Edinburgh Scotland 2 Day Itinerary
Built upon volcanic rock, Edinburgh is a fortress city of castles and cathedrals. Despite its stony exterior, Scotland’s capital is a vibrant city full of colorful history. Our Edinburgh 2 day itinerary will help you immerse in all of the city’s Scottish architecture, neighborhoods, and attractions.
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ALL ABOUT EDINBURGH
City Center Edinburgh is divided in two areas. Medieval Old Town was built upon cliffs overlooking an arm of the North Sea. Georgian-era New Town sits on a plain beneath Old Town. A series of bridges and steep staircases link the neighborhoods.
In its 1000-year history, Edinburgh has seen many masters. It has served as a defensive fortress and the capital of an independent nation. Today, Scotland’s capital is a major hub for education, finance, tourism, and literature.
City Center Edinburgh is walkable and compact. Our Edinburgh 2 Day Itinerary organizes all of the must-see Edinburgh attractions into 48 hours. If you can add on another day on to your visit of this UNESCO World heritage site, do it! There’s lots to see.
EDINBURGH TRAVEL TIPS
Edinburgh historic attractions can get very busy in peak travel season (summer). Check websites 60-90 days before travel to determine if reservations or the advance purchase of tickets is required.
Many of the museums in Edinburgh are free. On a rainy day, visiting a museum is a great way to ride out the inclement weather.
Edinburgh’s weather changes frequently. Sun, rain, fog, and wind are often experienced in one day. Wear sturdy shoes suitable for walking on wet cobblestone, and have rain gear available.
For information on Edinburgh’s neighborhoods, weather, transportation, best places to stay, and things to do read our Edinburgh Scotland Travel Guide.
Edinburgh is full of hills and stairs. Walking is the best way to immerse in the city, but a Hop-On Hop Off Bus tour can be a great means of cutting down on the amount of walking you will do if you have stamina issues or the weather is bad.
EDINBURGH 2 DAY ITINERARY - DAY 1
Edinburgh Castle: Begin the day at Edinburgh Castle. The fortress dominates the Edinburgh skyline. Now a museum, the castle has served as a military fortification, royal palace, and prison. See the Scottish Crown Jewels, St. Margaret’s Chapel, infantry barracks, parade grounds, and more. There are gorgeous city views from all angles. Arrive early to avoid lines. Allow 2-3 hours for your visit.
Royal Mile: Exiting the Castle’s Esplanade, begin a walk down the Royal Mile. The famous 1-mile route runs along five streets stretching from Edinburgh Castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse (Holyrood Palace). There are many fun stops along the way. Explore attractions such as Dunbar’s Close, The Real Mary King’s Close, the Museum of Childhood, and the John Knox house. Allow 2 hours to enjoy the buskers, street performers, and atmosphere of Old Town Edinburgh’s beating heart.
St. Giles Cathedral: About .3 miles from the Castle on the Royal Mile, look for St. Giles Cathedral, aka the High Kirk of Edinburgh. Visit St. Giles to view its Gothic nave and impressive crown spier. The cathedral sits on Parliament Square. The square holds the Adam Smith Statue (Scottish Philosopher), and is bordered by the original Scottish Parliament House.
Grassmarket: At the end of the Royal Mile, stroll the alleys and side streets of Edinburgh to Grassmarket Square (1.1 miles from Holyrood Palace). The historic neighborhood is named for the horse and cow trade fairs (grass eaters) that were held in the area in the Middle Ages. Today, the area is known for its markets and high-quality craft, homeware, and textile shops.
Search out a café, bar or restaurant that suits you and relax for a while. Don’t leave the neighborhood without locating Vennel Viewpoint, and snapping a few photos of Edinburgh Castle on the hill above.
Next, chose an option from the following two activities.
Calton Hill (Option 1): From Grassmarket, make your way .8 miles to the solitude of the New Calton Cemetery. Situated on a slope of Calton Hill, the burial ground has wonderful views of Holyrood Palace, the Scottish Parliament Building, and Arthur’s seat. After wandering the cemetery’s vaults and memorials, trek further up Calton Hill to the city’s Nelson Monument, City Observatory, and unfinished “Parthenon” war memorial.
The Scotch Whiskey Experience (Option 2): From Grassmarket, head back to Edinburg Castle and locate The Scotch Whiskey Experience. At this attraction, you can take a barrel ride through the whiskey production process, learn about the art of blending, and take part in a tasting (18 years and above). Or, you can go pub hopping and try a nip of whiskey at a variety of establishments.
Old Town Dinner and Shopping: Have dinner at one of Old Town Edinburgh’s many spirited restaurants. We recommend trying The Witchery by the Castle, Deacon Brodie’s Tavern, The Haggis Box, or Brewhemia). Then, spend a bit of time shopping for whiskey, gin, tartans, and kilts.
Ghost Tour: End your day with a ghost tour of Edinburg’s paranormal sites. There are a number of good tours that are informative and spooky. These guided excursions typically take in some of the city’s hidden wynds (alleys), Edinburgh's network of underground vaults, and Greyfriars Kirkyard (said to be the most haunted cemetery in the world).
EDINBURGH 2 DAY ITINERARY - DAY 2
Arthur’s Seat: Start your day with an invigorating hike up an extinct volcano (plan for about 2 hours). Located in beautiful Holyrood Park, Arthur’s Seat is the craggy hill behind Holyrood Palace. Wide gravel paths lead hikers up a steep slope to the summit for panoramic views of Edinburgh.
Palace of Holyroodhouse: After descending Arthur’s Seat, take a tour of Holyrood Palace. The structure began as an Augustinian Abbey and evolved into a royal residence. The palace is the British monarch’s official address while in Scotland. Visitors can see the State Apartments (with the bed chamber of Mary Queen of Scots), Throne Room, Holyrood Abbey, the Palace Garden, Great Gallery, and more.
New Town: After the palace, make your way to New Town Edinburgh. In the 1700’s the neighborhood was developed as a residential oasis for the city’s elite. This is reflected in the district’s wide streets, grand squares, and “Athens” styled public buildings. Stroll elegant Georges Street, and take in the neighborhood’s many monuments. Then window shop! New Town is a mecca for luxury retailers, trendy boutiques, and upscale eateries.
Princes Street Gardens: Two blocks over from Georges Street, the Princes Street Gardens is a lovely divider between Old and New Town. The park was designed so the homes on Princes Street would have an unobstructed view of the city’s skyline. As you meander the garden’s wide lawns, Old Town sits on a hill to one side and New Town on the other. The gardens are home to the Walter Scott Gothic Spire.
Scottish National Gallery: Just a few steps away from the Princes Street Gardens is the Scottish National Gallery. This free museum includes art from international masters (Botticelli, Raphael, and Rembrandt) as well as a collection of paintings from Scottish natives (Ramsay, Raeburn, and Wilkie). There are also cafes, restrooms, and gift shops onsite.
Royal Yacht Britannia and Leith: Next, take a short trip to the nearby neighborhood of Leith. Pay a visit to the Royal Yacht Britannia. For 44-years the yacht carried Queen Elizabeth and the royal family on 968 voyages. A tour of the yacht includes the Queen’s bedrooms, engine room, crew’s quarters, and more. Find a seaside tavern along the shore, and have dinner in the port town. Later, walk off dessert with a stroll along a portion of the scenic Water of Leith Walkway.
End the evening in a pub by your hotel. Mar sin leat (goodbye!) Laura and Randy
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