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Water of Leith Walkway
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The 28 best things to do in Edinburgh right now

From glorious walks to a vibrant arts scene, the Scottish capital has heaps on offer to keep you busy. Here’s our pick of the best things to do in Edinburgh

Arusa Qureshi
Chiara Wilkinson
Written by
Arusa Qureshi
&
Chiara Wilkinson
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We all know that Edinburgh is a great place to visit in August, when the city hosts the Fringe: the world’s largest arts festival, bursting with hundreds of theatre and comedy shows. But if you’d rather visit at another time, fear not: the Scottish capital is an excellent place to explore all year round. 

From tucking into its top-notch restaurant scene and exploring charming boozers to navigating its rich, fascinating history and checking out the city’s busy cultural offerings, you’ll be spoilt for choice. Oh, and did we mention the scenery? Absolutely braw (that’s the Scots word for ‘glorious’). 

So, whether you’re planning a quick getaway, a longer holiday or even a Fringe-long trip, you won’t be short on options. Better get packing: here are the best things to do Edinburgh.

RECOMMENDED:
🪩 The best clubs in Edinburgh
🍹 The best cocktail bars in Edinburgh
🏨 The best hotels in Edinburgh
🏘️ The best Airbnbs in Edinburgh

This guide was last updated by Time Out’s features editor Chiara Wilkinson, who is originally from Edinburgh. At Time Out, all of our travel guides are written by local writers who know their cities inside out. For more about how we curate, see our editorial guidelines

Things to do in Edinburgh

  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens

What is it? An extinct volcano with a peak that sits 251 metres above sea level, offering some sweet views of the city.

Why go? How many cities can boast that they have an extinct volcano? Well, Edinburgh is one of them. Arthur’s Seat is visible from much of the centre since it rises out of the wide grasslands of Holyrood Park. If you want to visit, pop on your hiking boots or grab yourself a bike. It makes for a (relatively) easy voyage and at the highest point you’ll discover matchless views of the city skyline. On May Day it’s traditional for young women to wash their face with the hill’s morning dew to supposedly make them beautiful – although we’d argue that’s a pretty bracing start to the day at any time of year, regardless of gender.

Don’t miss: Arthur’s Seat can be tackled from various directions, the easiest being the grassy slope on the east side rising from Dunsapie Loch on Queen’s Drive.

Brave the Edinburgh Dungeon
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Attractions
  • Recommended

Up for a fright? The Edinburgh Dungeon invites groups of unsuspecting visitors to meet grisly figures plucked straight out of history (beheaded freedom fighter William Wallace, Edinburgh grave robbers Burke and Hare) and hear in their own words how horrible history really is. It’s all deliriously good fun: some of the more elaborate rides (the Sawney Bean boat ride especially) are giddily terrifying, and the actors inhabiting the historical roles are simultaneously eager to get in your face and aware of when to rein in their performances (kids aged eight and up are welcome).

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What is it? A unique drinks attraction for whisky and non-whisky lovers alike.

Why go? This whisky distillery in the ever-trendy area of Leith offers 360-degree views out over both Edinburgh and the surrounding landscape. It opened up at the end of 2023 and not only does it look good – but the whisky it makes is pretty bloody delicious, too. You can book tours and tastings, check out their programme of regular events or simply take in the view and knock back a dram. 

Don’t miss: Make sure you make a reservation for a cocktail on the ninth floor bar.

  • Theatre

What is it? One of the city’s most historic performance spaces.

Why go? If you want to catch any big-hitting touring shows, this historic theatrical space is where to go. Opened as the Festival Theatre in 1994, it was built from the remains of the old Empire Palace Theatre, a hall that had been around since 1892, and which was known to locals as a variety and concert hall that had welcomed acts including Laurel & Hardy, Judy Garland, Morecambe and Wise, and David Bowie over the decades. The theatre seats 2,000 and regularly hosts comedy, ballet, opera and live music as well as plays.

Don’t miss: This is the Edinburgh home of Scottish Opera and Scottish Ballet, so try and catch a show from the companies here.

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  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens

What is it? A grassy, wide-open space for joggers, sports teams and sunbathers in the centre of town. 

Why go? The large, leafy expanse of the Meadows lies in the shadow of Edinburgh University’s central campus, so it’s not surprising to see the place swamped with sunbathing students during the summer. A relaxing, airy alternative to the rushing traffic and labyrinthine alleyways of the Old Town, the Meadows also connects the city centre with the calmer suburbs of the Southside, home to many a deli, café and boutique. Try out the excellent 27 Elliott’s café, plant-based doughnut delights from Considerit Chocolate, ethical grocery shop The Refillery and Tills, one of Edinburgh’s oldest second-hand bookshops.

Don’t miss: The community-focused Meadows Festival transforms the area into a large-scale market and entertainment jamboree every June. 

  • Music
  • Music venues

What is it? Late-night live music bar and club. 

Why go? The LCD Soundsystem-inspired murals that cover the rear walls of Sneaky Pete’s should clue you in that this is a club with impeccable taste. It’s open every night to capacity crowds of 100, but don’t let the small size fool you – with past guests including Leon Vynehall and Auntie Flo, as well as regular takeovers by tastemakers Heaters & Rinse FM, it’s probably the finest club in town.

Don’t miss: Sneaky Pete’s is the place to be for the best local talent around, especially during Independent Venue Week. Previous line-ups have included King Creosote, Withered Hand and Carla J. Easton.

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  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens

What is it? A publicly accessible garden on the edge of the New Town, containing trees, plants and flowers from across the world.

Why go? A peaceful spot away from the bustle of the city, the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is a popular destination for various reasons. There are more than 13,000 living specimens across the garden itself, set in over 70 acres of beautiful landscape, with panoramic views across the city. What’s more, the Terrace Café and Gateway Restaurant are both well worth a visit if you’re stopping for a bite or a drink.

Don’t miss: Inverleith House Gallery is a very highly regarded contemporary art gallery, and the former site of the city’s Gallery of Modern Art.

Get spooked on a Haunted Edinburgh tour
Photograph: Shutterstock

8. Get spooked on a Haunted Edinburgh tour

What is it? An eerie dive into Edinburgh’s famously dark and bloody past.

Why go? With well-known grave robbers, underground vaults and half-dead hanging victims in its fabled history, it’s no surprise there’s a whole host of Edinburgh tour companies aiming to let you in on the city’s shadiest secrets. Get Your Guide will lead you through the vaults under Old Town, regaling you with tales of the persecution of witches and the local Burke and Hare murders. Put on your bravest face.

Don’t miss: Go back in time to seventeenth-century Edinburgh with a trip to The Real Mary King’s Close. Learn all about the myths and mysteries surrounding the people who lived, worked and died on the street which sits under the city’s historic Royal Mile. 

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  • Attractions
  • Historic buildings and sites

What is it? Perhaps the Scottish capital’s most iconic building.

Why go? It’s one of the UK’s most iconic tourist attractions and Edinburgh Castle is worthy of the attention. Sitting boldly atop the city’s other extinct volcano, it’s a grandiose and constantly visible reminder of the settlement’s historic roots. Plan your visit to coincide with one of the castle’s many actor-led historical events – those old stone walls really come to life when they’re hosting an audience with Mary, Queen of Scots.

Don’t miss: If you get peckish, there’s a traditional tea room where you can munch on homemade scones with strawberry jam and a satisfying dollop of clotted cream. Winner.

Enjoy a day out at Portobello Beach
Photograph: Shutterstock

10. Enjoy a day out at Portobello Beach

What is it? A coastal spot just a couple miles from the city centre.

Why go? Sun, sea and sand are the ultimate trifecta when it comes to organising a fun day out – thankfully, Portobello has all of those things. Chill out on the sandy beach with your pals, head into the amusement arcade or stroll along the promenade, stopping by one of the many glorious foodie spots including ShrimpWreck or Civerinos Prom Slice. Portobello’s bustling high street is also well worth checking out for its various independent shops and cafés. Try Bross Bagels, Twelve Triangles bakery or quirky bottle shop Beer Zoo.

Don’t miss: The Portobello Swim Centre is home to the beautiful Turkish Baths – highly recommended if you’re looking to escape the city and unwind in luxurious fashion.

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Wander down the Water of Leith
Photograph: Shutterstock

11. Wander down the Water of Leith

What is it? The main river flowing through the city, which winds down into Leith and into the Firth of Forth. 

Why go? It’s just darn pretty. For those who fancy a full day trip, the Water of Leith Walkway is a long, 13-mile route passing through Colinton village and the Union Canal. But if you’d rather stick to closer to town, we’d recommend the section from the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art, up past the trendy neighbourhood of Stockbridge and winding up at the Royal Botanic Garden. There’s something quite magical about the foliage and the way the light hits the water. 

Don't miss: The highly Instagrammable Dean Village, a gorgeous oasis by the water with old buildings and stone plaques. And to make it even better, it’s only five minutes away from Princes Street in the town centre. 

  • Things to do

What is it? A neat collection of interactive exhibits themed around optical illusions. 

Why go? This museum of visual illusions seems like an odd fit for the Old Town – we love a wonky fairground mirror as much as the next person, but why is it cheek-by-jowl with historic attractions such as Edinburgh Castle? Everything becomes clear when you reach the top floor. There you find the camera obscura itself – a Victorian structure inside which the whole capital cityscape is projected (without a single bar of wi-fi needed) onto a broad viewing table. It’s a unique, exciting way to see the skyline. 

Don’t miss: The view of the city from the turret atop the building is also worth taking in.

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Take a hike in the Pentland Hills
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13. Take a hike in the Pentland Hills

What is it? A vast cluster of hills south of Edinburgh, the Pentland Hills Regional Park offers scenic hikes and rewarding views of the city and surrounding area.

Why go? The Pentlands is a refreshing breath of fresh air and an opportunity to get active and immerse yourself in nature without a long drive up to the Highlands. There are a range of hikes for all abilities and convenient starting points, many only a bus ride away from the city centre. 

Don’t miss: A walk up Allermuir, the closest peak to Edinburgh. On a clear day you get unparalleled views of the entire city and over the Firth of Forth to Fife. 

Sink a wee dram of whisky
Photograph: Shutterstock

14. Sink a wee dram of whisky

What is it? Wet your whistle with a helping of Scotland’s famous spirit. 

Why go? Edinburgh is famous for a few things and whisky is most certainly one of them. It comes as no surprise that there are several ways to wet your whisky whistle in Edinburgh and beyond (try saying that after a few drams). If you’re after a tipple, head out on one of the city’s guided walks where you’ll visit Edinburgh’s best whisky venues for a belter of a tasting laced with folklore and Scottish storyteling. You’ll know your mashing from your malting in no time.

Don’t miss: For a more in-depth look at boozy creation processes, grab a ticket for a distillery tour around the Southern Highlands.

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Pay a trip to Leith
Photograph: Restaurant Martin Wishart

15. Pay a trip to Leith

What is it? The ever-evolving Leith area of Edinburgh – known as the Shore – is fast building a reputation as a cosmopolitan, culturally significant district in its own right.

Why go? The historic Leith Theatre has been saved from disrepair and is now a haven for music and theatre lovers throughout the year. Trendy bars and must-visit restaurants also abound, along with regular events like LeithLate and the Edinburgh Mela. 

Don’t miss: Try The Pitt, Leith’s popular independent weekend market, where you'll find an ever-changing array of street food, craft beer and live music.

  • Things to do
  • Festivals

What is it? Enjoy panoramic views over the Edinburgh skyline from Calton Hill, home to a collection of striking Greek-style historic monuments, as well as the Collective contemporary art gallery.

Why go? Take a short stroll up Calton Hill and you’ll be rewarded with views across some of the city’s major sites, including Arthur’s Seat, Holyrood Palace, the Parliament and the Royal Mile. You can also spend time exploring the Acropolis, with the Parthenon-inspired National Monument, the Nelson Monument and the City Observatory all taking up residence on the hill. 

Don’t miss: Head up Calton Hill for the annual Beltane Fire Festival in April, which marks the beginning of summer in Celtic tradition. The colourful procession is led by the May Queen and the Green Man, kicking off with pounding drums and a huge bonfire at the National Monument. 

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  • Art
  • Galleries

What is it? A contemporary sculpture park and art gallery set amid 120 acres of stunning woodland just outside Edinburgh.

Why go? Jupiter Artland, on the grounds of nineteenth-century Bonnington House, is a truly magical place. As you walk in, you’ll be greeted by Charles Jencks’s impressive landscape work ‘Cells of Life’: eight landforms surrounded by four lakes. Elsewhere, there are permanant pieces by Jim Lambie, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Anish Kapoor and others, as well as temporary exhibitions always full of surprises. There’s art to be discovered in every nook and cranny.

Don’t miss: Jupiter Artland has a busy events calendar with regular tours, workshops and fairs on the schedule. One big highlight is the two-night campout festival Jupiter Rising, in August, with its programme of experimental live music, sound art and performance.

  • Restaurants

What is it? The winding Victoria Street swoops from George IV Bridge down to the historic Grassmarket, and is home to Edinburgh’s finest selection of independent boutiques.

Why go? If you’re ready to drop some pennies, you can discover contemporary fashion items in Swish and more formal, tweed-based couture in Walker Slater; designer homeware in The Red Door Gallery and Harry Potter paraphernalia at Museum Context. Not to mention the extensive range of foodie delights on offer, from the distinctive scent of cheesemonger I.J. Mellis to the hog roast at Oink and the array of flasks and bottles in the windows of The Whisky Shop.

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  • Cinemas
  • Independent

What is it? A century-old cinema playing a solid mix of independent and foreign releases alongside selected mainstream blockbusters and special events.

Why go? Apparently one of Quentin Tarantino’s favourite picture houses, the Cameo cinema has been operating under one name or another for more than 100 years. Recently refurbished with some of the comfiest cinema seats in town, it’s the ideal place to catch a well-curated season (usually focused on a specific director’s work) or special cinematic event (such as its legendary All Night Horror Madness marathon sessions).

Don’t miss: Even if you don’t fancy watching a film, the venue’s bar is an easygoing place to sip a pint and eavesdrop on some serious cinephile chatter.

  • Art
  • Galleries

What is it? The home of Edinburgh’s grandest collections of both classical and contemporary art. 

Why go? Whatever your artistic preference, there’s a Scottish National Gallery to suit you. The Greek-columned National Galleries complex is located right in the heart of the city, at the foot of the Mound on Princes Street; the red sandstone Portrait Gallery is nestled five minutes away in the New Town; and both Modern Art One and Two occupy the grassy area above the picturesque Dean Village to the west. Set aside an afternoon to absorb some resident masterpieces and visiting exhibitions.

Don’t miss: The gallery’s annual summer show is one of the highlights of the city’s cultural calendar. 

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  • Hotels

What is it? More than just a hotel, this is one of the city’s most famous buildings.

Why go? If you arrive in Edinburgh via the Waverley train station, the first sight you’re likely to see is the imposing bulk of the Balmoral hotel. Topped with a clock that allegedly runs a few minutes early to help commuters catch their trains, it’s an old-school hotel that follows in the grandest of traditions – after you’ve stayed there once, you won’t want to fall asleep (or wake up) anywhere else.
Don’t miss: Its Michelin-starred restaurant Number One – led by head chef Mathew Sherry – seals the deal. 
  • Cinemas

What is it? A 900-capacity music venue that hosts an array of live music acts throughout the year.

Why go? A converted church, this venue has been on the Edinburgh scene for more than three decades. It has a loyal band of music followers who flock here for the unique space it offers (the original pews and high ceilings remain intact), the amazing acoustics and eclectic roster of acts. 

Don’t miss: As the Edinburgh home of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, you’ll find them regularly playing concert here. Plus, the venue comes into its own during the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival, the Edinburgh International Festival and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

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  • Art
  • Arts centres

What is it? The current king of the city’s arts scene, hosting performances of all shapes and sizes. 

Why go? Art exhibitions, theatre performances, gigs, clubs, films, talks, workshops – there’s very little you can’t do at Summerhall, the multi-arts venue housed in a former veterinary school just off the Meadows.

Don’t miss: The place even has its own microbrewery, churning out the tasty and refreshing Barney’s Beer, which you can sip while enjoying a meal in the wood-panelled bar out back. Or take a tour of Summerhall Distillery, where the lush Pickering’s Gin is made.

Immerse yourself in the National Museum of Scotland
Photograph: Shutterstock

24. Immerse yourself in the National Museum of Scotland

What is it? Scotland’s premier museum of natural and anthropological history.

Why go? The big daddy of Edinburgh museums is an eye-catching mix of old and new: the main hall, a grand, airy space ringed by balconies across three storeys, dates from 1866, while the more modern sandstone section was opened in 1998. Its contents, too, are wide-ranging: from dinosaur skeletons, Egyptian sarcophagi and Tibetan prayer wheels in the old galleries to artefacts from Scottish history in the new wing.

Don’t miss: The Corryvrechan Tapestry, a stunning hand-weaved work referencing to the Isle of Jura’s whirlpool designed by Kate Whiteford OBE. You’ll find it hanging in the Scotland galleries.

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  • Comedy

What is it? Pioneering comedy venue that also serves up local lager. 

Why go? Rightly considered the leading light of the Scottish comedy scene, The Stand (which also has branches in Glasgow and Newcastle) is just as likely to feature old hands like Dylan Moran practising new material as it is new talent treading the comedic boards for the first time. It’s a hugely popular venue during the Fringe, with a lot of shows selling out their run (take note – it’s Daniel Kitson’s Edinburgh venue of choice).

Don’t miss: Keep an eye out for its Monday night Red Raw sessions for a cheap and cheerful night of up-and-comers.

  • Restaurants
  • French
  • price 3 of 4

What is it? A Michelin-starred marvel in Leith.

Why go? Martin Wishart opened his flagship venue in Leith back in 1999 and was still well ahead of the curve when he gained his Michelin star just two years later. Back then, the Shore area was finding its feet and just as the area has continued to boom, Wishart’s restaurant has lost none of its appeal. On a weekday, you might catch some local business folk chewing the fat, but this is largely the domain of locals and visitors to the city keen to splash the cash in one of its finest restaurants. This is elegant, decadent dining at its best, with Scottish ingredients laying the foundation for both traditional and modern French cuisine.

Don’t miss: The lunch, à la carte and various tasting menus are always available. The matched wine package is a necessary, if costly delight.

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