We are often asked to create an Edinburgh itinerary for our guests. As we live and work in Edinburgh, we jump at the opportunity to talk about the best places to see during your time here. The city simply has so much to offer! You truly need a lifetime to really explore and understand the place, but we have done our best to condense the best bits into this Edinburgh itinerary.
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Calton Hill is a fantastic way to start your trip to Edinburgh. It is a small hill right in the center of the city and it gives you a brilliant view of the beautiful skyline. It is home to many interesting monuments including the National Monument and the Nelson Monument.
It is one of the best places to watch the sunrise, so try and get up early to squeeze that in. We also recommend you get there early so you are not surrounded by other travelers and tourists, all trying to get a picture of the castle from afar. However, it is also a beautiful spot to watch the sunset, so you may wish to make two trips there. Only a 2 minute climb, it won’t wear you out for the day ahead. Grab a coffee at lookout cafe for more amazing views and some energy for the day ahead.
The brilliant thing about Edinburgh is that there is simply so many free things to do. One of the first things we always tell newcomers to do is go on the Sandemans free Walking Tour.
This tour is a cost effective way to really get to know the city and learn about some of its fascinating history. It meets outside the Starbucks on the Royal Mile every day at 10am, 11am, midday, 1pm and 2pm and lasts roughly 2 hours.
You get a knowledgeable guide who lives in Edinburgh who will be able to answer all your questions as they take you round the city, telling you all the best things. It is also a nice way to meet other travelers, especially if you are travelling solo. Whilst it is a free tour, the guides do ask for tips if you enjoyed it. However, given the value you get, this is a fair thing to ask.
Now you have a good bearing of the city, it’s time to go and explore perhaps Edinburgh’s most famous sight of all; Edinburgh Castle. Located at the top of the Royal Mile, the Castle provides stunning views of the entire city and is steeped in history that shaped Scotland. A trip to Edinburgh wouldn’t be complete without it.
There are some different options to visit the castle. You can purchase a ticket for £19.50 at the ticket desk or for £17.50 online at the Edinburgh Castle Website. There are plenty of plaques and boards next to all major exhibits and buildings that explain everything, and is not a bad way to explore the castle.
The other option is to purchase a tour. This means that you will learn far more, follow the best route and be able to ask any questions you may have. We certainly think this is the best way to visit. We recommend taking Sandemans Edinburgh Castle Walking Tour.
St Giles Cathedral isn’t always first on a list of things to do in Edinburgh, but it should be! Located just a little way down from the castle, on The Royal Mile, Giles Cathedral is another important building in Edinburgh’s history.
The Cathedral is completely free to visit and is open from 9am to 5pm. However, please note that on some days it may be closed as it still runs services.
Whilst in Scotland, you need to visit a Scottish pub and take in some traditional Scottish music. We have a great guide to the best traditional Scottish pubs in Edinburgh, however, for this guide we recommend you head along to Sandybells, probably the most famous of them all. It is a tight squeeze during busy times, but the musicians sit among the audience and the atmosphere is fantastic. It is also just next to much of the cities nightlife in the Grassmarket and Cowgate, in case you want to continue your night elsewhere. Enjoy yourself. With all that walking you’ve earnt it. Make sure you get some rest though, you still have another day to explore.
You may be feeling a bit rusty from the night before. Don’t worry though, our first acitivty for day two of our Edinburgh Itineray will help to blow away the cobwebs. You are heading up Arthurs Seat, a huge hill that overlooks the entire city, and one of our favourite places to visit.
Arthurs Seat lays right in the center of the city, and the panoramic views are incredible. It is around 251m above sea level and can be quite steep in parts, so take good shoes. However, when you get to the top, it’s well worth it. It’s always best to go first thing in the morning, especially in summer, as it really does get busy. If you want a nice photo at the top to celebrate a successful climb, you will have lots of people in the way unless you go early.
At the bottom of Arthurs Seat lies Hollyrood Park and Holyrood Palace. Holyrood Palace is the queens preferred place to stay when she is in Edinburgh and you can see why. The building itself is beautiful from the outside. However, the inside is truly remarkable with and there are a number of exhibitions in the surrounding outbuildings each month.
You’ve probably had enough of UK politics by now. However, the Scottish parliament is worth a visit for those who are interested in learning more about the Scottish Politics in general.
The exterior of the building itself is particularly eye catching and there was a lot of controversy over it amongst Edinburgh residents. Having said that, it certainly stands out and provides a modern contrast to the old buildings of the old town.
There are regular tours of the parliament. For more details, check there website as they are subject to change when parliament is in session.
Another favorite, the Scotch Whisky Experience is one of the best attractions we could recommend, and a fantastic way to sample a big part of Scottish culture.
The Whisky experience offers a number of different tours at various price levels. Some are quite expensive, but they are all worth it. We recommend taking the middle range, gold package at £28 as it gives you all the benefits of the silver tour but you are able to sample more whisky.
It is a fantastic way to learn more about whisky, from how it’s made, to why different whiskys taste and smell differently. Even if you are not a whisky fan, it is still worth the visit for the knowledge you are able to get for it. Their restaurant, Amber, downstairs is also a great place to try some Haggis!
You’ve had a whisky to steady your nerves, now its time to head down into one of the most haunted places in Edinburgh! The Niddrie street vaults is a truly captivating place to visit. Learn about how Edinburgh’s poor survived in this underground labyrinth and about the economic and political environment that forced them down there in the first place. Known as one of the most haunted places in the UK, you will also hear some spine tingling stories of ghosts and hauntings. However, even for those that don’t believe in all that, the history alone is worth it.
There are a number of tours available that take you down into the vaults, however, we recommend Mercat Tours. They have lots of tours throughout the day and evening, but for the best experience, we say go at night time!
Below is a list of Restaurants and Cafes we recommend you try during your trip. If you find yourself with time between the activities we have mentioned above, one of these is bound to be close by!
If you find yourself with more than just two days, or you have completed the itinerary but want to see even more, when don’t you take a short trip to somewhere nearby? There is so much to see, from the beautiful Pentland Hills, only 25 minutes from Edinburgh, to Portobello and Cramond Beaches, at either end of the cities outskirts. Read our article on the best day trips from Edinburgh to learn more!
To experience the best that Edinburgh has to offer, and to see the key sights, we would say you need 2 days at the very least. This is enough time to see the main sights and get a good feel for the city. But to really see everything, you would need much longer than this. This guide only scratches the surface. Nevertheless, many people come for a long weekend, so we felt it would be useful to work within that time limit.
There truly is something going on in this city throughout the year. However, if we had to pick, we would say that July is the best time to visit Edinburgh. This is because it is summer time, and when the sun does decide to come out, Edinburgh is an incredibly magical place to be. Also, July is far quieter than August, when it get so busy you can barely move due to the Edinburgh Festival.
We hope that you find our Edinburgh itinerary useful. It was certainly difficult trying to pack the best sights and attractions into two days, but we feel confident that after experiencing the city once, you will come back again and again and try everything that Edinburgh has to offer.
If you enjoyed our itinerary, let us know! What were your favorite places? Anywhere we missed off? We’d love your feedback.