Edinburgh is large and you cannot see everything there is to see in one month, let alone one day. However, many folks traveling through Scotland only leave a day or two to visit the city. I fell into that category. When I mapped out my trip through Scotland, I only left a day and a half (ish) for the capital. There are a lot of ways you can do Edinburgh in one day. Below I’ll share how I spent my day in Edinburgh, and some suggestions for other things to add on.
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Why visit Edinburgh?
I mean, is this a question? Edinburgh is the largest city in and the capital of Scotland. It is FULL of history, but is also a very modern city. There are museums and castles, historic neighborhoods and some of the best restaurants. I truly think anyone will find something to love in Edinburgh – and most likely more than one something!
A Lovely City!
Edinburgh makes the perfect city break after touring Scotland. Much of the country is rural and getting to a city can be a fun addition to your trip. In addition, Scotland only has two major airports – Edinburgh and Glasgow. Chances are you’ll be flying in or out of one of these, making it easy to add it to the itinerary. I flew into Inverness and out from Edinburgh. After a week in the car, it was nice to spend a few days in the city walking and exploring.
If you’re American, you should know that Edinburgh is pronounced ed-in-burr-uh. Of course, everyone will know what you’re talking about regardless of if you pronounce it correctly.
A (very) brief history of Edinburgh
Edinburgh is over 1400 years old. Or, rather, humans have lived there since at least the 7th century. For hundreds of years, a fort stood on the site of Edinburgh Castle. Being at the top of the large hill, it was easily defended and an excellent vantage point. Possession waffled back and forth between the English and Scots over the centuries. About 1000 years ago, Edinburgh Castle was built by King Malcolm III on Castle Rock. Naturally, a town grew up around the castle.
Getting to Edinburgh
Edinburgh International Airport is the largest in Scotland and if you’re flying, chances are you’ll arrive here. I didn’t (I flew in toInverness), but I flew out from Edinburgh. It is pretty much the same as all small city airports and welcomes flights from all over the world.
If you fly into Edinburgh, you can take a train, bus, the tram, or a taxi into the city center and back. My Airbnb was only a few blocks from a tram stop so that is what I used. It was very simple and quick. More information on getting to and from the airport can be found here.
There are trains to Edinburgh from all over the UK, too. You can get a direct train from London that takes about 5 hours. Or, if you are really averse to flying you can take a train from anyone in Europe really. However, flying would be much quicker and in a lot of cases, cheaper.
You can also drive to Edinburgh. Although, I don’t really recommend it unless you plan to leave your car where you’re staying. As with any city, parking can become an issue. If you
You definitely do not need to rent a car to get around Edinburgh. I ended my road trip in Edinburgh, which is where I dropped off my car. Then I spent the last two days on foot! Most of the places I wanted to visit were within a 1-3 mile radius, so I walked. There is a robust tram and bus service, though. So if walking is not as easy for you there are options!
Don’t forget to pack!
- Rain jacket – I take this North Face shell everywhere. It fits over sweaters, but is also light enough I can wear it in warm weather and won’t roast.
- Waterproof shoes – These Blondo boots were some of my best purchases! They’re great for easy to moderate hikes, are water proof, and look nice enough to wear in cities. I wore them with a maxi dress in Edinburgh a few days after hiking The Old Man of Storr in them!
- Gloves and a hat just in case!
- Portable phone charger
Where to stay
Edinburgh truly is not large and as long as you’re staying in the city, you’ll be fine. I stayed at a lovely Airbnb hosted by Joe and Yuva near Calton Hill. It was a 20 minute walk to the bottom of the Royal Mile and a 10 minute walk to Princes Street. Depending where your lodging is, you may want to reverse this itinerary.
Edinburgh in One Day
Start your day with breakfast at Taste of Italy. The smashed avocado and pomegranate on toast….yum! If you’re in a hurry to get walking, you can also pick up a smoothie or just a coffee.
Next up, walk to the Palace of Holyroodhouse. You should definitely book your tickets in advance. With COVID-19 they’re limiting the number of visitors and the line can get long. I had my ticket pulled up and was the 4th person through the door! Adult tickets are £16.50 for just the palace or £21.50 for the palace and gallery.
History buffs and fans of the royal family will love visiting the Palace of Holyroodhouse! Originally built as a monastery in the 12th century, early Scottish kings chose to live there over the castle. Set in beautiful fields at the bottom of the Royal Mile, Holyroodhouse was more comfortable and picturesque than Edinburgh Castle.
King James IV built the Palace of Holyroodhouse in 1501. Monarchs since have renovated and added to the palace and grounds. Mary Queen of Scots lived at Holyroodhouse 1561-1567 and you can visit her chambers! Her secretary, David Rizzio was murdered just outside her bedchamber in 1566. There is a “blood” stain on the floor that is supposedly his…but I call BS because the floors have CLEARLY been refinished. However, as a huge Tudor-era fan, I loved touring her rooms.
The Palace of Holyroodhouse is now the official residence of the Queen in Scotland. She is typically there for a week in July, which is the only time the palace is closed for visitors. Members of the Royal Family regularly stay there and many have remarked it is a cozy and comfortable palace. The audio guide is narrated by members of the Family and palace staff, it was great!
Don’t forget to head out to the Abbey and walk through the gardens! It was raining while I was there, but it was still beautiful. Few people took the time to go outside with the rain so I had the place to myself.
When you walk out of Holyroodhouse you’ll find yourself at the base of High Street, known as the Royal Mile. The Royal Mile is, you guessed it, one mile long. It goes slowly uphill from Holyrood to Edinburgh Castle. It is full of touristy gift shops and restaurants, but I still think you should walk it. Restaurants on the Royal Mile will be more expensive and probably not as great. So if you aren’t starving, I recommend waiting.
If you want to spend more time on the Royal Mile, there are some attractions. You can visit The Real Mary King’s Close and get spooked while learning about this underground street. Closer to Edinburgh Castle you’ll find the Scotch Whisky Experience and Camera Obscura – both have excellent reviews!
Ok – I’m going to be honest. I didn’t really love Edinburgh Castle. If you’re a huge fan of military or war history, it could be worth it. The best part for me was seeing the Stone of Destiny and royal jewels. They also fire a cannon every day at 1 pm (called the 1 o’clock gun), which is neat. I don’t think it’s worth it just for that, but if you’re already there it is worth sticking around.
Candle Makers Row
I know you’re probably hungry at this point, but we’re getting there. If you’re a Harry Potter fan you’ll love this detour, if you’re not (you’re wrong) you’ll still enjoy it. Victoria’s Street is home to brightly colored shops and restaurants known as Candlemaker’s Row. This is said to be an inspiration for Diagon Alley and it’s easy to see why. Today, there are several Harry Potter themed gift shops there, too! Pop into a few of them if you want, but otherwise you can just meander toward lunch.
I just happened to pass McGonagalls Gin & Whisky Emporium…and had to stop! It was a super cute little restaurant and the fish and chips were good. There are many restaurants around this area, so if you’d like something else just walk a bit.
Take a Walk
After you rest your feet a bit and fuel up, it’s time to get outside. You can take the bus to Dean Village, but I chose to walk. It was a little over a mile and I enjoyed the walk.
Dean Village is a quaint little area on the northeast side of Edinburgh. There aren’t many attractions here, but it’s a lovely place on the Water of Leith. Wander a bit, take some photos, but don’t plan a lot of time here. Also note that many of the buildings and courtyards are private residences, don’t be a nuisance!
Once you’ve wandered a bit, walk down the Water of Leith Walkway toward Circus Lane. Circus Lane is just another cute little (read: Instagrammable) street. I’d imagine it is quite flowery and beautiful in the spring, but even on a rainy fall day it was cute.
A quick 20 minute walk from Circus Lane will deliver you to Dishoom. Two years ago when I started planning this trip, it actually added a stop in London. My husband loves Indian food (as do I) so when I read about Dishoom, I added it to my list. Well, I just happened to be walking past Dishoom Edinburgh on my first night in the city. They’re pretty much always busy but I was able to get a table immediately! It’s definitely the kind of place you want to go with multiple people, because they’re small plates, but it was amazing. I am still thinking about it and can’t wait to eat there again.
Princes Street shopping
The last item on the agenda is meandering down Princes Street to do some shopping! Princes Street is where you’ll find Primark, H&M, Marks & Spencer, etc. I popped into a few stores but I was specifically looking for a cream scarf. Unfortunately, I left my favorite cream scarf in the Fairy Glen on the Isle of Skye so I needed to replace it! Depending on the day, these shops may stay open a little later.
If you’re like me, then you’re exhausted and ready for netflix and a glass of wine in bed after all of that…I think I only stayed up past 9pm one time the entire time I was in Scotland!
Ok so like I mentioned, Edinburgh is a city full of places to visit and explore. There are so many amazing restaurants, shops, and museums. Edinburgh in one day is sort of just a tease. If you like art, then I highly recommend the National Portrait Gallery and the National Art Gallery. I stopped by both and loved them.
There are some hiking (or at least outdoor walking) opportunities in the city, too! Calton Hill and Arthur’s Seat are both parks with hiking trails. I didn’t explore much, but plan to do a sunrise hike next time I’m in the city.
If you’re a Harry Potter fan, then you could do a full Harry Potter’s Edinburgh in one day! J.K. Rowling lived in Edinburgh when she wrote part of the series and stayed at The Balmoral when she finished the last book. Candlemaker’s Row, The Elephant House, Greyfriar’s Kirkyard, and more are all inspiration for the Harry Potter world.