In 5 words: Vibrancy and eye-catching landscape.
For your first visit you need no less than 2 full days to be able to fully appreciate the city and all of its major sights while keeping a pleasantly unhurried pace.
Distances are walkable, public transportation is unlikely to be needed.
Love its dramatic topography.
Worthy attractions: Edinburgh Castle; Palace of HolyroodhouseRoyal Mile;  St Giles Cathedral; Scottish National Gallery; The National Museum of Scotland; People’s Story at the Canongate Tolbooth; Greyfriars Church;  Real Mary King’s Close.
Left for another visit:  Arthur’s Seat.
Last visit: March 2023.

On Royal Mile

Edinburgh is a town very much to my liking, offering plenty of history and architectural delights in a comparatively compact area. I worked it into my itineraries on three separate occasions, and while I feel that I have not fully explored the town yet, I possess a healthy appreciation of it. The harmony of distinct architectural styles, from medieval Old Town to neoclassical New Town, is expressly recognized by UNESCO on the World Heritage list, but that’s just one aspect of a beautiful and vibrant town.

Things to See

Both Old Town ♥♥♥ and New Town ♥♥ offer a lot of attractive architecture and many great vistas. They are also relatively compact, so you can get a good impression of either in just a couple of hours.

The main Old Town thoroughfare, Royal Mile ♥♥♥ warrants significant exploration all by itself. Together with its extensions at both ends, it leads not only to the castle, but also houses several major monuments such as the cathedral, the Canongate Tolbooth (a 16th-century townhall, now a museum), the Hub (the tallest spire in Edinburgh belonging to a non-consecrated church that now functions as an event venue), and uncounted other fascinating buildings.

St Giles Cathedral ♥♥ is the main church in Edinburgh. It boasts brilliant stained glass windows and a number of other architectural and decorative features suitable for a great church. Photographers are asked to donate £2 for the privilege of taking interior pictures, which is a worthwhile investment for any photo enthusiast.

Edinburgh Castle ♥♥♥ can take over half a day to enjoy to the fullest. It is a large complex on several levels of elevation offering nearly two dozen exhibitions, museums, and other points of interest. I especially liked the Crown Jewels exhibition, the Prisons of War Museum, and the Great Hall, and also stepped into a small St Margarite church, the Scottish National War Memorial, and lingered on a couple of terraces and batteries taking in magnificent views over the city.

The Palace of Holyroodhouse is imposingly picturesque on the outside and full of superb decorations and furniture on the inside. The excellent audio-video guide provides plenty of info and historic contest.

Mary King’s Close ♥ is an interesting historic excursion, located opposite the cathedral. It takes you underneath current buildings to the places that Edinburgh’s residents inhabited in the 17th century. There are a couple of interactive media exhibits and several set-up scenes on the tour, of varying quality, but on balance, this is a different look at the history of the town that is hard to bypass. Entrance is at timed intervals and you may have to buy tickets in advance in busy times.

People’s Story at Canongate Tolbooth ♥ is a compact exposition full of assorted facts and illustrations about various aspects of life in Edinburgh over the last couple of centuries. Kind of randomly assembled, but makes for a multi-faceted picture overall. Free and well worth a stop.

The Scottish National Gallery ♥ offers a reasonable and not overwhelming collection, obviously with a lot of Scottish painters, but representing many of the grand masters, even if with just a single work or two. The permanent collection is free to peruse.

The National Museum of Scotland ♥♥♥ is an incredible ensemble of soaring spaces given to a wide range of subjects: natural history, ethnography and archeology, applied arts, design and fashion, transportation and energy, the evolution of Scotland, etc, etc, etc. The rooftop terrace – definitely a hidden gem – offers great views of the city. You probably need a week to properly see all there is to see in this museum, and it is all free.

There are a few other museums in town that may be interesting to visit, such as the Museum of Edinburgh, the Royal Scottish Academy, Camera Obscura & World of Illusions, or Dynamic Earth, that may feature on my future trips.

Among the many monuments in the city, Scott Monument ♥ stands out – and it holds the distinction of being the largest monument to a writer in the world.

Greyfriars ♥ is another church in town worth seeing. It is not too lavishly decorated, but the organ is super-impressive, and there are several vivid stained-glass windows.

There are other churches here or there that you can stop by. One more curious than others on account of its elliptical interior shape is St Andrew’s and St George’s West church. It houses a popular café on the lower level.

I found myself walking through the New Calton burial ground one day and was surprised both by the ambiance of the cemetery itself and by the different perspectives of the city that it offers.

For those who love scotch but have no opportunity for distillery visits, Edinburgh offers several Whisky Experience locations, where you can reputedly taste practically anything that is produced anywhere in Scotland. I only stepped into one for a glance around.

Places to Eat (or Drink)

There is a cluster of nice restaurants in the Charlotte Square half of George Street. We randomly picked Las Iguanas ♥♥, which serves selections from all over Latin America. Loved it, from various tapas to xinxim. Last visit: Spring 2023.

For pastries and coffee, Mimi’s Bakehouse on Canongate is a wonderful stop in a cozy space. Last visit: Spring 2023.

Pork sandwiches from Oink (multiple locations) are an excellent “street food” choice. Last visit: Spring 2023.

Howies Victoria ♥♥, on Victoria Street half a block from the Royal Mile, is a popular restaurant, with friendly service and excellent food. Last visit: Spring 2018.

Michael Neave ♥ is tucked away from the Royal Mile at the bottom of Old Fisherman’s Close. It is reputedly a superb restaurant, but I only took advantage of the cozy ground-level lounge. And returned the next night again. Last visit: Spring 2018.

Circus ♥ was a random choice, located near the Royal Mile on St Mary’s Street. It offers a Mediterranean/Scottish mix, with friendly service and a fairly relaxed atmosphere. Last visit: Spring 2015.

Whiski ♥, on the Royal Mile, has a few tables in the bar area in addition to the stools at the counter, and more of a dining room in the back. We came here only for drinks. The whisky list covers nearly the entire range of scotch found anywhere. Last visit: Spring 2018.

We also ate a couple of times at Franky and Benny’s, on the Royal Mile near the cathedral. It is unpretentious but surprisingly good for a low-key eatery that has tourists as a majority of its clientele. Last visit: Spring 2018.

For pubs, it is rare to run into a poor experience anywhere in the UK. Rose Street in Edinburgh – parallel to and in between George and Prince – is a pedestrian enclave full of popular pubs.


As in any large city, the options for a hotel or an apartment are plentiful on major online platforms. Any location in Old Town or New Town will put you within walking distance of most of the points of interest.

On the most recent trip, I rented an excellent AirBnB apartment ♥♥ on Waverley Park (listing): a two-level apartment, with three bedrooms and a small full bathroom on the upper floor, and the kitchen, two lounges, a bigger bathroom and utilities on the lower floor (which is the 3rd floor in the building – or the 4th in American terms). No elevator. Parking may be a challenge – although free, it is in short supply near the building. The location is close to Holyroodhouse, within 15 minutes of the town center on foot.

Another fantastic AirBnB apartment ♥♥♥ (listing) in the center of town is suitable for families or a group of friends. One can hardly ask for a better location or amenities. Last stay: 2018.

For those preferring hotels, Hotel Macdonald Holyrood ♥♥ is modern, with big rooms, and all proper amenities including a large comfortable bar downstairs, close to the Holyroodhouse palace and about 20 minutes walk from the castle. Last stay: 2015.

Other notes for UK