Skyline of Edinburgh Scotland

28 Unusual Things to do in Edinburgh

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If you are looking for unusual things to do in Edinburgh, you have come to the right place. This is a list of actual off the beaten path things to do in Edinburgh. You won’t find any super touristy locations that pretend to be unusual on this list (okay, there is one, but it has a good reason to be here!).

From mysterious branch sculptures to dog cemeteries to an abandoned wild west ghost town – the unusual attractions in Edinburgh you’re looking for are here waiting for you!

Edinburgh has some of the best secret attractions that will make your trip one to remember. If you want more ideas on things to do in Edinburgh, be sure to check out my ever-growing list of rad and some slightly touristy places here.

28 Unusual Things to do in Edinburgh, Scotland

Burke and Hare Death Masks

Death and Life Mask of Burke and Hare

Have you heard of Burke and Hare? They are notorious serial killers that fall into the realm of grave robber history in Edinburgh.

They ended up killing a total of 17 people in an attempt to earn a hefty amount of money. The duo would sell freshly murdered corpses to the local medical school for profit.

At the National Portrait Gallery, the death and life masks of both Burke and Hare are on display. The Gallery is also incredibly stunning and is one of the free things to do in Edinburgh!

Why not take a Burke and Hare self-guided tour in Edinburgh as well?

Visit the Mysterious Coffin Dolls

From the rocky crags of Arthur’s Seat, 17 miniature coffins filled with tiny wooden dolls were found by schoolboys. The dolls’ creation has always been a mystery, but there are a few theories as to who made them and why.

One theory is that serial killer William Burke, a cobbler by day, created the dolls – one for each victim. Read more about the coffin dolls here and visit them at the National Museum of Scotland.

The First Cloned Sheep – Dolly the Sheep

The first-ever cloned sheep lives in Edinburgh. Although she looks like a regular sheep, she is so important in science history is so cool!

How many cloned animals can you say you’ve seen? Check Dolly out at the same time you are visiting the coffin dolls! They are both at the National Museum of Scotland.

Bank of Scotland (Dundas House)

One of the most unusual things to do in Edinburgh is to visit a bank? Yes, you heard me right. This is more for those of you who love beautiful architecture.

No joke, this was my bank when I lived in Edinburgh, and I couldn’t get enough. I felt like I stepped into Gringotts bank from Harry Potter with how elaborately gorgeous it is inside.

I don’t have the best photo – I will get a better one for you in the future but go check it out. The starry domed ceiling is so nice that it deserves several chef’s kisses, marking its excellence.

Check out the bank when you are spending time exploring the private gardens located in St. Andrews Square or doing some over-priced shopping at Harvey Nichols. (I’m sorry, Harvey Nichols, but you are expensive!)

6 Times – The Anthony Gormley Statues

Why visit the statue of Greyfriars Bobby when you can hunt the male statues scattered around the city?

The statues were installed in 2009 and are slowly rusting and weathering away, making them look cooler and creepier over the years.

Okay, you should still visit Bobby because he is cool as hell, but the iron statues installed by artist Anthony Gormley are a must-see for those looking for unusual things to do in Edinburgh.

Mysterious Branch Statue in St Cuthbert’s Graveyard

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♬ Mysterious – Andreas Scherren

Do you love mysteries and art? There is a mysterious branch sculpture located in St. Cuthbert’s Graveyard.

No one truly knows who installed it or the true meaning behind it. It’s 6’5” tall, made entirely of branches and appears to be a sculpture of a mother holding up a baby, lion king style.

The mother has an almost frightening screaming smile on her torso. Possibly representing grief?

I made a video about it on Tiktok, and many people said it could be a miscarriage, postpartum depression or showing that a child takes away a piece of the mother with it when born.

Be sure to check out the watchtower in the graveyard while looking for the statue! It is now used as a self-contained office, but its original use was to deter grave robbers from stealing bodies.

The Witchery by the Castle

The Witchery by the Castle is an unusual place to visit in Edinburgh due to its incredible history!

It’s a lovely little restaurant and a gorgeous and unique hotel. Each room is really cool, and if you get the opportunity, you should stay for a night! Every room has a different theme, and I love them all!

What makes the Witchery by the Castle one of the unusual things to do in Edinburgh? Well, it is due to its history! The hotel got its name from the witch trials that occurred around Scotland.

Over 300 innocent people were hanged and burned at the stake on Castle Hill right next to the Witchery by the Castle. Be sure to check out the Witch Trials Memorial steps away.

Edinburgh Castle Dog Cemetery

Two tiny gravestones, one in the shape of a dog house with a sign that says Cemetery for Soldier's Dogs at Edinburgh Castle

You can visit the dog cemetery when you are doing your regular things tourists do in Edinburgh list!

The dog cemetery is located at Edinburgh Castle. It is super easy to miss, so be on the lookout for it! It’s adorable and pays homage to man’s best friend.

Book your tour to Edinburgh Castle here.

Wild West Ghost Town

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♬ Western Tales – Cavendish Music

It wouldn’t be an off the beaten track in Edinburgh post without a visit to the wild west. What would make it even better? Make it a ghost town!

Okay, so it’s not really an abandoned wild west ghost town but a tiny section of a street in the middle of Morningside.

The wild west street is located at Morningside Road and was created as an advertisement by a furniture store in the 1990s. The store failed, and the wild west façade was left behind.

It’s not an official touristy location, but if you are looking for unusual things to do in Edinburgh and want some really cool looking pictures – check it out!

Why travel all the way to the United States to see an abandoned wild west ghost town?

St. Bernard’s Well

If you are planning on wandering through Edinburgh’s charming Dean Village, be sure to stop by St. Bernard’s Well along the way.

The 18th century well is one of the most beautifully designed structures in Edinburgh. Walking by, you would have no idea that this well was once believed to have such powerful medicinal waters that could cure blindness, arthritis and rheumatism.

The well features a Roman-style temple with a statue of the Greek goddess of health, Hygieia. If you walk down the steps, just under the statue is the entrance to the well, which is decorated in a blue and white mosaic tile.

Edinburgh Underground Vaults

Okay, this one shouldn’t technically make the list because it is quite a touristy thing to do in Edinburgh; however, it is still pretty unique! How many places in the world offer you a chance to walk below the city streets?

Edinburgh has several underground vaults that you should visit. Most of the vaults are accessible by taking a ghost tour as the vaults are known to be one of Edinburgh’s most haunted locations.

If you are into exploring the underground, be sure to visit The Real Mary King’s Close. It is super touristy, so it’s not an official site of unusual things to do in Edinburgh, but cool as hell.

Book here: Edinburgh Underground Vaults Tour

Flodden Wall

Flodden Wall in Edinburgh

The Flodden Wall is hidden all over Edinburgh’s Old Town. Edinburgh was once surrounded by medieval defence walls created as a preventative measure against the Battle of Flodden that never arrived in Edinburgh.

What makes it so cool? You can go on a Flodden Wall walking tour and observe how old town really built on top of itself to stay within the walls. If you love history, checking out the Flodden Wall is a must!

Take the self-guided Flodden Wall Tour here.

The Maiden – Guillotine

Ever wanted to see a real-life guillotine? Who wouldn’t? The Maiden was a guillotine used in Edinburgh between 1564 and 1710.

It was used on 150 criminals at hanging sites on Castle Hill, the Grassmarket and the Lawnmarket on the Royal Mile.

If you walk near St. Giles Cathedral, you will see the mosaic of a heart on the ground, which was the entrance to the Old Tolbooth Prison.

Continue walking towards Edinburgh Castle and make a stop at the statue of David Hume.

You will see the luckenbooths on the ground across the street from the statue, where the guillotine used to sit.

Visit the Maiden guillotine at that National Museum of Scotland and imagine how many people used to surround it, watching someone brutally lose their life.

The Hanging Stanes

Located in the middle of Braid street, sit two hanging stanes. This was the site where the last highwaymen, Thomas Kelly and Henry O’R Neil, were publicly hanged.

The men were held at the Old Tolbooth Prison in Edinburgh’s Lawnmarket. They were chained up and walked to the spot where their crimes took place before being hanged. The men are now forever tied to the spot of their last crime.

Check out the TikTok I did all about the hanging stanes in Edinburgh!

Swedish Runestone

Gravestone with Swedish Carvings is an unusual things to do in Edinburgh

A Swedish Runestone right in the middle of Edinburgh? Yep! Engraved with a snake and runic symbols, the runestone has been travelling around Scotland for over 200 years.

It’s really awesome and you should check it out by visiting it at 50 George Square.

The Grave of John Knox

John Knox is a pretty important religious figure in Scottish history. He essentially turned the country from a Catholic nation into a Protestant one.

You can visit The John Knox House down the road to learn more about him, but be sure to stop at the car park located right outside of St. Giles Cathedral.

You will see a plaque on parking space number 23 (if there isn’t a car parked there!) and there lays John Knox!

Yes, I am telling you to visit a car park in Edinburgh. It’s cool, I swear.

William Burke Skin Books

I do mention visiting In my post about Spooky things to do in Edinburgh, William Burke’s card case and his skin book, but I need to mention it again.

If you aren’t sure who William Burke was, check out my post about Burke and Hare. A quick summary is that he was once part of a serial killing duo that killed people to sell to the local medical schools.

In the end, he was hanged, and his body was dissected for science. Some bits of his skin was used to make a card case and a book.

You can find the card case at The Cadies & Witchery Tours headquarters. While you are there, why not take a ghost tour and learn more about Edinburgh’s’ dark history?

If you are interested in ghost tours, check out my list of the best ghost tours in Edinburgh.

The book made using William Burke’s skin can be found at the Surgeon’s Hall Museums.

Queen Mary Bath House

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♬ The Wedding – Bear McCreary

If you plan to visit the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, you will want to make a pit stop at Queen Mary’s Bath House, which sits on the property’s edge.

The tiny building, which can be viewed from the street, was used as a summer house where the Royal family would spend an afternoon having picnics and sitting in the sun.

Some theories believe that the house was used by Mary, Queen of Scots, as a bath where she would soak in sweet-smelling wine.

Colinton Tunnel

What was once an ordinary and somewhat creepy-looking tunnel, artists hit Colinton Tunnel and turned it into a beautiful work of art.

The tunnel was once a part of the Colinton Railway and was revived by the Colinton Tunnel Project, turning it into a beautiful must-see location for anyone who loves street art.  

Anatomical Museum at Edinburgh University

If you love looking at bones, look no further than the Anatomical Museum of Edinburgh University.

The museum has a large collection of human skeletal remains, specimens and everything related to pathology, anatomy and zoology.

The most unusual and unique items on display include the skeleton of William Burke and George Buchanan’s skull, who was James VI’s tutor.

The museum is only open on one Saturday a month, so be sure to plan your visit around this date, so you don’t miss out!

The Scotch Whisky Experience

People on the Scotch Whisky Barrel Ride in Edinburgh

Why would one of the most popular things to do in Edinburgh end up on this list?

Let me tell you! The Scotch Whisky Experience features a ride on a barrel that makes you feel like you are in an episode of the Magic School Bus.

Sure, you get to taste whisky and do one of the most common things people do in Scotland – but you get to do it in style.

This is what makes it one of the unique things to do in Edinburgh.

Book here: The Scotch Whisky Experience

Gilmerton Cove

If you are a sucker for underground tunnels and streets like I am, add Gilmerton Cove to your list. The mysterious underground tunnels are located in Edinburgh through an unsuspecting house on Drum Street.

What makes Gilmerton Cove so unique? The reason it exists is a total mystery. The tunnels, which are around 300 years old, were hand-carved! You can see the marks of the hand tools used to carve out the passageways.

Take a tour of Gilmerton Cove and decide for yourself why they exist. Theories include a drinking den, a safe haven for Covenantors or even a witches coven!

Cramond Island

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♬ Sad Piano and Strings – AShamaluevMusic

Cramond Island is located about 40 minutes outside of Edinburgh’s city centre. The little island was once used during WWII and still has some abandoned structures used during the war.

The island is only accessible during low tide by walking along a causeway from the mainland to the ghost island. A lot of people have feelings of unease as they explore the WWII bunkers left behind.

If you are into Brutal Architecture, you will absolutely love the stone pillars that line the pathway leading to the island.

While you are visiting Cramond Island, be sure to stop by the Roman Fortress near the Cramond Kirkyard.

Visit Abraham Lincoln

Statue of Abraham Lincoln is one of the unusual things to do in Edinburgh.

There is a statue of the 16th president of the United States sitting in a Scottish Cemetery.

Abraham Lincoln sits tall in Edinburgh’s Old Calton Cemetery. It is such a random place to have a statue of an American president!

The statue was built in 1893 to commemorate the Scots who fought in the American Civil War. Exploring Edinburgh’s Historic Cemeteries always offer a quirky adventure.

Whether it is finding the oldest gravestone, visiting historic Scots’ graves or noticing how they used to keep grave robbers away.

The Cocktail Geeks

If you are looking for something unusual to do in Edinburgh that involves drinking, I highly recommend you check out The Cocktail Geeks! They are a pop-up bar in Edinburgh that always has some unique theme going on.

The themes are always changing, but they have done pop-up Harry Potter themes and Blood & Wine, which trains you in the art of killing monsters.

Greyfriar’s Mort Safes

Gravestones and mortsafes (caged cover over grave) in a graveyard.

You will probably head to at least once historic cemetery in Edinburgh, whether it’s to see Greyfriars Bobby, to visit all of the Harry Potter inspired sites in Edinburgh or go on a spooky ghost tour.

If you have to pick just one graveyard, make sure you stop by Greyfriars Kirkyard and be on the lookout for the mort safes. These cages sat on top of gravestones and were once used to protect the newly buried body from potential grave robbers.

It was just one of the ways people in Scotland tried to deter resurrectionists from digging up their loved one’s corpse to sell to the local medical school.

Go on a Walk with Alpacas

Bobcat Alpacas in Edinburgh serves up one of the most unusual things to do in Edinburgh. You will have the opportunity to spend an afternoon bonding and walking with your very own alpaca!

The walks are on the alpaca’s terms so that the tour may last anywhere from 30-90 minutes long. I guess it depends on how leisurely a stroll your alpaca is craving.

It’s such an incredibly wonderful experience making a new alpaca best friend for the day! If you go, be sure to let me know what you think about the walking tour in the comments below.

Surgeons Hall Museum

Last but certainly not least is the Surgeons Hall Museums. If you love gruesome medical history, this is your place!

Want to look into the macabre medical history through a collection of oddities? The Surgeons Hall Museums has three separate sections to educate and horrify you at the same time!

The museum features a dental collection, a history of surgery and a pathology museum. Want to spend an afternoon looking at things in jars? Be sure to visit the unique museum while in Edinburgh.

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About the Author

Crystal

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Crystal is a history fan with a fondness for dark history. Crystal travels to dark history sites, dark tourism sites and historic places around the world. Crystal moved from Canada to Scotland. Living in Edinburgh for a few years while travelling around the country exploring Scotland. Crystal wants to inspire you to move to Scotland.

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Comments 2

  1. Great post, Crystal. Ellie & I have visited Edinburgh on a number of occasions, but neither of us had heard about most of the things you mention. That Burke seems to be gift that keeps on giving. I like how his name pops up under several items haha…

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      Author

      Thanks so much! Yeah, I can’t get enough of the history behind Burke and Hare. William Burke really left his mark all over the city.

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