How to Experience Summer in Edinburgh Scotland

Summer in Edinburgh Scotland: colorful buildings in Edinburgh Old Town
Edinburgh Scotland is one of my favorite cities in the UK, in fact, one of my favorite cities in all of Europe. Summer is the best time to visit Edinburgh. If you enjoy theatre, comedy, music, or just performance art generally, you'll love Edinburgh where the world renowned Edinburgh Fringe Festival takes over the city every August. We visit Edinburgh every year without fail for EdFringe. Along the way, we've learned how to experience summer in Edinburgh Scotland well-beyond the Fringe. Read on for my top picks of things to do in Edinburgh on a summer city break.

Tour Edinburgh Castle

We toured the inside of Edinburgh Castle which included the Scottish crown jewels. Interestingly, the crown jewels were buried for a significant part of their history during war and other times of conflict. At one point they eluded Oliver Cromwell's Army at Dunnottar Castle outside Aberdeen.
Experience summer in Edinburgh: visit Edinburgh Castle

Walk Edinburgh's Royal Mile from End to End

The Royal Mile in Edinburgh runs from Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Palace. Walking the Royal Mile in Edinburgh Old Town in summer, we were amazed at the crowds, buskers, and folks generally trying to promote their Fringe Festival shows. The Royal Mile is crowded during the summer but the vibe is electric. Pick up some postcard-sized bills for various shows and look them over at dinner.

Whisky fudge is quite popular in Edinburgh so we had to stop in and try some when we saw the "free samples" sign hanging outside the Fudge Kitchen along the Royal Mile. Whisky Fudge was worth sampling but I definitely prefer a sweeter, more chocolatey fudge.

At the far end of the Royal Mile, the new Scottish Parliament building features more avant-garde architectural choices. Various quotes adorned the outer wall. I particularly liked this one: But Edinburgh is a mad god's dream Fitful and dark, Unseizable in Leith and Wilder by the Forth...
Summer in Edinburgh Scotland: walk the Royal Mile from end to end to Holyrood Palace.

Explore the Wynds and Closes of Edinburgh Old Town

Narrow wynds characterize Edinburgh. Ditch the GPS and explore the side alleys off the Royal Mile with a goal of getting a little lost. We passed Lady Stair's Close and I noticed an unusual plaque which calls out that Lady Stair "gave supper to company of eccentric beggars". We stumbled upon Dunbar's Close Garden just off the road further up the Royal Mile. The nicely quaffed hedges and pretty views of surrounding elevations were very relaxing and serene.

See Edinburgh's Military Tattoo

A trip to Edinburgh during the summer festival season would not be complete without tickets to the Military Tattoo at Edinburgh Castle. We entered the venue and admired the flags flapping in the vigorous breeze as the sun was beginning to set. The show started with a bit of ceremony that included a shot of whisky and a fighter-jet fly over. We watched as bagpipers paraded into the stadium through the castle drawbridge. A variety of marching bands performed elaborate routines with amazing precision. As the sun continued to go down, the Military Tattoo was lit up with dancing lights. Seeing the castle lit up with various logos and color combinations was particularly amazing. It's hard to appreciate how cool this event is with just still photos so I captured some brief video clips. The performance closed with an impressive display of fireworks. Speaking of  "cool", the weather in Edinburgh can actually be quite cold in the summer after dark. Mark sure to bring a warm jacket including a wool hat, gloves, and a scarf.
Things to do in Edinburgh in Summer: See the Military Tattoo

Get Your EdFringe On

What to do in Edinburgh in Summer: see some EdFringe shows
Posters large and small are plastered on every conceivable surface in August in Edinburgh to woo potential fans to see the shows. There are more than 2000 shows on offer at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival each year. We average about 5 shows a day when we come to Edinburgh for the Fringe. For a sense of what you can expect at the Fringe, check out: 2018 EdFringe Reviews2014 EdFringe reviews, 2013 Edinburgh Fringe Reviews, 2012 Edinburgh Fringe Festival reviews).
Summer in Edinburgh: The Giant Purple Cow at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August

Princes Street Garden

If you arrive in Edinburgh early in the morning and the summer weather is fine, pop into Princes Street Gardens for a walk. Gorgeous! I especially loved the house and well maintained flower beds within the park. I also liked these little shelters with big bold artwork inside along the path. We walked past the National Galleries of Scotland which were inexplicably decorated with paper daisies when we visited.
Things to do in Edinburgh in Summer: visit Princes Street Garden

Climb Edinburgh's Calton Hill

From the Holyrood Palace end of the Royal Mile it's possible to continue the walk to Calton Hill. The Royal Mile to Calton Hill is quite an uphill trek, but we were rewarded with an up-close view of the National Monument. We also enjoyed panoramic views of Edinburgh. We admired the Nelson Monument which is meant to look like a telescope.
Summer in Edinburgh Scotland: Climb Calton Hill

Climb Edinburgh's Playfair Steps

The Playfair Steps connecting Edinburgh's New Town to the Old Town are lined with vendors during the summer selling souvenirs and crafts. The Playfair Steps are not the fastest way to get around Edinburgh but are interesting and fun if you're not in a hurry.

Relive Fascinating History at Deacon Brodie's Tavern

We walked past Deacon Brodie's Tavern just off of Edinburgh's Royal Mile. A sign below caught my eye: Born 28th September 1741, Executed 1st October 1788. Some key tidbits from the painted scroll on the wall are worth noting here: His baseness inspired Robert Louis Stevenson to write Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Pious, wealthy, and respected by day, he was a gambler, thief, dissipated, and licentious by night. He was hanged from the city's new gallows in 1788 which ironically he had designed.
What to see in Edinburgh in Summer: Deacon Brodie's Tavern

Visit Greyfriar's Bobby

Greyfriar's Bobby sits outside the pub of the same name. The loyal Skye Terrier watched over his master's grave for 14 years! A small cemetery sits in back of the pub. It's rumored to have the most well-documented poltergeist activity in the world. We steered clear at night -- a little too creepy for us.
Things to do in Edinburgh in Summer: Visit Greyfriar's Bobby

Visit Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

The Royal Botanic Garden is an easy summer thing to do in Edinburgh because it's outdoors and a mostly free attraction. You can walk around the grounds for hours without paying a penny. Pop into Inverleith House Gallery and discover installations of modern art. Marvel at the Victorian-era greenhouses and walled gardens on the property. Take a mindful walk around the park as a relaxing daytime diversion from the Edinburgh Fringe.

Summer in Edinburgh: Explore the Rotal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

Pack a Picnic in Stockbridge

The Stockbridge neighborhood of Edinburgh is about 20 minutes on foot from Edinburgh's New Town. Stop at I. J. Mellis Cheesemongers and pick up sandwiches for a picnic.
Summer in Edinburgh: Buy cheese for a picnic at  I. J. Mellis Cheesemongers in Stockbridge

Water of Leith

Summer is a time for walking in Edinburgh and the enchanting Water of Leith path is well worth a visit. The Water of Leith trail runs from Edinburgh to Leith, a distance of nearly 13 miles. One of the prettiest access points is in Stockbridge and the section of the Water of Leith trail from Stockbridge to Dean Village is an ideal relaxing walk. You'll see St. Bernard's Well which is famous for it's mineral waters. Sit along the burbling water and savor your sandwiches.
Things to do in Edinburgh in Summer: Walk the Water of Leith Trail

Sculpture By The Sea in Leith

Take the bus out to Leith and experience Edinburgh's historic port. There are some shops, a mall, and plenty of large container ships in the area. What impressed me the most though was a solitary figure sculptured at the end of the pier looking out toward the horizon. I found it very poignant somehow. The Water of Leith, not surprisingly, ends in Leith. Get your legs pumping and take a quiet walk back toward Stockbridge. There is bus service at various points along the route so if you get tired, you can always ride the rest of the way back to Edinburgh.
Summer in Edinburgh: Take the bus to Leith and admire the sculpture in the port

Hike Holyrood Park

Get up early on a Sunday morning and take a long walk through Holyrood Park, definitely an ideal way to experience summer in Edinburgh. We had decided to take 'the high road' but we could see an alternative 'low road' through the meadow below. Gnarled trees dotted the landscape. We soon caught a glimpse of Duddingston Loch and Bird Sanctuary. Various ducks rested peacefully on the surface of the water. A park bench was conveniently placed nearby to watch the birds. It was mostly Canadian Geese on the scene. I normally don't like them much because they are aggressive and make a big mess. However, in this case, I really enjoyed watching them frolic in the water. I was particularly amused by one goose who keep rolling over and over again in the water. They looked to be having such fun! We climbed back up the hill and continued on our way.
Summer in Edinburgh: Hike Holyrood Park
What to do in Edinburgh in Summer: birdwatching in Holyrood Park

Edinburgh's Portobello Beach

Summer in Edinburgh Things to Do: go to Portobello Beach

What's the obvious thing to do in summer? Go to the beach. Yes, Edinburgh Scotland has a beach. We were planning to take the bus from the far edge of Holyrood Park to Portobello Beach but learned that the bus only passes by once an hour on Sundays. Given that the bus was not due for another 25 minutes and we could likely walk the rest of the way in 30, we soldiered on on foot. At the conclusion of our walk, we were greeted by cool breezes and sunny views over the water. We had fun doing a bit of people watching on the beach. We popped into the Beach House for a coffee and slice of cake before legging it to the high street to catch the bus back to the City Center for our next Fringe show.
Summer in Edinburgh: Cake at the Beach House at Portobello Beach

Where to Eat in Edinburgh

During our visits to Edinburgh, we've frequented some fun and interesting places for food and drink.

Brew Lab Coffee

Brew Lab Coffee is one of my favorite places for a caffeine fix in Edinburgh. Conveniently located next to the Captain's Bar (see below), grab a coffee before going next door to try some whisky. Find a spot to sit in the labyrinthine interior and enjoy a sweet or savory treat with a brew prepared from single-origin beans.
Where to eat in Edinburgh in Summer: Brew Lab Coffee

Urban Angel

Urban Angel is extremely popular for brunch. Go early as the place tends to fill up. We were nearly turned away but as we were walking out a small table opened up in the back room and the host came running out to catch us. Drink black coffee made from artisan beans to wash down decadent dishes like marscapone berry French toast and toast with almond butter and fresh berries. Urban Angel was one of the culinary highlights of our recent trips to Edinburgh.
Where to eat in Edinburgh in summer: brunch at Urban Angel in Edinburgh New Town

Black Medicine Coffee Co.

Black Medicine Coffee Co. is a fantastic coffee shop good for a spot of caffeine or a bite of lunch. You can also feel the spirit of Harry Potter when you visit Black Medicine. J.K. Rowling wrote some chapters of her famous books just upstairs from the coffee shop.
Where to eat in Edinburgh: Black Medicine Coffee Co.

Angels with Bagpipes

Angels with Bagpipes is a great spot for a posh dinner in Edinburgh. We were seated in the basement and enjoyed fresh baked bread, beetroot and goats' cheese salad, Highland lamb with peas and broad beans, and Peterhead plaice. This was really the best meal we had in Edinburgh with service to match. Be sure to make a reservation especially during the summer festival season.
Where to dine in Edinburgh in summer: Angels with Bagpipes

Union of Genius Soup Cafe

We stopped at Union of Genius twice; once for coffee and once for soup. The soup was served in individual terrines with bread on the side. Adorable!
Where to eat in Edinburgh in Summer: Union of Genius Soup Cafe

Namaste

Delicious and spicy curries are on offer at Namaste which specializes in Indian and Nepalese fare.

Viva Mexico

We wandered into Viva Mexico on Cockburn St. in Edinburgh and were pleasantly surprised by the decent salsa, margaritas, fish tacos, and burritos. It wasn't as good as the Mexican food in California but better than anything we've had in Dublin so far.
Where to eat in Edinburgh Old Town: Viva Mexico

David Bann Vegetarian Restaurant

For a real treat, try David Bann, a top-rated vegetarian restaurant in Edinburgh for an upscale dinner.

Mums

We ate dinner at a comfort food restaurant called Mums. Roll me home after eating an enormous steak pie plus bangers and mash.
Where to eat in Edinburgh Scotland: Mums comfort food

Where to Drink in Edinburgh

Cocktails at Balmoral

You can't miss the Balmoral Hotel. The building looms mightily over Edinburgh at the junction between Edinburgh New Town and Edinburgh Old Town. Stop into the Balmoral for craft cocktails served in heavy cut crystal tumblers or an elegant martini glass.
Where to drink in Edinburgh in summer: cocktails at the Balmoral Hotel

The Blue Blazer

We discovered The Blue Blazer when we were in Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival. We admired the mosaic tiled floor showcasing the history and longevity of the place. A variety of craft brews were on offer. Our favorite part about The Blue Blazer though was the mix of clientele. We spotted a group of young friends with their puppy seated at a table; a bad ass tattooed biker dude; and an uber preppy hipster with a jumper knotted around his neck.
Where to drink in Edinburgh: The Blue Blazer

Guildford Arms

We wandered into this gem off the street in Edinburgh's new town and enjoyed both the ambiance and selection of local ales on offer.
Where to drink in Edinburgh New Town: Guildford Arms

Brass Monkey

Having a cocktail here was worth it just to check out the beds in the back room. This place looks like it gets interesting on a weekend night.

Captains Bar

Where to drink in Edinburgh: whisky at Captains Bar
The Captains Bar is one of the highlights of many visits to Edinburgh. They play traditional Scottish music starting at 4 pm on the weekends. The proprietors are also really knowledgeable about whisky. We have very little experience with Scottish whisky and asked for a recommendation to showcase the different flavor profiles. All their shots are the same price which makes it a safe bet for sampling. We tried two kinds -- one 'smooth' and one 'peaty'. I could definitely taste the difference. The 'peaty' whisky had a smoky/earthy quality. At times, we took comfort in the familiar a second time in one day and popped in to the Captains Bar for more music and two more nips of whisky. We also sampled McEwan's Scottish Ale. It definitely goes down easier than the whisky.
Where to drink in Edinburgh in summer: music at Captains Bar

I remember watching music at the Captains Bar one day when a man at the bar looked over at me and said something. Based on his tone and gestures, I got the impression that it was something like "wow this music is fantastic, I love coming here" but I actually couldn't understand a word that he said due to his thick Scottish accent. I replied based on his assumed intent and he looked at me as if he had no idea what I had said, smiling politely (I have an American accent). We were both speaking English but it might as well have been two different languages!

St. Andrew's Brewing Co.

If craft beer is your preferred beverage, check out St. Andrew's Brewing Company. They have a wide range of their own craft beers on draft. St. Andrew's Brewing Co. is a great spot to stop for a drink and a snack between EdFringe shows. Sample the bacon and cheddar popcorn for a decadent treat. I tried a lovely Bramble Saison which was smooth and fruity.
Where to drink in Edinburgh: St. Andrew's Brewing Company

The Fat Pony

The Fat Pony is new to the Edinburgh Wine Bar scene. Stop in for a glass of red paired with fancy cheese and a good dose of conversation from the owners. The Fat Pony is super cosy. We passed by on our way to the airport bus and had just enough time to sneak in a glass of wine before heading for home.
Where to drink in Edinburgh Scotland: The Fat Pony wine bar

Apothecary

I love a good G and T.  Try a Gin and Tonic from the extensive menu at Apothecary. Apothecary is situated in the newly developed Quartermile Area not far from the Meadows in Edinburgh. If you are visiting the University of Edinburgh or catching an EdFringe show at any of the university-based venues, Apothecary is a great diversion for a quiet drink. In addition to cocktails, they also serve local craft beers.
Where to drink in Edinburgh in summer: Gin and Tonic at Apothecary

Tips for Visiting Edinburgh in Summer

Summer is festival season in Edinburgh and because events like the Edinburgh Fringe Festival bring in thousands of tourists in the month of August, you need a strategy if you are going to experience summer in Edinburgh and not end up disappointed. Book your hotel extremely early. We visit Edinburgh in August almost every year and book our hotel in January. If you stay outside Edinburgh City Center but at a bed and breakfast along one of the bus lines, you can save quite a bit. Hotels will still most likely cost more than 200 GBP per night but we think it's worth it to experience Edinburgh during festival season. Since you are booking early, also look for hotels or a bed and breakfast with flexible cancellation policies. Many B and Bs will charge a fee if you cancel even if you do so months in advance.

Where to Stay in Edinburgh

Lauderville Guest House

We enjoyed a full Scottish vegetarian breakfast on some days. Our favorite was porridge and French toast. Lauderville Guest House is located in a residential neighborhood on the outskirts of town. The Lauderville Guest House was quite welcoming and a nice quiet place to call home for the week.

Premier Inn

When we visit Edinburgh, we often choose to stay at a Premier Inn. There are three Premier Inn locations in the heart of Edinburgh and all three are walking distance from many of the EdFringe venues. We've personally stayed at Premier Inn Edinburgh Central Lauriston Place and Premier Inn Edinburgh City Centre Royal Mile. Premier Inn is a no frills but is a reliable chain in the UK that provides a "good night sleep guarantee" or your money back. We've also found the staff to be friendly and helpful during our stays.

Getting Around Edinburgh

Edinburgh is reasonably walkable although the city is hilly with lots of steps (just something to be aware of). We prefer walking generally although we've found the bus service to be reliable, especially at times when we've stayed further from the city center. It's easy to get from Edinburgh Airport to the city center. The Skylink bus costs 7.50 GBP return and runs every 10 minutes. It takes 30 minutes to get from the airport to Waverly Station. Lothian buses cover the city. You can buy a SINGLEticket (1.70 GBP) or a DAYticket (4.00 GBP) on the bus. Bring exact change to cover your fare.

Things to Do in Edinburgh Map

As you can see, Edinburgh is a vibrant city with some amazing things to do to keep you busy during the summer months. Check out this handy Edinburgh map to orient yourself to the Edinburgh points of interest covered in this post.


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Summer in Edinburgh Scotland

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Sidewalk Safari | Part-time Travel Blog: How to Experience Summer in Edinburgh Scotland
How to Experience Summer in Edinburgh Scotland
Experience summer in Edinburgh Scotland. Find out about things to do in Edinburgh Scotland in summer. Learn about what to see in Edinburgh in August.
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Sidewalk Safari | Part-time Travel Blog
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