It rained almost the entire week I was in Edinburgh in July. Most days, it poured! A little rain didn’t put a damper on things though. Would it have been better in the sun? I drought it! (Ok… it obviously would have been a little better not having to peel off sopping wet pants every time I got back to the AirBnb, but it didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the city!)
Heads up: this isn’t a list of indoor activities. I’m assuming that if you’ve found your way to Edinburgh, you want to see more than the inside of buildings. These are ideas for places to duck into when it’s really pouring, and things to enjoy no matter the weather, so dress appropriately!
Here we go! 13 ways to enjoy Edinburgh in the rain:
- Haggis Box Food Truck
- Walk the Royal Mile
- Pop into a close
- Free Harry Potter tour
- Leith Walk
- Visit a Gay Bar
- Edinburgh Castle and Palace of Holyroodhouse
- Climb Arthur’s Seat
- Visit Victoria Street/Diagon Alley
- Stop for a wee dram
- Calton Hill
- Glasgow Day trip
- See Highland Cows
- In case of sun…
1. The Haggis Box food truck
Ok, if you’re like me, one of the top things on your travel to-do list is FOOD – especially traditional food, so I definitely had to try haggis. A food truck seemed like the most palatable way for my first time eating ‘sheep’s pluck’… and it turned out to be delicious! (Or should I say… it wasn’t offal!) The truck does the whole shebang, with traditional “neeps and tatties” (potatoes and turnips, mashed), and a whiskey sauce. Great serving size, cute alleyway and market, perfectly warm refuge from the rain!
2. DIY/BYO Royal Mile walking tour
I love wandering around new cities on foot; it’s one of my favourite ways to get to know a place. (Others include: public transit, people-watching in cafes, browsing the grocery store shelves.) The Royal Mile is one of the main tourist drags in Edinburgh, leading from Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Palace. There’s lots to see along the way, and it was great fun to meander on my own – I’m the exactly the type of tourist the shops along the way cater to; I wanted to go in every shop with coo-souvenirs (i.e. everywhere), cute whisky bottles (everywhere), and Harry Potter merch (everywhere). There are restaurants, cafes, buildings of historical significance, buskers, and dozens of closes (alleyways or courtyards) begging to be explored.
I walked the Royal Mile once on my own, but on my way back I chose to listen to a Rick Steeves audio walking tour. It was extremely comprehensive, and I learned lots that I’d been completely oblivious to on the way up to the castle (e.g. about spit hearts, lucky toes, the real Jekyll and Hyde… you’ll just have to go to find out what I’m talking about)! It’s easy to use; download the app ahead of time and choose the tours you want. It’s got a map connected to it, and you can pause as you go. We also used it in Athens too and loved it.
3. Pop into a close
The Royal Mile is home to seemingly endless amounts of closes, which are alleyways or courtyards. Some lead to other streets, sometimes via shops or restaurants (try The Devil’s Advocate in Advocate’s Close if you’re into cocktails). The extremely popular Real Mary’s Close leads you beneath the streets on a historical tour; it was all booked up when I sought refuge from the rain! The Writer’s Museum, off Lady’s Stairs Close, is free and offers information about Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson. The closes are great covered shelters from the rain, but you could also spend the day just discovering what they have to offer! Not in a close itself, but the Museum of Edinburgh is also a worthwhile (and free) stop, if you find yourself nearby when it’s pouring!
4. Free Harry Potter tour
Oh heck yes! Although we may be mere muggles, any Potterhead who visits Edinburgh will be interested in the city’s relationship with the HP legacy. J. K. Rowling spent a lot of time writing in Edinburgh and several places in the city were used as inspiration for places in the books. The Potter Trail leads you through the graveyard that inspired the one in Goblet of Fire (RIP Cedric), to gravestones with some famous names, points out other important sites (inspiration for Hogwarts and the quidditch pitch), passes places where J.K. did some of her writing, and ends by Edinburgh’s own Diagon Alley, complete with two HP shops. Our guide was great, and although it was a big group, the only cost was a tip. A little rain will make it delightfully spooky, and may mean a quieter tour.
If lately you’ve been been struggling with wanting to cherish the world of Harry Potter you grew up with while separating it from the author, who is not a trans ally, this is a good tour for you. It’s unofficial and unaffiliated with J.K. Just skip the shops.
5. Pop in for a drink or a bite on Leith Walk
The Leith Walk is the street connecting Edinburgh city centre and the university/port town of Leith (about 2 miles). Lots of people visit Leith to tour the Royal yacht Britannia, QEII’s former yacht. Along the way, there are lively, highly-rated cafes, bars, and restaurants. Orinoco serves amazing arepas, but I’ll spare you more recommendations because you should walk down yourself (or zoom in on the map) and see what appeals!
6. Dry off at a Gay bar
(Yes I see the irony behind being dry at a gay bar!) The Regent is perhaps the coziest pub I’ve ever been to! Comfy sofas, big tables, a comprehensive board game selection (or bring your own), a full food menu and flowing drinks… and best of all it’s dog friendly!!! (Also straight friendly.) Yes, you can bring your doggo into the pub! Supposedly not on the furniture, but I dunno… I saw some pupperonis breaking the rules. Locals were friendly and told us about some drag events around town.
There are other gay bars around town, including a strip of 3 at the bottom of Leith Walk: Habana (fun music & dancing), CC Blooms, which opens the Rabbit Hole downstairs for drag every Tuesday, and Planet Bar – which we left right away when we saw that the washrooms were like… aggressively gendered.
7. Edinburgh Castle and Palace of Holyroodhouse
Confession: I didn’t go inside the castle OR the palace! Those would probably be good rainy day activities, but I was trying to stretch my money as far as possible and enjoyed seeing them from outside, and learning about them on my audio tour.
8. Climb Arthur’s Seat
Ok, so this one is best saved for when the sun comes out. It’s an uphill climb, probably not fun when it’s muddy, and the views from the top are unparalleled. Probably less so when the views are clouds! We started by the palace, and we took the blue route below – it was pretty easy and offered gorgeous views both of the park and surrounding city.
9. Victoria Street
We learned that this was likely J.K.’s inspiration for Diagon Alley. I believe it, but whether it’s true or not, it’s worth a long meander. If you do the Harry Potter tour, it stops right above Victoria Street, or if you’re walking the Royal Mile, it’s very close to the base of Castle Hill.
10. Stop for a wee dram
When in Edinburgh, drink whisky! I’m more of a beer, wine, and cider drinker, but I couldn’t leave Scotland without trying some whisky (hot tip: the airport duty free shop gives out enough samples to get a wee buzz going)! Someone recommended the Bow Bar on Victoria Street, and though neither of us is a connoisseur, we enjoyed it, and it certainly warmed us up!
11. Calton Hill
Our Airbnb was just down the road from Calton Hill. I was determined to go up, even in the pouring rain, and it was such a short walk that it didn’t matter that I was SOAKED by the time I got to the top! It’s a much shorter, more central climb than Arthur’s Seat, and I imagine it would be a good place for a sunset picnic. If you see the sun hahahaha.
12. Glasgow Day Trip
Want to venture beyond Edinburgh? Glasgow is an easy day or half day trip! If you’re into street art, I definitely recommend the mural trail.
13. Visit some (wet) Heilan’ Coos
I was DETERMINED to see some Highland Cattle on our Scotland trip! This proved to be a bit difficult, since I stayed in the city (Kyla saw lots on her highland and Skye road trip), but mission was accomplished! Of course I’d done loads of research and discovered there were a couple of places nearish to Edinburgh to see them. The first, Prestonfield House, was only mildly successful: there were 2 coos – only one orange – way far out in a gated field. Not good enough! So when Kyla got back with her rental car, she very kindly agreed to drive down to Swanston Farm (after days of stressful driving) so that I could try one more time to make my Scotland dreams come true. We found the farm… shrouded in a heavy fog! We could barely see each other, let alone any cows! But before giving up, I read on the website that you could enter the gated area, so in we went, uphill, (hopefully) towards the coos! We were both vaguely nervous about the idea of giant horns appearing out of nowhere through the fog, and the grass was long and wet and filled with cow patties, but I was highly motivated! Finally, at the top of the hill, we spotted some sheep, and I tried to accept the fact that this might be the only Scottish wildlife I would see. Kyla suggested we just go a bit farther before heading back, so up and over some rocks we went when all of a sudden… we made out a vague orange blob! A little further and we saw two… three… four hairy cows! A farm employee arrived at the same time, trying to urge them down the hill so that her mother, who couldn’t make the walk up, could see them. She told us their names, and that one was chill enough to pet! I was elated! Kyla thought they were kind of soggy hahaha. We hung out with Thelma and Louise for a while before heading back to town to change out of out wet, cow poo pants, still smiling from ear to ear. So there you have it, proof that a little rain won’t stop your Scottish dreams from coming true!
I also considered taking this FREE 1 day Highlands tour with… The Hairy Coo tour company! Who better to see coos with?! Their bus is dressed as a coo! The “catch” is that you pay what you think it’s worth at the end – not bad! Def would have done this if Kyla hadn’t saved the day and driven to the farm.
Had it been sunnier, I would have considered spending some time at Portobello Beach, and also visiting the town of St. Andrew’s for the Highland Games. But Edinburgh had more than enough to keep me occupied for the week, and in some ways I’m glad that the rain allowed me to see more of the city!
January 5, 2020 at 7:10 pm
Hi Leslie, I’m just wondering if you have an email where I could reach you? I wasn’t able to find anything on your blog, but I would love to hear if you’re open to collab? If so, feel free to write directly to me at email@example.com if you don’t want to publish your email here in the comments 🙂 Thanks!
January 5, 2020 at 9:54 pm
Hi Olivia – thanks for bringing this to my attention! It should be under the contact tab but it looks like that’s not working… I’ll have to look into that asap. In the meantime, my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Looking forward to hearing from you!