The Perfect Itinerary for 3 Days in Edinburgh, Scotland

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A long time ago, the city of Edinburgh was known as “Auld Reekie.” This was back in the days of peat fire smog, overpopulation, and a lack of modern plumbing. Add to this a stagnant Nor Loch (which was polluted with everything from waste to dead bodies), and you probably can figure out where the “Reekie” came from.

Thankfully, Edinburgh has come a long way since then.

Edinburgh Royal Mile

I'll never forget my first trip to Edinburgh. It was at the tail end of my very first trip to Europe, and I arrived on the train from London right smack in the middle of the city's festival season in August. I hadn't done my research beforehand, and was totally surprised by this timing.

It was great, though – I explored the city AND enjoyed the Fringe Festival at the same time.

Bagpiper in Edinburgh
Your typical Scottish busker.

It was on that first trip that I totally fell in love with Edinburgh. The city is filled with history (both its Old and New towns are UNESCO World Heritage Sites), amazing architecture, plenty of Scottish culture, and not one but TWO castles!

If you've never been to “Auld Reekie” before, here are my suggestions for what to do with three days in the city. (And don't worry – they figured out those plumbing issues ages ago.)

3 Days in Edinburgh

Day 1

On your first day in Edinburgh, I recommend focusing on its most famous sites. We'll dub this day “Iconic Edinburgh.”

Royal Mile

Royal Mile in Edinburgh

Edinburgh's most famous attraction by far is the Royal Mile. Though “attraction” isn't really the right word, since the Royal Mile is so much more than just a singular thing to see.

Here you'll find everything from pubs to tartan shops, and the pedestrian-only section is usually filled with street performers. As you make your way up (or down) the Royal Mile, check out the following:

St. Giles Cathedral

St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh, Scotland

You can't miss this 14th-century cathedral with is crown-shaped steeple on the Royal Mile. Not only is the church beautiful on the outside, but it's just as pretty on the inside, too. Pop in to see the stained glass windows, pretty blue ceiling, and intricate Thistle Chapel.

Inside St. Giles Cathedral
Inside St. Giles Cathedral

Scotch Whisky Experience

Near the Edinburgh Castle, you'll come upon the Scotch Whisky Experience. Even if you don't love whisky, this is something worth doing.

You can take a variety of tours that promise to help you “become a ‘one-hour-whisky-expert,'” and also see a collection of more than 3,300 bottles of Scotch whisky. (Book the Silver Whisky Tour here.)

Camera Obscura and World of Illusions

Camera Obscura in Edinburgh

If you're in the mood for a more fun way to spend an hour or two, check out the Camera Obscura and World of Illusions right next to the entrance to Edinburgh Castle. This interactive museum is filled with optical illusions and fun puzzles – and the tower gives you some great views out over the city.

Visit a castle

Edinburgh Castle

You can't really visit Edinburgh without visiting a castle (after all, remember that there are two of them here!).

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle at night

Edinburgh Castle, sitting proudly at the top of the Royal Mile, is the castle that you'll see the most often since it's visible from many parts of the city. And while the ancient fortress is pretty cool, I find the entrance fee (currently £16.50) a bit steep for what you can actually see.

Edinburgh Castle has not been occupied for centuries, so what you'll find inside consists mostly of the crown jewels of Scotland and some military exhibits.

(If you do visit and want to get more out of your time there, pick up a skip-the-line ticket that includes a guided tour.)

Palace of Holyroodhouse

If you want my honest opinion, I think that visiting the Palace of Holyroodhouse is more worth it. This palace at the bottom of the Royal Mile only costs £12.50 to tour, and offers the added bonus of still being an official royal residence.

Holyroodhouse is the official residence of the British monarch in Scotland, and the Queen comes to stay (and throw a huge party) every summer.

Holyrood House Palace

You can view the State Apartments (which are still used), as well as the former chambers of Mary, Queen of Scots. When I visited, they also had a special display of some of the dresses Queen Elizabeth has worn throughout her reign.

Outside the palace, you'll find some beautiful grounds, as well as the ruins of the Holyrood Abbey. This was all much more interesting for me than Edinburgh Castle.

Holyrood Abbey ruins
Holyrood Abbey ruins

Get ghostly

Edinburgh has a very long history – and not all of it nice. There are various tours you can take to explore the darker side of the city, from nighttime ghost tours to after-dark historical tours.

You should also check out the Real Mary King's Close, which is a complex of narrow alleyways partially hidden beneath the Royal Exchange in the Old Town. The area has plenty of dark stories associated with it, so be prepared for some goosebumps.

Here are some spooky Edinburgh tours to check out:

Day 2

On your second day in Edinburgh, venture away from the Old Town into the newer parts of the city.

Edinburgh, Scotland
Gotta leave the Old Town behind today.

Scottish National Gallery

Start you day with a visit to the Scottish National Gallery, located on The Mound beneath Edinburgh Castle. The best part about this museum (other than the great artwork)? It's free to visit.

Climb the Scott Monument

View of Edinburgh and Arthurs Seat from the Scott Monument
View of Edinburgh and Arthurs Seat from the Scott Monument

The Victorian Gothic monument dedicated to Scottish author Sir Walter Scott sits on the edge of Princes St Gardens, and is one of the largest monuments to a writer anywhere in the world. 

It's not an easy climb (it's 287 steps up, and includes some extremely narrow passages), but climbing to the top of the Scott Monument will get you some of the very best views of Edinburgh. 

Calton Hill

Calton Hill in Edinburgh

Located beyond the east end of Princes Street is Calton Hill, where you'll find various monuments (like the Nelson Monument and Robert Burns Monument) and some more incredible views out over Edinburgh.

If you don't fancy climbing the Scott Monument, definitely make sure you get to Calton Hill for the views.

Dean Village

Dean Village in Edinburgh, Scotland

Lastly, walk through the New Town on foot to visit one of my favorite spots in Edinburgh: Dean Village. This little neighborhood is characterized by colorful historical houses and the Water of Leith running through it. It's a great place for a walk – but beware that you'll feel like you've stepped back in time here!

Dean Village in Edinburgh, Scotland

To find Dean Village, take Bell's Brae down beneath the Dean Bridge, only about a 10- or 15-minute walk from Princes Street.

Day 3

I'm dubbing your third day in Edinburgh “History Day,” because that's what all my suggestions for today seem to focus around.

National Museum of Scotland

Start your day with another museum: the National Museum of Scotland. This museum is dedicated to the history of (you guessed it) Scotland, but has exhibits covering things like art, design, world cultures, and even dinosaurs, too. And, like with most museums in the UK, this one is also free.

Visit an old cemetery

Greyfriars Kirkyard in Edinburgh
Greyfriars Kirkyard

This may sound a bit weird, but I really enjoy visiting old cemeteries when I travel. They can be hauntingly beautiful, and this is definitely true of Greyfriars Kirkyard, the graveyard surrounding Greyfriars Kirk in Edinburgh's Old Town.

Greyfriars is famous for a couple of things, including Greyfriars Bobby, a little dog that guarded its former master's grave in the graveyard for 14 years. It also is *supposedly* where author JK Rowling got a few ideas for names in the Harry Potter series. 

Grassmarket

Grassmarket in Edinburgh, Scotland

Located below the Royal Mile and Edinburgh Castle (on the opposite side as Princes Street Gardens) sits the Grassmarket. This historic market place is now filled with pubs, restaurants, and more of the city's incredible architecture.

While you're there, be sure to head up West Bow street, which leads to one of my favorite streets in Edinburgh: Victoria Street.

Victoria Street in Edinburgh
Victoria Street, my favorite street in Edinburgh!

Literary pub tour

Speaking of authors, did you know that Scotland (and Edinburgh more specifically) has produced a great number of writers and poets? Find out for yourself by going on a unique literary pub tour, which will have you tracing the city's literary history by visiting places frequented by the likes of Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott.

(Or, how about a Harry Potter walking tour of the city?)

If you have more time

Find yourself with an additional day or two in Edinburgh? Then the other must-do in the city is definitely hiking to the top of Arthur's Seat if the weather is good. This ancient volcano sits above Holyrood Park and offers the best views of Edinburgh and the Firth of Forth. The hike generally takes a couple of hours to complete, but you could easily stretch it to a half-day activity if you bring a picnic lunch.

 

Where to stay in Edinburgh

Lastly, here are a few of my favorite places to stay in Edinburgh:

Mid-range hotel in the Old Town: Holiday Inn Express Edinburgh Royal Mile – I like this hotel on Cowgate because it's close to the Royal Mile, and yet not super noisy. The rooms are bright and clean, the free wifi is fast, and you usually get free breakfast with your booking. (Read reviews | Book here)

Apartment in the Old Town: Destiny Scotland – On my last visit to Edinburgh, I rented a one-bedroom apartment on George IV Bridge through Destiny Scotland. The apartment was gorgeous, and I had a view of Edinburgh Castle from my kitchen window! Definitely my favorite place to stay in Edinburgh thus far. (Read reviews | Book here)

Edinburgh, Scotland
This was my view from my Destiny Scotland apartment!

Luxury hotel in the Old Town: Radisson Blu Edinburgh – If you want to stay right ON the Royal Mile, check out the Radisson Blue with its contemporary rooms. (Read reviews | Book here)

Close to the train station: Mercure Edinburgh City – Princes Street – I've stayed at this hotel twice when I had an early train to catch at Waverly Station. The hotel on Princes Street is clean and comfortable, and a great option if you don't care about staying in the Old Town. (Read reviews | Book here)

Check out more UK accommodation here:



Booking.com

Where to eat in Edinburgh

Now that you have an idea of what there is to do in Edinburgh, here are a few suggestions of where to grab a bite to eat in the city. (And, contrary to what you've heard about Scottish food, there's actually a lot of great things to try beyond haggis!)

For pies: The Piemaker – No, not fruit pies; we're talking meat pies here! The Piemaker on South Bridge serves up cheap and tasty pies that are perfect for a takeaway meal.

For soup: Union of Genius – This is Edinburgh's first soup cafe!

For pizza: La Favorita – This pizzeria makes great wood-fired pizzas with homemade dough.

For dessert: The Elephant House – This cafe on George IV Bridge is famously known as being one of the places where JK Rowling would write her Harry Potter stories over cake and coffee (or maybe tea?). They do very tasty cakes and desserts.

Elephant House Cafe in Edinburgh
Elephant House Cafe

For serious foodies: The Kitchin – This Michelin star restaurant has a “from nature to plate” philosophy, and serves up British/Scottish cuisine French-influenced flair.

More essential info

READ NEXT: Hogmanay: The Most Epic New Year's Celebration You've Never Heard Of

Is anyone else as in love with Edinburgh as I am? What are some of your other favorite things to do there?

 

What to do with three days in Edinburgh, Scotland

 

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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61 Comments on “The Perfect Itinerary for 3 Days in Edinburgh, Scotland

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  1. I’m so glad you experienced La Favorita!! We order from them all the time. Best pizza ever. Piemaker is great as well!

    Pass on the Elephant House. If you really want to see where JK Rowling did loads of her writing, go to Spoon on Nicolson Street – her brother in law used to own the cafe that has now become Spoon, so she spent a lot of time there. I also think their coffee/food is much tastier than Elephant House’s.

      Good tip on Spoon! The apartment I stayed in the last time I was there was right above the Elephant House, so it was cool to just pop down there for dessert in the evening!

    This is great! Edinburgh is on my bucket list – hoping to get there soon!

      I hope you do! It’s a very cool city.

    My hubby & I have been lucky enough to get to Scotland twice. We’ve done several of your suggestions. Edinburgh is one of my favorite places. I’d love to go back.

    Take in the annual Tattoo if you get the chance. You can view it on Utube, but it’s better to be there.

    You have given good advice.

      I saw the Tattoo a few years ago, and it was indeed amazing! There’s so much to do there during the Festival season.

    You nailed it 🙂 Edinburgh is one of my favourite cities in the world – it’s actually beautiful in every season. This itinerary is about the same I always tell people to do in Edinburgh.

      I’ve been there in summer, winter, and autumn, and have to agree – it’s a great city any time of year!

    Edinburgh’s one of my favourite cities, the history is just fantastic! And the ghoulish side of tourism is one of the cities strong points; underground cities, ghost tours and castles with a bloody past – it ticks all my boxes!

      I’m a huge history nerd, so I know that’s definitely one of the reasons why I love Edinburgh so much!

    Great guide! I’m visiting Edinburgh for the first time in February, and will definitely be using this guide to help plan my trip.

    Thanks!
    Kate | http://www.petiteadventures.org/

      Yay! Happy to be able to help!

    I really enjoyed this post! The photos of the Edinburgh castle look really dramatic with those crazy clouds in the sky. Unfortunately I haven’t managed to travel to Edinburgh yet but it’s definitely on my list. I’m really glad I discovered your blog, it’s a lot of fun! Greetings from Germany 🙂

      That morning with those clouds was pretty amazing for photos! (And thankfully the rain that came with them passed really fast. 😉 )

    These pictures make me want to go to Scotland very much now! I just got inspired to go to Europe, hopefully it works out, but Scotland is one of the places I’d want to go.

      Scotland is one of my favorite parts of Europe – and Edinburgh can’t be missed!

    Great guide! LOVE LOVE LOVE Edinburgh! One of my favorite European cities!

      It’s one of my favorites, too! No matter how many times I’ve been there, I always love going back.

    Nice post! I’ve dreamed of going to Edinburgh, but I wasn’t sure at all if I was going to like it. However, seeing your photos (and reading your blog) makes me wanna pack my bags and go to there.

      It’s a cool city for so many reasons – I would definitely recommend visiting eventually!

    I love cities full of history! I really want to travel to Scotland one day and when I do I will come to Edinburgh 🙂

      One of my favorite cities in one of my favorite countries. 🙂

    I love these photos. I’ve always been meaning to get to Scotland… just haven’t prioritized it, I guess! If I do go, I would probably have exactly 72 hours, haha! There’s just so much to see in that part of the world.

      Luckily Edinburgh is a fairly small capital city. You can see the main sights in just a few days, and you can even get to most places on foot (especially in the Old Town, where things are quite close).

    Wow you packed a lot in! Super beautiful, I’d love to visit Scotland

    The Quirky Queer

      Everything is so close in Edinburgh that you can do a lot in a day! (Though I did visit Edinburgh Castle and Holyroodhouse on separate trips.)

    My boyfriend and I want to do a weekend in Edinburg and go up by train XD this post makes me want to go there even more!! Great post Amanda! 🙂 x

    Victoria | VictoriaaHelenn

      Highly recommend the train! You see some very pretty scenery on the way, and I find train travel so much easier than flying!

    I love this post! It actually couldn’t have come as a better time as I’m off to Edinburgh next month and am finally planning to be a tourist! I’ve always gone there to see friends, or go to a concert, or twice I’ve managed to swing by during the Fringe and still not done anything touristy beyond the Royal Mile. I’ll be doing Arthur’s Seat on my first day though, for me that’s a must-do! And the zoo is on my list. But I love your other suggestions!

    I can’t wait to visit Scotland…not sure it will happen this year, but I’ll definitely come back to this list before I do!

      It will still be around next year, too. 🙂

    Oh wow, it seems to be taken straight out of a fairy tale! Will have to keep it in mind, if hopefully I manage to plan a visit there soon 🙂
    x
    Ylenia
    The Ineffable Daze

      It certainly is one of the most photogenic cities I’ve been to! And not one but TWO castles? Definitely fairy tale stuff right there.

    Two other places worth seeing…The National Library of Scotland is near the Elephant Café. It has an exhibit space featuring rotating exhibits, café, and bookshop on the ground floor. When I visited last year, there was a neat exhibit about maps in history.

    I also had a wonderful afternoon at the Scottish National Gallery–lots of great art!

      Lots of great museums, for sure – which are especially great for a rainy day!

    ‘Love the post Amanda. You did very well!
    As a British person who has been to Edinburgh a million times, you pretty much covered it lol!

    All I would ask is that you find yourself a venue with live music, and to do so all you need look for is a local pub!

    Also, don’t be shy to visit Edinburgh during the Fringe Festival in August. It might be peak season, but you’ll always find something to watch no matter the budget, and there’s always a lot of interesting free entertainment too…

    In short, the Scots are warm, and their country is lovely!

      I LOVED Edinburgh during the Fringe! There was always something fun to see on the Royal Mile, and I got tickets to a couple very cool shows for really cheap! I even managed to get a last-minute ticket to the Military Tattoo. I would definitely go again!

    I would LOVE to visit Edinburgh someday. It’s on my list of places to travel. They have so much to see and do and experience! Thanks for sharing this. I’ll be sure to stay at one of the places you recommended!

      Yes, for a city that’s really not that huge, there really is a ton to do there!

    Hi Amanda, I’m from Scotland (East Kilbride, near Glasgow) and I love Edinburgh. This is a great guide from a foreigners point of view. Good job!

      Thanks very much, Raymond! It’s always great to hear that from someone more local. 🙂

    Beautiful photos from a beautiful city – I love Edinburgh!

      Thanks! I really love Edinburgh, too!

    I really loved Scotland and Edinburgh was just soo amazing. I kind of hated Glasgow, but the capital felt like a place where I could possibly live. But mabye that’s because I had three days of sunshine, lol!

      The weather really can make a huge difference! I liked Glasgow, but Edinburgh definitely has my heart when it comes to Scotland!

    I’m heading to Edinburgh for the first time in June. Thanks for the tips. This was extremely helpful. Any lovely bookstores you can recommend? I always buy a book or two from wherever I go.

      So happy to hear this was helpful!! As for bookstores, you’ll be happy to know that there are quite a few independent bookshops in Edinburgh! I’ve been inside Armchair Books and the Old Town Bookshop – both very cool and sell lots of old books! But I know there are lots more!

    Great article. I agree with all of this. I just posted a photo of Armchair Books on my instagram account this morning. @jeanplanstotravel

    I went to Edinburgh for the first time last summer during the Fringe Festival, and loved it so much, I came back again this summer! One thing that is really fun that is not on your list is to do a Harry Potter tour if you are at all a Harry Potter fan. It was really well done and lots of fun, visiting sites that inspired J.K. Rowling when writing the books, or visiting locations where she actually did some of the writing. For instance, Victoria Street was the inspiration for Diagon Alley. The tour takes you through old cemeteries, through interesting neighborhoods, and is really entertaining.

      That tour is on my list to do at some point in Edinburgh!

    This is great. We have less than 48 hours, but it gives us a good idea about what’s worth checking out, thanks.

      Happy to be able to help! Edinburgh is a great city.

    I need to visit this place. New years in Edinburgh anyone???

      I went from London to Edinburgh with Stoke Travel party train 24hrs, look it up! Definitely worth it. Best NYE ever, loved Edinburgh.

    Great article, I been in UK and was living there 8 year but never get chance to travel to scotland. but i think coming year i will make a plan to travel there.
    Thank you for sharing and i will follow your step.

      You should definitely go! Scotland is great.

    I love this post! It really helped me out with my trip to Edinburgh.It is such an incredible city x

      Glad to hear this post was helpful!

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