Welcome to one of the world’s most beautiful cities. A city steeped in rich history, picturesque medieval architecture, and a vibrant culture; Edinburgh will keep you coming back for more. Follow this Edinburgh self-walking tour for some of the best highlights of Edinburgh’s Old Town along with some spectacular hidden gems.
Estimated time: 1 hour 30 minutes – 2 hours
Distance: 3.1 miles (5 km)
With 11 main stops around Edinburgh’s Old Town, you can see the absolute best of the city in a short amount of time. Use the guide as an Edinburgh itinerary, a self-guided walking tour, or a bucket list of must-see spots in the Scottish capital.
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1. Ross Fountain
Start your Edinburgh self-walking tour at Ross Fountain in Princes Street Gardens. This iconic cast-iron fountain was first installed in 1872 and later restored in 2017 and 2018. It’s a beloved spot by both locals and tourists and also boasts magical views of the Edinburgh Castle.
2. Scott Monument
Follow through Princes Street Garden as you make your way to the other side of the park. Follow the stairs and exit the park on the right-hand side. You’ll soon come across the tall-standing Scott Monument. The historic monument is dedicated to renowned Scottish writer Sir Walter Scott. He was born in Edinburgh in 1771 and passed away in 1832.
“Is death the last step? No, it is the final awakening.” – Sir Walter Scott
Follow past the Scottish National Gallery to arrive at your next stop. If you have time, explore the gallery to see works by Van Gogh, Monet, Dalí, and more. Have more time in Edinburgh? Pencil it in for another day! The gallery, like all public museums in the UK, is free to enter.
3. Edinburgh Self-Walking Tour and The Writers Museum
Somewhat of a hidden gem, the Writers Museum in the picturesque Lady Stair’s Close is a must-see in Edinburgh. Enter this free museum to learn more about Sir Walter Scott and other famous Scottish writers, or simply soak up the beauty of this tucked-away spot off the Royal Mile.
4. Edinburgh Castle
Of course, we can’t forget Edinburgh’s main attraction! Follow up a portion of the Royal Mile dotted in jolly bagpipe players and long-standing medieval architecture.
You can pay to enter the castle grounds or admire it from outside. Whatever your budget, time, and interests decide!
Inhabited since the Iron Age, the Edinburgh Castle is one of the oldest places in the city. Here you will also have fantastic views overlooking parts of Edinburgh, providing a sneak peek to one of the next stops on this self-guided Edinburgh walking tour.
Did you know that the Edinburgh Castle is built on top of an extinct volcano?
5. Victoria Street
Easily one of the most interesting and colourful streets in Edinburgh, your next step of Edinburgh self-walking tour is Victoria Street. Built during the early 1800s, this beautiful hilly spot is lined with incredible shops, boutiques, and cafes and even features a unique second-level walkway to get even more marvellous views of the street.
Walk up Victoria Street which loops into W Bow. Take a left and you’ll find yourself at Grassmarket, a pedestrian-friendly historic marketplace. Here you may find some street vendors along with lots of surrounding pubs and restaurants. It’s a favourite area among locals and tourists alike.
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7. The Vennel Viewpoint
Walk to the other end of Grassmarket and look to your left for a tall staircase. Avoid the temptation to look back – just yet – until you make it to the top of the stairs.
Turn around and enjoy one of the most picturesque views of the Edinburgh Castle!
Here you’ll also find the Flodden Walls which were built in 1560 to protect against an English invasion (which never actually came).
8. The Elephant House
Make your way back down the stairs and through Grassmarket again as you keep right. You’ll soon stumble upon The Elephant House on Merchant Street. This is a book lover’s paradise as it was a favourite spot for JK Rowling when she was writing the Harry Potter series while looking out at Edinburgh Castle.
It’s easy to say much of Harry Potter was inspired by the architecture, charm, and people of Edinburgh. The more time you spend here (and the more Harry Potter you read or write), it will quickly become apparent.
9. St. Giles’ Cathedral
One of the city’s most stunning cathedrals, situated between Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse on the famous Royal Mile. The cathedral is dedicated to Saint Giles, who is the patron saint of Edinburgh.
Walk inside and experience the historical charm of this building. On the southeast corner, there is the peculiar, gothic-style Thistle Chapel, one of the most important parts of the church
10. Dunbars Close
Leisurely continue down the Royal Mile until you find the cobbled Dunbars Close on the left-hand side. Hop off the tourist path and into this secret 17th-century garden. The hustle and bustle of the Royal Mile swiftly fades away when you enter into this tranquil oasis. Spend as much time as you’d like meandering through this piece of Edinburgh greenery.
11. Edinburgh Self-Walking Tour and Calton Hill
Your final stop on your Edinburgh self-walking tour will take you to the iconic Calton Hill at the end of Princes Street.
The views of Edinburgh from Calton Hill are just as stunning as the hill’s monuments themselves. Witness the Athens-like National Monument of Scotland and the early 19th-century Nelson Tower built to honour Vice-Admiral Nelson after his victory and death at the Battle of Trafalgar.
Calton Hill is lovely both day and evening, but if you time it right, you can catch a gorgeous sunset here
Discover other things to do in Edinburgh
Edinburgh is a city of legends and history. The city has a lot to offer and walking tours are one of the most popular activities to explore one of the world’s most culturally rich and beautiful cities. Whether you’re a Harry Potter fan, history enthusiast or on the ghost haunting mission, there’s a walking tour in Edinburgh to suit everyone!
Check our article on the best Edinburgh’s walking tours.