14 Essential experiences in the Auld Reekie – Edinburgh


One of the world’s most popular holiday destinations, the Scottish capital Edinburgh is renowned around the world for its history, culture, and magnificent attractions.

The ideal destination for a city break, or part of a larger holiday exploring ‘bonnie’ Scotland,  Edinburgh is awash with iconic sights and experiences. Here are 14 essential experiences found throughout the capital.

1. Palace of Holyroodhouse

The official residence of the Queen whilst visiting the Scottish capital, the Palace of Holyroodhouse rests at the foot of the famous Royal Mile.

Close by, the country’s politicians can be found debating within the halls of the Scottish Parliament.

This beautiful landmark charts Scotland’s royal history and the Palace can be explored by visitors throughout the calendar year.

Once the former home of Mary, Queen of Scots, Holyrood, as it is commonly known, contains a number of beautiful apartments.

The Palace’s historic State Apartments are wonderfully preserved and still contain a number of classical period features, included tapestry walls, and the King’s Bedchamber, complete with four bed draped in red cloth.

If you decide to visit the Palace, the former chambers of Mary, Queen of Scots, is a must-see.

Stopping by presents the opportunity to step back in time and gain a sense of how the famous Monarch lived.

Another famous figure in Scottish history, Prince Charles Edward Stuart or ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’ also spent some time at Holyrood.

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2. Edinburgh Castle

The country’s most iconic and popular landmark, Edinburgh Castle overlooking the great capital is a must for any holidaymaker looking to experience the best of Edinburgh whilst on holiday.

A former fortress, Edinburgh Castle actually rests on a long-expired dormant volcano.

The journey up to the castle, following the iconic Royal Mile, takes you past Edinburgh’s Old Town area, complete with cobbled streets.

Edinburgh Castle has sections that date back to the 12th century and rightly holds UNESCO World Heritage shared with the surrounding Old Town area.

Follow the winding road, Johnston Terrace, leading away from the castle down to Castle Terrace and you will eventually reach Lothian Road, home to a great selection of restaurants.

This grand Scottish landmark is a symbol of Scotland and sees the city transform throughout the year, accommodating festivals, New Year celebrations, and the wonderful festive markets that light up the Scottish winter.

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3. Royal Botanic Garden

Over three hundred years old, Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Garden is a fantastic attraction found on the border between the city’s Stockbridge area and the historic port of Leith.

Famed for its diverse range of plants and fantastic collection of gardens, the Botanic Garden is one of Edinburgh’s most popular attractions.

Throughout the year, the Royal Botanic Garden holds a number of great events including an open-air cinema in the summer celebrating some of the classics of the big screen, and a fantastic Christmas lights event.

Christmas at the Botanics sees the attraction’s collection of gardens transform as a series of light installations are expertly installed that bring the Botanics to life. This is a fabulous experience packed with festive spirit.

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4. National Museum of Scotland

A range of fascinating exhibitions await at one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions – the National Museum of Scotland.

Across multiple levels, the museum offers the chance to explore a number of different collections covering a diverse range of subjects.

Including interactive installations that can be fun for all ages, hours can be spent exploring the entirety of the museum on a great family day out in the city.

The museum’s recent changes have seen the introduction of a number of child-friendly activities including the chance to dig up Dinosaur fossils and dress up in some historical clothes including a Viking costume.

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5. Royal Yacht Britannia

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Resting in the waters of the historic Port of Leith, Edinburgh’s Royal Yacht Britannia attraction gives guests the chance to step onto Her Majesty The Queen’s former Royal ship that served her for over 40 years.

First launched in 1953 from Clydebank, the Royal Yacht Britannia travels over a million nautical miles across the world, becoming an icon in her own right.

Today, visitors can access the ship via Leith’s Ocean Terminal Shopping Centre.

On board, an included in admission audio tour provides insight into the ship’s elegant apartments, the Engine Room, and all manner of different features of the famous ship.

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6. Edinburgh Zoo


We recommend allocating a large portion of your day exploring Edinburgh Zoo to make the most of your visit.

The Zoo is home to all manner of different animals ranging in all kinds of different size and shape.

Lion’s, Penguins, Chimpanzee, Giant Panda, Koala, and Bears to name just a few of the magical animals found within the Zoo.

There are in fact over 1,000 animals, some rare and endangered within Edinburgh Zoo.

Spread across the day at different times, there are a number of daily talks presented by Zoo staff that provide background on some of the animals.

Be on the lookout for the Zoo’s famous Penguin Parade that tends to take place in the early afternoon.

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7. Princes Street


One of Scotland’s and indeed the UK’s most famous streets, Princes Street, in the heart of the city, is as iconic as they come.

Beyond the vast range of shops, a number of attractions like the Scottish National Gallery, and Princes Gardens lie just off this popular part of the city.

Princes Gardens is a great picnic spot and the perfect place to gather your thoughts and plan out the rest of your day, ticking off the capital’s great attractions one by one.

At either end, transport links can take you beyond the capital.

Just off Princes Street, the hugely popular Edinburgh Gin Distillery is a must-experience for gin lovers whilst in the capital.

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8. Dynamic Earth

At the foot of the Royal Mile in Holyrood, Dynamic Earth, through a number of excellent exhibitions and experiences, charts the history of our planet.

Including a number of interactive exhibitions, this is another of Edinburgh’s great family-friendly attractions.

During your visit, you will travel the world exploring diverse ecological landscapes including rainforests, the chilly polar regions, and the hidden marine world beneath the ocean waves.

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9. Edinburgh’s Old Town


UNESCO-listed, Edinburgh’s Old Town is wonderfully picturesque. The area finds itself at the heart of the city’s major cultural events throughout the calendar year, including the famous New York celebrations and Fringe festival.

Characterised by cobbled streets, a maze-like series of alleyways that lead off into all directions, Edinburgh’s Old Town is a major tourist attraction in itself.

During the peak holiday season, expect crowds, particularly during the weekends, as locals and tourists alike descend into one of Scotland’s most historic locations.

Exploring the city’s past, Real Mary King’s Close steps under Edinburgh’s Royal Mile almost stepping back in time.

Not for the faint-hearted, the tour goes into details about the effects of the great Plague on the 17th century close with costumed tour guides sharing stories of the Close that go into detail about a number of grisly subjects including tales of murder.

Found close to Edinburgh Waverley Train Station, the Edinburgh Dungeon is another spooky highlight in the heart of the city.

Stepping underground, visitors to the Dungeon undertake a journey through Edinburgh and Scotland’s dark past.

Highlights include a cave home to cannibals, an old courtroom, and a terrifying torture chamber!

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10. The Scotch Whisky Experience

Flickr.com / Dennis Schubert [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]
Scotland’s most famous export, a visit to the capital would not be complete without visiting The Scotch Whisky Experience.

Found on the Royal Mile, visitors stepping inside are taken on a journey into the world of Scotch Whisky.

Different tour options are available catering to all levels and specific areas of interest.

Lookout for the attractions’ amazing and priceless whisky collection containing thousands of bottles of the famous tipple.

The collection is so valuable that it is housed within a secure marble and glass vault!

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11. The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

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Performed by the British Armed Forces each August within the grounds of Edinburgh Castle, the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo is an impressive spectacle dating back to 1950.

Since that first performance, the Tattoo has grown rapidly in size and scale, attracting visitors arriving from all over the world.

A key event in the global calendar, the Tattoo forms part of the Edinburgh Festival with a different theme chosen every year.

This year, the theme is ‘Kaleidoscope’, a great choice sure to lead to another memorable display again this year.

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12. Arthur’s Seat


A scenic highlight providing spectacular views looking out across Edinburgh, a trip to the summit of Arthur’s Seat is an essential Edinburgh experience.

Resting within Holyrood Park, this small mountain can easily scaled thanks to a number of trails leading up to the summit.

Visitors scaling this famous landmark are rewarded with a view that looks down upon key landmarks including the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the Scott Monument, and beyond to the great Edinburgh Castle.

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13. Scottish Parliament

Step into the heart of Scottish politics with a visit to the Scottish Parliament.

Open to the public, visits here provide the opportunity to experience the building’s striking architecture.

One of the more recent additions to the city, the building actually sits within one of Edinburgh’s protected UNESCO-listed World Heritage Sites.

The building’s architecture is described as post-modern, providing a contrast to some of the neighbouring older buildings including close by Palace of Holyroodhouse.

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14. Scott Monument


Dedicated to the famous Scottish author Sir Walter Scott, Edinburgh’s Scott Monument is one of the most recognisable sights in the city.

Over 170 years old, the monument has gradually changed in colour thanks to pollution, appearing quite black.

This combined with it’s more Gothic features gives the monument a rather distinctive look.

Plans were also proposed to clean the famous monument but it was feared that the stonework would suffer irreversible damage during the cleaning process.

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Browse a wide selection of accommodation available throughout Edinburgh here.

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