What to do in Edinburgh, Scotland
Walk along the Water of Leith, a small river that meanders through Edinburgh, providing a peaceful haven from the busy city. Check out the Leith or Stockbridge and Canon mills sections of the route.
Hike the short climb up Calton Hill to see some of Edinburgh’s most iconic monuments (The National Monument, the Nelson Monument, the Stewart Dugald Monument, and more) and for some really great views of Edinburgh, the Firth of Forth and the countryside beyond.
Edinburgh has an excellent theatre and concert life. Europe’s largest theatre, the 3000-seat Edinburgh Playhouse (top of Leith Walk, New Town) hosts major West End shows. The Festival Theatre (Old Town) frequently hosts opera and ballet, and the Usher Hall (Lothian Road) has weekly orchestral concerts all year round with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. The Queen’s Hall (South Clerk Street, (Old Town) is home to the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. For a cheaper option, the excellent Bedlam Theatre (Bristo Place, Old Town) regularly puts on good student theatre and is the home to Scotland‘s oldest improvised comedy troupe, The Improverts.
Experience traditional Folk Music at one of the pubs in the Old Town or Leith which host regular sessions.
Wander down the colorful Victoria St and discover the Grassmarket area – explore the hub of Edinburgh’s independent shops and restaurants
Arthur’s Seat. The extinct volcano to the East of the city centre offers fantastic views from its summit – and at only 251 m high the ascent isn’t too strenuous. If a lighter stroll is in order, a traverse of Salisbury Crags, just below the hill, offers similar panoramas of the city.
Edinburgh in the summer becomes “festival city” when a huge number of major national and international arts festivals are hosted by the city. Most of these occur virtually simultaneously in August. These cater for a wide variety of interests and include:
The Edinburgh International Festival. The original that spawned all the rest. Founded in 1947 and still seen as more “high-brow” than any of its offspring.
The Edinburgh Festival Fringe. As the name might suggest, this Festival developed on the “Fringe” of the main International Festival and allows anyone with a venue to host them into the program. Historically offering alternative more performances, with an emphasis on comedy and avant-garde; it is now the largest arts festival in the world with more than 50,000 performances in its program spanning theatre, dance, circus, cabaret, comedy and everything in between.
The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. One of the iconic images of Edinburgh for millions worldwide is the yearly Tattoo, kilted pipers skirling below the battlements of Edinburgh Castle. Although tickets sell out well in advance, persevering individuals are likely to find one or two tickets still for sale due to cancellations… just be prepared to ask, ask, and ask again!
The Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival.
The Edinburgh International Book Festival. Takes place in a temporary village of marquees at Charlotte Square (West End of George Street, New Town).
The Edinburgh International Film Festival. Now moved to June from its former slot in August, so that it no longer clashes with all the others! Centered around the Filmhouse Cinema on Lothian Road, though other cinemas take part too.
The Edinburgh International Television Festival. Predominantly a “closed shop” for industry professionals only.
The Edinburgh Mela. Multicultural festival held in Leith.
Edinburgh International Children’s Festival. Every May/June, an international festival of children’s theatre.
Edinburgh International Science Festival. Takes place annually in March or April. Emphasis on “hands-on” science.
One important thing to decide when planning a trip to Edinburgh is whether you wish to go at festival time, which runs from early August through to mid-September. Hotel rooms in and around the city are noticeably much more expensive then, and you will need to book well at least’ six months in advance to get a good deal. Failing that staying on the city outskirts or in nearby towns is a more affordable option.
Edinburgh in the winter festive season is also huge with various concerts and other activities taking place starting a couple of weeks before Christmas and running up to a week into January. Princes Street Gardens play host to a Big Wheel, outdoor ice rink and various festive markets. As in most of the rest of Scotland, Hogmanay, the New Year celebrations, are the main focus of the festive season rather than Christmas. On the night itself whole sections of central Edinburgh are roped off and accessible only by ticket for the Hogmanay street party, which takes place across several stages and is easily the largest in Scotland. Hogmany and Edinburgh fit together like hand and glove.
Go to the cinema. Edinburgh has a number of cinemas covering mainstream, foreign language and art house films.