Edinburgh is Scotland’s charming capital city, and, of course, there are must-have experiences in the “Athens of the North.” Use this list of nine essential experiences to inspire your itinerary!
WALK THE ENTIRE ROYAL MILE
This aptly named, mile-long street is the busiest in Edinburgh’s Old Town, running through the middle of the capital from Edinburgh Castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse.
Start at the top and head downhill, enjoying the sights along the way. Notice the pubs and hanging signs, pop into the closes and side-streets, explore St. Giles’ Cathedral, try to keep track of all the statues, and marvel at just how many storefronts feature tartan.
TAKE IN THE PUB ATMOSPHERE
Edinburgh features a record number of pubs and taverns, and the atmosphere in the city’s watering holes is welcoming and fun no matter the night. When choosing a pub, decide what you’re looking for. Some are historic, others more modern. Many feature live music or extensive menus, while some can be clogged with tourists. Do a bit of research before you choose where to go!
LISTEN TO BAGPIPES
Though the bagpipes didn’t originate in Scotland, they have since become a famous symbol of the country. It can take a while to get used to their unique sound, but once you do, you’ll love listening to the street musicians in the popular areas of the city. Playing the bagpipes is an arduous, difficult task, so be sure to leave some coins for the musician if you enjoyed listening to them.
CATCH THE SUNSET FROM CALTON HILL
Calton Hill is popular with both visitors and locals — and for good reason. It’s an easier climb than Arthur’s Seat, and is the perfect spot to take photos of the cityscape.
Plan to visit during sunset, and make sure to arrive a bit early to stake out a spot to sit. Calton Hill provides a 360-degree view of the city, which means you’ll be able to watch the sunset right down Princes Street. Don’t forget your camera!
HIT UP THE FARMERS MARKET
Every Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Edinburgh locals congregate on the terrace behind the looming castle at the Farmers Market. If you happen to be in town over the weekend, be sure to stop by. Along the stretch of stalls, you’ll find baked goods, fruit and vegetables, specialty cheeses, an assortment of drinks, and even fresh meat and fish. There’s usually live music as well, so grab something good to eat and find a spot to enjoy this local event.
FOLLOW IN J.K. ROWLING’S FOOTSTEPS
It is well-known that author J.K. Rowling penned various parts of the Harry Potter series while in Edinburgh. So follow in her footsteps and soak in the magical atmosphere of the city that, at times, can feel just like Hogwarts.
Grab a meal or some drinks and try to channel the creative energy at the Elephant House café or Spoon bistro, where Rowling wrote the first three Potter books. Ladies, be sure to check out the restroom of the Elephant House (and don’t forget a marker or pen!) — Harry Potter fans have been writing notes to Rowling on the walls for years.
After stopping at the Elephant House, take a stroll through Greyfriars Kirkyard. The names on some of the headstones may sound familiar to Harry Potter fans, and the atmosphere evokes a certain culminating scene from the fourth book.
After you’re through the cemetery, walk down Victoria Street, a curved road that will likely remind you of Diagon Alley. Just don’t mistake the toy shop at the end for the Weasley brothers’ joke shop!
Don’t forget to check out the Balmoral Hotel, where Rowling was staying when she finished writing the seventh and final Harry Potter book (you can stay in her room if you have roughly 1,000 pounds to spare). And snap some photos of Edinburgh Castle atop its hill, a landmark that evokes the school of magic Harry and his friends attended.
PARTAKE IN SOMETHING SPOOKY
Edinburgh has a storied, mysterious history. This is, after all, the city that inspired tales such as “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” and “Sherlock Holmes.” There are plenty of late-night tours that will take you to some of Edinburgh’s spookiest spots — just be sure not to fall for gimmicky tourist-traps that rely on cheap scares instead of the unnerving true stories.
For a great, inexpensive walking tour, reserve a spot on Sandeman’s “Dark Side” tour. Harry Potter fans will hear some familiar names as the tour guide spins creepy tales in abandoned graveyards and atop a pitch black Calton Hill — further proof that J.K. Rowling used Edinburgh and its traditions as inspiration for her magical series.
JOIN IN THE FESTIVITIES
Many refer to Edinburgh as the world’s leading festival city because of the sheer amount of festivals that take place each year. If you plan to visit during a festival, be sure to make your reservations in advance. Prices tend to rise and it can be difficult to find accommodations if you wait too long to make your plans, especially during the summer months!
From Hogmanay to a film festival, a jazz festival to the Fringe festival in the summer, it’s easy to feel as though Edinburgh is always celebrating something!
Header image by Sam Fear.