Exploring Edinburgh: 20 Underrated Things To Do Here

Exploring Edinburgh: 20 Underrated Things To Do Here
| 8 min read

In the capital of Scotland, history lives on even in the fast-paced footsteps of the modern world. The internationally acclaimed University of Edinburgh was founded in 1582, and even a short stroll down the cobbled pavements of Edinburgh’s oldest streets will give you a glimpse into the weathered ruins housing decades worth of culture and heritage.

Explore some of Edinburgh’s lesser-known places on your next trip here:

1. Catching a whiff of death at Mary's King Close

Intimate Gig at King Mary's Close
Source: Photo by Flickr user Caspy2003 used under CC BY 2.0

With a morbid history dating back to 1300 when the infamous Black Death plagued the entirety of Eurasia, Mary’s King Close was where the plague first started. Home to rabid rumours about ghastly ghouls who still haunt this place in search of justice, tours are available if you’d like to see the grim remains of the homes here - the crumbling walls make for a great photo-op, too!

Mary's King Close

Address: 2 Warriston’s Close High Street Edinburgh, Scotland, EH1 1PD

Price: Tours start from 11 USD

Opening Hours: Open from 10am every day

Website: Mary’s King Close

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2. Venture up the ancient Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Ad Meskens used under CC BY-SA 3.0

Immerse yourself in the rich history that Scotland has to offer here at the age-old Edinburgh Castle, where you get to take a sneak peek at the monumental displays that have weathered the test of time to tell its tale. The Stone Of Destiny, for one, may look like an ordinary slab of stone, but it has actually witnessed the coronation of kings for many centuries, and will not leave the castle until there is another coronation due in Westminister Abbey.

You can also take a spin around the Great Hall, where the medieval armours of great warriors are displayed. Under the breathtaking cathedral ceilings, you can enjoy a quiet evening in the arms of the past.

Edinburgh Castle

Address: Castlehill, Edinburgh EH1 2NG, UK

Price: from 12.50 USD

Opening Hours: From 1 Apr - 30 Sept : 9.30am to 6pm, last entry at 5pm. From 1 Oct - 31 Mar : 9.30am to 5pm, last entry at 4pm

Website: Edinburgh Castle

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3. Uncover the Holyrood Abbey Ruins

Holyrood Abbey Nave
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Ludi Ling used under CC BY-SA 3.0

Built with accordance to King David’s supernatural encounter, he erected this church to give thanks to the white stag he saw while he was out hunting. As the Holyrood Church was located near Edinburgh, many kings set foot upon this place to give their prayers regularly. However, after the invasion of England in the 1500s, the church fell into disrepair and has never really been restored to its original grandeur.

Now, the ruins are history - but the imposing magnificence of this place is one not to be missed.

Holyrood Abbey Ruins

Address: Holyrood Abbey Edinburgh, Scotland, EH8 8ED

Price: Free

Opening Hours: No closing hours

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4. Tour Arthur's Seat

Peak of Arthur's Seat

Head over to Holyrood Park nearby, and take a short hike up Arthur’s Seat, a rocky hill formed by an ancient volcanic eruption decades past. Sitting 251 metres above sea level, this is the perfect place for watching the sun set beyond the panoramic city skyline.

Arthur's Seat

Address: Queens Drive, Edinburgh, Midlothian, EH8 8HG

Price: Free

Opening Hours: No closing hours

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5. Live a day in Duddingston Village

Edinburgh - Duddingston Village - Sheep Heid (2962376346)
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Graham van der Wi... used under CC BY 2.0

Follow the trail of swaying cattails, and you will find yourself in the ancient village of Duddingston. Take a stroll down the quiet streets, and grab a pint of whisky from the Sheep Heid Inn while you’re at it. Said to be Scotland’s oldest pub, it supposedly got its name from ram head gifted by King James VI to the owner of the pub back in 1580 - a delightfully macabre gift, wouldn’t you say?

Duddingston Village

Address: Duddingston Low Rd., Edinburgh, Edinburgh, EH15 3PX, Scotland

Price: Free

Opening Hours: Varies from store to store. Generally opens at 10am till dusk.

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6. Seeing through the apparitions at the Camera Obscura & World of Illusions

Camera obscura 5814-michelides
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Christian Michelides used under CC BY-SA 4.0

Part learning centre and part museum, the main goal of this funhouse is to display the beautiful sights of Edinburgh in different ways - great for both the little ones and adults! Expect to see the rustic towers of Edinburgh through a 360° view, telescopes, and view cams on the spacious terrace.

If you’re not one for heights, head back indoors for a wide selection of colourful optical illusions that blur the line between space and dimension. The mirror maze is confusing, to say the least, and the vortex tunnel will definitely leave your head spinning as you step out of the building!

Camera Obscura & World of Illusions

Address: The Royal Mile Edinburgh, Scotland

Price: £16.00 (20 USD) for adults, £14.00 (18 USD) for seniors and students, and £12.00 (15 USD) for children (aged 5-15)

Opening Hours: Monday-Thursday: 10am-6pm, Friday: 10am-7pm, Saturday: 9:30am-8pm, Sunday: 9:30am-7pm

Website: Camera Obscura & World of Illusions

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7. Weave through the shrubberies at the Royal Botanic Gardens of Edinburgh

Coined as the world’s “largest living collection of plants”, a trip down to the Royal Gardens of Edinburgh is a must when you’re visiting Scotland. Home to over half of the Earth’s flora and fauna collection, the herbarium hits you with a mix of musky wood scents from local greeneries and the exotic fragrance of blooming flowers the moment you step inside.

Stop by the exquisite Victorian glasshouses, and don’t miss the flourishing orchids by the Chinese Hillside - a touch of oriental beauty in a foreign land.

The Royal Gardens of Edinburgh

Address: 20A Inverleith Row Edinburgh, Scotland, EH3 5QJ

Price: from 7 USD

Opening Hours: November to January: 10am - 4pm, February and October: 10am - 5pm, March to September: 10am - 6pm

Website: The Royal Gardens of Edinburgh

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8. Old Calton Cemetery

Edinburgh, Old Calton Cemetery, David Hume
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Palickap used under CC BY-SA 4.0

Being the final resting place of departed souls, the spirit of art certainly still burns brightly amidst the dull brick walls of the Calton Cemetery. Upon reaching the entrance, you will find rows of neatly arranged tombstones with the eccentric carving of what seems to be a grinning skull embellished on the stone surfaces, and the intricately sculpted statue of philosopher David Hume braves through rain or shine, standing tall as the final memorial for thought-provoking ideals.

Old Calton Cemetery

Address: 27 Waterloo Place Edinburgh, Scotland, EH1 3BJ

Price: Free

Opening Hours: No closing hours

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9. Wander around Calton Hill

Calton Hill

Upon scaling the hilly slopes, you may see the familiar silhouette of what looks like Greece’s Acropolis - the same colosseum-esque ridges held up by imposing stone pillars under the vast blue skies. The stone structure is actually an unfinished piece of work - originally commissioned as the National Monument back in 1816, it was supposed to be built as a memorial in remembrance of those who died during the Napoleonic Wars.

As the works commenced, however, funding ran low and the architect never got to see his work finished. What used to be the shame of the country is now an iconic landmark nestled amidst the gorgeous sunset views, making this a great spot to visit before you leave.

Calton Hill

Address: A little off Regent Road: Edinburgh EH1 3DG, Scotland

Price: Free

Opening Hours: No closing hours

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10. Dive into the Gilmerton Cove

Gilmerton Cove3a (5719925456)
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user John Dale used under CC BY-SA 2.0

Running across a network of seven chambers, the Gilmerton Cove unearthed underneath what used to be a local blacksmith’s shop is something even modern historians can’t wrap their heads around. For starters, there are no traces of valuable ores or minerals in this area, so there definitely isn’t a need for mining. Secondly, a short tour around will show you the hand-carved tables and chairs, seeming to hint that some kind of activity took place here in the suburbs of Edinburgh.

Feel free to head down and make your own deduction - perhaps you could solve the mystery of the Gilmerton Coves.

Gilmerton Cove

Address: 16 Drum Street Edinburgh, Scotland, EH17 8QH

Price: from 6 USD

Opening Hours: Only via appointments for tours. Check website for more information

Website: Gilmerton Cove

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11. Explore Our Dynamic Earth

Dynamic Earth buildings
Source: Photo by Geograph user Patrick Mackie used under CC BY-SA 2.0

Fancy a vacation away from the cumbersome shackles of Earth? Well, your visit to Our Dynamic Earth could sweep you off your feet (literally!)

Experience the feeling of flying above ground in the spaceship, where you can traverse across the entire milky way, over past timelines and watch the Big Bang happen right in front of your eyes. Scale the chilly Alps in the middle of summer over at the Polar ice caps, where you can see the stunning displays glacial icebergs - with so much to see and do, what are you still doing on Earth? Get your tickets and rocket away to space today!

Our Dynamic Earth

Address: Holyrood Rd, Edinburgh EH8 8AS, 0131 550 7800

Price: from 10 USD

Opening Hours: March to October: 10am – 5.30pm, open 7 days a week. July and August: 10am – 6pm, open 7 days a week. November to 3rd April 2017: 10am – 5.30pm, open Wed - Sun.

Website: Our Dynamic Earth

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12. Uncover hidden treasures at Gladstone's Land

Don’t let the crumbling exterior fool you - inside Gladstone’s Land, you will get to see the beauty of the rustic 17th-century style of living restored right in front of your very eyes. Spreading across six rooms, you can catch a glimpse of how both poor and rich lived their lives back in the days of the Old Town when the bustling Lawnmarket was one of the fastest growing cities in Edinburgh.

Gladstone's Land

Address: The National Trust For Scotland, 477b Lawnmarket (Royal Mile), Edinburgh, EH1 2NT

Price: from 7 USD

Opening Hours: 10am - 5pm

Website: Gladstone’s Land

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13. Find your muse at the Writers Museum

Scottish Writers Museum
Source: Pixabay

The Writers Museum is a must-see for all the aspiring poets & storytellers out there. Located in Lady Stair’s House just a short distance away from Gladstone’s Land, the towering structure pays homage to 3 of the earliest writers in Scotland: Robert Burns, Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson.

Take your time to admire the various portraits of these acclaimed writers, and feel free to take inspiration from their works!

Writers Museum

Address: Lady Stair’s Close Edinburgh EH1 2PA

Price: Free

Opening Hours: Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday: 10am - 5pm; Sunday: 12pm - 5pm

Website: Writers Museum

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14. Visit the Nelson Monument

Nelson Monument, Edinburgh - Bay time tower
Source: Photo by user Eje Gustafsson used under CC BY 2.0

Built in commemoration of Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson, the towering monument pays homage to Nelson’s victory back in 1805, when he won the Battle of Trafalgar with his own life in exchange. A time ball was added in 1853 - a ball that goes up and down to indicate to the sailors about the current time, and since then, the Nelson Monument remains as an iconic symbol that is even more beautiful on the 21st of October - Trafalgar Day, when the monument is decorated with colourful flags in remembrance of Horatio Nelson.

Nelson Monument

Address: The Nelson Monument, 32 Calton Hill, Edinburgh EH7 5AA

Price: from 6 USD

Opening Hours: 1 April to 30 September: Monday to Saturday 10am - 7pm, Sunday 12pm - 5pm. 1 October to 31 March: Monday to Saturday 10am - 4pm.

Duration: around 3 hours required.

Website: The Nelson Monument

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15. Saunter down Princes Street

Princes Street, Edinburgh, 20 September 2008
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Tom Page used under CC BY-SA 2.0

Shopaholics - the time is now! Pop by Princes Street for a unique experience of modern shopping amidst rustic surroundings. Popular brands such as H&M, Marks & Spencers, as well as Topshop, are housed in these vintage 19th-century buildings, which gives you a beautiful panoramic view around the historical landmarks in the area as there are no housing estates in the area.

Princes Street

Address: Princes Street, Edinburgh, City Of Edinburgh, EH2 2QP

Price: Free

Opening Hours: No closing hours

Website: Princes Street

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16. Stock up at the Edinburgh Farmer’s Market

Stockbridge Market Edinburgh
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Macumba used under PUBLIC DOMAIN

They say that the early bird catches the worm - and that sure is the case here at the Edinburgh Farmer’s Market, where only the freshest produce and fruits are up for grabs. The local farmers harvest their own crops and sell what they rear, so you can expect to bite into juicy, slender meat from the perfectly roasted chicken for dinner tonight!

Stockbridge Farmers Market

Address: Saunders Street/Kerr Street | Stockbridge, Edinburgh EH3 6TQ, Scotland

Price: Free

Opening Hours: 10am to 5pm

Website: Stockbridge Farmers Market

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17. Explore Cramond Island

The Causeway to Cramond Island
Source: Photo by user M J Richardson used under CC BY-SA 2.0

If you’re looking for a different kind of Sunday stroll, head over to Cramond Island - the concrete walkway nestled in the middle of the serene seas make for a lovely morning stretch, with just the slightest tinge of salt in the breeze as you roam freely. With plenty of wooded paths and gurgling streams, you will leave the island feeling refreshed to go!

Cramond Island

Access: Take bus number 41 from the Edinburgh city centre, and stop by the beachside and follow the walkway to Cramond Island.

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18. Take a spin around Dr. Neil's Garden

Dr Neil's Garden at Duddingston
Source: Photo by user M J Richardson used under CC BY-SA 2.0

Coined as Edinburgh’s secret garden, Dr. Neil’s Garden isn’t just any other ordinary garden - cultivated from a patch of wilderness together with the efforts of both Dr. Andrew and Nacy Neil, the sprawling greenery is a pleasant work of vivid imagination, born from a passionate heart for creating a safe haven for both nature and humans looking for a touch of zen. Housing rare plants such as the rubbery white fir trees and the curious monkey puzzle tree, you can spend up to an entire afternoon just to see all the flora and fauna here!

Dr. Neil's Garden

Address: Dr Neil’s Garden, Old Church Lane, Duddingston Village, Edinburgh, EH15 3PX

Price: Free

Opening Hours: 10am - 6pm. Closed on weekends

Website: Dr. Neil’s Garden

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19. Let your hair down at the Wild West Cowboy Street

Edinburgh's Wild (South-)West, off Springvalley Gardens
Source: Photo by user kim traynor used under CC BY-SA 2.0

Built in 1995 by Michael Faulkner, the Wild West Cowboy Street was conceptualised as part of the environment for a furniture business, which specialised in a Southwestern-esque style. There used to be an old cinema too, but all that has fallen into disrepair and nowadays, only old workshops and garages take up this space - the spray-painted signboards and old wooden shophouses still make for a great photo-op!

Wild West Cowboy Street

Address: Springvalley Gardens, Morningside

Price: Free

Opening Hours: No closing hours

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20. Catch your breath at the Rosslyn Chapel

The west front of Rosslyn Chapel
Source: Photo by user David Purchase used under CC BY-SA 2.0

When I decided to write The Da Vinci Code, I knew that its finale would have to take place at the most mysterious and magical chapel on earth — Rosslyn. Dan Brown
After a long day of exploring, slow down your pace at the breathtaking Rosslyn Chapel, where the restored place of worship stands tall amidst the beautiful sunset views.

Rosslyn Chapel

Address: Chapel Loan, Roslin EH25 9PU, UK

Price: from 9 USD

Opening Hours: Mon – Sat 09.30 - 5pm (last admission 4.30pm), Sun 12pm - 4.45pm (last admission 4.15pm)

Website: Rosslyn Chapel

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A place of magic and wonder

Edinburgh is a populated area with developed lands and a fast-growing economy, but the true core of it has never changed. A short stroll down the cobbled pavements is enough to tell you that history is never forgotten here - perhaps this could inspire you to embark on a different kind of adventure on your next holiday.

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Any must-sees we missed? Tell us about them in the comments section or write a post here to help out fellow travelers!
Disclosure: Trip101 selects the listings in our articles independently. Some of the listings in this article contain affiliate links.


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Crystal is a curious child, who loves exploring Singapore in her free time with a camera in hand. Her street photography subjects often include unaware strangers, uncommon architecture, and...Read more

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