Want to see the Edinburgh that only locals know? If you have more than two days to spend in the best wee city in the world, I highly suggest taking a few steps off the beaten path to check out these places that are normally reserved for Edinburgh natives.
Now, I am in no way advocating that you skip the “must do Edinburgh activities” (click here to read about those). Actually, if you only have two days to spend in the Scottish capital I DO recommend that you spend them checking out the well known sites (see the link above). They are well worth the hype. But, if you have more than two days, pick one or two things off of this list to see a different and equally as interesting part of Edinburgh.
1. Queensferry and a boat tour to Inchcolm Abbey
Hidden on an island in the middle of the Firth of Forth, Inchcolm Abbey is definitely worth the trip to see. Take a bus to the charming area of Queensferry, enjoy a cup of tea, then hop on a boat tour around the Forth. The tour will drop you off at Inchcolm then loop back around to pick you up. The island is amazing, full of history, and exploring it feels a bit like you are rediscovering a lost treasure. Check out the boat tour options here – http://www.forthtours.com/inchcolm.asp.
2. Dean Village
Wonderfully medieval and great for pictures, locals love to spend a little time in this area of town. Dean Village is located along Water of Leith.
3. Water of Leith
The Water of Leith is a 12 mile trail running through the middle of the city. It is beautiful, tranquil, and an escape from the bustle of the city. You truly feel like you are a world away from town when you are on this trail. A stroll of the Water of Leith is one of our favorite things to do on a lazy Saturday. It’s beautiful year round.
4. Greyfriars Kirk and Kirkyard
Besides being a really neat part of history, this kirk and kirkyard played an important role in the creation of Harry Potter. Even though London would like to claim the credit, Edinburgh is actually the home of Harry Potter. J.K. Rowling wrote the books here and still lives in town. A stroll through the kirkyard (cemetery) of this kirk might lead you to discover some headstones with familiar names. Keep your eyes open especially for Thomas Riddle. If Harry Potter is something that interests you, there are many Harry Potter tours available around town! Also, check out Visit the Most Magical Harry Potter Locations in the U.K.
5. Lauriston Castle
Beautiful gardens and quirky castle right on the water. This castle is a great way to spend an afternoon! It can be reached by bus and tours are £5. You can read more about Lauriston Castle here – Edinburgh’s Lauriston Castle
6. National Museum of Scotland
You can spend days in this museum and not see it all. No, I’m serious. We have quite literally spent 5 entire days in the Kingdom of the Scots section of the museum and we have not yet seen it all. This portion of the museum is 7 floors and full of the most important Scottish history pieces. The other parts of the museum can be done more quickly and there are great activities for kids. Entry is free.
7. Rosslyn Chapel
Featured in The Divinci Code this historic chapel is shrouded in myth and legend. It can be reached by bus on the Lothian Service 37. Just check that it says ‘via Roslin’ on the front of the bus. The journey from the city center will take around 45 to 60 minutes and there are stops on Princes Street (shop side) or North Bridge. Entry fee is £9.
Leith is kind of its own thing and kind of not. It is technically a part of Edinburgh, but Leith residents prefer to say that they live in Leith. It is easily reached by many bus routes and it’s known for its awesome restaurants and bars (check out my guide to Leith eats here). There are also some awesome viewpoints that you’ll want to take advantage of.
9. Bookshops like Armchair
Edinburgh is known as a “writer’s paradise”. Home to countless famous authors throughout history, including J.K. Rowling, the residents are passionate about literary works of art. You’ll find bookshops around every corner. Take a break from the rain and step inside one to peruse the shelves. A personal favorite of mine is Armchair Books by Grassmarket.
10. Portobello Beach
Why yes, there IS a beach in Edinburgh! What doesn’t this city have?? On a sunny day take a bus to Portobello, enjoy the water, eat some fish and chips, build a sandcastle, and take some awesome sunset pictures!
11. BONUS Places!
I know I promised you only 10 places to visit, but while writing this I was reminded how truly incredible this city is and I couldn’t help myself. I had to share some of my other favorite hidden gems. Here are some additional places that I recommend you spend a little time:
- The Royal Yacht Britannia – the royal family’s yacht
- Mary King’s Close – discover hidden streets and buried Edinburgh secrets
- Gilmerton Cove – caves under the city!
- Cramond Island – an island you can walk to when the tide is just right
- Botanic Gardens – historic and especially beautiful in the spring and summer
- Other churches – I highly recommend popping into other historic churches. I especially recommend St. John’s Episcopal (our church), St. Mary’s Cathedral, and St. Cuthbert’s