Creative Content Writer & former Tour Guide at HAGGiS Adventures. Scottish travel blogger and adventure lover. Kay enjoys travelling Scotland solo, and has visited 42 Scottish Islands. She loves to live up to stereotypes by dying her hair ginger, and regularly consuming haggis and whisky. A Scottish history geek and all-around chatterbox, she can literally talk for Scotland.
Lets play 'tourist' in Edinburgh
When you’re visiting Edinburgh for the first time, the beaten track might be exactly the route you want to follow. So long as you travel responsibly – and have an awesome time - no one can judge you.
We love promoting local experiences and hidden gems, but sometimes you just need to strut around the main sights with your camera round your neck and the Google Map on your phone upside down. No one’s too cool for that! (we draw the line at fluorescent rain ponchos, however).
If you want to achieve your fully fledged ‘Edinburgh tourist’ status, this checklist is for you. Go there, do that, buy the See You Jimmy Hat. Ready?
Conquer the castle
Edinburgh Castle will probably trigger your first “wow” moment in the city. There’s just something about epic structures perched high on volcanic rock. Venture inside to explore the ancient stronghold, home to the Scottish Crown Jewels, the Stone of Destiny, a 12th century chapel and creepy prison cells. Don’t forget to take epic photos of the surrounding cityscape from the ramparts. If your budget doesn’t stretch to cover the pricey entrance fee, you can pose for shameless travel snaps on the Castle Esplanade and drawbridge. Good luck dodging photo-bombers!
Nothing says ‘hardcore tourist’ more than sitting on an open top bus when the sun isn’t even shining. The hop-on hop-off bus is a great way to get your bearings, learn a bit of history, and achieve windswept selfies. The tour takes in all the tourist hotspots, so you’ll have no trouble finding out where to get right in among the action. You could even wave at people and see how many of many of them wave back. Street cred = gone!
Buy a novelty tartan souvenir
Just you try to resist the temptation; you’ll almost definitely cave in. Purchasing tartan mementos is a right of passage for tourists in Edinburgh – even if they are tacky and overpriced. The tartan object of your desire might be a teddy, an itchy scarf or a cheap kilt. You may as well buy a shortbread tin and whisky flavoured condoms too.
Overshare the Old Town on social media
While you’re here, it’s your unofficial duty to promote our city – and spread some ‘travel envy’ while you’re at it. The Royal Mile is tourist central, and for a good reason. The old architecture, cobbled streets and narrow closes are totally charming. Some of the most Insta-worthy spots include; St Giles Cathedral, the Canongate Tolbooth, Bakehouse Close (as featured in Outlander) and Holyrood Palace. Pose with the statue of the famous wee dog Greyfriars Bobby – and be one of the awesome tourists who DOES NOT rub his nose and damage the statue. Check out blog with more local gems in the Old Town.
Eat haggis. Love haggis.
This blog is a judgement free zone… unless you come to Scotland and don’t try haggis. If you don’t eat meat, that’s still not an excuse – our veggie haggis is totes delicious. If your fear of the unknown is taking over, ease yourself in gently by sharing a portion with your travel buddy at The Haggis Box - or for something a bit more special, go to Angels with Bagpipes and order their haggis starter. Before you know it, you’ll be savagely munching on haggis bon bons and haggis nachos in Arcade Pub.
Enjoy a wee dram, then another, and another
Continuing in the theme of stereotypical Scottish diets, the only way to wash down your haggis is with the ‘water of life’. Most pubs in the Old Town boast a decent selection of Single Malt, but our favourites are Whiski Bar & Restaurant and The Bow Bar. If you’re new to whisky, the Scotch Whisky Experience is great place to start. Learn all about the world of whisky, then browse the shelves in the gift shop with your best ‘I know exactly what I’m looking for’ face.
Climb an extinct volcano
Do not follow this checklist in chronological order; hillwalking with a belly full of haggis and whisky is never a good idea. Edinburgh is best viewed from above, and we are totally smug about the fact we have seven striking hills to enjoy the pleasure. COOL FACT: They are the remnants of a volcano which last erupted over 365 million years ago! The most popular volcanic chunk to climb is Arthurs Seat, followed by the less strenuous Calton Hill. Both can be accessed from the city centre, and the views are epic!
Get spooked in the underground
Edinburgh is a wonderful city to live in, but it hasn’t always been this way. The city has a dark and dirty past, which lives on in the eerie underground vaults. In centuries gone by, these dingy chambers saw their fair share of unpleasant characters, including the infamous body snatchers Burke and Hare. The vaults are damp, creepy and obviously haunted. Scaring yourself is totally fun though, eh? Mercat Tours will sort you out. Book a late night tour – if you’re brave enough!
Go Potty for Potter
If you’re a fan of the wee wizard Harry, Edinburgh is ideal for getting your geek on. Discover the streets, buildings and gravestones which inspired J.K. Rowling, and visit the café/s where she wrote the first book; expect lots of fellow Potterheads at the one which claims to be “the birthplace of Harry Potter”. Check out this list of must-see places.
Bust out your best moves at a ceilidh
Sorry, a what? A ceilidh is a traditional Scottish party, and you’re all invited! Live music and high energy dancing are the name of the game. You will laugh, you will dance in the wrong direction, and you may very well fall over. If you have no rhythm or previous experience – that’s even better. The Ghillie Dhu is where it's at!
Want more tips on visiting Edinburgh? Check out our favourite budget eats, cool hostels and independent coffee shops.