two people looking in awe at the interior of the great hall in the gallery,© National Galleries of Scotland
© National Galleries of Scotland

Top attractions

From museums with world-renowned collections, to tours exploring the city’s ancient past, there’s a wealth of attractions for all the family to enjoy in Edinburgh. Here’s our guide to the ones that should definitely be on your to-do list.

Incorporating painting, photography, sculpture and film, come face-to-face with the people who shaped Scotland’s past, present and future, from Mary, Queen of Scots and Bonnie Prince Charlie to contemporary figures such as Karen Gillan and Alan Cumming.

Complete your visit with trip to to Café Portrait where you can choose from a delicious menu made using the very best local ingredients and seasonal produce.

National Museum of Scotland

National Museum of Scotland

Discover the delights of the natural world, travel back in time through Scottish history, explore world cultures and enthral at modern-day technology at the National Museum of Scotland, one of the UK’s top 10 visitor attractions.

Featuring a diverse range of exhibits, interactive displays and games, a visit to this free museum (charges may apply for some special exhibitions) will appeal to all ages.

The huge variety of galleries in this grand and visually stunning building means that you could quite easily spend an entire day here. Refuel with a range of tasty food and drink options in either the Balcony Café or Museum Kitchen.

For those who appreciate a calmer visit, relaxed sessions take place on the first Sunday of every month.

Flavour of Whisky Tour at Johnnie Walker Princes Street

Johnnie Walker Princes Street

One of the city’s newest attractions, Johnnie Walker Princes Street is the perfect place for both whisky lovers and novices. There really is something for everyone across the eight floors of immersive exploration through the 200 year old history behind the world’s best-selling Scotch whisky.

Be sure to make time to pay a visit to their sumptuous roof top bar – it’s a great spot to take-in the city’s stunning skyline whilst enjoying a dram or two.

Dynamic Earth - Oceans

Dynamic Earth

It starts with a bang – a big bang! Learn about the creation of our planet and travel through time as you explore Earth’s past, present and future at Dynamic Earth.

Get thrust back in time to the very beginnings of our universe and witness first-hand the very first moments of our galaxy and solar system, then make your way back to the present day through volcanic explosions, landscape-forming glaciers and the evolution of our life on Earth. The perfect place for curious minds, a visit here is both fun and educational.

Providing alterations to lighting and audio features and permitting smaller visitor numbers, Relaxed Openings are available on a regular basis.

The Edinburgh Dungeon

The Edinburgh Dungeon

Uncover Edinburgh’s grisly history at The Edinburgh Dungeon – if you dare!

Laugh and scream your way through this fantastic interactive visitor attraction, where you’ll come face-to-face with a range of undesirable characters from Scotland’s history, including the cannibalistic Sawney Bean family and Edinburgh’s infamous killer duo, Burke and Hare.

With immersive actor-led shows, state-of-the-art special effects and two thrilling underground rides, this is a must-visit for anyone fascinated with the dark side of the city. Are you brave enough?!

Tours last approximately 70 minutes, the majority of which are standing. Guests should be aware that large parts of the Dungeon are very dark and have uneven flooring.

The Real Mary King's Close, Bottom of the Close

The Real Mary King’s Close

Lying deep underground is the perfectly preserved time capsule that is The Real Mary King’s Close.

A warren of hidden streets where real people lived and worked between the 17th and 19th centuries, visitors to this 5-star attraction are led back 400 years by a character-guided tour to discover the city’s hidden past. From the deadly plague epidemic to a famous royal visitor, this is a truly unique glimpse into the city’s past.

Free audio guides are available in French, German, Italian, Spanish, Mandarin, Dutch, Portuguese, Polish and Hungarian. A scripted copy of the tour is available for guests with hearing impairment needs.

Please note that, for safety reasons, the tour is not suitable for children under 5 years of age.

Palace of Holyrood House

Palace of Holyroodhouse

Located at the foot of Edinburgh’s historic Royal Mile, the Palace of Holyroodhouse is The King’s official residence in Scotland and the home of Scottish royal history. Explore 14 magnificent state apartments, including the Throne Room and the Morning Drawing Room where many historical events have taken place.

Take a look at Mary, Queen of Scots’ Chambers, where she resided after her return from France in 1561 and take a stroll around the romantic ruins of the 12th century Holyrood Abbey and royal gardens – all of which can be enjoyed with a multimedia tour in ten languages.

The Palace hosts a wide range of events throughout the year, from family activity days and lunchtime lectures to workshops and short talks.

Two girls in the Vortex Tunnel at Camera Obscura & World of Illusions, Edinburgh,© Camera Obscura & World of Illusions, Edinburgh

Camera Obscura & World of Illusions

At Camera Obscura and World of Illusions seeing is not believing!

Welcome to the oldest visitor attraction in Edinburgh, which has been delighting visitors since 1835. Don’t miss this Aladdin’s cave filled with illusions, tricks, puzzles, hands-on experiences and unbelievable effects to experience and interact with.

Serve your own head up on a silver platter, visit the room where little and large become interchangeable, and pick the people of Edinburgh up in your hand in the city’s 150 year old Camera Obscura show. Will you find your way out of the magical mirror maze or manage to stay on your feet in the Vortex Tunnel?

Great fun for all the family, this top attraction is also dog-friendly.

Exterior of the Scottish Parliament

Scottish Parliament

Edinburgh’s Old Town is home to Scotland’s thoroughly modern Scottish Parliament building. The home of Scottish democracy, the building opened in 2004 and offers a variety of different ways for visitors to explore and learn both about the building and the work that goes on inside the famous walls.

Learn about the building’s art and architecture and the history behind the Scottish Parliament on a free guided tour or take a self-guided tour and visit the visit the permanent exhibition. You can even visit a debating chamber and if, Parliament is in session, view proceedings from the public gallery.

Edinburgh Zoo, Giraffes

Edinburgh Zoo

A fantastic day out for all the family, Edinburgh Zoo is only a short bus ride from the city centre and home to over 1,000 fabulous animals from around the world. Situated in beautiful parkland settings, spend the day getting close to fabulous flamingos, cute koalas, cheeky chimpanzees, giant giraffes and much, much more.

There’s also a jammed packed schedule of daily talks given by expert keepers and throughout the year they offer a variety of family-friendly events.

Many of the paths around the zoo can be accessed by wheelchair. A downloadable accessibility map of the zoo is available. You can collect sensory bags from the admissions area which contain a map, ear defenders, sunglasses, fidget toy and binoculars. Please note, there is a refundable deposit.

Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

A 15 minute walk from Princes Street, the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art is a must for fans of modern art. Outside, its expansive park features a range of fascinating sculptures from leading artists such as Joan Miró, Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth.

Home to some of the finest treasures of 20th century art, the gallery’s Modern One has a world-famous collection of Surrealism and Dada, with works by artists such as Matisse, Picasso, Vuillard and Dix, as well as an outstanding selection of paintings by Scottish artists including Peploe and Fergusson.

Exterior photo of The Royal Yacht Britannia,© Marc Millar

The Royal Yacht Britannia

Having sailed over one million miles around the world and now permanently berthed on the shores of Leith, The Royal Yacht Britannia was Queen Elizabeth II’s floating palace for over 40 years. This 5-star attraction offers a fascinating glimpse both above and below deck.

Follow in the footsteps of Royalty through the state apartments and pay a visit to the Queen’s favourite room, the sun lounge. Explore life below decks in the crew’s quarters and marvel at the gleaming engine room.

With a complimentary audio tour available in 30 languages, discover the heart and soul of this special royal residence.

Royal Botanic Garden

Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

If you’re looking to escape the hustle and bustle of city life or are interested in learning more about tropical plants from around the world, then the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is the place to go. Located a short 20 minutes’ walk from Edinburgh city centre, here you will find one of the city’s most valuable treasures.

With its collection of 100,000 plants and 70 acres of beautiful green space, the Botanics (as it is locally known) should be on everyone’s Edinburgh to-do list.

Free to visit (exclusions apply to special events) you can easily loose a few hours exploring their diverse collection. Highlights include the serene Chinese Hillside, world-famous Rock Garden and the magnificent Giant Redwood trees in the Woodland Garden.

Step inside this stunning building and you’ll find walls adorned with masterpieces from Raphael, Rembrandt, Monet, Cézanne and Van Gogh, and a comprehensive collection of works by Scottish artists, including Ramsay, Raeburn, Wilkie and McTaggart. Don’t miss Raeburn’s much-loved The Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch or, as it has become known, The Skating Minister.

A year-round programme of events offers plenty of opportunities to delve deeper into this wonderful collection – you can join a guided tour, take part in a life drawing class, or take the kids to a storytelling session, amongst other things.

Scott Monument

Scott Monument

One of the world’s largest monuments to a writer, the Scott Monument commemorates the Scottish novelist Sir Walter Scott.

Piercing the sky, this gothic-inspired structure was built in 1840 and is one of the most striking landmarks in Edinburgh’s city skyline.

Available to visit by guided tour, find out more about Scott and his legacy, then take-in the breathtaking views from the third-floor viewing platform.

Museum of Childhood

Museum of Childhood

For a real trip down memory lane, don’t miss the Museum of Childhood. The first museum in the world to be dedicated to the history of childhood, it’s a treat for all ages.

A wander through the five galleries unearths an assortment of childhood memorabilia –  from a 1920s voice activated toy to an Xbox, while the new interactive gallery explores a child’s life at home, at school and at play.

Mercat Tours

With a host of accolades to their name, Mercat Tours are Edinburgh’s award-winning walking tour company.

Offering a variety of history and ghost tours, they provide a fascinating insight into Edinburgh’s history and its residents. They also have exclusive access to the renowned Blair Street Underground Vaults, an underground world hidden underneath the streets of the city. Book your ticket today and hear ghoulish and gory tales of the residents who lived here hundreds of years ago.

New for 2023, history tour, Witches; Trial And Truth explores the true history behind Scotland’s witch trials and visits the sites in the city connected to this sad period in Scotland’s history.

Edinburgh Castle at night

Edinburgh Castle

Situated at the top of the Royal Mile on top of castle rock, Edinburgh Castle is Scotland’s most-visited paid-for attraction and the most iconic building in the city. Perched on top of an extinct volcano, the Castle and its Esplanade offer unparalleled views across Edinburgh and over the River Forth to Fife.

Once inside, don’t miss the Honours of Scotland – the oldest crown jewels in the UK; the Stone of Destiny, an ancient symbol of the Scottish monarchy; 12th century St Margaret’s Chapel, the oldest building in Edinburgh, and Mons Meg, the famous 15th century gun.

Keep your ears pricked for the firing of the One O’clock Gun. Fired at exactly 1pm each day (except on Sundays, Good Friday and Christmas Day) from Mills Mount Battery, you can set your watch by it!

Why not learn more about this mighty fortress by taking a guided tour with a castle steward, or hire an audio guide, available in 12 languages. The audio guide is free to blind and partially sighted visitors.

You can request a mobility vehicle to Crown Square. This can accommodate most wheelchairs, motorised wheelchairs and mobility scooters.

The Scotch Whisky Experience building with welcome team member ,© The Scotch Whisky Experience

The Scotch Whisky Experience

Located next to Edinburgh Castle, if you fancy learning all about Scotland’s national drink then The Scotch Whisky Experience is the place to go. Learn about the production process of creating this golden nectar, followed with an immersive 180° presentation of Scotland’s dramatic countryside featuring the five whisky producing regions.

The art of blending is revealed in the 1870s blender’s sample room, while the spectacular vault contains one of the world’s largest collections of Scotch whisky.

You can then round-off a visit by paying a visit to their exquisite Amber Restaurant, which offers a menu showcasing the best of Scotland’s natural larder.

One day tour of Edinburgh

Only in Edinburgh for one day and wondering what to do? Our one day tour of Edinburgh is packed full of suggestions.


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