Edinburgh, Scotland: Destination Spotlight

Located only a couple of hours from the English border, Edinburgh is a beautiful gateway to Scotland. We love the city’s history (from New Town to Old Town and Edinburgh Castle), Scottish heritage, and beautiful neighborhoods. We paired our time in Edinburgh, Scotland with a tour into the Scottish Highlands, making for a great seven day itinerary of Scotland. Alternatively, we suggest pairing Edinburgh with the city of York, England if you wish to travel by train.

But first, some pictures for inspiration!

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Where to stay in Edinburgh

The Scotsman Hotel

Director's Room at the Scotsman Hotel in Edinburgh

The Scotsman Hotel is a beautiful four-star hotel located a block from the Royal Mile in Old Town. This historic building was once the headquarters for Scotland’s newspaper The Scotsman (which you will learn pretty quickly when you get a fresh copy of the daily newspaper delivered to your door each morning). With fresh rooms thanks to recent renovations, the Scotsman offers beautiful accommodations in a cool palette of light brown and white. We especially appreciated that all levels of rooms were upgraded to the same finishes when renovated, so even the base room (called the “Reporter Room”) feels nice.

lobby at the Scotsman Hotel

By far the best part of the Scotsman is its location: less than a block from the Royal Mile. Plus, those who wish to explore New Town have direct access via the North Bridge. In addition, it is directly across the street from the train station (although we heard no train noise while staying here).

breakfast room at the Scotsman Hotel in Edinburgh
Booking Tips:

For additional space in your room, we suggest upgrading to a “Director Room” Room. While slightly more expensive, Director Rooms offer a large seating area in-room. However, we had one Reporter Room and one Director Room during our stay, and enjoyed both rooms! In addition, The Scotsman offers a variety of family rooms and suites to choose from.

We also suggest including breakfast with your room rate, since the breakfast was easy, tasty, and a great way to start your morning in Edinburgh.

The Inn on the Mile

The Inn on the Mile is a 9 room hotel in a converted bank building in the center of Edinburgh

Our other suggested hotel in Edinburgh, Scotland is The Inn on the Mile. This beautiful inn is located over a cute pub directly on the Royal Mile. This 9-room hotel is located in a historic bank building. Many of the converted rooms boast beautiful views of the Royal Mile.

The Scotsman and the Inn on the Mile are actually sister hotels! Both hotels offer remodeled accommodations and a great location. While the Scotsman offers luxury hotel amenities such as air conditioning, meetings spaces, an adults-only cinema space (offering everything from romantic comedies to historical films), and a formal lobby, the Inn on the Mile provides similar accommodations (without the fancy amenities) at a lower rate.

The pub on the ground floor at the Inn on the Mile

So if you care about the full hotel experience, pick the Scotsman, but if you are in Edinburgh to sight-see, pick the Inn on the Mile. In addition, when staying at the Inn on the Mile, we suggest booking breakfast with your room package, since daily breakfast is served to guests in the pub!

(Accessibility Note: the Inn on the Mile does not have an elevator, so if your group requires an elevator, we suggest staying at the Scotsman Hotel instead.)

Where to Eat in Edinburgh

breakfast buffet that offers a variety of fresh food

Breakfast at your Hotel

Both the Scotsman Hotel and the Inn on the Mile offer breakfast at the hotel. We highly suggest booking your room as a bed and breakfast package so that your breakfast is taken care of!

streetside seating at La Locanda Italian Restaurant in Edinburgh's Old Town

La Locanda

Located about half a block from the Royal Mile, La Locanda is truly a can’t-miss gem. Owned by a woman who was also a server, this little Italian restaurant offers fantastic food and a great setting. We were lucky enough to visit on a warm day, so we got to sit outside, but the restaurant’s interior is fun too!

El Toro Loco is a fun Mexican restaurant in the heart of Edinburgh's Grass Market Square

El Toro Loco

As Californians, we will admit that we were heavily swayed by the desire for some salsa and tortilla chips after several weeks of fish and chips, so when we found El Toro Loco, we were very excited. Located in the heart of Grassmarket, El Toro Loco offers burritos, tacos, and quesadillas, as well as margaritas and plenty of salsa. It’s a great quick stop for lunch, and a fun way to refresh your palate for more British cuisine.

Deacon Brodie's Tavern is a great Scottish pub located along the Royal Mile

Deacon Brodies Tavern

Located on the Royal Mile, Deacon Brodies is a fun pub with a nice second-floor dining room. We enjoyed the food, and getting to sit at a window so that we could look out on the Royal Mile! Deacon Brodies is run by Nicholson’s Pub, which is a large management company of pubs throughout the UK, so you can expect a similar menu but with a unique pub character.

Things to Do in Edinburgh, Scotland

While Edinburgh is one of Scotland’s largest cities, the main tourist areas feel more like a town. Tourists focus on Edinburgh’s two primary areas: Old Town and New Town. Don’t be fooled, New Town is still very historic. This part of town dates back to the 1700s and 1800s Gregorian Period. In order to make the most of your time in Edinburgh, we suggest spending time in both areas. They are located directly across a bridge from each other, with the Edinburgh Train Station located in the valley between the two. The Scotsman Hotel’s proximity to both Old Town and New Town is a primary reason we recommend it. With this in mind, here are our favorite suggestions for things to do in Edinburgh.

Things to do in Old Town Edinburgh

The Old Town of Edinburgh, Scotland is home to Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace, and the Royal Mile. The Royal Mile is a must-see: it is the boulevard that connects the two castles. Today, the Royal Mile is a shopping street for tartan and cashmere. In addition, Old Town also offers fun historic attractions. In addition, Old Town boasts landmarks that inspired J.K. Rowling when writing the Harry Potter series.

Edinburgh Castle from Grass Market

Explore Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace

Edinburgh, Scotland boasts two Royal residences. The first is Edinburgh Castle, the older of the two residences. Today, Edinburgh Castle sits at the high point of Old Town, safely situated on “Castle Rock,” as it has for centuries. Edinburgh Castle offers a mix of preserved buildings and a museum of the Scottish military and history. (Note: Due to changes in ticketing systems following COVID-19, Edinburgh Castle requires pre-booked reservations. If you wish to visit Edinburgh Castle while in the city, book tickets well in advance. We were unable to visit the museum because they were fully booked.)

Holyrood Palace is the second Royal residence (sometimes called Holyroodhouse). Unlike Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace continues to be a residence for the English Monarchy today. Tours of Holyrood Palace are also available. These tours focus more on the history of the residence’s use by the Royal Family, rather than Scottish history.

The Royal Mile in Edinburgh is an extra wide main street that is home to tons of restaurants and shops.

Wander Along the Royal Mile

Running between these two castles is the Royal Mile. Once used as a parade route between the palace and the castle, the Royal Mile is by far the widest street in Old Town. Today, the Royal Mile offers plenty of Tartan and Cashmere shops, as well as fun pubs and restaurants. In addition, The Royal Mile is a base for visitor activities, such as the Real Mary Kings Close, which is great for those interested in learning about Edinburgh during the Plague (we ran out of time for this, but heard it is an informative and fun activity in Edinburgh), and small alleys that connect the neighborhood’s historic streets. We definitely spent a lot of our time in Edinburgh on the Royal Mile, thanks to the fun shops, restaurants, and easy proximity to tourist activities.

Grassmarket is a wide square in Old Town Edinburgh, Scotland.

Explore Grassmarket

Located just below the Royal Mile, Grassmarket is a beautiful square in the heart of Old Town. The square gets its name because it was a market square for centuries. Grassmarket is also famous for being the location of Edinburgh’s gallows for over 100 years. Today, Grassmarket is a lively place that has (mostly) shaken off its dark past. Grassmarket offers several popular restaurants (and even a couple of pubs named after the myths of those hung). Many of these restaurants and pubs offer outdoor dining during nice weather, and lively indoor restaurant spaces for year-round enjoyment.

Victoria Street in Edinburgh, Scotland. This colorful street is thought to be J.K. Rowling's inspiration for Diagon Alley.

Explore Harry Potter Sights – Victoria Street, Greyfriars Kirkyard, and the Elephant House Café

Because J.K. Rowling lived in Edinburgh while she wrote many of the Harry Potter books, Edinburgh’s Old Town is considered a huge inspiration for the books. How much of Edinburgh (and these sights) impacted Rowling’s images of the story is a hugely debated topic among Potter fans, but in any case, these locations are fun to see!

Stop # 1: Victoria Street

The first key Harry Potter landmark in Old Town is Victoria Street. Running from just off the Royal Mile down to Grassmarket, Victoria Street is a beautiful curved street filled with shopfronts. Most importantly, Victoria Street is considered Rowling’s inspiration for Diagon Alley. (However, the film set was inspired by Shambles Street in York, England, so it looks very different. You can read about the Shambles here). In fact, a bookshop on Victoria Street proudly explains that they consider themselves the inspiration for Flourish and Blotts on their shop-front! In addition, there are a couple of Harry Potter gift shops partway down the street.

A gravestone in Greyfriars Kirkyard in Edinburgh, Scotland. Some believe the name "Thomas Riddell" on this headstone was J.K. Rowling's inspiration for Voldemort's childhood name in the Harry Potter Series.
Stop # 2: Greyfriars Kirkyard

The next key stop on a Harry Potter Edinburgh tour is Greyfriars Kirkyard. Many believe that Rowling would walk her kids through the graveyard during nap time, and found inspiration from the names she saw on the headstones. Why? Because if you look closely, you will find headstones with names such as Thomas Riddell, William McGonagall, and Elizabeth Moodie! Sound familiar? That’s because of the characters Mad Eye Moody, Professor McGonagall, and Tom Marvelo Riddle (Lord Voldemort)! In addition, notice the very fancy school near the gates close to the McGonagall grave. This school is believed to be an inspiration for Hogwarts.

This red-painted café is considered the "Birthplace of Harry Potter" because J.K. Rowling wrote many early manuscripts here.
Stop # 3: the Elephant House Café

The final stop on our mini-Harry Potter tour was to walk by the Elephant House Café, which was where Rowling wrote many of the manuscripts for the books. (Note: there was a fire in the café about a month after we visited, so ongoing restoration may alter the look of the café).

Things to do in New Town Edinburgh, Scotland

While Old Town is home to much of Edinburgh’s visitor highlights, the New Town of Edinburgh, Scotland offers a grand change to complement it. Old Town was built by Edinburgh’s wealthy in the 18th and 19th centuries to escape the overcrowded Old Town. Because of this, New Town offers a master-planned design and grand Gregorian architecture. For tourists, make sure to visit New Town to see Edinburgh’s main shopping streets.

A busy street in Edinburgh's New Town. This is a major shopping street in the city

Shopping Along Princes Street

Princes Street is considered the grand shopping promenade of Edinburgh. Today, large chain stores such as H&M, Foot Locker, and Apple fill the storefronts. Princes Street is a fun place to walk to enjoy window shopping and people watching.

A quiet pedestrian-only street in the heart of Edinburgh's New Town shopping area.

Wander Along Rose Street

This adorable pedestrian-only street is located only a block off of Princes Street, but feels completely different. We loved wandering around here and would suggest sitting at one of the outdoor pubs along Rose Street for lunch if it is a nice day.

Princes Street Gardens is the main city park in Edinburgh, and is filled with manicured landscaping and walking paths.

Visit the Princes Street Gardens

While technically located between Old Town and New Town, the Princes Street Gardens are best accessed from Princes Street in New Town. These opulent gardens offer beautiful formal flower arrangements, grassy areas, monuments, and fun walking paths.

We hope this information helps you plan a fun sightseeing vacation to Edinburgh, Scotland! Have questions or need help planning your trip? Feel free to Contact Us!

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