2 Day Edinburgh Itinerary for First-Time Visitors

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Edinburgh may be the capital of Scotland, but that doesn’t mean you can’t see most of it in just a couple of days. In this 2 day Edinburgh itinerary we’ll visit historic Edinburgh Castle, the Palace of Holyroodhouse, climb some hills for amazing views, and take in some of smaller areas of town.

If you have more than 2 days, there’s definitely more you can do (we’ve included some options at the bottom of this post). But don’t worry — 2 days in Edinburg is plenty of time to see the best parts of Edinburgh. This means you can easily make this city part of a bigger trip to other Scotland sights and cities.

2 Day Edinburgh Itinerary Overview

Before we dive in, let’s take a quick look at the highlights of our 2 days in Edinburgh.

Day 1

  • Edinburgh Castle
  • Walk the Royal Mile + Royal Mile Attractions
  • St. Giles Cathedral
  • Calton Hill
  • Victoria Street
  • Grassmarket Square
  • National Museum of Scotland
  • Bruntsfield

Day 2

  • Palace of Holyroodhouse
  • Scottish Parliament Building
  • Arthur’s Seat
  • Royal Yacht Britannia
  • Dean Village
  • New Town
  • Princes Street Gardens

Now lets get into the details of putting together your 2 days in Edinburgh!

Getting to Edinburgh

Depending on where you are coming from, there are multiple ways to get to Edinburgh. You might be flying into Edinburgh. Or, because Edinburgh is often a popular destination to add onto a longer UK trip, you might be coming in via train.

Getting to Edinburgh from the Airport

If you are flying into Edinburgh Airport there are multiple ways you can get to the city center.

Option 1: Take the bus

You can take the Airlink express bus from Edinburgh Airport to the city center. The Airlink 100 bus will drop you off at St. Andrews Square in the city center.

The trip takes about 25 minutes and single tickets cost £ 5.50 for adults and £ 2.75 for a child. Return ticket sets are available for £ 8.00 and £ 4.00 respectively. Buses run about every 10 minutes during the day and every 30 minutes in the middle of the night.

Option 2: Take the tram

You can also take an Edinburgh Tram from the airport to various stops around the city including West End, Princes Street, and St. Andrew Square.

Trams run about every 15 minutes, and tickets are available at machines near each stop. You can use the farefinder to find out how much your trip will cost.

Option 3: Take a taxi or Uber

Taxis are of course always another option for getting from the airport to Edinburgh’s city center. The trip takes about 25 minutes and there is a dedicated area on the ground floor of the parking garage for getting a taxi.

Uber is also available in Edinburgh. However, you will have to pay the drop-off and/or pick-up fee that the airport charges if you want to be picked up in the parking garage. Otherwise you can walk to long-term parking (about a 10 minute walk) for free pick up.

Getting to Edinburgh by Train

Edinburgh has a train station that runs right into the center of the city, so it’s extremely easy to get into Edinburgh from another UK city. The main station is Edinburgh Waverley, which is just about block away from the Royal Mile (you will have to climb some stairs though.)

Make sure you know where you are staying ahead of time, too. Edinburgh can be a hilly city, and the train station is at a low point in those hills. So if you have a lot of luggage with you, you might consider taking a taxi from the train station to your hotel or Air BnB/rental.

Getting Around Edinburgh

The best way to get around Edinburgh is to walk. Most of the major sites in the city are located in a central and walkable area. But the city is hilly, so wear comfortable shoes and be prepared for tired legs.

Also be ready to take a taxi or a bus when needed. Sometimes you find that you have just done too much walking. Familiarize yourself with bus options before you go, and don’t be afraid to look for a taxi if your feet just can’t climb another set of stairs. (I have BEEN there. Specifically after a day of walking followed by a climb up Calton Hill.)

Where to Stay in Edinburgh

You’ll want to stay in a relatively central location in Edinburgh so that the city is walkable.

Staying in either Old Town or New Town (which are found on either side of the train station) will keep you central to all the major attractions in Edinburgh.

Other popular options include West End (just west of the Castle), Stockbridge, and Bruntsfield. You can still easily walk to popular Edinburgh attractions from these locations.

We’ve stayed at both a hotel in Old Town and an Air BnB in Bruntsfield and loved both locations.

If you want to stay in a place that feels more “local” and less touisty, consider staying in a location outside of Old Town or New Town.

Here are some hotel options in Edinburgh:

For more options, including VRBO options, see the map below.

Edinburgh Itinerary: Day 1

We’re going to start Day One of our 2 Day Edinburgh Itinerary in the morning, assuming that you have gotten into the city the night before. If you are arriving in the morning, you’ll want to get an early start and also make sure you have a place to store you luggage when you arrive.

Stop 1: Edinburgh Castle

Start your morning off with a tour of Edinburgh Castle. This fortress has been a royal residence, a military garrison, and now is a tourist attraction. Edinburgh Castle has a fascinating history, including being the most besieged place in Britain and being a former home of Mary Queen of Scots.

Edinburgh Castle -- Stop 1 in our 2 day itinerary

Inside you can see the Honors of Scotland (the oldest Crown jewels in Britain), the Stone of Destiny, and The Great Hall. There are also fascinating Prisons of War rooms, St. Margaret’s Chapel, and the Scottish National War Memorial.

Another notable attraction here is Meg Mons, a giant canon from the 1400s.

You can also watch the daily one o’clock gun being fired (it’s fired every day except Sunday, Good Friday, and Christmas). This tradition draws crowds daily, but if you aren’t in the castle be sure to listen for it elsewhere in the city.

And of course, since this castle is on a hill, there are great views of Edinburgh from all kinds of angles.

Tickets for Edinburgh Castle are £ 19.50 for adults and £ 11.40 for children. I highly recommend buying tickets online ahead of time. Not only will this save you time, but walk-up tickets are a few pounds more expensive. Audio guides are also available for an addition £ 3.50 for adults and £1.50 for children. You can also book an Official Guided Tour ahead of your visit if you want a guide.

You will want to allot for several hours at the castle, so probably most of your morning.

View from Edinburgh Castle

Stop 2: Walk the Royal Mile

From Edinburgh Castle start your walk down the Royal Mile. This is the road that runs from Edinburgh Castle down to Holyrood Palace. It has many attractions along the way, from popular tourist pitstops like the Scotch Whisky Experience to museums and historical buildings.

And if you don’t want to walk all the way down to Holyrood Palace today, don’t worry. We’ll be back at Holyrood tomorrow, so you can tack on the rest of the Royal Mile then if you want. (I will say though, that the upper half of the Royal Mile tends to have more to see than the lower half, so don’t stress if you can’t make it to the whole thing.)

You can also grab lunch somewhere near the Royal Mile. In general, a lot of the Royal Mile is going to be full of restaurants meant to attract tourists, but if you stray a few blocks away you are likely to find something a bit more…local.

Walk the Royal Mile in Edinburgh during your 2 day interary

Here are some of the most popular attractions along the Royal Mile. Take at look at this list and, if you think you’ll have time, pick a couple that sound interesting. Camera Obscura and The Scotch Whisky Experience are two of the most popular.

  • Camera Obscura — A museum of optical illusions.
  • The Scotch Whisky Experience — A popular destination for tasting whisky.
  • The Writer’s Museum — A small free museum highlighting Scottish writers Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson.
  • St. Giles Cathedral — See more below in the next section.
  • John Knox House — A house dating back to 1470 and once briefly the home of Protestant figure John Knox.
  • Closes and Wynds — Take time to explore these historic alleyways.
  • The Real Mary King’s Close — Take a guided tour of this underground close and learn more about their history.
The Writer's Museum, Edinburgh

Stop 3: St. Giles Cathedral

St. Giles Cathedral sits about halfway down the Royal Mile and is Edinburgh’s most famous church.

It was built in 12th century and is known for being a central site in the Scottish Reformation and a church where John Knox was briefly the minister. Today it is also the location of the Order of the Thistle.

And here’s where I’ll briefly tell you the story that devastated me most in Scotland, which is that I didn’t realize we were in Edinburgh at the same time the Order of the Thistle service was happening. I was *so* close to being able to see the Queen and didn’t even know it until we arrived at St. Giles to see the aftermath being cleaned up. So here’s your lesson: Look up Royal Family events before traveling, especially if you’ll be in Edinburgh during the summer.

Entrance into the cathedral is free. There are also tours available.

St. Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh

Bonus Stop: Calton Hill

If all of these morning activities took less time than you thought and it’s only mid-afternoon and you still have some energy, go for a climb up Calton Hill!

Calton Hill is located north of the Royal Mile and just west of Holyrood, and it can give you some great views of the city. You can access it by using the staircase at Regent Road or climbing it from Royal Terrace.

It’s a great place to gather for a picnic. And if you want to, you could save this bonus stop for sunset. (We’re just squeezing it in here because you’ll be relatively close on the Royal Mile.)

Traveling to Scotland? Check out these books about Scotland to read before you go!

Stop 4: Victoria Street

After you are done walking the Royal Mile and/or climbing Calton Hill, you can’t miss seeing one of the most photographed streets in Edinburgh. Take a stroll down Victoria Street and take your own photo of this curved road with colorful facades.

You’ll also find several restaurants and souvenir shops here.

Victoria Street, Edinburgh -- 2 day Edinburgh Itinerary

Stop 5: Grassmarket Square

From Victoria Street, make your way to Grassmarket Square, another well-known Edinburgh gathering area. Here you’ll find restaurants and shops. It’s also a great place to take a seat on a bench and people-watch.

Stop 6: National Museum of Scotland

Next, head over to the Scottish History Museum. This museum is free, which I love because it doesn’t make you feel obligated to spend a certain amount of time here.

There are displays on everything from art and design to science and technology to, of course, Scottish History. Pick up a map when you go in so you can make your way to the exhibits you most want to see.

I also highly recommend visiting the rooftop terrace. Take the Terrace Lift to the 7th floor. You’ll get beautiful views of Edinburgh Castle!

Stop 7: Bruntsfield

End your evening in Bruntsfield, a section of Edinburgh that is a bit more out of the way of the typical tourist crowd. Enjoy a stroll around the nearby park, Bruntsfield Links. This is also a great place to grab dinner, because you’ll find some smaller pubs and restaurants away from many of the tourist spots.

Edinburgh Itinerary: Day 2

For the second day of our 2 Day Edinburgh Itinerary, we’re going to focus on Holyrood Palace, The Royal Yacht Britannia, and Arthur’s Seat. Both of these attractions will take up plenty of your time, but we’ve added a few more low-commitment stops too to make sure you see the most you can of the city!

Stop 1: Palace of Holyroodhouse

We’ll start the morning at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the King’s official royal residence in Edinburgh. Holyrood Palace is a pretty easy royal residence to visit because it’s rare that the King is actually there. (When the King is home, public access is closed.)

The King usually spends about a week or so there during the summer, during what’s known as Holyrood Week. (This is usually the same week at the Order of the Thistle). So it is open to the public for most of the rest of the year.

Here you can tour the throne room, the historic royal apartments and the ruins of Holyrood Abbey. Holyrood Palace also often has special exhibits going on in the Queen’s Gallery (purchase a combined ticket for access.)

To visit the Palace of Holyroodhouse you’ll want to purchase your tickets ahead of time. Tickets include a mulitmedia tour.

Palace of Holyroodhouse -- a must see for a 2 day Edinburgh itinerary

Stop 2: Scottish Parliament Building

After you are done with your tour of Holyrood Palace, take some time to admire Parliament across the street. This modern building sits in stark contrast with the more traditional architecture of Edinburgh, and it was quite controversial when it was completed!

If you are particularly interested in government, you can tour the Scottish Parliament. But since we only have 2 days in our Edinburgh itinerary, I’d recommend spending more time elsewhere.

Scottish Parliament Building, Edinburgh

Stop 3: Arthur’s Seat

Grab some lunch and then head over to Arthur’s Seat for a hike. This is by far the most popular place to hike in Edinburgh, and the summit, on top of an extinct volcano, provides incredible views.

There are several ways to get to the top of Arthur’s Seat. The most popular paths begin from Holyrood Park near Holyrood Palace. Allow at least 2-3 hours for Arthur’s Seat (likely more) depending on which route you choose.

Stop 4: Royal Yacht Britannia

Now’s a great time to get your black cab experience. Hop in a taxi and take it to the harbor to visit the Royal Yacht Britannia.

The Royal Yacht Britannia was one the Royal Yacht for the British Royal family. It served for over 44 years before it became a permanent tourist attraction in Edinburgh. You know those yacht shots you see in The Crown? They’re on the Royal Yacht Britannia. I mean, not the actual one…but you know what I mean.

Today, you can explore belowdecks, see where the Royal Family lived when they were on the ship, and even have tea in the Royal Deck Tearoom.

Like all other attractions, I recommend buying your tickets ahead of time.

Arthur's Seat, Edinburgh

Bonus Stop: Dean Village

If you have enough energy after your Arthur’s Seat climb and Royal Yacht exploration, head over to Dean Village. This area of the city is perhaps the most quaint and charming area of Edinburgh.

This is residential area, so there isn’t much in the way of dining or shopping. Really the attraction here are the beautiful streets and houses along the winding river.

And know that transportation is hard to come by here. You can take a taxi, but if you want a bus or taxi when you leave, you’ll have to walk to a nearby busier area.

Stop 5: New Town

Spend the late afternoon and evening in New Town. This is a great place to shop and eat.

If you’re early enough in the afternoon, you can tour The Georgian House (open until 5) or the National Portrait Gallery. Or, if you didn’t climb Calton Hill on your first day, you can admire the sunset from up high.

Stop 6: Princes Street Gardens

End your time in Edinburgh strolling through Princes Street Gardens. This park sits in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle and it’s a lovely place. And don’t miss the beautiful Ross Fountain where you can also get great views of the castle.

More Things To Do in Edinburgh

Have more time in Edinburgh than just 2 days? Here are a few more things to do in Edinburgh!

  • Harry Potter Tour — Many Harry Potter fans know that the books were originally written at The Elephant House in Edinburgh. But there is lots more Harry Potter history in Edinburgh and you can take a walking tour to see it.
  • Dynamic Earth — This science center near Arthur’s Seat will be popular with the whole family and would make a great rainy day activity.
  • Surgeon’s Hall Museum — If you are into medical history, a visit to the Surgeon’s Hall Museum is a must. Here you can see the Wohl Pathology Museum, the History of Surgery Museum, and the Dental Collection.
  • Edinburgh Ghost Tour — Edinburgh is of course full of history. And you know what comes with all that history? Ghosts. There are lots of ghost tour options in Edinburgh.

Where to Eat in Edinburgh

There are tons of great restaurants in Edinburgh! Here are a few that I particularly loved.

  • Three Birds — This modern restaurant serves British food with a twist and has a small and cozy dining room. This was my favorite meal in Edinburgh!
  • The Golf Tavern — This pub next to Bruntsfield Links is a popular place to grab a pint or a meal and watch some football (soccer). We actually ended up here several times (mostly because it was near where we stayed and there was a soccer tournament my husband cared about going on), which I supposed speaks to our enjoyment. You can also rent out golf clubs to play on the nearby putting green.
  • The Doric Tavern — Edinburgh’s oldest gastropub with classic British food. We really enjoyed it!

Looking for an Edinburgh day trip? St. Andrews makes a perfect destination!

Edinburgh Tips

  • You will do a lot of walking in Edinburgh. This is a hilly city with many inclines and cobbled streets, so wear comfortable walking shoes.
  • Always have an umbrella or rain jacket with you in Edinburgh. Scotland is known to be rainy, and you always want to be prepared.
  • Dress is layers. Scottish weather can be fickle, and even in summer days you will usually need a light jacket at least.
  • Even though this 2 day Edinburgh Itinerary is pretty jam packed and has you seeing a lot of the city, be sure to take breaks when you need to. Don’t be afraid to go back to your hotel for a break so you can recharge for more adventure!

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