In terms of size and proximity of all the major attractions, Edinburgh is probably one of the most walkable cities in the world, so it makes sense that there are several excellent walking tours of the city available. History buffs, culture vultures, and ghost hunters all have something to look forward to when it comes to Edinburgh walking tours, and, most importantly, these are all available throughout the year, regardless of what the often–moody Edinburgh weather is like.
Whilst some of these Edinburgh tours cost money to attend, many are free and only require a bit of preplanning to get onto; some can even be joined on the day, if you’re lucky. So, put on your walking shoes: this is our guide to the best way to learn about Edinburgh on foot.
Edinburgh Free Tour
An absolute classic and as close to an institution as a tour can be, this free Edinburgh walking tour has been going for years and covers all the main attractions in the city centre. Running daily from 11am, it lasts for two hours and is run solely in English. You do have to book in advance online, but aside from that it’s as easy as turning up for this Edinburgh city tour.
The tour starts on the Royal Mile, just outside of a whisky bar named The Royal McGregor. Sadly, you won’t be in for a tipple just yet, but there is plenty to look forward to. Aside from the main attractions of the castle, the Stone of Destiny (or Stone of Scone), and the Royal Mile, you’ll get to see St Giles’ Cathedral, Mercat Cross, and the infamous Greyfriars Kirkyard, home to Tom Riddle’s grave and Greyfriars Bobby, the grave of a particularly devout dog who stayed by his owner’s tomb for 14 years after the owner (John Gray) had died.
From there you’ll get to see the beautiful Grassmarket, the alleged café birthplace of the Harry Potter books, and the supposed inspiration for Hogwarts, George Heriot’s School. All these attractions alone could fill a two-hour slot, but there is still plenty more to see on this Edinburgh walking tour, and the fact that it’s free makes it even more astounding.
If you are keen on exploring any of these sites further, then the group who run this tour also do free specialist tours, such as a Harry Potter Edinburgh tour and a Ghost tour.
Sandemans Free Tour
This two and a half hour free Edinburgh walking tour is one of the best in the city, taking you through the most popular attractions in the Scottish capital and giving you a bit of knowledge to boot. The anecdotes and stories your expert guide provides you with will last a lifetime in the memory, and give you plenty of cocktail party fodder too. The tour mentions many of the famous (or infamous) Edinburgh residents, factual and fictional, and gives you a brief overview of some of the more colourful parts of the history of this ancient city.
The tour begins on High Street, where you walk up the Royal Mile past St Giles’ Cathedral, and get a glimpse of the famous Stone of Destiny that’s intrinsically linked to Scottish hero William Wallace. From there, you’ll stroll down Grassmarket and learn about the ancient street, which was once home to public executions. After that, you’ll head up to New Town and get a glimpse of some other great sites, like the Scott Monument, before ending at the National Museum of Scotland.
One of the most established Harry Potter Edinburgh tours in the city, this free exploration of all things HP usually lasts between 75 and 90 minutes, depending on how quickly people walk and how busy the city is. Starting just outside the famous Greyfriars Kirkyard at 2pm every day during the winter, and 12pm/4pm every day from April to August, the Potter Trail first takes you to look at the graves of Tom Riddle and a certain Professor McGonagall. From there you’ll see the café in which J.K Rowling planned out most of The Philosopher’s Stone, and be able to take a stroll down the inspiration for Diagon Alley.
Proper Potterheads will also be intrigued by the general trivia the tour guides are bursting with, and will get the chance to be sorted into a Hogwarts house during the tour. Even those who aren’t overly keen on the series will be sure to have a fun time, as the city itself is gorgeous and you will be walking past numerous non-Potter attractions. This Harry Potter Edinburgh tour is mostly accessible to those with different needs, although given the nature of Edinburgh’s cobbled streets it can be a little hard. Children are welcome on the tour too, although some of the stops can be a bit creepy, so make sure your little one(s) are prepared! The general rule is if they’re old enough for the books, they’re old enough for the tour.
The Double Dead Tour
If you’re looking for a comprehensive ghost tour of Edinburgh that will creep out even the most committed lovers of the paranormal, then this Edinburgh city tour that covers the most haunted places in the Scottish capital is a must visit. The focus of this ghost walk is the South Bridge Vaults and the Covenanter’s Prison in Greyfriars Graveyard, home to the Mackenzie Poltergeist. The tour runs at 8pm and 10pm during the summer, and 7.30pm during winter weekdays, with an additional 9pm tour on weekends, and lasts approximately 100 minutes. Children under 12 are not permitted, and the tour isn’t suitable for those with heart conditions or pregnant women.
The tour itself is partly designed by best-selling author J A Henderson, and you can tell that a professional had a hand in weaving the stories the guides regale you with. City of the Dead also have sole access to the Covenanter’s Prison and Black Mausoleum. There are some genuinely terrifying points in this Edinburgh walking tour, and they make a point of telling you that it may cause physical or mental distress, so it’s certainly not for the faint of heart. The tour cost GBP 17 for adults, and GBP 13 for those aged twelve to eighteen. Under twelve’s are not permitted.
Edinburgh Underground Tour: An Evening of Ghosts and Ghouls
This spooky ghost walk in Edinburgh takes you through some of the darker history of the Scottish capital, before ending with a dram of scotch and an evening of raconteurs doing their best to regale you with terrifying tales. You start of heading through the shadowy closes and wynds of the city, before making your way down to Blair Street Underground Vaults. After that is when you’ll head to the cellar for a much-needed stiff drink.
The tour puts you in the place of a member of the ‘Edinburgh Mob’, a group of rioters who have a sordid history in the Mercat Cross area. Your guide will add to the chilling nature of the tour with tales of torture and unhappy spirits, all of which are true. The tour itself lasts around two hours, and starts at Mercat Cross on High Street, ending at Megger’s Cellar on Blair Street. Costs vary depending on how early or late you book.
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