Edinburgh is famous for its historic old town, stunning architecture alongside cobblestone streets, literacy and cultural heritage, as well as exciting world-class festivals.
Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland as well as the second most populous city. It sits on the south shore of the Firth of Forth estuary, where the striking red Forth Bridge connects Edinburgh to Fife. There’s a magical charm to the city and its surrounding nature that draws so many visitors to check out all that Edinburgh is about.
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- 🚩 Top Tour Activity: Harry Potter Magical Guided Walking Tour
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- 🚌 Top Day Trip: Loch Ness, Glencoe & Scottish Highlands
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- 📍 Top Attractions: Underground Vaults | Edinburgh Castle
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What Is Edinburgh Famous For?
Edinburgh is known for its historical landmarks and enchanting cobblestone streets. In addition, it is the birthplace of several icons who have made a huge impact on society today. Lastly, Edinburgh is famous for its delectable Scottish treats and diverse restaurants serving various cuisines.
History, Culture, And Traditions Edinburgh Is Known For
The Fringe Festival
An exciting fact about Edinburgh is that it is home to the biggest arts festival in the world, The Fringe Festival. The event that is held every year in August is one of the largest of the year and spans almost the entire month.
Since it began in 1947, the tradition has continued until today; yet the history of the event is important to understand. It was founded by eight groups who were outcasted from the original Edinburgh National Festival and now provides an opportunity for alternative acts to perform.
The celebration includes a multitude of performances like theatre, comedy, and dance.
A ceilidh is sort of a large social gathering, however, there is a specific dance associated with it. It is performed at special events such as weddings as well as birthdays and Christenings. The Ceilidh is usually accompanied by a feast, which is another highlight.
This folkloric dance is made up of up to eight couples who execute the difficult and distinctive performance. Traditionally, Gaelic music is used. The main dances are Dashing White Sargent, Gay Gordons, and Strip the Willow.
Harry Potter Origins
Edinburgh plays an undeniable role in the magic of the Harry Potter universe. After all, its the city where J.K. Rowling wrote much of the series. However, that’s not all; it’s also a place where you can see the real-life inspiration behind many iconic Harry Potter locations.
One of the iconic places is no doubt the Elephant House; often considered the “birthplace of Harry Potter.” This charming coffee shop is where Rowling penned many of her early novels, nursing a cup of coffee and overlooking Edinburgh Castle, which is believed to have inspired Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Grab a hot drink here, soaking up the literary vibes and exploring the graffiti-covered bathrooms, which have become a sort of fan tribute to the novel series.
Another famous location is Greyfriars Kirkyard, a cemetery that inspired many of the names of characters in the books, including Tom Riddle and Mad-Eye Moody. You can also see the grave of Thomas Riddell, which is said to have inspired the name of Voldemort.
For true Potterheads that want to dive in, take advantage of the Harry Potter-themed walking tours available, which take you to various locations throughout Edinburgh that inspired the books. You get fascinating insights into the creation of the series while experiencing the city.
Scottish Music And Bagpipes
What is Edinburgh famous for if not bagpipes? That’s probably one of the first things you think of when it comes to Scottish culture.
The woodwind instrument made of multiple single or double reed pipes is characteristic of Scotland. Strangely enough, they were invented in Ancient Egypt and were brought over by Romans!
Scottish music is a mixture of bagpipes, bodhrán drum, fiddle, and accordion. It is used in traditional Highland dances and performed at special events. Usually, the attire is a kilt, a white shirt with ruffles, and a velvet jacket.
If there’s one thing Scotland is synonymous with, it’s whisky, and Edinburgh provides an unforgettable journey into this “water of life.” The city is proud of its whisky heritage and offers a multitude of ways for locals and tourists to immerse themselves in the world of Scotch whisky.
Begin your adventure with a visit to the Scotch Whisky Experience, located near the iconic Edinburgh Castle.
This interactive attraction takes you on a barrel ride of knowledge, offering insights into the whisky-making process, from malting and fermentation to distillation and maturation. And of course, tastings! You can even admire the world’s largest collection of Scotch whisky with over 3,500 individual bottles.
And if you still want to dive deeper into the whisky scene in Edinburgh, you can find a wide range of traditional pubs and stylish bars scattered across the city, each offering a unique whisky selection. Places like Kaleidoscope Whisky Bar on Queens Street or The Bow Bar in the Grassmarket area provide impressive whisky menus, with options ranging from well-known brands to rare editions from independent distilleries.
Kilts are a 16th-century skirt originating from the Highlands. They are culturally significant as they were banned in 1746 as a result of the failed Jacobite rebellion.
They are made of woven wool and the characteristic red, black, and blue crosses go down to the knees. Traditionally they were more practical as they dried faster and were easier to work in than conventional trousers.
Kilts can be worn as official attire, such as weddings and other special ceremonies.
Areas And Districts Edinburgh Is Known For
One of the most significant neighborhoods you should visit is Old Town.
It is home to the most famous street in Edinburgh, the Royal Mile. This runs between Edinburgh Castle, a historical structure with a powerful story, and Holyrood Palace, a residence of the British Monarchy. These are some of the prominent Scottish palaces and castles in the country.
Although the old town sounds quiet and peaceful, it is the opposite. A lively atmosphere soaks every street, thanks to the restaurants and boutiques.
If you are visiting during The Fringe Festival, all the music and other exciting performances will give you plenty to explore during the summer.
New Town is exactly as its name suggests: elegant, modern, and industrial. Here, you can find luxurious townhouses, high-end stores, and upscale restaurants. It was established during the 18th century to create dynamic stores, which you can see on Princes Street.
Although the streets are always busy, it is quieter than the Old Town. There are large green expanses where you can sit and enjoy a picnic. The Princes Street Gardens are necessary to explore!
Leith is the scenic port district that Edinburgh is famous for, because of its boho vibe and traditional pubs.
The harbor is located on the Firth of Forth, thus serving some of the best Scottish food. Traditional meals such as fish and chips and haggis are sure to be found in rustic restaurants.
You can also find The Royal Yacht Britannia on the waterfront, which was a former royal yacht until 1997. One of the best ways to experience is this district and the city is, without a doubt, to take a sightseeing cruise. Soak in the Edinburgh skyline and impressive landmarks including the UNESCO Heritage Forth Bridge.
Stockbridge is a smaller neighborhood and has a familiar feeling. Despite this, it is home to some of the best landmarks that Scotland is famous for and has to offer. If you are feeling homesick, the charming cafes and cobbled streets welcome you.
For example, the Royal Botanic Garden is a 70-acre plot of greenery and flora. You can roam the grounds freely, marveling at the expansive plant collection.
At the Stockbridge Markets, you can take home a souvenir to remember the experience.
Landmarks And Architecture Edinburgh Is Famous For
Edinburgh Castle is one of the most famous castles in Edinburgh and the whole of Europe and is one of the many things the city is famous for.
The structure was first formed in 1103 AD by King David I, it is built on an extinct volcano with the last eruption being 200 million years ago. Since then, it has lost some of the original structure and has been improved with additions. Scientists claim it is haunted based on a theory that they conducted.
On average 2 million people visit the castle per year. Weddings and ceremonies are still held in the chapel on the grounds to this day. Be sure to hop on a guided tour of this iconic attraction in Edinburgh, and find out the legends behind it.
Edinburgh Underground Vaults
Tucked beneath the bustling, vibrant cityscape of Edinburgh lies a hidden underworld, frozen in time and rich with history: the Edinburgh Vaults. These underground chambers were originally constructed in the 18th century, carved into the arches of the South Bridge which, at that time, was an ambitious architectural feat housing numerous storages for tradesmen and businesses.
Over time, as the conditions in the vaults deteriorated due to damp and poor air quality, they fell into disrepute, becoming a haunt for illicit activities such as gambling and prostitution. Rumor has it, these murky depths even played host to the infamous serial killers Burke and Hare, who supplied medical schools with bodies for dissection.
In the 1980s, the vaults were rediscovered by Norrie Rowan, having been sealed off and forgotten for years. Today, they offer a unique window into Edinburgh’s past. Adventurous souls can take guided tours of the vaults, hearing stories of the people who once inhabited these dark, mysterious chambers. It’s an eerily thrilling experience!
National Museum Of Scotland
The National Museum of Scotland is a recent attraction founded in 2006 due to a merger between the Royal Scottish Museum and the Museum of Scotland.
This created a new museum that incorporated elements of both museums. The former was dedicated mostly to antiques, whilst the latter was science and technology.
Nowadays, visiting the museum is free. There are rotating exhibitions that relate to current events as well as selected historical affairs.
Palace of Holyroodhouse
Sitting regally at the end of the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, the Palace of Holyroodhouse, often referred to as Holyrood Palace, is a stunning display of baroque architecture and Scotland’s royal history. This grand palace has served the monarch’s official residence in Scotland since the 16th century.
Best of all, you can actually visit the palace and marvel at its grandeur and exquisite interior design. From the time you step into its ornate courtyard, the palace whisks you back to some of the most dramatic moments in Scottish history.
One of the highlights is the historic apartments of Mary, Queen of Scots, which still echo with the political intrigue and scandalous events of the 16th century. Be sure to check out the Great Gallery, adorned with portraits of past kings of Scotland, or the breathtaking Throne Room.
And of course, hook yourself up with breathtaking views of Arthur’s Seat and the surrounding landscape by visiting the palace gardens.
St Giles’ Cathedral
St Giles’ Cathedral was constructed in 1124 AD under the rule of King David I, who also built other landmarks in Edinburgh such as the renowned Edinburgh Castle.
The Cathedral was raided by the English army in 1385 along with other Scottish Churches; marks from flames during this raid can still be seen on some of the original pillars of the Cathedral. St Giles’ is a saint commonly associated with lepers, which is what the cathedral was used for treating at one stage.
Inside the cathedral, one of the surviving bells is on display from the reformation of the church in 1504. A statue of John Knox, a key figure in the Scottish Reformation guards the entrance to the Cathedral.
Camera Obscura And World Of Illusions
Camera Obscura & World of Illusions was the winner of the best attraction experience in 2022/2023. It is located on another one of the famous landmarks in Edinburgh, the Royal Mile.
There are six floors of interactive exhibitions; it is one of the oldest purpose-built attractions in the city, founded in 1853. On average, it takes 1 hour and 45 minutes to get around the attractions inside.
There is also an observatory on top of the building, offering one of the best views of the city.
If you can get away from the bustle of the city, but yet not too far from town; the Edinburgh Zoo is just about 10 minutes drive outside of the city center.
Home to more than a thousand species of animals, Edinburgh Zoo is a great destination for wildlife enthusiasts and families. Established in 1913, the zoo is set on 82 acres of sloping parkland.
The zoo’s most popular residents got to be the giant pandas – Tian Tian and Yang Guang. Visitors can watch these majestic creatures play, eat, and sleep, and learn about the zoo’s conservation efforts to protect endangered species.
With its fascinating mix of animals, beautiful park setting, and strong conservation mission, the Edinburgh Zoo makes for a delightful day out interacting with nature.
Food Edinburgh Is Famous For
Haggis is certainly an acquired taste; however, it is renowned in Edinburgh. It has an earthy taste and a coarse texture.
It is made with sheep’s pluck which consists of its heart, liver, and lungs. This is diced and minced with onions and flavored with spices like salt and pepper. Consequently, the dish is cooked inside a stomach which helps keep the mixture together.
Once cooked, the dish is served with mashed winter vegetables such as turnips and potatoes. The famous combination Edinburgh is famous for is traditionally washing this down with whisky.
Romans in the 4th century were the first to date who discovered black pudding. Although it has been around for centuries, there are mixed reviews on its taste. If you visit Edinburgh, it is vital to try the recipe at least once.
Black pudding is made from pork blood and fat, and oatmeal. This is then seasoned according to region, usually with thyme and mint. The taste is therefore nutty, and the texture is chewy from the fats.
This can be fried and eaten in a Full English Breakfast, a sandwich, or alone. It’s a rather popular choice for breakfast in Scotland. Despite its name, it is not a pudding.
Fish And Chips
Fish and chips are a popular combination throughout England, Scotland, and Ireland. However, every region has a different twist on the age-old tradition. For example, Edinburgh is famous for dousing the dish in lashings of ts chippy sauce, whose recipe is speculated. Many states that it is a concoction of barbeque sauce, vinegar, onions, and sultanas.
Commonly, haddock is used in Scotland whilst Cod is used in England. However, Edinburgh is known for its Atlantic salmon, and sea trout. The chips are thick, salted French fries.
A delectable Scottish dessert is the shortbread. It is paired with tea or coffee and is the perfect afternoon snack.
It is made mostly of flour, and mixed with sugar and butter. This gives it a crumbly consistency with a sweet aftertaste. Whilst there are many variations, the original recipe has no soda bicarbonate or hydrogenated vegetable oils.
As a result, it is firm. The cookie is notoriously difficult to bake because of its texture.
Famous People From Edinburgh
Sir Sean Connery was one of the most notable actors Scotland is famous for, as reflected by his being knighted in 2000. He was born in Edinburgh in 1930.
Connery is most well-known for his roles as James Bond for over two decades. In Edinburgh, there is a plaque placed in his memory in Fountainbridge after his passing in 2020. The public commemorates him and his service, not only for being the first James Bond, but his appreciation of the city and appealing attitude.
JK Rowling is the most successful British writer of all time, despite being born in Gloucestershire in 1965. The author often states she feels most at home in Edinburgh. where she has resided since 1993.
Rowling is famous for writing the Harry Potter trilogy starting in 1997, later being adapted into hit movies. The global successes were largely written in an Edinburgh Café called The Elephant House. The Café overlooking Edinburgh Castle is thought to have been the inspiration behind Hogwarts the setting of Harry Potter.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a writer and a physician, born in Edinburgh in 1859. He attended the city’s renowned Medical University graduating in 1881.
Although he is not famous for his medical career, he is famous for writing the Sherlock Holmes novels which are known worldwide. The novels in recent times being adapted into movies and television series.
He passed away in 1930 with his legacy forever being cemented into Edinburgh’s history.
Alexander Graham Bell
Edinburgh is famous for being the birthplace of Alexander Graham Bell, a pioneering scientist ahead of his time, born in 1847. Educated within the city, attending the Royal High School and then later the University of Edinburgh.
He is credited with having invented the telephone. His Mother and Wife were both deaf which influenced his work with communication. He refused to have a telephone in his study as he considered it to be an intrusion on his true work as a Scientist. He passed away in 1933 aged 75.
Discovering More Things Edinburgh Is Known For
If you’re planning a trip to Edinburgh, there are plenty of things to discover beyond what the city is already known for. Edinburgh is a renowned city of literature. From Harry Potter to Sherlock Holmes, it has gifted the world with fictional characters who continue to inspire the world today.
For nature lovers, the city offers plenty of opportunities to explore the great outdoors. Edinburgh is also home to many hidden gems, such as hidden alleyways and underground streets that are steeped in history and filled with unique shops and cafes.