Here is our fabulous gay guide to Edinburgh, with the best places to sleep, eat, drink, party, and more.
We hold our hands up…we are kilty of falling in love with Edinburgh!
From the ever-present visual of the castle that looms over the city to the faint sound of bagpipes you can hear on most street corners, we couldn’t help but look around in love and say aloud to ourselves “thistle do nicely.”
We spent hours wandering about the bustling Royal Mile, down the winding Victoria Street (which famously inspired JK Rowling in creating Diagon Alley), and into the thriving Grassmarket courtyard, where we found a bountiful selection of pubs and cafes. But it was the electric and kind spirit of the Scottish people that loch-ed in our deep love.
This was our second trip to Scotland together – last time focusing on the gay scene of Inverness and the gorg beauty of the Scottish Highlands. We really fell in love with the Scottish capital. Edinburgh is a city steeped in history and mysticism, with a stunning photo opportunity on every street corner. Lovers of art and literature will easily vibe with this place in no time. And whilst Edinburgh’s gay scene may not be as vibrant as Glasgow (that’s an entire beast in its own right), it is still very much a community.
The popular so-called “Pink Triangle” is where all the local LGBTQ folk like to hang out, enjoy late-night dancing, and drag karaoke. Without further ado, here’s our gay guide to Edinburgh.
Our pick to stay in Edinburgh…
…the Parliament House Hotel! This is our favorite gay friendly hotel in the Scottish capital. The staff are absolutely adorable and welcomed us with open arms – they're totally used to welcoming gay couples. It's also ideally located – a few minutes walk to the gay bars of Edinburgh as well as to the Old Town.
Is Edinburgh safe for gay travelers?
Edinburgh is one of the safest places in the world for LGBTQ people.
We experienced no issues expressing ourselves openly as a gay couple. Whether we were checking into a double-bed hotel room, sitting down in a fancy restaurant, or canoodling in the public park (ok, that last one’s a joke!), not one person raised an eyebrow!
Scotland’s track record on gay rights has improved immensely since homosexuality was legalized in 1981. At the time, gay people had to either remain in the closet, move abroad, or live a life of persecution and ridicule. Whereas today, gay people can live openly and freely, get married, adopt kids, and donate blood.
And in 2021, Scotland became the first country in the world to introduce LGBTQ education into their school curriculum. Hooray for the Scots!
Now while all that’s all fine and dandy, we should note that in Edinburgh, like anywhere else in the world, you do risk running into the occasional ay-hole. In 2021, a random attack on two gay guys occurred in the Leith area. Though this type of incident is very rare – and is usually met with national outrage. Our point is, keep an eye on your surroundings when engaging in PDA – just to be extra cautious.
Gay area of Edinburgh
As you head off Princes Street, follow the winding road (known as Leith Street) and you’ll arrive in what’s known locally as the “Pink Triangle”. There are several gay bars and clubs to keep your glitter afresh here. You wouldn’t technically call it a gay village, more like a gay neighborhood. Walking around here at night, you’ll see drag queens walking to their bar gig in six-inch heels, gay couples making out outside club doors, and many rainbow flags flying from front windows. It’s like a gay Heaven!
The main place to hit up in the area is CC Blooms. It’s an institution – both a bar and club, busy on most nights, especially at weekends. There are also a few other smaller gay bars here to check out including Habana, Planet and The Street.
Gay hotels in Edinburgh
While there are no outright gay hotels in Edinburgh there are plenty of luxurious places to stay that appeal to the homo-fantasy. Hotels in the area are used to welcoming LGBTQ travelers from all over the world, so you won't have any issues here!
The Parliament House Hotel
In a nutshell
- Perfect location in the Pink Triangle
- Luxurious and comfortable rooms
- Wonderfully gay friendly staff
- Amazing breakfast
With the bustling Princes Street on the south side and the looming Calton Hill right next to it, it’s safe to say Parliament House hit the jackpot with its location. Just down the road, is the irresistible Pink Triangle, with a selection of fun gay bars.
And yet, it’s not even the setting that won us over. It was their incredible gay friendly staff! From the moment we entered, we were met with gracious smiles and top-tier service.
All of their double and twin rooms are modestly decorated, with soft furnishings and a massive bed. The Parliament House suite is where the magic is – filled with ornate features that’ll leave you feeling a Queen. Think black leather armchairs, a grand fireplace, a giant four-poster bed, and a swinging chandelier. Not to mention the breathtaking view of the busy streets below.
Guests wake up every morning to a massive continental breakfast, with a selection of Scottish porridge, Danish pastries, homemade scones, Ayrshire ham, and brie cheese. Or if you’re feeling like getting in the zone, why not enjoy a Full Scottish? A beastly plate full of bacon, pork sausages, grilled tomato, mushrooms, eggs…and, of course, haggis!
Prices at The Parliament House Hotel start from $76 per night:
STAY WITH A GAY LOCAL
Misterb&b is the Airbnb equivalent for the LGBTQ community. Unlike on Airbnb, you know your host is gay, voiding any nasty surprises when you check-in. It is also a great way to meet gay locals and discover the underground gay scene. Click below to get 10 € (or $10) off our first booking.
The Witchery by the Castle
In a nutshell
- Incredible opulent suites
- Located just outside Edinburgh Castle
- Amazing baroque-style restaurant as well
- Or dine in the magical Secret Garden terrace
Perched just outside the gates of the domineering Edinburgh Castle, sits the Witchery by the Castle. Iconic for its stony façade, this is one of the most popular places to dine in the whole city. But little do people know, you can also choose to stay there!
The Witchery features nine expertly crafted rooms, all of which give off a quintessential mythical vibe. The use of deep reds and vibrant gold gave us very Gryffindor common room vibes – after all, this is the city that inspired JK Rowling’s, Harry Potter.
You’ll feel magical in this gay friendly gem no matter which room you stay in. Whether it be the Turret, with its winding staircase that leads up to the room and views of the hauntingly beautiful Old Town, or the Heriot with its dramatic black and gold panels, that make it feel like a Gothic chapel.
For dining, you can’t beat the supremely elegant dining room or the Secret Garden terrace. We gorged on the hotel’s signature Angus beef steak tartare with haggis on the side. Staying at the Witchery might be pricey, but it will also be an unforgettable experience!
Prices at The Witchery by the Castle start from $680 per night:
In a nutshell
- Excellent location in the Pink Triangle
- Beautiful boutique hotel in a converted church
- Multiple lovely spots to dine or have a drink
- Including over 100 unique whiskies
With its Gothic-style archways, chapel windows, and shiny clockface, approaching the Glasshouse feels a bit like walking up to Dracula’s manor… thankfully, there was no demonic creature lurking within – unless you count Seby’s morning persona!
Once inside, we were bowled over by how elegant everything was.
The rooms are as lavish as you could hope for, with floor-to-ceiling windows offering stunning city views, heated bathroom floors, and a massive bed to snuggle up with a loved one.
In The Snug (yes, they call their wee lounge “the snug”, how cute), guests can kick back their feet and enjoy a traditional Scottish whisky (in Scotland there's no e in whisky btw) – the hotel stocks over 100 obscure kinds. We take ours on the rocks – yep, we can’t even do our whiskies straight!
Their restaurant gave us all the rich, British countryside realness we could have ever hoped for. Their kitchen staff uses locally sourced produce to whip up scrumptious Scottish cuisine. Plus, it’s situated in the Pink Triangle, right beside CC Blooms and Habana, so we never had far to travel for some feel-good dancing. We think this one's a top choice for gay couples in Edinburgh.
Prices at The Glasshouse start from $206 per night:
In a nutshell
- Edinburgh's premier gay guesthouse
- Gay owned and operated
- Breakfast included
- Just down the road from the main gay area
Located down a quiet street in Edinburgh, Alva House is the ultimate gay getaway in Edinburgh for couples in desperate need of a chill weekend.
Rooms come in all shapes and sizes. To truly spoil yourself, go for the Superior Room, a large sun-soaked space with a king-sized bed and plenty of living space. The other rooms are slightly smaller but are still modestly decorated with cushy furniture and offer a nice view of the street outside (though note, these rooms have a shared bathroom with guests in the adjacent room).
Those who love a lie-in needn’t worry about missing breakfast, as they keep it going until midday. Guests can choose from a selection of cereals, bread, muffins, and yogurts. The morning time in the kitchen is when guests get to socialize with one another, share travel tips, and learn about each other’s experiences.
It’s around the corner from the Regent bar, which is mostly frequented by local queer people. So, staying in Alva House is a fantastic way to get to know the area on a personal level. Plus, it's proudly gay owned and operated, so you'll be in fantastic company the whole time.
Prices at Alva House start from $68 per night:
CoDE Pod – The CoURT
In a nutshell
- Stay in a former jailhouse
- Great budget option
- In the heart of the gorgeous Royal Mile
- Stay in cosy pods or private rooms
If you ask anyone if they’d like to sleep in a former jailhouse, they’d probably look at you as if you’re crazy. And yet, tourists love spending their nights in The CoURT – one of two luxury pod hostels in Edinburgh.
Located on the Royal Mile, a stay here is a cost-effective way to see the city, meet new people, and have fun. Guests can choose to stay in a pod room (which is exactly what it sounds like) or in a private room. Thoughts of you sleeping in a former courthouse, where thousands that housed thousands of criminals, drift away surprisingly easy as you snuggle up in your pod.
Speaking of which, the pods are surprisingly very comfortable, each one coming with its own power socket, a reading light, a shelf, and clothing hooks.
In the morning, you can expect to wake up to fresh coffee and a delicious breakfast, including scrumptious waffles. Perfect for starting you on your day. The staff provides fun experiences that are exclusive for guests, such as whisky and beer tasting in their underground vaults. This one is our top pick for solo gay travelers in Edinburgh or gay travelers on a budget.
Prices at CoDE Pod – The CoURT start from $18 per night:
Gay bars in Edinburgh
In Edinburgh, it’s all about the Pink Triangle. In that little section, you’ll find most of the city’s gay hangout spots. Each one has their own energy, their own vibe, their own style of music. So, whether you are into a funkier disco sound, a cheesier pop night, or you just want a quiet drink and natter with friends, there is a place for you.
Located in the far end of “the Pink Triangle”, the Street is considered to be the more “alternative” option to Edinburgh queer nightlife. If you’re more into disco, funk, acid jazz and mellow house, then head on down to the Street. The dancefloor is a modest size, not too small that it feels overcrowded, yet not too big that it dominates the entire bar. The walls are covered in art and graffiti, which we *ahem* attempted to analyse as we shadily sipped our cocktails (what expert critics we are). Speaking of… the drinks are delicious. They had some of the best names we’ve ever heard – care for a Pussy Bomb anyone? After all, there’s a first time for everything!
Open: The Street is open Monday – Thursday from midday until 1am, on Friday and Saturday until 3am and on Sundays from 12.30pm until 1am
Location: You can find it at 2b Picardy Place
You can’t get any gayer than a night at Habana. Spread across two floors, the place is full of rainbow bunting strapped over the dancefloor, neon lighting, and a campy bar owner who is always afoot – Darren Glasgow! His incredibly gregarious personality is infectious, and he makes every person who walks in the door feel welcome. Habana also has plenty of themed nights, drag shows, and parties to keep people entertained. DJs play a fantastic selection of songs every night of the week that somehow appeal to the wide mix of ages of the crowd. The dancefloor is the perfect size for having a boogie, and there are plenty of seats around for you when you want to relax and enjoy a drink.
Open: Habana is open every day from 1pm until 1am
Location: It's located at 22 Greenside Place/Leith Walk
Conservative folk like to say gay people are from another planet… and if it’s anything like this Planet, then we can’t take offence at all! Down the same street as Habana and CC Blooms, Planet is a charming bar, with plenty of space to lounge around with friends and enjoy a drink. It is perfect for either pre-gaming on cocktails or for grabbing a glass of wine as a nightcap. There are several events held throughout the week to keep crowds amused. From cabaret sets to drag karaoke nights, DJ sets to games of bingo, the entertainment is always out of this world. Go support the unearthly talents of Chi Chi Monroe, Cilla Slack, and Miss Lily Minogue.
Open: Planet Bar is open daily from 1pm to 1am
Location: It's located at 6 Baxters Place
It’s a bit further out of the way than the others on this list, but the Regent is still worth a visit. More than just a gay bar, The Regent is a community hub. It holds art exhibitions, with work from local artists, as well as game nights for people to grab a drink and socialise. Some may say their interior is a bit OTT, but we thought it was adorable. The lime green walls, sailboat decorations, and pink leather furniture gave the bar a “front living room” type of vibe – somewhere you instantly felt at home. They serve incredible, albeit messy, food. Think cheesy nachos, creamy lasagne, and spicy noodles. Their menu includes plenty of vegan options, so no member of your group will be left starving.
Open: The Regent Bar is open every day from 1pm until midnight
Location: It's located at 2 Montrose Terrace
If you’re like us, you get torn up between wanting to visit the cold, northern parts of Europe, and the warm, tropical parts on the Mediterranean. Well, Paradise Palms mixes the two together. With fruity drinks, palm tree décor, delicious finger food, and funky music, this cocktail bar will have you thinking it’s the middle of summer (even when it’s November!). While it’s not exclusively a gay bar, their website makes it very clear they are LGBTQ-friendly. In terms of the type of crowd that heads here, we noticed plenty of young and fresh faces – turns out, it was just us in the bathroom mirror. But for real, the bars proximity to the University of Edinburgh means that it attracts a lot of students.
Open: Paradise Palms is open daily from 4pm until 1am (and from 1pm on weekends)
Location: It's located at 41 Lothian Street
Gay clubs in Edinburgh
We’ll be 100% straight up and admit, Edinburgh is lacking in the gay club department. For that kind of scene, you’re better off heading to Glasgow. Yet there are a few gay clubs in Edinburgh worth shouting about:
When a place is named after a Bette Midler character, you know it’s going to be a good time. The energy of CC Bloom from the movie Beaches oozes from the walls. The music is incredible, the drinks are delicious, and the wait staff are very easy on the eye. This gay club is known for drag shows, cabaret, Drag Race viewing parties and so much more! The front part of the ground floor is a laidback space, with tables and chairs for chilling out while having a natter with your friends. And as the night goes on, the dancefloor in the back area gets becomes full of people dancing to cheesy pop classics. Downstairs in The Lab, music is more alt/house style. The owners of the gay club describe the experience as being “a bit fiery, plenty of comedy value, star of a few tragic stories, hostess to many, and altogether a roaring success” – and we concur. The crowd is a mix of young people and mature adults. It’s the type of place where, depending on the night you go, it could be filled with college students, or you may not meet anyone there under the age of 30!
Open: CC Blooms is open every day from 1pm until 3am (from 11am on Friday and Saturday)
Location: It's located at 23-24 Greenside Place
The Edinburgh College of Art’s bar/club may be small, but it makes up for it in spirit. If you’re a traveling student or just looking for a fun place to party, the monthly HEY QT party in the Wee Red Bar is the place to be. At times, music can be a mix of funk and disco (very retro if you ask us), with a guest DJ each month. Or it can be super camp, with ABBA or girl band themed nights. It is student-run after all, so there is no telling what fun twist they may have afoot. Even outside of the Hey QT event, the gay bar is always very inclusive of everyone. They feature gender-neutral toilets so everyone, regardless of their identity, can feel welcome. And as you’d expect, the crowd is very much on the young college-age side of things.
Open: The Wee Red Bar is open daily from 3pm until 3am
Location: You can find it at the Lady Lawson Street entrance inside the Edinburgh College of Art grounds
Gay tours of Edinburgh
Up for exploring a new destination as part of a group, but want it to be LGBTQ orientated? Well, Edinburgh’s Gaily Tour is your answer! Joining a tour group is a great way to see everything without having to do all the heavy-duty logistical work yourself. Plus, you can make like-minded friends as you go.
Gaily Tour of Edinburgh
It’s a little bit historical. A little bit party. All around amazing! The Gaily tour takes visitors around the highlights of Edinburgh, including the iconic Pink Triangle, which contains most of the city’s gay scene. You’re paired with a gay guide who has exceptional knowledge about the city’s queer underbelly. You’ll be taken around the Castle, the Old Town, the Royal Mile, and other popular attractions while learning about their connection to the gay heroes of Edinburgh. If you wish, you can opt to do a night-time version of the tour as well. This takes guests on a pub crawl of the city’s gay bars and clubs – and yes, drinks are included!
Gay saunas in Edinburgh
Over the years, we’ve watched in horror as Grindr, Scruff, and Tinder joined forces to take down the sauna industry. Ok, ok that’s an exaggeration – we know they never meant to harm IRL hook-ups in the way they did. But no one can deny the impact they’ve had. Which is why we’re always glad to see a city that has a surviving sauna. Whilst Edinburgh may only have one, it’s one worth visiting!
Despite Edinburgh being a fairly small city, with an even smaller gay scene, their solo gay sauna is pretty impressive. There's a big changing area, that allows in natural light (the bottom half of the windows are tinted, so don’t worry about any Peeping Toms). There are plenty of cabins visitors can rent for some one-on-one time, plus a fantastic sauna and steam room. If you’re feeling a little tense, then pop by for a professional rubdown (and by that we mean a massage!). Though if you were thinking of something naughtier, we’re sure another guest you meet there could arrange that for you…
Edinburgh Gay Pride and Events
Pride Edinburgh is the big one, which pulls in thousands upon thousands of people. Though if large crowds ain’t your thing, Edinburgh has a few other gay-themed events up its sleeve…
Pride Edinburgh – June
Pride began in Edinburgh in the 1990s, and like first Pride events in other cities, it was held as an act of protest against anti-LGBTQ legislation that pervaded Scotland at the time. Today, it couldn’t be more of a joyous affair. Pride flags waving in the air, extravagantly dressed drag artists strutting down the cobbled Old Town in high heels, dogs wearing rainbow bow ties – you name it, it’s there! And it’s all so precious. Other events across the city include drag nights in local bars, movie screenings, and LGBTQ-themed workshops. Keep an eye on the Edinburgh Pride Facebook page to see what events are upcoming.
Taking place in June each year (usually), the Edinburgh International Film Festival includes a prominent LGBTQ segment. The festival features a fantastic line-up of films that get people thinking about the LGBTQ experience, especially in areas that the mainstream has yet to tackle. It shines the spotlight on groups of the queer community that are often overlooked, such as those living with a disability, people of color, and people from the working class. And outside of the movie screenings, festival-goers can attend panel talks, Q&As with the filmmakers and performers, and social mixers.
Edinburgh Festival Fringe – August
Ok, ok, this one isn’t exclusively a gay event. Quite the opposite. It’s a world-famous theater festival where hundreds of performances take place across four weeks. It pulls in over 3 million theatergoers from around the city, the country, and the world; and is considered to be the city’s biggest annual event. Lots of gay-centric content is put on each year, with drag shows, cabarets, and LGBTQ-heavy stories taking to one of the festival’s venues. Be sure to keep an eye out on their webpage for their upcoming line-up and book yourself a ticket.
BearScotFest – October
Set up to challenge the stigma of the “thin, hairless, perfect body” archetype in the gay community, the BearScots run monthly events all year round to honor the local bears of Edinburgh. All gay and bi men are welcome to drop into their events, whether they be a bear, a cub, or just an admirer. And every October, they hold the BearScotFest, where guys are encouraged to dress up, have fun, and vote for who they think deserves the title Bear of the Year.
Hogmanay – New Year
Ring in the New Year in the ole’ Scottish way by attending the Hogmanay festivities. It is their way of saying goodbye to the year past and a welcome of what’s to come. Local customs differ across the country, some of which include fireball swinging, the baking of cakes, and bringing salt to your neighbor at midnight as a way of bringing them good fortune. In Edinburgh, a festival takes over the city, spanning 3 whole days, where celebrations range from fireworks to drone light shows. Celtic-style music is often played, poems by Scottish writer Robert Burns are read, hymns are sung and an epic fireworks display lights up the city at midnight on the 31st December!
LGBT Health and Wellbeing – ongoing events throughout the year
So, maybe gay nightlife isn’t your thing. You don’t like being out late, drinking, or being in nightclubs (trust us, even WE get it sometimes). Yet, you are still desperate to meet people and make new friends. Well luckily the LGBT Health and Wellbeing group is around to help. They run multiple events, all of which promote a healthy lifestyle, from basketball to swimming, there is much to choose from. Plus, they also hold mixers for different sections within the LGBTQ community, such as Bi Nights or Trans Pride groups, so people can easily link up with others who share the same day-to-day experiences.
Secret Cabaret – ongoing events throughout the year
At the end of every month, a collection of musical theater nutjobs come together inside the Dirty Martini bar to perform showtunes. Over cocktails, audience members can sing along to West End classics, Broadway favourites, and movie musical anthems for two hours. Whilst it’s a different group of performers every time, each singer is world-class and belongs on the stage. Prepare to be blown away by the talent. It’s very wholesome, very gay, and very nerdy. Make sure you book your tickets quickly though, as they get snapped up quicker than Elphaba can defy gravity.
Gay friendly restaurants in Edinburgh
When you think of Scottish food, your mind immediately goes to haggis. Right? And the idea of that either horrifies you or intrigues you. But either way, you’ll be glad to know what Edinburgh has so much more to offer other than the controversial dish… not that we don’t LOVE haggis! Have a read below of the best gay-friendly restaurants in Edinburgh.
This gave us the ultimate date night. With a super sleek interior, effortlessly charming wait staff, and an unbeatable menu, we couldn’t have asked for a better evening. Situated on the fourth floor of the Harvey Nichols department store (and named Forth Floor for the River Forth), this spot is a handy place to pop into after a busy day of shopping. Not only is the food splendid, but guests are treated to epic views of Edinburgh Castle and the Old Town from the window. The menu is packed with Scottish and European cuisine… though our eyes were drawn to the extensive wine list. Over 350 varieties! Can we eat here forever please? The staff are fantastic in recommending the best wines for certain meals, so you are destined for an incredible oral experience no matter which combination you go with.
Run by local drag legend, Mystika Glamoor (albeit as their incognito out-of-drag self), Kafe Kweer is Edinburgh’s answer to a queer sober space. Yep, that’s right – you won't get anything with degrees served on the premise. This makes it a great place for people in the queer community who don’t drink, a space to come and socialize. They serve an array of freshly made sandwiches, scones, croissants, and cakes making it the perfect place to drop by with a friend for a snack. Along the walls, you’ll spot drawings, magazines, artefacts, homemade jams and other condiments, as well as books. Downstairs, they have a mini art gallery, which highlights a new queer artist every month. They also run the occasional queer cabaret, which features a selection of local singers, poets, or other performers, and is always a lot of fun to attend.
Whether you get the creamy haggis and black pudding on French toast, the succulent sharing plate of sticky ribs, or the gin-soaked salmon, your experience here will be Twenty out of ten! This lovely spot on Princes Street blends exquisite tastes with eye-catching presentations. Yes, this means you’ll feel compelled to become one of those people who snap pictures of their food before tucking in. Despite much of their menu being filled with steaks, Twenty Princes Street manages to offer something for everyone. Their options for vegetarians and vegans are plentiful… and walking in, you don’t even feel like you’re in a steakhouse. The posh and elegant décor make you feel as if you have the hit big time. The premium treatment you receive from wait staff only cements that further.
Stripped back to the basics, Treacle Bar doesn’t like to pretend to be something it’s not. That being a place with quick food and a good drink. Outside, the bare stone wall façade can make it easy to overlook. Especially in the Pink Triangle, where you have other places practically vomiting the rainbow. But once inside, you’ll find a friendly atmosphere, leather sofas, and an anime mural! For food, people tend to go for the bar’s signature organic pies and seafood. Their cocktails are fairly affordable by Edinburgh standards, making it a great place to drop into when you need a drink and some food before heading out on the town. We loved chatting with the wait staff, all of whom had a very relaxed and friendly attitude. A nice change of pace from the usual squeaky-clean approach we find in the more premium spots.
It’s always a risk bringing Seby along to a French restaurant outside his beloved homeland. He KNOWS his cuisine… and will spot any discrepancies in a minute. Luckily for him (and me!), this place lived up to the hype. In a rather unusual approach to French cooking, L’Escargot Bleu only uses Scottish ingredients. Chef Fred Berkmiller ensures he uses the best of the best ingredients when crafting each meal, ensuring that the hard work of the farmers, fishermen, and cheesemakers who sourced them are honored. And it’s very apparent how those good morals have trickled down into the finished product, as we fell in love with each of our dishes from the first bite. Found in the Pink Triangle, L’Escargot is a wonderful bistro to spend an afternoon. The walls are covered with French paintings as well as hanging pots and pans – so you really feel like you’re sitting in a French kitchen.
When we heard of this place being referred to as “legendary” and “a local gem”, we thought they were talking about an iconic Edinburgh drag queen! (RuPaul has ruined the word legendary for us). Turns out, the Makars Gourmet Mash Bar is just as good! Their menu is full of traditional Scottish cuisine – so expect to see a lot of haggis and potato. In fact, guests choose one of the main meaty or plant-based options and then choose out of 9 types of mashed potato to create their order – yep, you read that right, nine types of mashed potato! Situated in the Mound near Princes Street Gardens, this restaurant offers guests a cosy refuge from the busy city. We enjoyed a wonderfully creamy and potato-y meal whilst soaking up the sights of the busybodies out in the main thoroughfare. It couldn’t have been more delightful!
Best things to do in Edinburgh
Edinburgh isn’t all bagpipes and eating haggis! There’s an abundance of activities to get up to. From visiting historic castles to climbing up the side of extinct volcanoes, your to-do list will be practically bursting with stuff to look forward to once you read our list of the best things to do in Edinburgh for gay travelers:
What started off as a hill fort that the Iron Age folk built to defend themselves against invasion, has become one of the most iconic features of Scotland today. Many centuries, kings, queens, prisoners, pirates, militaries, and maidens later, it’s simply a magical place to spend an afternoon. Get a checklist, as there is so much you’re going to want to see – from the Stone of Destiny, (sounds very Game of Thrones), the Honours of Scotland (which are the oldest Crown jewels in Britain), and the room where Saoirse Ronan (ahem, we mean Mary Queen of Scots) gave birth to King James VI. Fun fact, every day at 1pm (except Sunday and on Christmas), the One O'Clock Gun is fired from the Mill's Mount Battery. It’s a pretty cool tradition that we’re so glad we got see happen.
The Royal Mile and Old Town
The Scots (or at least The Proclaimers) may be happy to walk 500 miles, but we’re satisfied with just the one. Especially when it’s The Royal Mile – a long, cobbled street in the center of the city that stretches from Edinburgh Castle to Holyroodhouse Palace. A walk down will give you a whirlwind of options for shopping or dining, with dozens of antique shops, restaurants, and traditional bars to choose from. Surrounding the Royal Mile is the area known as the Old Town, filled with beautiful architecture, cute little passageways, and cobbled streets. Fun fact: take a peek down the narrow passages you see. Referred to as “closes”, they are what’s left of the streets where the poorer residents of Edinburgh used to live – and after seeing how tight those living arrangements were, we’ll never complain about staying in a tiny hostel again! Other important sights to check out include St. Giles’ Cathedral, the Museum of Edinburgh, the Writer’s Museum, and Greyfriars Kirk, where you can see a statue of the famous dog Greyfriars Bobby.
Hike up to Arthur’s Seat
Not only does Edinburgh have an ancient castle and a nearby beach, but it has a volcano! How Old World is that? It may be extinct now for over 300 million years, but it’s still bada$$ if you ask us! You’ll find Arthur’s Seat in Holyrood Park, at the end of the Royal Mile. A day spent hiking up there can be as rough as you’d like it to be (that sounded way dirtier than we planned). But we mean, there are several routes up Arthur’s Seat, some of which are easier than others. Us being the fools that we are took one of the harder routes. Let’s just say, it’s very hilly and stony. Make sure you bring good hiking shoes if you opt for the Green Route. But it was worth it once we got to the top and caught sight of the jaw-dropping views of the city.
Views of Edinburgh from Calton Hill
If Arthurs Seat is a bit too much for you to tackle, then Calton Hill is a less physically intense alternative. Located at the end of Princes Street, the view from atop the Hill is utterly magnificent. Visitors can spot Arthur's Seat, the maze of streets that make up New Town, the Royal Mile leading up the Castle, and beyond. You definitely won’t miss the monuments perched on top of the hill either, including Nelson’s Monument, the City Observatory, and the ancient Greek-style structure known as the National Monument. The folk from the old Edinburgh days were a bit obsessed with ancient Greece, which is why many of the city’s buildings are designed in the neo-classical style. In fact, you may hear some people referring to the Scottish capital as ‘the Athens of the North.’ It may seem a bit laughable now (especially to me, being a Greek guy!), but they were determined to boost tourism by branding the city as Europe’s answer to Athens…
For something unique: rent kilts!
You can play the bagpipes until you're blue in the face. Eat haggis until your stomach bursts. Or drink yourself silly on Irn Bru. But you won’t feel like a true Scot until you wear the iconic kilt! The history of kilts dates back to the 16th century in the Highlands, where army men would wear them to allow for more movement whilst fighting. It also protected them from the harsh weather and they were used as makeshift blankets for soldiers sleeping at night. Today, Scottish men mostly wear them at weddings and special occasions, they are viewed as a way of expressing Scottish Pride. For our trip around Scotland, we rented kilts from Gordon Nicolson Kiltmakers… and yes, we wore them the traditional way!
Princes Street Gardens and the Scott Monument
Underneath Castle Rock are the gorgeous Princes Street Gardens, two adjoining parks that provide plenty of pretty photo opps with flowers, a fountain, and the Edinburgh Castle in the background. You may even wander in and have a picnic, admiring the stunning scenery. But did you know they used to be a lake? And not just any lake either – it was used to drown women accused of witchcraft! Though primarily it was used as a mode of defense and later on as a place for the city’s, um, sewage. Let’s just say the gardens today are a much more pleasant area than they were in the past! On the left part of the gardens (if you’re looking towards the castle) is the Scott Monument; a Victorian Gothic monument that was built to honor Scottish author Sir Walter Scott. Climb up the monument via the stairs inside to get a fabulous view of the city.
Palace of Holyroodhouse and Holyrood Park
Queens have gotta visit the Queen, right? As the official residence of the monarch in Scotland, this is where the Queen stays for a week every summer while performing official duties. When the royal family isn’t in residence, the palace is open to the public, so you can have a wander about and see how they live. Explore the state apartments where official ceremonies take place, the 16th-century apartment of Mary, Queen of Scots, and incredible palace rooms. Plus, the palace gardens (also known as Holyrood Park) are gorgeous, so be sure to set aside time to wander around them too.
The Scotch Whisky Experience
When we heard about the quintessential whisky tour experience, we immediately had to sign up. Visitors are brought around the Diageo Claive Vidiz Scotch Whisky Collection, aka the world’s largest collection of Scotch whisky! In total, it holds almost 3,500 individual bottles. From a whisky barrel ride that brought us around the production and maturation processes of the drink to the much-anticipated whisky tasting, this experience is a must-do for all whisky connoisseurs. Straight away we noticed how strong the smell inside was – how do the workers manage to remain sober all day, we wondered? If you didn’t arrive a whisky lover, you’ll certainly leave being one.
Plan your trip to Edinburgh
We've put together some handy hints and tips to help you plan your own trip to Edinburgh:
How to get there: If you're already in the UK then you can catch a train from London (or other major cities) to Edinburgh in a few hours – and pretend you're Harry Potter on the way to Hogwarts! There are also direct flights to Edinburgh Airport from many cities within Europe, and even from as far away as Doha. If you're heading over from the United States though, you will most likely need to transit in Paris or London. Edinburgh Airport is about a half-hour drive from the city center (depending on traffic) and is served by taxis, buses, trams, and trains, although we personally prefer to organize a private airport transfer.
Visa requirements: If you are from the United States, an EU Member State, or certain Commonwealth countries (including Australia, Canada, and New Zealand), you do not need a visa for the UK for up to six months. Make sure you check your personal visa requirements well ahead of time though and organize a visa if you will need one.
Getting around: The main city center and Old Town area of Edinburgh is quite walkable and fun to explore on foot, although uneven cobbled roads and lots of stairs can make it difficult if you are not as mobile. The bus line is good for exploring further afield and you can always flag down a black taxi (like the ones in London) without needing to worry about scams.
Power Plugs: In the United Kingdom (including Scotland) the three-pin power plug and socket type G is used. If you're traveling from anywhere outside of the UK then you will need to bring a travel adaptor with you to Edinburgh.
Travel insurance: We never travel without organizing travel insurance first because you just never know when something might go awry, costing you an arm and a leg. We've been using World Nomads Travel Insurance for years and always recommend them to others as well. Their cover is very comprehensive and it's easy to make a claim online if you have to.
Vaccinations: The CDC recommends that all travelers to the United Kingdom should be up to date with routine vaccinations for things like measles, mumps, rubella, chickenpox, etc, and, of course, Covid-19. You may also need vaccinations for Hepatitis A, B, and rabies (if you're going further into the wilderness than just Edinburgh), so make sure you speak to your travel nurse or doctor before heading to Scotland.
Currency: The currency used in Scotland (and the rest of the United Kingdom) is the pound sterling, also called the British pound, and abbreviated to GBP. £1 converts to about €1.12 or $1.23.
Tipping culture: While Scotland doesn't have as much of a tipping culture as, say, the United States, you should probably still tip around 10% for good service in restaurants or hotels. In Edinburgh cabs, you can generally just round up to the nearest note amount and it will be appreciated.
Internet access: Scotland has excellent internet services, so you should be able to access fast and reliable wifi in hostels, hotels, cafes, etc, while you're in Edinburgh. You can also usually pay to use computers at internet cafes or for free at local libraries.
Accommodation: For more accommodation options in Edinburgh, we always like to use Booking.com to see what's available. They have lots of excellent choices, many of which come with free cancellation if needed, and their online customer support is also outstanding.
Sightseeing and adventure: There are so many fun things to do in and around Edinburgh, beyond the ones we've mentioned here. We love using GetYourGuide to find the best tours and activities. Their online booking system is easy to use and they also offer 24/7 online support if you need it.
When to visit: The summer season is definitely the most popular time for visitors to Edinburgh, especially with the Fringe Festival and slightly warmer weather. However, Hogmanay and the lead-up to Christmas is also magical, if you can brave the colder weather. For the best deals on accommodation then winter (from January after Hogmanay), spring and autumn will still be lovely, as Scotland is pretty much gorgeous even in the pouring rain!
Gay map of Edinburgh
We've put together this handy map for you to plan your own fabulous gay trip to Edinburgh. We hope it helps you have an awesome time!
For more inspiration:
- If you're traveling in the UK then you should check out the gay scene in Manchester
- You should definitely see these gay musicals and theatre shows in London
- As well as the best drag clubs in London!
- Read about why we love celebrating Pride in London
- These are the most gay friendly cities in Europe for you to visit
- And these are the best gay beaches in Europe to work on your tan