With this itinerary, you will be able to take in Edinburgh’s main sights, explore nature and history and experience some more of Scotland beyond Edinburgh, all at a leisurely pace.
Most of these suggestions will give you a different view of the city and of Scotland, from wandering around the peaceful Royal Botanic Gardens or the local markets to visiting the world famous town of St Andrews, there is more to Edinburgh (and Scotland) than the busy tourist hotspots.
Edinburgh Walking Tours
Edinburgh is a city steeped in history and it can be overwhelming trying to work out where to visit to make the most of your visit. We would recommend one of the many walking tours available around Edinburgh. The UNESCO heritage site of the Old Town is the best place to start with the ‘Edinburgh’s Old Town – History and Tales’ tour.
During this two-hour tour you will learn about Edinburgh Castle, St Giles Cathedral and the Mercat Cross among other famous landmarks. Your guide will also tell you about places the locals love, places you may not otherwise have come across. You will weave in and out of ancient alleyways and hidden squares all the while piecing together the very fabric of Scotland’s capital. This is a great way of exploring the City and taking in some of the history at the same time as finding out about other hidden gems you could visit later in your trip.
The beautiful fishing village of North Berwick lies east of Edinburgh, a popular day trip for locals. It can be reached directly in 30 minutes by train from Waverly Station. With a stunning beach and lots of quaint cafes and fish and chip shops a walk around North Berwick provides a great insight into seaside life in East Lothian (one of the sunniest places in Scotland).
One of the dominating views from the beach front is the famous Bass Rock, a rocky island jutting from the Firth of Forth turned white with the droppings from the world’s largest Northern gannet population. The Bass Rock was BBC Countryfile Magazine’s Nature Reserve of the Year in 2014/15 and 2015/16.
The Scottish Seabird Centre offers a number of boat trips out to the Bass Rock and other neighbouring islands to explore the vast array of seabirds that call the area home. Puffins are a highlight and can be seen from April through to August. The long list of seabirds resident in the area include cormorants, guillemots and razorbills. These boat trips are a must for anyone with an interest in wildlife, the scenery is spectacular too.
The Royal Botanic Gardens
Celebrating its 350th anniversary in 2020, the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh is one of the world’s leading botanical gardens. An absolute must for any gardener or budding horticulturist, the gardens consist of 70-acres of landscaped grounds boasting a spectacular view of Edinburgh’s skyline.
While entry to the gardens is free, there is a small fee to enter the Garden’s ten magnificent Glasshouses including the Victorian Temperate Palmhouse and the Tropical Palmhouse. There are over 3,000 exotic plants from around the world housed in the Glasshouse’s ten different climactic zones from steamy tropics to arid desserts, it really is worth paying the small fee to wander around here.
After walking around the Glasshouses, the Rock Garden, Alpine Houses, Chinese Hillside and the Rhododendron Collection, among many other areas in the grounds you can unwind with a coffee and cake or lunch at either The Terrace Café or The Gateway Restaurant, both serving hot and cold food.
The Edinburgh Markets
What better way to soak up the atmosphere of a city than visit the local markets, full of fresh local produce and hand crafted trinkets. There are four weekly markets for you to choose from, all easy to reach from the centre of town.
The Farmer’s Market takes place at Castle Terrace every Saturday from 09:00-14:00, in the shadows of the impressive Edinburgh Castle. This is Edinburgh’s original award-winning market selling meats, cheeses, baked goods and beer, all sourced locally.
The other three markets always offer a wide range locally sourced produce and items ranging from meats and cheeses to coffees and jewellery. There really is something for everyone at these markets with a range of vendors selling hot food ready to eat, great for stopping by at lunchtime. They are also a great way to see different parts of the city you might otherwise not plan on visiting.
These markets take place at:
Grassmarket – every Saturday from 10:00-17:00
Leith – every Saturday from 10:00-16:00
Stockbridge – every Sunday from 10:00-17:00
Newhailes House and Gardens
This 17th Century stately home sits on the edge of Musselburgh, a seaside suburb to the east of Edinburgh and is run by the National Trust for Scotland and can be reached in 30 minutes via the 106 East Coast bus from Meadowbank. Newhailes House played a significant role in the Scottish Enlightenment and is seen to have ‘the most learned library in Europe’.
Once owned by the influential Dalrymple family, they gave the house its important library, stunning rococo interiors and fine collection of paintings, ceramics and furniture as well as the 18th century designed landscaped grounds.
Guided tours will take you around the house showing you some fascinating examples of how the wealthy used to live, including going downstairs to the old kitchen and scullery. Interestingly, you will exit the kitchen the same way as the servants did, through a tunnel which kept the workers out of sight as they went about their daily tasks.
Newhailes House is well worth a trip and provides a fascinating glimpse into the past, away from the hustle and bustle of the heart of Edinburgh.
A day trip to St Andrews and Fife
With its central location, Edinburgh is a great base for exploring other parts of Scotland. There are many tour companies that offer day trips to various places of interest around the country.
One such tour company is Rabbies and we would recommend their day trip to St Andrews and the fishing villages of Fife. They use mini buses that can take up to 16 people so the tours feel intimate and personal.
This trip sets off from central Edinburgh and crosses the Firth of Forth into Fife, taking in the view of the world famous Forth Rail Bridge. You will then stop off at Anstruther where you can wander through the cobbled lanes of this traditional old fishing village. You’ll then travel north to St Andrews, the home of golf as well as exploring the ancient cathedral and 1,000 years of history in the old town. You will then travel back south stopping past the historic town of Falkland with its stunning palace, arriving back in Edinburgh by early evening.
This is a great and convenient way of exploring different parts of Scotland you may not have otherwise had time to do.