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Unlock the Enchanting Charms of Edinburgh: A Guide to the Scottish Capital (in pictures)

Edinburgh's enchanting blend of landscapes and architectural treasures makes it a must-visit destination for travelers seeking both natural beauty and cultural delights. In our most recent adventure, we spent three nights in this wonderful city where ancient stories merged seamlessly with the contemporary. From exploring centuries-old castles and traversing cobblestone streets to immersing yourself in beautiful Scottish culture, Edinburgh offers a captivating experience like no other.

The Edinburgh Castle
The Edinburgh Castle

Let's start with the basics.


Is Scotland part of the UK?

The United Kingdom (UK) is made up of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. So, yes, Scotland is a UK-constituent country.

The heart on this map is where Edinburgh is located in the UK.
The heart on this map is where Edinburgh is located in the UK.

Do you need a visa to travel to Scotland?

Any visa you have for the UK covers visiting Scotland too. If you don't need a visa to enter the UK, then the same rules extend to Scotland.

How to get to Edinburgh:

By air, with an international airport serving various destinations.

By trains - Train service is great if you are traveling from another part of UK. The train station is conveniently located in the middle of all the action.


Whats the best time to visit Edinburgh?

June through August, when days are long! This season is especially ideal for art enthusiasts as it coincides with the renowned Edinburgh Fringe, a three-week extravaganza held in August.


What is the local currency in Edinburgh?

The local currency in Edinburgh is the British Pound (GBP). Credit cards are accepted. If you have a Visa or Mastercard, you should be good! AMEX is not accepted everywhere. If you are withdrawing cash, get it from a local Edinburgh bank / ATM.


Is the city good for those with walking difficulties?

Please wear flat, comfortable shoes as you will be walking a lot! There are a lot of up and down alleyways, too many steep stairs and cobblestone streets in Old Town where all the tourist attractions are! But New Town is easier and mostly flat. Bus service is good, taxis are available and these modes of transportation can get you pretty close to the major tourist attractions.

Old Town Cobblestone street in Edinburgh. Photo by Jim Divine on Unsplash
Old Town Cobblestone street in Edinburgh. Photo by Jim Divine on Unsplash

Where to stay in Edinburgh - Old or New Town?

I personally prefer Old Town for its charm but if you like shopping, new and sparkling, and flat ground, New Town is the way to go. Old Town is certainly more touristy, castle and all.



Scroll down now for a deeper dive that can help you plan your travel.



THINGS TO DO IN EDINBURGH


To explore Edinburgh's stunning hills, to take in the breathtaking views, to explore the splendid mix of architecture, and to experience the city's vibrant culture, here are our top experiences that any visitor to this magical city should consider:


Participate in a Ceilidh (pronounced "kay-lee")

The word "ceilidh" itself means a social gathering or party in Gaelic. Ceilidhs are lively gatherings where people come together to dance, socialize, and enjoy traditional Scottish music. The atmosphere is friendly and inclusive, and no experience is required to join in as a dance caller guides you through the steps. This is a great way to experience the joy of traditional Scottish dancing! Live music makes it even more fun.

A Ceilidh social event in Edinburgh is an experience you will remember!
A Ceilidh social event in Edinburgh is an experience you will remember!

We went to the EDINBURGH CEILIDH CLUB WITH TEANNAICH. All the dances were taught by the band so we could participate! The event was at 7:30 pm and it cost us £13.00 per person. Well worth it! Also, usually there is no food at these places, just drinks that you can buy at the bar.


Explore Edinburgh Castle

Entrance to the Edinburgh Castle
Entrance to the Edinburgh Castle

Perched on top of Castle Rock, Edinburgh Castle is an iconic landmark and a must-visit attraction. Step through its ancient gates to unlock the secrets of Scottish royalty, military prowess, and the Crown Jewels.

Immerse yourself in the grandeur of the Great Hall while taking in splendid city views!


Witness the One O'clock Gun salute - Fired every day except Sundays! The first gun was fired in 1861 to provide an audible time signal for ships in the Port of Leith.


Map of Edinburgh Castle by HES 2022
Map of Edinburgh Castle by HES 2022

The castle is huge but this map above will help you narrow down the 8 most important things to see on your visit. You can rent a reasonably-priced audio guide at the entrance of the castle if you want. The lines to see the Crown Jewels can be long. There are also gift shops and two cafes inside - the Redcoat Cafe and The Tea Rooms. In other words, plan to spend a good amount of time at the castle!


IMPORTANT TIP

The Edinburgh Castle is a must-do attraction but tickets do sell out quickly. So buy in advance, way in advance!


Each summer, the castle's esplanade is used as a unique concert venue. Accessible tickets are available. Find more details on their FaceBook page. When we were visiting, Rob Steward performed to a full house. It was pretty cool!


Take a hop-on, hop-off bus

Sometimes, the best way to see the city in a short time is to take a city bus that takes you around the top attractions.

Hop on Hop Off Bus in Edinburgh
Hop on Hop Off Bus in Edinburgh

We chose to buy a one day, 24 hour ticket on the City Sightseeing Bus to see some of the attractions we had missed in the first two days of our visit. It cost us under $25 per person. There were a few definite advantages:

  • Discounts at gift shops and cafes

  • Discounts in admission tickets at some attractions and tours

  • Free Wi-Fi on the hop-on, hop-off buses

One secret tip based on our experience:

We didn't have tickets to the Edinburgh Castle and we checked a few times online - they were all sold out for two days - which meant we would be leaving Edinburgh without seeing the castle.


Disappointed, we chose to see other attractions by buying city sightseeing bus tickets. Once we sat in the bus, the bus driver made an announcement: He had fast-track tickets to the castle.


Whaaatttt? So there were tickets available, just not sold by the castle. Lucky us.


So, now we know. Tour operators may have access to tickets that traveling tourists may not. Keep this in mind, peeps.


Climb Arthur's Seat

Embark on a hike up Arthur's Seat, an ancient volcano and one of the city's seven hills. Enjoy breathtaking views of Edinburgh and its surroundings from the summit.

View from Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh
View from Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh

Climbing up should take you 1 hour and 35 minutes. It is steep, slippery and rocky in places and you need good hiking shoes. Early morning is a good time to go. If you have less time, you could start at Dunsapie Lock on the south eastern side of the park - from here the route is shorter but it is still steep. This map by GeoWalks.co will help:

Arthur's Seat Map Edinburgh
Arthur's Seat Map Edinburgh

Sample whisky!

Scotch Whisky must, by law, be distilled and matured in Scotland in oak casks for at least three years and bottled at a minimum alcoholic strength of 40% ABV. If you are of drinking age, here are some ways to celebrate this popular drink in Edinburgh:


This is a fun whisky destination that offers a distinctive and immersive experience for enthusiasts. From interactive exhibits to personalized whisky blending sessions, visitors are invited to explore the world of Johnnie Walker, an iconic Scottish brand.


The Scotch Whiskey Experience
The Scotch Whiskey Experience

Like stories? This is a perfect journey through the world of Scotch whisky. Take a tour to widen your knowledge, explore flavors and create whisky memories!


Order a Whisky flight at a pub

Whiskey flight at Whiski, Edinburgh
Whiskey flight at Whiski, Edinburgh

A great way to round off your day is to find a whisky bar where you can sample some interesting whiskies and choose your favorite over sips and conversations.



Walk the Royal Mile

The Royal Mile runs through the heart of Edinburgh's Old Town. The streets which make up the Royal Mile are (west to east) Castlehill, the Lawnmarket, the High Street, the Canongate and Abbey Strand.



As you stroll along the historic Royal Mile, you will find it to be a bustling street connecting Edinburgh Castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Take the time to explore the quaint shops, vibrant pubs, and soak in the medieval atmosphere. Don't be afraid to take a few detours if you see or hear something interesting just off the main street.


On your walk, check out the following things:


St. Giles Cathedral

This is a magnificent architectural masterpiece with its stunning Gothic design and intricate stained glass windows. It holds historical significance as the place where John Knox, the prominent Scottish Reformer, preached during the 16th century, leaving a lasting impact on the religious and cultural landscape of Scotland.



As a respected cabinetmaker by day and a cunning burglar by night, Brodie's double life became the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson's famous novel "Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde." Today, Brodie's cafes can be found throughout Edinburgh!


Admire Edinburgh architecture


Edinburgh boasts a remarkable blend of Gothic, Georgian, and Victorian architecture. The stone buildings, narrow closes (alleyways), cobblestone streets, spires and turrets will transport you to a bygone era!


Enjoy street music in Edinburgh

You can often hear street musicians playing tunes on the Royal Mile!

There are also live music bars in this area where musicians play different genres of music including traditional Scottish songs. Bars tend to get crowded but folks go in for that intimate experience.


Greyfriars Bobby statue

Find the statue of this dog just in front of the entrance to the Greyfriars Kirk.


The story of Greyfriars Kirk and the Greyfriars Bobby statue in Edinburgh has captured the hearts of visitors worldwide, making it a cherished tourist attraction. The tale of the loyal Skye Terrier, Bobby, who faithfully guarded his master's grave for 14 years, symbolizes loyalty and devotion. The statue, erected in Bobby's honor, stands as a poignant reminder of this touching story and draws tourists who are captivated by the enduring bond between man and dog.


Personally, we think this attraction is most suited for young adults but if you are young-at-heart, you would love it too!

Five floors with over 100 illusions. It should take you two hours to complete and it is highly recommended to book this experience in advance. Experience highlights include a fantastic view of the city, and projection displays after sunset! This attraction is quite close to the Edinburgh Castle and the Scotch Whiskey experience so you can plan your day accordingly.


Step into the historic Palace of Holyroodhouse, an awe-inspiring landmark!

This palace stands at the end of the Edinburgh royal mile. If you plan to take a hop-on, hop-off bus service, they make a stop right at this iconic castle. Book your tickets in advance to save some money.


After your visit, enjoy a lovely lunch at the cafe right outside! We found a lot of good vegetarian options at the cafe.


Underground vaults and closes

Was there an Underground City in Edinburgh? There are certainly myths around this idea! Step down into Edinburgh's hidden history to explore the Real Mary King's Close. Unlock the secrets of a 17th century street and Edinburgh's dark past that has been preserved. From legends to the deadly plague epidemic, there are a myriad stories waiting to be told!


Find this place on the Royal Mile opposite the St. Giles Cathedral, and is open 7 days a week. You can book online, tours are frequent. This experience involves uneven surfaces, inclines, steps and low light.


National Museum of Scotland

There is a lot to uncover at this museum, so you need at least 2-3 hours! Entry to the museum is free and it is open daily 10 AM - 5 PM.

From the natural world to world culture, science, fashion, technology and Scottish history, this attraction has a lot of offer. Expect your visit to be family-friendly, food is available for purchase.


Shops selling Tartan and Kilts

Tartan, the distinctive patterned fabric, is an important symbol of Scottish heritage.

In Edinburgh, you can find shops selling tartan clothing, kilts, scarves, and other traditional Scottish attire. A kilt is a Scottish garment for males. It resembles a wrap-around knee-length skirt, made of wool with pleats at the sides and the back. Most often, the pattern on the kilt is tartan.


Explore Edinburgh New Town

New Town is a well-organized and elegant part of the city. It is characterized by a grid-like layout, consisting of grand Georgian architecture and spacious streets.

The main thoroughfare, Princes Street, runs along the southern edge, separating New Town from the lush Princes Street Gardens and providing stunning views of the Old Town and Edinburgh Castle. George St. has more boutiques!


At the end of Princes Street, find Calton Hill which offers great hilltop views. It only takes 10 minutes to climb but it is steep. The monument on top on this hill is called Nelson Monument (which was temporarily closed during our visit)


When in New Town, explore the following landmarks:


Scottish National Gallery

The National is right off Princes Street in the city center. You will find artwork from some of the greatest artists including Titian, Rembrandt and Constable and Scottish painters like Raeburn. The gallery is open daily 10 AM - 5 PM. There is also a nice cafe at the entrance which is open until 4 PM.


Princes Street Gardens

This is an urban garden that separates the Old Town from the New Town. It is pretty large and you see many locals there.


One prominent landmark in the gardens is a cast-iron structure called the Ross Fountain.


Right by the fountain, there is an area in the park where kids can play! Here, you will find a little pop-up store which sells baked goods and ice-cream. This is a good spot to take a break, rest and appreciate the green all around you.