Best Things to Do in Edinburgh, Scotland on a 3 Day Edinburgh Itinerary

by | Nov 27, 2022 | City Guides, Live Work Play Travel, London and UK Live Work and Play | 13 comments

Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland and everyone includes a visit to this vibrant city on any trip to Scotland. It is known for its culture, history, beautiful landscapes and particularly for Edinburgh Castle that keeps a watchful eye over the city. Edinburgh is a perfect weekend getaway or a gateway to discover more of Scotland. It is also home to many cultural events including the Edinburgh Fringe and Edinburgh Festival. Some come and enjoy this wonderful old city by exploring the best things to do in Edinburgh.

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 What to See and Do in Edinburgh

 

Edinburgh has many great things to do. If it is your first trip to Edinburgh, here’s my list of the things you mustn’t miss when visiting Edinburgh.

Edinburgh Hop-on Hop-off Sightseeing Tour

 

I always like to start my visit to any big city with a hop-on hop-off sightseeing tour. Why? Because they will take me to all the best bits of a city and tell my why I should spend my time there. After taking this hop-on hop-off bus tour I can then decide the places I want to discover. Edinburgh has a wonderful hop-on hop-off tour and I highly recommend it, particularly if it is your first time in Edinburgh. You can book your ticket online for the Edinburgh Hop-on Hop-off sightseeing tour here.

 

Explore Edinburgh Castle

 

You cannot miss Edinburgh Castle as it is a key component of Edinburgh’s skyline. The castle stands atop a tall rock, making it visible from most parts of the city it overlooks below. The site of the castle has been used for centuries as the perfect defensive location and this castle, Edinburgh Castle has played a great part in Scottish history. At the entry gates you will see where William Wallace’s head was displayed after his beheading. It was also home to Mary Queen of Scots and Bonnie Prince Charlie. And if you take the tour of the castle, you will see the bedroom where Mary gave birth to her son. 

Also on display in Edinburgh Castle are the Crown Jewels of Scotland and the Stone of Destiny which has been used in the the coronation of British monarchs for many centuries. Located within the castle is the National War Museum that explores Scotland’s history of war. See military artefacts such as uniforms, banners and medals. Discover the Highland-Lowland battles in the 17th and 18th including up to Scotland’s modern-day military presence. History buffs, such as myself, will absolutely love visiting Edinburgh Castle.

I suggest touring the castle in the morning as it can become busy with visitors later. However, if you can stick around for the firing of the One O’Clock Gun. This has been fired every day, except on a Sunday, since 1861. Maritime captains would set their clocks to navigate the oceans by it. If you have moved on before this happens, don’t worry, you will hear it if in the local vicinity.

To avoid the queues book your ticket online for Edinburgh Castle here.

 

Walk the Royal Mile

Cobbled Royal Mile in Edinburgh.

The Royal Mile is the cobbled street that you have probably walked up to get to Edinburgh Castle. It links Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyrood House at the bottom of the road. It is wonderful walking up or down the Royal Mile which will only take about 15 minutes if you don’t deviate into the shops and museums along the mile. My favourite museum was the Scotch Whisky Experience where I learnt about distilling of scotch whisky! Do ensure you have good walking shoes on as it is a cobbled street with lots of uneven surfaces. You could spend quite a few hours along the Royal Mile as there are plenty of unique shops, cafes, museums in some of the oldest buildings in Edinburgh that you could visit on your way down to the Palace of Holyroodhouse.

 

Visit the Palace Of Holyrood

 

The Palace of Holyrood is the residence of the reigning British monarch when in Edinburgh. It is located at the bottom of the Royal Mile and across from the Scottish Parliament. Built in 1678, the palace has housed generations of queens and kings. A visit will show you what royal life was like in the 17th century. Visit the State Apartments which are used by the British Royal Family today when they are in residence. See the fine art on the walls and step into Mary Queen of Scots’ chambers (she lived there between the years of 1561-1567) that includes the room where her secretary was murdered in 1566 by her husband. Lots of history to discover here.

To avoid the queues book your ticket online for Holyrood Palace here. 

 

Stroll through the Old Town

 

The Old Town of Edinburgh is exactly that, the old part of town. The Royal Mile is part of the Old Town, so after walking the Royal Mile, go down some of the side streets and visit some of the local boutiques and tasty cafes. The whole old town looks like something from Harry Potter. Speaking of Harry Potter go on the Harry Potter tour to some of the spots that inspired JK Rowling in Edinburgh. Or visit the Real Mary King’s Close while here. It is a hidden system of streets and spaces built hundreds of years ago underneath the streets of the Royal Mile and Old Town.

Book your ticket for a Harry Potter 2-hour Walking Tour here.

Book your ticket for the Real Mary King’s Close here.

 

Shop till you Drop on Princes Street

 

Any visit to Edinburgh should involve visiting the historic Princes Street. Princes Street has been the heart of Edinburgh since 1770 and is its main thoroughfare. Shop till you drop along Edinburgh’s most popular retail hubs. You will find big high street stores to unique boutiques and plenty of coffee shops to wet your whistle. And you will also get great views of Edinburgh Castle while walking along Princes Street. If you need a break from shopping, head to the Princes Street Gardens that features a beautiful floral clock, war memorial and green lawns that are perfect for a rest or a picnic.

There are also a number of historic Edinburgh landmarks along and near Princes Street. The Scott Monument has a distinctive gothic-style architecture that was constructed in 1844 in dedication to the Scottish author Sir Walter Scott. It reaches 61 metres high and is the world’s tallest monument to a writer! The monument also features statues of other prominent Scottish poets and writers including Robert Burns and Lord Byron. Take the steps to the monument’s top for great views over the city and the Princes Street Gardens.

 

Hike up Arthur’s Seat

 

Even if you aren’t an outdoor enthusiast, Arthur’s Seat is a must-visit and one of the best things to do in Edinburgh. Arthur’s Seat is actually a dormant volcano that is one of the highest points in Edinburgh. By hiking to the top, which can take around 30 minutes, you will be treated to breath-taking views over Edinburgh. Plus, you will find a hill fort dating from around 600 A.D. Arthur’s Seat is a historical place and is considered to be the possible location of Camelot, King Arthur’s legendary castle! How cool is that! Well worth getting puffed out for! I would suggest only doing this hike when the weather is clear as the views won’t be that great on a foggy day. 

TIP: Take a coat on windy days as it can get quite blustery up there.

 

Visit National Monument of Scotland on Calton Hill

View of Edinburgh From Calton Hill.

Get great views over Edinburgh at Calton Hill

 

If you don’t fancy the walk up to Arthur’s Seat, don’t worry, there is an alternative, Calton Hill. The National Monument of Scotland lies on Calton Hill. The monument was designed to commemorate Scottish soldiers. It has stood there since 1829 and tourists and locals flock to this unfinished structure. Mostly they go for the breath-taking views across the city instead of hiking up Arthur’s Seat.

 

Discover the Scottish National Gallery

 

The Scottish National Gallery is Scotland’s national art gallery so if you are a art nut, it is a must-see during your Edinburgh visit. Located in the heart of Edinburgh on Princes Street, the beautiful neoclassical building houses some of the rich fine art with work by Van Deck, Rubens and Gainsborough plus a number of Scottish artists include Sir David Wilkie and Sir Henry Raeburn. After enjoying the art you can head to the cafe and restaurant and get fabulous views across the Princes Street Gardens. That is an artwork within itself! It’s also a good place to be when it is cold and wet outside.

 

Be amazed by the National Museum of Scotland

 

The National Museum was one of my favourite places to visit while in Edinburgh which is why it made my lifestyle of best things to do in Edinburgh. Now I know museums aren’t for everyone but I really enjoyed strolling around the museum check out the natural history section, seeing the iconic Grand Gallery and exploring the World Cultures Gallery. But that is just me, I do enjoy a good museum, particularly when it is cold outside!

 

Visit Leith and the Royal Yacht Britannia

 

In the late 1980s and 90s, Leith was probably a neighbourhood in Edinburgh you would avoid. This has now changed, and this waterfront setting, only fifteen minutes from the centre of Edinburgh is a great place to enjoy a drink and dinner. Or you could get a cuppa on the deck of the Royal Yacht Britannia which is moored at Ocean Terminal in Leith. To get here, take the Line 35 bus from Chambers Street that is next to the National Museum of Scotland, or take a taxi or Uber. 

 

3 Day Edinburgh Itinerary

 

So these are my favourite things to do while in Edinburgh. If you want to know how to structure your time while in Edinburgh here is a suggested 3-day Edinburgh itinerary. If you want to do other things in Edinburgh, just add a day or two to the itinerary.

Day 1 – Start by doing the Hop-on Hop-off Sightseeing Tour. Then head to Edinburgh Castle, walk down the Royal Mile and enjoy the Palace of Holyrood. Maybe discover the Old Town and go on a 2 hour Harry Potter Walking Tour. 

Day 2 – Hike up Arthurs Seat for great views over the city before discovering a museum. Head to Leith for dinner and a drink.

Day 3 – Shop till you drop on Princes Street and visit some of the old buildings, museums and monuments on and just off Princes Street.

 

Are You Ready to Discover Edinburgh?

 

Edinburgh is a fascinating city with a lot of history. It is the doorway into the rest of Scotland and with all the great things to do in Edinburgh, is a must on any trip to Scotland.

 

Plan Your Trip to Edinburgh

 

How to get to and around Edinburgh

 

Edinburgh has its own airport and major train (Waverley Station) and bus stations so you will be able to get to Edinburgh either by plane, train or bus. Once in Edinburgh you can get around on the Lothian Buses.

 

Where to Stay in Edinburgh

 

Most of the best things to do in Edinburgh are located close together so staying in the centre of Edinburgh will allow you to walk to most places.

LUXURY: The Native Edinburgh is a 5-star hotel located not far from Edinburgh Castle. Great spot with all the luxuries you’d expect.

MID-RANGE: The Britannia Edinburgh Hotel is not too far from the Royal Mile. This is where I stayed and enjoyed it immensely. It had everything I needed and was in easy reach of all the best things to do in Edinburgh.

BUDGET: Castle Rock Hostel is a popular hostel for young travellers as is the new CoDE Pod Hostel – The Court located just off the Royal Mile. Sleep in a pod in a dormitory-style room. How cool! 

For more accommodation options in Edinburgh check out Booking.com.

 

Day Trip Ideas from Edinburgh

 

If you have more than 3 days in Edinburgh, here are some day trip ideas. Visit Glencoe in the Highlands, or Loch Ness or the golf courses at St Andrews. Outlander lovers may want to go on an Outlander tour.

Extend Your Stay in Scotland with a UK Working Holiday Visa. One of these will let you stay in Scotland (Wales, England and Northern Ireland) for up to 2 years to work and travel. You could make Scotland your work abroad and travel base for further travel to Europe and beyond.

 

Best things to do in Edinburgh on a 3 day Edinburgh itinerary.

Thanks for sharing!

Useful Travel Resources for Your Next Adventure!

 

Accommodation: Where Will You Sleep Tonight? If you want a bed in a hostel dorm find a great deal with HostelWorld. I mostly stay in hotels now, Booking.com is my favourite site for booking hotels from budget to ‘I feel like splurging’. For something completely different I house and pet sitting through Trusted Housesitters – this has saved me thousands on accommodation, no joke!

Flights: I always head to Skyscanner first to find a cheap and flexible flight.

Car Rental: When I need to rent a car I turn to RentalCars.

Train Travel: I love riding the train rails and get the best value from raileurope. And Japan has a great one too – JapanRail Pass.

Bus Travel: Check out Busbud for bus tickets.

Pre-organised Tours: I’ve been on a few in my time with Contiki being my first and favourite. if you are 18-35 years of age you should check them out.

Jump-the-queue entrance tickets: I don’t enjoy standing in long queues which is why I book my entrance tickets and day trips in advance. My favourite website to book them in advance is GetYourGuide.

Travel Insurance. There are a number of reasons why travel insurance is important and I never travel without having bought a policy as you never know when something might happen. SafetyWing is great digital nomads and long-term travellers and World Normads has policies for general and adventure travel.

 

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Hi. Sharyn here. Savvy Australian female with a passion for travel and working abroad. I’m on a mission to provide you with my best tips, tricks and hacks to work abroad and travel the world. If I can do it, so can you!  Read more.

 

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13 Comments

  1. Lisa

    This post is excellent!
    I’m planning to visit Edinburgh in the new year and have been looking for a helpful post like this!
    Thank you! Getting very excited for my trip after reading this!

    Reply
  2. Josy A

    Great post! I flipping love visiting Edinburgh, so I am always keen to go back 🙂
    It’s funny though, although I have been several times I have still never managed to do the thing I want to most – hike up Arthur’s Seat! I’ll get up there eventually!

    Reply
  3. Sarah

    Love Edinburgh, this post makes me want to revisit. I love that hike up to Arthur’s Seat!

    Reply
  4. Lisa

    This is a great 3 day itinerary for Edinburgh! I would love to do a Harry Potter tour!

    Reply
    • Sharyn McCullum

      Just walking around Edinburgh you will see places that inspired JK Rowling’s Harry Potter books. Yes, the walking tour was fabulous – but I’m a big Harry Potter fan!

      Reply
  5. Linda (LD Holland)

    We had only one day in Edinburgh and it definitely was not enough. I love the idea of starting with a hop-on-hop-off tour to get your bearings and help move you around. We were sorry we missed the Palace of Holyrood on our visit. And did not get to enjoy the views from Arthurs Seat. All good reasons to go back.

    Reply
  6. ANUKRATI DOSI

    Interesting read! Edinburgh has always made me visit Arthur’s seat. I hope to make it to the capital soon.

    Reply
  7. Kassadi

    So many great ideas in this post, thank you so much for sharing! My husband’s favorite place when he studied abroad was Edinburgh and it is on our shortlist to travel to ASAP, so definitely saving this post!

    Reply
    • Sharyn McCullum

      Fabulous. Your husband would have been able to immerse himself in the Scottish culture while studying. I wish I had been able to do something like that!

      Reply
  8. Anita

    Your post brings me back memories of visiting Edinburgh quite a long time ago. And to be honest, I remember not so much. So thanks for refreshing my memories and adding new useful information.

    Reply
  9. Anja | Anja On Adventure

    Love this post! Sounds like a great 3-day itinerary for Edinburgh. I would love to go on a Harry Potter tour and visit all the castles.

    Reply
  10. Ashley

    Heard so many good things about Edinburgh! Definitely need to visit!

    Reply
    • Sharyn McCullum

      Edinburgh is a great city to visit when in the UK. I hope you get there!

      Reply

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