If you’ve never considered going to Edinburgh for a city break, then let us convince you otherwise. The city's World Heritage Listed status means much of the Scottish capital remains protected and just as awesome as it was hundreds of years ago. With an fairytale medieval Old Town set against the charming Georgian New Town, the city attracts backpackers from all over the world to experience the enchanting city. From world-famous events such as the Edinburgh Hogmanay, old Scottish pubs for whisky tasting, hiking up Arthur’s Seat, the unbeatable nightlife and learning the secrets of Edinburgh Castle, there are so many things to tick off your Edinburgh bucket list. We’ve rounded up the best things to do in Edinburgh that you have to complete on your trip to the fantastic little city...
1. DRINK COCKTAILS IN AN UNDERGROUND BAR
Edinburgh’s nightlife wouldn’t be the same without its famous underground bars. Hidden behind secret doors around the city, this is where young locals and university students hang out. But these haunts aren’t that easy to find. We recommend Panda & Sons in the New Town which poses as a barber shop on the exterior, but down in the basement and through a false bookcase, you’ll find a chic speakeasy bar with its own bespoke, beautifully-presented cocktails.
Then there’s Hoot the Redeemer, a quirky little underground bar boasting a 1950s funfair theme, serving up boozy slush puppies and ice cream. Located in Edinburgh Old Town, look out for the tiny entrance, climb down the stairs and go through the secret door masked as a tarot readers booth to get in.
We also love the Secret Arcade, an underground Polish vodka bar and a real fun night out.
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2. HIKE UP ARTHUR’S SEAT
For those adventurous backpackers among you, Arthur’s Seat is reason enough to come to Edinburgh to experience the awesome hikes. Seeing rolling hills in a built up city is quite rare which makes Edinburgh even more unique. The extinct volcano sits 251 metres above sea level and forms the highest point of Holyrood Park so as you can expect insane views from the top. It’s perfect for relaxing long walks, beginners trails and more strenuous highland hikes. It’s quite steep and rocky up there so make sure to pack some walking boots or comfortable trainers.
3. GO ON A HARRY POTTER TOUR
If you’re a Potterhead then you already know that JK Rowling wrote many of the best-selling Harry Potter books while she lived in Edinburgh. In fact, Hogwarts was also based in Scotland. The city provided her with much inspiration for some of her magical characters and scenes from the books - some of which you can actually see up close and personal in Edinburgh. For example, you can visit the exact cafe from where Rowling wrote the Philosopher's Stone, or pay a trip to the graveyard where some of the gravestone names may look a little too familiar. There’s a free walking tour you can do called the Potter Trail, where a robed guide will take you through all of the Harry Potter sights. Or you could go on your own self-guided tour using our article on the .
4. TRY HAGGIS FOR THE FIRST TIME
You can’t come to Edinburgh and not get a taste of Scotland’s national dish. For those who have never tried Haggis before, we can’t promise that you’ll like it but here in Scotland, the locals absolutely love it. Made from sheep's heart, liver, and lungs and often mixed with minced onions, spices, and oatmeal, this minced meat dish is usually served with neeps (mashed turnip) and tatties (mashed potatoes). It’s a real winter warmer and proper Scottish comfort food, and we recommend getting your first taste of Haggis at the Halfway House, a traditional pub or the Arcade Bar, a haggis and whisky house.
5. SEE IN THE NEW YEAR AT EDINBURGH HOGMANAY
The Scottish New Year is celebrated in Edinburgh bigger and better than other European cities - which is why you need to add this unforgettable celebration to your travel bucket list. Edinburgh Hogmanay is essentially massive street party and concert in the heart of the city. From the 30th of December to the 1st January, book your flights out to Edinburgh to join Hogmanay celebrations which includes a Torchlight procession through the city on 30th and a famous street party on 31st December. This year Grammy award-winner Mark Ronson will be performing in the garden on New Year’s Eve too. Tickets to see him are £75. For entry to Europe’s biggest New Year’ Eve street party, tickets are £31.50. See in the New Year in true Scot fashion and don’t miss the once in a lifetime event.
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6. EXPLORE INSIDE EDINBURGH CASTLE
Edinburgh’s most well-known sight has got to be Edinburgh Castle, a historic fortress that stands tall in the heart of the city and welcomes hundreds of visitors each month. Situated on an extinct volcano called Castle Rock, this interesting attraction is open to the public who want to learn more about Scottish history and heritage. Buy tickets to enter the castle and roam the same halls that Scottish royals once did. Not only was the castle once a royal palace but also a prison, military garrison and fortress, where soldiers once fought to protect their capital. Don’t miss the ‘Castle of Light’ event taking place throughout November and December where Edinburgh’s most iconic landmark will illuminate and glow with art installations and light displays making the historic site even more magical.
7. SCOTTISH WHISKY TASTING
Scotland is famous for its whisky so when you’re in the city, make sure to get your taste for it in the many pubs and bars selling local whiskies. Whether you’re a newbie to the world of whisky or already a pro, bar hopping is enjoyable for all. There are so many different Scottish whiskies to sample so if you’re a bit confused about where to start, head to the Scottish Whisky Experience on the Royal Mile if you want to learn more about Scotland’s national drink (and taste it too). If straight whisky isn’t your thing and you’d rather try some whisky cocktails, then we recommend enjoying a pre-dinner drink (or two) at the Devil’s Advocate in Edinburgh Old Town.
8. EDINBURGH FRINGE FESTIVAL
You’ve probably never been to a festival like this before. Edinburgh Fringe is the biggest festival in the city that takes place every year throughout August for about sixteen days and the whole city comes together for it. It’s the world's biggest festival for performing arts, theatre and dance, hosting more than 50,000 performances each year in different venues in the city - and in the middle of the streets. The locals love Fringe even though it brings in more crowds and noise to the city than any other event. 856,541 tickets were sold to Edinburgh residents alone in 2019 which shows just how much the locals embrace it. Attracting people from all over the world, Fringe is massive celebration of arts and culture and if you love a good show, then you have to add Fringe Festival to your bucket list ASAP. 63 different countries were represented on stage at the 2019 festival.
9. LUNCH BY LEITH RIVERSIDE
Get off the beaten track and head to the Leith riverside on the outskirts of Edinburgh. To get there, take a 40 minute stroll from Edinburgh Old Town into Leith where you’ll find some lovely Scottish pubs and restaurants that overlook the water. If you fancy a cup of tea then Mimi’s Bakehouse is the perfect place, where you can grab a table outside, munch on some cake, sip some tea and read your book near the water. Malt & Hops is also a nice traditional pub on the riverside with a cosy ambience and open fireplace. For oysters and champagne, eat the The Ship on the Shore, a lovely seafood restaurant overlooking the river.
10. VISIT THE SCOTTISH NATIONAL GALLERIES
If you’re a lover of art, then add the Scottish National Galleries to your Edinburgh bucket list. Made up for three different museums, there’s plenty of showstopping art to make you budding backpackers feel you’ve had your culture fix. First, there’s the Scottish National Gallery just off Princes Street which houses one of the best art collections in the world showcasing works by Monet, Van Gogh, Rembrandt and more. Then there’s the Scottish National Portrait Gallery on Queen Street where you can view fascinating portraits from significant people that have shaped Scotland’s past. And if contemporary art is more your thing, then you should visit the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. It’s free to enter all three museums.
11. DISCOVER HAUNTED EDINBURGH
Edinburgh has its fair share of ghost stories and you can learn all about the city’s haunted past on the City of the Dead Tour, which has been named Britain’s best ghost walk. On the tour you’ll be able to walk through haunted graveyards and underground vaults with an informative tour guide. The tours take place every day and you can choose from a selection of different spooky tours of the city. Are you brave enough?
12. NIGHT OUT AT BELUSHI’S
Every backpacker who has stayed in our hostels knows what a fun night out Belushi’s is. The hostel bar at St Christopher’s Inns Edinburgh has been the cause of some unforgettable times and lifelong friendships. With beer pong, 25% off food and drink for guests and awesome party nights with live DJ’s, you don’t have to look further than our very own hostel bar for a fun night out in Edinburgh. In October 2019, the whole bar is seeing a revamp and moving across the road to a more spacious location so if you’re staying with us this autumn/winter you get to be one of the very first to christen the new bar!
13. WALK DOWN VICTORIA STREET
Our favourite street in Edinburgh has to be Victoria Street, right in the heart of Edinburgh Old Town. The curved cobblestoned street is lined by charming independent shops, seriously reminding us of Diagon Alley (which is why Harry Potter fans flock to Victoria Street to get photos against the higgledy piggledy colourful buildings). The city just wouldn’t be the same without Victoria Street so make it one of your first stops when you land in Edinburgh. You have to pop into the famous joke shop called ‘Aha Ha Ha’, or ‘Diagon House’, a shop that sells all the Potter merch you can dream of. There’s even the Old Town Bookshop where you might come out with a dusty novel or two to keep you occupied on your travels through Europe.
14. TRY THE CITY’S BEST ICE CREAM
On a hot summer day in Edinburgh (which isn’t as rare as you may think), get your gelato fix from Mary’s Milk Bar next to the castle. Mary’s Milk Bar is the best ice cream shop in the city, where all produce is homemade by Mary herself who makes the ice cream every single morning without fail (so it’s all fresh). Pop in to try the ‘Scoop of the Day’ where every week there are new flavours to enjoy. Mary actually trained in Bologna at the Carpigiani Gelato University, so yeah, she’s pretty qualified when it comes to making authentic Italian gelato. On colder days, pop into Mary’s Milk Bar for a hot chocolate float.
15. VIEWS FROM CALTON HILL
Retreat from the city streets and head up to the peaceful Calton Hill, set right in the heart of Edinburgh amongst the hilly landscape. Home to a famous Athenian acropolis (a monument that’s actually unfinished), it’s a pretty special place to come to gather your thoughts and have some quiet time. The acropolis was meant to be a replica of the Pantheon in Athens, built in Edinburgh as a memorial to those who died in the Napoleonic Wars. The top of Calton Hill is a quiet, peaceful place to come in Edinburgh where you can set up a picnic on a sunny day or read your book. It’s pretty easy to get to Calton Hill, just walk 5 minutes uphill from a staircase at Regent Road.
16. A HISTORIC WALK DOWN THE ROYAL MILE
The Royal Mile is one of Edinburgh’s famous streets that stretches through the beautiful Old Town. It’s actually the busiest street in the city, coming in just before Princes Street in the New Town. Made up of cobbled streets and charming buildings, the Royal Mile connects Edinburgh castle with the magnifident Holyrood Palace (the Queen’s official Royal residence which is so worth a visit if you love the Royal Family).The Royal Mile is one of the main shopping streets in the city so if you want to hit some restaurants or high street shops, then this is the place to come. The street is also home to the Scottish Parliament buildings and St Giles Cathedral, a great example of 14th century architecture. To walk down the Royal Mile it would take around 20 minutes
17. CLIMB 287 STEPS UP SCOTT MONUMENT
In 1832, one of the most iconic figures in Scotland’s literary world died. Sir Walter Scott was so well-known and loved for his historical novels, poems and plays that the city of Edinburgh agreed a monument would be constructed in his memory. Now, Scott Monument is a main feature of the Edinburgh skyline with its unmistakable gothic spire which towers over Princes Street Gardens East. Nowadays you can see inside the monument, explore the first floor museum which takes you through Scott’s life, see the intricate stained-glass windows and take in some of the best views of Edinburgh when you make it to the top. It’s a 287-step climb, and it does get pretty narrow as you get to the top, but it’s completely worth it.
18. FARMER’S MARKET BY EDINBURGH CASTLE
Get a taste of some of the freshest local produce and Scottish delicacies every Saturday. The award-winning Edinburgh Farmer’s Market is a highlight of the weekend, listed by UK chef Lloyd Grossman as one of the best farmer’s markets in the world! Find it every Saturday morning set up on Castle Terrace with Edinburgh Castle as its iconic backdrop and 35 local specialist producers ready to sell their goods. Expect pies, Scotch eggs, sausage rolls, cheese, charcuterie as well as cosmetics, knitwear, leather and more. You’ll also find a few delicious international street food stands such as Venezuelan arepas.
19. EXPERIENCE THE MAGIC AT CHRISTMAS MARKETS
There’s something about Christmas in Edinburgh which is truly special. The cobbled streets are lined with festive shop windows, twinkling lights turn on across the city, but best of all, the Christmas markets are some of the best in Europe. The main market is set up on East Princes Street Gardens with rows of charming little chalet-style stalls selling Christmas trinkets and festive food. And then there’s the rest! Edinburgh goes all out for Christmas with a huge fun fair and plenty of places to drink whisky cocktails, hot toddies, mulled wine, hot cider and way more Scottish favourites. It may be chilly, but heading to Edinburgh for Christmas time would be a real bucket list tick - and we promise you’ll fall for the city even more.
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20. SPOT SOMEONE PLAYING BAGPIPES
This one will be way easier than you think. There’s always someone playing bagpipes in Edinburgh! Follow the sound of Scotland until you reach the person dressed in their tartan kilts and playing the country’s traditional musical instrument. Often they’ll be somewhere near Waverley Station or on the Royal Mile.
21. EAT AT THE OLDEST PUB (WITH A BOWLING ALLEY)
There’s a little traditional Scottish village near Holyrood Park called Duddingston - a place not many tourists tend to visit as it’s pretty offbeat. The charming, Norman village is packed with character and being home to what’s said to be the oldest pub in the whole of Scotland, this puts the cherry on top of it. Have a drink at the Sheep Heid Inn which dates all the way back to 1360! There’s a lovely beer garden, and the food here is pretty good, but really it’s all about the cosy old-school atmosphere and built-in wooden bowling alley that makes it a winner.
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