Edinburgh is a hive of activity in summer. There’s so much going on – street performances, fireworks, festivals, concerts… and the occasional heavy rainfall.
While many people head to Edinburgh in summer for the Fringe, the festival commotion can take its toll on you after a couple of days in the city. Thankfully, you can easily escape the crowds without the leaving city.
In this guide, I share my favourite things to do in Edinburgh in summer, from visiting popular summer attractions to soaking up the sun in beautiful, quiet spots.
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. Leap into the crazy world of the Fringe Festival
Edinburgh’s world-famous Fringe Festival is known for its spontaneity. Held at different venues across the city, the festival is made up of hundreds of shows, including concerts, artistic performances and stand-up comedy.
If you want to enjoy the Fringe without spending a lot of money (many shows cost between £10-£20), there are plenty of free shows you can attend. Moreover, there are street performances taking place on the Royal Mile all day long.
If you’re in Edinburgh during the Fringe opening weekend, you might get some free tickets to some of the shows – many performances get reviews by critics and journalists on the first weekend, so a lot of performers give away free tickets to their first show to fill up the venue. Head to George Square and Bristo Place (University of Edinburgh campus) for a chance to snag free tickets.
Tip: The streets of Edinburgh are packed in August, so I highly recommend carrying an anti-theft bag and wearing comfortable footwear.
2. Attend the Edinburgh Military Tattoo
The Edinburgh Military Tattoo brings together military bands and dance schools from different countries. Each performance features bagpipe tunes with its a cultural twist. The show takes place on the castle esplanade, where colourful lighting and animation is projected on the castle facade.
The show normally ends with a firework display (weather permitting). Try to buy tickets as soon as they are made available as the show tends to sell out fast.
Tip: Make sure you take a waterproof jacket to the show. While it may be nice and warm during the day, the weather might change during the show (Scottish weather is very unpredictable!)
3. Go for a swim at Portobello beach
Yes, it’s possible to go for a swim in Edinburgh. Portobello is a quaint seaside neighbourhood, with a row of beautiful houses overlooking a long stretch of sandy beach. On a nice summer day, you can enjoy a pleasant stroll along the promenade, or go for a dip in the sea.
Portobello is just a short bus ride from Edinburgh city centre (around 20-30 minutes). Alternatively, you can head to Musselburgh (another pretty seaside town) and walk along the coast to Portobello beach.
4. Have a picnic in The Meadows
The Meadows is a popular hangout spot among locals – this beautiful park is an ideal place for a picnic or BBQ. On a warm day, you can also find several sunbathers.
If you’re in Edinburgh during the festival season, you can grab some food from the stalls in George Square (just around the corner) and enjoy your lunch in The Meadows.
If you’re looking for a quieter picnic spot, cross the road and walk up the hill to Bruntsfield Links.
5. Cycle along the Union Canal
Enjoy cycling? The path running along the Union Canal is ideal for those who want to explore the non-touristy side of Edinburgh by bike. The canal cuts through some beautiful Edinburgh neighbourhood, including Polwarth. You can stop for a wee break in Harrison Park, or grab a bite to eat from one of the indie cafes in Fountainbridge.
If you’re not an avid cyclist, you can go for a nice evening walk along the canal and take photos of the colourful barges.
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.
6. Enjoy an ice-cream in South Queensferry
If you feel the need to get away from the craziness of the Fringe, take a trip to South Queensferry. This gorgeous town overlooks an estuary and is home to the Forth Bridge – a 19th century structure and UNESCO World Heritage Site that is regarded as an engineering marvel.
The town centre has several pastel-coloured houses, a few good restaurants (try the fish & chips!) and ice-cream parlours serving a variety of flavours.
Check out this guide to visiting South Queensferry on a day trip from Edinburgh.
7. Soak up some sun in Princes Street Gardens
Princes Street Gardens is a popular sunbathing spot in summer. On a warm day, the green slopes are dotted with sunbathers, picnic goers, and greedy seagulls.
If you just want to spend the afternoon chilling under the summer sun, plant yourself in a nice wee spot in the gardens. There’s a nice kiosk and cafe in West Princes Street Gardens that sells delicious ice-cream and slush puppie. You also get a nice view of Ross Fountain and the castle from this spot.
8. Dine out in Leith
This non-touristy Edinburgh neighbourhood has a thriving food scene. On a nice summer evening, you can dine al fresco at one of the restaurants or pubs along the Leith waterfront (known as The Shore).
Another great dining spot in Leith is Commercial Quay, a modern office and retail estate. This area is home to a mix of quirky cafes, bars and restaurants with outdoor seating.
9. Go kayaking or canoeing
Want to get away from the hectic city centre? Go on a kayak or canoe trip!
You can hire a canoe or kayak and travel along the Union Canal, which takes you all the way to Glasgow. The Union Canal starts from Fountainbridge in Edinburgh, and passes through some of the most picturesque neighbourhoods in the city.
10. Spend an afternoon at the botanic garden
The Royal Botanic Garden is one of my favourite spots in Edinburgh, especially during spring and summer. This place is a like a labyrinth made up of different landscapes, from the Rock Garden to the Woodland Garden and Chinese Hillside.
The botanic garden is also home to ten glasshouses, each housing exotic plants from different climatic zones, including arid deserts and tropical rainforests.
This is a great place to visit on a warm summer day. Entrance to the garden is free, but you will need to buy a ticket for the glasshouses. There are various nice spots where you can sit down with a book and soak up some vitamin D.
You can also enjoy some nice lunch from the Terrace Cafe, which is situated on a wee hill with stunning views of Edinburgh.
Looking for more awesome things to do in Edinburgh? Here are my top picks.
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