Autumn is a truly special time in Edinburgh. It sets in quietly, just as the summer crowds start to fizzle out and brown-tipped leaves dance in the cool breeze. It’s that brief period of calmness between the chaos of the Edinburgh Fringe and the equally chaotic (but more magical) Edinburgh Christmas.
If you hate crowds and love all things spooky, autumn is a great time to visit Edinburgh. You can explore the city without having to weave your way through throngs of tourists or waste time queuing at main attractions. And if you’re a big fan of Halloween, you’re in for a treat. Edinburgh is home to one of the best Halloween celebrations in the world.
From exploring the city’s dark side to indulging in hearty food and good coffee, here are some of the best things to do in Edinburgh in autumn.
Recommended hotel in Edinburgh
If you’re looking for a central hotel in Edinburgh, I highly recommend staying at ibis Edinburgh Centre on South Bridge (just around the corner from the Royal Mile).
My husband I have stayed here a couple of times and we loved it. The rooms are very clean and modern – and the beds are super comfy!
The ibis also has eco-friendly bathrooms and free Wifi.
1. Celebrate Halloween the pagan way
The modern celebration of Halloween has its roots in the Celtic sabbath of Samhuinn (or Samhain). Every year, the Beltane Fire Society pays tribute to this ancient celebration with a fiery festival in the heart of Edinburgh.
The Samhuinn Fire Festival takes place on Calton Hill and is characterised by fire, dancing and drumming. This event is very popular so try to get tickets in advance.
2. Venture into the city’s underground vaults
It is believed that Edinburgh’s underground vaults, which are the site of several murders and tragedies, are one of the most haunted places in the country. These vaults are located under the old tenement buildings in the historic centre and some of them remain accessible.
If you’re brave enough to delve into Edinburgh’s dark past, I highly recommend going on an evening tour of the underground vaults – I’ve been on three different tours and they all spooked me out!
3. Go on a coffee crawl
Cold and dreary weather is the perfect excuse to indulge in coffee. One of the best things to do in Edinburgh on a cold, rainy day is to go on a coffee crawl.
There are many cosy coffee shops in Edinburgh where you can sip your favourite brew. Some of my favourite places include Kilimanjaro Coffee and Black Medicine Coffee on Nicolson Street, Wellington Coffee (George Street), Cairngorm Coffee (Frederick Street) and Lovecrumbs at West Port (they make amazing cakes here too).
4. Listen to Scottish folk tales
If you have a keen interest in folk tales, make sure not to miss the Scottish International Storytelling Festival which takes place in October. Storytelling is at the heart of Scottish culture and the country has a rich collection of folk tales and ballads. During the festival, several talented storytellers bring these stories to life with engaging performances.
This festival also celebrates folk tales from other cultures, bringing together local and foreign storytellers and musicians.
5. Take photos of the beautiful autumn foliage
Looking for the best places to take autumn-y photos in Edinburgh? Thankfully, Edinburgh is dotted with beautiful parks where you can enjoy a nice walk and take pretty photos of the autumn foliage.
Go for a stroll through Bruntsfield Links and the Meadows, or visit the beautiful Royal Botanic Garden, where you can spend at least two hours exploring this slice of paradise in the heart of the city.
6. Watch a film… in Spanish
Don’t let bad weather ruin your time in Edinburgh. There are plenty of indoor attractions and events to keep you occupied. Another interesting event that takes place in autumn is the Edinburgh Spanish Film Festival, which showcases a variety of Hispanic film productions.
Don’t worry if your Spanish is a bit rusty – many of the films have subtitles.
7. Cycle along the Water of Leith
If you want to get off the beaten path, rent a bike in Edinburgh and cycle along the beautiful Water of Leith. This small river runs along some of the most scenic neighbourhoods in Edinburgh, including Stockbridge and Leith.
The walkway is shared by both walkers and cyclists, so be careful when approaching bends along the path.
Recommendation: Baja Bikes offer amazing bike tours in Edinburgh, where you get to see the city’s landmarks as well as some hidden gems. They also offer bike rental services.
8. Get a taste of Bavarian culture (and beer!)
Love beer? The Edinburgh Oktoberfest is a celebration of all things Bavarian, including beer. The event is held in a tent next to West Princes Street Gardens and you can pair your drinks with delicious Bavarian food, including bratwurst and schnitzel, while listening to live German music.
9. Beat the cold with Scottish comfort food
Want to get a real taste of Scotland?
I highly recommend booking a Secret Food Tour of Edinburgh. I took this tour on a cold autumn day and simply loved it. We sampled a variety of Scottish dishes and desserts during the tour, and I also learnt some fascinating things about Edinburgh.
The Secret Food Tours are led by locals and take place in the Old Town.
10. Step into a world of horror
The Old Town is packed with ghost stories, creepy alleys and haunted places. Things get a bit spookier during Halloween, thanks to the Edinburgh Horror Festival. This festival is a mix of events, including stand up comedy, magic shows, storytelling and movie nights.
Many of these events are held in the Banshee Labyrinth, an underground vault bar with Goth-themed decor (and which is believed to be haunted).
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