13 iconic Edinburgh sights that are even better during the festivals

written by Lottie Gross

updated 12.07.2021

Edinburgh is a stunning city at any time of year. Whether you’re blown away by the view over the city from Arthur’s Seat, or simply enjoying the gorgeous architecture in the Old Town, there’s something to please everyone here. But it’s during the festivals that Edinburgh really comes into its own, and those iconic attractions are brought to life with creativity, buzz and brilliant entertainment. Here are 13 essential sights in the city, and how best to enjoy them during Edinburgh's many festivities.


View of an old town street performance at the Fringe Festival © David Monteith-Hodge

1. The Old Town

With its many medieval and Reformation-era buildings, Edinburgh’s Old Town is astonishing, beautiful and atmospheric. Whether it’s ducking into a curious little close (a narrow street or alleyway), or enjoying views of the spectacular St Giles Cathedral, this part of town is enigmatic and impressive. But during festival season, it’s even more exciting. You might see street performers put on a show in August during the Fringe, or simply enjoy a stroll down the historic cobbled lanes to the sound of a nearby gig during the July Jazz Festival.

2. Edinburgh Castle

Views of the castle are best enjoyed from Calton Hill, where you can see the entire Old Town spread out before this impressive fortress. But come August, the castle takes on the role of arts venue when the impressive Military Tattoo is performed within its walls. This fabulous show of fireworks, thumping drums and melodic music offers a whole new perspective on the castle.


Fanfare at Edinburgh Castle © The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

3. Princes Street Gardens

When the sun shines in Edinburgh, there’s no better place to be than in Princes Street Gardens. Connecting the Old Town to the new side of the city, this stretch of green is a wonderful space for peace and reflection. But come in December and you’ll get a totally different vibe – then it’s party time in Princes Street Gardens! There's a Christmas Market all month long, and the Hogmanay celebrations see thousands come into the gardens to enjoy the live music and fireworks on 31st December.


View of old Edinburgh from Princes Street Gardens © Shutterstock

4. Edinburgh College of Art

One of the city’s finest art venues, the historic Edinburgh College of Art is at its best during the Art Festival in August. This year sees fascinating works, from sculpture to choreography, by the likes of Corin Sworn and Yulia Kovanova.

5. The Royal Mile

Part of the aforementioned Old Town, stretching from the Castle to Holyrood Palace and the Scottish Parliament building, Edinburgh’s Royal Mile is undoubtedly the city’s most popular street. This is especially true during the International and Fringe festivals, when you’ll spot street performers and meet artists promoting their shows to the crowds.

The Scottish Storytelling Centre is toward the Mile’s eastern end and is the place to be during the October Storytelling Festival, and the Mile’s striking, neo-gothic Hub arts venue is the home of Edinburgh International Festival.


View of the historic Royal Mile, Edinburgh, Scotland © Shutterstock

6. Arthur’s Seat

This dormant volcano – yes, really, it was a volcano – lies east of Edinburgh and offers unrivalled views of the city and the nearby North Sea. It’s a brilliant place to watch the fireworks from for Hogmanay or at the end of the Edinburgh International Festival in August.


The view from Arthur's Seat © Euan Myles/Edinburgh International Festival

7. The Festival Theatre

This is Edinburgh’s longest continuous theatre site, so expect to see the finest acts during many of the festivals at this exceptional venue. The June Film Festival has screenings here, and you’ll see incredible artists perform during the International Festival in August. Plus, big acts from the Jazz & Blues Festival also grace the stage at this 1,900-seater venue.

8. Charlotte Square Gardens

On the new side of town and part of a UNESCO-designated area, Charlotte Square is a leafy little Georgian quad. A pretty green space, in summer it transforms into the hub for the International Book Festival, where tents host talks by world-famous authors, pop-up bookshops sell new, popular and up-and-coming works, and there’s plenty of space to relax with a drink and your favourite novel.


An arial view of Charlotte Square © Edinburgh International Book Festival

9. George Square

This impressive square with its landscaped lawns and full-bodied trees transforms for Edinburgh’s International Jazz and Blues Festival. Set to grace its grassy banks this year is the Spiegeltent, an intimate concert venue with a 1920s vibe, where you’ll catch a show by the likes of Davina & The Vagabonds or Ibibio Sound Machine. Plus, the even more intimate Piccolo theatre is just next door.

10. Summerhall

Edinburgh’s old veterinary school is now a brilliant arts and culture venue, and during the various festivals it doubles up as a venue for exciting events. Come during the Science Festival for fascinating exhibitions in a scientific setting, or during the August Fringe Festival catch a play or comedy act in the old dissection theatre. Don’t miss the giant elevator which was once used to get huge animals like elephants or giraffes around the building.

11. National Museum of Scotland

Hours could be spent at the National Museum of Scotland thanks to its array of thrilling exhibits, from robotic arms to east Asian art. The architecture alone makes it well worth a visit. But it’s even better during the city’s festivals, with special exhibits on display during the Science Festival and day-long activities showcasing for the Children’s Festival.


View of the Forth Bridge at the annual Loony Dook © Chris Watt

12. The Forth Bridge

Get an entirely different perspective on the Forth Bridge on New Year’s Day by joining the annual Loony Dook. Don your best fancy dress and get in the bracing waters of the Firth of Forth, all to the sounds of classic Scottish bagpipes

13. A plate of haggis, neeps and tatties

Not a location, but an iconic sight still, a plate of haggis, neeps and tatties never looked so good as after a day spent at one of the city’s enthralling festivals. Whatever you visit Edinburgh for, this is a quintessential dish is the ultimate fuel for any visit to the Edinburgh Festivals.

Lottie Gross

written by Lottie Gross

updated 12.07.2021

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