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Ultimate One Day In Edinburgh Itinerary

Edinburgh is an amazing city and one that I’ve been to several times. It’s a very pretty place to visit with beautiful architecture, colourful streets and lots to do. In fact, writing this is making me think it might be time to go again and do another Scottish road trip!

The city centre is fairly compact so you can get to many of the highlights in one day, but planning it out is important to ensure you don’t spend time crossing back and forth in the same areas.

So here is the best one day Edinburgh itinerary. I’ll include some practical tips at the end to help make the most of your visit, but I’m sure you are here for the itinerary itself, so I’ll get straight to that!

Princes Street

Princes Street marks the boundary between Edinburgh’s Old Town and New Town (bearing in mind that the ‘New Town’ is still a few centuries old!). Together these two parts of the city are designated as a UNESCO world heritage site, and it’s not hard to see why. 

Head west on Princes Street towards the castle. This might initially seem like a strange choice as the first things you’ll see will be high street shops, but there is a good reason for starting this way.

Scott Monument

Within a few moments, you’ll pass the Scott Monument. This monument is dedicated to Sir Walter Scott, one of Edinburgh’s most famous literary figures who was born, studied and lived in the city. You can’t miss it – it’s one of the tallest structures in the city.

About 100 metres further up Princes Street, you’ll reach the Princes Street Gardens. The gardens are a lovely place to explore for a while, with several fountains and sculptures dotted around. They also provide great views of the castle.

Scottish National Gallery 

As you leave Princes Street and head back around towards the castle, you’ll pass by the National – one of the Scottish National Gallery sites. It is free to enter and another of the city’s highlights. 

The collection includes works of art dating from 1300 through to 1945 (there is also a dedicated Scottish National Gallery for modern art if you prefer). You’ll find paintings by van Gogh, Cézanne, Matisse, Vermeer and more. 

Have a look around but I would suggest no more than an hour or so – there’s lots more to see elsewhere.

Once you have finished at the gallery, walk over to the castle. This does involve a bit of a hill, but that’s unavoidable in Edinburgh.

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle is the city’s most popular attraction – which is why it’s important to plan out your day and book tickets in advance. 

The castle perches on top of Castle Rock, part of an extinct volcano which sits around 80 metres above the lower parts of the city. There has been a castle on the rock since the 11th century. 

As a royal residence and fortress, the castle has seen several sieges over the centuries. Its obvious strategic advantages of sitting high above the city with clear views of any approaching soldiers have made it a central location for several conflicts. 

The castle as it stands today is an amalgamation of buildings from different centuries of repairs, rebuilding and fortification. 

Looking over Edinburgh from the castle

Several parts of the castle are now dedicated to Scotland’s military history, unsurprising thanks to its history. 

The castle holds the site of the Scottish National War Memorial which pays tribute to Scots who died in World War I and other later conflicts. In addition, you can also see various cannons, weapons and pieces of armour throughout the castle.

Aside from military history, you can also see the Crown Jewels of Scotland, the Royal Palace, and the room where Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to the future James VI who became King of Scotland at just 13 months old. 

King James later also became James I of England upon the death of Queen Elizabeth I, uniting the crowns of England and Scotland who had historically often been at war. 

As you can see, the castle has played a major role in several significant moments in Scottish history, so it is a fascinating place to visit for a few hours. 

Scotch Whisky Experience’s Whisky Bar

Scotch Whisky Experience

Just outside the castle grounds, you’ll find the Scotch Whisky Experience. It might seem a little early for spirits, but after all, you are on vacation and if you are in Scotland you should try one of its most famous exports.

The Scotch Whisky Experience is primarily known for its tours and tasting experiences, however, skip those and head downstairs to the whisky bar. 

They stock over 450 types of whisky, and the staff know their stock very well. They can provide great recommendations for a dram of whisky based on your preferences and knowledge of whisky. Novices and experts – all are catered for.   

The bar also serves food platters – perfect for a lunch stop to pair with your whisky. They also have a restaurant with a fuller menu, but you would need to book a table in advance, especially on weekends. 

If you try something you like, you can buy more upstairs in the whisky shop!

The Royal Mile

The Royal Mile

Once you have finished exploring the castle, head back down Castlehill and Lawnmarket. These streets form the first section of the Royal Mile, a series of streets that form a straight line from the castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse. 

Meander down the streets, with a quick detour to Victoria Street. Victoria Street is known for its row of colourful shops, including Museum Context which sells a range of Harry Potter memorabilia. 

On the Royal Mile you’ll find several memorials and statues, as well as street performers, shops and cafes. St Giles’ Cathedral is also on this road, easy to spot thanks to its distinctive spire. 

St Giles’ Cathedral

It is free to enter the cathedral, although donations are welcome. If you arrive around 2.30pm you can join a free guided tour of the building and its 900-year history. Otherwise, you can go in and explore the building for yourself for a few minutes. 

Depending on how you are doing for time, you could walk all the way down the Royal Mile to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the official Scottish residence of King Charles III. Unless you’ve been very efficient I wouldn’t recommend going inside, but it is a nice part of the city to see. 

Opposite the palace, you’ll find the Scottish Parliament Building – a modern piece of architecture that offers a stark contrast to the older building.

If you want to limit your walking, stop about halfway along the Royal Mile and head down South Bridge and onto Chambers Street.

National Museum of Scotland

National Museum of Scotland

The National Museum of Scotland on Chambers Street is another free museum. One of my favourite things about the UK is how many fantastic museums are free. 

The museum is a beautiful Victorian building, and another great place to learn more about Scottish history. Visitors can explore exhibits showcasing Scottish history, culture, and artefacts. The museum features displays on various topics such as natural history, science, technology, and world cultures. 

Visitors can also see archaeological finds, artworks, and interactive displays that offer insights into Scotland’s heritage and past. 

There are also displays on design and fashion – the museum covers a wide range of topics so there’ll always be something to spark your interest. 

Greyfriars Kirkyard

Opposite the National Museum of Scotland is Greyfriars Kirkyard. Hundreds of notable Scottish figures have been buried here, but recently it has become most famous for a grave that would otherwise be overlooked – Thomas Riddle. 

Edinburgh is full of Harry Potter references, shops and locations. This grave is one of the most obvious – the inspiration for the name of the primary villain in the Harry Potter universe. 

If you want to spend your day dedicated to Harry Potter locations, book this tour!

Dinner

There are a couple of places I would recommend for dinner. If a particular one appeals, book a table in advance.

Whiski Rooms – this restaurant serves amazing local food, whisky cocktails and my favourite Scottish dessert – cranachan. This is a delicious mix of cream, honey, whisky, raspberries and oats.

White Horse Oyster and Seafood Bar – I over-ordered when I was at White Horse. The menu is made up primarily of small dishes so you can try different things and I wanted to try several things, but the ‘small plates’ were bigger than I had expected! But I don’t regret it – the food was fantastic. 

If there are two or more of you they also serve seafood platters, which looked yummy when the couple at the table next to me got theirs. 

Tolbooth Tavern – this pub serves some traditional Scottish dishes without the higher prices of a fancy restaurant. If you want to try haggis, this is a good option. 

Evening Activities

There are several options you could choose for your evening.

Head to Sandy Bell’s to listen to live Scottish folk and traditional music. For traditional Irish music, try Biddy Mulligan’s

Edinburgh has several theatres, so another option is to check out what is on at the Lyceum, Playhouse or Festival Theatres. 

If you enjoy ghost stories, perhaps join a walking tour of the underground vaults.

Or simply head to one of the many bars to try some more whisky!

When To Visit

Edinburgh can be cold and wet so the best time to visit is late spring to early autumn. August can be very busy and expensive due to the annual Edinburgh Fringe Festival, but generally, you’ll want to aim for warmer months. 

Where To Stay

Edinburgh isn’t a cheap place to visit, so hotel rooms will be more expensive than similar ones in other cities.

There are several Premier Inns around the city. I’ve stayed in a lot of these around the UK and although not fancy, they are comfortable, clean and at a reasonable price. They aren’t on booking sites, you can only book through their own website. 

Apex Waterloo Place Hotel is another reasonably priced option in the city centre. 

If you need a budget option and are visiting during the summer, you can book a room in Edinburgh University dorm rooms for a low price.

CoDE Pod offers unusual hostel dormitories which offer a bit more privacy than typical hostels, in mixed or female-only dorms.

If You Have More Time In Edinburgh

Arthur’s Seat

Arthur’s Seat is a popular hiking destination in Edinburgh, offering panoramic views of the city from its summit. The hike is relatively moderate in difficulty, making it accessible to a wide range of visitors. It’s a popular option for people who have a couple fo days in the city. 

Carlton Hill

Calton Hill is a historic hill offering panoramic views of the city skyline. Home to several iconic monuments like the National Monument and Nelson’s Monument, it’s a popular spot for tourists and locals alike. Visitors can enjoy a leisurely walk up the hill for stunning views of Edinburgh’s landmarks, but if you only have one day in Edinburgh skip this one.

Holyroodhouse

The Palace of Holyroodhouse is the official residence of the monarch in Scotland and so is a popular tourist attraction. However I think it is only worth exploring on Day 2 or beyond.

If you do have the time to spend, you could also go into the Scottish Parliament Building opposite, and if parliament is in session you might be able to get a spot in the public gallery to see it in action. 

Royal Yacht Britannia

The Royal Yacht Britannia in Edinburgh served as the royal yacht of Queen Elizabeth II for over 40 years. Now permanently berthed at the Ocean Terminal in Leith, visitors can explore what luxuries can be found on board a royal vessel. 

The yacht is a popular tourist attraction, showcasing the elegant interiors and decks where the royal family entertained guests and sailed around the world. However, it isn’t in the city centre so it only makes sense to visit if you are in Edinburgh for a few days. 

If You Have More Time In Scotland

Taking in the views from Stirling Castle

Day Trips

There are several day trips you can do using Edinburgh as a base if you want to see more of Scotland. A visit to Stirling and Loch Lomond is easy to do. You could also take a train over to Glasgow to visit Scotland’s biggest city.

If you don’t want to worry about driving or taking public transport, consider a tour of Loch Ness and Glencoe.

On the way to the Isle of Skye

Road Trip

If you want to make the most of Scotland then this one week itinerary will take you to some of the most beautiful parts of the country – the Highlands, the Isle of Skye and more. 

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