Eating and drinking in Edinburgh

Scottish Food and Drink

Edinburgh is traditionally more of a drinking town than an eating town, but there is a wide variety of both eating and drinking places.

If you’re interesting in sampling or learning more about local specialities, there are plenty of places in Edinburgh to choose from. One of Scotland’s most renowned products, whisky, can be studied in depth at the Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre, close to Edinburgh Castle. They have a multi-lingual tour, and of course a bar and shop as well as a restaurant.

Scottish products such as whisky, haggis (including the tasty vegetarian variety) can be bought in any one of countless souvenir shops within tourist attractions and along the Royal Mile.


Like most UK towns, Edinburgh has a wide range of restaurants serving international cuisine, including some fine and authentic Italian restaurants. But you don’t have to go far to find good traditional – or modern – Scottish food. Along the Royal Mile you’ll find a range of restaurants and cafes, mostly aimed at tourists but many serving good food at reasonable prices. There’s also a fish and chip shop for those who enjoy the other face of traditional British food.

For a more sophisticated taste of what Edinburgh has to offer, try one of the city’s new and classy restaurants serving modern twists on Scottish cuisine. David Bann (56-58 St Mary’s Street) is a stylish vegetarian restaurant/bar which offers a highly-recommended vegetarian haggis dish.

The Museum of Scotland building boasts a (rather expensive) eatery, the Tower Restaurant, with superb views over the Edinburgh skyline. Also in the Museum are a couple of cafes which serve tea and light snacks.


Edinburgh tourist activities

Things to do in Edinburgh

Climb Arthur’s Seat


Arthur’s Seat is an unusual phenomenon, a miniature mountain within the city limits. Like a smaller scale version of Scotland’s wild countryside. Although many of the paths are fairly gentle, it’s a bit of a scramble to reach the actual summit; you’ll certainly feel you’ve earned the spectacular view over the city and countryside. People will tell you how the hill looks like a crouching lion; they never mention its rather closer resemblance to the native mouse. Still, its presence is majestic and it’s an ideal place to escape the fumes and hard pavements. Take a picnic and relax.

Relax in Edinburgh parks and gardens

One of the most intriguing Edinburgh landmarks is Carlton Hill, a round green hill boasting a strange assortment of monuments. It’s just a short walk uphill, close to Princes Street, and as well as being a charming place to relax, it also offers splendid views over the town and the Firth of Forth. The tall tower is a monument to Nelson; you can pay to climb up. The Royal Botanical Garden on Inverleith Row is a peaceful place to wander or chill out. The gardens include eleven glasshouses, a rock garden and a cafe and shop. Holyrood Park, around the foot of Arthur’s Seat, also offers nice places to relax by ponds or to wander amid greenery.

Things for children to do in Edinburgh

If children are bored of streets, buildings and museums, the parks and open spaces of Edinburgh (see above) are ideal places for running about and playing. Edinburgh Zoo offers a ‘hilltop safari’ and animals from all around the world to keep visitors entertained and interested. For more wildlife, you could try Edinburgh Butterfly and Insect World , which has ‘Meet the Beasties’ handling sessions. The Our Dynamic Earth show is a lively exploration of geology and nature, located on Holyrood Road. Those into more gory entertainments might prefer the Edinburgh Dungeon (Market Street), with special effects and features about the Glencoe Massacre, the Plague and similar light-hearted frolics.


Edinburgh tourist attractions

Things to see in Edinburgh

Edinburgh is full of things to see. The Castle, of course can quite literally not be missed, but some of Edinburgh’s other sights may take a bit more searching out. From creepy underground passages to whisky museums, there should be something to suit the whole family.


Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle is top of most tourists’ list of things to see in Edinburgh. The Scottish capital is dominated by the forbidding fortress on its hill. Despite its obvious tactical advantages, the Castle proved not to be as impregnable as it looked; it fell first to the English and subsequently back into Scottish hands.

As well as exploring the buildings and admiring the views from the ramparts, the Castle offers tourists the chance to witness the firing of the one o-clock gun, see the room where James VI and I was born to Mary Queen of Scots, and marvel at the Scottish Crown Jewels and the supposed Stone of Destiny.

The New Town and the Old Town

The centre of Edinburgh is split between the Old Town, on the slopes around the Castle, and the New Town, the far side of Princes Street. In the Old Town you can catch glimpses of history in the crowded medieval streets and alleys, with its bridges and tenements. The New Town is the part of Edinburgh that was redesigned by the Georgians, with wide and impressive terraced streets, squares and crescents. Although many of the buildings are blackened by pollution, these streets still exude a calming sense of space and elegance.

Palace of Holyroodhouse

The Palace of Holyroodhouse is the Queen’s official residence in Scotland. The building, under the slopes of Arthur’s Seat, is an imposing four-square palace with the pointy towers of fairy tales, and its very own ruined abbey. The Palace is open to the public (except during Royal visits), along with the new Queen’s Gallery, containing exhibitions from Royal collections.


Royal Yacht Britannia

Continuing a Royal theme, the former Royal Yacht Britannia is now a tourist attraction in Edinburgh. It’s moored at Leith, Edinburgh’s historic port town, where you can go on tours of the five floors of the ship. Take a bus to Ocean Terminal.


National Trust for Scotland

The National Trust for Scotland has three interesting properties open to the public in Edinburgh. Gladstone’s Land, at the top of the Royal Mile, is a 17th century terraced building bringing to life the Old Town of centuries ago. The Georgian House, 7 Charlotte Square, provides a contrasting glimpse of the New Town’s past. Finally, at 27-28 Charlotte Square they have a gallery and Coffee House & Restaurant.

National Galleries of Scotland

There are four National Galleries in Edinburgh, containing fine works of art from the fourteenth century to the present day. Apart from special exhibitions, entrance is free, and the galleries make good places to recharge your batteries gazing at art, after tiring sightseeing.

The Real Mary King’s Close

Under the City Chambers on the Royal Mile there remain some of Edinburgh’s old streets, buried in the foundations of later buildings. Newly opened to the public, these alleys and rooms are spooky reminders of the past. Tours are led by actors in costumes, while down in the dark lurk plague victims and ghosts..

Free Edinburgh Museums


If you’re interested in learning more about Edinburgh and Scotland’s past, there are several very good museums in Edinburgh that are free to visit. Most important is the Museum of Scotland, housed in a specially designed building (that nevertheless seems peculiarly hard to navigate, as you wrestle with hi-tech audiotour headsets). The exhibits cover Scotland’s entire past, from geological formation to modern times, and there are some real treasures to find. The adjacent Royal Museum is a lovely older building – an interesting contrast of avant-garde architecture past and present. Other Edinburgh museums worth a visit include the Museum of Childhood, the Museum of Edinburgh, and The People’s Story, which tells of the lives of ordinary inhabitants of the city over recent centuries.


Edinburgh travel and transport

Edinburgh is fairly straightforward to travel to and around. You can see most of the central sights on foot, if you’re energetic and don’t mind hills.

Getting to Edinburgh

Flights to Edinburgh Airport

Edinburgh International Airport is not far from the city. It’s used by budget airline Easyjet, and so flying to Edinburgh from other parts of the UK may actually be cheaper than travelling by train, as well as quicker.

There is an Airline express shuttle service between Edinburgh Airport and the city centre, which runs as often as every 10 minutes in the daytime. An open return ticket costs £5 for adults and £3 for children.


The train journey from London to Edinburgh takes around four and a half hours, from King’s Cross to the heart of Edinburgh. Note that when the UK rail system has its regular problems, this can be dramatically extended.


Getting around Edinburgh

On foot

This is the best way to explore the city centre. Arm yourself with a guidebook and map (or use free leaflets available from the Tourist Information Office), some sensible shoes, and explore. This will be the only way to see some of Edinburgh’s poky medieval alleyways, and to enjoy the views from Arthur’s Seat.

Edinburgh buses

Bus services in Edinburgh are run by Lothian Buses, which provide good coverage of the centre and the outlying areas. All-day tickets are available

Open top bus tours are another way of seeing the centre; there are a number of different services. Tickets are usually valid for 24 hours. The limited number of stops means they’re not perfect for hopping on and off, although repeating stretches of the route can be worthwhile if you find a different on-board guide, as some are more knowledgeable than others. Note that your ticket may give you a discount on entry to Edinburgh Castle. The main stop for open top bus tours is on Waverley Bridge, by the corner with Princes Street.


Edinburgh festivals and events

Edinburgh boasts far more than its fair share of festivals, events and celebrations through the year. Festival has spawned festival and now there are a huge range of special occasions to make a trip to Edinburgh more exciting.

Major Summer Festivals

Edinburgh International Festival

Edinburgh International Festival is an extremely prestigious arts event which takes over three weeks in August. The Festival includes international performances of dance, theatre, opera, music as well as exhibitions. Shows take place in venues like the Edinburgh Playhouse and the Edinburgh Festival Theatre. Prices for tickets range upwards from around £6. Really big shows may sell out in advance (check their website in late spring), but for the others you may be able to buy tickets on the day of the performance. The main Box Office is at the Hub, an attractive converted church and meeting place at the top of the Royal Mile by the Castle.

Edinburgh Fringe

Apparently the largest arts festival in the world (as anyone who has visited will find easy to believe). Thousands of shows in nearly 200 venues, ranging from gritty groundbreaking drama to new shows from well-established comedians. The Box Office is on the Royal Mile; arm yourself with a programme and be prepared to plan your whole day around shows.

The 2005 Edinburgh Fringe takes place on 7th -29th August.

Edinburgh International Book Festival

Edinburgh Book Festival is a rather sweet cluster of bookshops, stands and tents for events such as author readings and discussions. Many of today’s top writers put in an appearance, and there are some very interesting workshops and talks.

Edinburgh Tattoo

A huge hit with tourists, and likely to book up well in advance, the tattoo is a huge mass piping event in an impressive setting beside the Castle.


Other Festivals and Events

Edinburgh Hogmanay

The Hogmanay New Year celebrations take over the whole of the centre of Edinburgh. Nowadays Edinburgh is the UK’s party capital on this night, with crowds seeing in the New Year with mass choruses of ‘Auld Lang Syne.’ The town lays on a gigantic party in the streets along the Royal Mile, Princes Street and George Street. There are fireworks, music and theatre, pipe bands and millions of well-wishers.

Edinburgh Scotland


Edinburgh is both mystical and sophisticated; a city of palaces, galleries and monuments as well as rich tradition, legends and dark tales.


Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland and the seat of the Scottish Parliament. Historically the town has always been of strategic importance; you have only to see the stern castle on its hilltop, gazing towards the sea, to understand why. Nowadays as much as ever, it is not just the administrative capital but also the gateway to Scotland. One of the UK’s great tourist destinations, Edinburgh is a stop-off for many tours. For those touring Scotland, it is an essential first port of call.

A large and sprawling modern city, Edinburgh nevertheless has a centre that is fairly compact (you can see most of it on foot), attractive and unspoilt. The Georgians in the eighteenth century did a fine job of clearing slums and redeveloping the so-called New Town, and their wide terraced streets are now an intrinsic part of Edinburgh’s charm.


Myths and Monuments
Can the Scottish Crown Jewels really have gone missing for centuries, until the author Sir Walter Scott launched a search that uncovered them exactly where they should have been all along? What on earth was the thinking behind Edinburgh’s own hilltop Acropolis? Travelling around the city with a guide, your brain will work overtime separating fact from fiction, myth from history, lunacy from genius (and Edinburgh produced many of these). You may simply decide it doesn’t matter, and sit back to enjoy the tales. Edinburgh’s stories are rich and varied, and if you enjoy delving into them you’ll certainly find yourself wanting to planning a return trip.


Edinburgh Festival
Edinburgh is a fascinating and popular destination all year round, but for many visitors, THE time to visit is during the August Festival and Fringe, when the city overflows with culture and entertainment. The Edinburgh International Festival is a fairly staid and highbrow event, with dance, music and theatre of seriously high quality. The Fringe is more like a cultural free-for-all, with hundreds of shows every day. If over-eager student drama isn’t your thing, there is plenty of top comedy from the country’s leading comedians, as well as some cutting-edge new productions. Your mission is to venture forth with a programme in your hand, seeking to separate the superb from the abysmal.

Edinburgh Hogmanay
Hogmanay is the traditional Scottish celebration of New Year’s Eve. Nowadays Edinburgh is the UK’s party capital on this night, with crowds seeing in the New Year with mass choruses of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ . The town lays on a gigantic party in the streets along the Royal Mile, Princes Street and George Street. There are fireworks, music and theatre, pipe bands and millions of well-wishers.