65 Best Sights in Edinburgh and the Lothians, Scotland

Dalmeny House

The first of the stately homes clustered on the western edge of Edinburgh, Dalmeny House is the residence of the Earl and Countess of Rosebery. This 1817 Tudor Gothic mansion displays among its sumptuous interiors the best of the family's famous collection of 18th-century French furniture. Highlights include the library, the Napoleon Room, the drawing room (with its tapestries and intricately wrought French furniture), and the Vincennes and Sevres porcelain collections. Admission is by guided tour in June and July only. There's a lovely three-mile shore walk from here to South Queensferry.

Dirleton Castle

In the center of tiny Dirleton, two miles east of Gullane, sits the impressive-looking 12th-century Dirleton Castle. It's now a ruin, but its high outer wall is relatively complete, and the grounds behind the walls feature a 17th-century bowling green, set in the shade of yew trees and surrounded by a herbaceous flower border that blazes with color in high summer. King Edward I of England occupied the castle in 1298 as part of his campaign for the continued subjugation of the unruly Scots.

Duddingston Village

Duddingston

Tucked behind Arthur's Seat, and about a 45-minute walk through Holyrood Park, lies this small community, which still has the feel of a country village. The Duddingston Kirk has a Norman doorway and a watchtower that was built to keep body snatchers out of the graveyard; it overlooks Duddingston Loch, popular with bird-watchers. Pathways meander down to the lochside Dr Neil’s Garden, complete with the striking octagonal Thomson's Tower. Nearby, Edinburgh's oldest hostelry, the Sheep Heid Inn, serves a wide selection of beers and hearty food. It also has the oldest surviving skittle (bowling) alley in Scotland—once frequented (it's said) by Mary, Queen of Scots.

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

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Dynamic Earth

Using state-of-the-art technology, the 11 theme galleries at this interactive science museum educate and entertain as they explore the wonders of the planet, from polar regions to tropical rain forests. Geological history, from the big bang to the unknown future, is also examined, all topped off with an eye-popping, 360-degree planetarium experience.

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Edinburgh Zoo

Home to star attractions Tian Tian and Yang Guang, the United Kingdom's only two giant pandas, Edinburgh's Zoo hosts more than 1,000 animals over 80 acres. Don't miss the famous Penguin Parade, which takes place every afternoon (as long as the penguins are willing), or the ever-popular Koala Territory, where you can get up close to the zoo's five koalas—including Kalari, born in 2019. Discounted tickets are available online.

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Forth Bridge

Opened in 1890, when it was hailed as the eighth wonder of the world, this iconic red cantilevered rail bridge is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The extraordinary, 1½-mile-long crossing expands by another yard or so on a hot summer's day. The famous 19th-century bridge has since been joined by two neighbors; the 20th-century Forth Road Bridge (opened 1964) and the 21st-century Queensferry Crossing (opened 2017).

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George IV Bridge

Here's a curiosity—a bridge that most of its users don't ever realize is a bridge. With buildings closely packed on both sides, George IV Bridge can feel to many like a regular Edinburgh street, but for those forewarned, the truth is plain to see. At one corner of the bridge stands one of the most photographed sculptures in Scotland, Greyfriars Bobby. This statue pays tribute to the legendarily loyal Skye terrier who kept vigil beside his master's grave for 14 years after he died in 1858. The 1961 Walt Disney film Greyfriars Bobby tells a version of the heartrending tale.

George Street

New Town

With its high-end shops, upmarket bistros, and five-star hotels, all with handsome Georgian frontages, George Street is a more pleasant, less crowded thoroughfare for strolling than Princes Street. It also has a couple of points of interest. First, there's the statue of King George IV, at the intersection of George and Hanover streets, which recalls the visit of George IV to Scotland in 1822; he was the first British monarch to do so since King Charles II in the 17th century. Next, the Assembly Rooms, between Hanover and Frederick streets, are where Sir Walter Scott officially acknowledged having written the Waverley novels (the author had hitherto been a mystery, albeit a badly kept one). It's now a popular venue during the Fringe Festival.

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Between Charlotte Sq. and St. Andrew Sq., Edinburgh, Scotland

Gladstone's Land

This narrow, six-story tenement is one of the oldest buildings on the Royal Mile. Start on the third floor and work your way down through the centuries, with each room showcasing different time periods in the life of the building. You'll start in a traditional boarding house (early 1900s), move through a fashionable draper's shop (mid-1700s), and end in a plush apartment with a kitchen and stockroom (early 1600s). All rooms are decorated in authentic period furnishings, with visitors welcome to rummage through drawers, pick up ornaments, and even recline on the four-poster bedswhich, incidentally, offer the best views of the magnificent hand-painted ceilings. The ground floor is home to a pleasant little coffeeshop and ice cream parlor.

Grassmarket

For centuries an agricultural marketplace, Grassmarket is now the site of numerous shops, bars, and restaurants, making it a hive of activity at night. Sections of the Old Town wall can be traced on the north side by a series of steps that ascend from Grassmarket to Johnston Terrace. The best-preserved section of the wall can be found by crossing to the south side and climbing the steps of the lane called the Vennel. Here the 16th-century Flodden Wall comes in from the east and turns south at Telfer's Wall, a 17th-century extension.

From the northeast corner of the Grassmarket, Victoria Street, a 19th-century addition to the Old Town, leads to the George IV Bridge. Shops here sell antiques, designer clothing, and souvenirs.

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High Kirk of St. Giles

St. Giles, which lies about one-third of the way along the Royal Mile from Edinburgh Castle, is one of the city's principal churches. It may not quite rival Paris's Notre Dame or London's Westminster Abbey—it's more like a large parish church than a great European cathedral—but it has a long and storied history. There has been a church here since AD 854, although most of the present structure dates from either 1120 or 1829, when the church was restored.

The tower, with its stone crown 161 feet above the ground, was completed between 1495 and 1500. Inside the church stands a life-size statue of the Scot whose spirit still dominates the place—the great religious reformer and preacher John Knox. But the most elaborate feature is the Chapel of the Order of the Thistle, built onto the southeast corner of the church in 1911 for the exclusive use of Scotland's only chivalric order, the Most Ancient and Noble Order of the Thistle. It bears the belligerent national motto "nemo me impune lacessit" ("No one provokes me with impunity"). Look out for the carved wooden angel playing bagpipes.

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High Street

The High Street (one of the five streets that make up the Royal Mile) is home to an array of impressive buildings and sights, including some hidden historic relics. Near Parliament Square, look on the west side for a heart mosaic set in cobbles. This marks the site of the vanished Old Tolbooth, the center of city life from the 15th century until the building's demolition in 1817. The ancient municipal building was used as a prison and a site of public execution, so you may witness a local spitting on the heart as one walks by—for good luck.

Just outside Parliament House lies the Mercat Cross (mercat means "market"), a great landmark of Old Town life. It was an old mercantile center, where royal proclamations were—and are still—read. Most of the present cross is comparatively modern, dating from the time of William Gladstone (1809–98), the great Victorian prime minister and rival of Benjamin Disraeli (1804–81). Across High Street from the High Kirk of St. Giles stands the City Chambers, now the seat of local government. Built by John Fergus, who adapted a design of John Adam in 1753, the chambers were originally known as the Royal Exchange and intended to be where merchants and lawyers could conduct business. Note how the building drops 11 stories to Cockburn Street on its north side.

A tron is a weigh beam used in public weigh houses, and the Tron Kirk was named after a salt tron that used to stand nearby. The kirk (church) itself was built after 1633, when St. Giles's became an Episcopal cathedral for a brief time. In 1693 a minister here delivered an often-quoted prayer: "Lord, hae mercy on a' [all] fools and idiots, and particularly on the Magistrates of Edinburgh."

Between Lawnmarket and Canongate, Scotland

Hopetoun House

The palatial premises of Hopetoun House are among Scotland's grandest courtly seats, and are now home to the Marquesses of Linlithgow. The enormous property was started in 1699 to the original plans of Sir William Bruce, then enlarged between 1721 and 1754 by William Adam and his sons Robert and John. The house has decorative work of the highest order and a notable painting collection, plus all the trappings to keep you entertained: a nature trail, a restaurant in the former stables, a farm shop, and a museum. The estate also specializes in clay pigeon shooting; groups of six or more can book an expert-led introductory session, with prices starting at £45 per person.

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South Queensferry, EH30 9SL, Scotland
0131-331--2451
Sights Details
Rate Includes: £11.50; grounds only £5.50, Closed Oct.–Mar.

House of the Binns

The 17th-century general "Bloody" Tam Dalyell (1615–1685) transformed a fortified stronghold into a gracious mansion, the House of the Binns. The name derives from bynn, the old Scottish word for hill. The present exterior dates from around 1810 and shows a remodeling into a kind of mock fort with crenellated battlements and turrets. Inside, see magnificent Elizabethan-style plaster ceilings.

Off A904, Linlithgow, EH49 7NA, Scotland
01786-812664
Sights Details
Rate Includes: £10.50, House closed Jan.–Mar.

John Muir Country Park

Set on the estuary of the River Tyne, winding down from the Moorfoot Hills, the John Muir Country Park encompasses varied coastal scenery: rocky shoreline, golden sands, and the mixed woodlands of Tyninghame, teeming with wildlife. Dunbar-born conservationist John Muir (1838–1914), whose family moved to the United States when he was a child, helped found Yosemite and Sequoia national parks in California.

Lawnmarket

Old Town

The second uppermost of the streets that make up the Royal Mile, this was formerly the site of the city's produce market, with a once-a-week special sale of wool and linen. Now it's home to historic Gladstone's Land and the Writers' Museum. At various times, the Lawnmarket Courts housed James Boswell, David Hume, and Robert Burns, while in the 1770s this area was home to the infamous Deacon Brodie, pillar of society by day and a murdering gang leader by night. Robert Louis Stevenson (1850–94) may well have used Brodie as the inspiration for his novella Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Between Castlehill and High St., Edinburgh, Scotland

Lennoxlove House

Majestic Lennoxlove House has been the grand ancestral home of the very grand dukes of Hamilton since 1947 and the Baird family before them. This turreted country house, with parts dating from the 15th century, is a cheerful mix of family life and Scottish history. The beautifully decorated rooms house portraits, furniture, porcelain, and items associated with Mary, Queen of Scots, including her supposed death mask. Sporting activities from falconry to fishing take place on the stunning grounds. Guided tours are available Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday afternoons.

Estate Office, Haddington, EH41 4NZ, Scotland
01620-823720
Sights Details
Rate Includes: £10, Closed Nov.–Apr., Mon., Tues., Fri., and Sat.

Linlithgow Palace

On the edge of Linlithgow Loch stands the splendid ruin of Linlithgow Palace, the birthplace of Mary, Queen of Scots. Burned, perhaps accidentally, by Hanoverian troops during the last Jacobite rebellion in 1746, this impressive shell stands on a site of great antiquity, though an earlier fire in 1424 destroyed any hard evidence of medieval life here. The palace gatehouse was built in the early 16th century, and the central courtyard's elaborate fountain dates from around 1535. The halls and great rooms are cold, echoing stone husks now in the care of Historic Scotland.

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Moray Place

New Town

With its "pendants" of Ainslie Place and Randolph Crescent, Moray Place was laid out in 1822 by the Earl of Moray. From the start the homes were planned to be of particularly high quality, with lovely curving facades, imposing porticos, and a central secluded garden reserved for residents.

Between Charlotte Sq. and Water of Leith, Edinburgh, EH3 6BT, Scotland

Museum of Childhood

Old Town

Even adults tend to enjoy this cheerfully noisy museum—a cacophony of childhood memorabilia, vintage toys, antique dolls, and fairground games. The museum claims to have been the first in the world devoted solely to the history of childhood.

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Museum of Edinburgh

A must-see if you're interested in the details of Old Town life, this bright yellow, 16th-century building is home to a fascinating museum of local history. It houses some of the most important artifacts in Scottish history—including the National Covenant, a document signed by Scotland's Presbyterian leadership in defiance of a reformed liturgy imposed by King Charles I of England that ignited decades of civil war—alongside Scottish pottery, silver, and glassware, as well as curios like Greyfriars Bobby's dog collar.

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National Mining Museum Scotland

Located in Newtongrange, once Scotland's largest mining village, the National Mining Museum Scotland provides a good introduction to the history of the country's coal industry. The main walkaround exhibition is a little dry—expect more on the chemical composition of coal than the social history of Scottish mining—but the guided tours dig (ahem) a little deeper. You'll get to explore a replica coalface, see the colossal mining machinery up close, and hear tales about life deep under ground from the ex-miner guides. In particular, you'll learn about the mining company (and its abusive general manager Mungo Mackay), whose power over workers extended to owning all the houses, shops, and even the local pub.

Newhailes

This fine late-17th-century house was designed by Scottish architect James Smith in 1686 as his own home. He later sold it to Lord Bellendon, and in 1707 it was bought by Sir David Dalrymple, first Baronet of Hailes, who improved and extended the house, adding one of the finest rococo interiors in Scotland. The library here played host to many famous figures from the Scottish Enlightenment, as well as inveterate Scot-basher Dr. Samuel Johnson, who dubbed the library "the most learned room in Europe." Most of the original interiors and furnishings remain intact, and there are beautiful walks around the landscaped grounds and through the surrounding woodland.

Off Newhailes Rd., Musselburgh, EH21 6RY, Scotland
0131-653–5599
Sights Details
Rate Includes: £12, Closed Dec.–Apr., Mon. and Tues. year-round, and weekdays in Nov.

Pittencrieff Park

One of Andrew Carnegie's most generous gifts to his hometown was this sprawling green space west of Dunfermline Abbey and Palace. As well as being a lovely place for a stroll or a picnic, it also has historical significance as the original site of Malcolm's Tower, named after King Malcolm III (circa 103193) and effectively the main seat of royal power in Scotland during the Middle Ages.

Princes Street

The south side of this dominant New Town street is occupied by the well-kept Princes Street Gardens, which act as a wide green moat to the castle on its rock. The north side is now one long sequence of chain stores with mostly unappealing modern fronts, with one or two exceptions: most notably the handsome Victorian facade on the corner of South St. David Street.

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Waterloo Pl. to Lothian Rd., Scotland

Princes Street Gardens

New Town

These beautifully manicured gardens, directly overlooked by Edinburgh Castle, are just a few steps and yet a whole world away from bustling Princes Street. The 38-acre park, divided into the East and West Gardens, was first laid out in the 1760s, on marshland created by the draining of a (long-since-vanished) loch. It has a host of attractions, including a functioning floral clock on the corner of Princes Street and The Mound, the Ross Fountain, a series of memorials, a children's play park, and a café. The gardens often host free concerts, and have a central role in the city's famed Hogmanay festivities.

Scott Monument

What appears to be a Gothic cathedral spire that's been chopped off and planted on Princes Street is in fact Scotland's tribute to one of its most famous sons, Sir Walter Scott. Built in 1844 and soaring to 200 feet, it remains the largest monument to a writer anywhere in the world. Climb the 287 steps to the top for a stunning view of the city and the hills and coast beyond.

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Scottish National Portrait Gallery

Set within a magnificent red-sandstone Gothic building from 1889, this gallery is an Edinburgh must-see. Conceived as a gift to the people of Scotland, it divides into five broad themes, from Reformation to Modernity, with special galleries for photography and contemporary art—all centered around the stunning Great Hall. It also plays host to regular temporary exhibitions, including the annual BP Portrait Award.

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Scottish Seabird Centre

An observation deck, exhibits, and films at this excellent family-friendly attraction provide a captivating introduction to the world of the gannets and puffins that nest on the Firth of Forth islands. Live interactive cameras let you take an even closer look at the bird colonies and marine mammals. Kids will enjoy the "Flyway Tunnel," a 3-D multimedia exhibit that simulates walking through an underwater passage, learning all about local nesting birds and sea life along the way. There are plenty of family-focused activities, nature walks, and photography shows, as well as a great on-site café and gift shop.

St. Mary's Parish Church

In the village of Whitekirk, on the road from Dunbar to North Berwick, lies the unmistakable St. Mary's Parish Church, with its beautiful red-sandstone Norman tower. Occupied since the 6th century, the church was a place of pilgrimage in medieval times because of its healing well. Behind the kirk, in a field, is a tithe barn—the tithe is the portion of a farmer's produce that was given to the local church. Beside this stands a 16th-century tower house, once used to accommodate visiting pilgrims. In the 15th century, the church was visited by a young Italian nobleman, Enea Silvio Bartolomeo Piccolomini, after he was shipwrecked off the East Lothian coast; two decades later, Piccolomini became Pope Pius II.