Top Sights & Things to do in Edinburgh, Scotland

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Edinburgh is the capital and cultural heartbeat of Scotland. Shaped by hills and the North Sea, it’s a city that everyone exploring the U.K. (or Europe, in general), MUST add to their list! I spent about 4 days here, and I was very lucky to have some locals to host me and take me around!

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Wetherspoons

I’ve heard of Wetherspoons being “the place” within airports that all British people start their holidays at – enjoying cheap drinks. The chain is a must-visit, particularly the location in Edinburgh within the old Caley Picture House.

This cinema-turned-watering-hole is a cool place to enjoy cheap drinks and food, making it the perfect place to start the night. I tried a meat pie, as well as a few bites of haggis. It was a rich, heavy dish, something you’ve got to at least have a bit of during a visit.

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Sunday Roast at the Cumberland Bar

Sunday Roast is a British tradition that I love! I’ve only had one a few handfuls of times, and while it’s heavy, I think it’s really cool that this is something many families do, preserving a tradition through generations.

I don’t think American’s really have a weekly equivalent, we have our Thanksgiving, Superbowl, and other yearly events, but not something like this every week, or at least on a semi-regular schedule. This bar was really nice, the roast menu had a variety of options, and enjoying it with red wine was great. I love Yorkshire puddings, I want to learn how to make them.

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Edinburgh Castle

Perched atop the hill, overlooking the city, Edinburgh Castle is undoubtedly a focal point when you’re exploring, and is worth a visit during a trip here. A lot of cultural events, including concerts, take place on the grounds of the castle, and if you don’t feel like paying for an entry fee, you can walk around the main entrance and get some cool photos of the structure from the outside.

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Arthur’s Seat Hike

I loved this walk! The hills that are right on the edge of downtown Edinburgh are amazing – you don’t have to leave the downtown area to get some exercise and hike to an epic focal point. The cold winds felt good as we were hiking straight up, it took about 45 minutes to get to the top, but we stopped for several photo shoots along the way. I was very happy when I discovered the sweater I picked out for the day matched the wildflowers.

Travel tip for visiting Scotland – dress in layers! The summers aren’t typically hot, but when the sun shines, you might want to peel off a jacket or sweater and soak up the rays. It can rain one minute and be sunny the next.

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Royal Mile

A long stretch of shops, this famous street cuts through the center of Edinburgh and terminates at the castle. It’s touristy, but some of the stores are definitely worth a browse. I bought some fudge at Fudge House (as well as “tablet,” a Scottish sweet similar to fudge) and bought a few souvenirs at some of the tacky tourist spots.

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Library Pub at the University

This was a really cool find! A full bar in an old, charming library at the University of Edinburgh. Seeing as it’s a hub for students, the drinks are reasonably priced and it’s a nice atmosphere. A great spot to enjoy a pint and relax after walking around all day.

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Highland Cows

If you visit Scotland, you have to go on a countryside walk to see the cows or “coos” as you’ll hear it pronounced. Despite looking intimidating with massive horns, they are super docile. It was a little scary getting this close, but we managed to survive! A cool feature about Scotland is that they have an “open land” policy – essentially if you respect the land, you can walk in any farmers field or on their property.

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National Museum of Edinburgh + Art Museums

Edinburgh is fantastic for museum lovers because most of them are completely free! This makes it also good for folks who aren’t obsessed with museums but like to casually jaunt through without taking out their wallet. Have a walk through some of the galleries – there are interesting art collections coming through all the time. There were some cool exhibits at the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art, and it was a quick stop to walk through.

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Gin Festival at Summerhall

One of my favorite aspects of summer season anywhere in the world is the explosion of events and festivals. From tiny towns to big cities, you can find food festivals, music festivals, and all sorts of celebrations. At Summerhall, a renovated veterinary school turned into an event venue, we stumbled upon Juniper Festival, an epic gin festival. I’m no gin fanatic, but I enjoy a G&T from time to time. This was next-level, with dozens of craft gin producers, all showcasing their various products. We tried A LOT of gin and had fun chatting with various company reps and bartenders.

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Calton Hill

Another hill to hike up in Edinburgh, Calton Hill offers some picturesque views of the city. It’s an iconic spot within Scotland and is home to important monuments including the National Monument and Dugald Stewart Monument. Here we explored a bit and I tried Scotland’s national beverage, Irn Bru. It’s a drink that I didn’t need more than a few sips of.

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Greyfriar’s Bobby

A little monument you must see while in Edinburgh is Greyfriar’s Bobby, a statue of a dog. The story claims that after his master died, the dog guarded his grave for the remainder of his life, an entire 14 years. Even though you’ll see other tourists doing it, don’t touch his little nose, as it is slowly damaging the statue.

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Leith

Not far from the heart of Edinburgh, the town of Leith is a coastal gem worth a visit and a pub stop during a tour around the city. It’s a bit of a port-turned-hipster area, with cool local spots. We stopped at Teuchters Landing, for some beers and fried calamari. It was a great spot to enjoy brief moments of Scottish sunshine (that was followed up by some cold winds and raindrops, of course). Walking to Leith took awhile, but we did it via some paths that led us through cool neighborhoods.

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I really, really loved Edinburgh. The ancient feel of the city coupled with all the cultural events, cozy pubs, and walkability made it the perfect stop for a few days. I’m so lucky to have friends who could show me around here – having insiders makes all the difference. I’d love to return to Edinburgh for another visit, as well as explore more of the islands of Scotland and see other cities too.

Have you been to Edinburgh? Tell me your favorite thing you did in the comments 🙂

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