Our top things to do in Edinburgh
Wondering what the top things to do in Edinburgh are?
From the winding cobblestone alleys of Old Town to the majestic Georgian architecture of New Town, Scotland’s capital is a treasure trove of rich history, culture and fantastic food.
Travel editor, Emma Winterschladen, shares her favourite things to do in Edinburgh.
Where to stay in Edinburgh
The Witchery by the Castle
If you’re after a truly romantic city break, drenched in luxury and history, then you can do no better than this time-capsule hotel.
Tucked down a cobbled close off the Royal Mile, near Edinburgh Castle, it’s an eccentric Scottish hideaway.
In its adult-only suites, you’ll find lavish antique décor, four-poster beds, roll-top baths for two and champagne on ice upon arrival.
The hotel’s restaurant also has a world-class reputation, serving exquisite Scottish fare in a candlelit, oak-panelled setting.
Just a short walk from Princes Street, this stylish Georgian townhouse is an oasis of calm and comfort in the heart of the city.
Its interior is both elegant and homely, with spacious, high-ceilinged bedrooms, open fires, sumptuous soft furnishings and grand stone-clad bathrooms.
The hotel also boasts a German beer hall-inspired bar a superb Steak Restaurant that serves the most delicious melt-in-mouth Chateaubriand.
Where to eat and drink in Edinburgh:
For a drink
Enjoy some one-on-one time with your favourite person in this wonderful candlelit cocktail bar, located in a basement on Queen Street.
With over 40 gins and an elaborate cocktail list full of interesting ingredients, it may be hard to leave!
The bar also has a painstakingly thought-out selection of mocktails to rival the alcoholic options.
This Edinburgh-born coffee roastery has garnered a cult following among locals.
If you’re short on time, pop in for a cup of delicious java and a homemade bake to fuel a day of exploring.
Artisan Roast also now has cafés in the city’s Stockbridge and Bruntsfield neighbourhoods, as well as one in Glasgow.
For brunch or lunch
Broughton Deli is the perfect spot for a wholesome, laidback lunch. It’s always buzzing with conversation and the food is freshly prepared and organic.
Try the deli ramen noodle soup – it’s a winner.
Built in 1836 and set in the Royal Terrace Gardens, this quaint cottage is now a critically acclaimed restaurant.
Serving the best of seasonal Scottish cuisine in a friendly, informal setting, communal tables add to an intimate, supper-club feel.
Make sure you book ahead, as it’s becoming an increasingly popular brunch spot among Edinburgh urbanites (it also serves à la carte lunches and a seven-course dinner menu).
The beetroot Bloody Mary is a must, as is the Arbroath kipper and poached eggs, and bread which is baked in the restaurant’s equally-lovely sister café in Leith, Quay Commons.
As the restaurant is at the foot of Calton Hill, it’s worth a stroll up to the top for views across Edinburgh and to see the impressive National Museum of Scotland.
This addition to Edinburgh’s food scene has quickly become a firm favourite.
Jessica Elliott Dennison, author of the cookbook Salad Feasts, has done an amazing job of creating a cosy-yet cool café that serves fresh pasta, vibrant salads and homemade cakes (and the rest!).
Keep an eye out for her seasonal supper clubs, too – a wonderful way to spend an evening.
La Garrigue’s French fare has been a firm favourite of locals for some years now.
Its deep blue interiors and stylish crockery give a simultaneously chic and cosy feel to the restaurant.
Their extensive wine list focuses on the Languedoc region of France, an influence that seeps into its food menu.
Its upmarket surroundings are grounded by unpretentious, carefully considered dishes.
With its daily changing, hand-scrawled specials menu and happy chatter floating through the air, this word-of-mouth favourite is always full.
Its creative dishes, impressive wine list and reasonable prices make it an ideal spot for an informal supper.
The steamed mussels with cream, bacon, pine nuts, Parmesan, fresh basil and fries gets our vote. There’s also the added bonus if you can bag yourself a window table overlooking the castle.
The epitome of industrial-chic, this old brick warehouse is now home to one of Edinburgh’s finest eating establishments.
The award-winning, family-run restaurant offers lunch, pre-theatre as well as four-, six- and eight-course menus. Discover ingredient-led dishes such as trout, fennel, samphire and buttermilk or venison, elderberry, chanterelle and tarragon.
The on-site growing patch provides herbs and flowers, while everything else is sourced locally from growers, producers and foragers.
It also has a drinks list to rival the food, with intriguing cocktails and natural wines from small European wineries. The wood-burning stove makes it a special spot for a cold evening.
What to do in Edinburgh
Visit Balmoral Spa
The next best thing to staying at Edinburgh’s most distinguished address is paying its luxurious spa a visit.
With a Finnish spa, Turkish steam room, pol and treatments, it’s a real haven.
For a winter warmer, try the Rocco Forte Facial Ritual (which includes a back and foot massage) or Rose Indulgence Wrap.
You can also book in for a spa day package, which includes treatments, a two-course lunch and full access to the spa.
Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art
Edinburgh isn’t short on national art galleries, but our personal favourite has to be its most contemporary offering.
Situated in two stately piles, it’s home to work by the likes of Matisse, Bacon, Picasso, Hockney, Warhol and Hirst.
Admission is free unless there’s a special exhibition.
For retail therapy
W. Armstrong & Son
A trip to Edinburgh wouldn’t be complete without a rummage through one of this beloved institution’s three stores.
Since opening the Grassmarket flagship branch in 1840, Armstrong’s has been dressing the city’s inhabitants in vintage garments.
The shops are an Aladdin’s cave of unique things – from one-of-a-kind vintage wear to timeless designer cashmere jumpers.
On the eastern fringes of New Town is a very special cobbled street. Lined with a vibrant array of independent shops, cafés and bars, it’s worth putting aside a few hours for a leisurely amble.
Pop into Curiouser and Curiouser for Scottish-inspired gifts, stationery and art; Life Story for Scandi-style homewares and jewellery; Crombies of Edinburgh for deli treats; and Villeneuve Wines for a bottle of fine wine or whisky.
Walk up Arthur’s Seat
A brisk walk to the top of this famous craggy peak is just the ticket for blowing away the cobwebs – whatever the weather.
Arthur’s Seat offers breathtaking 360° views across Edinburgh. Make an afternoon of it by heading back down the hill and walking for 20 minutes to Duddingston village, where you’ll find the Sheep Heid Inn.
This is understood to be Scotland’s oldest surviving public house (it’s around 600 years old). A cosy spot for a pub lunch and a game of skittles.
Visit Dean Village
To the west of the city sits this picturesque pocket of history by the Water of Leith.
Once a hub of industrial activity, today it’s a quiet, sought-after residential area with charming Victorian houses.
It makes for a lovely walk. Head to the bottom of Hawthornbank Lane for the perfect photo opportunity.
There’s a village feel to this charming corner of Edinburgh. You’ll find bakeries such as Cuckoo’s and Söderberg, as well as high-quality charity shops.
One of Edinburgh’s most photogenic streets, Circus Lane, is also here. As is The Stockbridge Restaurant, which is the place to go for fine dining.
A notable mention must also go to Stockbridge Market, perfect for picking up artisan trinkets or lunch on the go.
Getting around Edinburgh
Edinburgh is very walkable and best enjoyed on foot if you can. There are also lots of buses to help you get around, as well as a tram with direct links to the airport.
Getting to Edinburgh
Edinburgh Waverley station is situated in the heart of the city, and a train from London King’s Cross is just four hours up the scenic east coast with LNER.
You can also fly direct to Edinburgh Airport from many UK airports – with flights taking about an hour from London, though it’s not as eco-friendly as the train.
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