Edinburgh Itinerary – How to spend 1, 2, or 3 days in Edinburgh

Rachel HannahMarch 17, 2023

The Scottish city of Edinburgh has its own distinct mood and feeling. The winds, clouds, rain, gothic architecture, castles, and stories of folklore all come together to create what is one of the UK’s most unique cities. I have yet to visit anywhere like it!

I recently spent 3 days in Edinburgh so if you are beginning to plan out your Edinburgh itinerary I have lots of insights in this guide that will help you make the most out of a short few days.

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links. This means that, at zero cost to you, I will earn an affiliate commission if you click through the link and finalize a purchase.

Edinburgh Itinerary Overview

cairngorm coffee edinburgh

While the itinerary outline below is for 3 days you can also narrow down some of the ideas on this list depending on if you are only staying for 1 or 2 days. In my opinion, the first and second days include the most fun and iconic things to do in Edinburgh.

I seriously recommend spending at least a full 3 days in Edinburgh if you are able to. This is a good amount of time to be able to experience what the city is really like but even still you will have a packed itinerary so a day or two more would probably be the most ideal if you prefer a more relaxed pace.

Here is a breakdown of what you can expect to do on this Edinburgh itinerary:

Day 1 – See or take a tour of Edinburgh Castle, walk and shop Old Town and the Royal Mile, look for bagpipers, go on a whiskey or food tour, and have dinner at Dishoom.

Day 2 – Explore Dean Village, have coffee at a cute cafe, go shopping in New Town, and see historical sights on the walk to Calton Hill or Arthur’s Seat for sunset.

Day 3 – Either a full-day trip outside the city OR another day in Edinburgh going on a history or Harry Potter tour, visiting the neighborhoods of Leith and Newhaven, and ending the night on a pub crawl.

Day 1

Morning and Early Afternoon – Edinburgh Castle + Royal Mile

the edinburgh castle is a must on any edinburgh itinerary

Edinburgh Castle is probably the most photographed sight in Edinburgh so the first day of this Edinburgh itinerary begins by going to see Edinburgh Castle in all of its glory!

It’s super impressive just to walk around it and I was blown away by the sheer size and how high up it sits. However, you can also pay around 20 GBP to enter through the gates and walk around the enormous castle and learn about Scottish history for a couple of hours.

I’ve heard the views from the top are super beautiful too! We wanted to go up to the top but unfortunately, we decided against going inside because we were under time constraints due to our whiskey tour reservations having to be moved to a later time.

You can buy entry tickets here online and they do sell out, especially during weekends and peak seasons so it’s smart to reserve them in advance. Tip: Book your tickets before they fire the canons right at 1 pm (this happens daily!).

Alternatively, you can also book this guided walking tour for 40 GBP if you want more in-depth history than you will get by reading the informative panels around the castle. They also have a self-guided audio tour that can also be added to your tickets online or in person at the ticketing office for just 3.50 GBP.

royal mile

After you check out the castle then you can easily self-explore around Old Town and see the dramatic goth architecture (don’t miss Tolbooth Kirk Church and St Giles Cathedral). You can’t skip out on strolling the Royal Mile which is one of the most loved streets in all of Edinburgh!

We enjoyed our time taking pictures, popping into shops, and people-watching! You could also join an affordable walking tour like this 2-hour one for 14 GBP where will a guide will explain the history and legends of the area. It’s perfect for those who love learning.

There are also several museums nearby, some of the most popular include the National Museum of Scotland, the Museum of Edinburgh, and the Writers’ Museum are among the most popular to visit.

bagpipe player in edinburgh

While in the area do NOT forget to listen for bagpipe players. There should be some in the vicinity of Edinburgh Castle and the Royal Mile! We just kept our ears open and once we heard the sound of the bagpipes we just followed it until we found him!

I always imagined what it would be like to hear the bagpipes in Scotland and hearing them live felt like I was in a movie – it was so cool!

Late Afternoon – Go on a whiskey or food tour

After you’ve explored some of Edinburgh’s history and sights it’s time to spend the latter part of the afternoon loosening up a bit with the help of Scotland’s national drink – whiskey!

I’m pretty sure the average person knows that whiskey has a very strong influence in Scotland, so going whiskey tasting is a given! It is argued as to whether Scotland or Ireland was the first country to create the distilled beverage but what we do know is that the medieval monks who migrated from mainland Europe were the ones who used their wine-distilling techniques on local grains instead of grapes.

There are many different places to learn about the origin, see the production process, and sample whiskey right in central Edinburgh but a few of the most popular include The Whiskey and Folklore Tour, The Scottish Whisky Experience, and the Johnnie Walker Princes Street Tour.

If whiskey really isn’t your thing maybe consider a food, cheese, chocolate, or tea tour instead. You can browse all of the top-rated options here.

We personally checked out the newer Johnnie Walker Journey of Flavour Tour on Princes Street which we both loved! It teaches you about the life of Johnnie Walker and how his whiskey company came to be. Plus, you get to enjoy 3 whiskey-based cocktails!

If you aren’t a whiskey person don’t worry because neither am I but what made this tour enjoyable for me is that the whiskey cocktails were based on our individual results from a flavor profile quiz we each took beforehand! Mine was green which meant fresh and I actually did like mine!

If you don’t like the first cocktail you will get to try two more cocktails (or just straight whiskey) at the end!

The learning aspect was super animated and our guide was very enthusiastic which made things interesting. For just 28 GBP I thought this tour was a steal for all it included! If you’re interested you can book it here!

Evening – Dinner at Dishoom

After all that activity it’s time to end the first of your 3 days in Edinburgh at Dishoom! It’s one of the most delicious restaurants in Edinburgh that serves up mouthwatering Bombay-inspired Indian food.

This UK chain began with its first location in Covent Garden, London, and rose to popularity because it was the first option of its kind that was in the sweet spot of high-end and cheap. The prices start out low here for the top-notch service and upscale setting so it really gives you the opportunity to stack several dishes onto your tab to try a variety or keep it more affordable with just the necessary to fill you up.

An entree starts from just $11.90 GBP!

We were hesitant to dine here because of the tremendously long line extending almost half of a block outside the door but it was 100% worth it. While you wait they bring out warm glasses of herbal tea or masala chai which was nice to ward off the chill!

When you get a little closer to the front of the line they allow you to come inside and order drinks from The Permit Room’s underground bar. These elements of distraction made the time go by pretty fast.

I enjoyed the Kohinoor Fizz the most. It is made with gooseberry syrup, lime, gin, sparkling wine, and egg whites!

From the enormous menu, we tried a whole bunch of things because it all looked too tempting. From the Okra Fries and Chili Chicken appetizer to the Chicken Ruby and the Chicken Berry Britannia Biryana mains with sides of House Black Daal and Tandoori Roti we honestly loved everything we ordered!

We were way too stuffed to order dessert but they looked very good too!

They also have special vegan, dairy-free, and gluten-free menus.

They don’t allow dinner reservations so if you aren’t reserving for breakfast or lunch I recommend going later in the night.

From my personal experience the later you go the shorter the wait will be. During busy times the wait can be over TWO hours, that’s how badly people want to dine here.

Again, don’t let that discourage you just be prepared to wait as it’s one of my favorite experiences from this Edinburgh itinerary.

Day 2

Morning – Explore Dean Village

dean village with river

Begin the morning of your second day on this 3 day Edinburgh itinerary by exploring the historic Dean Village.

Dean Village is less than a 20-minute walk from Edinburgh’s town center so it is very easy to reach from many different areas. This part of the city was originally known for its water mills in the 1800s and many of the workers stayed inside the village for convenience.

First things first, a light breakfast and coffee or tea! Close to Dean Village we popped into the Cairngorm Coffee right on the corner of Melville and Randolph and sipped on delicious chai tea lattes.

We already ate breakfast at our hotel but they offer baked goods and grilled cheese sandwiches.

After you’ve fueled up a bit I recommend walking towards and across Bell’s Brae Bridge where you will get the best view of the river and traditional homes.

Then turn left on Damside and walk about as you please but I personally loved walking along the Water of Leith Walkway that connects from Damside. It was so nice and peaceful to admire the detailed stonework of the homes and bridges. Everything here is so photogenic!

A light rainfall decided to join us and it couldn’t have been more fitting!

Afternoon – Shop New Town

rose street edinburgh

If you want shopping to be part of your Edinburgh itinerary this is a good time to do so in New Town! This neighborhood has actually been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site because of the symmetrical street design and unusually wide boulevards.

You’ve just spent the morning in Dean Village so if you’ve worked up an appetite you can grab lunch from one of many chic restaurants or shop first and then eat or drink after!

This is the most popular square for shopping so you can find souvenirs, clothes, jewelry, accessories, and more from the gift shops, boutiques, or chain retail stores. Rose Street was one of the cutest strips that had a bit of everything and it wasn’t as crowded like Queen and Princes St were.

I picked up a fiction novel that is set in Edinburgh as a memento from Waterstones bookstore.

Early Evening – Calton Hill/Arthur’s Seat for sunset

edinburgh skyline

No 3 days in Edinburgh would be complete without seeing an amazing view of the city! The best places for sweeping panoramas are either Calton Hill or Arthurs Seat which is set on an extinct volcano.

We chose Calton Hill because it is much easier and quicker to access than Arthur’s Seat. The views from the top are practically 360 degrees and you can see the skyline, countryside, and North Sea, how epic is that?!

There are also monuments to check out including the National Monument of Scotland, Dugald Stewart Monument, Nelson Monument, and the Monument to the Scottish Parliament.

We had just enough time to get to Calton Hill and climb up onto the National Monument of Scotland for a perfect sunset seat and it was absolutely stunning!

The path up to the top doesn’t take more than a few minutes but it is steep so you’ll be a little breathless but it isn’t bad!

Before or after you head up you can make a few quick stops along the way at the East Princes Street Gardens, Scott Monument, and Old Calton Burial Grounds. Dunbars Close is also a nice charming park with shrubbery if you want to relax at any point.

If you want to do Arthur’s Seat you will need to allow at least an hour for a moderate trek to the top. It has nice walking paths with many different route options but there is one that is easy for beginners (just follow the main road), summiting is the only steep part. Wear proper shoes because it might be slick.

If you are an active type of traveler you could also opt to reach Arthur’s Seat as part of this 4-hour bike tour that also visits Edinburgh University, Holyrood Park, Portebello Beach, Leith Port, and more! You can select a manual bike for 65 GBP or an e-bike for 80 GBP.

My Finding’s Tip: Bring a jacket and/or a hat as there are often strong chilly winds in both places.

Whatever you do, don’t leave at least one of these spots off of your Edinburgh itinerary!

Day 3

If you are able to finish everything from days 1 and 2 of this Edinburgh itinerary that means you will have some options on how you want to spend your final day in Edinburgh.

The first is to take a day trip tour (I’ve listed some ideas below). Secondly, you could deep dive further into Edinburgh’s eerie history and legends on a city tour or see Harry Potter filming locations on a Harry Potter Tour.

After your tour of choice is over there will still be plenty of time left in the day to visit the nearby neighborhoods of Newhaven and Leith and then finish off the night with a bar crawl in Edinburgh. There’s more information on all of this below!

Edinburgh Day Trip Ideas

west coast railways jacobite train car

Hogwarts Express Day Trip – Want to ride on one of the most scenic train rides in the whole world? You can conveniently join this guided day tour from Edinburgh which includes round-trip transport, sightseeing, exploring a fishing village, and a one-way ride on the Hogwarts Express in the Scottish Highlands. It costs 156 GBP for a full day (13 hours) of beautiful sightseeing. I rode the Harry Potter Train when I was in Glasgow and I thought it was a great experience – you can see my full review here!

Loch Ness, Scottish Highlands, Glencoe & Pitlochry Tour – This is one of the most popular day trip tours that is almost impossible to leave you disappointed because the scenery in the Scottish Highlands is truly unreal. If you don’t have time to spend a few days here it’s the best option to see the most spectacular scenic viewpoints such as Glencoe and Loch Lomond and costs just 55 GBP. You can even add on a 1-hour boat tour for 16 GBP that uses underwater sonar equipment to hunt for Nessie. Although this will be a long 12-hour day it will be worth it!

Historic Castle Tour – If you love architecture and history this 9-hour tour visits Rosslyn Chapel, Dunfermline Abbey, and Stirling Castle. One of the other standouts is that you will also visit the grounds where the Battle of Bannockburn took place. Your guide will teach you how significant this battle was for Scotland to gain their independence. You can book this tour for just 41 GBP.

Outlander Film Locations Tour – For fans of Outlander, this tour will have you following the footsteps of your favorite characters! It covers at least 6 different filming locations including Doune Castle and Wentworth Prison. There will be time for you to purchase lunch (at your own cost) at one of the charming villages. This tour is priced at 50 GBP per person and lasts 9.5 hours.

St Andrews & the Fishing Villages of Fife – If you are more interested in off-the-beaten-path locations this tour is the one for you! It heads north of Edinburgh to visit quaint towns and fishing villages, the oldest college in Scotland (St Andrews Collage), the Falkland Palace in Fife which was the main summer home of one of the old Royal Scottish families, and more. It lasts for 8.5 hours and costs 50 GBP per person.

Visit Glasgow – Only 72 kilometers (44 miles) from Edinburgh is Glasgow, so leave early in the morning and spend the whole day here! It’s filled with culture, nightlife, history, and some of the friendliest people in the world! You can take ideas from my Glasgow itinerary blog post!

If you aren’t interested in booking a day trip then below are some other ideas on how you could spend your third day in Edinburgh.

Morning – City Tour

You can start out the beginning of your third and final day of this Edinburgh itinerary by taking a deeper dive into the city’s history by going on one of many different types of city tours. The most famous is the Harry Potter tours and if you are a fan of the books or movies you will not want to miss out on doing this!

This Edinburgh and the Writing of Harry Potter Tour is perfect for both Harry Potter fanatics and those who know nothing about it because it lasts for 4 hours which is longer than most tours. A Harry Potter expert will take you to several significant locations that influenced the books while also learning about the life of JK Rowling.

If you don’t have 4 hours to spare this Original Harry Potter Locations Tour only costs 15 GBP and condenses everything into 2 hours and a majority of the 900+ reviews are 5-star! You can also opt for this private version for a more personalized experience for just 20 more GBP.

If you have no interest at all in Harry Potter you could learn about Edinburgh’s dark history on this Darkside Walking Tour for 21 GBP or discover what lies beneath the surface of the city on an underground walking tour where a guide will lead you through hidden passageways and vaults. This particular one is the most popular and costs just 18 GBP.

Afternoon – Leith and Newhaven

newhaven harbour edinburgh

After you finish your morning tour and come back out of the Harry Potter realm or out from underneath the city you might have worked up an appetite so catch a bus and head to the next stop on this Edinburgh itinerary, Loch Fyne Restaurant + Bar for some delicious seafood with a sea view out on the pier in Newhaven.

Newhaven is a small little waterfront district of Edinburgh that is only 30 minutes away. From the restaurant, we enjoyed the sourdough bread with oil and balsamic, Nocellara olives, spinach gnocchi, and battered cod with chips.

food at loch + fyne edinburgh

After lunch, walk the rest of the pier out to the Newhaven Lighthouse for a great view of the harbor. If the weather is ok you can walk another 15 minutes down the road and you’ll be in Leith, another subsection of Edinburgh. You can also take the bus instead. Leith’s most famous sight is the Royal Yacht Britannia which was used by Queen Elizabeth II for over 40 years.

The neat part is that you can actually take a self-guided tour of the ship for 18.50 GBP. This tour takes between 1.5-2 hours but there is also a Royal Deck Tea Room on board where you can spend additional time enjoying coffee, tea, or cocktail paired with one of their fresh baked scones or cakes.

You can only visit the tea room with an admission ticket and it’s recommended to reserve your booking in advance because over 300,000 people visit annually.

Walking the Shore strip will give you the best views of the Water of Leith and there are also several different types of unique shops in this area and a farmer’s market on Commercial St that is open on Saturday from 10 am to 4 pm.

If you want to extend your time in Leith, you can spend the night inside the Fingale, a 5-star luxury floating hotel close to the Royal Yacht Britannia. How memorable would this be? It has been recognized as Edinburgh’s #1 hotel based on TripAdvisor reviews and it’s not hard to see why by just looking at the pictures!

If you don’t have the budget to stay at the Fingale you can head back into the heart of Edinburgh for your final activity on this guide to 3 days in Edinburgh.

Evening – Pub Hop

End your time in Edinburgh with a high, I mean this quite literally by going bar hopping! Edinburgh has endless old pubs and cocktail bars, the hard part is deciding which ones to go to!

Unfortunately, I personally did not have enough time to check out the bar scene as we left right after eating in Newhaven to drive down to Manchester. However, you can check out this list of historic pubs for some inspiration or you could also join this pub crawl which is perfect if you want to socialize with new people from all around the world.

You’ll also save a lot of money too because the ticket only costs 15 GBP and includes 6 shots (one at each pub) along with customized discounts for certain Edinburgh bars and clubs.

Where to Stay in Edinburgh

dalmahoy hotel and country club edinburgh

Motel One Edinburgh ($) – I personally love the Motel One chain and most recently stayed at their Brussels and Warsaw locations. There are two in Edinburgh, the Princes Street one and the Royal one, both are near many central attractions. The rooms at Motel One are priced low at 149 GBP for a double room. They are simple but modern and have everything you will need including a TV, desk, and toiletries. You can add on breakfast for 12.50 GBP and they have a great selection of hot and cold dishes and espresso drinks. Make sure to take advantage of the free luggage storage at the front desk.

You can book Motel One Edinburgh Princes St here or the Motel One Royal here on Booking.com.

Dalmahoy Hotel & Country Club ($$) – This castle was built in 1725 and is still owned by a descendant of the 22nd Earl of Morton. It has since been turned into a beautiful 4-star country club hotel on 1,000 acres of land with two restaurants, a bar, a pool and spa, a gym, an 18-hole golf course, and tennis courts! This is where we stayed and it was awesome! We got upgraded to a Junior Suite and it was so beautiful and spacious – I loved the jacuzzi tub. The main castle has limited rooms, so you will need to book well in advance. Rates begin at $99 GBP and the only con is that it is a bus ride from the city.

Cheval The Edinburgh Grand ($$$) – If you’re looking for a sophisticated and comfortable stay in the heart of the city Cheval The Edinburgh Grand is a fantastic option. These luxury apartments are very roomy, have full-sized kitchens, and plush mattresses. Everything including the train station is super close walking. You can add on breakfast for 16.50 GBP.

Final Word on 3 Days in Edinburgh Itinerary

If you’re spending 1 to 3 days in Edinburgh I really hope this Edinburgh itinerary has helped you to create a game plan to see and do the absolute best of this incredible city! If you are traveling more inside the UK I have some other content that might be useful for you below!

Durdle Door and Lulworth Cove

London to Cambridge Day Trip

Best restaurants in London

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