't take a guided tour, a self-guided audio tour is essential to get the most out of your visit. Very good cafe and shop.
6. Holyrood Abbey
Canongate, Royal Mile EH8 8DX
This very atmospheric ruined abbey adjoins the Palace of Holyroodhouse and is included in a tour of the Palace. It was built in 1128 by King David I of Scotland for Augustinian Canons after seeing the vision of a crucifix (‘holy rood”) appear in his hands while fighting off a stag which had gored him. Believing he had been saved from certain death, he ordered the abbey to be built. Several Scottish kings are buried in the abbey choir. Pay attention to the inscriptions on the gravestones, which offer some great timeless advice. Tours are available of the abbey during the summer which I highly recommended.
7. The Queen's Gallery
Canongate, Royal Mile EH8 8DX
A wonderful exhibition space and gallery situated to the front of the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Formerly the Holyrood Free Church, the gallery was opened in 2002 and now displays regular exhibitions of items from the Royal Collection Trust. If you're looking for something special to take back with you there's a really good gift shop.
8. The Scottish Parliament
Horse Wynd, Royal Mile EH99 1SP
Opened in October 2004, the parliament building is home to an elected body of 129 Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) with devolved powers from the Westminster UK Parliament. The building was designed by Enric Miralles and constructed from a mixture of steel, oak, concrete and granite. He drew inspiration for the construction from Charles Rennie Mackintosh and also the surrounding landscape. Tours of the Parliament are available and also a great wee cafe. Many find the interior to be far more impressive than the exterior, so please do go in. The debating chamber is particularly impressive.
9. The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh
Inverleith Row EH3 5LR
These splendid gardens have been in their present location since 1820 and are the second-oldest botanic gardens in the UK, with a collection of over 15,000 plant species. The Chinese Hillside Garden is home to the largest collection of wild origin Chinese plants outside China and the Glasshouse Experience, with 10 climatic zones, contains a fantastic array of exotic plants. The John Hope Gateway visitor centre has an excellent restaurant and shop that are well worth a visit. You can see a video of my visit to the Botanics here: https://youtu.be/WKdjYnysNZ8
10. The Royal Yacht Britannia
Ocean Terminal, Leith EH6 6JJ
Built-in Clydebank and launched in 1953, the Royal Yacht Britannia is now permanently berthed at Ocean Terminal in Leith. The yacht was a real favourite with the Queen and her family. During her seagoing days, she travelled more than 2 million km's, made 696 foreign visits and had three royal couples honeymoon on her! The lovely on-board restaurant is a spectacular spot for lunch or afternoon tea. Entrance is through the Ocean Terminal Shopping Centre.
11. National Museum of Scotland
Chambers Street EH1 1JF
Recently refurbished and ideal for a rainy day, this is a superb museum to visit to find out more about Scottish history, the natural world, science and technology and world culture. It is packed full of rare and interesting objects, artefacts and models from all around the world, including a Tyrannosaurus rex, Egyptian Coffins, the Lewis Chessmen and the mysterious Arthurʼs Seat miniature coffins.
In 2016, the Museum marked the 150th anniversary of the opening of the original Victorian building in 1866. To celebrate, the museum is opening ten new galleries to showcase over 3,000 objects and artefacts from their collections of science, technology, art, design and fashion. Also not to be missed is the roof terrace, with stunning views over the city. With great cafes and a fine-dining restaurant too (The Tower, with superb views of the Castle), this is definitely a great time to visit Scotland's fascinating national museum.
12. Our Dynamic Earth
112-116 Holyrood Gait EH8 8AS
Opened in 1999, this popular science centre was built with the purpose of fostering a better understanding of the processes that have shaped our planet Earth. Terrific for kids, there are 14 interactive galleries covering space, dinosaurs, earthquakes, volcanoes, oceans, icebergs and rainforests! There's also an excellent cafe and shop.
13. Arthurʼs Seat
Holyrood Park, Queen's Drive EH8 8HG
Like the castle rock, Arthurʼs Seat was formed by an extinct volcano and consists of a series of hills forming Holyrood Park in the city centre. The hill is just 823 feet high and is a relatively easy climb (if you’re fit*), offering fantastic panoramic views of Edinburgh and beyond. Some believe the hills are linked to the legendary King Arthur. If you're looking for some fresh air and a little breathing space, this dramatic park is the place to head for. In the summer, on the right day, the sunsets can be truly spectacular from the top.
*Note: The path is steep and rough underfoot in places and requires a reasonable level of fitness. Please consult a map of the park before attempting and stick to the designated paths. You can see a video of my visit to Arthur's Seat here: https://youtu.be/MgGy1BZcu3c
14. National Galleries of Scotland
The Mound, Princes Street EH2 2EL
The National Galleries of Scotland are spread over three different sites in the city and comprise the Scottish National Gallery on The Mound, the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art at two sites on Belford Road and the Scottish National Portrait Gallery on Queen Street. All contain an impressive collection of Scottish and international art and are highly recommended. All have excellent cafes and shops. The lower terrace of the Scottish National Gallery has lovely views over Princes Street Gardens to The Balmoral Clock Tower. Sit with a coffee and watch people go by. It's worth noting that the National Gallery on the Mound has some lockers, which is useful if you don't want to carry around bags while you explore the city.
15. Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art
75 Belford Road EH4 3DR
Opened in 1960, this superb gallery holds Scotlandʼs national collection of modern art. The Jencks landform sculpture at the front is a firm favourite. Great cafe and shop. Very popular in the summer.
16. The Scotch Whisky Experience
354 Castlehill, The Royal Mile EH1 2NE
Located near the Castle, a replica distillery will teach you all you ever wanted to know about the whisky-making process. There are several levels of whisky-tasting tours and you can even take a special course to earn the ultimate 'Certificate of Expertise'. Thereʼs also a fantastic whisky shop with over 300 different whiskies for sale!
17. The Real Mary Kingʼs Close
2 Warriston's Close, High Street, Royal Mile EH1 1PG
Located under the City Chambers on the Royal Mile, the Close was originally a number of streets, with tall tenement houses on either side which are now underground. The Close is infamous for its ghosts and strange happenings and offers a unique insight into 17th-, 18th- and 19th-century domestic and commercial life of Edinburgh. An absolute 'must-see’. It gets very busy in the height of summer so book early. If you want to continue the spooky theme, visit Scotland’s most haunted pub - The Banshee Labyrinth in nearby Niddrie Street.
18. Princes Street Gardens
These beautiful public gardens are centrally located and run parallel with Princes Street itself. They lie at the centre of Edinburgh’s World Heritage Site, between the New and Old Towns, and are the perfect place for quiet contemplation or a summer picnic with friends.
The gardens are separated into two sections; East Princes Street Gardens and West Princes Street Gardens, with the latter housing the Ross Band Stand. Highlights are the Floral Clock at The Mound, the Walter Scott Monument (east), the Ross Fountain (west), Wojtek the 'Soldier Bear' memorial (west) and, of course, great views of the castle.
19. The Scott Monument, Princes Street Gardens
East Princes Street Gardens EH2 2EJ
The Scott Monument (c.1840) is the largest monument to a writer in the world and is found in East Princes Street Gardens. Commemorating one of Scotlandʼs greatest writers, Sir Walter Scott, it is 200 feet tall with 287 steps (over four levels) to the top. The monument is adorned with 64 characters from his novels, alongside statues of several Scottish poets. With fantastic views over the city, the climb to the top is certainly worth the effort. If you're nervous of heights and confined spaces, be warned, this may not be for you! There is a small charge which goes towards its maintenance.
20. The Archivists’ Garden
General Register House, 2 Princes Street, Edinburgh EH1 3YY
In 2010, a very special hidden garden, called the Archivists’ Garden, was opened in a courtyard behind General Register House on Princes Street. Thousands of people walk past it every day and never even know it’s there. Don’t be one of them, because it’s simply wonderful.
The garden was designed and created by David Mitchell, curator of the Royal Botanic Garden, with each plant species connected to the national records of Scotland in some way, either through birth, death, marriage, folklore or heraldry. It’s a great place to hide away from the hustle and bustle of Princes Street and catch your breath for a while. You can also grab a tea or coffee in the main building, or even explore your Scottish ancestry in Scotland's People Centre. This significant and meaningful garden is entered through the courtyard gates at West Register Street (next to the Guildford Arms pub) or though General Registrar House itself. Don’t miss it! Admission is free.
21. Museum of Edinburgh in Huntly House
142 Canongate, Royal Mile EH8 8DD
If you want to learn more about the city of Edinburgh, its early origins, people, politics, architecture and history, then you must visit the Edinburgh Museum on the Royal Mile. It is a shame that people often miss it, because it's a bit of a hidden gem.
22. Surgeons’ Hall Museums
Surgeons Hall, Nicolson Street EH8 9DW
These fascinating medical museums are owned by the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, which was founded in 1505. They contain one of the largest collections of surgical pathology in the world and comprise the Wohl Pathology Museum, the History of Surgery Museum and The Dental Collection. The museum started life as a teaching museum for medical students, but has been open to the public since 1832. There are literally hundreds of years worth of 'natural and artificial curiosities' to be seen, many of which can seem a little gruesome for the squeamish! If you're interested in medicine and biology, you'll find this place utterly fascinating.
23. The water of Leith Walkway and Visitor Centre
24 Lanark Road, Slateford EH14 1TQ
If you’d like some time away from the bustle of the city centre, head for the Water of Leith Visitor Centre in Slateford, a few miles west of the city centre. The centre itself is home to a good interactive exhibition, cafe and shop, where you can find out all about the river’s history and wildlife.
The river walkway itself starts in Balerno and winds its way through the city finally finishing in Leith. There are lots of different sections to the walkway that can be enjoyed on their own, a particular favourite being the stretch between Roseburn and Stockbridge, which takes about 45 minutes. If you want a little peace and solitude, this wonderful, hidden walkway is the place to head. In recent years, otters have returned to the river and you can even fish for trout - who’d have thought you could catch them in the middle of the city!
24. The Water of Leith and St Bernardʼs Well
Upper Dean Terrace, Stockbridge EH3 6TS
A popular spot on the river is St Bernardʼs Well at Stockbridge - a small, circular Roman temple to which the Victorians flocked to enjoy the medicinal properties of its mineral water. A big visitor attraction in its day, the Victorians would 'take the waters' to improve their health and well-being. The temple was designed by Alexander Nasmyth in 1789 and the statue inside is of Hygieia, the Greek goddess of health, cleanliness and sanitation. While there, take a walk through Stockbridge which has some excellent independent shopping and cafes. Here's a video I shot on Stockbridge, which includes St Bernard's Well and the Water of Leith: https://youtu.be/F5lcOIAG_d8
25. The Dean Village
Dean Path, EH4 3BE
If you're looking for a quiet little oasis in the heart of the city, then look no further than the picturesque Dean Village, just 10 minutes' walk from Princes Street. The village is located on the banks of the Water of Leith, a site which gives a clue as to its former industrial past - milling. The water mills that once stood here are largely gone, but you can still see the odd millstone and plaques if you look in the right places. The buildings are just lovely and no more so than the recently restored Well Court. Also of note is Thomas Telford's impressive 'Dean Bridge' and St Bernard's Well (see earlier entry). Here's a video I made exploring this beautiful village: https://youtu.be/hbvqbn0AP9g
26. Greyfriars Kirk and Greyfriars Bobby
Greyfriars Place EH1 2QQ
Belonging to the Church of Scotland, this wonderful Old Town church and graveyard is easily located next to the National Museum of Scotland, just a few minutes' walk from the Grassmarket.
The Kirk is very beautiful, and the atmospheric graveyard the resting place of some of Edinburgh’s most prominent citizens including Robert Adam, James Hutton and Mary Erskine. It’s also one of the few places you can see an original copy of the National Covenant, which was famously signed in the Kirk in 1638.
The Covenantersʼ Prison is particularly atmospheric and well worth exploring the history of. The kirkyard is home to some of the best-documented paranormal activity in the world. Take a tour if you dare and see why (try www.cityofthedeadtours.com). The church, the Greyfriars Museum and shop are open Monday to Saturday between April and October. It is also a concert venue and may be closed at certain times of the year.
The graveyard is also the final resting place of one of the most famously loyal dogs in the world - Greyfriars Bobby. Bobby was a small, black Skye Terrier who worked for an Edinburgh policeman called John Gray. They developed a very strong bond, resulting in Bobby keeping vigil to his master's grave for an astonishing 14 years until his own death in 1872.
There is a bronze statue of Bobby located just outside the kirk (opposite the museum), which is very popular with animal lovers from all around the world. Despite some poetic licence over the years, Bobby’s story is very touching and an enduring testament to the extraordinarily strong bond that can exist between man and dog. The Greyfriars Bobby book is highly recommended. Here's a wee video guide I made to The Grassmarket and Greyfriars Kirk: https://youtu.be/8WKUu67C57I
27. St Giles' Cathedral
High Street, Royal Mile EH1 1RE
St Giles' is easily located on the Royal Mile, a block down from the Castle. The Chapel of the Order of the Thistle is undoubtedly a highlight here, as is the majestic organ and stained glass windows. This is a very serene and peaceful church to visit and it's worth taking a seat for five minutes to catch your breath and take in the tranquil, calming surroundings. An absolute must is to book one of the roof-top tours of the Cathedral. The views are fantastic and you'll see a perspective of Edinburgh not many people get to see. If you need some refreshment, don't forget to visit the Cathedral cafe which offers light snacks, coffee and cakes.
28. St Cuthbertʼs Parish Church and Cemetery
5 Lothian Road EH1 2EP
Located at the west end of Princes Street, this is a beautiful church, with an incredibly atmospheric graveyard, offering good views of the castle. The next-door St John's Church on Princes Street has a staggeringly beautiful vaulted ceiling, alongside some inspiring stained glass windows that are well worth a look. Too often missed by visitors which is a great pity.
29. The Writersʼ Museum
Lady Stair's Close, Lawnmarket, Royal Mile EH1 2PA
Located just off the Royal Mile in Lady Stair's House, this wonderful museum celebrates the lives of three of Scotlands greatest writers - Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson. If you're interested in Scottish literature, you'll find this museum fascinating.
30. Calton Hill, The Collective Gallery and Lookout Restaurant
Waterloo Place EH7 5AA
Located off Waterloo Place, at the east end of Princes Street, Calton Hill is the place to go for fantastic views of the city, especially at dusk. Highlights here include the City Observatory, the Nelson Monument, the National Monument and the Dugald Stewart Monument.
Not to be missed is a wonderful new gallery and restaurant, The Collective and The Lookout Restaurant, respectively, which has just opened in the old Observatory building. As well as wonderful artwork, the superb restaurant has amazing panoramic views over Edinburgh. If you can’t manage the steps from Waterloo Place just follow the footpath directly ahead and you’ll get to the top in 5-10 minutes. It's worth noting that there's a public toilet directly underneath the Lookout Restaurant which costs 50p.
I often grab a coffee & cake from the kiosk located at the entrance to The Collective and go and find somewhere quiet to take in the great views of the city, which can look spectacular if you wait for sunset. Here's a video I shot all about Calton Hill and the new Collective Gallery: https://youtu.be/FMW18HzDfUo
31. City Art Centre and Cafe
2 Market Street, City Centre EH1 1DE
A great Edinburgh art gallery with interesting collections from all over the world. Close to Waverley Station in Market Street. Thereʼs also a really good cafe and shop. If you’re a keen art lover this should be near the top of your list, with exhibitions coming and going throughout the year.
The Scotsman Steps - Work No. 1059
While you're there, check out the nearby Scotsman Steps which link Market Street to North Bridge. The entrance is directly opposite Waverley Station. They're rather wonderful and one of Edinburgh's hidden art installations. The steps were overhauled by Turner Prize-winning artist Martin Creed and called 'Work No. 1059'. Each of the marble steps is different and represents "all the colours and peoples of the world". If you look hard, you might be able to spot a fossil in one of the steps!
Still - Old Old Saint Paul's Episcopal Church
After that, I can also recommend visiting the beautiful Old Saint Paul's Episcopal Church at 39 Jeffrey Street which contains the serenely beautiful painting 'Still' by Alison Watt which was installed during the 2004 Edinburgh International Festival. This is truly one of Edinburgh's best-hidden gems and rarely visited.
32. Museum on the Mound
The Mound EH1 1YZ
Just a few minutes' walk from Princes Street, this fascinating museum on The Mound charts the history of money, including its design, artwork, trade and security. Here you can see what a million pounds actually looks like and even crack a safe! Free admission.
33. Camera Obscura and World of Illusions
Castlehill, The Royal Mile EH1 2ND
Located on the Royal Mile near the Castle, the Camera Obscura is the place to go for the most unique views of the city, eye-popping illusions, optical tricks and 3D holograms. Don’t forget to see the Camera Obscura itself which was built over 150 years ago! A magical place and lots of fun for the whole family. Here's a video guide I made of the Obscura: https://youtu.be/MrqDdzu8bB8
34. Museum of Childhood
42 High Street, The Royal Mile EH1 1TG
Located on the Royal Mile, this is a fascinating museum for both children and adults. Children can learn about growing up in years gone by and adults can get nostalgic about their own childhoods. Exhibitions include everything from toys, dolls, teddy bears and games to schooling, Victorian streets, clothing, health and holidays. Don’t miss the wonderful Stanbrig Eorls doll's house with its exquisite miniature furniture. Free admission (please make a donation).
35. The Scottish Storytelling Centre
43-45 High Street, Royal Mile EH1 1SR
Located on the Royal Mile next to the historic 15th-century John Knox house, this entertaining centre hosts live storytelling, theatre, music and family events all year round. Good cafe and bookshop. Free admission. A great place to take children and ideal for a rainy day.
36. John Knox House
43-45 High Street, Royal Mile EH1 1SR
John Knox House and the adjoining Moubray House are the only surviving medieval buildings on the Royal Mile, making them very special places indeed. The house dates back to 1470 and although the famous Protestant reformer, John Knox, only stayed there a short while, it was his association with the building that saved it from certain demolition. The house is the perfect place to learn all about the Scottish Reformation and the resulting civil war, which were to change Scotland forever. Don’t forget to see the fascinating contents of a time capsule which was hidden in the house in the 1800s. There is a small charge to visit.
37. Gladstone’s Land
477b Lawnmarket, Royal Mile EH1 2NT
Named after the wealthy occupier of this fascinating 17th-century tenement house, Thomas Gledstanes, this is a great way to see how people lived in the 1600s in Edinburgh when it was both cramped and overcrowded. Each room is authentically recreated, with the highlights being the elegantly painted chamber and the wool merchant’s shop. The museum belongs to the National Trust and there is a small admission charge.
38. The People's Story Museum
Canongate Tolbooth, Royal Mile EH8 8BN
This fascinating museum on the Royal Mile, located in the Canongate Tolbooth, explores how people worked and used their leisure time in Edinburgh from the 18th-century to the present day. The Tolbooth itself dates back to 1591 and was formerly used as a court, a prison and for burgh administration. Highlights include a former jail, a bookbinder’s workshop and a wartime kitchen. Admission is free.
39. Dunbar’s Close Garden
Canongate, High Street EH8 8BW
The Royal Mile is famous for its closes and there are many that will surprise and delight you on further exploration. However, one of the best surprises is to be found down Dunbar’s Close - a wonderful formal garden that even many locals don’t know about! The garden dates back to the 17th century and is named after David Dunbar, who owned tenements on either side of the close. Today's garden was originally created by Sir Patrick Geddes, an eminent biologist who believed in the health benefits of the outdoors. The garden was saved from neglect in the 1970s by the Mushroom Trust, who eventually gifted it to the City of Edinburgh Council - its present-day guardian. A true hidden treasure that’s perfect for some quiet contemplation and recharging your batteries.
Dunbar’s Close is located off the Canongate (lower part of Royal Mile), immediately next to the Ye Olde Christmas Shoppe (opposite Starbucks). Admission is free.
40. The Georgian House
7 Charlotte Square, City Centre EH2 4DR
Situated in the New Town’s Charlotte Square, this elegant 18th-century townhouse was built by Robert Adam and is now owned by the National Trust. The house was restored in the 1970s and today houses a fine collection of period furniture, artwork and decoration from the late 18th to early 19th centuries. Visiting is a great way to see what life was like for the New Town’s wealthy citizens in the late 18th century. There is a small admission charge.
41. Mansfield Traquair
15 Mansfield Place EH3 6BB
A hidden delight, located just a few minutes walk from the east end of Princes Street, this former church and now wedding/party venue, is known for its beautiful painted murals and stained glass windows. The joyous arts and crafts murals are by Irish artist, Phoebe Anna Traquair, who took nearly eight years to complete them! This former church really is beautiful, earning it the accolade 'Edinburgh’s Sistine Chapel'. Opening times are very limited. It's accessible to the public only once a month (second Sunday of the month) and for a few hours a day during the Edinburgh Festival in August. The excellent tours are the best way to fully appreciate this lovely building. Now run by the Mansfield Traquair Trust, please make a donation.
42. Edinburgh Gin Distillery
1a Rutland Place EH1 2AD
Located in the west end at Rutland Place, this is the perfect place for gin lovers to see how gin is actually distilled. The distillery operates two stills, called ‘Flora’ and ‘Caledonia’, with the results easily sampled in the stylish Heads & Tales Bar, which also serves great wine and cocktails. Whilst there, take the guided tour and tasting session and then indulge yourself in the shop and take a taste of Edinburgh home with you!
43. Summerhall Arts & Exhibition Space
1 Summerhall EH9 1PL
Located next to The Meadows park, Summerhall is one of Edinburgh’s newest arts and exhibition spaces. As a creative hub for the arts it’s still organically developing, which gives it an edge that's vibrant and an alternative feel. Formerly Edinburgh University’s veterinary school, the building is a fascinating warren of old corridors and rooms that are interesting to see in themselves. The exhibitions change regularly and whether they’ll be your cup of tea will be simply down to chance. Well worth a look and with a good little cafe/bar to recharge your batteries. A thriving venue during the Edinburgh Festival.
44. Dr Neil’s Garden
Old Church Lane, Duddingston Village EH15 3PX
This fabulous garden, located in Duddingston, is often called Edinburgh’s secret garden. It’s the creation of husband-and-wife team Drs Andrew and Nancy Neil, who ran a medical practice in close-by Meadowbank. They began work on the garden in 1963 and enjoyed collecting plants from their travels all around Europe.
The garden slopes down gently to the banks of Duddingston Loch and is a haven of peace and tranquillity. The Doctors realised the therapeutic benefits of the garden and would encourage their patients to enjoy it to improve their well-being. Sadly, they both passed away in 2005 and the garden is now in the safe hands of Dr Neil’s Garden Trust.
The Doctors are remembered by the creation of a small Physic Garden which beautifully fuses their interests in medicine and horticulture. The garden is open all year round and free to visit. An excellent wee cafe is open Spring and Summer (check website). Please do make a donation, as the garden relies on its friends to keep it going. Edinburgh needs special places like this garden to survive and thrive.
45. The Royal Observatory, Edinburgh
Blackford Hill EH9 3HJ
Located on Blackford Hill, this fascinating observatory opened in 1896 and now specialises in astronomical research and university teaching. They also develop cameras and other cutting-edge technology for some of the world’s leading telescopes. The visitor centre is well worth a visit and you may even be allowed to handle some seriously old meteors. The Winter Astronomy Evenings and Talks are particularly worth attending. The views of Edinburgh from the hill and terrace make the climb to get to the observatory very worthwhile.
46. Cramond Village
Cramond Village EH4 6NU
A well-preserved seaside village, with a charming harbour, where the River Almond enters the Firth of Forth. Cramond Island, in the Firth of Forth, is well worth walking out to along the raised causeway (but do watch the tides and consult the tidal times board, as it’s very easy to get stranded!). Have a coffee or something to eat at the lovely Waterside Cramond Falls Cafe (10 School Brae EH4 6JN) and then take a gentle stroll along the river to the harbour. A great way to while away an afternoon.
My video on Cramond Village: https://youtu.be/8nyauHkD8Rw
My video on Cramond Island: https://youtu.be/ASl-UNqci-E
47. Portobello Beach
Portobello Promenade EH15 1HE
The Edinburgh suburb of Portobello used to be a distinct town until the 1900s and today still retains much of its own character and identity. The beach is just a few miles from the city centre and is extremely popular in the summer for picnics and bathing. There are a couple of miles of golden-white sandy beach and a traditional promenade where you can find excellent bars, cafes (try the Beach House), soft play areas and amusements. If it’s warm, and you want to get out of the city, then head here for a leisurely walk and some reinvigorating sea air.
48. Gilmerton Cove
16 Drum Street, Gilmerton EH17 8QH
Located in Gilmerton, Gilmerton Cove remains one of Edinburgh’s most mysterious places. The Cove consists of an underground corridor with numerous hand-carved rooms either side. It’s a very atmospheric and mysterious place and, as yet, nobody knows the reason for its existence. There is a great little visitor centre, in a traditional mining cottage, which explores the theories behind its creation and use. Some say it was a drinking den for Edinburgh’s gentry, while others think it was used by smugglers. Visit and see what you think!
49. The Edinburgh Dungeon
31 Market Street, City Centre EH1 1DF
Located in Market Street in the city centre, the Dungeon is a great place to go for some family fun and entertainment (recommended for eight years upwards). Ideal if it’s a rainy wet day in Edinburgh. The journey takes you through 1,000 years of Scotland’s most ‘horrible’ history and lasts around 80 minutes. There’s a full cast of actors that act as your guides. It’s a great way to learn a little about Scottish history and have a lot of fun and laughs along the way.
50. St Mary's Cathedral
Palmerston Place EH12 5AW
Located in the west end at Palmerston Place, St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott and consecrated in 1879. It is Scotland’s largest cathedral and now the only one to have daily choral worship. This is a beautiful and serene place and well worth a visit. Highlights undoubtedly include the stunning High Altar, the kaleidoscope-like Paolozzi Window and the extraordinary Rood Cross, built as part of the National War Memorial. Tours are available. Please make a donation.
51. Lauriston Castle
2a Cramond Road South, Davidson's Mains EH4 5QD
This is a handsome property in beautiful grounds (particularly the Japanese Garden) that remains one of Edinburgh’s hidden pleasures. The garden was designed by William Henry Playfair and is free to visit, with great views over the Firth of Forth. The interior of the house is particularly attractive and remains just as it was in the 1920s when the last owner left. Tours are available of the house itself. There’s a great wee cafe for refreshments open in Spring and Summer. Please always check the website before visiting, as the property has limited opening November to March.
ATTRACTIONS OUTWITH THE CITY
52. Hopetoun House, South Queensferry
South Queensferry EH30 9SL
Hopetoun House is located at South Queensferry, just a 30-minute drive from Edinburgh. Situated in 6,500 acres, Hopetoun House is Scotlandʼs finest stately home and has plenty to offer, from picturesque woodland walks and cycle trails to clay pigeon shooting, tours around the house, a terrific tearoom and a great farm shop. Thereʼs also a Ranger Service organising activities throughout the year and you can even get married there (like I did to my lovely wife!).
53. Craigmillar Castle
Craigmillar Castle Road EH16 4SY
Craigmillar Castle is one of my favourite Scottish castles and one of the first I visited as a child. This ruined medieval fortification is located about four miles south-east of the city centre and isn’t visited as much as it should be. The Castle's most famous resident, Mary, Queen of Scots, loved this place.
There’s lots of atmospheric passageways, secret chambers, spiral stairways and levels to explore (fabulous for kids) and the views from the roof towards the city are terrific. The grounds are also well kept and perfect for summer picnics. There is something rather deep and soulful about this ruin, which makes it a 'must visit' in my eyes. Do look out for the rather unusual fish pond and the enchanting courtyard. Run by Historic Scotland, there is a small admission charge. Here's a video of my visit to this amazing castle: https://youtu.be/2nRWbMWwnsY
54. South Queensferry and the Forth Bridges
High Street, South Queensferry EH30 9PP
South Queensferry is a simply charming seaside town, lying just ten miles north-west of Edinburgh, on the Firth of Forth. It used to be the main crossing point for Fife before the arrival of the bridges. For a view of the iconic Forth rail and road bridges it’s a great place to go. One of the best ways to take in the view is to head for The Boat House Restaurant and enjoy a meal on their outside terrace, which directly overlooks the bridges. The town itself is very pretty and there are lots of little shops and cafes to discover. To find out more about the town and its history with the bridges, visit the Queensferry Museum at 53 High Street EH30 9HP.
The Forth bridges are among the best recognised in the world. The Forth Railway Bridge itself is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of Scotland’s most iconic landmarks. It opened in 1890 and was built by over 4,500 men. The bridge is 2.5 km long and its towers are over 100 metres high. The Forth Road Bridge opened in 1964 and is of similar length. The bridge uses almost 50,000 km of wire to suspend the road deck from its 150 m-high towers. The road bridge has been replaced by an adjacent bridge, called the Queensferry Crossing, which opened in 2016. At 2.7 km long, it is the world’s longest, three-tower, cable-stayed bridge. The former road bridge is now only open to commercial traffic, cyclists and walkers. On a beautiful summer’s evening, the three bridges make a pretty spectacular sight. Why not get some fish n’ chips with some loved one’s and enjoy seeing the sun go down?
After admiring the bridges and exploring the pretty village of South Queensferry, why not take the Maid of The Forth ferry out to the fascinating Inchcolm Island and make a day of it (see entry no. 56 below). Here's my video guide to beautiful South Queensferry: https://youtu.be/WPv5z0p1bu8
55. Rosslyn Chapel
Chapel Loan, Roslin, Midlothian EH25 9PU
A short journey of seven miles from the city centre, Rosslyn Chapel has become something of a mecca for anyone interested in the ʻmysteries of lifeʼ. Made famous by the Da Vinci Code novel, it truly is a magical place to visit. Its medieval architecture is simply spectacular. The chapel contains some of the best stone carvings in Europe, resulting in the nickname 'Tapestry in Stone'. Maybe you can decode the sequence of the 213 cubes carved in stone? A truly awe-inspiring place. There is an excellent cafe here, so you don’t have to rush away. If you have the time, take the path from the chapel down to the ruins of Roslin Castle on the banks of the North Esk. It’s quite an atmospheric, eerie place, especially in the winter gloom!
56. Inchcolm Abbey (South Queensferry)
Hawes Pier, South Queensferry EH30 9TB
Located on a small island in the Firth of Forth, Inchcolm Abbey is one of the best-preserved monastic buildings in Scotland. The Abbey dates back to the 12th century when it was settled by Augustinian Canons. Despite its tranquil and peaceful location, the island has never been far away from conflict: raids from English ships, the Napoleonic Wars and the installation of gun batteries during WWII are all part of its story. It’s a fascinating place to see and well worth taking the ferry from South Queensferry to visit. Tickets are available online, or directly from the pier on the day. Adviseable to book ahead in the summer. See www.forthtours.com for more information. Here's a video of my visit: https://youtu.be/P4LRJH50Wqk
57. Jupiter Artland
Bonnington House Steadings, Wilkieston EH27 8BB
Located ten miles west of Edinburgh city centre, near Wilkieston, this is an extraordinary contemporary sculpture park, created in the grounds of the magnificent Jacobean manor, Bonnington House. The sculptures have been carefully sited around the park and can be stumbled across in any direction you please. Some of the sculptures are very thought-provoking and, indeed, quite challenging. Popular highlights include the Cells of Life by celebrated landscape architect Charles Jencks and the colourful and surreal Love Bomb by Marc Quinn. A personal favourite of mine are the Weeping Girls by Laura Ford. There’s a good cafe and shop, so why not make an afternoon of it. It’s also worth checking their website for the talks, tours and events which take place during the open season. The park is open from the middle of May to the end of September (see website for details).
58. The Kelpies at The Helix Park (Falkirk)
The Helix, Falkirk FK2 7ZT
The Kelpies stand 30-metres high and are the world's largest 'horse' sculptures. These 'mystical water-borne equine creatures' were designed and built in steel by sculptor Andy Scott and loom majestically from the new Helix Park in Falkirk, next to the Forth and Clyde Canal. Opened to visitors in 2014, they are simply spectacular and more than merit a visit on their own, but the park itself also has lots to offer visitors. The new visitor centre has a great cafe and the Adventure Zone and Splash Play area are brilliant for kids. You can also hire pedalos, canoes and kayaks to take out on the specially built lagoon. Keen cyclists are also catered for, with a 16-mile circular route around the park and the rest of town. All in all, a great day out for the whole family.
59. Blackness Castle
Blackness, Linlithgow EH49 7NH
Although located some miles west of Edinburgh, between South Queensferry and Bo’ness, this is a great wee castle to visit, especially if you’re a fan of the TV series Outlander, which used it as one of their locations. The imposing castle was built in the 15th century by the powerful Crichton family and stands on a rocky promontory in the Firth of Forth. It largely served as a garrison fortress and prison and is great fun to explore. There's also fabulous views of the Fife coast and the Forth bridges. There is a small admission charge.
60. The Union Canal
Often overlooked, the 31-mile long Union Canal offers some wonderful walks right through the heart of the city and into the countryside beyond. Opened in 1822, the canal runs from Falkirk to Edinburgh and was built to primarily bring coal and other cargo into the city. The canal was connected by the Falkirk Wheel to the Forth and Clyde Canal in 2002, which has become a very popular attraction in itself (see www.scottishcanals.co.uk/falkirk-wheel). The canal now ends at the Lochrin Basin in Tollcross, which is a good starting point for a cycle to the village of Ratho, recently renamed the 'Canal Village'. When in Ratho, stop at The Bridge Inn restaurant for a pub lunch before heading back to the city.
61. Five Sisters Zoo
Gavieside, West Calder, West Lothian EH55 8PT
Located in West Calder, a few miles to the west of Edinburgh, The Five Sisters Zoo is a popular place to take the family for a day out. The Zoo is really a modern-day ark, placing great emphasis on education, conservation and research. There’s lots of entertainment all around the park and a good little cafe. For more information and opening times please visit their website.
62. Deep Sea World
Forthside Terrace, North Queensferry, Fife KY11 1JR
Located in North Queensferry, this is Scotlandʼs national aquarium. Itʼs only a 25-minute drive from Edinburgh and you can even swim with the sharks! Alternatively, why not take the train from Waverley or Haymarket Station and enjoy crossing the Forth Railway bridge on the way? You could make a day of it and visit beautiful South Queensferry on the way.
63. Linlithgow Palace
Kirkgate, Linlithgow, West Lothian EH49 7AL
Linlithgow Palace is situated in the attractive West Lothian town of Linlithgow, around 15 miles west of Edinburgh. It was, at one time, one of the principal royal residences in the 15th and 16th centuries, but eventually fell in to disuse with the Union of the Crowns. The Palace is surrounded by beautiful parkland and overlooks Linlithgow Loch, which is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest and teeming with birdlife. The Palace, although a ruin, is very well preserved with plenty to discover and explore. It's famously the birthplace of Mary, Queen of Scots and will keep keen historians very busy! During the summer, the adjacent medieval 15th-century St Michael's Church is also well worth a visit. The loch and parkland are a great place for bird spotting, so take a picnic and make a day of it. Open all year round with a small admission fee. Car Parking is available.
64. National Mining Museum Scotland
Lady Victoria Colliery, Newtongrange, Dalkeith EH22 4QN
This superb museum, just nine miles south of Edinburgh, was set up to preserve and protect Scotland's mining heritage and history for future generations. The museum is crammed full of original equipment and machinery, but the best part of any visit must, undoubtedly, be the guided tours through the old colliery buildings. These are given by ex-miners, who really make the tough conditions for colliery workers very real. The museum is excellent for children, with a soft play area, outdoor play and picnic areas and an excellent cafe. Access to the museum has been made very easy with the opening of the new Borders Railway (every half hour from Waverley Station).
65. Pentland Hills Regional Park, Edinburgh
Harlaw House Visitor Centre, Harlaw Road, Balerno EH14 7AS
Flotterstone Visitor Centre, Milton Bridge, Midlothian EH26 0PR
We are very lucky to have the Pentland Hills Regional Park right on our doorstep, which offers city dwellers lots of different ways to enjoy the great outdoors.
The scenery and landscape of the Pentland Hills have resonated with many famous writers and poets over the years, including Robert Louis Stevenson and Sir Walter Scott, who all felt moved to write about them. For many, one of the most surprising things about the hills is their immediate contrast to and accessibility from the city, just a few minutes' drive away. The views from the hills to the city and beyond are fantastic.
The Park is run and managed by the City of Edinburgh Council who employ Countryside Rangers to help conserve and protect the park. Their role is very varied, but perhaps one of their most important tasks is to help inform and educate all those who visit the park. You can even become a Voluntary Park Ranger and work alongside the full-time rangers.
The geology of the hills is also of interest. Unbelievably, the oldest rocks in the Pentlands were actually created under the sea by mud, silt and sand, which were lifted up to create the land when two continents collided. Further rocks were produced by volcanos and you can still find these volcanic rocks amongst the higher peaks. The shape of the hills we see today were created during the ice age, when glaciers slowly ground the tops of the hills and the meltwater eroded the glens and cleughs.
The Pentland Hills are very much a working landscape, with sheep and cattle reared for food production. You can even buy Pentland Hills produce direct from the farmers. 'Pentland Hills Produce' can be bought at most farmers' markets in the Lothians and at an annual harvest event in the Park itself. There is no end of recreational activities on offer in the hills, including walking, cycling, mountain biking, fishing, horse riding, orienteering and camping.
With so many lovely routes and trails available throughout the park, thereʼs something for everyone. My personal favourite walks are The Nine Mile Burn and a walk around Harlaw Reservoir with the dog. For more information about the Park, please visit www.pentlandhills.org.
Here's a video of The Pentlands during the Winter: https://youtu.be/DQ92OgWI5xw
I hope you've found this guide to some of my favourite Edinburgh visitor attractions helpful. It's by no means a comprehensive list and I will endeavour to add to it when I can. If you'd like a private tour of any of the places mentioned in this guide please get in touch.
Author: David Wheater
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