10 Essential Edinburgh Sights for Visitors

There’s no disputing that Edinburgh is an iconic capital city worthy of your travel bucket list. With two separate UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the city centre, mind-boggling topography, and jaw-dropping architectural beauty, Edinburgh regularly attracts visitors from all over the world.

Whether you’ve been visiting Edinburgh for years or you’re visiting for the first time, there are the essential Edinburgh sights that make this city so magical.

Here are our top 10 recommendations for can’t-miss spots in Edinburgh…

1. Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle is, of course, one of the most essential sights for visitors to the capital. In truth, it doesn’t matter if you’ve lived here all your life or you’re visiting for the first time: Edinburgh Castle draws your eyes up in admiration.

From vantage points and surprise angles all around the city, you’ll spot the Castle standing tall over the rest of the skyline. Resting atop the craggy Castle Rock, it’s an awe-inspiring sight in Edinburgh indeed!

2. The Royal Mile

The Royal Mile connects Edinburgh Castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, with countless shops, restaurants, cafes, museums, and accommodations along the way. As part of the Old Town, this stretch of street has seen quite a variety of characters and events over the centuries!

If you’re curious and want to learn more beyond the facades of these famous buildings, join Angus for his Royal Mile walking tour!

3. Palace of Holyroodhouse

At the other end of the Royal Mile, you’ll find the Palace of Holyroodhouse (or Holyrood Palace). This historic royal residence is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Edinburgh and well worth a visit.

Learn more about Mary Queen of Scots, see the opulence of royalty, and then enjoy walking the grounds of Holyrood Park after your tour.

4. Arthur’s Seat

Within Holyrood Park is the iconic Arthur’s Seat. An ancient volcano, Arthur’s Seat offers a short hike to reach beautiful views across all of Edinburgh and the Firth of Forth beyond. It’s well worth the effort if you’re able and have a few hours to enjoy the full adventure. We consider it to be one of the most scenic places in Edinburgh.

5. Royal Yacht Britannia

Speaking of the Firth of Forth, you must visit Leith when you’re in Edinburgh! This part of the city was the former docklands and gained some notoriety through the likes of Trainspotting. If you want to learn more about that book, film, and the reality of life in Leith, be sure to check out our Trainspotting Generation tour with Paul.

Now somewhat of a hipster area, you’ll find loads of quirky shops, bars, and restaurants in Leith, as well as one of Edinburgh’s top attractions: the Royal Yacht Britannia. If you’re into royal history and seeing how the upper class lives, the ship is permanently docked in Leith and definitely considered to be an essential Edinburgh sight!

6. Scott Monument

Situated in the city centre, the Scott Monument has become an integral part of the Edinburgh skyline. You could simply appreciate the monument from below or afar, admiring its gothic design and dramatic beauty.

Alternatively, take the steps up to the top of the monument for an epic view across Edinburgh. You’ll be towering over Princes Street Gardens below. The Scott Monument is one of the most essential Edinburgh landmarks.

7. Princes Street Gardens

The Princes Street Gardens are a hub of activity and a gathering place for visitors and locals alike in Edinburgh. This beautiful green space separates the Old Town from the New Town and it actually used to be the Nor’ Loch. You wouldn’t have wanted to visit Edinburgh in those days…that was where the residents threw their waste!

8. Calton Hill

Up the street from Princes Street Gardens, you’ll find Calton Hill. The views from here across Edinburgh are delightful, and this is also one of the best spots in Edinburgh for sunset. Learn a bit of history around the National Monument and enjoy a cuppa from the cafe atop the hill whilst you’re there.

9. National Museum of Scotland

Back in the Old Town, an essential Edinburgh sight is the National Museum of Scotland. From its variety of exhibitions relaying stories from Scotland’s past and present, to its beautiful view from the rooftop patio, this is definitely a spot to seek out as you’re exploring the city.

10. Greyfriars Kirkyard

Just across the street from the National Museum of Scotland, you’ll first come across the statue of Greyfriars Bobby.

Perhaps Edinburgh’s most famous canine, Bobby’s story is so popular that it even became a Disney film! Find out more about his story as you enter Greyfriars Kirk just behind Bobby, across the next street.

Beyond the story of Bobby, this kirkyard tells many a tale from Edinburgh’s history. If you’re a Harry Potter fan, you’ll find several characters’ names in the tombstones here; JK Rowling used this spot as inspiration while writing the early books.

And, if you’re a history buff, you’ll have to learn about the Covenanters and their bleak story right here in the kirkyard. Sonny tells all about this tale on his Crime & Punishment Tour of Edinburgh.

Whether you’re visiting soon or just dreaming of a someday trip to Edinburgh, we hope this list of essential sights helps you plan your adventure. We would love to show you our side of Edinburgh through our award-winning walking tours with a difference. Find out more about Invisible Cities and we hope you’ll join us soon!