Insider Edinburgh: What to see and do, where to eat and shop

Edinburgh’s beauty will knock you sideways. Explore its historic, warren-like streets. Reimagine ancient battles at its atmospheric castle, perched high upon brooding rock. Party in the streets at one of the world’s biggest arts festivals. And the shopping’s pretty good too. 

Lonely Planet readers voted Edinburgh the fourth most beautiful city in the world – ahead of Athens and Sydney. Here are some of our favourite spots for eating, sightseeing and shopping.   

Need inspiration? What to see

Atmospheric, brooding and steeped in history, Edinburgh Castle < > dominates the city skyline. It glowers over the city from Castle Rock – a craggy lump of earth formed millions of years ago after a volcanic eruption.            

The castle is the city’s most famous attraction - and where Scotland's thrilling history comes to life.

Things to do at the castle:

  • Take a tour: audio and human guides are available. Or just wander with a map. You'll need one. Palace, barracks and dungeon, the castle is a maze of historic buildings.
  • Visit a Royal Palace: This is where Mary, Queen of Scots lived out her turbulent reign and gave birth to James VI.
  • Forget digital and satnav: Set your timepiece the way the old seadogs did - with a bang. The One o'clock Gun is fired every day except Sunday. At one o'clock. Obviously.
  • Hear the story of the drummer boy: Go below the Great Hall to the prison where a young drummer boy was held after the Battle of Trafalgar.

Rain in Scotland? We must be honest - it has been known. Dodge an unexpected shower by dipping into a world-class art gallery. The Scottish National Gallery has piles of paintings you’ll want to stare at for ages. Cezanne, Raphael and co will brighten up even the drabbest days.

We love Thomas Gainsborough's portrait of The Honourable Mrs Graham. Especially her hat. And her feathers. And her pearls. They really knew how to dress in those days....

Fall hook, line and sinker for Scottish history at the National Museum of Scotland 

From tub-thumping warriors like Robert the Bruce to the enigmatic Mary, Queen of Scots. It’s all here. Don’t miss at the museum:

  • Queen Mary’s harp: Mary, Queen of Scots was originally thought to have given this harp as a gift – latest research has unearthed a more tenuous link.
  • Lewis Chessmen: These incredibly detailed chess pieces fashioned from walrus tusk and whales’ teeth were washed up on a beach in 1831.

Feeling hungry? Where to eat

An intimate dinner: Michelin-starred for a zillion years, Number One At The Balmoral < >exudes old-money confidence. The interiors are elegant and timeless in a masculine kind-of-way. The food, locally sourced and exquisite. Think Balvenies smoked salmon, wild turbot and Orkney beef. Rich, in every sense of the word.


A light lunch: For boy and girl wizards of all ages, it's just got to be The Elephant House <>. JK Rowling wrote the early Harry Potter novels here. Expect to queue at peak times but it's lively and cheerful. Lots of options for veggies - the Spinach and feta pie will tempt even carnivores.


International: From Istanbul to the Scottish capital - both are fabled cities. The Pera Turkish Mangal and Meze Bar < > does a mouth-watering selection of spicy, aromatic grills -- all served with bulgur wheat and a cooling yoghurt and cucumber sauce.


Street Food: Pork slow-cooked and sticky in a yummy sauce. Is there anything better? Try slapping it in a soft, white roll and piling it with slaw and chilli jam. That’s what to expect at Jones & Son, located in Boxsmall near Edinburgh Waverley Station. Finger-licking loveliness.


Retail therapy - where to shop

High street heaven
You’ll find all your faves on Edinburgh’s main shopping drag, Princes Street. There’s M&S, Gap and Waterstones and also a bit of a retail landmark in the shape of Jenners department store.

Vintage, independents and homewares
Prefer kooky little shops to big high-street chains? The elegant, colourful swoop of Victoria Street will be right up your, er, street. The architecture is elegant, the shops off-the-beaten track – from vintage boutiques to cheesemakers. 1 shop to check out on Victoria Street:

  • Totty Rocks: The Edinburgh fashion pack love this place. Started by 2 fashion lecturers from Edinburgh College of Art, the threads on sale here are oh-so-chic and made in Scotland. Kate Moss is said to be a fan.  

Label lovers – designer shopping
Multrees Walk: Designer dream. Wish-list or splurge on Burberry, Hugo Boss and Mulberry in Edinburgh’s most exclusive shopping district.

Harvey Nichols: A byword for exclusivity, Harvey Nichols is loved by the fashion pack. And you’ll find Scotland’s only branch on Multrees Walk. Gucci, Victoria Beckham and Marc Jacobs will try to separate you from your cash. 

Hidden Edinburgh

Gilmerton Cove: Ready to be spooked? This mysterious network of hand-carved caves and passages beneath the city will leave you asking why, how and who by? No-one knows why they were made. Fascinating stuff.

Sheep Heid Inn <>:Tucked behind the dramatic crags of Arthur’s Seat is this atmospheric old inn. Said to date back to 1360, it was supposedly frequented by Mary, Queen of Scots on her way between Craigmillar and Holyrood. Drink up the history.