Guides Edinburgh Edinburgh Iconic Sights: Must-Visit Landmarks

Edinburgh Iconic Sights: Must-Visit Landmarks

City Guide October 6, 2023



When planning a trip to visit Edinburgh, you'll discover that the city’s iconic sights are as captivating as popular tourist attractions like the Statue of Liberty in the United States or the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

These must-visit landmarks, which include UNESCO World Heritage Sites, will undoubtedly make your visit unforgettable and warrant a spot on travel enthusiasts' bucket lists, placing them alongside some of the most distinguished landmarks in the world, such as the Great Wall of China and Angkor Wat.

These cherished sites draw countless visitors annually, enchanting them with their unique charm and historical significance, making them unmissable highlights for any global traveler.

When visiting these iconic sights, consider using Nannybag for convenient luggage storage at the Edinburgh Train Station. This service allows travelers to explore the city’s attractions without the burden of carrying their bags, making for a smoother, more enjoyable experience


Must-Visit Landmarks in Edinburgh

The Royal Mile

The Royal Mile is the vibrant, historic artery running through the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town, connecting two royal palaces: the Edinburgh Castle at one end and the Palace of Holyroodhouse at the other. It’s a bustling thoroughfare filled with many shops, restaurants, pubs, and historic sites, making it a must-visit destination for tourists. Walking down the Royal Mile, you’ll encounter street performers, local artisans, and iconic buildings, providing a tapestry of Scotland’s rich cultural heritage.

Visitors along the Royal Mile will find numerous narrow alleyways and hidden courtyards known as ‘closes’ and ‘wynds.’ These historic passageways often house unique shops, cafes, and entrances to residential areas. Guided tours of the Royal Mile often include stories of historic events, famous personalities, and legendary tales woven into the city's fabric over centuries.


Edinburgh Castle

Perched on an extinct volcanic rock, Edinburgh Castle isn't just a historic monument but also a testament to the resilience and creativity of the Scottish people. The castle, which dominates the skyline of Edinburgh from its position atop Castle Rock, is the most popular paid tourist attraction in Scotland.

Visitors can explore the castle's rich history, which spans over 1100 years, through various exhibitions and displays. Within its formidable stone walls, the castle houses the Crown Jewels of Scotland, the famous Stone of Destiny, and the National War Museum of Scotland. Each room and courtyard within the castle has its story, echoing the tales of royals, soldiers, and citizens who once walked its halls.


Scott Monument

A striking Victorian Gothic monument dedicated to Scottish author Sir Walter Scott, the Scott Monument offers a unique view of the city for those willing to climb its 287 steps. It’s an important cultural landmark and a fine example of the Gothic architectural style, making it a fantastic spot for photography enthusiasts.


Palace of Holyroodhouse

The official residence of the British monarch in Scotland, the Palace of Holyroodhouse, is a beautiful and historically significant site. It's best known for its association with Mary, Queen of Scots, who lived there in the 16th century. The palace is open to the public, offering a glimpse into royal history and the daily lives of Scottish monarchs through the ages.


Calton Hill

Calton Hill is a favorite spot for tourists and locals alike, offering some of the best views in Edinburgh. It has several iconic monuments and buildings, including the National Monument and Nelson’s Monument. A walk up to Calton Hill at sunset provides breathtaking views of the city bathed in the warm glow of the setting sun, making it a perfect spot for photography and relaxation.


Holyrood Park

Adjacent to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, Holyrood Park is a royal park that encompasses a range of diverse landscapes, from craggy hills and woodlands to lakes and glens. The park is a refreshing escape from the urban hustle, providing plenty of space for leisurely strolls, picnics, and outdoor activities. Its sprawling lawns and tranquil ambience make it an ideal spot for relaxation and reflection amidst nature.


St Giles’ Cathedral

St Giles’ Cathedral, also known as the High Kirk of Edinburgh, is a prominent religious landmark on the Royal Mile. This historic cathedral, characterized by its distinctive crown spire, has been a focal point for religious activity in Edinburgh for over 900 years. Visitors can admire its stunning architecture, intricate stained glass windows, and significant religious artifacts, and even attend one of its many services or concerts.


Scottish Parliament Building

Located near the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the Scottish Parliament Building is where Scotland’s political leaders gather and make decisions that shape the nation. The building itself is a modern architectural marvel, with a distinctive design that draws inspiration from the surrounding landscape. Visitors can take guided tours to learn about the Scottish political system and witness the parliament in session.


The Royal Yacht Britannia

Once the floating residence of the British monarch, The Royal Yacht Britannia is now a five-star visitor attraction and an exclusive evening events venue. The yacht allows guests to explore what life was like on board for the Royal Family and crew. With a fascinating history and plenty of on-board attractions, it provides a unique experience for visitors interested in British royal history.


Greyfriars Bobby Statue

The Greyfriars Bobby Statue is a charming tribute to a loyal Skye Terrier who guarded his owner's grave for 14 years. Located near Greyfriars Kirkyard, this small but beloved statue symbolizes loyalty and dedication. It’s a popular spot for tourists, many of whom rub Bobby’s nose for good luck.



Iconic Sights Not to Miss

While Edinburgh may not house the Golden Gate Bridge of San Francisco, it boasts its iconic structures, providing a unique charm and allure.


Arthur's Seat

Arthur's Seat, situated within the confines of Holyrood Park, is an extinct volcano that dominates the Edinburgh skyline, offering panoramic city vistas and beyond. This ancient geological wonder and its historical significance make it a magnetic attraction for locals and tourists alike. Standing 823 feet high, it is the site of a 2000-year-old fort and a beloved spot for leisure and recreational activities.

Visitors are treated to a spectacle of views often compared to famous vantage points worldwide, including the majestic views of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. From the summit, one can admire the sprawling layout of the city, the North Sea, and the rolling hills in the distance, providing a visual feast that changes with Scotland's dynamic weather patterns.

The trek to the top is an accessible and rewarding endeavor, with well-marked trails guiding the way for hikers of all levels of experience. Beyond its physical allure, Arthur's Seat also holds a place in folklore and legend, often referenced in literary works and local tales, adding an aura of mystique to its towering presence.


Scott Monument

The Scott Monument is not merely a tribute to the famed Scottish author Sir Walter Scott; it is a masterpiece of architecture and a symbol of Edinburgh's deep-rooted appreciation for literature and arts. This Victorian Gothic structure, with its intricate designs and towering spires, is often likened to the historical architecture that punctuates the skyline of cities like York.

Reaching up to 200 feet, the monument offers an impressive viewing platform, accessible by a spiral staircase, that presents visitors with breathtaking views of Edinburgh and its surrounding landscapes. Each of its four facades is adorned with a series of sculpted faces, each delicately carved to represent characters from Scott’s novels, thereby immortalizing the literary contributions of this iconic writer.

Located in Princes Street Gardens, the Scott Monument is not just a site of historical and architectural significance but also a serene spot for contemplation and admiration of the city's vibrant atmosphere. It hosts various events and exhibitions throughout the year, drawing in those curious to explore the intersection of history, literature, and architecture embodied in this magnificent edifice. Whether you're a literary enthusiast, a history buff, or simply a lover of beautiful structures, the Scott Monument offers a unique and unforgettable experience.



Planning Your Visit

Selecting the appropriate time for your visit is crucial to optimize your experience at Edinburgh’s renowned landmarks, from the majestic Arthur’s Seat to the vibrant Leith and historic Holyrood. Early mornings and late afternoons are advisable, as these times attract fewer tourists to places like the Royal Mile and Princes Street, offering a serene atmosphere at the city’s museums and the famous Scott Monument. Here, immerse in beauty and historical richness with a whisky in hand at a traditional pub, partaking in the local festivals and enjoying the unique ambiance of each site. Opt for accommodations near Mary’s district for easy access to various attractions and a comfortable stay during your exploration of Edinburgh.

Seasonal Considerations

Considering the season during which you plan to visit is equally important. Edinburgh's weather can be quite unpredictable, so being aware of the general climate trends can be helpful. The summer months (June to August) usually provide longer daylight hours and relatively better weather, making it an ideal time for exploring. However, this is also the peak tourist season, so expect larger crowds.

The winter months offer a different, more tranquil charm with fewer tourists, but daylight is limited, and the weather can be quite chilly.

Special Events

Keep an eye on the calendar for special events, festivals, or public holidays that might coincide with your visit. Much like planning around New York's popular events when planning a visit to the Empire State Building or other attractions, being aware of Edinburgh’s event calendar is crucial. While these occasions in Edinburgh offer unique cultural insights and additional entertainment options, they can also lead to crowded attractions and public transportation, much like in York City during its renowned festivals.

Additionally, some landmarks might have different operating hours, restrictions, or closures during significant events in Edinburgh. Always plan ahead and consider the unique characteristics of the time and season during which you choose to visit these enchanting cities.

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