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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. If only you had a local to show you around! Edinburgh is much more than a great big castle and the Royal Mile – it is my home. Here are my favourite things to do in Edinburgh.

Free things to do in Edinburgh 

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 centre 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 pint 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 anyone 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 my favourite 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 on a rainy day

things to do in edinburgh

Meet the characters at Edinburgh Zoo
Edinburgh Zoo is one of my favourite places. With over 1000 species living within 82 acres on the steep sided Corstorphine Hill, the 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 round the gardens and retro greenhouses; followed by a cup of tea and some amazing cake. They make everything onsite 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.

Rummage in the 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. 

My favourite places to eat and drink in Edinburgh

things to do 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 eat teeny-tiny sandwiches. Its 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 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!

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

Love From, Scotland x

If you’d like any more suggestions then get in touch!

More 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

31 Comments

  • Danielle Wisniewski

    09/12/2016 at 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

    Reply
  • Katy

    09/12/2016 at 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

    Reply
  • Luxe Adventure Trvlr (@jdomb)

    10/12/2016 at 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.

    Reply
  • The Travel Ninjas

    11/12/2016 at 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.

    Reply
  • Clare

    11/12/2016 at 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 🙂

    Reply
  • Vicki Garside

    11/12/2016 at 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!

    Reply
  • Clare Thomson

    11/12/2016 at 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

    Reply
  • explorelovetravel

    11/12/2016 at 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 😀

    Reply
  • Kathy James

    11/12/2016 at 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 🙂

    Reply
  • Christina

    11/12/2016 at 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.

    Reply
  • Gareth Thompson

    11/12/2016 at 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

    Reply
  • Leah Walker (@L_e_a_h)

    11/12/2016 at 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!

    Reply
  • mappingmegan

    12/12/2016 at 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 🙂

    Reply
  • Ruth

    13/12/2016 at 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

    Reply
  • Lisa (Travel Loving Family)

    13/12/2016 at 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

    Reply
  • Bryna | Dotted Line Travels

    16/12/2016 at 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!

    Reply
  • Abigail

    05/01/2017 at 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.

    Reply

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