Every morning I wake up to an email from Travel + Leisure which I always read with great glee. After all, it serves as a constant source of inspiration for my next trip! This morning’s article was “50 Places to visit in 2023,” and as I flicked through, I spotted they mentioned Edinburgh. Yet when I started to read why they recommended I visit Edinburgh in 2023, I realised there was nothing of meaning in the text. Had I not already been an Edinburgh fan, reading that article would certainly not have made me want to go. So, I thought I’d write my own guide on why you should visit Edinburgh!

I do not doubt that if you visit the capital of Scotland you will become enchanted by its charm. The oldy worldly Old Town, with its narrow winding cobblestone streets and quaint, colourful pubs, will undoubtedly transport you straight to the magical land of Diagon Alley. Meanwhile, with its buzzing atmosphere, the new town is packed full of museums, great shopping, and delicious restaurants. But the most enthralling side of the city is the warmth of the locals. I always think the people make a place, not its attractions, and Edinburgh is certainly full of good spirit. But whatever it is you look for in a city break, I am sure Edinburgh will have you covered!

Where is Edinburgh?

Map of Edinburgh with a pin in it

Edinburgh is Scotland’s hilly capital, with an enchanting medieval old town and an elegant Georgian new town. This compact city can be easily explored on foot, although it also has an excellent public transport system.

Inhabited since the early Middle Ages, Edinburgh hasn’t always been the charming city it is today. As it evolved into Scotland’s capital, it became so overcrowded and dirty that it earned itself the nickname of “Auld Reekie”. People living here had to endure terrible grime and air pollution from all the open fires. The Royal Mile, now one of the most touristy streets in Edinburgh, was previously the High Street. With no running water, people would empty their chamber pots into the street at 10 pm every night, so it is fair to say that “Auld Reekie” may also have something to do with the smell that must have lingered! If you enjoy history, then I definitely recommend going on the self-guided “Auld Reekie Trail” which is guaranteed to transport you back 200 years!

Edinburgh lies on the south bank of the Firth of Forth estuary. This glacial fjord was carved out during the Last Glacial Maximum and is the reason for today’s interesting topography. Edinburgh Castle sits on top of volcanic rock which resisted erosion from the ice cap, thus allowing a tremendous strategical defensive site. Originally Edinburgh was called Castle Rock. However, it is believed that the name was changed in the 7th century when King Edwin of Northumbria resided here. Burgh meant fortress and Edin an adaptation of the name Edwin.

You can learn a lot more about Edinburgh’s exciting history by joining one of the many tours that are on offer, or indeed by visiting some of Edinburgh’s fascinating museums.

Best time to visit Edinburgh

A moody sky hangin dark over the Old Town of Edinburgh

Personally, my favourite time to visit is in August, for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. During August, the city comes alive with one of the best arts festivals in the world. Hundreds of artists descend on the town, with impromptu venues popping up all over the city. And that is precisely our main reason for visiting: the comedy. But more about that below.

If you want to enjoy the festival, then August is the month to come; however, be aware that it is prohibitively expensive, with most hotels doubling in price! If you are not visiting for the comedy though, then I personally recommend visiting during the shoulder season.

You can never guarantee the weather in Scotland anyway, so whatever season you visit in, there is a high chance you will get wet. Therefore, why not visit when there are fewer tourists and prices are lower? Just make sure to bring a good umbrella!

July and August

This is the high season when airfares and hotels will cost a premium. Attractions will also be at their busiest, and you will likely need to book attractions and restaurants in advance. However, it is the warmest time of year with average temperatures of around 19°C. However the odds of rain are 50-50.

September and October

If rain is your biggest concern, these tend to be the drier months, with chances of clear blue skies at their highest. Temperatures generally range between 11°C and 14°C. Although we have seen some late summers with balmy temperatures over the last few years! I am a big fan of travelling around Scotland in September. Kids have gone back to school and we have always got lucky with the weather! It is generally much quieter and prices much more affordable.

November through to April

This is classed as the low season, with lower prices (except on the run up to Christmas) and far fewer crowds. Temperatures through the winter tend to sit around 2°C-5°C, and chances of rain are high. Perhaps the main drawback though, are the short days. During winter the sun sets before 4 pm and doesn’t rise again until gone 8 am. The grey days can also be somewhat miserable. Despite the darkness though, the streets do come alive with winter lights and Christmas markets. They are a reason to visit in their own right.  

May and June

You can expect crips days, blossoming flowers, and less rain than in the summer months. Crowds are also smaller and prices will remain low. The days also start to get longer, giving you plenty of daylight hours to explore the city. It is definitely a good time of year to plan your visit.

Top 10 Things to do in Edinburgh

There is so much to do in Edinburgh that it is nearly impossible to write a “10 Top Things”. However, you are here because you are looking for the best, and because you want to know why you should visit Edinburgh in 2023. Therefore, I will limit it only to my personal favourite activities in this beautiful city.

1. The Edinburgh Fringe Festival

Edinburgh comes alive for the Fringe Festival with acts popping up all over the city.

Since every one of my visits to Edinburgh have involved the Fringe Festival, I can hardly not put this one first! And let me tell you, I’m not usually a festival goer, but I have been the biggest advocate ever since I visited back in 2010.

The Fringe Festival takes over the city for three weeks every August, bringing to life the planet’s greatest celebrations of arts and cultures. Artists and performers take to the stage across 100s of venues in the city. These vary from large theatres to pub cellars and everything in between. These performances include comedy, dance, musicals, theatre, opera, cabaret, and a whole host of other genres that I have likely never even noticed on the agenda, as my focus was always on where I could get the biggest belly laughs.

As well as getting the chance to see some of the biggest names perform during the festival, there is also a plethora of up-and-coming artists, often putting on shows for free. Whenever we go we tend to book tickets to one paid performance, generally one of the ones likely to sell out, and then use the app to pick everything else out at random. And when I say at random, I mean at random!

Expect the unexpected

For example, in 2012 we arrived in Edinburgh at midday and found a spot for lunch. While having our lunch, we checked the app and saw that a show was starting in half an hour, just two doors down from where we were eating, so we booked on. It turned out it was a show about Anders Breivik, the gunman who had only a year previously gunned down all those kids in Norway. It may not have been a comedy, but it was a brilliant show!

On our first ever trip we saw a hilarious show about Freshers week, and when we were there in 2018 we treated ourselves to Adam Kay, the hilarious author of “This is going to hurt”. With over 2,500 shows to choose from, you certainly won’t be bored. But if you did get bored, the streets come alive with street performers too! So everywhere you look there will be something going on.

If you want to visit in 2023, it will be running between the 4th and 28th of August.

2. Visit Diagon Alley and immerse yourself in the magical work of Harry Potter

Victoria Street, with it's colourful frontages, is thought to have been the inspiration for Diagon Alley.

One of the top things to do in Edinburgh if you are a Harry Potter fan is book on to a Harry Potter tour. You can either do a self-guided tour using the information below, or you could book on to a themed tour with Potter Trail, an award-winning free tour company. Yes, you read that right! FREE! They do collect donations at the end, but they aren’t obligatory. It is however customary to pay what you believe the tour was worth.

Why is Edinburgh so Potter mad? J.K Rowling was living in Edinburgh while she wrote the seven books, and as you walk through the city, you can easily see where she got so much of her inspiration. In fact, it is believed that she did most of her writing in The Elephant House, now one of the most popular coffee shops in the city. Many other coffee shops make similar claims; however, she spent most of her time in either The Elephant House, Traverse Theatre Café, or Spoon. Therefore, any other claims are unlikely to be legitimate!

As lovely as it is to enjoy a drink in one of J.K. Rowlings’ favourite cafes, for me, the real magic happens when you start exploring the area. As you walk up the cobblestones of Victoria Street, with its colourful buildings, quaint shops selling trinkets, and tightly packed restaurants, it is not hard to envision where the idea of Diagon Alley came from.

Sinister inspiration

Equally, if you wander through the Greyfriar’s Kirkyard cemetery, you might spot some familiar names! McGonagall, Moonie, Scrymgeour are just some of the ones you will find. However, the most famous of them all is Thomas Riddle, otherwise known as Lord Voldemort! I can’t help but wonder what the family thinks of their loved one becoming the evilest wizard in history?

I believe that Edinburgh castle, perched as it is on a volcanic rock, served as inspiration for the location of Hogwarts. However, the school itself is rumoured to be based on George Heriot’s School, in Edinburgh city centre. Dating back to the early 17th century, this gothic school, with its four towers, is thought to have provided much of the creativity behind the running of Hogwarts. Noticeably they also have four houses and run house competitions every year too, although that is hardly unusual among U.K. schools.

You could easily spend a whole Harry Potter-themed weekend in Edinburgh. Plenty of businesses have popped up to monetise the city’s connection with the franchise. As well as tours, you can also enjoy escape rooms, themed shops, bus tours, restaurants and even bars that teach you how to make potions (also known as cocktails!). 

If you are a Harry Potter fan you definitely need to add Edinburgh to your must visit list!

3. Hike up a volcano to enjoy the sunrise

The famous crags of Arthur's Seat, the best spot from which to watch the sun rise

In case you are wondering whether I’ve got confused, yes, we are still in Edinburgh! In fact, Edinburgh’s hilly cityscape is dominated by three extinct volcanos! The castle was built on the plug of one volcano, Calton Hill is a second one, and Arthur’s Seat, the tallest and most impressive of the three, makes up the third. Sitting at 250 metres above sea level, you can enjoy a completely different view of the city from Arthur’s Seat’s imposing crags (cliffs).

Although not particularly high, to scale all the way to the top, you need to be prepared for a little bit of scrambling, so decent footwear is essential. Please, no flip-flops! It will take you roughly 45 minutes to hike up to the summit, and although I haven’t personally been up there for sunrise, I hear it is the best spot in the city to welcome in the new day.

The hike starts from the Scottish Parliament Building. Head into Holyrood Park, also known as Queen’s Park, and head towards the highest of the two peaks in the park, which should be a south-westerly direction. There are many different routes to the top. Pick whichever you like the look of the most. So long as you are heading up, you are going in the right direction!

It can be rather windy at the top so make sure to bring warm clothing and a windproof layer. Sit back and enjoy!

4. Head to Portobello Beach to watch the sunset

A beautiful sunset from Portobello beach

Just a couple of miles from Edinburgh lies the beautiful Georgian and Victorian seaside town of Portobello, one of the best spots from which to enjoy the sunset. There are good transport links between the centre of Edinburgh and Portobello with buses leaving every 12 minutes from Princess Street. You can take the number 19, 26, 42, or 124 buses for just a couple of pounds each way. Or you can buy an unlimited day pass for just £4.50. The journey takes roughly 20 minutes each way. However, you could always enjoy a relaxing walk there and a bus ride back.

With its 2 mile long award-winning beach and outdoor lido (swimming pool), it is a popular destination in the summer for day-trippers. But it also makes for a great escape from the hustle and bustle of the city if you are looking for a nice relaxing evening, watching the sun set before enjoying a lovely meal in one of the promenade’s many pubs.

Although I haven’t eaten there myself, I have heard The Etsy pub serves delicious food.

5. Explore the city’s most important monuments

The views from Calton Hill are some of the best in the city. From there you will even be able to spot Edinburgh Castle!

Sitting on top of Calton Hill you will find a collection of historical monuments. The most striking of these is the National Monument, reminiscent of the Parthenon in Greece. It was built to commemorate the lives lost during the Napoleonic War, but it was never completed. Although it only has the 12 columns, it doesn’t look odd. In fact, when I first visited, I wrongly assumed it was simply the remnants of an old Greek relic. After all, it wouldn’t be the only piece of heritage missing a column or two!

Also on Calton Hill, you will find the Nelson Monument, from which you can enjoy one of the best vantage points in the city. That is, if you are prepared to climb the 147 steps to the top! It was built in 1816 to commemorate Admiral Lord Nelson, who died at the Battle of Trafalgar. And in 1852 the monument took on a new importance. A time ball was installed at the top of the tower, and at 1 o’clock every day, the ball would drop so that the ships that were moored on the Firth of Forth could check the accuracy of their chronometers (clocks).

There was, however, a flaw to this plan. On foggy days the monument was not visible, and it is because of this that in 1861 the One O’Clock Gun from Edinburgh Castle was introduced, a tradition that remains to this day (even if now it is just for the tourist’s benefit!).

The hike up the hill, which is relatively easy, is certainly worthwhile. From the summit you will be able to admire the Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh Castle, Arthur’s Seat and its infamous crags, as well as Princess Gardens. It truly does offer a fantastic panoramic view of the city.

6. Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle

Since we are talking about the 1 O’Clock Gun, we should probably discuss Edinburgh’s number 1 attraction: its castle! I think it is ranked as the number 1 thing to do in the whole of Scotland!

Edinburgh Castle is the place to visit if you not only want to learn about Scottish history, but also live it. Stepping inside the walls is like entering an immersive lesson about the history of the English and Scottish rivalry, as well as the role Scotland played in expanding the British empire.

I highly recommend visiting the castle with a tour guide. You will get so much more from the experience if you have a good storyteller bringing it alive for you.

7. Chances are it will rain, so why not stay dry in one of Edinburgh’s many galleries and museums

Disclaimer. I am not a big fan of galleries and museums and tend to skip them unless they are exceptional. However, I love a good story, which is one thing Edinburgh is great at. For example, learn about the ghastly graverobbers selling their victims to science at the Surgeon’s Hall Museum. Or visit something a little less gruesome at the Camera Obscura & World of Illusions which boasts six floors worth of exhibitions designed to make your brain hurt! My favourite is the People’s Story Museum, which tells the story of what life was like for the working class living in Edinburgh. I am always much more interested in people like me than royalty and generals, and therefore I found these exhibitions and stories highly fascinating!

There are so many museums in Edinburgh that no matter how much it rains you won’t be able to make your way through them all, however, whatever your style and taste, I am sure you will find one suitable for you.

8. Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

Edinburgh Botanical Garden with it's impressive glass building

Until my trip to Rio de Janeiro, in Brazil, I would never have considered visiting a botanical garden. However, I was so impressed with Jardim Botanico that I now make it a point to explore botanical gardens wherever we go, and the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh is one of the finest in the world!

Set in 72 acres of stunning scenery and only 1 mile from the heart of Edinburgh, it offers respite from the hustle and bustle of the city. It was built over 350 years ago as a scientific centre for studying plants and is now home to over 13,000 different species! As you wander around the grounds, you will discover the Giant Lily Garden with leaves that can reach up to 3 metres in diameter. You will be transported to China on the Chinese Hillside and will get the chance to explore the world renowned Rock Garden. The most impressive sight, in my opinion, were the giant Redwood trees. Bring a picnic and a good book, and enjoy the serenity of the Royal Botanic Gardens while you admire the outstanding panoramic view of the city.

9. Enjoy the foodie scene

A food truck selling waffles

As a massive foodie I am not sure why this is so far down the list, but with so many amazing things to do in Edinburgh, it was hard to choose how best to order them! The Edinburgh food scene is thriving and you won’t be short of good places to eat. Whether you fancy traditional Scottish, upmarket, or a quick snack, you will be spoilt for choices.

I had my first taste of Korean food in Edinburgh. I wish I could remember the restaurant’s name so I could share it with you, but it was long before I blogged, and the idea of making a note of it never even crossed my mind. I’m not sure I could even call it a restaurant. It was more of a shop with a deli counter and a single table. Yet, despite the unassuming premises, it remains one of my most memorable meals to date, anywhere!

If you are looking for anything fancy, you are on the wrong blog. That isn’t my style! But if you like eating in quirky restaurants with a great atmosphere, then I have the place for you! The Pitt!

The Pitt is a street food venue where all the best street cooks set up their stands to create a melting pot of awesome cheap cuisine. Although closed currently due to COVID, The Pitt would normally be open at weekends from midday until late. Best check out their website before going! They have many “regular” trucks that show up to delight punters, and there are newcomers every week too, to ensure a trip here is never boring or repetitive! So next time you are in Edinburgh, head on down for an explosion of flavours to the rhythm of local live music. 

10. Edinburgh underground tours

There is a whole other city under Edinburgh which was once inhabited underground

Last, but definitely not least, I recommend you join an Underground Tour to learn about the hidden city of Edinburgh. As you go about everyday business in the city’s cobbled streets, you are likely to be completely unaware of the town that once existed underground. As the city rapidly expanded during the 18th century more space was created by going underground. Merchants initially used the underground vaults as storage or taverns, but they soon gave them up when they realised that the poor conditions were spoiling the goods.

As these became empty, the poorest citizens took them up as their homes, living in appalling conditions with no daylight, no sewage, a rampant rodent population, and very damp air. In addition to the ghastly living conditions that the poorest had to endure, the underground vaults also became the perfect place for much darker activities. Prostitutes, rapists, murderers, and illegal spirit makers all started using the vaults. Some also believe that the vaults are haunted! Mercat Tours offers both historical tours and Ghostly Tours depending on what interests you the most!

We explored the vaults back in 2012 and would happily explore them again. It was one of the highlights of our Edinburgh trip, where we got to see a completely different side of the city.

Where will you go next?

Edinburgh will always hold a special place in my heart. I’ve been there four times now and fall in love with the city a little more each time. But my love for Edinburgh is part of my greater love for Scotland, with its mystical lochs on magnificent mountain ranges. If you have the time, make sure to explore further afield than the country’s capital. Head up to the Scottish Highlands for a spot of hiking, or hire a car and explore the famous NC500 route in the North of the country. If you have the time go island hopping, or best of all, set yourself a challenge and tackle the West Highland Way. Whatever you do, so long as you have an umbrella and a good waterproof coat, I know you will love the experience!

So, tell me, will to be visiting Edinburgh in 2023?

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  1. Ooh I love Edinburgh! I only visited for a few days, but I’ll love to go back and see more of it! I didn’t visit Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh so that will be my first stop! I also underestimate how much time I’d need to see Edinburgh Castle! Thanks for the great guide!

  2. We had one day on a cruise in Edinburgh and it definitely was not enough. We ran from site to site and left wanting more. I might head back in the spring or fall when the risk of rain may be less. Lots of great spots to enjoy the sunrise and sunset!

  3. I sure wish I could visit Scotland in 2022! There are so many things to do and yes, I had to re-read…..I had no idea that there were volcanoes in Scotland. I’d be hiking them for sure. Also, I wouldn’t be able to miss out on the Harry Potter tour. I completely agree with you thought, it is the people that make any destination!

    1. When I was in Edinburgh I never realised they were volcanos, I just assumed hills. But when I was doing my research I saw someone mention they were volcanoes. I didn’t believe them so looked elsewhere. And yes! It’s true!

  4. Great post and wonderful photos. Edinburgh is one of my favourite places to explore and photograph. I had a chance to visit in November for my Birthday and with so much to see and do, three and half days proved to be not enough time to do it 🤗I love exploring Botanical Gardens whenever I get a chance to travel – they possess so much beauty

    1. I’m not normally a city a person but I absolutely love Edinburgh. And 100% agree, you need a lot more time than you would think! Had you told me 5 years ago I would love Botanical Gardens I would have told you you were mad, but like you say, they are so beautiful and so clam that they definitely deserve to be visited!

  5. I had an amazing time when I visited Edinburgh a few years ago. It’s such a wonderful city! I especially enjoyed hiking up to Arthur’s Seat, the views were just as incredible as you describe. Great guide, thanks for sharing.

  6. It always amazes me how beautiful Edinburgh is and how much there is to do there. A city I really love, can’t wait to visit again and do some of the things on here I haven’t yet done

  7. These are great reasons to visit Edinburgh! I visited it two years ago and I loved it. I went at the end of August, and I wasn’t lucky with the weather at all (it rained every single day). Also, I couldn’t climb up Arthur’s Seat because I hurt my leg, but I hope I can go back to Scotland soon and do the activities I couldn’t last time.

    1. Sorry to hear you hurt your leg, nothing worse than when stuff like that happens on holiday and you miss out on things. Did you do anything when in Edinburgh that you think I should add to my list?

  8. Edinburgh is at the top of my bucket list! I would love to see the amazing architecture and of course all the cool Harry Potter points of interest! And the surrounding area seems absolutely beautiful, too. Maybe 2022 is the year I’ll finally make it to Scotland! 🙂

  9. Edinburgh is such a fun place to visit! I went there a few years back in April so I definitely appreciated the lack of crowds. We did check out Diagon Alley/The Elephant House/Greyfriar’s Kirkyard cemetery while we were there as well as Arthur’s Seat! :] I need to check out the underground tours next time!

  10. Very interesting. I didn’t know about the origin of the city name. There was lots here I didn’t know about. The beach sounds cool and the underground is something I would want to explore. I would also liked to hike up to the top of the volcano to see the view but the chance of me waking up that early to do it is pretty much zero haha I’ll see it about noon… maybe. Or I’ll give up and find some street food haha

    Thanks for all the great info 🙂

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