UK & Ireland

Best things to do in Edinburgh: your local experiences bucket list

From secluded hideaways to explore with your partner to exciting adventures for the whole family, Edinburgh is packed full of fascinating activities

Home to atmospheric medieval streets, elegant Georgian townhouses and a hilltop castle that dominates the landscape, Edinburgh is beautifully steeped in a rich and thrilling history. But the Scottish capital is also a thriving contemporary city with diverse food, art and nightlife scenes that equally demand your attention.

There’s always something going on here and no matter how many times you visit, you’re certain to find something new. I grew up in Scotland; lived in Edinburgh for three years, and visit as often as possible. Yet there’s always something to surprise me when I return. Whether it’s your first or 15th visit to Edinburgh, you’ll want to experience as much as possible, so plan your trip around some of the following activities.

1. Explore Edinburgh`s literature and museums with the kids

Edinburgh is a UNESCO City of Literature and has been home to such writers as Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. For younger visitors, however, the Scottish capital is best known for the creation of just one author, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter. Rowling wrote her famous series of books while living in Edinburgh, and several local landmarks appear in their pages, from the Victoria Street-inspired Diagon Alley to Grayfriars Kirkyard, burial place of a real life Thomas Riddell.

If you have Harry Potter fans in your family, treat them to the Harry Potter Magical Walking Tour. While testing your Harry Potter knowledge with trivia questions, your guide will lead you to the places where J.K. Rowling wrote the books, as well as other important landmarks, finishing up at J.K. Rowling’s golden handprints outside City Chambers. It`s a great activity for all the family!

2. Discover every romantic corner in Edinburgh with your partner

From the enchanting closes (narrow alleyways) and hidden courtyards of the Old Town to the New Town’s elegant Georgian architecture and romantic Edinburgh Castle dramatically perched atop a volcanic plug, Edinburgh is a strikingly beautiful city that seems to have been built especially for lovers. If you are visiting with your sweetheart, you’ll find no shortage of ways to be romantic.

Explore the city on a Private Guided Walking Tour of Edinburgh and you’ll get your guide (and your partner) all to yourself. With the opportunity to customise the tour to your own tastes and interests, you can spend your time as you please, whether that’s checking off the city’s most famous landmarks or discovering some of the city’s lesser-known spots.

3. Visit hidden spots only a local would know about

Edinburgh has plenty of world-famous landmarks, from Edinburgh Castle to the Royal Mile and Palace of Holyroodhouse. But it is an endlessly fascinating city of under-explored nooks and crannies so, when you’ve ticked off all the city’s must-see attractions, leave some time to explore some of the lesser-known gems.

In a small group, explore the city’s hidden gems on the Discover Secret Edinburgh tour. Your local expert guide will lead you to places that other tourists overlook or miss completely, from a historic pub through quiet neighbourhoods to a contemporary arts venue, all while filling you in on the city’s fascinating history as you walk.

4. Celebrating a special occasion? Find the perfect gift experiences in Edinburgh

With its rich history and thriving contemporary culture, Edinburgh offers a nearly endless choice of special experiences. If your visit coincides with a special occasion, or you just want to treat your favorite person, consider booking a unique gift experience to really make it a trip to remember.

Take a break from sightseeing by taking part in a Chocolate-making experience at the Chocolatarium, just off the Royal Mile. You’ll learn more than you ever thought there was to know about the process of making chocolate, from bean to bar, and make your very own Scottish-themed bar to take home as a souvenir. Of course, you’ll also enjoy tasting some delicious samples from Scottish and international chocolate makers.

5. Pamper yourself in one of Scotland's top spas or private hotel experiences

Just around the corner from West Princes Street Gardens, The Waldorf- Astoria – The Caledonian is the grand dame of Edinburgh’s hotel scene. Built in 1903 as the Caledonian Railway’s flagship hotel, this imposing red sandstone building (affectionately nicknamed “the Caley”) oozes nostalgia and old school charm thanks to its grand Victorian decor and top-notch service.

The hotel’s prime location offers ample diversions, but you’d be forgiven for finding it difficult to leave. The hotel is home to award-winning fine dining, two inviting cocktail lounges and the UK’s only Guerlain spa. As well as indulging in its pampering top to toe treatments, visitors to the spa enjoy close-up views of Edinburgh Castle.