In a country as famous for its breathtaking landscapes as Scotland, the capital Edinburgh might not seem like the most exciting place for a landscape photographer. And yet, it’s an amazing city with lots of fantastic photo opportunities for those willing to seek them out. In this article, I’ll cover some of the best photography locations in and around Edinburgh and share my tips on getting great images.
- Why Edinburgh Is Great for Photography
- Photography Locations in Edinburgh
- Photography Locations Around Edinburgh
- Practical Tips for Photography in Edinburgh
- Recommended Photography Gear
- When to Go to Edinburgh
- Where to Stay in Edinburgh
- Final Thoughts
Why Edinburgh Is Great for Photography
Edinburgh is arguably not the first destination that comes to mind with regard to photography in Scotland. On the contrary, the country is so blessed with beautiful scenery that it’s only natural to want to get away from the crowds as quickly as possible.
And yet, for many visitors, Edinburgh is likely to be their first stop and their initial taste of Scotland. Understandably so — as Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh is the country’s most popular tourist destination. And rightfully so.
Edinburgh is a very charming, versatile, likable, and immensely picturesque city that is well worth exploring. Even if your main priority is landscape photography, I urge you to stay, if only for a couple of nights. I promise you will not regret it.
From the old town with its cobbled alleys and buildings dating back to the medieval era to the majestic Edinburgh castle and lush parks, you will find a ton of lovely compositions in Edinburgh. It’s a mesmerizing city with incredible architecture and some fabulous views.
As a vibrant international hub with some quirky characters, Edinburgh is also superb for street photography. And if that wasn’t enough, there are various other spots nearby worthy of a half-day trip.
And of course, Edinburgh is not only about photography. There is culture, history, people, food, and a unique vibe here. You wouldn’t do wrong by setting aside some time and diving right into all of that. And while you’re at it, have your camera ready. You might just need it.
Photography Locations in Edinburgh
For this article, I’ve selected what I think are the best photo spots in Edinburgh. Each comes with a short overview and some tips on how to approach it. If you only have limited time in Edinburgh, these will be more than enough to earn you some nice results.
For those staying longer, I’m including a few locations outside Edinburgh but reasonably close to it to be reachable within an hour. These too are well worth a visit if you get a chance. There’s a lot to cover, so let’s get into it!
Calton Hill in central Edinburgh is arguably the most popular and widely known photo location in the Scottish capital. You will undoubtedly have seen images from it on various postcards and all over the internet. And for good reason — the views from atop are gorgeous.
When facing west, in the direction of the evening sun, Edinburgh’s most notable landmarks are right in front of you. This makes Calton Hill a perfect vantage point to watch and photograph the sunset over Edinburgh.
The Royal Mile and the intricate labyrinth of the historic district all light up beautifully during the golden hour. And if you’re lucky enough to get some drama in the sky, you’re in for a real treat.
The classic composition with the Dugald Stewart Monument in the foreground and Edinburgh’s skyline in the background works best in autumn as the sun shifts further south during sunset. That said, you can get fabulous conditions all year round.
And of course, there are other compositions to tap into here. From a shot straight down the mile-long Princes Street (you can see it in the beginning of the article) to close-ups of the old buildings, there’s plenty to choose from. So be sure to bring the telephoto and come early enough to scout the area.
The Vennel Steps
One more undisputed classic from Edinburgh, the Vennel Steps is another photo location not to be missed. This small alleyway in the Grassmarket area is less of a tourist attraction but is massively known among photographers and Instagrammers.
The reason is simple enough. From the set of stairs connecting Lauriston Place and Grassmarket, you get a wonderful unobstructed view of the marvelous Edinburgh castle.
Together with the centuries-old buildings lining up the passage in the foreground, this makes for a clean yet delightful composition. One that I think captures the vibe and the atmosphere of Edinburgh perfectly.
Vennel Steps are great for photography throughout the day but are especially magical during the blue hour. With evening lights on and hardly any people around, it feels like something from a fairy tale or a medieval legend. Is there anything else to wish for?
Dean Village is an area immediately northwest of Edinburgh’s center and what a gem! A real village in the medieval era, it still feels like one, as if time has forever stopped here. Make your way there, and you’ll be excused to forget what year or even century it is.
To me, Dean Village is an ideal candidate for capturing “the old Edinburgh” if you will. What I imagine it used to look back when technology or hordes of tourists weren’t a thing. Any time works, but once again I think the blue hour would add a special feel to the shot.
Although Dean Village is a relatively small neighborhood, there are plenty of potential compositions here. To get started, head towards the Bell’s Brae Bridge, then slowly explore from there. Once again, come in advance to figure out what scene works best for you.
Princes Street Gardens
Back in Edinburg’s center, the Princes Street Gardens are well worth a stop for some nice photo opportunities. Situated at the foot of Edinburgh castle, this large public park offers some unbeatable views of the fortress.
Whether to include it in your shot or look for something else entirely is up to you of course. There are several memorials in the gardens and lots of little charming corners to explore. So be sure to experiment and try out various angles.
That said, there are two famous spots to mention. The first one is near Ross Fountain in the West Princes Street Gardens. You can use the fountain as a foreground element against the backdrop of Edinburgh castle.
The second one is on the Mound, a slope that divides the gardens into West and East parts. From here, you get a nice panoramic view east towards the Scott Monument, the Old Town, and Calton Hill that could work really well during sunrise.
Scott Monument is a huge Victorian Gothic memorial just east of Princes Street Gardens. It’s an impressive structure that can be a prominent subject for your photo. But with a bit of a caveat — you need to get a little creative.
You see, if you simply approach Scott Monument head-on, it’ll make for a nice but somewhat lackluster image. A bit like photographing Big Ben or the Statue of Liberty — pretty, but not exactly ground-breaking.
A better idea could be to shoot it from further away and try to incorporate it into a larger skyline. Or during the Christmas period when a Ferris wheel set up nearby adds an element of interest to the image. Or, you can zoom in on its separate features and try to convey a sense of scale.
Whatever it is, if you’re ready to play around and look for a less conventional angle, Scott Monument can be a fantastic addition to your photo collection from Edinburgh.
The Royal Mile
The Royal Mile is the very heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town. Stretching from Edinburgh Castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, it is full of historic buildings, cobblestone pavements, and narrow passageways.
It’s a beautiful part of Edinburgh to explore at your own leisurely pace. There are so many wonderful spots here! The Lawnmarket, St Giles Cathedral, the National Library, and the Holyrood Abbey are just a few examples.
Yet my suggestion for the Royal Mile is not to hunt particular locations but rather to let the ideas flow. This part of Edinburgh is incredible for street photography. Simply keep your eyes open and let the photos come naturally.
On my last evening in Edinburgh, I went out with a camera but no specific purpose in mind. And I have to say — it was a tremendously refreshing experience. I captured a couple of really cool unplanned photos that I’m really happy about.
Salisbury Crags is a large cliff southwest of Edinburgh center. To be honest, I’m a bit reluctant to put it on the list because I feel that Edinburgh and its surroundings pack so much already that venturing to Salisbury Crags only makes sense if you run out of ideas.
That said, from Salisbury Crags, you have spectacular panoramic views of the entire Edinburgh. It’s a nice place to watch and photograph the sunset. And if you can work some foreground into the composition, you could end up with a very satisfying shot.
For that, I recommend heading to Arthur’s Seat viewpoint and bringing your telephoto lens. That way you can use compression in your favor so that the skyline in the background looks bigger.
Another good alternative is a drone. Shooting from the air often helps to convey the sense of scale, especially if you have a person as your main subject. Of course, check the corresponding laws and regulations on drones in Scotland beforehand.
Photography Locations Around Edinburgh
While there is plenty to photograph in Edinburgh itself, those willing to change the scenery for a bit will find plenty of other fascinating photography locations not far from it. Here are just three suggestions you might want to consider.
One of the most popular and easiest-to-get destinations around Edinburgh is the Kelpies. It’s a giant 30-meter sculpture of two horses and the main attraction of Falkirk Helix Park.
In Scottish folklore, kelpies are the shape-changing aquatic spirits that haunt the rivers, usually in the shape of a horse. So the creative idea behind the Kelpies of Falkirk was to establish a testament to the horse-powered heritage across Scotland.
It’s an impressive installation and an outstanding subject for photos. There are numerous angles to explore and experiment with. And if you get here after dark, you will catch the horses beautifully illuminated with various colors.
The Kelpies are open 24/7 and are completely free to visit. All you need is to catch a bus or a train from Edinburgh to Falkirk and then either walk or take another bus to the site. A one-way journey will last approximately 1-1.5 hours.
The Forth Bridge
The Forth Bridge is an old railway bridge 9 miles west of Edinburgh. Built in 1890, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has been voted Scotland’s greatest man-made wonder (Kelpies came in third).
Thanks to its unique shape and bright red color, the Forth Bridge attracted photographers ever since it was built. Even today, it’s a magnificent structure that lends itself extremely well to photography. Especially during sunrise when there is no wind.
The best spot to photograph it is the southern shore between the Forth and Forth Road Bridges. Even if you don’t have a car, you can get there by train or by bus from Edinburgh. It’ll take you between 30 and 50 minutes — simply ask Google Maps for directions.
Doune or Stirling Castle
Medieval castles are one of Scotland’s signature trademarks. There are thousands of them all across the country. Around Edinburgh alone, there are several that are worth visiting. I find it very hard to pick just one, so here are a couple of good options.
Doune Castle is arguably a more photogenic one. If you get there at sunset when the conditions are right, you can walk away with an astonishing image. Unfortunately, it’s also the farthest one from Edinburgh. Expect a journey of up to two hours.
Stirling Castle isn’t far from the Kelpies, so you can hit them both in one go. Stirling is one of the largest and historically important strongholds in Scotland. For history buffs, it is worth visiting for that reason alone. And so is the Wallace Monument, another important landmark nearby.
It isn’t bad for photography either. But if neither of these is overly inspiring, have a look at this article for some further suggestions and ideas.
Practical Tips for Photography in Edinburgh
Edinburgh is a very friendly destination for photographers and there isn’t much to keep in mind when going there. Still, here are a couple of simple tips that might help make the planning go smoother.
- You don’t need a car (or even public transport) in Edinburgh at all. If you stay near the center, you can easily walk to all of the locations listed in this article.
- Edinburgh is very safe. In fact, it is one of the safest towns in the UK. I was never intimidated there or felt uncomfortable with my camera gear on display.
- Amazing as Edinburgh’s downtown is, it is also quite crowded. Aim for the morning blue hour if you want images without many people in them.
- Much as everywhere else in Scotland, most pubs and restaurants stop serving food around 6:30 – 7 PM. If you’re planning on shooting sunset, consider an early dinner.
- You don’t need cash in Edinburgh. It might be handy sometimes but I spent several days there and never needed it. It’s always a good idea to ask in advance, but most venues have no problem accepting credit cards (you can also put tips on them).
- Don’t spend your entire time on photography. There are a ton of fun things to do in Edinburgh, so cut yourself some slack and just enjoy it!
Recommended Photography Gear
You don’t need a lot of gear to photograph Edinburgh. Modern smartphones go a long way already. But if you prefer a dedicated camera, here are a few items I recommend. These are Amazon affiliate links, but I do use all these items on a daily basis.
- A general walk-around lens like 24-105 mm is great for street photography and allows zooming in on your subject if necessary. If you can only have one lens, go with this one.
- Surprisingly, a telephoto such as 70-200 mm is extremely useful in Edinburgh. If you don’t mind lugging it around, bring it along.
- A tripod is only necessary if you plan on shooting sunsets, sunrises, or after dark. You can safely leave it in the hotel during the day.
- A camera bag of a smaller variety like this one is perfect for shooting in towns and cities. It’s small and compact yet packs a ton of gear if necessary.
When to Go to Edinburgh
If photography is your main objective, there is no bad season to head to Edinburgh. While the peak months of May through September are fantastic, they are also the busiest and most expensive ones. That’s especially true around August when the festival season begins.
So to save on expenses and have a more relaxed experience, consider winter. It’s as good a season for photography in Edinburgh as any. The weather might be grim but it’s not overly cold. And if you’re lucky to be there when it snows, you can capture something very unique.
Where to Stay in Edinburgh
Whether your main goal is photography or just having fun, I recommend finding accommodation in the central area. Somewhere near the Royal Mile would be perfect, as you can easily walk everywhere.
Just keep in mind that Edinburgh can be very expensive, especially during the high season. As often, the earlier you book, the better deal you usually get. If you can’t find a reasonably priced hotel, consider Airbnb. It isn’t much cheaper, but sometimes there are reasonable options.
Edinburgh is a welcoming and charming city with lots to do and try out and a phenomenal photography destination. It might not take your breath away like the Scottish Highlands, but it sure has aces up its sleeve that will surprise you.
If it’s your first trip to Scotland, I highly recommend including Edinburgh in your itinerary no matter what you’re most interested in. You’ll have a blast.
I hope you enjoyed this quick photography guide to Edinburgh and got something useful out of it. If so, be sure to share it with your friends and on social media and if you have any comments or questions, leave them below.
I do have further articles about Scotland and other destinations that might be of interest. Feel free to roam around the blog or check some of the suggestions below:
- 10 Things to Do in Edinburgh: Best Highlights and Must-Sees
- Photography Guide to Scotland: How to Get Amazing Images
- One Week in Scotland: A Perfect Itinerary for Photographers
- Isle of Skye Photography Guide: Best Locations and Tips
- Photography Guide to Madeira: Best Locations, Tips, and More
- Mont Saint-Michel Photography Guide: Best Locations and Tips
- A Land of Wonders: 10 Great Reasons to Travel to Slovenia
- Best Landscape Photography Locations in Patagonia
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This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I might get a small commission for purchases made through them.