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H ome to wonderful shopping, historic sights, breathtaking landmarks and impeccable galleries, Edinburgh is one of the world’s greatest cities. With a fabulous food and drink scene and picturesque streets and neighbourhoods, there’s plenty to explore during a city break to the Scottish capital. Follow our guide for the best things to do in this incredible city.

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Edinburgh Castle

The top tourist attraction in Edinburgh — and one of the most popular in the UK — is the 1103-built Edinburgh Castle. Constructed high atop Castle Rock, this medieval fortress has even been voted the Top UK Heritage Attraction at the British Travel Awards. Explore the grounds and important artefacts, including the Honours of Scotland, the oldest crown jewels in the UK, and The Stone of Destiny; an ancient symbol of the Scottish monarchy. 

Take a guided tour around the castle and soak up the views that stretch across Edinburgh from the summit of Castle Rock. Listen out for the field gun, which is fired everyday at 1pm (with the exception of Sundays, Good Friday and Christmas Day). 

Royal Mile

Cutting through the historic heart of Edinburgh, the Royal Mile is the one mile stretch that connects Edinburgh Castle with the Palace of Holyroodhouse, flanked by towering tenement buildings. The cobbled stretch is home to exciting attractions, such as The Real Mary King’s Close, St Giles' Cathedral and some of the best shopping opportunities and eating and drinking venues in the city. At the Palace of Holyroodhouse-end of the Royal Mile lies the ultra-modern Scottish Parliament Building. 

Browse the many shops, including Cadenhead's Whisky Shop & Tasting Room, the Tartan Weaving Mill and Exhibition and the Celtic Craft Centre Kilt-makers, before stopping off at the 16th-century Tolbooth Tavern for a wee dram.

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Palace of Holyroodhouse

The official Scottish residence of Her Majesty, The Queen, the Palace of Holyroodhouse features 14 historic State Apartments, the ruins of the 12th-century Holyrood Abbey and attractive royal gardens. Arguably the palace’s most famous previous resident was Mary, Queen of Scots, who occupied the apartments in the northwest tower from 1561 to 1567, upon her forced abdication. The palace even features in the recent big-screen movie, Mary, Queen of Scots. 

New for 2021 is the romantic, reimagined 17th-century public garden, located at the foot of the Royal Mile. Tour the Queen's Gallery, which features changing exhibitions from the Royal Collection, before exploring the garden.

Scottish National Portrait Gallery

Located near Queen Street Gardens, just north of Edinburgh’s Waverley Station, the Scottish National Portrait Gallery holds the country’s collections of portraits. You’ll also find the Scottish National Photography Collection here, too. All subjects are Scottish, though not all portraits are by Scottish artists or photographers.

The gallery is set in a remarkable red, sandstone, Neo-Gothic building, designed by Sir Robert Rowand Anderson as a shrine for Scotland’s heroes and heroines. The glittering gallery opened in 1889 as the world’s first purpose-built portrait gallery. Tour the gallery and the story of Scotland through the various portraits, including those of famous figures from the past and present. You’ll spot the faces of Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, Prince Charles, Edward Stuart, Emeli Sandé, Billy Connolly and Tilda Swinton.

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Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

You’ll find the 70-acre Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh’s Warriston neighbourhood, north of the city centre and not far from the port of Leith. The garden dates back to the 17th-century and is one of the world’s best Botanic Gardens. Aspects of the garden include the pretty lillipad-filled pond, Chinese Hillside, the Alpine Houses, the Woodland Garden, Scottish Heath Garden, the Rock Garden and stream and the Arboretum, each filled with lush greenery and native and exotic plants. 

The centrepiece of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh — albeit located on the northeast edge — is the Temperate Palmhouse, a stunning Victorian-era palm house with a curved glass-domed roof. Opened in 1858, the Palmhouse was the tallest structure of its kind in the UK, housing plant species from distant lands. The Temperate Palmhouse remains the tallest palm house in the UK and underwent a comprehensive restoration in 2002. Explore the many types of tropical vegetation grown inside, including towering palm trees, bananas and cocoa beans. There are three cafe-restaurants and a gorgeous Botanic shop to browse, too.

National Museum of Scotland

Scotland is home to spectacular museums, including its superior National Museum. Following the 2006 merger of the Museum of Scotland and the adjacent Royal Scottish Museum, the centrally located, dynamic National Museum of Scotland was officially formed. 

One of the focal points of the National Museum of Scotland is the Grand Gallery, with its light-filled atrium featuring soaring windows. Entry is free and you can explore over 20,000 unique artefacts. Learn about the catacombs of Egypt, dinosaurs and technology. There are also Art, Design and Fashion galleries, Natural World galleries with a Tyrannosaurus rex, and the Science and Technology galleries, so give yourself plenty of time to get around.

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Royal Yacht Britannia

Situated at Leith Docks, the Royal Yacht Britannia is permanently moored in Edinburgh having served HM, The Queen and the Royal family for over 44 years from its debut in 1953. The ship voyaged over one million nautical miles during that time, lavishing upon royals, heads of state and other VIPs during regal receptions and events. 

Tour the yacht, including the former Royal residence, the Crew’s Quarters below decks and the official State Dining Room. Explore The Bridge and deck areas before savouring a delectable afternoon tea at the Royal Deck Tea Room. 

Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

The fabulous Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art is housed in a former 1800s-built orphanage set in a beautiful sculpture park. The gallery is split in two, consisting of Modern One and Modern Two — the neoclassical Modern One came first, designed by William Burn in 1825, while Modern Two was built in 1833 and later converted into a gallery in 1999. 

Modern One offers several rooms over three floors, covering all manner of modern art, including ‘Beyond Realism: Dada & Surrealism’, ‘Abstract Art and Britain between the Wars’, ‘The Business of Pop’ and ‘Art at the Turn of the Century’, among others. Modern Two offers ticketed exhibitions, such as ‘Ray Harryhausen Titan of Cinema’, featuring painting, photography, sculpture and film. Explore the galleries and stop by Café Modern One or Paolozzi's Kitchen for a coffee or lunch before it's time to leave. Admission to Modern One is free.

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Scotch Whisky Experience

Located on the Royal Mile, near Edinburgh Castle, one of the best things to do in the city is the Scotch Whisky Experience. The Scotch Whisky Experience is home to the world’s largest whisky collection, with over 3,384 bottles that are held in a marble and glass vault. Learn about the distilling process, discover the art of blending, take part in a guided sensory presentation and tour the virtual distillery. Taste various types of whiskies to discover the perfect blend or single malt for you. 

When you’ve finished your tour, take a seat at the venue’s Amber Restaurant — named after the delicious honey-coloured hue of whisky — which is a top dining spot for outstanding Scottish cuisine.