Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland and has been for nearly seven centuries.
Not surprisingly, in many ways, it’s considered the heart of the country and is the premier center for education, arts, literature, and engineering.
If you’re looking to relax on a white-sand beach and sip an umbrella drink, it’s probably not a wise destination choice, but for lovers of history and culture, it’s well worth a visit.
The city attracts more than a million visitors annually from around the world; with so much to see and do, you won’t have trouble filling your itinerary.
Below are 15 of the best tours of Edinburgh.
1. Walking Tour of Historic Old Town
If you like exploring historic icons, getting some fresh air and stretching your legs, this walking tour of the city’s historic Old Town district is a great way to kick off your Edinburgh adventure.
Your guide will lead you to places where buses and taxis can’t go and you’ll get a professional narration about the historical significance of the things you’re seeing.
The tour lasts about 90 minutes and will give first-time visitors a great overview of the city.
Unfortunately, it isn’t open to children younger than five. Remember to dress appropriately, as Scotland is noted for its cool, windy, and often rainy weather.
2. Ghostly Underground Vaults Tour
With a history dating back countless centuries, it’s no wonder that Edinburgh is home to more than a few eerie tales. On this tour of its underground vaults, you’ll learn about them in the creepiest place of all.
The city’s vaults are one of its most popular attractions. This quick 75-minute tour will get you and your companions up close and personal with these macabre relics.
The tours are given during the day because otherwise, it’d be entirely too spooky.
The vault’s history is an amazing slice of Edinburgh; though they started out as storage areas, they became residences in the 17th century for the poorest of the city’s inhabitants.
3. Loch Ness, Glencoe and Highlands Tour from Edinburgh
Whether you believe in the legend of the Loch Ness Monster or not, this packed combo-tour is an excellent way to combine three of the area’s most popular attractions into one convenient tour.
It’s a full-day excursion which will lead you through some of the country’s most beautiful scenery, and it starts and ends in Edinburgh.
Highlights include the majestic Stirling Castle, perched atop a rocky precipice and the one-time home of much of Scotland’s royalty.
Views of the vast Highland plains, Loch Ness and Loch Linnhe are included, as is a lunch stop in Ft. William where you’ll enjoy some hearty, traditional fare.
4. Skip-the-Line Ticket and Guided Tour of Edinburgh Castle
This Edinburgh Castle ticket and guided tour combo allows guests to skip the lines like VIPs, which can save a lot of time if you’re visiting on a busy day.
The 1 ½ -hour tour includes unrestricted views of the surrounding city from the castle’s heights. Your guide will give you an amazing overview of the castle’s history, much of which is treacherous and bloody.
Despite its age, you’ll hear many accounts of the lives of the people who lived behind the castle walls, from royalty and soldiers to common laborers.
It’s an iconic slice of Scottish history that you won’t want to miss.
5. Harry Potter Walking Tour
Harry Potter is big business and a recognizable icon the world over. For fans of all things Harry, this two-hour walking tour is one that you won’t want to miss.
Author J.K. Rowling purportedly wrote much of the Harry Potter books in Edinburgh, so for those aspiring authors out there, this tour may provide some motivation.
Tour stops include many city sites that inspired the author to create her unforgettable characters and their dwellings.
High Street, Lord Voldemort’s tomb, and Hogwarts School are all included; you’ll learn how Edinburgh’s real history played a role in the story’s themes and setting.
6. 1-Hour Edinburgh Vaults Tour
Edinburgh’s vaults are one of the city’s most eerie sites, and if you’d like to see them in a rather quick tour, then this 60-minute option is perfect.
Along with your guide, you’ll descend below the city streets into this subterranean labyrinth of narrow passageways that in centuries past was the realm of the city’s poorest down-and-outers.
According to local lore, the vaults are haunted; when you hear stories about some of the inhabitants, you’ll believe it.
The candlelight reflecting off the dripping stone walls will drop your blood temperature a degree or two, and the tour’s short length will leave plenty of time for other adventures.
7. Loch Ness and the Highlands with Hotel Pick-Up from Edinburgh
This full-day tour includes pickup and drop-off to and from your Edinburgh hotel and stops at two of the region’s most unforgettable attractions.
Though the tour lasts nearly 12 hours, you’ll get a great value for your hard-earned buck.
The tour includes views of the monument built to commemorate William Wallace’s contribution to Scotland, and Stirling Castle as well.
From there you’ll visit the Highlands, the Pass at Glencoe, Loch Leven and Loch Ness.
Guests will have a chance to relax on the shores of Loch Ness, and stops for coffee and lunch are scheduled as well, though their cost isn’t included.
8. Edinburgh’s Darker Side Walking Tour
If you’re up for meeting the restless souls of some of the city’s most unforgettable long-dead characters, then this fun and spooky walking tour would be a great way to spend a few hours.
Tales of cannibals, grave robbers, unsolved murders, public witch burnings and corpse snatchings are just a few of the somber tales you’ll hear along the way, but be prepared for your fair share of laughs too.
The two-hour tour brings the past to life like few others and is available in English, German and Spanish.
Refreshments are not included, and remember to dress for the weather.
9. Royal Yacht Britannia Ticket and Audio Guide
For much of its life – spanning nearly a half a century – The Royal Yacht Britannia carried the English Royal Family to all corners of the world. Many of the distant lands it visited were part of the country’s vast colonial empire.
The luxurious yacht is now moored in Edinburgh’s Port of Leith.
The cost of admission includes an audio guide available in dozens of languages; it’ll give you a fascinating narration as you stroll among the yacht’s exhibits.
Most of what you’ll see is original, and highlights include the royal bedrooms, sun deck, and the impressive engine room.
There’s a quaint café on board as well if you’d like to stop for some tea, coffee, or a fresh scone.
10. History of Whisky and Sampling Tour
Unless you’ve sworn off drinking, you’d be remiss to forgo a foray into the history of Scotland’s whiskey.
Scotch and Scottish whiskey are famous the world over, and for those interested in sampling some of the divine nectar, learning how it’s made, and understanding just how important it is, this tour is a must.
Tastings at four of the city’s most noted distilleries are included. You’ll learn the finer points of tasting the offerings, each of which has surprisingly unique characteristics that you may not otherwise notice or appreciate.
It’s best not to show up on an empty stomach and is a must for budding whiskey enthusiasts.
11. 4-Hour Pub Crawl with Drinks Specials
Edinburgh comes alive at night with drink-filled revelers of all stripes.
Its pubs, restaurants, and clubs are great places to meet locals and like-minded travelers, and for those up for a four-hour pub crawl, this tour would be a great choice.
Guided by your nightlife savvy local guide, you’ll hit many pubs that are off the beaten path.
From chic and contemporary to grungy and seedy, you’ll hit a sampling of the city’s watering holes and have a great time along the way.
The four hours will fly by, and at many of the stops, you and your companions will get free or reduced priced drinks.
12. Walking Tour of Old Town Breweries with Tastings
Just like whiskey, beer has been a staple of the Scottish diet and culture for centuries.
Many of Edinburgh’s breweries have been brewing for many hundreds of years and are national icons.
This tour kicks off from The Royal Mile. You’ll get a thorough overview of the industry that includes well-kept secret recipes, marketing campaigns, advertising and expansion from local brands to national and international ones.
Your guide will explain the subtle nuances that make each beer unique, and you’ll really gain an appreciation of what makes beer so good.
Tour size is limited to 12 to make sure guests get an intimate experience.
13. Edinburgh Ghost Bus Tour
Part comedy and part ghost tour, this one-hour bus tour of Edinburgh’s dark side is a great way to learn a little history, see some amazing sights, and have a few laughs too.
You and your companions will be conveyed by a refurbished double-decker bus, during which your guide will keep you engaged with a running narration explaining the things you’re seeing.
Tales of murder, mayhem, plague, and executions will be included. The tour hits some of the city’s most noted areas, like Edinburgh Castle, The Royal Mile, and Greyfriars Kirk.
Please note that food and drinks other than water aren’t allowed on the bus.
14. Magical Highlands Tour by Steam Train
For lovers of Harry Potter, this Edinburgh-based tour to the Magical Highlands is one that shouldn’t be missed.
The tour’s mode of transportation is a steam train, which gives it a unique feel that harkens back to a different era.
You’ll pass a few of the locations that were used when filming the movies, and you’ll get glimpses of Rannoch Moor, Fort William, and stop at the West Highland Railway Museum as well.
It’s a long tour at 13 hours, but it’ll probably be one of your vacation standouts.
Gratuities, lunch, and transportation to and from your hotel aren’t included.
15. Full-Day Scottish Highlands Tour
Scotland’s Highlands are some of the most expansive, lush, and green swatches of fields, forests, glens and rivers that you’re ever likely to see.
They are one of the country’s national treasures and home to Stirling Castle and the William Wallace Monument.
A stop at The Trossachs National Park is included as well, which is the former home of one of the country’s most famous and romanticized cattle thieves – Rob Roy.
Visits to a local loch, whiskey distillery, and majestic cathedral are also featured.
The tour usually lasts about nine hours; food and drink aren’t included.