I like to be a total tourist just as much as the next person, especially if it’s my first time in a city and I feel like it’s my Girl with the Passport duty to do all those super touristy things that no respectable local would be caught dead doing. But sometimes you gotta get off the beaten path and try some rather quirky attractions, like the assortment of mildly unusual things to do in Edinburgh that you’ll find in this post.
Which makes sense when you understand that I am a total weirdo, with a capital W.
That’s why I think I have this God awful knack for finding super random things to do and for getting into super awkward situations. Magically, I just seem to attract any crazy that is within a twelve-mile radius of me.
And while no one wants to be a super awkward human being like me, I have learned to harness my less than desirable “talents” to serve the greater good.
Hence this whole post about quirky Edinburgh points of interest.
Now, I know not all of these Edinburgh tourist attractions are SUPER original, but whatever. Sometimes you’ve gotta throw caution, not give a fig about what anyone thinks, and just do something because it’s fun.
Ya, feel me?
God, I hope so because otherwise, this whole blogging career thing isn’t gonna work out too well.
I’m not a local and not that original. So you may have heard of some of these fun things to do in Edinburgh before. But I did do a ton of research and found some things to see in Edinburgh that are at least a tidbit off the well-trodden tourist path through the Royal Mile.
That and everything on this list is Girl with the Passport approved and super fun, at least to an insanely ridiculous homo sapien like me.
So without further ado, let’s awkwardly fall into this list of slightly unique Edinburgh attractions.
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1. Maison de Moggy (one of the more unusual things to Edinburgh. Unless you’re a crazy cat lady in training like me)
Sometimes you gotta hop on the pop culture bandwagon and visit the very first cat cafe, Maison de Moggy, in all of Scotland.
Am I right?
Okay, I try to be slightly original and avoid doing anything overly trendy, like visiting a cat cafe, but I mean really.
Cats + coffee + cake = AWESOME on every possible level.
Okay, I’m actually more of a dog person but I feel like animals, in general, are therapeutic and make everything better.
So if endlessly trudging up the Royal Mile has got you feeling a bit exhausted then kick back, relax, and head to Maison and Moggy, where you can get some feline lovin’ and pet twelve of the cutest cats that you ever did see (pictures below for proof because that’s a pretty BOLD statement).
You’ll also need some mildly practical information if you want to make this visit as enjoyable as humanly possible.
First and foremost:
Make a reservation. This place is uber popular and ain’t nobody got time to schlep all the way here just to be turned away.
Don’t arrive early. There isn’t much of a waiting area and they are pretty strict when it comes to time slots so just show up at the exact time that your session begins.
Yeah, I got there way too early and had to awkwardly stand in the doorway while pretending to be absolutely fascinated by the people petting cats through the window.
Not my finest hour.
Also, just as an FYI, an hour-long session with the cats costs £8 because well, cat affection ain’t free no more. But it all goes towards the care of these fine felines so it’s worth it, at least to me.
2. Surgeon’s Hall Museum
Umm, who doesn’t want to see row upon row of lesion ridden kidneys and physically deformed appendages, all of which are just hanging out on shelves, preserved in transparent formaldehyde-filled jars?
Sounds like Hannibal Lector’s birthday party.
But legit, I’m not exaggerating. That’s exactly what you’ll see inside the Surgeon’s Hall Museum of Edinburgh. So if you get grossed out pretty easily, then do NOT visit this museum.
I mean, I don’t consider myself a super squeamish person but when I saw some of the disease-ridden, human ovaries on display here, I did feel a bit ill.
If you’re at all interested in either medical history or human anatomical anomalies then this is the place for you. And I don’t want to make it sound disgusting because I did learn a lot and have an amazing time at this museum.
Comprised of three adjoined museums (the Wohl Pathology Museum, the History of Surgery Museum and The Dental Collection):
This eclectic museum is home to the largest collection of surgical pathology in the entire world, including specimens from Sir Charles Bell (AKA the doctor that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle modeled Sherlock Holmes after).
Originally a teaching museum for medical students:
This facility is now open to the public and does a fantastic job of outlining Scottish surgical history as well as explaining the series of historic, surgical advances that culminated in the establishment of modern surgical practices.
There are a ton of fun and interactive exhibits that let you tie a surgical knot or practice manipulating things using a robotic arm.
The perfect fusion of history and the macabre for people who watch an unhealthy amount of Investigation Discovery, like me.
3. Dean Village
One of the absolute best Instagram spots in Edinburgh:
Dean Village is a delightful hidden treasure that is perfect for anyone who has a slight Instagram addiction. Located just outside the city center, this charm is nestled along the one and only Water of Leith walkway.
Dean Village was at the center of Edinburgh’s booming milling industry, Today, however, that industry is long gone and has been replaced with avid Instagrammers wielding monumental tripods in their neverending quest for that ever elusive, perfect shot of Dean’s Village.
Before you leave though, don’t just Instagram it up.
Instead, explore the area’s fascinating history by visiting Well Court, a 19th-century house that has been fully restored to its original appearance, Dean’s Cemetery, and St Bernards Well, used in the past to draw water from the local river.
4. Camera Obscura
Located at the top of the Royal Mile (and a literal hop, skip, and jump away from Edinburgh Castle):
Camera Obscura is one of those quirky, cool museums that I never knew I always needed in my life.
So what exactly is this place?
Well, it’s like a fun house, only better since it’s not just for kids. There also aren’t uber creepy clowns looming in the dark, just waiting to pounce on you, so that’s a bonus too.
You’ll find five floors of interactive exhibits and optical illusions where anything and everything possible.
Walk into a fun-filled labyrinth of mesmerizing colors and mind-boggling sights where you can grow to the size of a giant or watch your skeleton do the macarena right before your eyes.
And at the tippy top?
Yeah, you’ll get a wicked awesome, panoramic view of such iconic Edinburgh attractions as the University of Edinburgh and Edinburgh Castle. Just a super fun place for anyone who hates museums.
Camera Obscura is open super late, so it’s definitely one of the great things to do in Edinburgh at night.
5. Museum of Childhood
Besides the creepy room full of dolls that reminded me of Chucky:
The Museum of Childhood is a pretty neat walk through memory lane, with a ton of interactive exhibits that are perfect for families with smallish children.
Filled with an assortment of historic toys, games, and clothes:
This FREE museum along the Royal Mile does a great job of explaining the role of play in childhood development. This museum also defines childhood for guests and shows how this period in our lives has dramatically changed over time.
Far from just another toy museum:
This facility walks you through every facet of childhood and looks at everything from health to games to home decor.
Is it my favorite museum in Edinburgh?
No, but it’s a charming place to spend an hour or two, especially if you have kids and have no idea what to do with them (minus all the creepy dolls).
Okay, I’ll stop harping on the doll thing. They weren’t that bad.
6. The water of Leith Walkway
This pathway is way more than a place to stretch your legs. Filled with rich history and charming natural beauty, the water of Leith walkway is a fantastic place to escape the chaotic frenzy of Edinburgh (add this to your Edinburgh itinerary and you won’t be sorry) and really get back to nature.
And all without leaving the city!
Now sure, this pathway is insanely charming, but it’s ridiculously long. In total, this path is a 12-mile walk that begins in Balerno and that ends by the Leith Docks.
Yeah, no way was I walking the whole thing. Personally:
I enjoyed the short and sweet walk between Stockbridge and Dean Village. Not only were the views of the river exquisite, but I also got to take about a thousand pictures of a super snazzy, ancient well along the way (insert oohs and ahs here).
Be forewarned though:
It rains a lot in Edinburgh, duh, so this path is pretty muddy. Therefore, wear appropriate boots because nobody wants to be that chick (or dude) who busts their ass, falls into a mud puddle, and gets strange looks for the remainder of the day.
Been there, done that and it’s very anti-fun.
Also keep your eye out for some amazing wildlife since this area is a designated urban wildlife refuge where you can find an assortment of wildflowers, herons, kingfishers, and roe deer.
***You can also start at the Water of Leith Visitor Centre in Slateford and then head towards Leith. Along the way, you’ll pass Dean Village and a Thomas Telford bridge. From here, continue past St Bernard’s Well to Stockbridge or Canonmills where you can take the bus back to Princes Street.***
7. The Real Mary King’s Close
One of my absolute FAVORITE things to do in Edinburgh! Plus, it’s open late and a great place to hang out if you have no idea what to do once the sun sets in Edinburgh.
Who doesn’t want to explore a mildly creepy, but super cool, underground city that is filled with fantastic, interactive exhibits that introduce you to the darker side of Edinburgh’s amazing history?
I’m not the only one who loves this place, so reserve your tickets in advance, especially during the summer.
Named for Mary King, a female merchant of high status who resided along this close, or alley, this museum sits just beneath the Royal Mile and transports you back in time, when this labyrinth of passageways was still a bustling center of trade and commerce.
As your tour guide transforms into an Edinburgh resident from the 1600’s:
Prepare to be shocked, intrigued, and bewildered by the unique history of this intriguing place, like the weird birdman outfit on display that was actually worn to help ward off the plague.
You cannot take photos (my Instagram account is doomed). But that’s okay since the tour guides here are so fun that you’ll probably forget all about taking pictures for Instagram fame and glory.
***Dare to be different and try this Ghostly, Edinburgh Underground Vaults tour which is super creeptastic in all the right ways.***
8. Museum of Edinburgh
Not gonna lie:
When I first walked into this free museum along the Royal Mile, I did not expect much since I had just visited the amazing, National Museum of Scotland and seriously wondered what else I could possibly learn about this magical city.
Well, I am delighted to say that I was totally wrong because the Museum of Edinburgh is more than a great place to hide out from the rain.
This magical maze of interconnected 16th-century buildings offers visitors a detailed look at the history and development of the city of Edinburgh.
Between the National Covenant of 1638, a document that resulted in civil war, and the collar and bowl of Greyfriars Bobby, the legendary Skye terrier whose loyalty touched many, I promise that everyone will be able to find something fascinating here.
An extra perk?
Unlike many top things to do in Edinburgh, this museum is relatively quiet. Therefore, no need to put your college self-defense class into practical use, just so that you can see the infamous collar of Greyfriar’s Booby.
Yet another reason to visit some unique Edinburgh tourist attractions.
9. Dynamic Earth
I feel like the tagline for this museum should be, “this isn’t just a museum, it’s an experience”.
Because that’s exactly what it’s like to visit Dynamic Earth.
Instead of providing displays that teach you about the creation of our planet, this magical place uses a series of interactive exhibits to take you on an extraordinary journey through the galaxy..
Expect anything and everything from talking holograms to interactive movies, as this museum explores topics like Earth’s geology, the Big Bang Theory (no, not the TV show), volcanoes, glaciers, and more.
And while you do guide yourself through the museum:
Dynamic Earth also has you follow a specific sequence of events through the museum. So prepare to witness the Big Bang for yourself and feel the ground quake beneath you as a volcano explodes and spews molten lava right before your eyes.
This is a truly fun but super educational facility where the environmental processes that shape our planet come to life and enchant even the most unenthusiastic of museum-goers.
10. Dunbar’s Close Garden
This quaint little community garden is tucked away behind all the much fancier, top Edinburgh attractions that you’ll find along the Royal Mile.
But if you have a moment and want to get away from the crowds, then this is the place to be.
Located next to, you guessed it, Dunbar’s Close:
This tiny garden is free to the public and open to all. It offers visitors a quiet place to sit, amidst the well-manicured greenery, where you can enjoy Edinburgh’s historically charming architecture.
You can freely take a butt load of pictures since no one is here to judge you and your acute Instagram addiction.
If you can:
Wait for an all too rare, warm sunny day and enjoy a nice picnic here with take away from Mimi’s Bakehouse which is literally right down the street (the perfect place to stop if you’re backpacking Edinburgh).
Yeah, I have a severe Mimi’s Bakehouse addiction.
***If you really want to get back to nature, then consider taking a day trip into the Scottish Highlands and exploring Glencoe, Loch Ness, and Inverness. ***
11. Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art
I legit love this place, and I don’t even like modern art THAT much. But here, around every corner, there is a new and exciting artistic treasure just waiting to be discovered; a truly unique piece of art that you never even thought was possible.
Not only does the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art consist of two of entirely separate buildings (aptly named buildings one and two), but there are some truly unique exhibits here that give you a real insight into the development of the modern art movement in Scotland.
Explore the amazing, artistic treasures housed here and see distinct, Scottish interpretations of the Cubist, Expressionist, post-war and contemporary art movements.
Also, explore the museum grounds and enjoy the surrounding landscape architecture, which was designed by Charles Jencks and which is home to a fantastic sculpture park that exhibits some of Henry Moore’s iconic pieces.
And if all this epic art has you feeling a bit hungry:
Then stop by the cafe and garden terrace at Modern One or head over to the more formal Café at Modern Two which serves a lovely afternoon tea.
I never met an afternoon tea I didn’t like.
This one of the many awesome places to visit in Edinburgh is just a short walk from the water of Leith walkway, Dean Village, and Stockbridge. Therefore, you could easily see all four in one day.
12. Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh
I’ll admit it:
I’m not a huge plant person. I mean yeah, they’re pretty to look and smell nice but generally speaking, I find them about as dull as dishwater.
I can say with the utmost honesty that I truly enjoyed my visit to the Royal Botanic Garden of Edinburgh. Not only is this park enormous, and mostly free (you do have to pay to enter the glasshouses), but it’s a great way to escape the urban chaos of the surrounding city, at least for a solid five minutes.
And while I concur that this is not the most original idea on this list of places to visit in Edinburgh, this green space is still a fantastic escape from the crowds of Edinburgh Castle.
On the first sunny day you get:
Wander over to this relaxing and peaceful, 70-acre park, where you’ll feel a world away from the hustle and bustle of central Edinburgh (in reality this garden is only a 15-minute walk from the city center).
Embrace the tranquility of this place and get lost among the trees, shrubs, and rare plants that give this garden its botanical charm.
If you do get caught in a passing shower:
Seek refuge in the Victorian Palm House or in the pinecone and seashell ensconced, stone pavilion in the Queen Mother’s Memorial Garden; both of which are absolutely worth a visit.
Not content with just watching the grass grow?
If you’re looking for something a little more exciting then head over to the John Hope Gateway and exhibitions in 18th-century Inverleith House for a guided tour of the gardens.
Just bring your camera because this place is ridiculously photogenic.
Who knew that this quiet little gem of a neighbor was just a 10-minute walk away from the hustle and bustle of Princes Street?
A world away from the hordes of tourists that invade New Town is a neighborhood where clicking cameras and selfie sticks are replaced by pretty streets and enchanting squares, making Stockbridge a true wonder to behold.
Stockbridge is home to an insanely awesome cheese shop that I seriously considered never leaving.
But it’s not just the cheese that makes this neighborhood great
Nope. There are a ton of fun and unique shops, galleries, cafés, bars, and restaurants that are just waiting to be explored.
You can even take a walk through Inverleith Park (you’ll know you’re in the right place when you see the west gate of the Royal Botanic Gardens across the street) or stroll along the Water of Leith Walkway or eat/shop your way through the area’s amazing Sunday market.
Sigh, per usual, so much to do and so little time in Edinburgh.