What are the best 14 things to see & do in Edinburgh 2019?
Updated: Jul 2, 2019
Whether you’re seeking culture, nightlife, history, or just good fun, there are plenty of things to see and do in Edinburgh. Edinburgh is Scotland’s compact, hilly capital and is best known for its International Festival, which takes place every August, but there are plenty of other attractions for you to see and do. From whisky tastings to exploring Edinburgh’s newest attraction, the Royal Yacht Britannia, Hot Tub Hire Edinburgh Managing Director Michelle McKay shares her favourite things to see and do in Edinburgh.
1. Scotch Whisky Experience
The Royal Mile, 354 Castlehill, Edinburgh, EH1 2NE - Website
The Scotch Whisky Experience, a five-star visitor attraction is located at the top of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile and has been inspiring visitors to Edinburgh about the joys of Scotch whisky for over 30 years. You can take tours, masterclasses, training sessions or just enjoy some food and whisky at their restaurant. Our team from Hot Tub Hire Edinburgh took the Silver Tour which takes 50 minutes and is the least expensive whisky tour experience and we all really enjoyed it. It begins with a fun and informative whisky barrel ride and then a self-guided tour to learn about the origin, history, and making of whisky. Then you do a guided tasting experience and learn about the different whisky regions in Scotland. Then finally you take look around a giant whisky collection, the largest collection of its type in the world! - No hot tubs installed that day :)
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2. Royal Yacht Britannia
Ocean Drive, Leith, Edinburgh EH6 6JJ - Website
Her Majesty's Yacht Britannia, also known as the Royal Yacht Britannia, is the former royal yacht of the British monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, in service from 1954 until 1997. She was the 83rd such vessel since King Charles II acceded to the throne in 1660 and is the second royal yacht to bear the name, the first being the racing cutter built for the Prince of Wales in 1893. During her 43-year career, the yacht travelled more than a million nautical miles around the globe. Now retired from royal service, Britannia is permanently berthed at Ocean Terminal, Leith in Edinburgh, Scotland. It is a popular visitor attraction with over 300,000 visits each year.
3. Edinburgh Castle
Castlehill, Edinburgh, EH1 2NG - Website
Scotland's most famous landmark, Edinburgh Castle is one of Britain's most visited tourist attractions. Highlights include the One O'clock Salute from Half Moon Battery (cannon fire commemorates the tradition of helping ships synchronize their clocks); the impressive Scottish National War Memorial; and the stunning collection of Crown Jewels housed in the Royal Palace. Another notable feature is the Stone of Destiny (aka, the Stone of Scone), famously stolen by Edward I and placed under the English throne in London - only returned to Scotland 700 years later in 1996.
4. Camera Obscura and World of Illusions
Castlehill, Royal Mile, Edinburgh EH1 2ND - Website
Near Edinburgh Castle on the Royal Mile is the Camera Obscura and World of Illusions. This attraction has two main features – first, it has several floors featuring optical illusions, light tricks, old-fashioned games, and magic displays which we had a lot of fun playing with. Then, the “main attraction” is the Camera Obscura on the roof. A camera obscura is basically an old-fashioned projection system, which directs visible light from the outside world onto a viewing surface in a darkened room. These have been known about for hundreds, if not thousands of years, and were a particularly popular attraction in Victorian times. In fact, Edinburgh’s Camera Obscura dates from the 19th century, making it one of the oldest visitor attractions in the city. The rooftop of the tower also includes amazing views of the castle and the city of Edinburgh. We really enjoyed our visit here and it is a great place for families.
5. St Giles' Cathedral
High Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1RE - Website
Discover over 900 years of history in one of Scotland’s most iconic buildings, and one of Edinburgh’s most visited attractions. Entry to the building is free with a suggested donation of £5, and visitors are welcome to explore the building at their own pace. Founded in the 1120s, St Giles' was the church of John Knox during the Reformation and is often referred to as the 'Cradle of Presbyterianism'. Highlights of a visit include our beautiful stained glass windows. The impressive Rieger organ was installed in 1992 and the famous Thistle Chapel, home of the Knights of the Order of the Thistle, Scotland's great order of chivalry designed by Robert Lorimer for the Order of the Thistle, was added in 1911. St Giles' is situated on the historic Royal Mile, halfway between Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse.
6. Calton Hill and the Scottish National Monument
Calton Hill, Edinburgh, EH7 5AA – Directions
Calton Hill provides a panoramic view of the city, with Princes Street, the castle, and the Old Town silhouetted against Arthur's Seat. To the east and north you can see the Firth of Forth and the docks at Leith. At the foot of the hill stands the 13th-century Royal High School, where Sir Walter Scott was once a pupil. Perhaps the most important of Edinburgh's many memorials is the impressive National Monument on Calton Hill, erected to remember the dead from the Napoleonic Wars. Henry Playfair designed the memorial using the Parthenon in Athens as his inspiration, and work began in 1822, but the project had to be abandoned due to lack of money. Nelson's Monument was unveiled in 1816 after Horatio Nelson's victory at the Battle of Trafalgar. Opposite Calton Hill stands a memorial to Scottish poet Robert Burns.
7. The Real Mary King’s Close
High Street, 2 Warriston's Close, Edinburgh EH1 1PG - Website
Did you know that there’s a hidden part of Edinburgh underneath the city streets? Well, there is. One of the best places to find out more about, and visit this hidden part of the city, is to take the Real Mary King’s Close tour. Covered over by construction in the 19th century, Mary King’s Close was previously one of the busiest streets in the medieval city, located just off the Royal Mile. It was named after Mary King who was a businesswoman who lived in the close in the 1630’s. The 1 hour guided tour of Real Mary King’s Close aims to provide information and examples of what life would have been like in Edinburgh between the 16th and 19th centuries. The tour takes you into a warren of what we’re bustling streets, shops, animal pens, and homes that sit just below the current street level.
8. National Museum of Scotland
Chambers Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1JF – Website
Since opening in 2011, the free National Museum of Scotland has become one of Scotland's most popular attractions, with close to two million visitors each year. It incorporates collections from a number of Edinburgh's older museums. Highlights include national archaeological collections; medieval artefacts; and displays focusing on natural history, geology, art, science, and technology. In its 16 galleries, containing more than 8,000 artefacts, are Dolly the sheep - the world's first cloned mammal - as well as some of Elton John's more elaborate stage costumes. Traditional museum displays also include material from Ancient Egypt and the infamous Maiden, an early form of guillotine.
9. Arthur's Seat
Edinburgh, Scotland, EH8 8AZ - Full guide
Arthur's Seat is an extinct volcano which is considered the main peak of the group of hills in Edinburgh, Scotland, which form most of Holyrood Park, described by Robert Louis Stevenson as "a hill for magnitude, a mountain in virtue of its bold design". It is situated just to the east of the city centre, about 1 mile (1.6 km) to the east of Edinburgh Castle. The hill rises above the city to a height of 250.5 m (822 ft), provides excellent panoramic views of the city and beyond, is relatively easy to climb, and is popular for hillwalking. Though it can be climbed from almost any direction, the easiest and simplest ascent is from the east, where a grassy slope rises above Dunsapie Loch. At a spur of the hill, Salisbury Crags has historically been a rock-climbing venue with routes of various degrees of difficulty, but due to hazards, rock climbing is now restricted to the South Quarry and a permit is required.
10. Holyrood Park
Queen's Drive, Edinburgh, EH8 8HG - Website
Roam through a city park like no other. Holyrood Park’s dramatic hills and crags shape Edinburgh’s unforgettable skyline, and its history and archaeology span thousands of years. Holyrood Park is a short walk from Edinburgh’s Royal Mile in the heart of the city. It is a 640 acre Royal Park adjacent to Holyrood Palace. The parks highest point is Arthur's Seat, an ancient volcano, and sits 251m above sea level giving excellent view of the city; it is also the site of a large and well preserved fort. This is one of four hill forts dating from around 2000 years ago. With its diverse range of flora and geology it is also site of Special Scientific Interest. Within the park you can also visit St Anthony’s Chapel - a 15th century medieval chapel, Salisbury Crags – a series of 150 foot cliff faces dominating Edinburgh’s skyline as well as Duddingston Loch – a fresh water loch rich in birdlife.
11. Palace of Holyroodhouse
Canongate, Edinburgh, EH8 8DX - Website
Visit the Palace of Holyroodhouse, Her Majesty The Queen's official residence in Scotland. Standing at the end of Edinburgh's historic Royal Mile, this fine palace is the home of Scottish royal history. Admission includes special exhibition "A Royal Wedding: The Duke and Duchess of Sussex". At the Palace of Holyroodhouse, visitors can explore 14 magnificent historic and State Apartments, the romantic ruins of the 12th-century Holyrood Abbey and remarkable royal gardens, all with a complimentary multimedia tour in ten languages. Best known as the home of Mary, Queen of Scots, the Palace was the setting for many dramatic episodes in her short reign as featured in the 2019 Universal Pictures movie Mary, Queen of Scots. Today, the State Apartments are used regularly by The Queen for State ceremonies and official entertaining.
12. Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh
Arboretum Place, Edinburgh, EH3 5NZ - Website
Just one mile from city centre, the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh offers visitors peace and tranquillity amongst 72 acres of stunning scenery. The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is one of the finest botanic gardens in the world. A pleasure for all the family, the Garden offers fantastic views of the capital's skyline, featuring Edinburgh Castle, and is located just a mile from the city centre. Visitors can discover its fascinating history, which dates back 300 years, learn about its plantings and walk around 70 acres of beautiful landscape. The Glasshouse visit is a particular highlight, starting at the Victorian Temperate Palm House dating back to 1858 and one of the tallest traditional palm houses ever built. The Garden's 10 magnificent Glasshouses each has a different climatic zone, from steamy tropics to arid desert, and are home to 3,000 exotic plants from around the world including a 200-year-old palm tree.
13. The Gardener's Cottage
1 Royal Terrace Gardens, London Road, Edinburgh, EH7 5DX - Website
This quirky restaurant is housed in an historic building located in Royal Terrace Gardens at the foot of Calton Hill in the heart of Edinburgh's World Heritage Site. Co-owned by chefs Dale Mailley and Edward Murray, The Gardener’s Cottage is committed to creating and serving excellent food using the best seasonal, local produce while nurturing sustainable and mutually beneficial relationships with the local community and local producers. The Gardner’s Cottage stands out from the crowd for two reasons; the kitchen garden nestled beside one of Edinburgh’s busiest thoroughfares growing a variety of herbs, legumes, leaves and edible flowers. Secondly the dining room layout is a little different, no individual tables but long trestles where you sit shoulder to shoulder with other patrons.
14. Big Big Gin Festival
Corn Exchange, 10-11 Newmarket Street, Edinburgh, EH14 1RJ - Website
There’s so much more to gin than ‘ice and a slice’, as visitors to the Big Big Gin Festival will find out! From firm drinks cabinet favourites, to the very latest newcomers to the cocktail scene, there’ll be plenty to tantalise the taste buds as the popular two-day festival returns.
Gin lovers can sip samples from leading makers and craft distilleries, and watch expert mixologists shake up a storm over at the cocktail bar. Pair your drinks with some fabulous food, and browse a range of gin-inspired products and accessories to take home.
Whether you’re a seasoned connoisseur or completely new to the spirit, there’s something to please all palates. So grab a ticket and immerse yourself in the wonderful world of gin! Please visit the Big Big Gin Festival website for more details on dates and prices.