20 Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Edinburgh

Jul 22, 2021

Home to the famous Waverley Train Station, the biggest shopping malls in Scotland, and one of the world's best-preserved castles, Scotland's capital city offers plenty of things to do.

Visitors can enjoy one of the world's best city views by taking a trip up the 800-foot Royal Mile, where many of Edinburgh's main attractions are found, including the Scottish Parliament and historic St. Giles Cathedral. With towering castles, quaint shops, and magnificent gardens, Edinburgh is brimming with beauty and interest. To help you plan your trip, check out our top 10 list of the best places to visit in Scotland.

Edinburgh Castle

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Edinburgh Castle: en.wikipedia.org

Constructed by David II between 1285 and 1314, the building encloses an area of about 11 acres (4.5 hectares), and contains eight main towers. The castle was built in an effort to control the northern end of the medieval realm and defend against the re-emerging forces of the kingdom of the Scots. Today, the castle remains the official residence of Scotland's monarchs and is used mainly for ceremonial purposes. The castle is open to the public and contains exhibition and interactive facilities. Visit the open-air Scottish Monarch's Museum, which explores life in Scotland's royal palaces, and Royal Scottish Regalia, which features an impressive array of historic Scottish regalia.

Holyrood Palace

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Holyrood, Edinburgh: en.wikipedia.org

Edinburgh's castle and queen's palace is home to Scottish kings from Robert the Bruce to Charles I. Filled with stories of Scottish history, it contains a number of well-displayed royal regalia. The castle was last occupied by Queen Mary in 1561. It was in good shape at the time of her stay, and would still be impressive to visit today if it weren't for the building works that took place over the following centuries. For those who are more interested in the past than the present, Holyrood Palace is the best place to get a sense of what it was like to be living in Scotland during the reigns of the kings. The castle's inner halls, corridors and chambers are stuffed with paintings, tapestries, furniture and relics.

National Museum of Scotland

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National Museum of Scotland: en.wikipedia.org

With five floors of varied, fascinating displays telling the story of Scotland's history from the Stone Age to the present, Edinburgh's Museum of Scotland is one of the country's finest. Up to 20,000 artifacts from the museum's collections are on display, with artifacts from every period of Scottish history. In addition to the extensive collection of ancient artifacts, visitors can learn about the Celts, the Picts, and the Scots as well as the civilisations of Ancient Rome, Greece, and the Middle East. Of particular interest are the galleries devoted to the exploits of Scottish explorer Neil Armstrong and his space flight. Fans of science and archaeology will also appreciate the 11m high skeleton of an Irish elk (or aurochs), the prehistoric bronze-clad statue of a woman found in a Scottish forest, and the fabulous exhibition of heraldic swords. Along with these permanent galleries, the museum also hosts changing exhibitions by prominent artists, archaeologists, and other significant figures in the field.

Scottish National Portrait Gallery

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Scottish National Portrait Gallery: en.wikipedia.org

The nation's pride and joy is the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, situated on the Royal Mile in the Scottish capital. With more than 3,200 paintings by world-renowned artists, it showcases the country's artistic and literary history. Award-winning temporary exhibitions, many focusing on the Scottish landscape, are held every year in the gallery. Free exhibitions and activities are also regularly held during the summer. There is also a tourist information center and free guided tours.

Arthur's Seat

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Arthur's Seat: en.wikipedia.org

Often referred to as "Arthur's Seat", Edinburgh's volcanic peak is situated about a mile from the city center on the Calton Hill, which itself is part of the extinct volcanic Mount Stuart. At 471 meters high, it is the highest point on the hill. It's named after King Arthur, the romanticized Celtic figure who was supposedly buried in Dunvegan Castle on the Isle of Skye. There are many footpaths, including one named "Arthur's Seat" itself. If you want to get an aerial view, the chair lift at the top can carry visitors to an elevation of 200 meters. From here, you can enjoy incredible views of the city. It's a great spot to walk up to when in Edinburgh on a clear day.

Scottish Parliament Building

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Scottish Parliament Building: en.wikipedia.org

The Scottish Parliament, the legislature of Scotland, and the world's only entirely habitable parliament building, is a stunning and imposing building in the heart of Edinburgh. Built in 1845, the Parliament's tall, white neoclassical style is quite dramatic, and most impressively, is not just a tourist attraction, but also serves as an important government office building. Visitors enter the building and are greeted with a short film with interesting historical information, before being taken to the visitors' center where maps and brochures are available. From here you can take guided tours and watch special events that are held there, such as a mock-Parliament.

Royal Botanic Garden

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Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh: en.wikipedia.org

Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh is a collection of rose gardens in Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland. The garden is famed for its "Flower Lovers Trail", a collection of rose bushes that bloom to perfection from April to October. If you walk around the gardens and begin to imagine what it would be like to be there during an extravagant Victorian celebration, you'll get a taste for the pleasant artificiality of the gardens.

St. Giles Cathedral

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St Giles' Cathedral: en.wikipedia.org

The most famous of Scotland's 13th century stone Gothic cathedrals, St. Giles was consecrated in 1238 and is an imposing and imposing sight. Apart from the town and tourist population, the cathedral is not open to the public. Guided tours of the buildings are available by reservation at reasonable prices.

Royal Yacht Britannia

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HMY Britannia: en.wikipedia.org

Opened in Edinburgh in 1961, the Royal Yacht Britannia has been a popular attraction since it was opened to the public in 1982. Initially the Royal Family were the only visitors, although today a variety of activities have been developed around the yacht, including a traditional deep-sea fishing trip. It was used as a Royal Residence by the Royal Family during their time in Edinburgh from 1965 to 1969.

Royal Mile

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Royal Mile: en.wikipedia.org

Edinburgh's Royal Mile is where it all began. A series of stone-built houses trace the history of the city and was once the main commercial and cultural center of the city, before the castle was built. Today it is the old town's tourist heart, with touristy tourist shops and souvenir shops, and being a tourist means being surrounded by souvenirs. Here, you will find half-timbered buildings and narrow streets. Among the shops is the St. Giles Cathedral, built between 1240 and 1261. In the heart of the Old Town is the picturesque Grassmarket. Other sights to see on the Royal Mile include Edinburgh Castle, formerly the residence of the Kings and Queens of Scotland, and Holyroodhouse, where Queen Elizabeth stayed on her state visits. Also of interest on the Royal Mile is the Scottish Parliament Building, built in 1990 and based on the United Nations's headquarters in New York. During the Edinburgh Festival, the Edinburgh Military Tattoo is held on the Esplanade, a park-like area on the river. If you are coming from London by plane, take the first train or bus and then follow the signs to find the Holyrood/the Old Town/the Edinburgh Castle/the Old Town/the Grassmarket/the St. Giles Cathedral and beyond.

Princes Street Gardens

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Princes Street Gardens: en.wikipedia.org

Princes Street Gardens were first laid out in 1762 by Charles Keillor, Lord Provost of Edinburgh, and served as the main parade ground of the Edinburgh Military College from 1763 to 1782. In 1785, a Second Military College was established in an attractive two-story neo-classical building and called it St. Mary's College. In 1800, the college was incorporated into Edinburgh University. Later, the grounds of the college became the University of Edinburgh's Botanic Garden. Today the gardens are some of the city's most popular spots, attracting more than 4 million visitors per year. More than a million blooms are planted in a garden with impressive architecture and mature specimen trees. Highlights of a visit include the 18th-century chapel, 19th-century Band Stand and Sun Dial, and the famous palm house. The University of Edinburgh is one of the top universities in the world and has campuses in Paris, Bristol, London and New York, as well as a campus in Nepal, South Africa, Botswana, and Namibia. Edinburgh is also home to the Scott Polar Research Institute, one of the foremost scientific institutes in the UK.

Old Town

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Old Town, Edinburgh: en.wikipedia.org

Built in the 18th and 19th centuries, Edinburgh's Old Town lies at the heart of the city, hidden amongst its city streets. Its narrow, winding, cobbled lanes make this a place of few tourists, yet it's worth exploring and has the feel of a real European city. Dumfries Place is the traditional center of Edinburgh's tourism, in particular the area around the Stockbridge and Marchmont areas. Both these areas have traditional pubs and bars, which are found nowhere else in the city. The most popular attraction is Waverley Train Station, just a ten-minute walk from the center of Edinburgh.

Scottish National Gallery

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Scottish National Gallery: en.wikipedia.org

The Scottish National Gallery, or the NGA, is located on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland. It was originally founded as the Royal Gallery of Fine Arts, but has changed its name to reflect its public appeal. This small and stylish exhibition space presents an interesting cross-section of Scotland's rich artistic and cultural heritage. There are also outstanding modern exhibitions on view. In the gallery shop you'll find quality Scottish products and gifts.

Canongate

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The Canongate: en.wikipedia.org

Canongate, once the gateway to Scotland from the Continent, is one of the oldest and most important quarters of Edinburgh. The streets of this quaint area, which links Holyrood and High Street, reflect the city's past and its modern nature. Its small, intimate squares have been redesigned in recent times, making Canongate a very attractive destination for leisure and shopping. Canongate is the setting for many of the city's best restaurants, cafes, and galleries, which also make up the Edinburgh's boutique sector. The Royal Mile is also located in Canongate, linking St Giles' Cathedral to the castle. Canongate is one of the most exciting districts in Europe.

Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

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Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art: en.wikipedia.org

British art takes its cue from its host nation's history and native talent, but the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, in Edinburgh, holds an illustrious collection including major works by Turner, Lucian Freud, Thomas Gainsborough, John Constable, John Duncan, Mark Gertler, Francis Bacon and more. Surprisingly, many paintings in the collection are not part of the gallery's permanent collection but were purchased during the four decades that the gallery operated as the Edinburgh Museum of Science and Art.

Trinity College

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Trinity College Kirk: en.wikipedia.org

With its magnificent Gothic college buildings and beautiful parkland campus, Trinity College, Edinburgh is a popular university in the United Kingdom. A picturesque 500-year-old place, Edinburgh was originally built as a hunting lodge in 1443 for the earl of Douglas. The college is spread over 75 acres, with eight Victorian buildings surrounding a central Quadrangle. Highlights of a visit include beautiful portraits by Sir James Erasmus Gait (1732–89), fascinating art exhibitions and public lectures, and a view of the city from the iconic "Scottish mile."

Glasgow Science Centre

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Glasgow Science Centre: en.wikipedia.org

Science Centre, and Waterfront Hall, Canada Just north of downtown Vancouver lies the Space Exploration Centre, an interactive science museum with an IMAX theater, a planetarium, space shuttle simulator, and several other interesting exhibits. Right next door is the very unusual Edinburgh Science Centre, a traditional "Funfair" designed to excite kids with fun and edutainment. The Edinburgh Science Centre is one of Canada's largest, providing adults with the same kind of attractions. Located at the waterfront next to a floating observation deck on Burrard Inlet, it can be reached by taking a ferry from Stanley Park. The Waterfront Hall is a performing arts venue with a good-looking art gallery and a fish restaurant. It is the center of Vancouver's artistic life, hosting events from theater and ballet to rock concerts and film. It also contains an outdoor amphitheater with a seating capacity of up to 5,000 people.

Camera Obscura

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Camera Obscura, Edinburgh: en.wikipedia.org

With the twin castles of Edinburgh and the royal palace of Holyroodhouse, and breathtaking views over Edinburgh's Old and New towns, it's hard to see how Scotland could compete for visitors. But there's more to Edinburgh than the common tourist sites. Not far from the castle, a visit to the science and technology museum opens up a whole new way to explore the city, full of hands-on displays. Located on South Bridge in the shadow of the castle, Camera Obscura provides the perfect opportunity to experience the City in an altogether different way. Before you go, check out our Edinburgh city guide for everything you need to know before setting off for a day of exploring.

Holyrood Park

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Holyrood Park: en.wikipedia.org

Holyrood Park is a spacious park located in the center of Edinburgh, Scotland. Originally created for royal hunting, the park is located on the east side of the Royal Mile and stretches for 1.2 km. It has a number of museums, statues, gardens, and fountains. One of the most popular is the Scotch Whiskey Heritage Center, with its exhibit explaining the historical connection between Scotland and its favorite drink.

Calton Hill

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Calton Hill: en.wikipedia.org

Calton Hill is one of the most important cultural sites in Edinburgh. It has been a central place of worship for more than 8,000 years. The Early Christian Collegiate Church of St. Giles, which stands on the site, dates back to the 7th century AD, when the church was rebuilt and enlarged in 725. It has a striking nine-tier, circular tower, which was added in the 13th century. At the end of the yearlong Edinburgh Tattoo the crowds gather at Calton Hill to watch the parade of 21st century athletes on the tightrope-like rope walkway that encircles the hill. When it's time for lunch you might want to visit the lovely Old Kirk of Provand's Close, which dates back to the early 1300s, or one of the city's many pubs.