Last August we went on a grand adventure with our kids flying across the Atlantic to the United Kingdom and visiting Manchester, Glasgow, Inverness and finally Edinburgh. Edinburgh is an amazing city with so much to do and see. I personally fell in love with the history and charm of Old Town Edinburgh. The fact that JK Rowling took a lot of inspiration from this area when writing Harry Potter may have a little to do with it.
After leaving this city, I knew I had to share my personal top things to do in Old Town Edinburgh. Many of these options are free or low cost, with a few must dos that you’ll have to pay an entry fee. (But trust me, you won’t want to skip them!) I’d also like to point out that everything we did is kid friendly since we obviously had our 4 year old and 11 month old along with us.
Top things to do in Old Town Edinburgh
Walk the Royal Mile
This is a must! Start at one end and work your way to the other. We started at the top near Edinburgh Castle and walked all the way down to Holyroodhouse on our first day there. It was the best way to get our bearings, check out the sites and discover what we wanted to do in the days to come! While you’re walking, pop into the fudge shops where they offer free samples and you can sometimes watch them work!
Explore Edinburgh Castle
Get your tickets ahead of time and visit this magnificent fortress! You tickets are for a designated entrance time, so I recommend getting them before your trip and selecting an early entrance time. As the day goes on, it gets much more crowded and lines start to form for some of the more popular sites around the castle.
There is so much to see, so plan to spend a few hours exploring the castle. I recommend packing snacks and waters for your visit or you can go to the cafe for some refreshments. I found the prices to be pretty reasonable
Visit the Palace of Holyroodhouse
Holyrood House is the Queen’s residence when she is in Edinburgh. To tour the residence, you’ll need to purchase a ticket to get onto the grounds. Tickets are £16.50 to tour and you’ll get an audio guide to help you as you walk through the palace.
Photos are not allow inside, but you can take them outside, in the gardens as well as in the Holyrood Abbey which you can see pictured above.
If you have children, be sure to stop inside the Family Room! There are many different things to play with. We enjoyed dressing up, Chloe love sitting behind the Queen’s desk, and Brody had fun playing with the stuffed corgis!
St. Giles’ Cathedral
St. Giles’ Cathedral also known as the High Kirk of Edinburgh is right along the Royal Mile. It was founded in 1124 and is still a working church today. There are midday services daily from 12-12:15pm and several options for Sunday service.
You can still visit and explore this Cathedral when church services are not going on. You’re welcome to walk around and explore the building, and there are guided tours available at 10:30am or 2:30pm. For a small fee you can also climb the tower for a beautiful view of Old Town and the Royal Mile.
Hike up Arthur’s Seat
This extinct volcano is a great hiking spot on a beautiful day in Edinburgh. It takes roughly 30-60 minutes to hike up to the top of Arthur’s Seat. You can choose from several different route options based on length and difficulty. The hike itself is beautiful and the views of the city from the top are worth it all!
Dine or Shop in Grassmarket
Grassmarket is considered the “heart of Old Town Edinburgh” and it sits just behind the castle. Fun Fact: From the 14th to early 19th centuries, this area was known for its public executions! Some of the restaurants in this area are even named after people from stories.
There are tons of restaurants and shops in this area as well as farmer’s markets on the weekends when the weather is nice. I highly recommend sitting on the patio and having a pint or gin and tonic if the weather is nice. That’s definitely what we did!
Stroll through Greyfriars Kirkyard
While you’re in the Grassmarket area, be sure to visit the Greyfriars Kirkyard! As you enter, don’t forget to say hello to Greyfriars Bobby and rub his nose for good luck!
In the Kirkyard you’ll stroll along some beautiful and very old graves sites. Head to the back or follow a group if you want to see Tom Riddle’s grave! All Harry Potter fans are itching to check this one off of their HP bucket list!
Even if you aren’t a Harry Potter fan, it’s a lovely place to walk and reflect in the city.
Walk along Victoria Street
Quite possibly one of the most picturesque streets around! It is said that Victoria Street is one of the streets that inspired JK Rowling’s Diagon Alley since she spent the majority of her time writing Harry Potter in Edinburgh. Pop into some of the shops while you’re here.
The orange shop is all Harry Potter goodies and the pink one called Oink the most delicious pork around. I highly recommend grabbing a sandwich to go. It’s a great way to try a little haggas too if you haven’t already!
Take a Walking Tour of Old Town
If you want to get a lot of these different sites along with history and facts, I highly recommend taking a walking tour of the city. We used City Explorers Free Tours and did both the Harry Potter Walking tour as well as the Old Town Walking Tour.
These tours are tip based, so you pay your tour guide what you think the tour was worth. They are roughly 1.5 – 2 hours long and packed full of information. I learned so much on these tours, hence the reason we did two! This particular company also offers some other really neat tours like the Ghost tour, Edinburgh Castle tour and even a Pub Crawl if you’re traveling kid free!
Pop into any Museum
Remember that the United Kingdom’s public museums are all free of charge to enter. Just along the Royal Mile you can check out the Edinburgh Museum or Museum of Childhood. Or visit the National Museum of Scotland nearby Greyfriars Kirkyard. You can take a look at the Guardian’s 10 best museums to visit in Edinburgh to see if any make it to your must see list!
There is so much to do. Never stop exploring.
We saw countless historical sites and visited so many farmers markets, shops and restaurants while exploring this amazing city. These may be my top things to do in Old Town Edinburgh, but you’ll find there is so much more as you begin to explore. Start with this list and let the city take you where you need to go.
Before you go, don’t forget to pin this image for later and check out some of the other locations we traveled with our children on this Scottish Adventure!