Historic Things to Do in Edinburgh
1 hide detailHistoric fortress with breathtaking views and opulent riches inside.
Information from Historic Scotland.
No trip to Scotland would be complete without a stop at the magnificent Edinburgh Castle on Castle Rock. First erected in the 12th century, the fortress sits on top of an extinct volcano and is the most breathtaking part of the city's skyline. Within the castle walls you see impressive views of most of the New Town, including the Princes Street Gardens, Arthur's Seat and the Salisbury Crags, the famous Balmoral Hotel and more. You can also explore the various rooms, chapels and compartments of the fortress and through interactive displays discover what living and working there might have been like during the medieval era.
The highlight of any tour of the castle is the Honours of Scotland (the crown jewels), on display in the Crown Room of the castle's Royal Palace (built in 1617). These include the ancient crown, sword and scepter, which date back to the 15th and 16th centuries. Here you can also see Scotland's most prized treasure: The Stone of Destiny, otherwise known as the Coronation Stone. This has been used in the crowning of Scottish and English monarchs (much to dismay of many Scottish nationalists) for hundreds of years.
Be sure to arrive before lunch, so you can watch the master gunner fire the castle's canon at 1pm (except Sundays, Good Friday and Christmas Day.); it is a tradition that dates back to1861 when the firing of the gun was used to signal for ships in the Firth of Forth and the port of Leith.A popular visitor attraction and a World Heritage Site, Edinburgh Castle is now proud host to modern day events including rock gigs and the famous Edinburgh Tattoo.
(aged 16 to 59)
(aged 5 to 15)
Concession: £10.40Opening times:
(aged 60 and over, unemployed)
Child under 5: FREE
9:30am - 6pm
1 Apr - 30 Sep
9:30am - 5pm
1 Oct - 31 Mar
2 hide detailCivilians welcome
Edinburgh's Royal Mile is the famous road leading upwards to Edinburgh Castle. Cobbled in places and pedestrian friendly the Royal Mile is home to historic buildings which run the length of the street. It is the definitive route to see Old Edinburgh Town. Many of the city's best restaurants and shops line the incline offering traditional Scottish food and memorabilia. Take a moment to wander down one of the narrow and sometimes secret Royal Mile closes, many providing the theatrical atmosphere for grizzly ghost tours.
3 hide detailThe mother church of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland
St. Giles' Cathedral is the mother church of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland and is located at the midpoint of the Royal Mile. Its interior central pillars date back to 1124. The church boasts some of the most exquisite stained glass windows in the United Kingdom, which were created during the Victorian era. On the exterior, it is distinct for its traditional Scottish crown steeple. Explore the interior and see the organ and its mechanisms from a glass panel in the back. The Chapel of the Knights of the Thistle, built in 1911 for the Order of the Thistle, is particularly beautiful: each Knight's stall is carved in wood with an impressively intricate touch. Call for a list of services.
On the ground near the church is the Heart of Midlothian, a heart-shaped carving on the site of the former Tolbooth Prison. Legend has it that the prisoners used to spit before entering the jail, and locals carry on this tradition by spitting on the heart for good luck. Also, the local football team Heart of Midlothian has this same heart-shaped badge on its uniform. As a show of disrespect, fans of Hibernian, the rival team, have taken to spitting on the heart carving as well.
4 hide detailWhere Greyfriar's Bobby kept his vigil and the spookiest graveyard in Britain.
Greyfriars Kirk (Church) sits just outside the Old City near the Grassmarket. It is one of the oldest surviving buildings from the 1600s, and is famous for two legends associated with its kirkyard (graveyard): Greyfriars Bobby, a Skye terrier from the 19th century that supposedly sat loyally next to its master's grave for 14 years, and the infamous Mackenzie poltergeist. George Mackenzie was a Scottish lawyer from the 17th century, who brutally murdered approximately 18,000 covenanters - individuals who revolted against the English monarchy's interference in the Church of Scotland. When he died, Mackenzie was buried in a black mausoleum in Greyfriars Kirkyard.
In 1998, a homeless man broke into Mackenzie's tomb to find shelter during a storm and supposedly disturbed the malicious lawyers' remains. Since the incident, violent paranormal activity is said to have occurred in the graveyard and visitors have reported being bruised, scratched, cut and even knocked out by some unseen force either near Mackenzie's mausoleum or in the Covenanters' Prison, an area of the kirkyard where Mackenzie is said to have tortured and killed his victims. Tourists can try their luck with the poltergeist on a nighttime ghost tour through the kirkyard (including the Covenanters' Prison), organized by the City of the Dead tours. It meets in front of St. Giles Cathedral on Royal Mile at 8:30pm and 10:00pm from Easter to Halloween, and at 8:30pm from Halloween to Easter. The tour costs £9.50 or £7.50 concession.
5 hide detailAn incredible tour of the long-forgotten underground streets of Edinburgh dating from the 16th and 17th centuries
The Real Mary King's Close is an incredible tour of the long-forgotten underground streets of Edinburgh dating from the 16th and 17th centuries, which were paved over as the city grew. Guides dressed in period costumes walk you through these long-forgotten closes, buildings and streets while describing what life may have been like for the residents, particularly during the plague. The closes are thought to be haunted as well, and tourists can take either a normal walking tour or a supernatural history tour.
6 hide detailMuseum Dedicated to Poets
Our Local Expert Says:
Enjoy this exhibition celebrating great Scottish writers and learn a bit about their personal influences.
The Writers Museum celebrates the lives of three great Scottish writers, Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson. Visitors can see portraits, rare books and personal objects including Burns' writing desk, the printing press on which Scott's Waverley Novels were first produced, and Scott's own dining table and rocking horse. The museum also has Robert Louis Stevenson's riding boots and the ring given to him by a Samoan chief, engraved with the name 'Tusitala', meaning 'teller of tales'. There is also a plaster cast of Robert Burns' skull, one of only three ever made. Even if you're not a bookworm, it's well worth a visit.
7 hide detailGothic spire dedicated to The Wizard of the North
Our Local Expert Says:
Climb the tight spiral staircases of this gothic structure for unrivalled views across Princes Street Gardens. The Scott Monument is one of the most popular Edinburgh tourist attractions so be prepared to queue at any time of the day.
Visit the iconic Scott Monument set amongst the picturesque Princes Street Gardens.
Sir Walter Scott was one of Scotland's most celebrated national poets and this gothic monument to him, with a statue of Scott underneath the base of the spire, pays tribute to his genius. Visitors can climb the 287 steps to the top of the monument to peer out from several viewing decks (they can also receive a certificate commemorating this achievement). But be warned! The staircases are at points extremely narrow and the climb may be too daunting for those who suffer from vertigo. Those brave and determined enough to reach the top will be rewarded with a breathtaking panoramic view of Edinburgh.
8 hide detailThe folly on the hill
Our Local Expert Says:
Walk to the peak of Calton Hill in the evening to watch the sun set over Edinburgh. Visit one of the two observatories that sit on the hill for a spot of star gazing.
Calton Hill is made unmistakable by the Athenian acropolis monument, which stands proudly at the peak. Accessed by steep stairs Calton Hill offers to visitors beautiful views as far as Holyrood Park. Historic buildings and statues are located on Calton Hill but the most popular feature is the two Observatories, the first built in 1792 the second in 1818. Both hold regular exhibitions, Open Days and the opportunity to see stars in the night sky.
9 hide detailCastle and city views
Up on Calton Hill sits this monument to Nelson's famous victory at Trafalgar in 1805 resembling an upturned telescope it was designed by the architect Robert Burn. Once inside this impressive building, visitors may climb the 143 steps to the top and view Edinburgh in its entirety - behold the great 360 degree views of the city, across to the Firth of Forth, and over to Arthur's Seat. At the very top is a clever timed device that drops a huge ball to coincide with the one o'clock gun fired from the Castle - it was devised to enable sailors to check their chronometers.
10 hide detailRoyal intrigue and beauty
Situated at the opposite end of the Royal Mile from Edinburgh Castle, Holyroodhouse Palace is today the official residence of The Queen when visiting Scotland. Guests are welcome all year round to visit the gallery and take guided tours of the magnificent décor of Holyroodhouse Palace. The tapestries and ornate furniture still used to this day are highlights of the tour and offer the Edinburgh tourist a chance to wander around a modern day palace.
Palace of Holyroodhouse
(includes an audio tour)
Over 60/Student (with valid ID) £9.30
Under 17 £6.20
Under 5 Free
Family (2 adults, 3 under 17s) £27.00
Joint Palace of Holyroodhouse and The Queen's GalleryAdult £14.30
Over 60/Student (with valid ID) £13.00
Under 17 £8.30
Under 5 Free
Family (2 adults, 3 under 17s) £38.50
11 hide detailImposing ruins and royal intrigues
Craigmillar is one of Scotland's most perfectly preserved castles. It began as a simple tower-house residence. Gradually, over time, it developed into a complex of structures and spaces, as subsequent owners attempted to improve its comfort and amenity. As a result, there are many nooks and crannies to explore. Of equal importance were the surrounding gardens and parkland, and the present-day Craigmillar Castle Park has fascinating reminders of the castle's days as a rural retreat on the edge of Scotland's capital city.
At the core lies the original, late-14th-century tower house, among the first of this new form of castle built in Scotland. It stands 17m high to the battlements, has walls almost 3m thick, and holds a warren of rooms, including a fine great hall on the first floor, and the so-called 'Queen Mary's Room' beside it, where Mary is said to have slept when staying there as a guest of the Prestons. In all probability, Mary resided in a multi-roomed apartment elsewhere in the courtyard, probably in the east range.
Also here is a labyrinth of dark spaces, including a grim basement prison where an upright skeleton was found walled up in the early 19th century. The west range was rebuilt as the Gilmour family's residence after 1660. Beyond the well-preserved 15th-century courtyard wall, complete with gunholes shaped like inverted keyholes, lie other buildings, including a private family chapel.
- The tower house – one of the oldest in Scotland, and with fascinating features, including a fine great hall and the so-called 'Queen Mary's Room'.
- The views from the tower – over the city of Edinburgh, including Holyrood Park and Edinburgh Castle.
- The nooks and crannies – a great castle to explore because of the many dark and mysterious chambers.
- The grounds – including the remains of an unusual fishpond laid out in the shape of a letter P, for Preston.
12 hide detailTenements to view
Huntly House comprises three tenements that were amalgamated in 1570. It was dubbed "The Speaking House" by a Victorian antiquarian, in reference to the Latin inscriptions on its facade. Informative displays inside tell the history of Edinburgh, from prehistoric times through to the nineteenth century. Visitors are able to see collections of colourful shop signs, pottery and Edinburgh silver and glass. The tenements themselves are the real attractions here. Check for details of temporary exhibitions of art and artefacts. Admission: free.
13 hide detailFandabidozi nostalgia trip
Our Local Expert Says:
This museum is a favorite with people of all ages, children can enjoy seeing toys and games throughout the ages and adults can feel nostalgic on their youth. There is a great gift shop to take home a souvenir of the past.
The Museum of Childhood is a fun day out for the whole family. Young people can learn about the children of the past and see a fantastic range of toys and games, while adults enjoy a trip down memory lane.
Its large collection is full of colour and variety. Visitors to the Museum can see optical and construction toys, cars from Dinky miniatures to child-size pedal cars, toy soldiers, puppets and dolls' houses. The Museum explores all aspects of growing up, so toys and games sit alongside items such as books, medicines and clothing.
Young people and adults will enjoy finding out about growing up through the ages, from toys and games to health and school days. Hands-on activities, including a puppet theatre and dressing up area, together with the fantastic museum shop, help to make your visit a memorable one.Opening times:
Monday - Saturday 10am - 5pm;
Sunday 12pm - 5pm.
(The shop closes at 4:45pm each day.)
Admission is free, but donations are welcome.
14 hide detailAncient mystical church
Rosslyn Chapel is the mysterious Masonic chapel made famous by the DaVinci code (part of the Tom Hanks movie was filmed here in 2005). Located in the village of Roslin, a short bus ride from Edinburgh, it was founded in 1446 by Sir William St. Clair the third prince of Orkney.
Stretching 21 metres (69 feet) in length and standing nearly 13 metres (42 feet) high, practically every surface of Rosslyn Chapel is carved in an outstanding display of craftsmanship. There are literally hundreds of individual figures and scenes carved around you. Be on the look out for the Apprentice Pillar, the Green Man, the Nativity Star, the Music Cubs and even a carving of lucifer as an upside down angel. On a tour of the chapel, learn all about the Masonic history of the chapel and the secret symbolism throughout it.
The cool gift shop sells pagan and new age souvenirs in addition to traditional castle trinkets.
Open virtually every day except major holidays, admission for adults is £7.70.
An external masonic guide can give your group a tour of the Chapel from 12:45pm-2pm.
Explore the grounds around the chapel to see the ruined Roslin Castle.