A local’s guide to things to do in Edinburgh

A local’s guide to things to do in Edinburgh

We all know how easy it to fall into the trap of visiting the ‘top ten’ places and well-trod drinking dens of the city you are visiting. Here are my favourite things to do in Edinburgh.

Free things to do in Edinburgh

Work up an appetite at the Botanics

I love taking a wander around the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh. The gardens are absolutely beautiful and there are lots of things to see including the spectacular glasshouses, Inverleith House, a great visitor center and a couple of Andy Goldsworthy sculptures. After a good walk, there are also lots of delicious cafes in the area including Blue Bear Cafe and Earthy at Canonmills.

Take a Sunday stroll down to Stockbridge

Browse the Sunday market, pop into independent fashion and charity shops (including Oxfam Music and Mary’s Living and Giving) & fill up on stinky melted cheese sandwiches at renowned Edinburgh cheese shop IJ Mellis. After a good browse head for brunch at The Pantry and then to The Last Word Saloon for a few cocktails or the Baillie for a few pints and dream of the day you might own a beautiful Georgian mews house on Circus Mews Lane.

Explore Edinburgh’s walkways

From discovering the Dean Village along the Water of Leith, mills on the River Almond, boats on the Union Canal and castles on the Shore Walk, Edinburgh is one of the UK’s best cities for walking. Head to any one of these paths and you will soon feel a million miles away from the city. Perfect for clearing your head after the night before. Ahem.

Head to Edinburgh’s beach at Portobello

Portobello is favourite of Edinburgh locals for a stroll on a sunny day when the sun is out and that blue sky is all above you there are very few places better. Even if it is not often warm enough to sit on the beach! Instead, take a bracing walk along the prom and have a go on the vintage penny arcades. Brunch after your walk is available at the cool Espy Bar, the Beach House cafe or The Skylark.

Go behind the scenes of the city

From the tiny, peaceful, Dunbar’s Close garden (originally created by another town planner Sir Patrick Geddes) to the slightly creepy Innocent Railway tunnel, Edinburgh is a city of secret places, and discovering them is one of my favourite pastimes. If you don’t have much time, just head down one of the closes off the Royal Mile. You never know what you will find!

things to do in edinburgh

things to do in edinburgh

Things to do in Edinburgh on a rainy day

Meet the characters at Edinburgh Zoo

With over 1000 species living within 82 acres on the steep-sided Corstorphine Hill, Edinburgh Zoo is much more than its famous Pandas – they even have a penguin parade. Edinburgh Zoo is open all year round and is £19.50 for adults.

Discover the Secret Herb Garden

If you have a car this is a great place to escape to for a wander around the gardens and retro greenhouses; followed by a cup of tea and some amazing cake. They make everything on site often using their own homegrown plants and herbs, and they have a surprisingly good gluten-free range. Visit the Secret Herb Garden on Old Pentland Road.

Ride in a whisky barrel

If you fancy trying Scottish whisky whilst you are in Edinburgh then head to the top of the Royal Mile to The Scotch Whisky Experience. From the sublime to occasionally a little bit ridiculous, learn about what makes uisge beatha (or the ‘water of life’) and find your perfect malt or blend.

Explore Camera Obscura and World of Illusions

Fancy getting silly? From mirrors to mazes, to optical illusions, Camera Obscura is five floors of fun. It’s not just for the kids! Please don’t ask me to go into the vortex maze… I just can’t do it! Camera Obscura is right next to the Castle on the Royal Mile and costs £14.50 for adults.

You might also like...  Edinburgh's best brunches

Rummage in the Edinburgh vintage shops

Edinburgh has a plethora of vintage shops. For Scandinavian furniture, art and design try Bra Brohag on Easter Road.  On the outskirts of the city is Retropolis – a bit of a rummage, but great fun. Also over on Leith Walk is Crawford’s furniture showrooms, a proper old-fashioned junk shop. For refurbished stuff check out Retro is located on Edinburgh’s Morrison Street and Ubermas on Gillespie Place.

things to do in edinburgh

Eating and Drinking in Edinburgh

Pull up a bar stool and drink some beer

Whilst Glasgow will forever hold the reputation as Scotland’s friendliest city, Edinburgh can certainly hold its own. Pull up a bar stool at a traditional Edinburgh bar (these are my favourite bars in Edinburgh) smile willingly, or just join in with the banter, you will soon be made welcome. Just don’t mention fitba, the trams, or the bins.

Settle down with a great G&T

With three home-grown gins made in the city and a plethora of specialist bars serving gin from across Scotland, Edinburgh is your perfect destination if you love gin as much as me! My favourite gin bar is Bramble. With a speakeasy vibe, beds to lie on, DJs on the weekend, and knowledgeable bar staff it is a great place to hide away with a cocktail. More gin bars in Edinburgh and my favourite places for a cocktail.

Eat & drink like a queen at Prestonfield House

The house and grounds are gorgeous and if you are lucky you might get your own private salon in which to sup champagne and eat teeny-tiny sandwiches. It’s the perfect place to go with the girls or to take your mum. After tea, have a wander around the lovely gardens and spot the peacocks! Prestonfield’s Afternoon Tea is served daily from 2-7pm at £25 or Champagne Afternoon Tea for £35.

Make it a Taco Tuesday!

Edinburgh does Taco’s brilliantly. El Cartel has a selection of very tasty tacos, you can choose to tuck into as little or as much as you want, and there’s always a new flavour of frozen margaritas to try out (as well as a HUGE tequila menu). Over on Leith Walk, is Bodega, a tiny BYOB taco bar, with a selection of Mexican and modern tacos.

Dine with your own chef at The Table

Each night at The Table Edinburgh, two chefs serve a seven-course fine dining tasting menu for just 10 lucky diners. This is no fussy fine dining restaurant; everything about it from the food, to the setting, to the chefs themselves encourage you to just get stuck in and enjoy yourself. Highly recommended, if you can get a seat at the table!

Check out more of my favourite restaurants in Edinburgh.

What are you waiting for? Get booking your hotel!

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Love From, Scotland x

If you are looking for more – have a look at my quirky and unusual things to do in Edinburgh.

The best places to visit in Edinburgh from the Trusted Traveller
city guide to Edinburgh from Eastpak & comedian Damian Clark
9 things to do in Edinburgh that won’t cost you a penny!
More and  things to do in Edinburgh from Eva Explores
Spend new year’s eve in Edinburgh with this guide to Hogmanay

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A Local's Guide to Things to Do in Edinburgh

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32 Comments

  1. 09/12/2016 / 10:02 am

    great ideas! #farawayfiles ps. I’ve been to Edinburgh and Loved it!:)

  2. 09/12/2016 / 10:31 am

    Pinned! 🙂 I was in Edinburgh back when I was 14 but I hardly remember anything! 🙁 So we plan to go one day! #FarawayFiles

  3. 09/12/2016 / 8:31 pm

    Love this!! The main tourist attractions are always nice, but seeing the city like a local gives a whole new perspective. Thanks so much for sharing! Will use these tips for sure on my next trip to Edinburgh! #farawayfiles

  4. 09/12/2016 / 9:37 pm

    A gin bar called Bramble has my name on it. Love hearing about cities from their residents. Thanks for joining us again on #FarawayFiles

  5. 10/12/2016 / 11:47 am

    You had me and G&T! We have one everyday in Africa. Makes for the perfect sundowner.

  6. 10/12/2016 / 2:02 pm

    These are great suggestions. I’m so sorry I opted to go some place else earlier this year. Maybe next year!

  7. 10/12/2016 / 3:42 pm

    I wish the city I live in was this beautiful..I would like to try all these out when I visit here.

  8. 10/12/2016 / 7:05 pm

    So my day would go like this: stroll on the beach, browse in vintage shops and then discover the secret places. Thanks for sharing this truly local’s guide to Edinburgh!

  9. 10/12/2016 / 9:02 pm

    This is a great guide! We haven’t been to Edinburgh yet, but hopefully will be visiting next year after we move to the UK. I’m bookmarking this, especially so I can check out this taco place! Good tacos are one of the things I miss most about being an expat.

  10. 11/12/2016 / 3:13 am

    Edinburgh is on our Buckit list. We never made it there in our European travels, and we regret it. Thanks so much for this locals perspective on the city. We can’t wait to try out your suggestions. The food scene is frankly surprising.

  11. 11/12/2016 / 3:14 am

    I love Edinburgh, it is such a beautiful city. I guess I have only done all the typical tourist things though as I haven’t done anything on your list. I am hoping to do a road trip around Scotland next september so hopefully I will be in Edinburgh and do a few alternative things 🙂

  12. 11/12/2016 / 3:40 am

    You had me at Taco Tuesday! yeaaaah! Have to venture here next time I’m in the UK

  13. 11/12/2016 / 5:33 am

    Great ideas! It’s nice to know the highlights of a place, but exploring recommendations made by locals always add a little something extra to the experience. I love that the food scene has exploded in recent years too – all the more reason to visit!

  14. Clare Thomson
    11/12/2016 / 10:59 am

    Great list of things to do. It’s always best to find out where the locals go when you’re travelling so thanks for sharing this on #FarawayFiles

  15. 11/12/2016 / 11:23 am

    Whiskey tasting, the secret herb garden and dining with the chef – now that sounds like a fantastic way to spend a weekend in Edinburgh! My partner and I would both love to visit this lovely city, and have been planning to for a while now. Thanks for sharing these tips and making me even more psyched about going there 😀

  16. 11/12/2016 / 11:36 am

    Some great recommendations here! I love Portobello Beach. I go there with my friends dog when I am visiting. I have also seen the underground city a few times. I really recommend the haunted tour of them. Adds a bit of fun to history 🙂

  17. Christina
    11/12/2016 / 11:47 am

    I love Edinburgh’s cobblestone streets and Edinburgh castle is such a rich historical place to explore. The food in Edinburgh is amazing too. Edinburgh is one of my favourite cities in the UK.

  18. 11/12/2016 / 4:16 pm

    Couldn’t agree more with a could of points in this post; having a drink in one of the many Edinburgh pubs and the vintage stores. The city has a wealth of them both and there seems an endless variety to explore. Fabulous photos too and the panoramic view you’ve captured is absolutely incredible

  19. Edinburgh looks so unique and I would love to check out its fun stores and pubs. Your shots are incredible too and I love reading some ideas of things to do from an insider! Will deffo put that Scotch Experience on my bucket list!

  20. 11/12/2016 / 11:27 pm

    Edinburgh has such a special place. It is the first European city I ever visited, but more importantly, I took my mom. She’s no longer living, making it that much more special. I want to return, and your local’s guide is exactly the motivation I need. I’ve already done all of the touristy things. Thanks!

  21. 12/12/2016 / 8:02 am

    Thanks for this guide! We visited Edinburgh for 2 days during Hogmanay a few years ago, so we didn’t really have much time to explore the city and see what it was like outside of the festive season. Would love to travel back 🙂

  22. 12/12/2016 / 7:46 pm

    Great ideas! Edinburgh is high on my list of places to visit so I’m pinning this for when I go. #mondayescapes

  23. 12/12/2016 / 8:27 pm

    Great to read an insider’s guide, thank you! I’ve pinned for next year as we’ll be passing through Edinburgh on our way home from the Highlands. #Mondayescapes

  24. 12/12/2016 / 9:09 pm

    Great list, we will have to do a few. Our boys love Edinburgh zoo but pushing the pram up the hill puts me off going a lot haha! #MondayEscapes

  25. Ruth
    13/12/2016 / 2:42 am

    Looks like there are a hundred ways (I am sure there are more) to have fun in Edinburgh. Will like to have a taste of the food scene between visits to different places. Tacos there? I will like to try those. #MondayEscapes

  26. 13/12/2016 / 9:47 pm

    It all sounds so fab, I love the sound of the gin bars and cocktails xxx

  27. Lisa (Travel Loving Family)
    13/12/2016 / 10:15 pm

    This is a great post! Always useful to hear tips from a local person in the know. I particularly love how you have listed your favourite places to eat, invaluable advice for anyone visiting Edinburgh.Thanks for linking to #MondayEscapes

  28. 16/12/2016 / 7:00 am

    I went to Edinburgh so many years ago, I only remember a handful of things, Camera Obscura being one of them! I remember really enjoying it. Another thing I remember was this chocolate soup cafe, which I don’t think exists anymore 🙁 Wish I had this guide when I was there!

  29. 05/01/2017 / 1:09 am

    What an extensive guide – love it! I didn’t realize that there are so many free things to do in Edinburgh, which is always a good thing. I love the food options too – would love to try them someday.

  30. 07/01/2017 / 6:04 pm

    Absolutely love your first picture. What a place! Thanks for the suggestions on things to do. I haven’t been yet but hope to in the next year or so.

  31. 09/09/2017 / 8:23 pm

    Ahhh I remember riding in those whiskey barrels when I was a kid. Thanks for the tips!

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