On my recent solo trip to Scotland I went on a mission to seek out fun and alternative things to do in Edinburgh. Having visited Edinburgh many times before, I had already ticked the biggest attractions off my list (Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace, Arthurs Seat). If you’re returning to Edinburgh and are in a similar position (or if you just don’t fancy the mainstream attractions), I’ve put together this round up to share some of the more hidden and quirky things to do in Edinburgh. I’ve also popped some of my tried-and-tested hotel recommendations at the bottom of this post, so scroll and enjoy…
Fun and Alternative Things to do in Edinburgh
1. Real Mary Kings Close Tour
If you love hidden history and gruesome tales, this attraction could be perfect for you. Deep under the ancient streets of Edinburgh is a warren of historic closes that have been hidden away since the 17th century. They’ve been preserved and remain perfectly frozen in time. The experience is brought to life with an animated tour guide in period-costume who shares tales about the real people that lived on the closes. The tour is both fascinating and thrilling with a good dose of history. The only way to visit Real Mary Kings Close is to book on to a 1 hour guided tour. Booking in advance is essential.
2. Hang Out at Summerhall Cultural Village
Summerhall is a vibrant cultural village in the heart of Edinburgh, housed in the old Veterinary School of Edinburgh University. The institutional-like building has now been converted into a series of events spaces and exhibition rooms. There’s an outdoor courtyard, The Royal Dick pub (which serves food and drink) and it even has its very own Gin Distillery. Be sure to check out What’s On before your next trip to Edinburgh and see what takes your fancy.
3. Go on a Gin Distillery Tour with Pickerings Gin
Summerhall is home to Pickering’s Gin micro distillery, which is tucked away in the old Veterinary rooms behind The Royal Dick pub. Pickerings Gin is somewhat of a delicacy in Edinburgh and as the only new Edinburgh distillery to open in over 100 years, it’s loved by locals. The tour starts with a pink grapefruit-infused G&T in The Royal Dick followed by a tour of the distillery and a neat gin tasting. At the end guests have the chance to buy their own bottle, but there’s no sales pressure what so ever. I loved going on the Pickerings Gin Distillery tour and it really did feel like a hidden gem in Edinburgh. Of all the alternative things to do in Edinburgh on this list, I think this is my favourite!
4. Climb to the top of Scott Monument
Scott Monument is one of Edinburgh’s most iconic sights, but not many people realise you can climb to the top of it. You ascend up this historical Gothic tower via the stone spiral stair cases, which get more and more narrow as you reach the top. There are 2 viewing platforms before you reach the very top, with 360 degree views of Edinburgh and The Castle. On a clear day you’d be able to see for miles, but it was pretty overcast on the day I climbed it. Not necessarily one for those with claustrophobia or a fear of heights, but for everyone else its a suitably thrilling experience. Open daily from 10am.
5. Chill Out in The Meadows
A trip to The Meadows would be beautiful at any time of year, but in Spring and Summer this central Edinburgh park really comes alive. There are tennis courts, play areas for kids and cherry blossom tree-lined avenues. It’s a great place to come for an al fresco picnic or some ball games on a nice day. I bet it would look beautiful in Autumn too. If you’re craving a bit of greenery and breathing space in the city, head to The Meadows.
6. Visit Stockbridge and its Sunday Market
North of Edinburgh city centre is Stockbridge, a vibrant and bohemian area with a village-like feel. The elegant Georgian and Victorian terraced house streets are wonderfully photogenic, which has attracted lots of affluent young professionals to the area. In Stockbridge you’ll find thrift stores, book shops, fancy delis, quaint cafes and trendy gastropubs. The best time to visit is on a Sunday between 10am-5pm, so you can catch the famous Stockbridge Market, situated in Jubilee Gardens.
7. Stroll Through The Royal Botanical Gardens
Also in Stockbridge is Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Gardens, which date back to 1820 and spread across 72 acres. A stroll around the Royal Botanic Gardens is a perfect add on to any jaunt to Stockbridge, especially as entry is totally free. Open Monday to Sunday from 10am to 5pm.
8. Marvel at The National Museum of Scotland
The National Museum of Scotland may sound a bit dry, but it’s far from it. This place is home to a mind-bending array of artefacts and treasures that bring history, biology, evolution and humanity to life. Housed within the central hall is the skull to a sperm whale and be sure to check out the T-Rex skeleton, a new addition for the museum. You could spend as long or as little as you like here, and admission is totally free with the opportunity to leave a donation.
9. Take a Day Trip to Dundee
If you’re reading this post and you’ve already done most of the things above, why not venture further afield and take a day trip to Dundee? It’s only 1 hour and 20 minutes on the train from Edinburgh and there are plenty of reasons to visit. In September 2018 the highly anticipated V&A Dundee will open its doors to the public, exhibiting some of The V&A London’s previous exhibitions as well some of its own exclusive works. There’s also Dundee Contemporary Arts Centre and The McManus Art Gallery, all free to enter and located walking distance from the train station.
Hotels in Edinburgh
These are two of my favourite hotels in Edinburgh, both of which I have stayed in recently and would happily recommend
- Apex Grassmarket – A chic and stylish 4 star hotel located in the historical Grassmarket area of Edinburgh. Read Reviews
- Apex Waterloo Place – A luxurious 4 star hotel with a pool and spa, located just a few minutes walk from Edinburgh Waverley train station. Read Reviews.
Want to read more blogs about Edinburgh? Check out
- My Scottish Solo Trip to Dundee and Edinburgh
- A Local’s City Guide to Edinburgh
- Learning to Hit Snooze at the Apex Waterloo Hotel
What did you think of my list of fun and alternative things to do in Edinburgh? Are you currently researching a trip to Edinburgh or do you have any other things you could add to this list? If so, please leave me a comment in the box below. Jess x
This alternative things to do in Edinburgh blog post has been created as part of a sponsored campaign in collaboration with VisitScotland and CrossCountry trains. All words are my own.
Angie Silver says
I would love to go back to Edinburgh at some point. I’ve only been once and it was years ago.
Jess Gibson says
Thanks Angie! Its such a special city. Hope you get to return soon. I have tonnes of tips for you if you do xx
So many different things to do! But I can see why the Pickerings Gin Distillery tour was your favourite!
Jess Gibson says
Thanks Laura! It was definitely a highlight as felt like something totally hidden away and completely different. Hope others find this post and try it out too 🙂