Updated on January 25, 2023 by Axel Hernborg

Axel Hernborg

Being both the political and economic capital of Scotland, as well as being one of the oldest large cities in the country, it’s perhaps no surprise that Edinburgh is such a popular place for tourists.

Not just from the rest of the United Kingdom, but also the rest of the world to visit when traveling to Scotland. Edinburgh is the second most visited city in the entire United Kingdom, behind only London itself!

And, being such a massive tourist hub for so many visitors, you would expect there to be no shortage of things to do in the national capital of such a beautiful and proud corner of the British Isles. And you’d be right!

There’s so much to see and do in just this city alone when visiting, that it can often feel overwhelming to try and create a schedule to see as much of it as possible.

Fortunately, we are here to help take some of that tartan-themed burden off of your shoulders, by showing you a select list of some of the most popular and interesting sights that you can see while you are in Edinburgh.

From cultural to historical to commercial, we’ve got your itinerary covered here!

Edinburgh Castle

So, aside from simply taking in the old Georgian streets of this beautiful city as you wander around, what should be the first thing that should be on your Itinerary when visiting Edinburgh?

Why, Edinburgh castle, of course!

Quotes possibly THE most visited attraction in the city, Edinburgh castle sits on the appropriately-named Castle Rock that overlooks much of the city, making it a key feature of the city’s skyline and imagery.

After all, who doesn’t love a majestic castle on a hill peak, overlooking its domain?

Romantic imagery aside, Edinburgh castle has also been the home of many Scottish kings and queens over the years and is also the oldest Scottish home the royal Crown Jewels, or the Honours of Scotland, which are still held in the castle for visitors to see for themselves (if you’re looking for a wilder experience, check out our guide to wild camping).

And, of course, we can’t mention Edinburgh Castle without at least giving a shoutout to the One o’clock cannon that is fired on the hour every day (not on Sundays).

It’s probably one of the few places in Western Europe where you’ll find a cannon being fired as part of a routine, making this already incredible castle experience just that much more unique!

National Museum Of Scotland

Of course, Scotland, despite what some people around the world may believe, is not simply an extension of England and the United Kingdom when it comes to history and culture.

The country has a vibrant history all of its own, and it is one that you can find plenty to draw you in within the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh!

With over 20,000 artifacts being stored in the museum, as well as a massive amount of time places being covered in this attraction, from Scotland’s history of technological innovations to Ancient Egyptian architecture, there’s something for everyone here.

Plus, admission is free, so it won’t cost you a penny to visit (unless you would like to donate, of course), making this the perfect activity to add to an itinerary if your normal plans are interrupted by rain.

And let’s be real: It’s Scotland, so there’s going to be rain at some point during your visit! So why not make the most of the shelter this museum has to offer?

Things To Do In Edinburgh On Your Trip

Princes Street

Of course, not every stop in a city has to be about trundling around a museum and looking at old items that you may or may not be interested in.

Sometimes, just as much about that experience is going to the vendors and stores that you can find there, too. In York, it is the Shambles. In London, it’s Covent Garden and Camden Town.

In Edinburgh, you’ll find that some of the best shops to go to can be found on Princes Street.

Running right through the heart of the city, this has been a major hub of activity as far back as 1770, and it continues that strong tradition to this day with the many highly sought-after and recognized high street stores that you’ll find here, from restaurants to bars to shops.

Of course, after being in the center of an old city for several hundred years, Princes Street is home to its fair share of history and historical monuments, from art galleries that you find dotted up and down the street, to the Scott moment.

There’s even a gorgeous view of Edinburgh Castle from Princes Street, perched on Castle Rock and above the rest of the neoclassical and Georgian architecture.

This should be on your to-do list, no matter the weather.

A Hike Up Arthur’s Seat

Scotland is just as much held in high regard for its natural beauty and landmarks as much as it is for its culture. And there is perhaps no better proof of that in Edinburgh than at Arthur’s Seat.

Located in Holyrood Park (itself a gorgeous place to go hiking and sightseeing), Arthur’s seat is the main peak of the volcano that makes up the hills that are dotted across Edinburgh and give it its hilly and elevated character, including Castle Rock and where Edinburgh castle is located.

However, the volcano has long since gone extinct, the hot magma and rock that made it some 300 million years ago have long since vanished, and time and the elements have carved the volcano and crater into the iconic hills of Edinburgh.

Arthur’s Seat just so happens to have stayed the tallest, giving climbers and hikers not only a relatively easy, though still thorough hike to climb, also giving visitors an amazing panoramic view of Edinburgh and the surrounding countryside.

If you’re looking for the best view of the city, then you owe it to yourself to check out Arthur’s Seat for yourself.

Plus, Holyrood park is a great hiking spot on its own!

Holyrood Palace

Of course, being the home of the Scottish Crown Jewels, the British Royal Family is going to have at least a few properties dotted around Edinburgh. Perhaps the most beautiful and famous is Holyrood castle.

Located just a stone’s throw away from Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace has been the official Scottish residency of the British Monarchy since it was built in 1678, benign made after the previous official royal residencies either fell into ruin or disrepair in the previous centuries.

The palace itself has been well-maintained to cut the same image that it would have at the height of its use in the 17th century, from the interior halls, to even the State departments that still see use by the Royals when they are staying in the palace.

And, as any good museum should have, there is a café in the palace for you to refresh and relax in once you are finished!

Calton Hill & The National Monument

As we mentioned before, Edinburgh is built on the formation of an old super volcano that has long since gone extinct, leaving its peak to be worn down by erosion and time into the many iconic hills that the city now sits on, many of them with their storied history and sights to see.

Calton Hill is one of these many hills and is another great spot to get a panoramic view of the entire city from its peak.

Viewing the sunrise from the top of this hill, with the shadowed light of early morning Edinburgh in the foreground conjures up images of classic paintings and romantic walks with partners and loved ones.

The UNESCO World Heritage Site, like many others, is also home to many amazing monuments, including the National Monument that you can find on the hill, which itself is inspired by the Parthenon in Athens.

If you are staying in Edinburgh around New Year’s Eve, Calton hill is also one of the best places to get a great view of Edinburgh’s New Year firework display too!

Camera Obscura

Staying on Calton Hill, and perhaps the oldest tourist attraction that you’ll find in Edinburgh, the Camera Obscura was first opened in 1835 and is a feast for the eyes and mind for those people that love illusions and tricks.

With everything from a mirror maze (the bane and favorite of many confused and bumped children across the world), to an Ames shrinking room, to a vortex tunnel, this museum dedicated to the art of misdirection is a real trip for both grown-ups and kids alike!

Plus, the free-to-use telescope that you can find on the roof of the attraction makes this a great place to stop by for people that want a great view of the rest of the city!

Final Thoughts

So, there you have it!

Scotland’s capital, perhaps unsurprisingly, is full of incredible sites to see and things to experience for yourself, whether you’re there for shopping, or just absorbing the wealth of history and culture that can be found here.

All you need to do now is find your favorites, and start searching!

10 BEST Things To Do In Edinburgh  | What To Do In Edinburgh