We’ve been based in the Edinburgh region for a couple of years now, and it is definitely one of our favourite cities in the UK. We’ve written a lot about the city – everything from the awesome festivals through to getting off the beaten path in Edinburgh, plus loads more (see the further reading section at the end of the post for more).
One thing I’ve somehow not written so far though is a detailed guide to the best photography locations in Edinburgh. This is a huge oversight, as Edinburgh is fantastically photogenic. With medieval city streets, handy overlook points and a superb skyline, it is a real treat to photograph.
So, better late than never, I’ve finally put together my photography location guide to Edinburgh, which joins an ever growing series of photography location guides.
For many of the shots in this post I used my Vanguard tripods, specifically the lightweight travel focused VEO tripod range. Edinburgh is a wonderfully walkable city, but no one wants to walk around weighed down by heavy photography gear. I firmly believe that a tripod is essential for photography (see why here), so something lightweight like the VEO 2 is perfect for my needs!
I currently use the VEO 2 265CB (see my review here), which I’ve been testing since it launched in mid-2017. I’m proud to be a Vanguard Ambassador, and love their gear, which includes bags, tripod and other photography accessories. If you’re interested, you can read all about the camera gear we use here. Now, on with my guide to the best photography locations in Edinburgh.
Best Photography Locations in Edinburgh
1. Calton Hill
One of the most iconic views from Edinburgh is from atop Calton Hill, looking across Princes Street towards the castle, and placing the Dugald Stewart Monument in the foreground of your frame. This is a really lovely composition, and this image is often used to represent Edinburgh in photos around the world.
You can shoot this particular shot either with a wide angle, or you can back up a bit and use a longer lens to compress the different elements together. It also works well with a person in the foreground, either looking at or away from the camera.
As well as that particular shot, Calton Hill is home to a number of other fantastic views (and photo opportunities!). There’s the National Monument, which looks exactly like an unfinished version of the Greek Parthenon. There’s also Nelson’s Monument, a homage to the British sea admiral who won the Battle of Trafalgar. You can climb up the Nelson’s Monument to a terraced area for a small fee and get a nice view across the city – see the official website for opening times and prices..
Next to Nelson’s monument there’s a lookout area which offers excellent views of Arthur’s Seat, the Crags and the Royal Mile. That’s one of my favourite spots for sunset, and for watching Princes Street fall into dusk, at which point long exposure shots of the traffic moving make for a great shot.
2. Princes Street Gardens
Down underneath Edinburgh Castle is the Princes Street Gardens, a large public park which runs parallel to Princes Street, divided into the East and West gardens by The Mound.
The gardens are the former site of the “Nor Loch”, a defensive lake that sat here until the mid 18th century, and was usually very badly polluted by everything that dribbled out of the medieval city.
Today, the landscaped gardens are a rather nicer environment, particularly popular in the summer as a place to relax and take in the views. And what views they are – with the wonderful Edinburgh Castle providing the centre point for your photography efforts!
There are a number of great photography opportunities in the Gardens. One of my favourites is the Ross Fountain, which provides a lovely piece of foreground, with the castle in the backdrop (note that the Ross Fountain is undergoing refurbishment until mid 2018).
The Princes Street Gardens are also one of the best places to watch the New Years fireworks over the castle from as part of Edinburgh’s New Years celebrations. You can read all about our experience attending Hogmanay here.
3. Scott Monument
Sitting directly above Princes Street Gardens on Princes Street itself is the Scott Monument, the largest monument to a writer in the world.
My favourite time of year to shoot the Scott Monument is around Christmas, when there’s usually a fairground ride called the Starflyer. This is a set of spinning chairs that are raised high into the air, and they are particularly nice around sunset, when they are lit up – offering an excellent long exposure opportunity for which you will obviously need a tripod.
Otherwise, the Scott Monument is great to photograph up close, using the curves of the arches to frame the statue of Scott, or you can use the trees around the monument to frame it. Lots of potential here, definitely one to include on your list of Edinburgh photography locations!
4. The Royal Mile
One of Edinburgh’s most famous streets is the Royal Mile, which runs for just under a mile from Edinburgh Castle at one end down to the Palace of Holyroodhouse at the other. It’s also not technically one street, and is in fact made up of five streets that run into each other.
It’s a definite must for photography.
There are a number of spots along the Royal Mile that you shouldn’t miss. Obviously, Edinburgh Castle (book your tickets in advance here if you want to go inside) at one end, shot from Castle Esplanade, is an excellent starting point, plus there are nice views of the city from the esplanade too.
Working down the Royal Mile, and there are a number of photo opportunities, both shooting down the length of the mile itself, and of some of the side streets that run off it. Some not to miss opportunities include White Horse Close, an enclosed courtyard of pretty old houses.
Finally, at the far end of the Royal Mile is the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the official residence of the Queen in Scotland, and one of the most impressive buildings in the city. This is always worth taking a photo of, and you might be a get a shot from the gate but probably not the best one so best to pay and go inside. We recommend taking a tour around inside if you have a chance – it’s well worth it.
Side note and money saving tip – if you’re visiting a few sights in Edinburgh, you can save money with a Royal Edinburgh ticket, which is worth checking out. You can read a full review of using that here.
5. The Salisbury Crags
One of the nice things about Edinburgh from a photography point of view is that there’s no shortage of excellent vantage points from which to get great shots of the city. One of these is Holyrood Park, a huge royal park just to the south of the Palace of Holyroodhouse.
This is made up of a number of interesting features, including three lochs and the extinct volcanic peak known today as Arthur’s Seat. One of my favourite photography locations though are the Salisbury Crags – a series of 150ft high basalt column cliffs, from where you can get an excellent view of the Edinburgh Skyline. This is an excellent spot for photography, especially at sunset and sunrise.
6. Victoria Street
Edinburgh is home to a number of beautiful streets, with one of the most colourful being Victoria Street, which curves round from the Grassmarket on the lower level of the city up to the George IV Bridge and the Royal Mile.
This street was said to have inspired Diagon Alley in Harry Potter (read all about finding Harry Potter in Edinburgh here), and it is certainly a magical place for photography. The colourful shop fronts curve away down the street with cobbled stones underfoot and Edinburgh’s high old stone-built buildings towering above.
This is an easy stop just off the Royal Mile and certainly one to include. It does get busy though, so it can be challenging to shoot it without people, and almost impossible to photograph it without cars. You can reduce the number of people by doing a long exposure with a tripod and neutral density filter. You could also try coming in very early in the morning if you’re an early-bird!
7. The Vennel Steps
There are a lot of places to get a great view of Edinburgh Castle, but my absolute favourite is from the Vennel steps. A vennel, for those of you not familiar with the term, is a passageway between the gables of two buildings – basically an alley.
In this case, the steps lead away from the Grassmarket and up to Heriot Place. But if you turn around as you go up the steps, you’ll be treated to a wonderful view of Edinburgh castle, with the steps and alley providing a lovely leading line. This is a lovely shot at any time of day, and also works well at night with that aforementioned tripod.
8. Circus Lane
Edinburgh has no shortage of gorgeous streets to photograph, but one of the most popular ones has to be Circus Lane, over in the “New Town” of Edinburgh.
New is a relative term of course, given that this part of town was actually built in the 18th century. It was to here that the rich of Edinburgh moved, leaving the poor to the cramped and unsanitary conditions of the original medieval town centre.
Anyway, Circus Lane is a beautiful old cobbled street with old lampposts, creeping greenery and lovely houses, making for a perfect village scene, just ten minutes from the centre of Edinburgh. We also encourage you to find your own favourite alley or street in Edinburgh – there are lots to choose from!
9. Dean Village
Speaking of villages, if you make it to Circus Lane, you should definitely head a little further out of the city centre to Dean Village. This is a wonderfully picturesque oasis that sits in a valley formed by the “Water of Leith”, Edinburgh’s main river.
There’s plenty to photograph down here, but certainly the highlights include the colourful houses and the river, as well as the huge 19th century bridge that spans the valley above, transporting traffic across and away, and leaving Dean Village as a place that time seems to have almost forgotten.
10. Blackford Hill
Last in my list of Edinburgh photography locations is Blackford Hill. This is a relatively large hill to the south of the city centre which is home to an ancient hill fort, Edinburgh’s Royal Observatory, and of course, spectacular views across the city.
This is the place to come if you want to get a shot of the whole city including the Castle and Arthur’s Seat, and is an excellent location for either sunrise or sunset photography. At dusk in particular, you can catch the city lighting up as night falls, making for some lovely photography opportunities.
Tips for Photographing Edinburgh
And that sums up some of my favourite photography locations in Edinburgh. Next, I wanted to share some tips for photographing this lovely city.
1. Be prepared for any weather.
Whatever time of year you visit, the weather in Edinburgh can be fickle, and rain is a possibility every day! Layers are key in terms of clothing, and you’ll want to have a waterproof camera bag with you to protect your gear.
I use the Vanguard Alta Sky 49 which carries all my photography gear in comfort, and keeps it all dry too, with a built-in raincover as well as a really nifty tripod carrying system. I’ve used a lot of different bags, and the Alta Sky 49 is definitely my favourite to day.
2. Rise early, stay out late.
As every photographer knows, the best light for photography is usually around sunset and sunrise. Sunrise is especially a great time as far fewer people will be around. Edinburgh is a really popular city, especially during the August festivals, and those quiet moments in the early mornings can be the best times to capture the city before she wakes up.
3. Find the local stories.
Do try and catch some uniquely “Edinburgh” moments when you’re visiting the city, beyond just shooting the scenes I’ve picked out for you. These can include festival moments or Scottish highlights like bagpipe players.
4. Bring the right camera gear.
Edinburgh has a lot of photography opportunities, and you’ll find yourself needing a full range, from a wide angle lens to a telephoto zoom.
For night photography, long exposures and any HDR work you want to do, you’ll also want to use a tripod. See our guide to the best travel tripods for some ideas.
As Vanguard Ambassadors we are able to offer you a unique discount code which will get you 20% off everything in the Vanguard USA, Vanguard UK, Vanguard Spain, and Vanguard Germany online store websites. Just use code FindingTheUniverse (case sensitive) on checkout.
Where to Stay in Edinburgh
Edinburgh has a wide range of accommodation options from hostels to mid-range hotels to luxury properties. We’d advise finding a city centre hotel, that way you’ll be able to walk to all the attractions in this list and save on taxis or public transport fares.
If you’re travelling in the busier time of year, such as during the Edinburgh’s August Festivals or over Hogmanay (New Years), you’ll definitely want to book as far in advance of your trip as possible to be sure you find somewhere that suits.
There are lots of options in Edinburgh to suit all budgets. For some inspiration:
- The Haystack Hostel – this has a fantastic location and great reviews
- Castle Rock Hostel – a large and well-rated hostel with a castle theme, offering both dormitory and private rooms. It’s adults only, and has one of the best views of the castle of any hotel in the city. Five minutes walk from the Royal Mile. Also check out the Royal Mile Backpackers
- Elder York Guest House – If you’re looking for a budget – midrange B&B option, this is one of our favourites. Rooms are small but comfortable, and the breakfast is good. Note there are quite a lot of stairs and no elevator.
- 24 Royal Terrace – just round the back of Calton Hill this has excellent reviews and is a great value option
- Holiday Inn Express – A 3-star hotel offering well-priced rooms in the Old Town
- The Grassmarket Hotel – A well reviewed 3-star hotel found in the Grassmarket area
- Leonardo Royal Hotel – A business focused 4* hotel in the Haymarket, about a 20 minute walk from the Royal Mile. We have stayed here and found rooms to be comfortable and the food was good.
- The Kimpton on Charlotte Square – a lovely, well located hotel – perfect for a couples getaway
- The Witchery – One of our favourite hotels in Edinburgh, and just next door to Edinburgh Castle. It has an incredible restaurant too. If you’re in Edinburgh for a special occasion, or just want to treat yourself, this is an excellent option.
Our favourite way to find the best deals on accommodation when we travel is booking.com. We find they usually have the best deals across a wide range of properties, including hotels and apartments, and are really easy to use. Check out their Edinburgh listings here.
Plum Guide doesn’t have quite so many choices, but they carefully curate their listings so their options tend to be of a very high quality whilst still being available at a range of price points. See their listings for Edinburgh here.
If you can’t find what you want from the above choices, or you want some new options to try out, we wrote a whole post on the best alternatives to AirBnB which you should check out! We also have a guide to holiday cottages in the UK.
We also have a page full of travel resources, which includes our tips for getting the best deals on accommodation, which you can find here.
Further Reading for Visiting Edinburgh
And that sums up my tips on finding the best photography locations in Edinburgh! But that’s not all. We’ve got a lot of content we’ve put together, both about photography and visiting the UK, that we think you’ll find useful – plus some external links as well. Here it is:
- I have a number of articles dedicated to helping you improve your photography, including how to pick the best camera for travel, tips for cold weather photography and reasons you need a tripod for your photography.
- This is just one in my series of detailed photography location guides, which you can use to help you find the perfect shot in locations around the world!
- For Edinburgh, we have a number of detailed posts to help you get the most out of your stay in this beautiful city. These include a two day Edinburgh itinerary, a guide to Things to do in Edinburgh, suggestions for Getting off the beaten path in Edinburgh, our ideas of the best day trips from Edinburgh, as well as a guide to visiting Edinburgh for the Festivals and spending Christmas in Edinburgh.
- Since you’re in Scotland already for this location guide, check out some of our Scotland content, including:
- A detailed guide to the highlights of the epic North Coast 500 road trip, as well as accommodation options along the route, photography highlights of the NC500, and the ultimate NC500 planning guide
- A two day Glasgow and Loch Lomond Itinerary, our guide to Glasgow, as well as ten things to do in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park
- A Guide to Touring the Scottish Borders, as well as a 5 Day Isle of Skye and Highlands itinerary
- We also have content on the wider UK, including:
- Itineraries for one week in the UK and two weeks in the UK
- Our series of London itineraries including One Day, Two Day, and Six Day London Itineraries
- The Best Photography Locations in London
- How to Save Money in London with the London Pass
- The Highlights of Oxford
- Visiting Blenheim Palace and the Cotswolds
- Finally, if you’re interested in improving your photography, take a look at my online travel photography course, which has everything you need to know to start taking awesome travel photos, from picking a camera, to mastering the settings, to editing – and more!
And that’s it! Got a favourite photography location in Edinburgh, or any questions about the above? Let me know in the comments below!
So you know: As mentioned throughout the post, I’m an ambassador for Vanguard, and they provided me with my tripod and bag for this kit as part of the VEO 2 launch campaign. I love their gear and am thrilled to be able to work with a company I love, but as always, all opinions remain our own and we of course adhere to our code of ethics for any work we accept.