One of our favorite parts of traveling is choosing one city and deep diving into the local culture, food, and sights. This is especially fun to do when in a walkable area like Edinburgh, Scotland. Edinburgh has no shortage of hidden gems just waiting for you to find. From historical (and spooky!) tours you can’t miss to the best place to get a Sunday roast—we’re taking you to our favorite neighborhoods in Edinburgh.
When you travel to Edinburgh with us, you can use your free time to wander through any of these neighborhoods and experience the best things to do in Scotland. “It was really interesting to see the mix of old and new architecture throughout the city or to look up past the storefronts on the Royal Mile and see Edinburgh Castle up on a hill in the distance,” said staffer Maeve.
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1. Old Town aka Royal Mile
Old Town Edinburgh is in the city’s center. It is home to ancient landmarks like Edinburgh Castle, where you can view the Scottish Crown Jewels and the Stone of Scone (aka the Coronation Stone or The Stone of Destiny). From there, stroll the Royal Mile—a stretch of streets between Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse (once home to Mary, Queen of Scots). If you’re into royal manors, you can see all the best castles in Scotland on our Edinburgh & the Castles of Scotland tour.
Head over to the Signet Library for tea at the Colonnades. The tea selection is curated by Heritage Portfolio, which has the former Queen’s seal of approval—she gave them a Royal Warrant for their dedication to hospitality. Picture yourself sitting amongst the Corinthian columns of the grand library while you sip tea and nibble finger sandwiches fit for a queen.
And if you’re looking for a fright while visiting Old Town on our Edinburgh tours, make your way to Mary King’s Close. Journey to the underground streets, which were once located above ground. Theories on how and why this happened have run wild for decades, but the reality is that this area was sectioned off for people suffering from the plague to reside so they wouldn’t infect others. We consider this tour one of the best things to do in Edinburgh. You’ll learn the ghost stories, myths, and more about the truth of what happened here. Get spooked even more on our Haunted Halloween Tour: Dublin, Edinburgh & London.
If you’d rather stay above ground, take the scenic, uphill walk in Old Town Edinburgh to Arthur’s Seat. This lush, green, and stony cliff offers the kind of views of the city you’ll want to write home about. The climb up to Arthur’s Seat is a major tourist attraction and one of the best reasons to visit Edinburgh—but it’s also frequented by locals. It really is one of those “can’t get enough” views.
Once you’ve taken in the views from Arthur’s Seat, shop for souvenirs on Grassmarket Street. It has endless, locally owned stores, artisan merchants, and restaurants. Support the local economy, get your steps in, and eat your way through this colorful, bustling market.
Right next to Grassmarket is Victoria’s Street, which also hosts the same type of uniquely Scottish, local businesses. “Victoria Street in the Old Town is a must to stroll down for a photo op. They also sell scotch on this street,” staffer Adam said.
2. New Town aka City Center
The keyword for New Town Edinburgh is: shopping. There are quaint shops and an illustrious new mall with a great movie theater attached for those classic Scottish rainy days. When you’re traveling on any of our trips to Edinburgh, don’t miss George Street, which is absolutely brimming with shops and restaurants (you could spend the day here alone!).
Once you’re done with the markets and shops, rest your feet at one of our favorite bars, Copper Blossom. This is the place to go to sip a proper cocktail like one of their signatures, Strawberry Fields, and enjoy their gorgeous garden aesthetic.
If you’re looking for a history lesson with some flair, make your way to the Edinburgh Dungeon. Take a tour and watch actors play figures from Scottish history. You’ll love this tour because you learn all about the country and the people who helped build it.
3. Stockbridge aka Timber Footbridge
We highly recommend using your free time on tour to visit this fantastic neighborhood, home to the Royal Botanic Garden. The tropical enclosures momentarily transport you from the cobblestone streets of Scotland’s cities to a vibrant rainforest. The Royal Botanic Garden aims to educate visitors about protecting our planet. They also host holiday events like Christmas light displays.
Stockbridge is a posher area of Edinburgh, with particularly excellent thrift shops and gastropubs. And speaking of gastropubs, if you’ve spent any time visiting the United Kingdom, you’ve probably heard of a Sunday roast. If not, Sunday roasts are traditional British meals that have a roasted potato, roasted meat, and more traditional sides like veggies with gravy. Dessert is often a Yorkshire pudding, a crumble, or a sticky toffee. Locals dig into this dish on (you guessed it) Sunday afternoon and evenings.
Our favorite Stockbridge spot for a Sunday Roast? Scran and Scrallie. Scran means food in Scottish dialect and scrallie means lopsided. This gastropub aims to reinterpret Scottish cuisine (making it “lopsided”.) Stopping in here, Sunday or not, is a great way to spend free time when you travel to Scotland.
And if you make your way to Stockbridge on a Sunday, don’t miss the markets where you can grab yourself some fresh produce, local cheeses, or souvenirs like jewelry and candles. This market stands out because it’s smaller than others, so it gives you a chance to mingle and shop in a cozier setting.
Once you’re done with your marketplace stroll and Sunday roast, treat yourself to a walk down the Water of Leith. This mystical sounding (and looking) river runs through the center of the city and up to the sea at the Port of Leith. This area was originally named for the timber footbridge that once crossed the Water of Leith, stoccbrycg in Scottish dialect, which eventually evolved to Stockbridge.
There’s a walkway along the Water of Leith in Stockbridge, which extends all the way to the sea. That trip will take you about five hours. (Don’t say we didn’t warn you!) If you have the time and the stamina, the experience is worth it. If not, a jaunt of any length along this enchanting river is one of the best things to do in Scotland.