5 Things We Love To Do In Edinburgh’s Old Town
One of the things we love so much about Edinburgh is all of the city’s different areas and how each one has its own identity and unique feel. No matter where you are in the city, there are certain characteristics that make each place feel special, which is one of the reasons why we think Edinburgh appeals to so many people. This week we share our favourite things about Edinburgh’s Old Town.
Edinburgh’s Historic Old Town
An official UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1995, Edinburgh’s Old Town is oozing with history. The Old Town was home to several literary legends such as Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott, as well as the birthplace of Harry Potter. With its narrow closes, historic buildings, and some of the city’s oldest attractions, this famous part of Edinburgh is just begging to be explored.
There are so many historic buildings and fantastic museums in the Old Town, so it can be difficult to decide where to go first. The Old Town boasts everything from the ever-popular National Museum of Scotland – where we could easily spend the day getting lost amongst their many exhibitions – to smaller speciality museums like The Writers’ Museum, Camera Obscura, and The Museum of Childhood. To help you explore the city’s many museums, we wrote a blog post all about The Best Lesser-Known Edinburgh Museums.
The Old Town is perhaps one of the most concentrated areas in the capital in terms of shops, bars, and visitor attractions, making it nearly impossible to narrow down a list of our favourite things. For this reason, we’ve written many different blogs about the Old Town, some of which are linked throughout this post. So keep reading to discover 5 things we love to do in the Old Town.
1. Explore The Palace of Holyroodhouse
The Palace of Holyroodhouse, or Holyrood Palace, is the official residence of the British monarch in Scotland. It’s located at the bottom of the Royal Mile and has served as the official residence of the Kings and Queens of Scots since the 16th century. Today, Queen Elizabeth still spends one week in residence at the Palace each summer, where she carries out various official engagements.
The 16th-century Historic Apartments of Mary Queen of Scots and the State Apartments – used for official and state entertaining – are open to the public throughout the year (except of course when members of the Royal Family are in residence). You’ll know when a Royal resident is in when the flag is at full mast!
This is a brilliant place to spend an afternoon and it’s always fun to see how royalty lives and in the Palace. You can explore its close associations with some of Scotland’s most well-known historical figures and learn how it’s used today when carrying out official royal engagements. The headsets are a new addition and brilliant for children and there are various interactive things to do in every room. And once you’ve bought your ticket, it’s valid for a whole year so you can return as many times as you like!
The Scottish Parliament
When you’re finished exploring the Palace, head across the street to The Scottish Parliament – a very different sort of building! Comprised of oak, steel, and granite, this unique and award-winning building was the brainchild of Catalan architect Enric Miralles, who sadly died before its completion. The building was designed with sustainability in mind, with environmentally-friendly features like solar panels, used for heating water in the building. Head inside and visit the debating chamber if you have time. Even if there’s not a debate taking place, it’s well worth the visit.
2. Shop for Independent Souvenirs
It’s hard not to wince when thinking about souvenir shopping these days, especially in a capital city. Amidst all the plastic, it can be very difficult to know where you can find a real keepsake or hand-crafted item to take home. But fear not! Here are three fantastic independent shops in the Old Town that sell genuine souvenirs you won’t be sorry you splashed the cash on.
Cranachan & Crowdie
Cranachan & Crowdie | 263 Canongate, Royal Mile
Edinburgh has such a vibrant food scene and hundreds of artisan food and drink products are made in Scotland. Locally produced food is the perfect gift to take home, and Cranachan & Crowdie on the Royal Mile is the place to find it. A large range of curated Scottish produce is on offer at this gift shop and delicatessen, and an adorable Australian Labradoodle has taken up residence as their official Shortbread Quality Control Manager. You’ll find every quintessential Scottish food & drink souvenir here, from thistle-shaped shortbread and porridge spurtles to gorgeous locally-made pottery and luxury hampers.
Museum Context | 40 Victoria Street & 42-44 Cockburn Street
Museum Context specialises in a curated collection of quirky and unusual gift ideas, inspired by a love of period property. Their Cockburn shop is an alluring treasure trove of Edinburgh-themed homewares, novelty books, and other off-the-wall souvenirs, many made by local artists.
Back on Victoria Street is their second branch, ‘Diagon House’, a self-proclaimed purveyor of all things Harry Potter. This almost museum-like shop is brimming with official merchandise and bespoke gifts. In short, it’s a must-visit for Potter fans.
Walker Slater | 16-20 Victoria Street
If you’re after a traditional tweed jacket or a made-to-measure suit, Walker Slater is the place to head. You’ll also find knitwear made from local Scottish yarns as well as some fabulous accessories and gifts. Stepping into one of their four UK stores is an experience in itself and you’ll wonder if you’ve travelled back in time. They’re gorgeously Scottish and full of character.
There are plenty of other independent souvenir shops dotted around Edinburgh, read our guide to discover more.
3. A Concert at St Cecilia’s Hall & Music Museum
St Cecilia’s Hall has a full programme of adult and family-friendly events, workshops, and concerts. For music lovers, it’s a must-visit!
4. Dining at one of Edinburgh’s Finest Restaurants
The Old Town is home to some of Edinburgh’s finest restaurants, making it the ideal place to enjoy a luxurious meal out. There’s a multitude of great places to try here, many located on the Royal Mile. It’s difficult to narrow them down, so we’ve listed just three of our many favourites.
Monteith’s | 61 High Street
Intimate and refined, this cosy spot is located down a narrow close off the Royal Mile, lit up by twinkling fairy lights. This award-winning cocktail bar and restaurant is a great place to sample some of the finest seasonal Scottish food in a smart, traditional decor. With a frequently changing menu, dishes like dry-aged fillet steaks and Scottish lobster will make for an unforgettable meal.
David Bann Restaurant
David Bann Restaurant | 56-58 St Mary’s Street
David Bann’s eclectic and award-winning cuisine is served in relaxed and refined surroundings and is the place to come for vegetarian fine-dining. Their globally-inspired menu is filled with both vegetarian and vegan dishes as well as a selection of vegan wines. Often listed as one of Scotland’s best restaurants, this is a great place to enjoy a gourmet vegetarian meal on a special occasion.
If you’re looking for more places to eat veggie or vegan in the capital, here are some of the best places to eat vegetarian food in Edinburgh.
Angels With Bagpipes
Angels With Bagpipes | 343 High Street
It gets even swankier at Angels With Bagpipes, a Michelin Guide restaurant also located on the Royal Mile. Having opened its doors as recently as 2010, Angels with Bagpipes quickly established itself as one of the finest restaurants in Edinburgh. Lush decor in a 17th-century building and candlelit rooms creates an intimate atmosphere for stylish Scottish fine dining. Fresh and seasonal ingredients make up their award-winning cuisine and it’s one of the best places in Edinburgh to try haggis. There’s also an interesting story behind the name, so be sure to ask!
5. Snap Some Photos
The Old Town is without a doubt one of the most popular places to get your camera out in Edinburgh – and with good reason! Historic buildings, cobbled streets and narrow closes make it any Instagramers dream. Here are some of our favourite places to get our cameras (or phones!) out in the Old Town.
This colourful and vibrant street never disappoints!
Mary’s Milk Bar
If you go, be sure to sample their ‘scoop of the day’!
The Royal Mile
Perhaps Edinburgh’s most enchanting and historic streets, there’s always a good photo-op here.
We absolutely love this hidden gem, located on West Port.
Closes & Gardens
You can spend an entire day wandering in and out of Edinburgh’s many closes. Some of them are easy to pass by, but if you do you might miss out on some of the city’s most charming courtyards & gardens.
We can’t resist snapping a photo of this cutie!
The Writers’ Museum/Makar’s Court
Makar’s Court is a monument dedicated to Scotland’s writers, paved with quotation-engraved stones. It’s a favourite place for locals and tourists alike to get their cameras out – and it’s easy to see why.
One of the Old Town’s most charming streets, Cockburn Street is lined with cosy cafés and quirky independent shops.
Pinnies & Poppy Seeds
This is another one of our favourite edible-souvenir shops in the Old Town where you’ll find delicious handmade shortbread & other Scottish treats.
The Scottish Parliament
There are many details to behold in this unusual and photogenic building.
We hope you enjoyed this post about Edinburgh’s beautiful Old Town!
Visiting Edinburgh this year?
Stay in the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town in this beautiful flat on St Mary’s Street
Guests love our home at 12 St Mary’s Street, situated in the heart of Edinburgh’s historic Old Town. Because they regularly give us great feedback about staying there, it is in our Dickins Most Loved Collection. We can understand why they love it because we do, too! Read more about this magnificent home in our blog post here.