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Having family live in Edinburgh, Scotland means I’ve been able to enjoy some visits to this charming city in the United Kingdom over the past several years. It is one of Europe’s most beautiful cities and due to its size it is actually quite easy to fit in a lot in just a short three day visit.
Visiting much of Scotland feels like taking a trip back in time. I love the cobblestone streets and dark sandstone buildings in Edinburgh along with its towering castle and charming old homes and pubs dotted throughout the city. The whole city exudes this cool and mysterious vibe and I have loved getting to know it better over my past several trips.
Today’s post is designed to give you a three day itinerary for your visit so you can take advantage of the city and all it has to offer. It includes a variety of my curated favorites from recent trips!
3 Days In Edinburgh
Visit Old Town
Edinburgh City Centre is split into what residents often refer to as “Old Town” and “New Town.” The Old Town is the name popularly given to the oldest part of Scotland’s capital city of Edinburgh. It’s worth exploring and you’ll want to walk the famed Royal Mile but also know it is full of touristy type shops that aren’t worth really exploring. I prefer to walk the Royal Mile for the architecture.
Visit the Edinburgh Castle
Undoubtedly the number one tourist attraction the city has to offer, this castle sits above the city and is rather well preserved. Purchase a ticket to get an inside look at the structure and get sweeping views over Edinburgh.
Pass St Giles’ Cathedral
While in Old Town, don’t miss passing St Giles’ Cathedral. It is one of Scotland’s oldest churches.
Visit the Palace of Holyroodhouse
Walk down the Royal Mile all the way till you reach the Palace of Holyrood. The Palace of Holyroodhouse, commonly referred to as Holyrood Palace or Holyroodhouse, is the official royal residence of Queen Elizabeth when in Scotland. For a fee you can purchase a ticket to tour it and see exhibits linked to Scotland’s role in royal history.
Climb Calton Hill
While atop the hill, visit the National Monument of Scotland. It’s the memorial for Scottish soldiers and sailors who died fighting in the Napoleonic Wars.
Visit the National Museum of Scotland
Get a dose of national history with a visit to this well designed and informative museum right in the city’s center.
While in Old Town, see if you can also spot the monument for Robert Burns, also known as Rabbie Burns. He was an important Scottish poet and lyricist. He is widely regarded as the national poet of Scotland.
Visit the Meadows
This beautiful park is the perfect place to rest your feet or enjoy a picnic. There’s also a great children’s playground here if you have kids in tow. A short walk away is a delightful cafe called Elliott’s that I recommend.
Explore New Town
Once you’re off the main drag, New Town has loads of charming Georgian townhouses and open squares. It’s also home to some really quaint little side streets worth exploring. On George Street you’ll find upscale boutiques and you can also visit the famed Balmoral Hotel as well as a variety of other boutique hotels for a drink or afternoon tea. And be sure to stroll through the Princes Street Gardens which sit in the shadow of the Edinburgh Castle.
Get coffee at Wellington Coffee Company
This is a delightful little coffee shop with cute tables outside and a warm, inviting interior.
Have lunch at Dishoom
One of my all time favorite meals when I am in London I love that I can get my fix right in Edinburgh’s New Town. This spot offers an expansive menu of delicious Indian food and the cocktails are great, too.
Visit the Scottish National Gallery
Take in paintings and sculptures of famous Scots such as Sir Walter Scott in a gorgeous neo-Gothic building that’s definitely worth seeing. It’s a small museum and can be toured rather quickly.
Walk Circus Lane
This is the cutest street in Edinburgh in my opinion! So charming.
Stockbridge is a bustling neighborhood with loads of shops and restaurants. Toast, Independent Zebra, Jorum Studio and Catalog Interiors are four worthwhile shops in particular.
Don’t miss Dean Village
From Stockbridge, walk towards Dean Village which is arguably one of the most charming parts of Edinburgh as well as one of the most photographed. You’ll feel like you just stepped into the pages of a storybook walking around this neighborhood!
Have dinner at Scran & Scallie
This is a well loved restaurant in Stockbridge serving up upscale pub food. I adore their tartar sauce that comes alongside the fish & chips dish on the menu. If traveling with kids, there is also a little corner play area for little ones!
Climb Arthur’s Seat
For excellent 360 degree views of Edinburgh, climb Arthur’s Seat on a clear day. This somewhat steep climb takes about 30 minutes and once atop the hill you’ll be greeted with breezes and gorgeous views of the Atlantic as well as the Edinburgh Castle.
Enjoy a Scotch Whisky Experience
No trip to Scotland is complete without a little whisky tasting. If you want something formal, you’ll find loads of places that offer tastings (particularly in Old Town which caters to tourists) but you could also craft your own by popping by a local pub.
In the seaside neighborhood of Leith, you’ll also find the Water of Leith which is the main river flowing through Edinburgh. You can bike along the path for beautiful views or take it in as a walk.
While in Leith also be sure to pop by Williams & Johnson Coffee Co. which is a charming spot down in a little tucked away courtyard. This part of Edinburgh is a port district and is full of hip shops and seafood bistros. It’s also home to the Royal Yacht Britannia, a former ocean-going royal residence where you can check elaborate state apartments and even spot an onboard Rolls-Royce.
There’s also Ocean Mist which is a boat hotel that boasts a bar that looks like a cool spot to grab a drink.
Edinburgh Travel Tips
Edinburgh doesn’t have an underground system so you’ll explore most by foot but I also think their bus system is excellent. You can pay via tapping your card or your phone for mobile payment and they are generally on time and reliable and Google Maps can show you the route you need to get from point A to point B.
You can also book cabs in advance if you’d like to have one at the ready to get to various activities or reservations. I also recommend the FREENOW app for taxis.
Take a tour
Prefer to explore less on your own? You can take a variety of guided tours while in Edinburgh. You can find some that explore Scotland’s history or even take a ghost tour. I did a tour with Rabbies and love it.
Get out of town
Want to take advantage of all the beauty outside of Edinburgh? If you have more time on your trip, I highly recommend checking out The Highlands. I explored them via Rabbies West Highlands and Lochs Tour and loved this day trip out of Edinburgh. Stirling Castle is a popular destination that’s just out of the city.
Be advised that August is festival season in Edinburgh which means more people, more traffic and higher costs for transport and hotels. That aside it is also a fun time to take in the city if you love performances! You’ll find a bevy of comedy shows, plays, concerts and more all through the month.
Scottish weather is often dreary and breezy so you’ll want to pack layers no matter the time of year. And don’t forget a coat with a hood or an umbrella.
Related: Summer in Scotland Packing List
Where To Stay In Edinburgh
The Balmoral Hotel, originally built as the North British Hotel, is a luxury hotel and landmark in Edinburgh. It is located in the heart of the city at the east end of Princes Street, the main shopping street beneath the Edinburgh Castle rock, and the southern edge of the New Town.
I checked myself in for one night and found the historic hotel welcoming with lovely service, comfortable rooms and a beautiful pool to enjoy.
If you don’t want to splurge to stay here, I’ve heard their Princes Bistro and afternoon tea both are good spots to dine.
Other options for hotels?
While I have not stayed at the following properties as I usually stay with family, they remain some of Edinburgh’s most popular lodgings.
The Gleneagles Townhouse
Featuring a fitness center, bar and views of city, Gleneagles Townhouse is located in central Edinburgh in New Town. There’s a stylish bar and it’s steps from Dishoom.
Located just a 1-minute walk from Princes Street, Waldorf Astoria Edinburgh – The Caledonian luxury hotel has a modern leisure club and unobstructed views.
Overlooking Edinburgh Castle and Waverley Station, the 4-star Scotsman Hotel was originally built in 1905 and is a rather majestic building.
Located a 1-minute walk from the Royal Mile and Princes Street, this hotel has a wonderful location.
Part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection (hello, Bonvoy points!), this historic luxury hotel in Edinburgh features cosy-contemporary interiors, warm Scottish service and consistently spectacular views of the city centre.
Prefer a more retreat like feeling for your stay in Edinburgh? Just five minutes from Edinburgh city centre by car, James Thomson’s Prestonfield House is Edinburgh’s most exclusive luxury hotel, privacy and seclusion, a cool bar and 18 beautifully designed suites.
Prefer to stay in an apartment? Edinburgh has a variety of VRBO listings for your stay.
Customs And Etiquette In Edinburgh
It is common to share a greeting when walking into a store.
Scots are not nearly as direct as say Americans. They are usually hesitant to complain about things and most would rather “grin and bear it” than make a fuss.
Politeness is highly valued and the Scots queue, wait their turn and are quick to offer you the opportunity to get on the bus first, etc.
Being late for a class or a tour is seen as bad manners. Always aim to arrive 5 minutes early.
As a general rule, expect to tip around 10% of the bill. If you get exceptionally good service, say thank you with a tip closer to 15-20%.
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I hope you find this helpful as you plan your time in Edinburgh, Scotland! Let me know which of my recommendations you end up enjoying!
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