Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland and is one of the most-visited cities in the UK. It’s best known for being the inspiration behind Harry Potter, the home of bagpipes, and the only place in the UK to find giant pandas. The city has been inhabited since 8500BC, so there’s an abundance of ancient and modern Edinburgh landmarks to explore.
Whether it’s your first time in the city or you’re a regular visitor, there are many exciting monuments in Edinburgh to add to your itinerary.
Visiting Edinburgh – Useful City Passes
When you visit Edinburgh, these travel and attraction passes will be useful and save you money.
- Harry Potter Magical Guided Walking Tour: This guided walking tour is a must for any Harry Potter fan and explores some of the inspiration behind the wizarding world, including Greyfriars Kirkyard, Potterrow, and the Royal Mile.
- Edinburgh Castle: Skip-the-Line Guided Tour: Edinburgh Castle is an essential part of any tourist itinerary. Head straight to the front of the queue for a 1.5-hour guided tour with this ticket.
- 24-Hour Hop-On Hop-Off City Tour: The easiest way to visit the many landmarks in Edinburgh is via an open-top bus. Grab a 24 or 48-hour pass for unlimited travel across the city.
Most Famous Landmarks In Edinburgh
The most famous of the many Edinburgh landmarks is Edinburgh Castle. It sits on top of Castle Rock and offers incredible panoramic views across the city.
Inside the castle, you’ll find St Margaret’s Chapel, which is the oldest building in Edinburgh and dates to 1130. Alongside many other monuments in Edinburgh, the castle inspired the world of Harry Potter and Hogwarts castle.
It is also one of the most prominent and beautiful castles in Edinburgh.
Natural Edinburgh Landmarks
One of the best-known natural landmarks in Edinburgh is Arthur’s Seat, an ancient, extinct volcano. It reaches 251 meters tall and stands 1.6 kilometers outside of the city center, offering fantastic views.
The mountain is thought to be named after King Arthur, although there is not any definitive evidence of this. The area is a protected Site of Special Scientific Interest because it’s home to rare species of plants and animals.
Duddingston Loch is found in Holyrood Park, just outside of the city. It dates back thousands of years and in 1778, artifacts from the Bronze Age were discovered at the bottom of the loch. They are displayed in the National Museum of Scotland.
It’s surrounded by vast hills, making it a beautiful spot to escape the city and enjoy a picnic. This natural loch is home to plenty of wildlife, including otters, Canada geese, and water voles. Although it can be tempting to take a cooling dip, swimming in this loch is strictly forbidden.
The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh
The Botanic Garden is a must-visit for nature lovers. It has one of the world’s biggest and most diverse collections of plant species and is free to visit.
The main garden covers 70 acres in Edinburgh, but it also has sites across Scotland in Benmore, Dawyck, and Logan. Conservation and research are vital parts of the organization’s work.
Some of the most beautiful areas are the Queen Mother’s Memorial Garden, the Biomes glasshouses, and the Herbarium. The annual Christmas event is especially worth a visit if you’re in Edinburgh in December.
Edinburgh Zoo is one of the biggest and most famous landmarks in Edinburgh. It was founded in 1909 and spans 82 acres. It’s the perfect place for a family day out, a short bus ride from the city center.
The most popular creatures at the zoo are the giant pandas, the only ones in the UK. You’ll also find the only Queensland koalas in the UK. Edinburgh was the first ever zoo to keep penguins and is one of the most important zoos in species conservation work.
Princes Street Gardens
When you need to take a break from busy city life, head to Princes Street Gardens, in between the Old Town and New Town. The landscaped gardens were established in 1820, in the spot where the Nor Loch was drained. It was previously the biggest loch in Edinburgh and was used to defend Edinburgh Castle.
The gardens cover over 150,000 square meters and are divided by The Mound. Princes Street Gardens are home to the annual Winter Wonderland Christmas market, which attracts thousands of tourists every year.
Historic Landmarks In Edinburgh
The Royal Mile
The Royal Mile is an area covering five of the most famous streets in Edinburgh, stretching from Edinburgh Castle to the Royal Palace of Holyroodhouse.
Its name comes from its length, which measures one Scots mile – a now disused measurement, which equates to 1.81 kilometers. It is also the traditional procession route for kings and queens, followed by the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II.
The Royal Mile is one of the busiest tourist areas in Scotland and offers fascinating architecture, museums, shops, and restaurants. This quirky area is reportedly an inspiration beyond Diagon Alley in Harry Potter.
You might be surprised to learn that one of the most beautiful landmarks in Edinburgh city is a village. It dates to the 14th Century and centers around the Water of Leith, which supported its thriving grain milling industry.
The village looks like the set of a fairy tale, with its colorful old sandstone buildings and ornate turrets. Some of the best places to visit in the village are the Dean Bridge, Well Court, and the Scottish National Gallery.
Palace of Holyroodhouse
The Palace of Holyroodhouse is the Scottish residence of the British monarch and is one of the most famous buildings in Edinburgh. The current building stands next to the ruins of Holyrood Abbey, built in 1128 by King David I. The palace was added in 1501 in the Gothic architectural style popular at the time.
The palace was famously home to Mary, Queen of Scots. Now, it’s divided into 14 apartments, used for state ceremonies and events. It’s also open to the public when not in use by the royal family and is fascinating to tour.
The Forth Bridge opened in 1890 and is one of the most iconic landmarks in Edinburgh. It took over 4,000 people to build. It was the first major steel structure in the world and marked the beginning of modern railway engineering. Over 200 trains pass over the bridge every day.
It remains the longest cantilever bridge in the world, at 2,467 meters. It was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2015 after a major renovation project restored the bridge to its former glory. The bridge is just outside of Edinburgh, connecting South Queensferry to North Queensferry, across the North Sea.
Just outside of the city are the well-preserved ruins of the medieval Craigmillar Castle. Construction began in the 14th Century but it was abandoned by the 18th Century.
Historic Environment Scotland now maintains the castle as a scheduled monument and it’s open to the public. Craigmillar Castle is famed for being the place where Mary, Queen of Scots allegedly made the Craigmillar Bond – a pact to kill her husband, Henry Stuart.
The National Monument of Scotland
On top of Calton Hill stands the National Monument of Scotland. It’s a memorial to the soldiers and sailors from Scotland who died in the Napoleonic Wars. This is one of the most unique-looking monuments in Edinburgh because it was based on the Parthenon in Athens but was never finished.
Three years into construction, in 1829, the builders ran out of money. Despite many proposals to complete the building, none have come to fruition. This has caused locals to nickname the monument, “Edinburgh’s Disgrace”. Nonetheless, the existing half looks impressive and still attracts plenty of tourists.
Famous Landmarks In Edinburgh – Museums And Galleries
The Museum of Edinburgh
You’ll be spoilt for choice with the many museums and landmarks in Edinburgh but the best one to learn more about the city’s history is the Museum of Edinburgh. It’s based inside a 16th Century building on the Royal Mile and is free to visit.
Some of the most interesting permanent exhibits include the original 1638 National Covenant, the Greyfriars Bobby story, and the Earl Haig display.
The National Museum of Scotland
Another fascinating museum is the National Museum of Scotland, where you can learn more about the country’s rich and interesting history. Some of the coolest exhibits include Anatomy: A Matter of Life and Death, the Ancient African Queens collection, and the Victorian Edinburgh display.
This museum is in the heart of Edinburgh Old Town and is free to visit. There are plenty of interactive activities, so this is a great choice for families with young children.
The National War Museum
The National War Museum sits inside Edinburgh Castle and is the best place to learn about the various wars and conflicts throughout Scotland’s history. Entry to the museum is included in the price of a ticket to Edinburgh Castle.
You’ll love admiring the extensive collection of uniforms, medals, weapons, and silverware once owned by Scotland’s servicemen. Children will love the Castle Quest Trail and the First World War Trail.
The Scottish National Gallery
The best place to admire art in Edinburgh is the Scottish National Gallery. It’s home to some world-famous art, including pieces by Botticellii, Rembrandt, and Wilkie. The gallery is opposite Princes Street Gardens.
As with most of Edinburgh’s museums, general admission is free, but some special exhibits charge a fee. The best permanent exhibitions include A Taste for Impressionism, Artists at Work, and the Renaissance display.
On the outskirts of Edinburgh city, you’ll find Jupiter Artland – a sculpture garden covering 100 acres of meadow and woodland on the grounds of Bonnington House. It’s one of the newer landmarks in Edinburgh, established in 2009, but has become one of the most interesting galleries to visit in the city.
Some of the most famous artists displayed here include Antony Gormley, Cornelia Parker, and Marc Quinn. Its exhibits change regularly, exploring everything from Scottish history and culture to contemporary and abstract art installations.
It’s open daily during spring and summer, and for special seasonal events during the winter months.
City Art Centre
Just outside Waverly Station is the City Art Centre. General admission is free, but some special exhibits charge a fee. The exhibits change regularly and include paintings, photography, and crafts. Some popular previous exhibits include the National Treasure exhibition, a Tracey Emin collection, and the Lorimer display.
The annual Edinburgh Science Festival is held here and is well worth a visit for families. There are six floors of incredible art to explore, as well as a great gift shop and a tasty bakery.
Camera Obscura and World of Illusions
One of the more unique attractions in Edinburgh is Camera Obscura. It was first opened in 1836 as an observatory by Maria Short, the daughter of the famous telescope maker, James Short.
The collection was moved to Outlook Tower on the Royal Mile in 1853. The building has five floors filled with over 100 interactive exhibits and illusions. Camera Obscura is one of the most visited Edinburgh landmarks and is great fun for children.
Famous Monuments In Edinburgh: People
The Scott Monument
The Scott Monument is a memorial to the writer Sir Walter Scott. He was a famous Scottish author and poet in the 18th Century and president of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.
It was erected in Princes Street Gardens in 1840, shortly after his death. It consists of a marble statue of Walter Scott and his dog, sitting underneath a grand tower. The impressive tower is 61.11 meters tall and has multiple viewing platforms which offer incredible views across the city.
To learn more about one of the most famous monuments in Edinburgh, visit the nearby Writer’s Museum, which has a great display about Walter Scott.
The Nelson Monument on top of Calton Hill was built in 1815 and added in 1853. It was built in memory of Admiral Nelson and his victory in the Battle of Trafalgar. It stands at 32 meters tall.
A key feature of the tower is its time ball, which was raised to signal the time to ships in the nearby port. At 1 pm every day, a gunshot is fired from Edinburgh Castle and the monument’s time ball is lowered.
You can climb to the viewing platform at the top of the tower for a small fee, where you’ll enjoy beautiful views across the capital. There’s also a free museum with regularly changing exhibits at the bottom of the monument. It is one of the many Edinburgh monuments to visit.
Queen Victoria Statue
The Statue of Queen Victoria stands on Leith Walk, in the heart of Edinburgh. This bronze statue is one of the most visited monuments in Edinburgh and depicts a crowned Queen Victoria, holding an eagle-topped scepter.
The majestic statue was built in 1907, on a sandstone platform. It is one of several statues of the former Queen of England around Scotland, another sits on top of the Royal Scottish Academy Building on Princes Street.
Dugald Stewart Monument
This monument at the top of Calton Hill was created in memory of the famous Scottish philosopher, Dugald Stewart. Stewart taught at the University of Edinburgh and chaired moral philosophy until his death in 1828. The monument was completed in 1831.
It is one of the many Edinburgh monuments that was designed by William Henry Playfair, a prominent Scottish architect, and is Category A listed.
Religious and Cultural Edinburgh Monuments
Usher Hall is one of the best live music venues to catch a show in Edinburgh. It was built in 1910. Its unique Beaux Arts design blends a traditional stone building with modern glass walls curved around the outside. Usher Hall has hosted many famous faces and events, including the 1972 Eurovision Song Contest.
St. Giles’ Cathedral
St Giles’ Cathedral is one of the grandest Edinburgh monuments on the Royal Mile. It was built in the 14th Century to replace a previous Roman church on the site, although it has been extended and renovated many times since. The building is Category A listed and is named after Saint Giles, the patron saint of the lepers.
As well as a place for religious congregation, the cathedral has previously been used as a meeting point for Scottish Parliament, and as a prison.
Greyfriars Kirk is a parish church built in 1602. Alongside Greyfriars Kirkyard (graveyard) it is one of the best-known religious monuments in Edinburgh. It is famed for the story of the dog, Greyfriars Bobby.
Harry Potter fans will recognize some of the names on the gravestones here, which were used as inspiration by JK Rowling when she lived in Edinburgh. Buried in the graveyard are several members of the Potter family, a McGonagall, and a Tom Riddell.
Political Edinburgh Landmarks
The Scottish Parliament Building
The Scottish Parliament Building is one of the newer landmarks in Edinburgh, built in 2004. From 1707 until 1999, the Treaty of Union meant that Scotland was governed by the Parliament of Great Britain before the independently elected Scottish Parliament was established.
It sits within a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is constructed from local Scottish materials, such as Kemnay granite and Caithness flagstone. It was designed by Enric Miralles and in 2005 it won the Stirling Prize for outstanding British architecture – the only winner among Edinburgh buildings.
Since the independent Scottish Parliament was established in 1999, the official home of Scotland’s First Minister has been Bute House. It sits in Charlotte Square, in the New Town half of the city and the Georgian building is category A-listed.
It was built in 1796 and its previous occupants have included John Innes Crawford, the son of a major slave owner, and the politician St John Sinclair. In 1825, it was turned into Oman’s Hotel, before the National Trust for Scotland took ownership in 1966.
The building has four floors – the second and third are the First Minister’s private residences, while the rest of the house serve as the Cabinet Room, offices, and conference rooms used by Scottish Government ministers.
Other Famous Edinburgh Landmarks
Bobby is the most famous dog in Edinburgh. He’s known for sitting by his owner John Gray’s grave in Greyfriars Kirkyard for 14 years. When the terrier dog died in 1872, he was also buried in the same graveyard.
In 1873, a life-sized statue fountain was built in Bobby’s memory and is the smallest of the listed monuments in Edinburgh. The statue stands outside the Greyfriars Bobby pub which was named after the dog. It is considered good luck by tourists to pat the statue’s nose.
Wojtek the Soldier Bear
One of the best-loved monuments in Edinburgh stands in Princes Street Gardens and is a memorial to a bear who served in WWII.
In 1943 in Iran, Polish soldiers took in an orphaned baby brown bear. The bear became a symbol of morale and the soldiers taught the bear to salute and carry equipment. The bear was officially signed up to the 22nd Artillery Transport Company of the 2nd Corps and nicknamed Private Wojtek.
After the war, the soldiers settled in Scotland, and Wojtek was rehomed at Edinburgh Zoo.
Discovering Famous Edinburgh Monuments And Landmarks
The best way to discover the many famous landmarks and monuments in Edinburgh is to book a trip and explore this magical city for yourself. Enjoy a Scotch whisky in Princes Street Gardens, take a hike up Arthur’s Seat, or spend a day at Edinburgh Zoo.
Be sure to visit some of the fascinating museums to discover more about the history of Edinburgh buildings and the many ancient landmarks in Edinburgh.