15 Things To Do In Edinburgh If You Are Visiting For The First Time

Spending your vacation in Edinburgh? If it’s your first time to visit Scotland’s capital city, you’ll want to maximize your holiday time and enjoy everything that this beautiful place has to offer. Here are some of the ways you can do this:

15. Ride the hop-on, hop-off bus

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There are two ways to explore Edinburgh: walk around or ride the bus. If you’re short on time, you’ll want to pick the latter. Fortunately, the city has several open-top tour buses that let you hop on from your hotel, hop off at the attraction you’d like to visit, and hop back on again. Just make sure to buy the right ticket and choose a route that passes by where you’re staying.

14. Visit Edinburgh Castle

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If you have time to check out just one attraction, you’ll want to choose Edinburgh Castle. It dominates the skyline and has become synonymous with the city itself, and it’s one of the most popular sights to visit in the area. Time your visit to the castle so you can be there for the One O’Clock Gun, which started in 1861 as a way to help ships track the time but is now fired simply for tradition.

13. Explore the Palace of Holyrood House

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This is the official residence of British monarch and has housed many historical figures over the years, including Mary, Queen of Scots. You can go on the self-guided audiotour and check out the Royal Apartments, the Queen’s Gallery, the gardens, and other areas. Just remember that you’re not allowed to take photos inside the palace, although you can take selfies on the grounds.

12. Learn more about Sir Walter Scott

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Whether you’re a big fan of Sir Walter Scott or not, you’ll want to visit Edinburgh’s tributes to the most famous Scottish literary figure. In fact, the city has the Scott Monument, which is considered to be the world’s biggest monument to a writer. Check out the museum dedicated to Scott, then climb up to the top to see great views of the city.

11. People-watch from one of the cafes

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There are lots of cafes on the Royal Mile and even outside of it, so you’ll have a wide range of options to choose from. Pick a cafe that catches your fancy, order a cup of your favorite java or tea, and spend a few minutes or even a couple of hours watching people go by and just enjoying the atmosphere.

10. Attend a festival

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This actually depends on when you’ll visit. If you’re vacationing in Edinburgh in August, you’ll most likely catch at least one of the its 12 major festivals. These include the Edinburgh Art Festival, the Edinburgh International Book Festival, and the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. Just a warning: the city is usually packed with visitors during August’s festival season, so wear your most comfortable outfit and be prepared to tackle large crowds!

9. Have fun at Camera Obscura and World of Illusions

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This is a wonderful place to visit for both kids and grownups and will surely keep you enchanted for hours. This attraction comes with optical illusions and hologram exhibitions as well as old and new pictures of Edinburgh that will help you study how the city evolved through time. It also has a camera obscura, which lets you see live images of Edinburgh transmitted on a viewing table, as well as a rooftop with powerful telescopes you can use for free.

8. Go back in time at Mary King’s Close

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If you want to learn more about Edinburgh’s history, you can start by visiting Mary King’s Close. This used to be one of the busiest streets in the city during the medieval times, although it became hidden over the years due to construction work in the 19th century. Taking a tour through the old street will give you a glimpse into what life was like in the 16th century up to the 1800s.

7. Say hi to Greyfriar’s Bobby

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Whether you love dogs or just need a heartwarming story, Greyfriar’s Bobby should be on your must-visit list. This attraction commemorates a terrier named Bobby, who sat by his owner’s grave for 14 years before he himself passed away. Visit Bobby’s statue (it’s near the National Museum of Scotland), then head over to the Greyfriar’s Kirkyard to see the graves of Bobby and his owner.

6. Sample Scottish delicacies

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Your visit to Edinburgh won’t be complete without tasting the delicious treats that the city has to offer! One of the things you should try is haggis, which is made of sheep heart, lungs, and liver and is served with mashed potatoes and turnips (aka neeps and tatties). You’ll also want to sample some cranachan, a type of dessert made with honey, whiskey, raspberries, whipped cream, and toasted oatmeal.

5. Stretch your hiking muscles

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Even though it’s a city, Edinburgh offers several hiking opportunities through beautiful countryside. If you’re up for a challenge, Arthur’s Seat is the best choice for you. This volcanic remnant has a steep slope, but the effort is worth it since you’ll be rewarded with fantastic views of the city. Calton Hill is another great choice; it’s an easy climb and has a collection of buildings and monuments that make it look similar to Athens’ Acropolis.

4. Hang out with JK Rowling

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Okay, we’re kidding. While we can’t guarantee that you’ll see JK Rowling in Edinburgh, you can visit the places she used to frequent. One of these is the Spoon cafe, which used to be Nicolson’s Cafe and was where Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book. Others include The Elephant House, which was where the later HP books were written, and the Balmoral Hotel, where Rowling finished the seventh novel in the series.

3. Get on board the Royal Yacht Britannia

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This sea vessel has accompanied the Queen and the Royal Family on many trips around the world and has traveled more than a million nautical miles. It was retired in 1997 and is now permanently berthed in the Port of Leith. Take the tour to see the Queen’s Bedroom, the State Dining and Drawing Rooms, and the room that Prince Charles and Princess Diana shared during their honeymoon.

2. Take a whiskey tour

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Edinburgh is home to The Scotch Whiskey Experience, which is a popular option among whiskey lovers and even among those who are just looking for a new adventure. By taking the tour, you’ll get to learn more about how whiskey is made, explore the largest whiskey collection in the world, and even go on a whiskey barrel ride. Of course, you can enjoy a whiskey tasting session!

1. Check out the gardens

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If you want to commune with nature, Edinburgh has a selection of public gardens for you to choose from. The Princes Street Gardens, for instance, is near the Scott Monument and is often the site of outdoor events. The Royal Botanic Garden, meanwhile, is located just outside the city center and has more than 270,000 plants, including exotic ones like Victoria amazonica aka giant water lilies.

Include these in your itinerary to make your Edinburgh vacation fun and memorable!

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