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Alternative things to do in Edinburgh

Alternative things to see and do in Edinburgh

Overflowing with fantastic history, views, music and culture, Edinburgh is quite rightly one of Europe’s most popular city breaks. But what if you’ve visited the Castle, listened to the bagpipers on the Royal Mile, been whisky tasting and rubbed Greyfriars Bobby’s nose – what can you do on your second visit, or third or fourth? Here’s my pick of some of the best unusual and alternative things to see and do in Edinburgh.

More alternative things to do in: London and Paris
Victoria Street, Edinburgh

Edinburgh’s Victoria Street

Been whisky tasting? Try some local gin instead

Think Scotland and you no doubt think whisky. There are over 100 distilleries around the country and even a whole museum in Edinburgh dedicated to it – the Scotch Whisky Experience. But these days gin’s hot on whisky’s heels for the title of Scotland favourite drink. Gin distilleries have sprung up all across the country including two right in the heart of Edinburgh. Edinburgh Gin Distillery on Princes Street and Pickering’s Gin’s Summerhall Distillery both run tours where you can find out about gin’s murky history and learn how it’s made. At Edinburgh Gin you can also do a gin-making session where you design your own gin. Or if you’re more into tasting, the distillery tasting room turns into a bar in the evenings called Heads and Tales. And the nearby Jolly Botanist has 72 gins on their menu, including brands from all over Scotland.

Edinburgh Gin, Scotland

Edinburgh Gin’s spirits

Walked along the Royal Mile? Tunnel underneath it

The Royal Mile is Edinburgh’s most famous street, running right through the Old Town from the Castle at one end to Holyrood Palace at the other. Though it’s not a mile as we know it – an old Scots mile was 200 metres longer. It’s packed with historic buildings, souvenir shops – and people. But if the crowds and busking bagpipers get too much, you can head beneath the Royal Mile to the underground street of Mary King’s Close. In the 17th-century, narrow streets or closes filled the Old Town. But where many were knocked down, Mary King’s Close was preserved when the Royal Exchange was built over the top. You can wander through the old streets and hear the stories of the people who lived there, from outbreaks of plague to ghostly sightings. Mary King’s Close isn’t the only way you can get underground in Edinburgh either – you can also take a tour through the Blair Street Underground Vaults underneath the South Bridge.

The Real Mary King's Close, Edinburgh

The Real Mary King’s Close

Visited the National Museum of Scotland? Try some of Edinburgh’s quirkier museums

The National Museum of Scotland is one of the world’s top 20 most-visited museums, with over 20,000 artefacts from Scottish history, culture and nature. Best of all it’s free to enter, you just give a donation. And don’t miss the hidden roof terrace for great views of the Castle – just look for the Terrace Lift in the Kingdom of the Scots gallery. But there are plenty of smaller and quirkier museums to explore around Edinburgh too. There’s the recently revamped Surgeons’ Hall Museum where you’ll find anatomical specimens in jars and a book covered in the skin of notorious 19th-century murderer William Burke. You can also rediscover your old favourite toys at the Museum of Childhood, learn about money at the Museum on the Mound or uncover the secret world of the Masons at the Grand Lodge of Scotland.

Museum of Scotland

Inside the National Museum of Scotland

Hiked up Arthur’s Seat? Walk the Water of Leith

The hike to the top of Arthur’s Seat is a must-do on a sunny day in Edinburgh. This ancient volcano lies 250 metres above the city with panoramic views across Edinburgh and beyond. There’s a choice of different routes to the top – depending on how energetic you are. But if you fancy something a bit easier, the Water of Leith Walkway is one of the city’s prettiest walks. The full route runs for 12.25 miles from the village of Balerno at the foot of the Pentlands to the docks at Leith. But one of the most beautiful sections is close to the city centre, from the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art to the Botanic Gardens. The path runs through Dean Village and Stockbridge along shady paths past historic mill buildings, bridges and waterfalls. With wildlife like kingfishers and herons along the way, it’s hard to believe you’re still in the city.

Water of Leith, Edinburgh

Along the Water of Leith at Dean Village

Explored the city’s West End? Discover its Wild West

Not far from the Old Town, Edinburgh’s West End is full of independent shops, bars and restaurants, centred around the cobbled William and Stafford Streets. But if you want to go a bit wilder, a patch of southern Edinburgh takes you back a century and a few thousand miles to the Old West. This row of buildings tucked away off a residential street in Morningside (EH10 4QG) comes complete with saloon, jail, cantina and stables. Or does it? The frontages were actually built in 1995 by a businessman who owned a southwest-style furniture business in Morningside. Two of his employees had worked at Disney so went to town out the back of the store to create a mini patch of the USA. The store’s long gone but the street is still there, used for workshops, student film projects and the cantina doubles as Morningside Library’s fire door.

Wild West Street – Alternative things to do in Edinburgh, Scotland

Edinburgh’s Wild West

Been on board the Royal Yacht Brittania? Set sail to Inchcolm Island

The Royal Yacht Brittania was Queen Elizabeth II’s floating royal residence for 40 years and sailed over a million miles around the world. Today she’s docked in Edinburgh’s Ocean Terminal and you can take a tour to see how the Royal Family sailed in style. But if you’d rather set sail yourself, then you can take a boat trip out to Inchcolm Island, just a few miles off shore from Edinburgh. The island is home to some of Scotland’s best-preserved monastic buildings as well as old wartime defences, and plenty of seabirds, seals and porpoises too. Tours leave from South Queensferry, north-west of the city centre, and sail underneath the Forth Bridge and out along the Firth of Forth to the island, where you have 90 minutes to explore.

Incholm Island off Edinburgh

Incholm Island (photo credit 4652 Paces on Flickr)

What are your favourite Edinburgh hidden gems and unusual attractions?

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When you've visited the Castle, walked the Royal Mile and tasted whisky, here's my pick of the best unusual and alternative things to see and do in Edinburgh.

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46 Comments

  • Reply
    wannderful
    May 23, 2017 at 9:18 pm

    Great inspiration! I like your pictures and the way you combine traditional with alternative suggestions! Nice to read!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      May 29, 2017 at 2:18 pm

      Thanks so much, great to hear that you enjoyed it.

  • Reply
    Dining Duster
    May 23, 2017 at 9:22 pm

    oh my gosh, this is absolutely stunning! I hope to make it there some day!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      May 29, 2017 at 2:17 pm

      Thanks! Hope you get to see it someday.

  • Reply
    dailylabyrinth
    May 24, 2017 at 5:03 pm

    Great photos and great post! I’ve been to Edinburgh, so it’s really cool to see a list of alternative things to do for my next visit!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      May 29, 2017 at 2:16 pm

      Thanks – and hope you enjoy them!

  • Reply
    unosdiasen
    May 24, 2017 at 5:51 pm

    I visited Edinburgh for the first time a couple of years ago and totally loved it! I keeps saying I should go back and visit a second time and will for sure do some of of the things of your post!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      May 29, 2017 at 2:15 pm

      It’s a fantastic city, definitely worth a return trip – hope you enjoy the suggestions when you get back there!

  • Reply
    earthsmagicalplaces
    May 24, 2017 at 7:53 pm

    Loved this post! Great to have an idea of more things to do in Edinburgh, they all look really cool! Especially the ‘wild west’ at Morningside street, who knew haha

    • Reply
      Lucy
      May 29, 2017 at 2:03 pm

      Bizarre isn’t it! So not what you would expect to find in Edinburgh but there’s a lot of unusual and fun things to see.

  • Reply
    Annika
    May 25, 2017 at 9:45 am

    Great post! I’ll be visiting Edinburgh for the first time in November and this will come in handy. Thank you

    • Reply
      Lucy
      May 29, 2017 at 1:56 pm

      Great to hear it was useful – and have an amazing time in Edinburgh!

  • Reply
    Vlad
    May 29, 2017 at 5:05 am

    I’ve wanted to see Mary King’s Close since I’ve first read your post, but the entry price has put me off. Next time I must do all of these, especially the Gin Distillery 😉 Dean Village is so pretty, probably my favorite part of Edinburgh, I bet it would be a nice place to live.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      May 29, 2017 at 1:47 pm

      Mary King’s Close is a bit pricey, but really good fun – and the gins are soooo good! Love the Dean Village area too, so glad my sister has bought somewhere in Stockbridge as it means I get to do the Water of Leith walk along there every time I visit.

  • Reply
    beingbuttons
    May 30, 2017 at 7:56 pm

    Really like the way you’ve set out each heading in this post. I really want to see Mary King’s Close next time I’m in Edinburgh and I love the idea of being able to design your own gin! The Water of Leith walk will also have to happen next time if the weather is good – I’ve done Arthur’s Seat a few times so it’s time for something different!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      May 31, 2017 at 10:11 pm

      I did a design your own gin session in a place in Cheltenham and it was really good! Mary King’s Close is great fun and on a beautiful day the Water of Leith is lovely.

  • Reply
    jess_friend
    May 31, 2017 at 2:28 pm

    What a happy coincidence! I was in Edinburgh for the bank holiday weekend and we did the Water of Leith taking it from Stockbridge to Dean village. Did you do the very hipster Sunday market in Stockbridge to?

    • Reply
      Lucy
      May 31, 2017 at 10:09 pm

      How funny! I did go to the market and bought some very nice gin – my sister lives about 5 mins away so it’s dangerously handy!

  • Reply
    Kathryn Burrington
    June 1, 2017 at 8:44 pm

    Have to admit I’ve barely read your post as I was so transfixed by the photos. I’ve never been to Edinburgh and I didn’t realise how photogenic it is, simply stunning, a Scottish Brussels almost. Heading back to the top to actually read it now. Promise!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      June 2, 2017 at 12:55 pm

      Edinburgh is so photogenic – I take so many photos whenever I go!

  • Reply
    Suzanne Jones
    June 1, 2017 at 11:13 pm

    Edinburgh’s such a cool city. I’m afraid I’ve only been once and did the obligatories. I actually really enjoyed the military museum in the castle. I don’t think I could handle Mary King’s Close – I have too much of a vivid imagination…!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      June 2, 2017 at 12:56 pm

      It’s definitely worth doing the castle and the Royal Mile too, though I’ve been enjoying discovering some of the lesser known bits, the New Town has some stunning architecture.

  • Reply
    aeparker81
    June 2, 2017 at 12:09 pm

    I love to see the stuff that most people never find, these are great recommendations! I only ever visit with work, but there is so much to see!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      June 2, 2017 at 12:56 pm

      Such a huge array of things to do I still have a big to-see list!

  • Reply
    Sara Dobak
    June 2, 2017 at 3:36 pm

    That Water of Leith Walkway is straight out of a picture postcard, no? I’m always thrilled to find nature within city boundaries and this looks like the most enchanting example!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      June 2, 2017 at 10:56 pm

      That little stretch through Dean Village especially looks like it could’ve come straight from a TV period drama!

  • Reply
    breadbakerdanielle
    June 2, 2017 at 10:30 pm

    Kind of strange to read about somewhere I lived for so long. Never new about the wild west place in Morningside!

    Although it might sound touristy, we always loved taking visitors on a ghost tour preferably by Adam Lyle diseased. Edinburgh’s street are just perfect for jumper ooters.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      June 2, 2017 at 10:58 pm

      The wild west street was so bizarre! Good for photos though. And I’ve not done a ghost tour yet but must give that a try next time I’m up.

  • Reply
    Rachel Gault (@rachelgault)
    June 3, 2017 at 1:04 am

    I haven’t made it to Edinburgh yet, but all of these still sound very interesting!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      June 5, 2017 at 12:57 pm

      Hope you get to try them out someday!

  • Reply
    Jaillan Yehia
    June 3, 2017 at 7:47 pm

    This is a really fresh and fun take on Edinburgh. I have visited in the past and I suppose I thought I’d ‘done’ the city but these ideas and the photos make me realise there’s way more to see and do on another trip.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      June 5, 2017 at 12:56 pm

      Thanks, I’ve been really enjoying finding out some of the more unusual things to do, it’s such a great city to spend time in!

  • Reply
    alison abbott
    June 5, 2017 at 3:08 am

    I’ll be in Ireland in October and getting to Scotland at the end of the trip is a high priority. Your fresh perspective has given me a slew of new ideas!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      June 5, 2017 at 12:55 pm

      So much to see in Scotland, I’m just getting started but the wishlist is getting ever longer!

  • Reply
    Anne Morgan
    June 6, 2017 at 8:38 pm

    I didn’t realise there were so many places I didn’t know about in Edinburgh. I love hearing about new quirky places to visit.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      June 7, 2017 at 1:00 am

      So many great places in Edinburgh! Glad you found some new ones here

  • Reply
    Gökhan tevek villa
    June 7, 2017 at 7:34 am

    Edinburgh is very beautiful city in europe. i eant to go for holiday soon… i love scothland

    • Reply
      Lucy
      June 12, 2017 at 3:18 am

      It’s a great place – and Scotland has so much to see!

  • Reply
    Guru
    June 9, 2017 at 10:37 am

    Very well written and whole heartily thank you for giving out valuable information

    • Reply
      Lucy
      June 12, 2017 at 3:01 am

      Thanks, glad you found it useful!

  • Reply
    Erin Bast
    June 20, 2017 at 6:40 pm

    I just found your blog and am so glad I did! Your photography is gorgeous, the posts are informative and interesting, and everything is nicely organized. I’m pretty new to the blogging world and still don’t know much of what’s out there. So, thank you for sharing your favorite blogs on your about page. I found it really helpful. Looking forward to reading more of your posts!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      June 21, 2017 at 11:34 am

      Hi Erin, thanks so much – that’s lovely to hear, and best of luck with your blog too.

  • Reply
    Neil
    June 26, 2017 at 5:13 pm

    Lovely post Lucy, glad you had such a good time in Edinburgh and some great picks! Big fan of Dean Village and the walkway myself, great place to slow down the pace.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      June 26, 2017 at 6:36 pm

      Thanks Neil, it’s such a lovely walk, I seem to get drawn there every time I visit Edinburgh!

  • Reply
    Mary
    July 5, 2017 at 1:24 pm

    Awesome post! There are so many things to explore in the UK, from the south west to London, the midlands and the north, all the way to Highlands and islands. Each area has its own unique vibe and atmosphere. Edinburgh is a top destination for a really unique experience! Thanks for sharing this!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      July 7, 2017 at 10:10 am

      Thanks – yes Edinburgh is such a great city, my list of things to see and do there never gets any shorter!

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