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.