10 Best History Tours In Edinburgh, Scotland

| 4 min read

One of the oldest cities in Europe, Edinburgh’s history dates back to 8500 BC, although its most famous attraction, its castle, was established only some time in 6 BC. The past of what would become the capital of Scotland is marked by a number of major events, including battles, fires, and even plagues. Despite these, Edinburgh grew in size and prosperity, and it even became Scotland’s intellectual and cultural center. Both Alexander Graham Bell and Arthur Conan Doyle were two of the legends that were born in this city. Edinburgh has so much history that a visit there would not be complete without delving into the events that have helped form it to its current state. Here are some of the best history tours in Edinburgh, UK, to help you learn more about the persons and moments that helped shape the city.

1. Walk the streets of Old Town (from USD 17.0)

Join this tour if you want to dive into Old Town’s past. In this walking tour which runs for about two hours, you will not only get to learn about significant moments in key spots around the area, you will also get to meet, through the hosts, the notable residents from the area: heroes and villains alike. The host will even point out their favorite spots for you to grab a drink and hang out, perfect for those who want leads on where they can kill some time during their stay here. Tour groups are kept small so guests can ask the guide questions.

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History Lovers Old Town Walk

Duration: 2 hours

766 reviews

2. Learn about the history of crimes and punishment (from USD 15.0)

Locals and travelers alike who make it a point to support causes should not miss out on joining this tour, which is organized by a social enterprise that helps people who have experienced homelessness get a new start at life, by training them as tour guides. Joining this tour won’t just give you the opportunity to help someone it will also give you the chance to learn more about Edinburgh’s past, that isn’t usually tackled in history books. This includes dark moments in the city’s past, interwoven with travelers’ tips, and some fun tidbits and trivia, including where the inspiration of Hogwarts came from.

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Stories of Crimes and Punishment

Duration: 1 hour

92 reviews

3. Find out about the villains of Edinburgh (from USD 18.0)

This tour is perfect for those who want to learn about Edinburgh’s history but can’t bear dealing with the usual, boring way that history is taught. The walking tour is hosted by the ghostly spirit of Madam McKinnon, who will take her guests through her city - including haunted graveyards - so they can get to know the shady characters from Edinburgh’s past, including witches, cannibals, murderers, and thieves. The darkness of the stories is balanced by the host’s humor and wit.

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The Dark Side of Edinburgh

Duration: 2 hours

633 reviews

4. Explore the Royal Mile (from USD 15.0)

history tours edinburgh | explore the royal mile

This tour takes guests on a walking tour of the Royal Mile, the streets that make the main thoroughfare of the Old Town, and which leads to Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace. The tour will not only tackle the history of these streets - including their evolution from small wooden structures to high-rise buildings - but will also showcase the culture and language in this area.

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The Royal Mile- From Huts to High Rise

Duration: 1 hour

1 review

5. Discover the fantastical side of Edinburgh (from USD 32.0)

Whoever said there’s no room for fantasy in history has obviously not attended this tour. This activity involves the host taking guests on a trip through the city and narrating its mythical tales, including those that involve fairies, dragons, and magic. Also included in her story are narrations about the city’s dark past, including hangings, plagues, and fires. This is Edinburgh: here be dragons.

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Myths and Legends Tour of Old Edinburgh

Duration: 2 hours

65 reviews

6. Delve into Edinburgh's history of slavery (from USD 17.0)

History books tend to be mum about Edinburgh’s link to the slave trade in the 18th and 19th centuries, but it cannot be denied that it played a key role in this industry. While the topic is presented by the host without sugarcoating the issues, he talks about the matters in a sensitive manner. This tour should be seriously considered by those who want to go beyond the stories and tours that only focus on showing Edinburgh’s good side.

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Edinburgh, Empire and Slavery

Duration: 2 hours

14 reviews

7. Get to know about Edinburgh's ghosts (from USD 23.0)

As one of the oldest cities in the world, Edinburgh has its share of spooky stories, and this tour gives you the 411 on them. The walking tour lets guests know more about the ghosts that are said to haunt the city, including George “Bloody” MacKenzie and John Cheesley of Dalry. The stories are made creepier because of the dark tales that go with each character, including murders and graverobbing.

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Small Group Ghosts and Horrors Tour

Duration: 1.5 hours

31 reviews

8. Uncover the secrets of Royal Canongate (from USD 29.0)

This tour may only run for an hour, but it is enough for the host to share, with his guests, stories of the key moments and characters of Canongate, including the person who played a key role in the life of Mary Queen of Scots. The activity also brings them to a historic graveyard recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Groups are kept small to give each guest a personalized experience.

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Small Group Mary Queen of Scots Walking Tour

Duration: 1 hour

1 review

9. Explore Edinburgh's castles (from USD 125.0)

This activity will not just bring you to one castle, but four: Stirling Castle; Doune Castle, which was used as a shooting location for shows like “Outlander” and “Game of Thrones”; Kilchurn Castle, recognized as one of the most picturesque castles across Scotland; and Castle Stalker, which was used as a shooting location by Monty Python. Along the way, you will get to enjoy the beautiful scenery that the Highlands is famous for.

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Three Castle- Castle Bagging Tour

Duration: 10 hours

4 reviews

10. Learn about the women of Edinburgh (from USD 18.0)

learn about the women of edinburgh

Discussions on Edinburgh’s history usually revolve around the men from the city’s past, such as the likes of Robert the Bruce, Oliver Cromwell, and Saint Cuthbert. Did you know, however, that women also played a key role in shaping Edinburgh, despite the seeming silence of the history books on their contributions? This tour introduces guests to some of these women. Harry Potter fans will also get a kick out of learning more about series author J.K. Rowling, on this activity.

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Real Women of Edinburgh Tour

Duration: 2 hours

74 reviews

Dive into Edinburgh's history

Edinburgh’s attractions are steeped in history, so a visit here would not be complete without learning more about the events leading up to how these became what they are today. By learning about its past, you will be able to have a deeper appreciation of and respect for the city and its traditions.

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Melanie is a freelance travel writer. She considers freelancing for Trip 101 to be a combination of two of the things she loves: writing and traveling. She has gone sightseeing with family,...Read more

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