- Main Airport – Edinburgh Airport (EDI)
- Language – English, Scots
- Population – 500,000
- Currency – British Pound (£)
- GDP (Scotland) – $240 billion (40th Overall)
Scotland’s capital city, Edinburgh is filled with historic sites, as well as newer and more contemporary attractions. It is the city that inspired J.K. Rowling to write her infamous Harry Potter series, and, with a quick trip, it is easy to see why. Edinburgh’s charm drips down the walls of its castle in thick droplets, covering the whole city and everyone in it. It is where you will meet some of the jolliest and friendliest people. From visiting the Edinburgh Castle to taking a trip down into Mary King’s Close, to taking a day trip into the historic Scottish Islands, there are so many fun activities to do, and you won’t want to miss any of it!
Recognized for its medieval Old Town and elegant Georgian New Town, Edinburgh is a pluralistic and cultured city surrounded by gardens and neoclassical buildings. If you’re planning on making a stop in this city and don’t want to miss out on the striking scenes, the outstanding annual festival that brings worldwide fame, and much more check out these need to know tips and attractions!
Before you book your plane ticket, pack your bags, and get ready to hop on a plane to the Edinburgh Airport, make sure you have a valid passport. Also, if you are not an EU citizen you may need to obtain a visa depending on how long you are planning to stay and even why you are visiting. Once you have that all taken care of, it’s best to see if your travel dates cooperate with the weather in Scotland. Since it rains in Scotland over 200 days each year, you’ll want to try and visit during the summer months when it’s the sunniest and warmest. As a member of the United Kingdom, Scotland uses the Pound Sterling as its currency. Luckily, it can be easily exchanged at the airport, any travel agency, and even online using sites such as Wells Fargo.
What to pack varies depending on where and when you are traveling, but a few items we recommend for to trip to Edinburgh are sneakers, a sweater, your camera, and an umbrella. Another important item is a travel adapter. The outlets in Scotland are “Type G,” which can get very frustrating especially if you are traveling from the United States. Lastly, it is important to always keep cash and an ID on you when traveling around. There are many local shops that do not accept credit cards, or will ask for identification if they do, so it is better to be on the safe side.
Once you’ve arrived in Edinburgh, there is no doubt that you will want to embrace the new culture so here are a few sites and attractions you won’t want to miss!
Walk the Royal Mile
The best way to describe the structure of Old Town Edinburgh is like a ribcage. The closes (alleyways) make up the ribs, while the Royal Mile makes up the spinal cord. The street stretches from Arthur’s Seat to the Castle, with many must-see tourist attractions along the way. It’s worth it to just spend an hour walking down the mile to get a feel for the city.
Arthur’s Seat provides one of the most beautiful views of the city. It’s best to go early in the morning and to climb the mini mountain as an early morning hike. If you go early enough, you may be able to watch the sunrise from the top. As the day wears on, the hikers thin out, but dog walkers and joggers can always be found at the base where the hike starts.
The home of the British Monarch of Scotland, Holyrood Palace is open to the public. Though certain areas, such as where the family resides, are closed off, tourists are free to roam about the gardens, look at the royal collection, and walk through the royal apartments. An adult ticket costs £12, and the palace is open from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. However, closing times vary based on month, so be sure to check prior to visiting!
St. Giles’ Cathedral
Also known as the “High Kirk of Edinburgh” (kirk means church), St. Giles’ Cathedral is the national Church of Scotland. Built in approximately 1124, it’s where national ceremonies and weddings are held. The cathedral can be found on the Royal Mile, fairly close to the Castle. It’s open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on most days. There is no admission fee, but there is a suggested donation price of £3. The cathedral is open year round, except on December 25th and 26th, and January 1st and 2nd. Keep in mind that photography is not allowed in the Cathedral, unless you purchase a permit for £2 at the information desk.
Scotch: Have a Whisky Experience!
Located next to the Castle, at the top of the Royal Mile, the Scottish Whisky Experience is a must. You can take a tour of how the whisky is made, attend a tasting, dine at their restaurant, or simply visit their shop. You are the crafter of your Whisky Experience. The attraction is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day, and an adult ticket can be purchased for £14.50.
The Castle is arguably the biggest attraction in Edinburgh. The giant structure sits on the very top of the Mile and will easily take you hours to visit. The castle is split into multiple attractions within different sections, each of which discusses the castle in a different time during Scotland’s history. Each afternoon a canon is fired from the edge of the castle, commonly known at the “One o’clock Gun.” The castle also showcases the Crown Jewels, St. Margaret’s Chapel, The Royal Palace, and The Stone of Destiny. Additionally, it provides a stunning view of the newer parts of Edinburgh. There is much to see, so make sure you get there early! The Castle opens at 9:30 a.m. each morning and closes at 5 p.m. in the summer and 4 p.m. in the winter. An adult ticket costs £16.50.
Royal Yacht Britannia
Have you ever been interest in learning about how the Royal’s travel in luxury? Lucky for you, the British royal family’s floating holiday home also know as the Royal Yacht Britannia is now anchored permanently in front of Ocean Terminal after it retired in 1997. Following a audio guided tour at your own pace uncovers the everyday lives of the royals and gives an intriguing insight into the Queen’s private tastes. Admission is £12.75 for adults and £7.75 for children and is open from 9:30am-6pm during the months of July to September, 9:30-5:30pm during April to June and October, and 10am-5pm during November to March.
National Museum of Scotland
Inside this 5-floor museum you can trace the history of Scotland from the times of geological beginnings to the 1990s through various exhibits. Exhibits cover a wide range of topics such as natural history, archaeology, scientific and industrial technology, and arts from ancient Egypt, China, Korea, and much more! This museum is open from 10am – 5pm and only requires fees from special exhibitions.
Located right behind The Elephant House, Greyfriars’ kirkyard is the cemetery where J.K. Rowling got many of the names for the characters in HP. If you look closely enough, you can even find Tom Riddle’s grave. The graveyard also has many tombstones that date centuries back. If you have some free time, definitely walk around. Added bonus: they even offer ghost tours within the graveyard every night for those who are brave enough.
Mary King’s Close
Located right on the Royal Mile, Mary King’s Close gives a tour that shows visitors what life in 17th century Edinburgh was like. The hour long tour transports visitors to streets that have managed to remain frozen in time and are guaranteed to haunt all those who visit. They open at 10 a.m. and the last tour leaves at 9 p.m., so you can go pretty much any hour of the day you have free. An adult ticket costs £14.50.
While Scottish food has its own distinct style, it takes many attributes of cuisines from Britain and other European countries. Focused of pantry of game, dairy products, fish, fruit, and vegetable, the Scotts believe in simplicity and natural ingredients. Here a few popular restaurants in Edinburgh that you must try!
Scotland’s national food is Haggis. For those who are unfamiliar with the food, it is best to try it and give it a fair shot before you learn what it is. Though Haggis is made from spiced sheep intestines, it is actually quite good and a must try when in Edinburgh. If you find yourself having a hard time with it, order a nice cold pint of Guinness to wash it down. Other Scottish foods to try include Scotch Eggs, Cock-a-Leekie Soup, Lorne Sausage and Kippers.
The Last Drop
One of the best places to get Haggis is located right in the heart of Old Town. It is named for the last hanging that occurred in the Grassmarket. The Last Drop is a pub that combines tradition and history with the perfect plate of Haggis, Neeps, and Tatties. If you’re really against trying the real deal, they even offer a vegetarian version. The prices are low and the spirits are high, making The Last Drop a great place to eat.
One of Edinburgh’s finest seafood restaurants, with a menu based on sustainably sourced fish. Take a seat at the curved Oyster Bar and tuck into oysters Kilpatrick, lobster thermidor, a roast shellfish platter or just good old haddock and chips.
Fresh, seasonal, locally sourced Scottish produce is the philosophy that has won a Michelin star for this elegant but unpretentious restaurant. The menu moves with the seasons, of course, so expect fresh salads in summer and game in winter, and shellfish dishes such as seared scallops with endive tarte tatin when there’s an ‘r’ in the month.
The Voodoo Rooms
The interior design of The Voodoo Rooms looks like something out of a Renaissance painting. The ceiling features intricate detailing and the floor to ceiling windows are all arched, offering lots of sunlight to guests. The Voodoo Rooms have both bars and a restaurant, as well as live music and entertainment. Whether you choose to go for lunch or dinner, The Voodoo Rooms will provide you with a unique experience that may be hard to find in other areas of Edinburgh. Make sure to call ahead of time at 0131 556 7060 to check for availability!
Designed in Gothic style, The Witchery offers visitors a luxurious meal at the top of the Mile. They serve traditional Scottish meals, like lamb, beef, and haggis, as well as seafood-platters and their infamous Angus beef steak tartare. They are open from noon to 11:30 p.m. and operate by reservations only. More information can be found on their website.
The Gardener’s Cottage
This country cottage in the heart of the city, bedecked with flowers and fairy lights, offers one of Edinburgh’s most interesting dining experiences – two tiny rooms with communal tables made of salvaged timber, and a set menu based on fresh local produce (most of the vegetables and fruit are grown in an organic garden in the city suburbs).
Day Trip to Highlands
Be sure to set aside at least a day of your trip to go and visit the Scottish Highlands. Buses leave from the Royal Mile early every morning, and on a twelve-hour tour, take tourists up into the depths of the beautiful Scottish Highlands. There are multiple routes to choose from, and each route offers something different. They stop at the well-known valleys of Glenn Coe and Ben Nevis, the town of Inverness, and the Loch (lake) called Ness (Loch Ness). The Highland Experience is a wonderful and cheap company that offers the majority of these bus tours.
The Elephant House
Welcome to the small café where J.K. Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book. Other than a small corner with HP merchandise, you would never guess that this place had anything to do with the series. The food is good and the coffee is heartwarming, but the most interesting part of this place is its bathroom. It’s like being transported to the minds of hundreds of Harry Potter die-hards. So before you leave, be sure to use the restroom.
Panda and Sons
This unique bar located alongside New Town is a combination of old speakeasy and vintage barbershop. The entrance to this place is simply a bookshelf, so it’s very easy to miss. Those who find it will be transported into an underground room with distinctive décor and incredible drinks. For more information, check out The Panda Gazette on the Panda and Sons website. They open at 4 p.m. on the weekdays and 3 p.m. on the weekends.