Edinburgh has lots of sights and things to look at, but if you ask me, it is also a city that you have to experience! And what better way to get a unique experience in Edinburgh, than joining a guided tour! Here are 13 Edinburgh tours that are worth your money and will give you an excellent introduction to the history, culture and stories of Edinburgh!
There is a lot to do and see in Edinburgh, but if you are pressed for time and want some expert insight into what makes the city tick, a tour – whether it’s a walking tour, a history walk or something slightly more unique – might be just what you are looking for!
But there are SO many tours in Edinburgh, it can be tricky to choose which one is the right for you. Considering the number of tourists visiting Edinburgh every year, it is no surprise that new tour guides and companies pop up all the time. There is an overwhelming number of tours that are advertised along the Royal Mile, but how do you know if they are any good? This overview of 13 tested and expert-approved Edinburgh tours will make your choice easier and ensures that you invest in a tour that is worth your travel money!
Free Tours & Walking Tours of Edinburgh
Sandemans Free Walking Tour
Sandemans New Europe operates tours in cities like Amsterdam, Barcelona, Copenhagen, London, Madrid, and of course, Edinburgh. I’ve gone on their walking tours several times but, even though I was living in Edinburgh, I’d never taken their Edinburgh tour.
The tours operate on a tips basis, which means the tour guides have to work hard to earn their keep: you pay what you think the tour was worth. This approach seems to work well as every one of their tours that I’ve been on has been fantastic, and the Edinburgh tour was no different.
The tour covered all of the main sites including Edinburgh Castle, Greyfriars Kirkyard, and The Grassmarket and, during the tour, the guide told stories about Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, William Wallace and the Stone of Destiny, and William Brodie. As well as history, the tour also focused on important aspects of Scottish culture like food, kilts, and the recent independence movement.
As someone who’s done several walking tours, including several Sandemans tours, this was one of my favourite tours and it’s one that I highly recommend.
James from This Travel Guide
Bus Tours in Edinburgh
Edinburgh Hop on Hop off bus tour
The Edinburgh Hop on Hop off bus tours are a great way of seeing a large area of the city in a short amount of time. They stop at all the main Edinburgh attractions and also come with either recorded or live commentary so you can learn the history of Edinburgh from the comfort of your seat.
Although Edinburgh is a fairly compact city, there are quite a few hills so using the bus can save some energy and a few of the attractions on the tour, including the Royal Yacht Britannia, are quite a distance from the city centre so you would need transport to reach them.
There are three bus routes to choose from and although you can buy individual tickets for each bus, I would personally recommend paying a small additional charge to purchase a ticket that is valid on all the buses. Tickets are valid for either 24 or 48 hours and also provide discounts on some local businesses. You can hop on and off as many times as you like and a route map and headphones are available from the driver. I personally found the bus tours an educational and relaxing way to explore Edinburgh. From £15
Susanne from Adventures around Scotland
Rabbie’s Edinburgh City Tour
If you’re looking for an introduction to the city before you head out on your own, Rabbie’s Edinburgh City Tour is a great choice. Instead of hopping on and off at various sites, this tour gives you a quick overview of Edinburgh. It takes approximately 2 hours and leaves three times a day from just outside Waverly train station.
The tour covers all of Edinburgh’s central highlights – the Old Town and Royal Mile, the New Town and Princes Street, Dean Village, Grassmarket and of course Holyrood Palace. The route also includes some photo stops, for example at the foot of Calton Hill from where you get great views across to Arthur Seat. The audio guide gives you an introduction to the history of Edinburgh, but also a sense of what it’s like to live in Edinburgh now – and in medieval times.
Like any Rabbie’s tour, the Edinburgh tour uses 16-seater minibuses which makes for a much more intimate experience than other bus tours. My personal highlight is, that the buses on the Edinburgh tours are actually convertibles, so if you visit during the summer and the weather is good, you get the chance to whizz through Edinburgh with the wind in your hair and a Scottish storyteller in your ears! From £12
Edinburgh Ghost Tours
Greyfriars Kirkyard Ghost Tour
No trip to Edinburgh is complete without experiencing a ghost tour. The dark history and ancient buildings have led a lot of people to believe that the city is haunted. We chose to do the City of the Dead – Haunted Graveyard tour. The tour took us through Greyfriars Kirkyard in the depths of the night and into the “Black Mausoleum”. This is said to be the place haunted by the Mackenzie Poltergeist. It is said that the fear is so real, that the mausoleum is in an area that is locked and only tour guides on the City of the Dead tour have access.
Thankfully on our tour, the poltergeist did not appear and we left unscathed, although according to our tour guide people have been scratched and bitten by otherworldly beings on previous tours. Even if you don’t believe in ghosts, the tour is still a great way to learn about the often gruesome events that took place in Edinburgh. And at the very least, walking around a graveyard by torchlight, listening to ghost stories is not something you get to do every day and is a pretty memorable experience. From £13
Lizzie from Wanderlust & Life
Here are some more graveyard tours in Edinburgh:
Edinburgh Vaults with Mercat Tours
One of my favorite nights that we had in Edinburgh was the night we got spooked out on a Ghost Tour. When we arrived at Mercat Cross to meet the Mercat Tours team we weren’t sure what to expect. We met with an eccentric local girl who would spend the next three hours telling us all about Edinburgh’s dark past. The city is packed with dark history on every corner and the only way to take it all in is through a well-guided tour.
We decided to go with Mercat Tours for their raving reviews online and were not disappointed! The tour starts above ground but slowly descends into the underground. I recommend booking the tour that also includes an underground whisky tasting for that extra special experience in the vaults of Edinburgh. Soon you’ll feel the chills roll down your spine as you hear stories about the residents who may even still remain. Some tours claim to see the deadly ghosts so be careful!
Natasha from The World Pursuit
Tours at Edinburgh’s Museums & Attractions
The Castle is without a doubt one of Edinburgh’s top attractions – it dominates the city, towering on an extinct volcano on top of the medieval Old Town. The lanes, closes and stairs leading up and around it, already give you a sense of what it must have been like to roam the streets of Edinburgh in medieval times, but only a visit to the castle itself can close the circle and tell you the full story.
The only problem is: lines can be long and the castle so busy, that it can be difficult to really immerse yourself and learn everything about its history. No one wants to waste time in queues, so getting a skip-the-line ticket that also includes a guided tour around the castle is the perfect solution to save time and maximise your experience at the castle.
The walking tours on the castle grounds are offered by Sandeman’s (who also do the free city walking tours above). Your guide will tell you stories of the kings, queens, lovers and soldiers that lived here and takes you to the Crown Jewels of Scotland, the Great Hall, the dungeons, and Mons Meg cannon.
Scotch Whisky Experience
Fancy some Scotch whisky? There’s no better way to learn about this delicious drink than taking a tour at the Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh. Open since 1988, the Scotch Whisky Experience offers a variety of tour options that will appeal to both novices and connoisseurs alike. You’ll start with a fun, interactive barrel ride before moving on to a short film about the different whisky-producing regions in Scotland. To reinforce what you’re seeing, you’ll receive your own Scratch & Sniff card so you can smell the aromas that correspond with each region.
You’ll also get to see the world’s largest collection of Scotch whisky – all 3,384 bottles of it – before finally tasting some for yourself. (You didn’t think they’d forget to give you a sample, now, do you?) The Scotch Whisky Experience knows how to make learning fun and engaging, and by the end of your tour, you’ll be rattling off facts about Scotch whisky faster than you can say “Slàinte mhath” (meaning “Cheers!”). From £15.50
Julianne from It’s Five O’Clock Here
Find more whisky tours of Edinburgh here:
The Real Mary King’s Close
It was our second day in Edinburgh and we longed for a unique tour off the beaten track. As we were walking along the Royal Mile, we came across a sign for The Real Mary King’s Close. My husband explained to me what a close actually was which is an alleyway. Mary Kings Close is a very historic one that is now located under buildings.
We entered the building and purchased our tickets for a tour. Shortly after, we were given an introduction about what we would be seeing and learning on this tour. As we made our way through this ancient close we learned about how the people lived. The farther below you lived was the lower society of status. At the lowest levels below the streets there are no windows making the living conditions very dismal and depressing. Even farm animals, such as horses and cows, somehow were brought down and taken care of here.
Being informed how the narrow close was used for selling goods and food but at the same time the residents would be throwing their bodily waste out the windows. I wouldn’t want to have loitered to long in the close!
The tour is very informative, fun and a great learning experience. So glad we came across the Mary Kings Close Tour and I highly recommend when strolling along the Royal Mile.
Sherrie from Travel by A Sherrie Affair
Unique Tours of Edinburgh
Red Bistro Tour
The Red Bus Bistro is possibly the most original tour in Edinburgh. You’ll board a vintage 1966 Routemaster bus which will take you on a tour of Edinburgh’s main attractions while having afternoon tea!
The interior of the bus has been renovated into a cosy cafe, with plates attached to the tables with shock absorbing springs so food and drink won’t spill.
I love this tour because it combines three of my favourite things: food, Scottish history, and wine! You read right – the bus is licensed, so you can sip on wine or whisky while taking in the sights of Edinburgh!
The tour lasts between 70-90 minutes, and you’ll go past Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace, and Old Town – the medieval heart of the city.
If afternoon tea isn’t your thing they also have a Gourmet Burger Experience. The Red Bud Bistro can also arrange vegetarian, vegan and gluten free options – just let them know at least three days in advance of your tour. From £35
Yvette from Wayfaring Kiwi
The Edinburgh Literary Pub Tour
The Edinburgh Literary Pub Tour is one of those tours where you’re so entertained you don’t even realise you’re picking up so much information as you go along. The tour has been running since 1996, and is led by the characters of Clart and McBrain, played by professional actors. They take you around the pubs and streets of the Old and New Town of Edinburgh, all the while sharing about the Scottish writers who spent their time there. Think of the likes of Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson, as well as others you may not have heard of.
It’s a great way to discover pubs you may not have otherwise and might make you want to read literature you never considered too! The tour lasts around 2 hours and being a pub crawl, expect to do some walking – so wear comfortable shoes. As it’s an evening tour I’d also recommend wearing something warm. Tickets are £12 online (£9 for students) or £14 on location (£10 for students).
Sonja from Migrating Miss
Edinburgh Music City Tours
When you live in a city as touristy as Edinburgh it’s quite easy to grow tired of all the cliché free tours that always show you the same old stuff. And as I love looking at places from a different perspective and music, it was pretty clear I was going to fall in love with Edinburgh City Music Tours’ tour of Edinburgh.
Forget all you thought about the Scottish capital and let professional music journalists change the way you look at some of the streets of the Old Town. Discover where David Bowie lived in Edinburgh when he was based here, where the Folk Music scene started or where Shirley Manson (singer of Garbage) had her first gig.
Even if you’re not a very musical person, the passion that the guides of these tours put into them will make you want to know more. I, for sure, took lots of notes of some local bands I had never heard about and grew my list of live music venues to visit. From £
Patricia from Mad About Travel
Harry Potter walking tour
If you are a fan of all things magical and mystical you can join a walking tour provided by The Potter Trail. This alternative tour of Edinburgh’s Potter-related sights is brilliant if you love Wee Harry as much as I do. You get to visit sights such as Greyfriars Kirkyard where the real Tom Riddle is buried, and hear the story of the real McGonagall who was an Edinburgh chap with terrible poetry skills! Pass the Elephant cafe where J.K. Rowling apparently wrote the books then stop outside the cafe up the road where she actually wrote the books.
The tour guides are hilarious so there is never a dull moment, some are actually comedians who guide in their spare time. If you are bringing the kids, or if you are a big kid yourself and ask very nicely you will even get your very own wand. The tours are free and meet daily at the statue of Greyfriars Bobby at the top of Candlemaker’s Row. Donations are welcome so if you enjoy it you can leave them a wee something. From £0 [tips based]
Nicola from FunkyEllas Travel
Here are some more Harry Potter experiences in Edinburgh:
Silent Disco Walking Tour
If you are wondering exactly what a silent disco walking tour is – you are not alone. It seemed like an alien concept – and definitely something that has to be seen to be believed. But it is seriously one of the most fun ‘tours’ you will ever join.
It starts with a group of anywhere up to 40-50 people arriving at the start point whereby you are given a pair of noise-cancelling headphones. Once you put them on there is just you, the music and the dance-move directions given to you by your tour guide. You have a little bit of a practice in a quiet corner, then are led around the city in a roaming flash-mob type crowd, singing and dancing away to crowd-pleasing tunes – much to the intrigue and entertainment of your fellow city dwellers! I was worried about feeling self-conscious, but once you put those headphones on, every single person on the tour gets into it and the atmosphere is absolutely joyous.
Most of the silent disco walking tours occur as part of the Edinburgh’s Festival City which occurs in August and are organised by Guru Dudu and Silent Adventures – but there are also pop up events throughout the year. If you find yourself in Edinburgh when one is happening – you absolutely MUST sign up for it! From £12
Vicki from Make Time to See the World
Edinburgh is a brilliant city to spend a few days in, but it’s easy to tap into tourist traps. The tours featured here though, are all winners and make perfect additions to your city sightseeing itinerary!
Which one would you choose?
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