If you visit the Scottish capital, Edinburgh, you’ll find a castle, a world-renowned festival and a dormant volcano among other “bucket-list” attractions.
Authors from Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes) to J.K Rowling (Harry Potter) have found inspiration in this historic city, which has over a hundred parks and in Edinburgh’s World Heritage Site alone, the largest number of listed buildings anywhere in the UK within its small 1.76 sq mile radius.
So with all this to investigate, how better to find out all you need to know, than in the hands of an expert guide.
We’ve put together a list of Edinburgh tours to help you discover as much as possible about this ancient and atmospheric city.
Walking | Food and Drink | Photography | Film and Literary | Ghost | Bus | Bike | Aerial
Walking tours of Edinburgh
Independent tour guide, Chris Walker, has a relaxed approach to his tours, but still ensures you pack in as much history (with a good dose of humour) as possible.
Not only will he take you round the Old and New Towns, but he’ll also show you some of the best places to eat and drink in the capital.
Tours take around three hours, and if you’re only in Edinburgh just for the weekend, he hopes his tours will help you see all the best bits.
He’s also fluent in Danish, so can do the tour in that language if you prefer, and here are his five reasons why you should visit Scotland.
Edinburgh Tour Guide
If you’re after a bespoke tour, then the talented twosome of Bill Hill and Cammy Goodhall is hard to beat.
Scottish singing legend, Bill Hill, has been entertaining the public for more than 40 years and has written many folk standards, most famously the comedy-song The Portree Kid. Expect an entertaining, as well as knowledgeable, tour around Edinburgh and beyond (he might even give you a song).
Musician and entertainer Cammy Goodhall is renowned as an interpreter of the works of Scotland’s National Bard, Robert Burns, so expect a few poetic words thrown into the tour.
Contact them via the website to discuss your requirements, whether it be a group party or private tour, and they’ll tailor-make you an experience of the city to remember.
Saints and Sinners Tours
Another tour to enjoy rave reviews is the Saints and Sinners tours, and their aim is to entertain you with stories and nuggets of information while you walk around the historical capital.
You can take a standard group tour or private customised tour around Edinburgh, and the guides can tailor the walk to your needs, as well as be flexible on dates and times – just contact them with your requirements.
You can take an accredited guided tour round Edinburgh Castle or visit the Water of Leith and Dean Village – which is surprisingly only 15 minutes walk from the city centre.
They also do specialised hen and stag do tours, so you can come away from Edinburgh with a little history to go with the potential hangover.
Edinburgh food and drink tours
Eat walk Edinburgh
This is a sightseeing tour for foodies, as you learn more about all that’s edible in Edinburgh.
Each walk has at least five food and drink tasting stops along the way (included in the price) as well as more historical facts than you can shake a cocktail stick at.
The morning Canongate Brunch Tour, explores the bottom of the Royal Mile and visits a curated list of restaurants, bars and shops, where you’ll find on arrival some carefully created taster dishes.
The lunch tour covers the Old and New Town and again takes you to the more unusual and hidden places in the city (including a special Haggis tasting).
This is a convivial walking tour and you can chat to the owners of the places as well as learn more about the vibrant food and drink scene in the capital.
Photography tours of Edinburgh
Tour founder Will Robb, a former Lonely Planet photographer, and fine art photographer, Chris Pendleton, are your professional guides and will show you not only the iconic landmarks, but also some lesser known places which make fabulous photo opportunities.
The expert guides will give you some basic camera and photo technique tips before setting off on a walk round one of the most photographed cities in the world.
They also now have a smart phone only photo tour, and will help you get the most from your in-built camera and help you craft professional-looking images.
If you want to get a birds-eye view of the city – ask to add the St Giles Cathedral rooftop to your tour, to capture skyline pictures (as well as interior shots that are not normally allowed).
Edinburgh Photography Tours
If you want to learn how to take professional and iconic shots of Edinburgh – you’ll be in safe hands with international, professional photographer, James Christie, who has won plaudits for his tours.
Channelling his passion for pictures into a tour of his home city, James’ aim is to help you get the best out of whatever camera you have (even if it is just a smartphone).
He also has a wealth of local knowledge and historical stories to go with the setting up of shots and over the course of the four-to-five hour walking tour, you’ll be sure to have some fabulous images to show your friends and family when you get home.
You can take a group tour or you can get an individual tuition session with James – check out his Edinburgh professional photographic gallery to see his images.
Edinburgh Film and Literary tours.
The Edinburgh Literary Pub Tour
If you love books, and love a drink – this might well be the tour for you, as professional actors take you on a pub crawl with a difference.
This award-winning theatrical tour, which began in 1996, is a popular choice with Edinburgh Fringe goers, however they do run the tours all-year-round.
Your fictional guides, Clart (a literary bohemian) and McBrain (a clean-hankied intellectual), will pit their wits against each other to debate how important the city’s pub atmosphere was in developing creative and intellectual thought.
With stories involving Scottish literary giants, like Sir Walter Scott and Robert Burns, as well as a good serving of history along the way – there will be lots to ponder over a pint or discuss with a dram along the way.
As you will be visiting pubs in the evening, this is a strictly adult only tour, and lasts around two hours.
Fans of the hit British film Trainspotting and its author Irvine Welsh are in luck as writer, Tim Bell, offers specialist tours of Leith where some of the scenes are set.
This independent tour guide runs his tours as a hobby while he completes his book on the Trainspotting phenomenon and has a programme of walks during the peak tourist season (Hogmanay, Leith Festival and through August).
Tim has been leading the walks, featuring on-location passages from the book, for more than ten years, and if you want to take a private group tour during the off season – just drop him a line.
More info and booking: Website
The Potter Trail
J.K.Rowling famously began work on the Harry Potter books in a cafe in Edinburgh and now you can visit many of the locations that inspired the characters and names in the novels.
This is family-friendly fare, although they do drop into the odd creepy location (where is Lord Voldemort buried?) and there are some grisly details. But the idea is to entertain not scare (suitable for ages five and over)
The trail is currently free (tips are welcome), and there is no need to book – just turn up for the tour which lasts around 90 minutes.
Ghost Tours of Edinburgh
Auld Reekie Tours
This acclaimed family-run business has been entertaining and scaring people in Edinburgh since 1995 – and actually own some of the spookiest underground vaults in the UK.
They have four guided tours to choose from (and also have 3 group tours for larger parties). The Original Underground Tour takes place during the day, while the others are at night.
If it’s big scares you’re after, then it has to be The Terror Tour (Over 18s only), which involves underground vaults and a Torture Exhibition – the stone circled vault there even made an appearance on TV show, Most Haunted Live.
To up the ghostly ante, have a read of their reported sightings on the tour – with apparitions, camera fails and scratches (without being touched) being reported.
The impressive list of awards for the Mercat tours means they have been a staple of the Edinburgh walking tour scene since 1985.
You can compare the Mercat tours on their site and choose from six ghost tours (one is in Spanish and another in German) and four history walks (including a specialist Outlander experience).
Their adult-only, late night, Hidden & Haunted tour, involves a candlelit descent into the Blair Street Underground Vaults.
The Cadies & Witchery Tours
The tongue is firmly in the ghostly cheek on these tours, which combine a lot of laughs with a fair number of frights.
Running nightly since 1984, the ghostly guides Adam Lyal (deceased) and Alexander Clapperton (also deceased), will show you the darker side of Edinburgh, with murder, witchcraft and body snatching on the family-friendly agenda.
They operate two tours, the Murder & Mystery Tour and the Ghosts and Gore Tour – and you can also purchase spooky merchandise and books penned by the guides in their shop.
If you think there is someone or something lurking in the shadows, you’ll probably be right as some of the guides and their helpers have a habit of materialising out of nowhere.
City of the Dead
Specialising in supernatural storytelling, in grisly locations like Edinburgh’s Covenanter’s Prison and the Black Mausoleum (lair of the world famous Mackenzie Poltergeist), the guides terrifying tales should have the hairs standing up on the back of your neck.
Choose from The Haunted Graveyard Tour, Underground City of the Dead and Double Dead Tours – researched and created by historical author, J A Henderson – and delve into the darker depths of Edinburgh and its graveyards and underground vaults.
Tours begin between 8pm and 9pm and you can expect some history, humour and a few scares along the way.
Take a bus tour round Edinburgh
Edinburgh is a hilly city and there are plenty of steep streets to tackle as you visit the scores of attractions in the capital.
Edinburgh Bus Tours
While at one point there were several bus companies vying to take you round the city, since a merger in 2002, Lothian Buses now look after the official bus tours of Edinburgh.
Nearly all the routes feature Edinburgh highlights, like the Old Town, Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse.
You can also change things up by taking the Vintage Bus or perhaps one that takes in some of the more modern sights, like the new Scottish Parliament.
Edinburgh Bus Tours now have a useful tour comparison tool, so you can check at a glance which of the routes or types of tour most suit you or your group – for instance some have live guides, while others have audio commentaries.
You can buy a standard ticket, or one that gives you some fast track admissions and access to all the different city tours.
DID YOU KNOW? Open-top bus tours have been a staple of the city’s tourism offering since the 1920s.
While the tours round Edinburgh itself take around one hour if completed in one go – this is hop on and hop off service. So if you arrive somewhere you want to visit you can disembark and have a look round, before getting the next bus along and completing your trip.
You can also head out of Edinburgh and get closer to landmarks like the Forth Bridge (The Forth Bridges Bus & Boat Tour) on one of the longer tours.
Get on your bike to see Edinburgh
The city council has revamped old routes and created new cycle paths to make getting around by bike in the city much easier (even with the hills).
Taking a guided bike tour helps you see more of the city and those hard to get to areas, without getting caught up in traffic.
Edinburgh Bike Tours
Run by local cycling enthusiasts, these tours take you to not only the major landmarks, but also to some of the leafier parts on the city.
They currently offer three Edinburgh tours (along with a specialised family tour) that take around three hours – one that focuses on the city centre, another that takes you out to the beach at Portobello, and lastly a five hour trip that takes you out to the Forth Road Bridge at South Queensferry.
Booking in advance is advisable and the average group size is between six and a maximum of 12.
They use hybrid bikes, Revolution Trailfinders and Streetfinders, and also have a range of bikes for children.
If you want to use your own bike for the tour – they offer a discount.
The Tartan Bicycle Company
Offering all things cycling-related, you can do an easy ride round the city or take on a whole day tour.
The Sky to Sea Bike Tour takes you from the Pentland Hills in the south, through Edinburgh and ending up at the Shore of Leith near the moored Royal Yacht Britannia and takes approximately 4.5 to 5 hours.
They offer hybrid and electric assisted bikes (handy for those hills or for the longer routes), or you can bring your own bike along.
If you want to do your own thing, they can provide self-guided bike tours. They hand you over a sat nav with a pre-programmed route, a mobile for emergencies and off you go.
And a tour where you don’t actually move
Edinburgh’s Camera Obscura
One of the most popular visitor attractions in Edinburgh, you head up into a dark Victorian rooftop chamber and see moving images of the city projected onto a huge white viewing table.
These come from a clever use of a mirror, three lenses and daylight, and has been wowing people since the Victorian era.
Giving you a unique birds eye view of the city, their expert guides will talk you through what you can see now, as well as give you a bit of history about Edinburgh’s past.
If you want to make the most out of your trip – don’t worry, we’ve got plenty of Edinburgh hotels to stay in – many within a stone’s throw of some of the city’s famous landmarks.
Looking for more Edinburgh inspiration?
If you want to know where you can see the ceiling that inspired the Royal Bank of Scotland’s five pound note or find out where 12 miniature pine coffins were discovered – then check out our 100 Things To Do In Edinburgh.
Maybe you want to escape the city for a day – if that’s the case our Edinburgh Day Trips suggestions should give you somewhere to start.
If you want to learn more about Edinburgh past and present – then the Beautiful Edinburgh Facebook page has plenty of stunning images, many sourced from locals as well as professional photographers, to browse through while you plan your trip.
And finally, have you taken one of the Edinburgh Tours? If so we would love to hear your favourites. Let us know by leaving a comment below.