A local’s guide: Things to do in Edinburgh, Scotland

Welcome to my new travel series where local’s share their tips and advice about their hometowns. In this guide, you’ll learn what to see, where to eat and drink, what to buy and all the information needed to make your holidays unforgettable.

On this post, Kate shares her tips on traveling to Edinburgh, Scotland.

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Things to do in Edinburgh recommended by a local, what to do, where to eat, where to sleep in Edinburgh Scotland

Things to do in Edinburgh, Scotland

I’m Smidge (or Kate to my friends) a 30-something who fell in love with Edinburgh when I moved here 20 years ago. I love my adopted hometown; it’s a constantly changing, growing and evolving city – with a huge life of its own. The Scottish spirit is amazing and you can see it come to life in its capital city. Despite living in this beautiful city, I would still call myself a country girl, I like nothing more than pulling on my hiking boots, grabbing my camera and heading out into the world, and blogging all about it on my Scotland Travel Blog, Love From Scotland.

Top 5 things to do in Edinburgh

  • Watch the penguin parade at Edinburgh Zoo – Every day at around 2 pm the penguins take a walk around the zoo – it’s so cute. Plus the zoo has the only pandas in the UK.
  • Visit the Edinburgh Festival Fringe – for the month of August the city comes alive with 1000s of comedy, theatre, music and dance shows, plus pop-up bars to drink in until the small hours.
  • Climb Edinburgh’s volcano – for a fantastic bird’s eye view of the city. It only takes around 30 minutes, but bring some good walking shoes.
  • Take a stroll around the Royal Botanic Gardens – It is one of the most peaceful places in the city and the Victorian glasshouses are beautiful.
  • Go to Camera Obscura and World of Illusions – From mirrors to mazes, to optical illusions, Camera Obscura is five floors of silly fun – plus a great view of the Castle.

Two off the beaten path things to do in Edinburgh

Edinburgh is made up of a series of villages, and two of my favourites are not often visited by tourists.

  • Swanston Village, with its thatched cottages, sits at the foot of the Pentland Hills Regional Park and is a gorgeous place for a wander, you might even spot a Highland Coo!
  • Closer to the city centre is Dean Village, which is set deep in the Water of Leith river valley, I suggest having lunch in fashionable Stockbridge and then exploring.

Top 3 restaurants to eat in Edinburgh

  • Luxury – The Table is a unique dining experience, ten guests, two chefs and one chef’s table. The food is not cheap but it is extraordinary.
  • Mid Range – I love the funky atmosphere of Leith Chop House. With two branches in Edinburgh, they do the best steak in the city – by a mile!
  • Budget – Bodega on Leith Walk does fantastic Scottish/Australia/California style tacos in a cool space, plus it’s BYOB.

Top 3 bars to drink in Edinburgh

  • The Bon Vivant – sultry & sexy and a past winner of the Best International Restaurant Bar at the Spirited Awards, they do a mean cocktail.
  • Bramble – a tiny hidden underground bar that you have to find – with an excellent music policy, this is the original Edinburgh speakeasy.
  • The Bow Bar – if you fancy a whisky & a pint of Scottish Ale, this is the bar to visit. Busy and boisterous, and on Edinburgh’s prettiest street in the heart of the old town.

The best area to stay in Edinburgh

I would suggest getting a real feel for Edinburgh as a local and staying in Stockbridge or Bruntsfield. You will be just a 15-minute walk into town, but with local bars and restaurants to enjoy, a world away from the busy Royal Mile.

Traditional dishes to try in Edinburgh

I cannot say no to haggis! You will probably find it on menus served with neeps (turnip) and tatties (mashed potato) but look out for it in burritos or as haggis bon bons served with whisky sauce – my favourite.

Swanston Village Edinburgh
Swanston Village Edinburgh

The best way to get around Edinburgh

Edinburgh is a tiny city, so walking is easy, however, be careful, a lot of the city centre is cobbled so bring some good walking shoes. The buses are consistently voted the best in Scotland, you can travel anywhere in the city (one journey for £1.60)

The best spot to see Edinburgh from above

Climbing the Scott Monument (or Edinburgh’s Rocket) on Princes Street is a must – unless you are scared of heights and tight spaces. Otherwise, climb Calton Hill for an incredible view of the city centre

The best souvenirs to buy from Edinburgh

Whisky! There are hundreds of different kinds of malt whisky, so you are sure to find one you like. The Scotch Whisky Experience on the Royal Mile does tastings to help you find out.

Edinburgh Penguin
Edinburgh Penguin

The best day trips from Edinburgh

It has got to be a castle! My favourite is Blackness Castle in West Lothian, which stood in for Fort William in the Outlander TV series. Otherwise, jump on the train to the seaside town of North Berwick for lobster & chips on the beach.

Tourist traps to avoid in Edinburgh

Honestly, Edinburgh is pretty tourist trap free, although be careful with the ‘tartan tat’ shops on the Royal Mile, make sure what you buy really is made in Scotland, and have the correct money for the buses – they do not give change!

Check out my guide: How to spend 3 days in Edinburgh

Have you been to Edinburgh?

What did you enjoy the most?

Kate is the author of Love From Scotland. You can follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

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