Welcome to Edinburgh, a city that teems with culture and creativity, and with history around every corner you never know what you might discover when visiting Scotland’s delightful capital. 

From exploring the cobbled streets of the Old Town, to strolling along the elegant avenues of the New Town, you’ll feel as though you’ve stepped into a living tapestry of art, history, and imagination when visiting Edinburgh for the first time.

The city’s rich artistic and cultural heritage is cherished by locals and visitors alike. With a wealth of museums, art galleries and historic monument to explore, Edinburgh offers so much to those who are eager to learn more about Scotland’s culture and heritage. 

In this guide to Edinburgh culture, we’ll walk you through some of the top museums and art galleries in the city, all of which are well worth a visit! We’ll also share helpful information on Edinburgh’s most iconic landmarks and, of course, we’ll delve into the rich festival season that Edinburgh is so renowned for. 

We’ll then finish off by giving some practical tips and inside advice on how to get the most of your trip to Edinburgh, before giving our top recommendation on where to stay when visiting Scotland’s historic capital city. Let’s get into it!

Museums and galleries in Edinburgh

Edinburgh is a city where the past and the present come together in a beautiful medley of art and history. 

Home to some of the most notable museums and galleries in Scotland, Edinburgh’s cultural scene promises a riveting journey through time and an in-depth exploration of diverse art forms that is sure to stick with you long after you’ve departed the city. 

Let’s take a look at some of the must-see museums and galleries in Edinburgh:

The National Museum of Scotland

Located in the heart of Edinburgh, just a few minutes’ walk from the top of the Royal Mile, you’ll find the National Museum of Scotland. 

The beautifully designed building is a treasure trove of world history and culture. Housing a vast collection that spans over thousands of years, this is a place where you can explore everything from ancient Egyptian artefacts to cutting-edge technology innovations.

The museum’s architecture is a sight to behold in itself, with its Victorian grandeur seamlessly merging with modern design elements. Highlights include the Grand Gallery, with its soaring glass roof and intricate ironwork, and the Kingdom of the Scots exhibit, which takes you on a journey through Scotland’s captivating history.

The National Museum of Scotland also prides itself on hosting an array of temporary exhibitions that spotlight both historical and contemporary themes. Be sure to check their calendar for the latest exhibits during your visit to see what’s on!

national museum of scotland

Scottish National Gallery

Nestled at the foot of the beautiful Princes Street Gardens, just off Princes Street, you’ll discover the impressive building the houses the Scottish National Gallery; a beacon for art lovers worldwide. 

The neoclassical building houses an exceptional collection of fine art that spans several centuries, featuring masterpieces by renowned artists like Rembrandt, Botticelli, Van Gogh, and Vermeer.

Particular emphasis is given to Scottish artists, with significant works by Sir Henry Raeburn, Allan Ramsay, and the renowned Glasgow Boys all found within. The gallery’s captivating displays provide an enlightening insight into the evolution of art, making it a must-visit for any art enthusiast in Edinburgh. Check out their site to find out what’s on at the gallery during your stay!

Museum of Edinburgh

Housed in a series of 16th and 17th-century buildings on the Royal Mile, the Museum of Edinburgh offers a fascinating look into the city’s past. Its rooms are filled with artefacts and curiosities that tell the tale of Edinburgh’s history, from its earliest days right up to the present day. If you’re keen to learn more about the city of Edinburgh and uncover its past, this museum is a must-see for you!

Notable exhibits include a copy of the National Covenant of 1638, beautiful glassware from the Leith glassworks, and the collar and bowl of Greyfriars Bobby, the city’s most famous canine! The museum frequently hosts compelling exhibitions related to the city’s history and culture, so be sure to explore what’s on during your visit.

Museum of Edinburgh logo

Theatrical delights in Edinburgh

Edinburgh’s theatrical scene is (arguably) as diverse and dynamic as its history.

You’ll find a wide range of theatres within Edinburgh, offering everything from classic plays to experimental performances. The city’s theatres are not just venues, but cultural landmarks in their own right, each with a unique story to tell.

Let’s uncover some of the most well-known and established theatres in Edinburgh:

Royal Lyceum Theatre

Located just off Lothian Road, the Royal Lyceum Theatre is a cherished institution with a rich history dating back to 1883. This Victorian-era theatre, with its grand arch and opulent interior, has played host to a myriad of unforgettable performances.

The Royal Lyceum holds an esteemed position in Scotland’s theatre community and is known for its high-quality productions of both classic and contemporary plays. It has been the stage for many premieres, including adaptations of literary works by famous Scottish authors such as Robert Louis Stevenson and Sir Walter Scott. You will also discover a wide range of famous plays, new productions, musicals, and more.

Make sure to check the Royal Lyceum programme for current and upcoming shows during your visit.

Festival Theatre

The Festival Theatre is a stunning example of Edinburgh’s ability to blend the old with the new. This theatre, with its historic 1928 facade and state-of-the-art interior, is one of the city’s main venues for touring West End shows, dance performances, and opera.

In addition, the theatre holds a key role in the Edinburgh International Festival, hosting a plethora of performances across different genres. 

Whether you’re interested in the grace of ballet, the passion of opera, or the drama of a musical, the Festival Theatre’s diverse programme is sure to have something that will captivate you! A great night out to consider during your stay in Edinburgh. 

Traverse Theatre

The Traverse Theatre, fondly known as ‘The Trav’, is a powerhouse of contemporary drama in Scotland. As the country’s foremost new writing theatre, the Traverse is renowned for its innovative productions and its commitment to nurturing emerging talent.

Since its establishment in 1963, the Traverse has introduced a multitude of groundbreaking plays that have gone on to earn international acclaim. It’s also a key player in the world-famous Edinburgh Festival Fringe, where it showcases a variety of performances ranging from thought-provoking dramas to innovative one-person shows. 

Definitely worth checking out for theatre lovers visiting Edinburgh!

Cultural landmarks in Edinburgh

Edinburgh is a city shaped by its history, with cultural landmarks that tell tales of kings, queens, artists, and poets. Each landmark is a piece of the city’s cultural jigsaw, providing an insight into Edinburgh’s rich heritage and vibrant arts scene.

There’s a wealth of landmarks and culturally important areas to choose from, so to help you out we’ve listed a few of our favourites below.

Edinburgh Castle

Where else to start than Edinburgh Castle? 

Dominating the city’s skyline from its perch atop Castle Rock, Edinburgh Castle is more than just a historic fortress; it’s an emblem of the city and an iconic landmark that is synonymous with Edinburgh. 

Steeped in history, Edinburgh Castle has been a royal residence, a treasury, and a prison, and has witnessed many of the defining events in Scotland’s history. Today it is a popular tourist attraction and a fantastic day out for all the family. 

Within its ancient walls, you’ll find the National War Museum and the Scottish Crown Jewels, among other treasures. The castle also hosts the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, an annual spectacle of music and entertainment that is a must-see for any visitor.

Plan your visit ahead of time by purchasing entry tickets, tours or activities via the Edinburgh Castle website!

Edinburgh Castle

The Royal Mile

Stretching from the doors of Edinburgh Castle down to Holyrood Palace, the Royal Mile is the historic heart of the city that should not (and cannot) be missed! 

The beautiful, cobbled street that runs a mile in length is the perfect place for a stroll within the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town. Teeming with shops, restaurants, pubs, and historic sites, The Royal Mile is a vibrant and bustling part of the city that is ideal if you’re after traditional Scottish souvenirs. 

Along the Royal Mile, you’ll notice numerous closes and courtyards spanning off from the main street. Be sure to explore these as they are truly fascinating and each close (which is essentially a small alleyway) has its own story to tell. 

By wandering through the side streets and closes, you will get a true feeling for Edinburgh’s historic past, and you might even discover some hidden gems in doing so!

the royal mile in Edinburgh

Holyrood Palace

At the end of the Royal Mile lies the Palace of Holyrood, the Queen’s official residence in Scotland. This elegant palace is steeped in royal history, having been the home of many Scottish monarchs, including Mary, Queen of Scots. And better yet, you can book tickets to explore the Palace yourself!

As you explore its wander through its rooms, you’ll encounter a splendid collection of tapestries and paintings, including works by Hans Holbein and Antonio Canova. The palace’s annual summer exhibition often showcases items from the Royal Collection, providing an additional artistic treat for visitors.

It is truly a wonderful building to explore and if you’re after a taste of traditional British Monarchy, this is the place for you!

Holyrood Palace Edinburgh

Edinburgh’s Festivals and Events

Edinburgh’s vibrant arts scene truly comes alive during its festival season, which hits its peak in the month of August. 

Edinburgh’s world-famous festivals attract artists, performers, and spectators from around the globe, transforming the city into an international stage for artistic expression. 

For a full run down on the best Edinburgh events, check out our guide on the top 8 Edinburgh events that should not be missed!

For now, let’s find out which Edinburgh festivals you should be keeping an eye out for:

Edinburgh International Festival

Held annually in August, the Edinburgh International Festival is a world-renowned event that showcases the best in performing arts. Over three weeks, the city hosts a fantastic array of performances, including theatre, dance, opera, and music, featuring artists from all corners of the globe.

From grand symphonies in the Usher Hall to cutting-edge theatre at the Royal Lyceum, the festival offers experiences that cater to all artistic tastes. 

The festival’s significance to the city’s cultural landscape cannot be overstated, as it not only showcases the best in international talent but also highlights Edinburgh’s role as a global cultural capital. 

Edinburgh Festival Fringe

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe, or simply ‘The Fringe’, is the world’s largest arts festival and a major highlight in the global cultural calendar. Each August, Edinburgh becomes a stage for thousands of performers, with shows in every conceivable genre and for every taste. 

The Fringe is known for its variety and vibrancy, with performances ranging from comedy and theatre to dance and spoken word. 

Its open-access nature allows anyone with a creative vision to participate, leading to an array of performances that are as diverse as they are innovative. This festival has launched the careers of many famous artists and continues to have a significant influence on the global arts scene. 

Plus, many of the shows are completely free! Who can argue with that?

If you’re keen to visit Edinburgh for either the International or Fringe festival, we strongly advise booking your accommodation months in advance. By leaving it late you’ll notice a huge surge in price and will find most of the best hotels and BnB’s booked. 

Black Ivy is a great place to stay during festival season as it’s located just outside the city centre; far enough away from the action to rest and unwind, whilst still within walking distance to the Royal Mile and Prices St Gardens, where most of the activities take place! 

Find out more about Black Ivy’s available room options to guarantee your festival accommodation!

Edinburgh Festival Fringe 

Insider tips for exploring Edinburgh’s art and culture

As we can see, Edinburgh’s vibrant arts scene offers fantastic experiences for locals and tourists alike. From grand museums and historic landmarks to buzzing festivals and intimate galleries, there really is something for everyone when it comes to exploring Edinburgh’s culture. 

To further help you make the most of your cultural exploration, here are some insider tips and recommendations from an established Edinburgh institution: 

  • Visit Edinburgh’s museums and galleries in the morning or late afternoon, when they tend to be less crowded. 
  • If you’re planning to do any tours or visit any paid museums or galleries during the busy summer festival season, it’s advisable to book your tickets in advance to avoid disappointment.
  • Consider exploring local galleries such as the Fruitmarket Gallery in the Old Town or the Collective Gallery on Calton Hill for an “off-the-beaten track” experience 
  • Edinburgh is a city best explored on foot, and there are numerous walking tours and cultural itineraries that can enhance your experience. Consider a guided tour of the Royal Mile to delve into the city’s history and brush up on your Scottish knowledge.

Lastly, don’t forget to include Black Ivy in your cultural journey!

Our boutique Edinburgh hotel, located in the charming neighbourhood of Bruntsfield, is not only a place to unwind after a day of exploration, but also a fun and lively hub of creativity and style. 

Start your day with a hearty breakfast in our restaurant and end it with a mouthwatering cocktail at our fun and lively bar, perhaps engaging in conversations with fellow travellers or friendly Edinburgh locals.

And remember, our knowledgeable staff are always on hand to provide recommendations and insider tips to help you discover Edinburgh’s cultural gems! 

So, whether you’re a fellow Scot looking to find out more about your capital city, or a curious traveller eager to uncover the rich history of Edinburgh, we invite you to book your stay at the Black Ivy Hotel

With affordable rooms, friendly staff, a prime location and an incredible selection of food and drink, there really is nowhere better to stay when planning a trip to Edinburgh!

Get in touch with our team today to book your stay at Black Ivy and experience all the cultural delights Edinburgh has to offer.