Edinburgh overview

The capital of Scotland has beautiful historic buildings and bustling shopping streets, but a large part of its charm is the fact that it’s full of green spaces - perfect for summer strolling.

Here’s our pick of the best things to see and do in Edinburgh - where to get the finest food, where to try the local ales, where to find the most tempting shops, plus a few secret spots only the locals know about.

Things to see and do in Edinburgh

Edinburgh is perfect for a summer weekend break. Its streets are scattered with parks and gardens - perfect for sprawling out in the sun. If you fancy a break from shopping on Princes Street, escape for half an hour to one of the many outdoor spaces.

Holyrood Park is just a few minutes’ walk from Princes Street, up above the city. Climb its paths and be rewarded with a magnificent view of the Old Town. As well as grass to lounge on, you’ll find cliff faces and the ruin of St Anthony’s chapel to explore.

The largest arts festival in the world comes to Edinburgh in August (1-25). The Edinburgh Festival Fringe will take over the city for three weeks with a cacophony of arts and entertainment. Here are a couple of examples of what to expect at a couple of popular venues:

  • Summerhall - visit the old vets college to see a range of events including a collaboration between Luke Barnes and Ishy Din called Beats North
  • Pleasance - prepare to laugh like drains at the new father-son comedy from Richard Marsh, Wingman 

No visit to Edinburgh would be complete without a trip to the castle. Edinburgh Castle dominates the city’s skyline, perched high above the streets on a rocky outcrop. See what life would have been like for prisoners of war in the bowels of the castle, and wander the cavernous Great Hall.

Take a history lesson on one of the castle’s most well-known residents - Mary Queen of Scots, with a special event in September. Time your visit to coincide with the firing of the One O’Clock Gun.

Shopping in Edinburgh

The Grassmarket area is where the cool kids hang out - there are mouth-watering delicatessens full of speciality food and drink, cool quirky fashion boutiques, vintage delights of all kinds, music shops and art galleries. It even has its own hashtag: #indiegrassmarket.

Get your vintage on at Armstrongs Vintage Emporium - a beacon for retro fashions staffed by style-savvy workers, or adopt a Scots gent look at Walker Slater.

For something a little more traditional and touristy (but not in a bad way), try a trip up the Royal Mile. The name given to the streets that make up the main thoroughfare of Edinburgh’s splendid Old Town, the Mile is choc-full of souvenir shops and quirky retailers. Don’t let that put you off, you’ll discover kitsch gifts as well as Scottish staples such as cashmere, whisky and fudge.

A stroll down busy Princes Street is a must too; here you’ll find major retailers such as Next, Russell and Bromley and H&M and Edinburgh’s very own department store Jenners. And the pretty Princes Street Gardens are only a short walk away.

Food and drink in Edinburgh

If you like pubs full of character(s), great little cafes, Michelin-starred fine dining and farmers’ markets, you’re in luck - Edinburgh offers all of these and more.

But to continue the outdoorsy theme, how about a trip to the seaside (or at least the old port)? One of Edinburgh’s charming aspects is the fact that from many parts of the city you get a view of the beautiful Firth of Forth, where you’ll find the renovated and deeply cool dockside area of Leith. While you’re there, stop in at bistro Fisher’s of Leith and sample some of the truly excellent local Scottish seafood.

The Cellar Door offers Scottish fare at reasonable prices - think home-made burgers, Highland chicken and haggis bon-bons. As for pubs and bars, the world’s your oyster.

If it’s a wee dram you’re after, you’ll find it difficult to find a bad pub in Edinburgh, but some of the finest at this time of year include Pear Tree House, with its superb beer garden - and if the weather’s fine just take a stroll around the Grassmarket area, with its multitude of pubs.

Hidden Edinburgh

Edinburgh’s most hidden jewels are arguably the ‘secret gardens’ of the Royal Mile. Nestled behind the street’s tenements these green spaces are a little-known part of Edinburgh, perfect for whiling away an hour in pleasant surroundings.

Old Calton Cemetery, up on Calton Hill, has graves from a number of notable Edinburgh figures, including the philosopher David Hume, and affords stunning views of the city.

And for a real buried secret, try The Real Mary King’s Close - a warren of hidden 17th century streets buried deep under the Royal Mile, and now run as a museum and tourist attraction, with costumed guides offering tours. Fascinating, unique and atmospheric.