7 Alternative Ways To See the Best of Edinburgh

See Edinburgh's sights from the top deck of a vintage double-decker bus
See Edinburgh's sights from the top deck of a vintage double-decker bus | © Doug Houghton SCO / Alamy Stock Photo

Edinburgh is known for its storied castle and eponymous Fringe festival, but the city’s past is full of the unusual and the unexpected. Dive in with one of these seven tours that take you from ghost-filled graveyards to centuries-old streets buried beneath the Royal Mile.

An unrivalled combination of medieval and Georgian architecture, Edinburgh packs a punch when it comes to history. Its streets are home to the myths and legends that inspired JK Rowling and the world-changing theories of scientists like Charles Darwin, all presided over by the monuments of Calton Hill and the imposing fortress of Edinburgh Castle. Experience everything that makes the Scottish capital so unique (including a sheep named Dolly and a sinister poltergeist) on a tour of the city’s alternative side.

ToursPrivate City Tour in a MINI
From $351 per person
4 hours
4.9 (31)

Edinburgh is a small city, so if you’re short on time you can easily hit the highlights in a day – a job best done from the seat of a classic MINI Cooper. These private tours are customisable, so you can head straight to whichever sights you most want to see, whether that’s Edinburgh Castle or the unmissable views from Arthur’s Seat. Let your guide lead you to local haunts that few tourists would find and make sure you leave time to explore the coastal neighbourhood of Leith – the home of Scotland’s oldest pub – before rounding off the day with a traditional Scottish meal.

ToursGhost Tour of Edinburgh by Vintage Bus
From $28 per person
1 hour
4.5 (44)

See a gruesome side of this picturesque city from the top deck of a vintage double-decker bus. As you wind your way along Edinburgh’s cobbled streets, your guide will introduce you to creepy characters like Half-Hangit Maggie and two cadaver-stealing gravediggers, while telling chilling tales of witch hunts in the 16th century. See a different side to famous landmarks like Edinburgh Castle and peek at Greyfriars Kirk as night falls – one of Britain’s most haunted spots. It’s said to be plagued by a violent poltergeist who stalks the gravestones after dark.

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ToursRunning Tour of Edinburgh
From $41 per person
1 hour 30 minutes
5 (5)

This jogging tour of the city zips between highlights like Holyrood Park and Edinburgh’s Old Town in roughly two hours; it’s perfect if you hate the idea of skipping the gym or want to maximise sightseeing time. Take in the elegant 18th-century architecture of the New Town and catch your breath at the top of Calton Hill, where your efforts will be rewarded with sweeping panoramas over the city. Reluctant runners, don’t be put off – the guides are energetic, but the leisurely pace of the tour means you don’t need to be in the midst of marathon training to keep up.

ToursHarry Potter Walking Tour
From $21 per person
2 hours
4.8 (4)

There’s hardly a better way for Potterheads to spend an afternoon than on a tour of the spots that inspired the best-selling book series in history. JK Rowling famously penned the seven Harry Potter books while living in Edinburgh and based some of their most iconic settings – like Diagon Alley and even Hogwarts itself – on real-life locations around the city. See Lord Voldemort’s burial place in Greyfriars Kirk and the hotels and cafés that were Rowling’s favourite writing spots. Plus, hear how the city’s history of magic helped her to dream up the details of the wizarding world.

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