The Best Edinburgh Tours

Edinburgh is a great city to visit. However, on your first (or even second and third) visit, it can be hard to know what to do in Edinburgh. There’s so much to see and do. With plenty of history, heartwarming stories, dark past and inspiring stories, you’re spoilt for choice with the number of things to do in Edinburgh. Personally, I love a walking tour. I think they are a great way to learn something about a city, whilst finding your bearings. They’re also good fun. However, you’re also spoilt for choice on tours in Edinburgh.

Edinburgh Tours

With so much history, there are plenty of tours available. There are general overviews and themed tours. You can learn the basics of the city, find out about royalty, discover magical places and get into the areas that inspired some great writers. If you have a short time in the city I would definitely do one or two tours, depending on what you want to discover in the city.

Edinburgh City

There’s A Lot To See And Do In Edinburgh

As I much prefer walking tours, my list of best tours only counts this style. So here is my list of the best walking tours in Edinburgh:

Sandemans Free Walking Tour

I love a Sandemans New Europe Tour. Every time I’m in a new city I look for this tour company. The Sandemans Edinburgh Free Walking Tour was one of the first Sandemans tours I did, and I have actually done this tour thrice now. It’s different with each guide, as they all have their own interests.

This tour gives a good introduction to the Scottish Capital and takes in many of Edinburgh’s attractions. For instance, you will explore Greyfriars Kirkyard, where you will hear about Bobby and a bit about body snatchers. You will also visit the Mercat Cross and learn about the punishments that use to go on here, the Grass Market, and St Giles Kirk, where you will hear the story of Jenny Geddes.

Best Walking Tour Edinburgh

Got To Love A Free Walking Tour

Important Information About Sandemans Free Walking Tour

  • This tour is free – but the guides work for tips. If you enjoy the tour, be sure to tip your guide;
  • The meeting point is Frankie & Bennies at 130 High Street;
  • The tour takes about two and a half hours, with a short break.

For up to date information, visit the Sandemans site. For reviews, click here.

The Dark Side Tour

Another Sandemans tour for my list, although this one is not free. The Dark Side Tour is not an Edinburgh Ghost Tour, but personally I thought it was much better as it delved into the dark history of the city. I found it much creepier as it told about real history and what terrible things real people had got up to in the city. The tour also tells you a little bit about Scottish Folklore and the faeries that are not as good as tales make out.

This Edinburgh tour tells you about faeries such as kelpies and selkies and how they kill humans. I love the old faeries stories that are like this.

When it comes to real history though, Edinburgh certainly has a lot of darkness. This tour will tell you about body snatchers, including the infamous Burke and Hare, murderers, witches, cannibals, the miniature coffins found in Arthurs Seat, and vampires. The scariest part is how recent some of these deeds are.

Arthurs Seat

Learn About The Miniture Coffins Found In Arthurs Seat

Important Information About The Dark Side Tour

  • This tour is paid for. You can find updated prices and book by clicking here;
  • The meeting point is Frankie & Bennies at 130 High Street;
  • The tour takes about two hours.

You can read about my time on these tours in this blog post. For reviews click here.

Edinburgh Literary Pub Tour

Edinburgh has a history of famous writers and this pub tour is a great way to learn about them. On this Edinburgh tour, two actors are your guides. They discuss points of writers lives, recite quotes and tell you a bit of history. The actors take opposite views on just about everything, so you get both sides to everything.

The tour takes you to three pubs in total, where you are able to purchase drinks (though you do not have to). Remember though, this is a pub TOUR, not a CRAWL so there’s no need to go crazy. In fact, it’s probably best not to go crazy, as you won’t absorb the information.

The pubs have literary connections, such as being where writers were known to have drunk. At each pub, the actors will give you lots of information, so there is plenty of time to have a drink. The tour also takes you to other areas such as the courtyard of the Writers’ Museum (where you will find out why J.K. Rowling will never get a flagstone). You will learn about and hear quotes from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson. The guides will tell you about the inspiration the writers took from Edinburgh life and they go into quite some detail about Deacon Brodie, the inspiration for Jekyll and Hyde.

Edinburgh Literary Pub Tour

Actors Are The Guides Of The Literary Pub Tour

Important Information About The Edinburgh Literary Pub Tour

  • This tour is paid for. You can find updated prices and book by clicking here;
  • The meeting point is at the Beehive Pub on the Grassmarket;
  • The tour takes about two hours.

For reviews on this tour, click here.

Potter Trail

This is another free walking tour in Edinburgh and is the original Harry Potter tour. This tour tells you about Harry Potter and J.K. Rowling. You will discover where Rowling wrote, where the “birthplace” of Harry Potter is (HINT: It is NOT the Elephant Cafe, they opened after the first book was written, though she did write in here later), visit the graves where she picked up character names, and discover where the last sentence was written.

The tour is a little cheesy, but I got proper into this. The guide has a cloak and you each have a wand. Every time you come to a pedestrian crossing you do a spell to make it safe to cross. I thought this would be a little cringy, but I absolutely loved it! This tour is not just for Potterheads, it’s good fun whether you love or loath the books.

One thing I really appreciated on this tour was the honesty. The guide would tell you what is confirmed and what is speculative. For instance, where Rowling got the name McGonagall from has been confirmed in an interview, but Moodie’s namesake is speculation only. Also, many other Harry Potter tours will tell you that Maggie Dickenson was the inspiration for Nearly Headless Nick, but this is purely speculation.

Potter Trail Edinburgh

Cloaks And Wands At The Ready

Important Information About The Potter Trail

  • This tour is free – but the guides work for tips. If you enjoy the tour, be sure to tip your guide;
  • The meeting point is at the statue of Greyfriars Bobby;
  • The tour takes about one and a half hours.

For up to date information, visit the Potter Trail site. For reviews, click here.

The Musical Walking Tour Of Edinburgh

To be completely honest, I have not done this tour yet, but it’s top of my list for my next visit to the city. It is run by Graeme E. Pearson, my favourite Edinburgh musician, which is why I really want to do this tour.

Because I haven’t done this Edinburgh tour (yet), I can’t give you a full overview. What I do know is that this tour takes advantage of the small courtyards and streets that provide excellent acoustics. Graeme performs modern and traditional songs to tell the stories that shaped the Royal Mile.

Edinburgh Musical Walking Tour

Graeme E. Pearson Performing In Edinburgh

Important Information About The Musical Walking Tour Of Edinburgh

  • This tour is paid for. You can find updated prices and book by clicking here;
  • The meeting point is outside the Fringe Office on the Royal Mile.

For reviews on this tour, click here.

Edinburgh Castle

Learn The History Of Edinburgh On A Tour

Enjoy Your Edinburgh City Tours!

Walking tours are a great way to see a city and learn about it. Every time I go to Edinburgh I do at least one walking tour. There’s still plenty for me to do and learn about this city, but I think the above five Edinburgh tours give a good mix of what there is in the Scottish capital.

Edinburgh Royal Mile

There Are Plenty Of Tours To Choose From In Edinburgh

Planning a visit to Edinburgh? Check out hostels in the city on Hostel World. You can also check out these tours and others on Get Your Guide.

What Edinburgh tours have you done? Let me know your favourites in the comments below!

Categories: Backpacking | Comments
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Author Bio: Nat

I’m Nat, the backpacker behind natpacker. From the UK, I was bitten by the travel bug during a round the world trip in my early twenties. Since then I have been determined to see as much of this world as possible. My passion for travel led me to start up this blog, partly to record my adventures and partly to inspire others to travel.

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