Updated: Sep 3, 2017
After living in Edinburgh for a year, it has become one of my all time favourite cities and I take any opportunity to visit as often as possible. Edinburgh often ranks highly in lists for the best place to live for many good reasons, from the UNESCO sites and history of the Castle, Royal Mile and New Town, to the internationally renowned festivals and even having an extinct volcano to hike.
Here are some of my tips to start exploring Scotland’s Capital city
First things first, wear comfortable flat shoes!! Edinburgh is very hilly with many cobbled streets for high heels to get stuck in (from personal experience!) Also be prepared for all seasons in one day, we are in Scotland after all! Bring a jacket, umbrella, scarf and sunglasses, you have been warned!
Best Time of Year to Visit
August – For the whole month of August Edinburgh’s population explodes with all the festivals going on. The most famous is the Fringe, the world’s largest arts festival and it’s a place where you’ll be able to see shows from famous comedians to circus acts to drama and everything in-between. But at the same time there is the International Festival, Art Festival and Book Festival and The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, which is great to do at least once.
Military Tattoo and crowds on the Royal Mile during Fringe
The atmosphere is fantastic and there are thousands of shows going on so there is something for everyone and with tickets starting around £10, or even free, you can see a lot in a short time. Make sure you download the App and if you’re only going for a day or two make sure you have a rough idea of what you want to see in advance and plan time getting to an from each show. The venues can be very spaced out around the city, there are A LOT of people around (see photo above) and if you are late for a show you may NOT be allowed in. If there is something you want to see, go and see it, because it is likely that it won’t be back the following year. My highlights from previous years include the musical Avenue Q (don’t take kids even though it looks like Sesame Street, it is not!), Austintagious an improvised comedy show made me cry laughing! For kids Julia Donaldson (yes in person!) with her family performs some of her well known books and the Cbeebies area next to the BBC Tent, where my son was mesmerized seeing the presenters from the telly in real life! My husband’s favourite part is all the beer gardens everywhere!
December – If you can’t manage to get to Edinburgh in August, there are still lots of other things going on in the winter. The Winter Festival with German Style market stalls in Princes Street Gardens, ice-skating, mulled wine and fairground rides really gets you in the holiday spirit. The street party at Hogmanay attracts huge crowds and a great party atmosphere to bring in the New Year.
Christmas Market in Princes Street Gardens
Our Favourite Places to Visit
Dynamic Earth – In the shadow of Arthur’s Seat, just near Holyrood, Dynamic Earth is a great place to take your mini explorers especially on a rainy day to learn about the history of our plant, evolution, ecosystems, space and our impact on the world. There is also a small soft play area for toddlers at the back of the gift shop. The food isn’t great here, but there is a pizza express near by or lots of choice on the Royal Mile. Tickets cost £15 for adults and £9.50 for kids, but if you were going to be in Edinburgh for a while I would recommend getting the annual pass.
Royal Botanic Gardens – with family events, exhibitions, The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh was established in 1670 and has over 70 acres of landscaped gardens. It is free to visit with a charge to go into the glasshouses of £6.50 for adults (free for kids), and is open 10am-6pm in the summer (March - Sept) and 10am-5pm in Feb & Oct and 10am-4pm in Nov – Jan. The food in the cafe is nice here and would be lovely for an occasion; you can even hire it for events and makes a beautiful location for a wedding.
Edinburgh Castle – the queues can be quite long to get into the castle so factor that into your time and the best photo spot is actually in the car park before you get in. Children under 5 go free and adult tickets are currently £17. Allow about half a day to see everything, including the Honours of Scotland which are the Scottish Crown Jewels and the Stone of Destiny which has been used coronation ceremonies since Edward I in 1296 and legends date back to it being used for the coronation of the first King of Scots, Fergus the Great in 501AD.
The National Museum of Scotland – we never get tired of visiting this place and when we lived here we came once or twice a week and still haven’t seen everything. It is FREE and there is so much to see with lots of interactive exhibits and regular events and activities. The coffee shop is good with kid boxes, but pricey to make up for the free entry, so you can bring your own snacks. I would recommend the freshly baked scones with clotted cream (if you've never had clotted cream, you need to go out and try it right now!).
Best place for explorers - The National Museum of Scotland
Where to Eat
There are lots of choices for places to eat and you certainly don’t have to restrict yourself to the well-known chains. Here are some of our favourites that we keep going back to.
For a family friendly meal: Vittoria – on George IV Bridge is a fantastic family run Italian restaurant with an extensive menu and love kids. When a restaurant treats my son like he’s the most important person in the room, we will come back again and again. He recommends the meatballs, my husband always goes for the lasagna de la mama, and I love everything from the pizzas to the seafood pasta, calamari and the focaccia italiana is the best bread ever!
For a girls night out: Tigerlily – On George Street, is a great place to get dressed up, have cocktails and people watch. It’s normally quite pricey, but the food is tasty and if you visit during the week there are special deals like mojitos for £5 and two courses for £15.
For a night out with friends: Mother India – On Infirmary Street just off South Bridge, my husband’s favourite Indian restaurant, where your food is served in a tapas style is one of the hidden gems of the city.
For my fellow chocolate lovers: The Chocolate Tree – In Bruntsfield, this little café is ideal for a naughty treat. With single bean hot chocolate’s from around the world, handmade chocolates, gelato and cakes, you’ll be in chocolate heaven. I love the thick and deliciously rich Spanish Hot Chocolate with freshly made churros to dunk with.
For a special occasion: The Dome – Also on George Street, this beautiful Georgian building originally the site for the old Physicians Hall (1775), built and designed by James Craig who planned the New Town. It was bought by the Commercial Bank of Scotland, and demolished the original building and started building the current one in 1844. It is great for an afternoon tea with your gran, cocktails with clients or a nice meal for your friends birthday. Book ahead especially in December because it is beautifully decorated at Christmas time, filled with cinnamon and garlands. Another place to book for a special treat I would highly recommend is the Witchery just near the Castle on the Royal Mile. It's quite expensive, so this is more for a very special occassion. It's very Gothic styled inside and is also a beautiful boutique hotel.
The Dome at Christmas
Best Instagram Spots
Edinburgh is such a picturesque city with it's mix of gothic, Georgian, and Victorian architecture, cherry blossom lined parks, an exinct volcano and not to mention a freakin' castle! If you want to some pretty photos to remember your trip or share on your social media to make your friend’s envious here are some top spots to get Instagram worthy shots.
Carlton Hill – for the classic view of the skyline of Edinburgh head up to Calton Hill with views of the Castle and Princes Street.
Arthur’s Seat and the Crags – you can get a beautiful photo of the city from here, especially if there’s going to be a beautiful sunset it’s definitely worth the effort.
Grassmarket – head to Victoria Street for a great view of colourful shop fronts and curved terraced buildings of Edinburgh’s Old Town.
Princes Street Gardens - at the West End of the gardens, there is a lovely fountain and children's playground where you can get a good view of the castle.
Dean Village – This is quite an unexpected picturesque area of the city just a short walk from the West End.
Popular Instagram Spots in Edinburgh
I hope this has been helpful and if you come to visit I hope you have a fantastic time. There is so much to do I can't fit it all in on one blog post! If you have ever been to Edinburgh I would love to hear your favourite places and recommendations for me to try next in the comments below.
Nicole Blyth - Founder RelocateGuru
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