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.
There’s a lot to do here, so don’t be afraid to take breaks when you need to. We’ve also included some destinations as “bonus” stops. If you feel like your travel plate is already too full, don’t outpace yourself to make it to these. But if you find yourself with extra time, add these to your itinerary.
COVID-19 Note: Not all attractions are currently open, and if they are they are following very strict guidelines. If you are planning to tour Edinburgh, research before you go and know what’s open, when it will be open, and what the guidelines are.
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. It will drop you off at Waverley Bridge railway station.
The trip takes about 25 minutes and single tickets cost £ 4.50 for adults and £ 2.00 for a child. Return ticket sets are available for £ 7.50 and £ 2.70 respectively. Buses run about every 10 minutes.
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
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 airport for getting a taxi.
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 touist-y, consider staying in a location outside of Old Town or New Town.
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.
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.
Tickets for Edinburgh Castle are £ 17.50 for adults and £ 10.50 for children. I highly recommend buying tickets online ahead of time. Audio guides are also available for an addition £ 3.50 for adults and £1.50 for children.
You will want to allot for several hours at the castle, probably most of your morning.
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.
A few Royal Mile attractions:
- 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.
- John Knox House — A house dating back to 1470 and once briefly the home of John Knox.
- Closes — 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.
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.
Entrance into the cathedral is free. There are also tours available.
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.)
Stop 4: Victoria Street
After you are done walking the Royal Mile, 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.
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 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 Queen’s official royal residence in Edinburgh. Holyrood Palace is a pretty easy royal residence to visit because it’s rare that the Queen is actually there. (When the Queen is home, public access is closed.) She usually spends about a week or so there during the summer (early July), 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. They start at £ 16.50 for adults and £ 9.50 for children. Tickets include a mulitmedia tour.
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.
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.
Bonus Stop: Dean Village
If you have enough energy after your Arthur’s Seat climb, 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 4: 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. A great way to end your 2 days in Edinburgh.
While I certainly haven’t eaten at most restaurants in Edinburgh, I did have a few experiences that I particularly loved.
Three Birds — This modern restaurant serves British food with a twist and has a small and cozy dining room. I LOVED my meal here.
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.
- 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!
Traveling to the UK and want more planning help? Check out our 3 Day London Itinerary!