Edinburgh Cruise Port (S. Queensferry) | 10 Best Things To Do In Edinburgh

Edinburgh cruise port

Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland (United Kingdom), is known for its iconic Edinburgh Castle perched atop the dormant volcanic cliff of Castle Rock and its beautiful Old Town, home to historic churches, museums, and squares.

Edinburgh attracts millions of tourists each year with its stunning architecture, vibrant cultural scene, and wide range of shopping and dining opportunities.

There are four ports where cruise ships calling to Edinburgh may dock/anchor, and they are all within a 15-40-minute drive from downtown Edinburgh. South Queensferry is the main port for large cruise ships.

In this article, I share practical information on the South Queensferry cruise terminal, getting to Edinburgh from this port, and the 10 best things to do in Edinburgh.

Visit also our cruise port guides to Lerwick (Shetland Islands), Invergordon (Inverness), Glasgow (Greenock), Kirkwall, Reykjavik, Akureyri

Edinburgh Cruise Port at South Queensferry

There are four locations where cruise ships arriving in Edinburgh can dock/anchor:

  • South Queensferry – Located 10 miles northwest of Edinburgh city center, S. Queensferry is best known for its picturesque Forth Bridge, a 1.5-mile-long red railway bridge that crosses the Firth of Forth River. The cruise ships anchor in the firth and use tender boats to transfer the passengers to Hawes Pier, from where they can take a shuttle bus to Edinburgh city center.
  • Leith – This port is located only 3 miles from Edinburgh and it’s only used for small cruise vessels.
  • Newhaven – Cruise ships may also anchor in this harbour located only a 5-minute drive northwest of Leith.
  • Rosyth – A port is located 15 miles northwest of Edinburgh, across the Forth Bridge.

South Queensferry is known for its picturesque waterfront, historic buildings, and stunning views of the Forth Bridges. You can reach the town center in a 10-minute walk.

The tender ride takes about 15-20 minutes. Upon arriving at Hawes Pier, you’ll be greeted by the sounds of traditional bagpipes and friendly locals offering free maps and other services.

Edinburgh cruise port - South Queensferry's Forth Bridge
The Forth Bridge at South Queensferry

Edinburgh South Queensferry - Bagpipe player

Getting to Edinburgh from S. Queensferry cruise port

Guests who booked the shore excursions with the cruise ship will meet their tour guides and buses on the right side upon exiting the pier.

On the left side, you’ll see the bus stop for shuttle buses operated by “Lothian“, a local bus company. Bus X99 runs every 15 minutes and will take you to Edinburgh city center in about 30 minutes’ ride. You can purchase the bus tickets on the pier and the round-trip costs 12£ (price from 2024).

The drop-off point in Edinburgh is on National Cycle Rte 75, within a 5-minute walk from the iconic Scott Monument. Upon returning to the ship, save at least 45 minutes for the bus ride due to the traffic.

Edinburgh - South Queensferry cruise terminal
South Queensferry cruise terminal

Alternative options for getting to Edinburgh from S. Queensferry include the train and taxis. “Dalmeny” train station is located a 10-minute walk from the pier at the top of the hill (110 steps) and trains run twice per hour. The train ride takes 20 minutes and you can check the schedules at the https://www.scotrail.co.uk/. Hop on Hop off buses may be available in front of the train station.

In Edinburgh, you’ll get off at Waverley Railway Station, located near Princes Street, within a 10-minute walk from the Old Town.

Taxis are also available at Hawes Pier and prices are clearly displayed. The currency in Scotland is the British Pound (GBP). Most places will not accept euros or US dollars, however, credit cards are widely accepted.

If you prefer to book a shore excursion, you can do it through your cruise ship or an independent tour operator. Keep in mind that cruise ship prices can be even up to 3x higher than independent tours’ prices.

When I visited Scotland on a cruise, I booked all of my excursions via local operators. I had a great time and luckily no issues, the tours were all on time and adjusted to the cruise ship’s “All aboard time”. Explore Edinburgh tours and activities

10 Best Things To Do In Edinburgh Cruise Port

From the shuttle bus drop-off point near the Scott Monument, you can easily walk to the city’s main attractions and the iconic Edinburgh Castle. Here’s the list of the best things to do in this incredible city!

1. Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle is one of the city’s most iconic landmarks, perched atop Castle Rock and offering stunning views of the city. Steeped in history, this ancient 11th-century fortress served as a royal residence, a military stronghold, and a prison throughout history. Nowadays, it is a world-famous tourist attraction and the second-most-visited castle in the United Kingdom.

The castle dominates Edinburgh’s city center and takes at least a half-day to visit. Visitors can explore the Crown Jewels, the Stone of Destiny, and the National War Museum within its walls.

The castle is open daily and guided tours are offered. It’s highly recommended to book the tickets in advance, as they sell out far in advance, especially in the summer months.

When visiting the castle, remember to wear comfortable shoes, as there are plenty of steps and uneven surfaces to navigate.

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The view of Edinburgh Castle from Scott Monument. Below is the National Gallery of Scotland.
The view of Edinburgh Castle from Scott Monument. Below is the National Gallery of Scotland.

2. The Royal Mile

The Royal Mile is Edinburgh’s historic heart, stretching from the majestic Edinburgh Castle down to the impressive Palace of Holyroodhouse. This historic, cobbled street is packed with history, culture, and a variety of attractions and landmarks such as St Giles’ Cathedral, the Real Mary King’s Close, and the Scottish Parliament.

It’s a great place to soak up the atmosphere, browse unique shops, and sample local cuisine at the many pubs and restaurants. The Royal Mile is best explored on foot, so wear comfortable shoes and take your time to enjoy everything it has to offer.

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Edinburgh - The Royal Mile
The Royal Mile

3. St Giles’ Cathedral

Also known as the High Kirk of Edinburgh, the 12th-century St Giles’ Cathedral is a stunning medieval church located on the Royal Mile. With its striking crown steeple, the cathedral has been a focal point of worship for over 900 years and played a significant role in Scotland’s religious history.

Inside, you can admire beautiful stained glass windows, intricate stonework, and the Thistle Chapel, which honors the Order of the Thistle, Scotland’s highest order of chivalry. Visitors are welcome to explore the cathedral, with guided tours available for a small fee to provide deeper insight into its rich history.

Admission is free, though donations are appreciated to help with the upkeep. Remember to check the opening hours, as they can vary, especially during services and special events.

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Edinburgh - St Giles' Cathedral
St Giles’ Cathedral

Edinburgh - St Giles' Cathedral inside

4. Palace of Holyroodhouse

The Palace of Holyroodhouse, the official residence of the British monarch in Scotland, sits at the end of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, at the opposite end of Edinburgh Castle. This magnificent palace has a rich history, having been home to many Scottish royals since the 16th century, including Mary, Queen of Scots.

Visitors can explore the State Apartments, filled with stunning tapestries and furniture, and the historic chambers where Mary lived. The ruins of Holyrood Abbey and the beautiful gardens offer additional sights to enjoy.

Audio tours are included with admission, providing fascinating insights into the palace’s past and its role in modern ceremonies.

The palace is open year-round, but it’s wise to check for any closures due to royal events. To make the most of your visit, book tickets in advance and arrive early to avoid crowds.

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Edinburgh - Palace of Holyroodhouse
The Palace of Holyroodhouse was closed when I visited, due to the visit of King Charles III to Scotland.

5. Victoria Street

Known for its colorful buildings, unique shops, and lively atmosphere, Victoria Street is the city’s most picturesque street and a must-visit destination in Edinburgh!

Winding down from George IV Bridge to the Grassmarket, this iconic street is said to have inspired Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter movies. Fans will love visiting The Great Wizard, a magical store dedicated to all things Harry Potter, as well as Museum Context, a small shop specializing in officially licensed Harry Potter-themed clothing and souvenirs.

Beyond its literary connections, Victoria Street offers a variety of boutiques, cafes, and restaurants. Be sure to check out the independent shops selling everything from antiques to artisanal goods.

With its charming architecture and bustling vibe, Victoria Street is perfect for a leisurely stroll, shopping, and enjoying a coffee at one of its cozy cafes.

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Edinburgh - Victoria Street
Victoria Street
Edinburgh - Harry Potter Context Museum
Museum Context

6. Grassmarket

Located in the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town, Grassmarket is a historic market square known for its lively atmosphere, rich history, and stunning views of Edinburgh Castle.

Once the site of public executions, it’s now a bustling hub of pubs, restaurants, and shops. Visitors can enjoy a variety of dining options, from traditional Scottish fare to international cuisine. The area is perfect for a relaxed afternoon, with street performers and markets adding to its charm.

Notable landmarks include the White Hart Inn, one of the oldest pubs in Edinburgh, and the vibrant Saturday market. For history enthusiasts, the nearby Greyfriars Kirkyard is worth a visit.

Grassmarket is also a great spot to start a walking tour of the Old Town. To make the most of your visit, go in the evening when the area comes alive with nightlife, or during the day for a more leisurely experience.

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Edinburgh - Grassmarket

7. Scott Monument

The Scott Monument, a striking Gothic structure in the heart of Edinburgh, is dedicated to the famous Scottish author Sir Walter Scott. Standing tall in Princes Street Gardens, this iconic monument offers visitors stunning panoramic views of the city from its three viewing platforms.

Climbing the 287 narrow steps to the top is a must-do for those who enjoy a bit of adventure and breathtaking scenery. Inside, you can learn about Scott’s life and work through various exhibits.

The surrounding gardens are perfect for a relaxing stroll, and the nearby Princes Street offers excellent shopping and dining options. For the best experience, visit on a clear day to fully appreciate the views, and wear comfortable shoes for the climb.

Only guided tours are offered (12 visitors per group) and the tickets can be purchased on-site.

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Edinburgh - Scott Monument
Scott Monument
Edinburgh - The view from Scott Monument
The view of Edinburgh from Scott Monument

8. Scottish National Gallery

Located on Princes Street in the heart of Edinburgh, the National Galleries of Scotland houses an impressive collection of fine art from the Renaissance to the early 20th century.

The gallery features masterpieces by renowned artists such as Raphael, Titian, Rembrandt, and Rubens, as well as notable works by Scottish artists like Sir Henry Raeburn and William McTaggart. One of the highlights is the famous “The Monarch of the Glen” by Sir Edwin Landseer.

Admission to the gallery is free, making it an accessible cultural experience for all visitors. To make the most of your visit, take advantage of the free guided tours and audio guides available. A gift shop and a cafe are available on-site.

Edinburgh - Scottish National Gallery
Scottish National Gallery

9. National Museum of Scotland

Situated on Chambers Street in Edinburgh, this fascinating museum features a great collection of exhibits spanning natural history, world cultures, science, technology, and Scottish history.

This expansive museum features everything from ancient fossils and Egyptian mummies to cutting-edge technology and interactive displays. Highlights include the stunning Grand Gallery, the iconic Lewis Chessmen, and Dolly the sheep, the first cloned mammal.

With free admission, the museum is perfect for families, history buffs, and curious minds of all ages. Plan to spend several hours exploring its diverse collections and engaging activities.

The museum also offers guided tours, interactive exhibits for kids, and a rooftop terrace with panoramic city views.

To make the most of your visit, check out the museum’s schedule for special exhibitions and events, and take breaks at the on-site café and gift shop.

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Edinburgh - National Museum of Scotland
National Museum of Scotland

10. Scottish Whiskey Tasting

Scottish whisky, often referred to as “Scotch,” is world-renowned for its rich flavors and centuries-old distilling traditions. In Edinburgh, whisky tasting is a popular activity for visitors wanting to experience this iconic Scottish spirit.

The Scotch Whisky Experience on the Royal Mile is a top spot, offering guided tours and tastings that cater to both novices and connoisseurs. You can also visit local whisky bars like The Bow Bar or Whiski Rooms for an extensive selection of single malts and blends.

For the best experience, join a tasting session where knowledgeable guides explain the history, production process, and tasting techniques.

Booking a tour in advance is highly recommended, especially during peak tourist seasons. During the tasting, make sure to start with lighter whiskies before moving to stronger, peatier varieties to fully appreciate the range of flavors.

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Edinburgh - Scotch Whiskey Experience
The Scotch Whiskey Experience on Royal Mile

To Wrap Up

From the iconic Edinburgh Castle and the historic Royal Mile to the stunning views from the Scott Monument and the engaging exhibits at the National Museum of Scotland, there’s something for everyone in this amazing city! Don’t miss the chance to experience a Scottish whisky tasting for a true taste of local tradition.

Visit also our cruise port guides to Isafjordur, Seydisfjordur, Amsterdam, Zeebrugge, Liverpool, Newcastle, Holyhead, Dover

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