How To Spend 2 Days In Edinburgh And See All The Top Attractions
We put aside a couple of days for Edinburgh on our first trip to Scotland. It was more of a "let's just go see what it's like" kind of decision because our original purpose for visiting Scotland was to go watch the British Open that was taking place in Dundee. Indeed, our two days in Edinburgh turned out to be a good decision because we quickly realized there were some amazing things to see and places to visit in this charming and very historic city.
If you're asking "how can I spend 2 days in Edinburgh?" here's the exact itinerary you can follow to make sure you get to all of the attractions and sightseeing, especially if it's your first time. It also works great for anyone looking to visit Edinburgh as a weekend break! You can certainly take your time and spend many more days to really get to know Edinburgh, but if time is limited, here's how you can plan your trip to get to enjoy all of the highlights!
We sure loved it and think you will, too!
2 Days In Edinburgh - The Perfect Itinerary
Day 1 - things to see in Edinburgh Old Town And Beyond
Get your fist day started early because there's a lot to get to in this jam-packed itinerary. Our itinerary for Edinburgh is mostly family and kid friendly, even though we enjoyed it as a couple ourselves.
Pro-traveler Tips to keep in mind:
- There's going to be a lot of walking involved so make sure you've got your comfy shoes on and your water bottle handy.
- A light jacket will come in handy and, at times, an umbrella as well.
1. Edinburgh Castle
Our first stop has to be Edinburgh Castle since it is the highlight of this Scottish capital city. It's pretty hard to miss this 900 year old castle perched atop volcanic rock, boldly commanding attention from the corner of your eye practically anywhere you stand in the Old Town.
If there's one place to see in Edinburgh on your bucketlist, it should be this castle. For some, it may be enough to admire it from the outside, but going inside will be well worth it. You don't have to spend much time touring the castle and grounds, but do stop in and check out some of the magnificent chambers and rooms for a glimpse into the past.
Before you leave the castle, though, make sure to get a load of the views from up there! It's easy to see why this location (on top of Castle Rock) was chosen for a fortress that has provided itself as a royal palace, gun foundry, prison, infantry barracks, as well as the location for the Crown Jewels.
We were given a passcard from VisitScotland that allowed us admission to Edinburgh Castle for editorial purposes. Even without the passcard, I would have never missed getting a tour of this place as the ticket prices is only £17 when purchased in advance. You can even get your tickets online and skip the line!
2. Royal Mile
You might consider The Royal Mile the main thoroughfare running through the heart of Old Town Edinburgh. Starting from Castle Rock and the fortress at its apex, the Royal Mile is a stretch of connecting streets starting with Castlehill, followed by Lawnmarket, High Street and, finally, Canongate where Palace of Holyroodhouse and the Scottish Parliament are situated.
As you'll notice from reading further, we're making this itinerary easy to follow down straight path!
There are plenty of closes (alleys) along the Royal Mile that one can venture down and get pleasantly lost in. A couple to consider exploring include:
With a substantial number of shops, cafes, restaurants, and pubs lining the Royal Mile and its connecting streets, along with so much to see, it's no wonder that tourists flock to this location!
Here are some of the popular attractions you'll find along the way:
3. St. Giles' Cathedral
A couple of fun facts about this cathedral:
- A pair of white storks built their next on the tower here in 1416 and it has been the one place where this bird breeds in all of Britain since then!
- Interestingly, the statue in front of the building is of the 5th Duke of Buccleuch who was the first individual to bring the Labrador dog breed from Canada to Britain.
St. Giles' Cathedral is known as the "Heart of Edinburgh" and has served as the cities primary church since the 12th century. Also called High Kirk of Edinburgh, the cathedral is about a third of the way down the Royal Mile from Edinburgh castle and it's 15th century crown steeple is quite noticeable in the skyline.
4. Greyfriars Kirkyard
If you end up taking a Harry Potter tour in Edinburgh, this graveyard is most likely to be one of the stops. It also happens to be right by George Hariot's School, which was the inspiration behind Hogwarts! Another spot with Harry Potter connections nearby is the Elephant House Cafe.
The graveyard is a famous burial ground and worth a stroll around even if you're not a Harry Potter fan. Make sure to pay a visit to the statue of Greyfriars Bobby and learn about the interesting history of this famous loyal Skye Terrier.
5. The Scotch Whisky Experience
So, I'll be perfectly honest here: there's nothing spectacular about this "experience." Maybe my expectations were a bit too high. I thought we were going to be walking through the actual area where the whiskey is made. Well, I was wrong.
They have you go on a "Barrel Ride," which is, essentially, a moving seat that takes you through watching the Scotch Whiskey making process (and some history) on the screen.
Don't get me wrong, it was informative and interesting. The highlight, of course, is the taste testing of this national beverage. You get to learn about the different parts of Scotland where the Scotch Whiskey is made and how this changes the flavors. The tasting room itself and the bar at the end are pretty cool, too.
6. Calton Hill
To finish up your first day in Edinburgh with a bang, head up Calton Hill at sunset.
Not only can you see some of the famous Edinburgh landmarks on this hill, such as the National Monument and The Nelson Monument, but you get delightful panoramic views that stretch out all the way to the Firth Of Forth.
A lot of the places that were visited on this first day and be seen from this bird's eye viewpoint and the golden hour is the perfect time to sit back and recall the highlights of the day. See if you can point out all the famous sights from up here!
We took a taxi to get to Calton Hill just so that we would not miss the sunset. The climb up requires going up a lot of stairs, but is not that difficult or time consuming.
Places To Eat In Edinburgh:
Edinburgh Larder Cafe - We had breakfast here a couple of days and loved it!
Loudons Cafe & Bakery
The Baked Potato Shop
Day 2 - More places to visit in Edinburgh
You second day in Scotland can go at whatever pace you prefer. Personally, I spend the most amount of time hiking up Arthur's Seat (I'll tell you why below). However, how long you take to see each place on today's itinerary depends on your personality and preference.
Take a quick look below and see which interests you the most and allocate the correct amount of time for it.
7. Victoria Street
The architecture and history of this beloved street should be reason enough to visit during your time in Edinburgh. It's no secret that Victoria Street played a big part in the conception of Diagon Alley from the Harry Potter books. There's even a jokes and novelties shop!
The colorful lower part consists mainly of independent shops selling unique items. There are restaurant at the top floor which are great for grabbing a bite and a drink while you take it all in.
We visited Victoria Street and the nearby Grassmarket a couple of times during our Edinburgh trip because they were within walking distance of our AirBnb (if you've never used Airbnb, you can click to get our discount). I really wish we had a whole week in Edinburgh so that we could try all of the pubs in this area!
Here are a few places we enjoyed eating and drinking on Victoria Street:
- Oink Victoria Street - flavorful sandwiches
- Hula Juice Bar - great fresh squeezed juices and smoothies
- La Barantine Victoria - great coffee and desserts
Don't miss the historic well located at the lower part of Victoria street!
8. Palace of Holyroodhouse & Holyrood Abbey
Get your dose of Scottish royal history with a tour of HolyroodHouse Palace. My pass from the people at VisitScotland gave me access for an audio tour of this amazing palace and I was truly impressed!
Just at the end of the Royal Mile, The Palace of Holyroodhouse is not only a historic place to see, but the actual residence of the Royal Family when they are in town!
Before I even made it up to the State Rooms, I was in awe of the courtyard and inviting grounds of the property. It was very interesting to learn of the occupants of this palace over time, but I fell in love with the decor and interior designs even more so!
Unfortunately, they don't allow photos to be taken when you are inside, but trust me when I say this is worth visiting even if you are in Edinburgh for a short while.
Pro-Traveler Tip: Make sure you peek out the windows while you are up visiting the rooms. Also, leave some time to just walk the gardens and the remains of the ancient Holyrood Abby!
9. Hike up Arthur’s Seat
I started my hike up Arthur's Seat just after touring The Palace Of Holyroodhouse as the start of the trail is just a couple of minute's walk from there. I would recommend planning the visit to both of these locations back to back because they are so close to each other.
It was a lovely day for a hike and I could not wait to see the views from the peak of the grouped hills on this extinct volcano. Don't worry, it hasn't erupted in millions of years!
It seems that I took the long way around and it took me about 2 hours to get up to the top. This is probably about twice as long as most other people take because there is a faster route.
I wasn't really paying attention and went away from what Google Maps was telling me. With a couple of exceptions, the path I took was not too difficult. The shorter path takes about 45 minutes and is pretty tame to walk.
I did find the shorter way and used it for my walk back down!
The panoramic views of Edinburgh are breathtaking from this bird's eye view and should not be missed on your visit!
Pro-Traveler Tip: There are a few ways to hike up Arthur's Seat, so pick your way in advance if you are trying to stay within a certain time limit. If not, just go for it like I did. It can be a fun adventure!
10. Princes Street Gardens & Shopping
In All honesty, I'm not a fan of shopping when I travel, so I don't ever really recommend going to malls and shopping centers in any destination.
With only two days to spend in Edinburgh, you don't want to get too distracted with the shops here.
Having said that, I still think you should stop by and stroll around a bit. It's particularly good for finding a cool spot to eat.
11. Scott Monument
The Scott Monument is located right off of Princess Street so, it is convenient to check it out while you're in the area.
The Princess Street Gardens run parallel to the street that shares its name and provide a relaxing place to hang out with views of Edinburgh Castle.
You'll also find the following popular monuments and attractions:
- The Royal Scots Greys Monument
- Ross Fountain
Pro-Traveler Tip: For dinner here, enjoy some delicious bites at The Doric Tavern with a glass of their 1488 whiskey beer!
12. Cool Hotels
The Balmoral is a famous luxury hotel with ties to the Harry Potter books and provided a place to stay for many movie stars and other famous individuals. You can certainly book a night here and enjoy amazing accommodations, but the popular Edinburgh landmark can also be a stop on the Harry Potter trail for fans as well.
Edinburgh is an exceptional city to visit and, certainly, spending just 2 days there is not nearly enough to see the spectacular things it has to offer. However, we've packed a lot into this itinerary and know it is do-able because we did it!
If you stay on track with your time, we are sure you can do it, too! We've included all of the top attractions for visitors as well as our favorite places to grab a bite while you're doing all of this sightseeing (you will work up an appetite, trust me!).
Let us know if you've had a chance to follow our Edinburgh itinerary. If you're like us, you'll probably be checking out some other European cities. We went to Barcelona for 3 days and also spent 3 days in Seville, Spain, before getting to Scotland on this trip. Some might even visit Italy while in Europe. Either way, we hope you enjoy your travels.
Here are some resources to make planning your trips easier:
About the Author
Hi! I'm just a California girl addicted to travel and adventure with a passion for art and dance on the side. Born in Iran, but I consider myself a citizen of Earth, adhering to the belief that "The world is but one country and mankind its citizen." I strive to make a positive impact on everyone I meet and learn as much as possible from them. My degree out of college is in Marketing. However, I entered the hospitality business at an early age and worked my way up to hotel management. After about 13 years in that industry (5 of which I was a hotel assistant manager), I made the decision to move to Thailand and leave the 9 to 5 grind behind. My husband and I set off for a life of living abroad and hopes to continue traveling the world, just 3 months after our wedding. It all started with the two of us, along with our cat, together in Thailand. Can't wait to see where life takes us next!