A guide to the medieval city of Edinburgh

Edinburgh things to do edinburgh castle

Despite hearing great things about Scotland’s capital from multiple sources, we weren’t exactly expecting great things in the lead up to our 4 night stay in Edinburgh. In hindsight however we couldn’t have been more wrong! Yes it’s cold, and while it doesn’t necessarily have the same instagramable ‘look’ of the Mediterranean, its beauty runs much deeper when you take the time to look for it.

If we had to describe Edinburgh in a single word the word ‘rich’ comes to mind. Whilst in a literal sense Edinburgh has always been the wealthier cousins to Scotland’s working class city of Glasgow, there is an overwhelming ‘richness’ that permeates through its medieval history, diversity of locals, and hearty cuisine.

We can now safely say Edinburgh is a city we naively underestimated and will definitely be visiting again.

The top things to do in Edinburgh

These were things we enjoyed during our stay and thought you would too! This is only our perspective, and Edinburgh has many many more highlights and attractions.

Walk the Royal Mile

The impressive Royal Mile sits in the heart of Edinburgh, and is impossible to miss for those visiting. The Royal Mile connects the Edinburgh Castle with the Palace of Holyroodhouse. The entire length of this street has wonderfully maintained old buildings. There are also numerous small alleys branching off, and picturesque streets that connect up (see below). Simply walking the street is a wonderful experience in itself. You will hear bagpipe players busking, and walk past many pubs, restaurants, churches, shops and more! Don’t miss the Royal Mile!

Walk through the beautiful Holyrood Park

Holyrood Park was one of our favourite attractions in Edinburgh. Located around 15 minutes walk from the Edinburgh old town, this expansive park offers walks, hikes and great views! We recommend you head to the park and walk up the Salisbury Crags, giving you one of the best views of Edinburgh. Read more about how we enjoyed the stunning Holyrood Park here!

Check out some of the picturesque old town streets (see below):

The Edinburgh Old Town is so picturesque! We were impressed with how well preserved the old town was. The Royal Mile and streets branching off are full of old buildings, churches, cafes, shops and more. Take a look at our list below of some of the most picturesque streets in Edinburgh.

Try traditional Scottish cuisine

The Scottish cuisine that we tried was overall very tasty, however there was one ‘staple’ of their menu’s that took some building up for us to try. Haggis! Haggis is a savoury dish containing sheeps organs mixed with an array of spices and some vegetables. Served in a variety of ways, we opted to try it in the heart of Edinburgh at Scott’s Kitchen. We were overall surprised by how tasty it was, however it’s probably not something we will add into our dining back home.

You also can’t visit Edinburgh without trying some Scottish Whisky. There are numerous whisky shops along the main streets, and enthusiasts can book special whisky tastings and tours. We opted to try some at the Sheeps Heid Inn, one of the oldest pubs in Scotland.

Check out some of the best views in Edinburgh

Edinburgh has so many amazing view points in and around the city! We will post an in-depth guide in future, but we recommend you check out some of the spots from the list below. Best of all, they are all free, and boast great views of the city and Edinburgh Castle! Throw these into Google Maps and you’re good to go!

  • The Vennel View Point
  • 7th Floor Terrace of the National Scottish Museum (see below)
  • Calton Hill
  • Holyrood Park at Salisbury Crags
  • East Princess Street Gardens

See our blog which goes into more detail on the best views in Edinburgh!

Head to Dean Village

Located a 20-30 minute walk out of the city Dean Village is the perfect little day trip for those wanting to explore a small town and have a slower pace. With less crowds, this cute riverside town won’t take long to walk through, but is very picturesque. Read more about Dean Village here!

get Fish and Chips UNDER THE TOLBOOTH KIRK CHURCH listening to bagpipes

This was one of our favourite moments in Edinburgh, and it happened spontaneously. A small fish and chips van called ‘Anstruther Fish & Frites’ sits at the base of the Tolbooth Kirk Church. As we walked past we checked out the food, and with the sound of bagpipes billowing down the street, we decided this place was as good as any to stop. The food was also very tasty!

Check out the Harry Potter museum/store on Victoria Street

We are both massive Harry Potter fans, and loved how medieval and magical Edinburgh feels. It is no surprise that J.K. Rowling based a number of characters and parts of Harry Potter on things she had seen in Edinburgh. There is a popular Harry Potter store (which feels like a mini museum) located on Victoria Street. Whilst it is very touristic, we enjoyed taking a look around!

Head to the Grassmarket

Nestled in the old town just off the Royal Mile, the Grassmarket is a great place to explore. With cute shops, picturesque streets, views of the city (if you look for them) and lots of pubs! If you visit on Saturday, head to the Saturday Grassmarket for some multicultural food and cute market stalls.

Visit the Greyfriars Kirkyar

For the Harry Potter fans amongst us a visit to Edinburgh is not complete without stopping by Greyfriars Kirkyard. This old graveyard adjacent to a small unassuming church is thought to have inspired many of J.K Rowling’s characters in the Harry Potter series. Think McGonagall, the Potters, Moodie, Black, Scrymgeour, and last but not least Thomas Riddell. All of these names can be found inscribed on tombstones within the graveyard for those who are dedicated enough to find them.

Get a dose of history at the National Scottish Museum

We received a great recommendation from some fellow Scottish travellers (who we met in Sofia) to visit the National Scottish Museum. We found it fascinating to get an insight into Scotland, particularly the country’s history. The museum itself is architecturally beautiful, and it is free to enter! The real highlight is definitely the view from the terrace on level 7 of the building. This view is a panoramic of the city, including the Royal Mile and the Edinburgh Castle. Also, make sure to see the clock chime on the hour.

Check out some of the beautiful parks like The Meadows & Princess St Gardens

Edinburgh has a number of beautiful parks and gardens around the city. Apart from the expansive Holyrood Park (as mentioned above), we particularly enjoyed visiting The Meadows, located just out of the city near Edinburgh University, and Princes Street Gardens, located on the ‘New Town’ side of the city. The Princess Street Gardens offer some impressive views of the old town. There are also the Royal Botanical Gardens which we didn’t get a chance to visit.

Visit the impressive old churches

Edinburgh, like many old European cities, has an abundance of impressive churches and cathedrals. We spent some time visiting St Giles Cathedral, which boasted some of the more impressive stained glass windows we have seen! Edinburgh has many other churches, including Church of St. John the Evangelist, Tolbooth Kirk Church, St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral and more.

Wander down the narrow side streets

As you walk along the Royal Mile you will notice an abundance of small side streets called labelled ‘Close’. We loved spending some time ducking off the main street to explore these tiny little alleyways.

Don’t sleep on the Edinburgh New town

The newer side of the city is home to many great highlights, including shopping malls, art galleries, great cafe’s are more! You can check out Calton Hill, The Scottish National Portrait Gallery, the Princes Street Gardens, one of our favourite coffee shops Fortitude Coffee and more!

Check out Calton Hill

Calton Hill is located on the New Town side of the city, boasting great views of Edinburgh. With impressive monuments, galleries and more, it’s worth the walk to check out. It is also very popular for sunset views of the city.

The one that got away: Edinburgh Castle

We decided against visiting the famous castle due to the cost. Entry for adults is around Β£20 (meaning it would cost us close to $80 AUD for both of us), and we had so many other things we wanted to see during our stay. However, we have heard it is impressive, so don’t let our decision stop you from visiting!

The Most Picturesque Streets in Edinburgh:

Edinburgh has a number of impressive streets to wander and explore in the old town. We enjoyed spending multiple parts of our few day stay just wandering them without any agenda. We have listed some of our favourite streets below:

The Royal Mile

The obvious ‘can not miss’ street in the heart of the Edinburgh Old Town. Walk the length of it, enjoy the vibe, listen to the bagpipe players and wander down the side streets.

Victoria Street

Running just off the Royal Mile, Victoria Street is a must visit. With coloured buildings and flags running across the street, you can’t help taking a few photos. Walk down toward Grassmarkets, stop at the Harry Potter shop, and enjoy some of the cute pubs along the street.

Cockburn Street

Branching off the heart of the Royal Mile, Cockburn Street is one of the prettiest parts of Edinburgh Old Town. Don’t miss one of the best coffee shops in the old town, The Milkman!

Candlemakers Row

Candlemakers Row is another picturesque street located near Greyfriars Kirkyard and the National Scottish Museum. Walk this pretty street down towards the Grassmarket, check out the famous graveyard, and don’t forget to ‘boop’ the nose of Grayfrairs Bobby (a famous dog statue) at the top of the street.

Regent Road

Located on the ‘New Town’ side near Calton Hill, this road has great views of the old town. There is also the old Royal High School, cemeteries, a parliament building and Calton Hill.

Some of our top picks for food in Edinburgh:

Edinburgh has so many pubs, cafes and restaurants that line the old town, and are on the fringes of the city. We didn’t eat dinner’s out in Edinburgh (our Airbnb had a great kitchen!), but we had a few great lunches! We have listed a few of the options we enjoyed below for you to check out:

Sheeps Heid Inn

This authentic local pub is the oldest in Scotland, with history dating back to 1360. Head out of town to Duddingston for a great meal, good service, and a cozy pub with lots of history. Whilst it was mostly locals, it may pay to book in advance to avoid missing out.

Scott’s Kitchen

Located in the heart of the old town just off the picturesque Victoria Street, Scott’s Kitchen delivers Scottish food with an elevated twist. We tried the Haggis (have to try some when in Scotland), a slow cooked stew and the soup of the day. We found the food excellent and the service very friendly. However, it can get busy so perhaps book in advance if a larger group.

Fish and Chips at Anstruther Fish & Frites

For a tasty fish and chips on the go along the main street, heat to Anstruther. This little van delivered a mean fish and chips (they also do Haggis options). We enjoyed sitting in the Autumn sun and listening to the bagpipes in the background.

The best coffee in Edinburgh

Edinburgh has a thriving cafe culture, delivering some excellent coffee’s. We didn’t get a chance to check out all of the top cafe’s, but these were some of the ones we rated highly!

  • The Milkman: Situated in the heart of the old town on the picturesque Cockburn Street, The Milkman delivers an excellent cup of coffee!
  • Hideout Cafe: Nestled at the top of the Royal Mile just near Victoria Street, Hideout Cafe is the perfect place to ‘hideout’ and grab a coffee.
  • Fortitude Coffee: Situated in the ‘new town’ part of Edinburgh, this cafe was top notch! The coffee and sweet treats they offer are excellent!
  • Room Rumours: Great coffee and even better customer service. We loved our stop at Room Rumours. It is located in the perfect spot for a ‘pre train’ coffee (only 3mins from Edinburgh Waverley).

Where to stay in Edinburgh?

We stayed in a delightful apartment with Holyrood Park views located around 20-25minutes walk away from the old town (see here). If you want to check out something a little closer to the old town, see here or take a look below:


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Comments (2):

  1. Diane

    October 19, 2022 at 10:59 pm

    Great post Ky!!
    You did Edinburgh proud!!

    • Ky

      October 19, 2022 at 11:04 pm

      Thanks Di! We loved Edinburgh, such a cool city!


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