When planning your trip to Scotland, make sure to include some attractions in Edinburgh for a rainy day. If there’s one certainty, it’s that it will almost always rain in Edinburgh. While most of my favorite spots in the city are outdoors, there are plenty of indoor attractions you can enjoy as well.
National Museum of Scotland
This is easily my favorite attraction in Edinburgh for a rainy day. To be honest, if you go to the museum, you don’t need any other attractions as you can spend days there. The museum has two parts. One side of the museum has the usual exhibits – biology, science, technology, fashion, etc, but with fantastic, modern, interactive displays. The other side of the museum is entirely dedicated to Scotland. Each floor covers a different period of Scottish history, right up to modern times. I’ve spent hundreds of hours there over dozens of trips, and I still don’t think I’ve seen everything. The museum is open almost every day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and, best of all, as with most museums in the UK, it’s free!
The Scottish National Galleries span four buildings around the New Town. There’s quite a bit to see, and they’re all free. To keep you dry, there’s a shuttle van to take you between the main National Gallery and the National Gallery of Modern Art.
Scottish National Gallery
The Scottish National Gallery sits on what’s called The Mound – literally a huge mound of dirt excavated from where they built the train station – which bridges the Old Town to the New Town across a small valley. The beautiful, neoclassical building houses hundreds of works of art from the past seven centuries – mostly paintings but some sculptures too. The gallery is connected underground to the Royal Scottish Academy which holds many more works of art; it’s hard for me to personally see how the two collections are separate.
Scottish National Portrait Gallery
The Portrait Gallery is located on the east side of the Old Town, just across the street from the Central Bus Station. This gallery contains about 3,000 paintings and sculptures, 25,000 prints and drawings, and 38,000 photographs – including two portraits of Mary Queen of Scots, both of which were painted posthumously. I’ll admit – this is the gallery I’ve spent the least amount of time in, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t bad.
Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art
The modern art gallery spans two buildings near Dean Village (one of my favorite parts of Edinburgh). Both buildings host several rotating exhibits, so rarely will two visits be the same. Perhaps modern art isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I’ve found some really interesting pieces each time I visit.
This is one of my favorite activities in Edinburgh and the perfect attraction for a rainy day. Honestly, what’s better than playing with eight adorable chihuahuas? The sessions are 50 minutes long for £10 ($13). You can add tea and cake onto your package for another £5 ($6.50). There are also birthday packages when one of the puppies has a birthday. The cafe is located in the New Town, and you have to book in advance if you want to visit.
Maison de Moggy
If you prefer cats over dogs, then Maison de Moggy is the place for you. Located next to the Grassmarket, this cafe has a dozen cats you can pet and play with…as long as they’re not sleeping – which they do a lot. One of the cats is a super-fluffy Persian, and another is the complete opposite – a hairless sphinx! Tickets are £10 ($13) for an hour, and the tea and cakes menu is a-la-carte.
This is the best place to visit in Edinburgh with kids, although I enjoy it just as much as any child (says the child in me). Camera Obscura is a house of illusions, and it’s just awesome. This several-story building next to the Edinburgh Castle has things like a mirror maze, dozens of optical illusions, and a rotating light tunnel which is guaranteed to give you vertigo. On the roof is the namesake – a camera obscura or shadow camera that actually works to see around Edinburgh during the day. Tickets are £16.50 ($21.50), making it one of the most expensive attractions in Edinburgh, but it’s a load of fun and you can spend hours there.
The Real Mary King’s Close
If I were to recommend only one attraction in Edinburgh, Mary King’s Close would be it. This is one of the best history tours, cultural tours, and even a bit of a ghost tour. In a nutshell, several of the old streets of Edinburgh were “covered” when they built the City Chambers above them, and now you can explore the original street and dwellings from the time of the plague. The tour lasts an hour and costs £17.95 (save £1 if you book in advance).
Escape rooms aren’t exclusive to Edinburgh, as are most of the other attractions on this list. But they’re always great fun, and perfect for a rainy day. Edinburgh has several escape rooms, two of which I’ve done and can highly recommend.
Escape Edinburgh has eight rooms spread over three locations in Edinburgh. The rooms have different levels of difficulty, including two very hard ones which both have below 40% success rate. I played Houdini’s Workshop at the New Town location just behind the Georgian House. That room was one of the easiest, which was good as the two friends I brought had never done an escape room before. The rooms are £12.50 to £24 ($16.30-$31.30) per person, depending on the day of the week and how many people play (more people = cheaper per person).
Locked in Edinburgh
Once voted the Best Escape Room in the UK, Locked in Edinburgh is built into an old gin distillery in Summerhall – a hip community center with several other attractions for a rainy day. I went with a team of three other players (all newbies) and escaped from the Old Gin Distillery room with a time of 46:21. If you’re traveling with a large group, Locked in Edinburgh has one room which is big enough for 10 players. Rooms here are a flat rate of £20 ($26) per person.
I’m not recommending Edinburgh Castle for a rainy day as much of the castle is outdoors. On the contrary, most of Holyrood Palace is indoors so it makes the list. This 16-century palace has been the Scottish residence of Queen Elizabeth II, as well as several monarchs before her, including Mary Queen of Scots. The audio guide of the palace lasts about an hour and costs £16.50 ($21.50). If you haven’t been to a palace before, I’d recommend this one. Personally, after seeing dozens around the world, they start to look the same.
The Royal Yacht Britannia
There are a handful of really great ship museums around the world that I’ve been to – the Vasa in Sweden, the Cutty Sark, and the SS Great Britain. In Edinburgh, it’s the Royal Yacht Britannia – in service for the Queen from 1954 to 1997, and now one of the more popular tourist attractions in Edinburgh. You can take a tour with an audio guide of nearly every part of the ship. It lasts about an hour and a half and costs £17 ($22).
Surgeon’s Hall Museum
Most British museums are free, but this is one of the exceptions. Nevertheless, I’d highly recommend the Surgeon’s Hall Museum, which just might be the best medical museum in the world. Before I visited, I had no idea that Edinburgh was the center of international medical research in the 18th century. Their massive room with visual displays of every physical malady should not be visited with a queasy stomach. Tickets are £8 ($10.50).
Mercat Ghost Tour
Did you know Edinburgh has been named the most haunted city in the world?! It’s true, and your visit to Edinburgh would not be complete without a ghost tour. While there are several in the city to take, by far the best one (in my opinion) is with Mercat Tours. They have four different tours to choose from, all of which are fantastic. They all center around the South Bridge Vaults – the 120 rooms built into the 19 arches of the bridge built in 1788 to span the valley from the Old Town to the Old College. The vaults are very definitely haunted, so prepare to get scared! The tours range from £15 to £19 ($19.50-$25), depending on which one you choose.
Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus Tour
If you want to see a lot of the city but still stay dry, a hop-on, hop-off bus tour is the perfect way to do so. Edinburgh actually has four different tours to choose from, all managed by the local bus company. Two of the tours stick to the city center, one goes to the harbor and botanical gardens, and the fourth goes to the Firth of Forth bridges and Inchcolm Island where you’ll find one of the best-preserved abbeys in Scotland. The three city tours are £16 ($21) each and the tour to the island is £25 ($32.75), or you can get all three city tours plus entrance to Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace and the Royal Yacht Britannia for £59 ($77) – by far the best value with a savings of £38 ($50)!
Red Bus Bistro Tour
While the hop-on, hop-off tour is good, a far better bus tour around the city center is the Red Bus Bistro Tour. Not only do you get to see the Old Town and hear a history lesson on Edinburgh, but you’ll also get fed some really good food which is made right on the bus. There are two tours to choose from – afternoon tea at noon and 3 p.m., and a Harry Potter-themed tour at noon and 6 p.m. All tours are only available Friday through Sunday, cost £37 ($49) and last an hour and a half. Along with Mary King’s Close, this is one of my favorite attractions in Edinburgh for a rainy day, or any day for that matter.
The Georgian House is a beautiful 18th-century townhouse located in Edinburgh’s New Town next to the residence of the Scottish Prime Minister. I’ll admit, this is one of the very few attractions in town that I haven’t visited myself, despite being invited to see it. A museum spans all five floors where you can see what the decorations looked like in the 18th and 19th centuries. The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. March through November and costs £8 ($10.50).
Another attraction I haven’t been to is Dynamic Earth. Since I haven’t been to this museum personally, I’ll use their own description: “A permanent visitor attraction which presents the story of the planet – how it was created; how it continues to evolve, the prospects for mankind and the effect of hazards both natural and manmade.” Honestly, I don’t know why I’ve never visited myself! Tickets are £15.95 ($21) and you can save 10% when booking online.
The final attraction in Edinburgh I haven’t personally been to is the Gilmerton Cove. This is considered to be one of the spookiest places in the city. It’s also a complete mystery. Basically, it’s a series of caves on the outskirts of Edinburgh, but whether they were built 200 years ago or 2,000, and what their purpose was, no one knows. They’ve done rock soundings and found the caves are far more extensive than what they’ve discovered so far. I can’t wait to take the tour myself. It costs £7.50 ($10) and lasts about an hour.
Lastly, a great activity for a rainy day is a ceilidh (pronounced “kailey”). This is a traditional folk dance in Scotland, and they’re incredibly fun. Several places in Edinburgh put them on regularly, such as Stramash Bar and Summerhall. You can even find them outside when it’s raining, such as this one up in St. Andrews for St. Andrews Day:
If you’re looking for something simple and just want to relax, you couldn’t have chosen a better city for the coffee culture. Edinburgh embraces third-wave coffee (from single-origin fairtrade micro-breweries) more than any other city I’ve been to. There are dozens of cafes around Edinburgh serving some of the best coffee I’ve ever had. Stay tuned for a full post listing out which are my favorites.
Tips for Visiting Edinburgh in the Rain
- Rule number one for visiting Edinburgh in the rain: don’t bring an umbrella. The wind here rips all but the hardiest umbrellas to shreds.
- Wear a good pair of non-slippery shoes. The streets here can get really slick, even when they’re flat. I slide all the time even with good-quality shoes.
- Bring a rain jacket, even if it’s sunny. Edinburgh has a micro-climate, and a sunny day can change to rain within minutes.
- Expect to get wet, but not a lot. You’ll still need to get from one attraction to another in the rain, but the rain in Edinburgh tends to be light.
- Don’t let the rain stop you from visiting Edinburgh. If you try to plan for a sunny trip, you’ll never arrive. It’s almost always guaranteed to rain here, but that’s just part of the charm of the city (in my opinion). Embrace it, and see why Edinburgh is my favorite city in the world.
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Looking for other activities in Edinburgh that aren’t necessarily weather-dependent? Here are some other options, as well as some recommendations on where to eat in Edinburgh.
- 5 Amazing Cafes and Restaurants in Edinburgh That I Frequent
- Best Places to Eat in Edinburgh on a Budget
- How to Find the Best Brazilian Crepes in Edinburgh
- The Village Hotel in Edinburgh is So Much More Than a Hotel
- There’s a Cat Cafe in Edinburgh!
- Enjoying the Happiest Place in Scotland at Edinburgh’s Chihuahua Cafe
- Begin Your Journey in Scotland with a Secret Food Tour in Edinburgh
- What the Da Vinci Code Didn’t Show You About Rosslyn Chapel
- Camera Obscura in Edinburgh Brings Out the Kid in You
- Experience the Underground Preservation of Mary King’s Close
- Escape Edinburgh: The Most Fun Activity in Edinburgh’s New Town
- Finding the Best Ghost Tours in Edinburgh
- Riding the Most Delicious Tour in Edinburgh on the Red Bus Bistro
- 9 Free Attractions to Visit in Edinburgh
- 10 Activities for The Perfect Day Trip from Edinburgh
- A Virtual Tour of Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh, Scotland
Here’s some extra reading to save hundreds on your next vacation or stage of your journey.