Scotland: A First-Timers Guide To Exploring Edinburgh

Having visited Edinburgh many times, it’s safe to say it is one of our favourite cities in the United Kingdom. From visits to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival as a teenager to weekends with friends and as a couple, we have found that there is something for everyone. It is a vibrant city which offers its visitors a range of things to do and to see. Here are just a few things, areas and events you need to add to your list when exploring Edinburgh, Scotland’s cosmopolitan yet historic capital city.

Area To Base Yourself

The Royal Mile, Edinburgh

There are several areas you could base yourself when exploring Edinburgh. Here are a few of our favourites.

The Old Town 

If it is your first visit to Edinburgh and you want to experience the main tourist attractions then the Old Town is the ideal place to stay. With most key things in walking distance, including Waverley train station this is the ideal first timers location. It is also brimming with restaurants and bars to suit almost all budgets. With the Royal Mile, the Grassmarket and Holyrood, amongst other areas, the Old Town has a lot to offer. Together with the New Town, the Old Town forms part of a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site with numerous historic sites including St. Giles’ Cathedral, the Old College of the University of Edinburgh and the Scottish Parliament Building.

Stockbridge 

If you are happier to stay further afield, then the beautiful town of Stockbridge is the perfect place. With stunning Georgian and Victorian terraced houses, Stockbridge is ideal for exploring with several hidden gems just waiting to be discovered. Located north of the city centre, everything is still in walking distance i.e. The Royal Mile which is only 20 minutes away. Stockbridge offers you the luxury of exploring Edinburgh without the hustle and bustle of actually staying in the city. With local restaurants, bars, galleries and shops together with the Royal Botanical Gardens and weekly market, Stockbridge allows you to see a different side to Edinburgh.

Leith

Another area you may want to consider is the old maritime centre of Edinburgh, Leith. Again located to the north of the city centre approximately 40 minutes walk from the Old Town, Leith is a lively Port District on the shores of the Firth of Forth. The new waterfront development boasts many waterfront seafood bistros, cafes, traditional pubs and numerous shops. It is also home to the Royal Yacht Britannia, the former royal yacht of the British monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. It welcomes over 390000 visitors a year from all over the world.

Accommodation

Edinburgh Street - Apartments

Accommodation can make or break a trip. Therefore, you must opt for the right type of accommodation for you when exploring Edinburgh. Over the years, we have stayed in a range of accommodation from a caravan park in the neighbouring town of Dalkeith right through to 5 Star luxury hotels. However, we have found that staying in serviced apartments has always been our favourite and now our go-to accommodation.

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Regardless of where you choose to base yourself in Edinburgh, it is likely that you will find serviced apartments in that area. For example, SITU Serviced Apartments offer apartments throughout the city. As with hotels, you will likely find one to suit your budget. There are many benefits of staying in a serviced apartment, especially in a major city such as Edinburgh. These include:

  • Space – Serviced apartments are often larger and can have separate rooms, perfect if travelling with children.
  • Value & save on longer stays – Serviced apartments are comparable and sometimes often less expensive than hotels of the same quality. Plus many offer reduced rates for longer stays.
  • Flexibility Serviced apartments offer flexibility allowing you to come and go as you please and to suit your schedule.
  • Cooking & washing facilities – Serviced apartments more often than not come with cooking and often washing facilities. These are great amenities if you are travelling on a budget or having a longer stay.
  • Additional facilities & services – Other facilities and services can include a gym, on-site parking, a swimming pool and even a concierge.
  • Home from home – basically a serviced apartment is a home from home allowing you to enjoy your stay in the comfort level you are used to.

What To See

Victoria Street, Edinburgh

As previously mentioned there are many things to see when exploring Edinburgh. Here are 10 of the top things to see in the city.

Arthur’s Seat

Address: Edinburgh EH8 8AZ

Arthur’s Seat, an extinct volcano, is the highest peak of a group of hills. The hills form most of Holyrood Park. The elevation of Arthur’s seat is 251m and offers magnificent views over Edinburgh. Don’t forget your walking boots.

Calton Hill

Address: Edinburgh EH7 5AA

Some of the most important monuments and landmarks in Edinburgh can be found here and it is included in the city’s UNESCO World Heritage Site. These include the National Monument and the Nelson Monument.

Edinburgh Castle

Address: Castlehill, Edinburgh EH1 2NG

Located on Castle Rock, Edinburgh Castle which dates back to 1103, is an imposing landmark on the Edinburgh skyline. Over 2 million people visit the castle each year making it Scotlands most visited attraction and a must-see when exploring Edinburgh.

Greyfriars Kirkyard

Address: 26A Candlemaker Row, Edinburgh EH1 2QE

Located on the southern edge of the Old Town, people from across the world flock to this graveyard to see the gravestones of some of its famous occupants including Greyfriars Bobby, William McGonagall and Tom ‘Riddle’.

Palace of Holyroodhouse

Address: Canongate, Edinburgh EH8 8DX

Palace of Holyroodhouse (known as Holyrood Palace) is The Queen’s official residence in Edinburgh. She spends one week each year at the beginning of summer here. The naked ghost of one Bald Agnes is said to haunt the Palace.

Princes Street

Address: Princes Street, Edinburgh, EH2 2AN

One of the major thoroughfares in central Edinburgh is Princes Street. It is the main shopping street in the city if you want to get your fashion fix. It joins Lothian Road in the west, to Leith Street in the east and is 1.2 km in length.

Princes Street Gardens

Address: Princes St, Edinburgh EH2 2HG

Created in the 1820s, Princes Street Gardens are two adjacent public parks. They run along the south side of Princes Street and are a popular place to head when the sun is shining over Edinburgh. Modernization of the gardens is currently under discussion.

St Giles’ Cathedral

Address: High St, Edinburgh EH1 1RE

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St Giles’ Cathedral (or the High Kirk of Edinburgh) is located on the very eastern edge of Edinburgh and pre-dates most of the Old Town with the foundations dating back to around 1130. A visit to St Giles’ Cathedral is a fascinating experience.

The Royal Mile

Address: Royal Mile, Edinburgh EH1 2PB

The Royal Mile located in the Old Town of Edinburgh runs through its historic centre connecting Edinburgh Castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse. With a number of attractions and restaurants, this is one of the most popular areas in Edinburgh.

Victoria Street

Address: Victoria Street, Edinburgh, EH1 2HG

Victoria Street which starts at the eastern end of the Grassmarket was designed by architect Thomas Hamilton and built between 1829-34. It is now one of Edinburgh’s most photographed streets because of its brightly coloured building fronts.

What To Do

Hop On Hop Off Bus, Edinburgh

If you have a little more cash to splash and are happy to pay for tickets, here are 10 of the top things to do when exploring Edinburgh.

Camera Obscura

Address: Castlehill, Royal Mile, Edinburgh EH1 2ND

Considered to be Edinburgh’s oldest tourist attraction, Camera Obscura was founded by entrepreneur Maria Theresa Short in 1835. With over 100 illusions over 5 floors, it is recommended you allocate at least 2 hours to get round them all.

Dynamic Earth

Address: Holyrood Rd, Edinburgh EH8 8AS

Dynamic Earth tells the story of Planet Earth right from the Big Bang through to the present day. A great state of the art attraction for all the family. Just remember to book your tickets in advance as it is an extremely popular attraction in Edinburgh.

City Sightseeing Edinburgh Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour

Address: Various points throughout Edinburgh

A great way of exploring any city is to book tickets for a hop on, hop off bus City Sightseeing offer such buses across the city. With commentary in a number of languages, they allow you to learn about your surrounding while getting from one attraction to another.

National Museum of Scotland

Address: Chambers St, Edinburgh EH1 1JF

Formed in 2006, the National Museum of Scotland houses collections of national and international importance including archaeological finds and medieval objects. As with all museums in the UK, admission is free which is great if travelling on a budget.

Scottish National Gallery

Address: The Mound, Edinburgh EH2 2EL

The Scottish National Gallery, which first opened to the public in 1859, is the national art gallery of Scotland. Collections include Surrealism, Photography and of course Scottish Art and Contemporary Art in Scotland. Again admission is free (some special exhibitions are chargeable).

The Edinburgh Dungeon

Address: 31 Market St, Edinburgh EH1 1DF

If you fancy a thrill when exploring Edinburgh then a trip to The Edinburgh Dungeon is a must. With live actor shows, interactive rides and special effects you will learn about the various historical events from Scottish history. Not suitable for children under 8.

The Real Mary King’s Close

Address: Warriston’s Close, 2, High St, Edinburgh EH1 1PG

You can learn about Edinburgh’s history by visiting the Real Mary King’s Close, is a historic preserved 17th-century street located under buildings on the Royal Mile. Guided tours last approximately 1 hour. Not suitable for children under 5 years of age.

The Royal Yacht Britannia

Address: Ocean Dr, Leith, Edinburgh EH6 6JJ

As mentioned before, you can find the Royal Yacht Britannia moored in the historic Port of Leith, Edinburgh. Visiting allows you to follow in the footsteps of the British Royal family and explore this regal vessel. A free audio guide, available in 30 languages is also available.

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The Scotch Whisky Experience

Address: The Royal Mile, 354 Castlehill, Edinburgh EH1 2NE

If you want to find out more about Scotland’s national drink, then the Scotch Whisky Experience is the place to head. There are a range of tours with whisky experts on offer together with masterclasses which allow you learn more about whisky and even opt for tastings at the end.

The Scottish Parliament

Address: Edinburgh EH99 1SP

Located in the Holyrood area of the capital city next to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, you can take a 1 hour guided tour of the public areas of the Scottish Parliament free of charge. It is a popular attraction therefore booking your tickets in advance is recommended.

Where To Eat

Mary's Milk Bar, Edinburgh

As there are so many restaurants and bars in Edinburgh, it would be impossible to list them all. Therefore here are just a few of our favourites to whet your appetite.

Cowan and Sons

Address: 33 Raeburn Pl, Stockbridge, Edinburgh EH4 1HX

Brunch – Located in Stockbridge, Cowan and Sons is in keeping with its surroundings. This modern cafe (some would say hipster hangout but we hate that phrase) is the perfect place to grab brunch/lunch. With its eclectic style and mouthwatering food (and yes avocado is on the menu), it is a pretty busy spot, especially at weekends and lunchtimes.

Harajuku Kitchen

Address: 10 Gillespie Pl, Edinburgh EH10 4HS

Dinner – Not only one of our most favourite Japanese restaurants in Edinburgh but in the world, Harajuku, a multi-award winning restaurant needs to be on your list of places to visit. This small, yet perfectly formed restaurant serves up some of the most mouthwatering food. It offers authentic Sushi & Japanese cuisine which is a taste sensation.

Mary’s Milk Bar

Address: 19 Grassmarket, Edinburgh EH1 2HS

Sweet Treat – Having heard a lot of positive reviews for Mary’s Milk Bar, the last time we visited the Grassmarket area of Edinburgh we had to pay a visit. The small ice cream parlour offers some amazing and some bizarre flavours. One of the most popular and creamiest of all is Milk ice cream. Flavours change regular and the ice cream is made each morning.

Festivals and Events

Most major cities throughout the world are home to a number of annual festivals and Edinburgh certainly has it’s fair share with the month of August being the busiest. It’s important to note that the city will obviously be busier during the larger festivals. Therefore, if you plan to visit Edinburgh during the summer months or for Hogmanay in December remember to book your accommodation as far in advance as possible as hotels, serviced apartments and hostel get booked up months in advance.

April

  • Dead by Dawn 
  • Edinburgh International Science Festival 

Easter

  • Ceilidh Culture 

May

  • Edinburgh International Children’s Festival

June

  • Leith Festival 
  • Leith Jazz and Blues Festival
  • Edinburgh International Film Festival 
  • Edinburgh Annuale 
  • Pride Edinburgh

July

  • Edinburgh International Magic Festival
  • Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival

August

  • Edinburgh Art Festival 
  • Edinburgh International Festival 
  • Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo
  • Edinburgh Festival Fringe 
  • Just Festival 
  • Edinburgh International Book Festival
  • Edinburgh Mela 
  • Just Festival 
  • Edinburgh International Television Festival 

October

  • Leith Comedy Festival 
  • Africa in Motion 
  • Scottish International Storytelling Festival
  • Festival of Politics
  • Edinburgh Horror Festival

December

  • Edinburgh’s Hogmanay

We home our first-timers guide to exploring Edinburgh has helped you plan a visit to Scotland’s capital. With a historic centre, plenty of attractions, great accommodation options and amazing food, Edinburgh is a great city just waiting to be explored.


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