A complete post-COVID itinerary for 3 days in Edinburgh (+ map with all attractions and how to visit the Highlands and Stirling Castle on a day trip).
Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland since 1437. With its distinctive look, it’s one of the most beautiful and unique cities in Europe. Visiting the capital of Scotland it’s like taking a time machine back to medieval centuries.
Cobblestone streets tucked away between dark sandstone buildings. Old local pubs and little shops with friendly owners, selling wool and tartan goods. All this dominated by the gorgeous Edinburg Castle, standing on the top of Castle Rock.
3 days in Edinburgh itinerary
This long weekend Edinburgh itinerary is ideal for all visiting the city for the first time. It is packed with all the must-see attractions Edinburgh has to offer. In addition, you’ll find some helpful tips on how to skip the lines and how to visit the Highlands and Stirling Castle.
Find a detailed map of this 3-day itinerary for Edinburgh at the end of the blog post.
Already have a hotel booked? Check if your hotel has a good location in my guide to the best places to stay in Edinburgh.
3 days in Edinburgh (the perfect itinerary 2021)
- Day 1: Holyrood Palace, St Giles’ Cathedral, Scott Monument, Calton Hill
- Day 2: Edinburgh Castle, Princes Street Gardens, Dean Village
- Day 3: Edinburgh Vaults, whisky tours, Arthur’s Seat, Camera Obscura
For my trip to Scotland, I used this DK Eyewitness Travel Guide. I love their travel guides, as they have practical information, walking tours and a durable map!
3 days in Edinburgh – Day 1
Have breakfast at Canongate Coffee Company Ltd
08:30 AM – 09:30 AM
Start the first day with breakfast at Canongate Coffee Company Ltd. Their Scottish breakfast and blueberry scones are absolutely delicious!.
Visit the royal Holyrood Palace
09:30 AM – 12:00 PM
The history of the palace started with its abbey. King David I of Scotland founded the Holyrood Abbey in 1128. According to the legends, the king had a vision of a stag with a cross glowing between its antlers. He decided that this was a sign from God and built the abbey on the same spot he had seen the stag. From here came the name of the abbey and subsequently the palace – Holyrood. Holyrood means “Holy Cross”.
The Holyrood Palace used to be the residence of the Scottish rulers. You can explore the State Apartments and the chambers of Mary, Queen of Scots.
Have a Scotch pie
12:00 PM – 02:00 PM
The best place to try an authentic Scotch pie is the Piemaker. They offer small delicious pies (vegetarian options also available).
Admire St Giles’ Cathedral
02:00 PM – 02:30 PM
St Giles’ Cathedral is a stunning 14th-century cathedral in the heart of the city. It is dedicated to the patron saint of the city, Saint Giles. It is free to visit the cathedral. However, if you want to take photos, you have to buy a £2 photo permit.
See the Scott Monument
02:40 PM – 03:00 PM
The Scott Monument is dedicated to the Scottish writer Sir Walter Scott. You can climb the 200 feet (about 61 m) high tower via a spiral staircase. Keep in mind that it is really claustrophobic and there are 287 steps to the top.
I wanted to climb the stairs, but after checking a few photos on google images, I gave up.
City views from Calton Hill
03:20 PM – 05:00 PM
Calton Hill is home to few iconic monuments: National Monument of Scotland, Dugald Stewart Monument and Nelson’s Monument. You can climb the Nelson’s Monument for better views over the city. Even if you don’t, the views from Calton Hill itself are stunning.
It is a very popular spot for sunset watching. I spent two evenings there watching the sun sets over the horizon. Keep in mind that it is very windy.
In fact, this is one of the most romantic things to do in Edinburgh.
Finish the first day of this Edinburgh itinerary with a delicious dinner at Howies Waterloo or The Dome.
The church is famous for its notables buried in the churchyard. You can find the graves of the economist Adam Smith, Agnes Maclehose (Clarinda of Robert Burns) and the poet Robert Fergusson. A statue of the latter stands right next to the church gates. This is also the final resting place of David Rizzio, the private secretary of Mary, Queen of Scots.
Greyfriars Bobby Statue and Greyfriars Kirk
Greyfriars Kirk got its name from a small Skye Terrier. The dog’s story is a real example of true love and devotion. The dog loved its master so much, that it guarded his grave till its own death 14 years later. Greyfriars Bobby is buried in the church not far away from the grave of its master.
While wandering around the Greyfriars Kirkyard, you can spot a few Harry Potter’s characters on the stones. This is the place from where J. K. Rowling got some of the names in her books. You can see the grave of Lord Voldemort (Tom Riddle).
Old Calton Burial Ground
On your way to Calton Hill, stop in the Old Calton Burial Ground. It is one of the most famous cemeteries in the city. The cemetery is dominated by a huge black obelisk, the Political Martyrs’ Monument. This monument is erected in memory of five political reformists from the early 19th century.
3 days in Edinburgh – Day 2
Have breakfast at Hula Juice Bar
08:30 AM – 09:30 AM
Start the second day of this long weekend in Edinburgh with a healthy breakfast at Hula Juice Bar & Gallery. Their Maca Nana Bowl and avocado toast with salmon are just fantastic!
Visit the iconic Edinburgh Castle
09:30 AM – 12:30 PM
The castle is the city’s most iconic landmark. It’s one of the oldest fortified places in Europe, dominating the skyline of Edinburgh for more than nine centuries. Started as an ancient stronghold, the castle later became a royal residence, military garrison and prison.
Edinburgh castle is huge and there is a lot to discover, so be prepared to spend 2-3 hours here.
To explore the castle you can join in a walking tour (included in the ticket price) or rent an audio guide. I like to explore by myself, so I chose the audio guide option. The meeting point of the walking tour is through the Portcullis Gate past the audio booth by the clock.
If you have an Explorer Pass, you get a discount on the price of the audio guide. The Explorer Pass is a great way to save some money if you plan to visit more than two castles. I used it to visit Edinburgh Castle, Stirling Castle and Linlithgow Castle.
12:30 PM – 02:30 PM
Stop for lunch at Oink or Scotts Kitchen. If you love pork meat, go to Oink. Their pulled pork sandwiches are to die for.
Scotts Kitchen overlooks the city’s most photographed street, Victoria Street. It’s perfect for a relaxed lunch.
If you want to finish the lunch with something sweet, try the gelato at Mary’s Milk Bar. And don’t miss the view of Edinburgh Castle from there.
Princes Street Gardens and Wojtek Statue
02:30 PM – 03:00 PM
The Princes Street Gardens is an ideal place to stop for a little break and enjoy the view of the castle.
Don’t miss the statue of the soldier bear, Wojtek. This Syrian bear was bought by a Polish soldier during WWII. The bear was helping the army by moving crates of ammunition. After the end of the war, it found a home in the city’s zoo and lived there for the rest of its life.
While you are in the area, go and try some cookies at Ben’s Cookies. They are so awesome, that I would return to the city only to eat them again.
Explore the charming Dean Village
03:30 PM – 06:00 PM
Dean Village was a separate grain milling village until the 19th century. Although now part of Edinburgh, it still keeps its medieval charm. Take your time and explore the beautiful banks of the Water of Leith River.
I took this picture from the bridge that connects Hawthornbank Ln and Damside Str.
For dinner choose between Wildfire and Mussel Inn. Wildfire is a small cosy restaurant, that offers excellent locally sourced beef and seafood. Mussel Inn is a great bistro, serving authentic seafood.
Cocktails at Panda & Sons
Finish the evening with some cocktails at Panda & Sons, a well-hidden bar right in the city centre.
St John’s Episcopal Church
Make a short stop at St John’s Episcopal Church. Its most notable feature is the plastic ceiling vault, that was derived from King Henry VII’s chapel in Westminster Abbey.
St Cuthbert’s Church
The church closes at 03:00 PM. However, its cemetery is open till later. Even if you are done with visiting churches and cemeteries, go for the view of the Edinburgh castle from the cemetery.
St Mary’s Cathedral
This beautiful 19th-century cathedral definitely deserves a stop. Approach it from Melville Street for the best view.
3 days in Edinburgh – Day 3
Choose how to spend the third day of this Edinburgh itinerary according to interests. Visit a whisky or gin distillery, take a ghost tour or hike Arthur’s Seat for the best city’s views. Another option is to take a day trip to Highlands or the famous Stirling Castle.
Explore the haunted Edinburgh Vaults
If you’re into dark tourism, you’ve come to the right place. The city is home to some of the most haunted places in Europe and amongst them are the Edinburgh Vaults.
For more haunted places and best ghost tours, take a look at my Dark Tourism Edinburgh guide.
Visit the famous Mary King’s Close
Mary King’s Close is a series of tiny underground streets, hidden beneath the Royal Mile. People lived and worked here before the buildings were covered over.
You can visit Mary King’s Close only with a guided tour. In the tour, you will learn more about the lives of the people, the Great Plague and why it was wise to avoid these streets at 7 AM and 10 PM.
Take a Harry Potter walking tour
Edinburgh is the place where J.K. Rowling found inspiration for her best-selling Harry Potter series. Take this Free Harry Potter Walking Tour to discover the place where she wrote the books and the real Grave of Tom Riddle.
Gin and whisky tours
If you are a whisky lover don’t miss this Scotch Whisky Experience (you’ll see the World’s Largest Collection of Scotch Whisky).
National Museum of Scotland
The National Museum of Scotland is superb and it is completely free. There is a full-sized Formula One car simulation. The first cloned mammal ever, Dolly the sheep, is also exhibited here.
Don’t miss the amazing view of Edinburgh Castle from the rooftop terrace.
Scottish National Gallery
If you are into art, don’t miss the Scottish National Gallery. The gallery features Scottish and international artists from the beginning of the Renaissance up to the 20th century. The entrance is free, so it is worth a visit even for an hour.
Visit the Royal Yacht Britannia
Located on the bank of the North Sea, Royal Yacht Britannia is a must-see for everyone interested in the royal family.
It’s possible to visit the yacht with an audio guide and get an insight into how the royals travelled. You can visit the ship’s 5 decks, including the State Apartments and the Crew’s Quarters.
Book your Royal Yacht Britannia ticket here.
Climb Arthur’s Seat
If you are up for a hike, this is the place you have to go. It is about an hour hike to reach the top. The place is known for the amazing views of the city. I had it on my itinerary but unfortunately, I never made it because of the weather. It was raining every day.
For more information check out this map of the climbing routes.
Royal Botanic Garden
The Royal Botanic Garden is one of the best botanic gardens in Europe. Some of its highlights are the Victorian Temperate Palm House, the Chinese Hillside and the world-famous Rock Garden. In addition, you can enjoy fantastic views of the capital’s skyline, including Edinburgh Castle.
Have fun at Camera Obscura and World of Illusions
Visit Camera Obscura and explore 5 floors packed with over 100 illusions. Start at the rooftop terrace that features spectacular cityscape photographs of Edinburgh.
You can buy your Camera Obscura ticket here.
Maison de Moggy (a cat café)
As a huge cat lover, it was on my list. However, to visit it, you have to book a table for a certain 1-hour frame. It also has an entrance fee. As my schedule was full, I decided to skip it. Yet, if you are really into cats, you can give it a try.
Edinburgh Castle – over 5,500 tourists visit the castle every day and lines are long, especially in the summer season. You can book your skip-the-line ticket here.
Holyrood Palace – it’s also a popular attraction, so if you’re visiting in the high season, book your Holyroodhouse Palace ticket in advance.
How to save money on your Edinburgh itinerary
The best way to explore Edinburgh and save money is the Royal Edinburgh Ticket. It includes:
- skip-the-line entry to the Castle, Holyroodhouse and the Royal Yacht Britannia
- 48-hour access to the hop-on-hop-off sightseeing bus
To get most of the Royal ticket while using my Edinburgh itinerary, use the ticket on the first and second day. You just need to make a little modification and visit the Royal Yacht Britannia in the afternoon on the first day.
By using this ticket (£59) you will save £18.
- Edinburgh Castle – £19.50
- Holyrood Palace – £16.50
- Royal Yacht Britannia – £17
- Hop-on hop-off buses – £24
Total without the ticket – £77
If you use the ticket – £59
Total savings – £18
Getting around in Edinburgh
Find a detailed map of the itinerary here.
If you stay in the city centre of Edinburgh, you’ll be able to tour the attractions (the first 2 days) on foot. For the third day, you’ll probably need to use public transport. It depends on what you want to see.
Yet, the easiest way to get around the city is the hop-on-hop-off bus tour.
How to get to Edinburgh
There are two major train stations – Edinburgh Waverley Railway Station and Haymarket Railway Station. Waverley Railway Station is more convenient, as it’s in the heart of the city centre, right between the Old and the New Town.
Check timetables and book train tickets online at ScotRail official site.
Edinburgh is not parking-friendly, so I’d recommend booking accommodation with available parking. The car parks in the city centre are very expensive (see a list of car parks here).
The Edinburgh Airport (EDI) is about 15km away from the city centre. You have the following options:
- take the Airlink bus – it runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week (buses every 10 minutes during the day). The journey is about 30 minutes.
- take the tram – the tram runs between 06:00 AM and 11:00 PM (every 7 minutes). The journey is about 30 minutes.
Day trips from Edinburgh
Scotland is divided into two regions: Highlands and Lowlands. The Highlands occupy the northern part of the country. Their name comes from Scottish Gaelic and means “the place of the Gaels”.
Scotland is a magical country and the heart of its magic is the Highlands. Endless deep sky and mind-blowing sceneries surround the most beautiful lakes and castles in Scotland.
Highlands are a must-see during your vacation in Scotland. Visiting them on your own in a one day tour using public transport is not possible. Even if you rent a car, it will be a tiring trip if you want to do it for one day.
Luckily, there are some awesome organized day tours to Highlands. This is an amazing way to see some distant parts of Scotland if you are short on time.
This is one of the most popular Highland tours. It is the best of Scotland in one day. On this full-day tour, you will discover the beauty of the picturesque Scottish Highlands. You’ll see Loch Ness, the breathtaking other-worldly Glencoe Valley and Fort William. You’ll also have a chance to see Highland Cows!
Isle of Skye
The Isle of Skye is one of the most magical places in Scotland. The miles of dramatic coastline will take your breath away. Visiting Isle of Skye and the Highlands is a lifetime experience.
Explore the magical island and few charming Highlands lochs in this 3-day tour. See the dramatic scenery of the Isle of Skye, the Five Sisters of Kintail, Loch Ness and visit the iconic Eilean Donan Castle.
Stirling Castle is one of the most important castles in the history of Scotland because of its strategic place as a gateway to the Highlands. The castle was first mentioned around 1100. It changed hands frequently during the Wars of Independence with England.
After Robert The Bruce defeated Edward II at Bannockburn, he destroyed the castle to prevent it from falling into enemy hands again.
From the 15th century, the Stewarts began using Stirling Castle as a royal residence. James V constructed the current building to impress his French wife Mary of Guise. Many Scottish rulers were born, crowned and died here.
You can rent an audio guide or take the guided tour included in the ticket price. The guided tour starts at the well outside the Fort Major’s House on the hour between 10:00 AM and 05:00 PM.
You can use the ticket to Stirling Castle to also visit Argyll’s Lodging, a gorgeous 17th-century townhouse.
How to get to Stirling Castle
- take an organized tour, that combines Stirling Castle with Loch Lomond (see tour’s details and 500+ reviews)
- by train – take a train from Edinburgh Waverley Station to Stirling Station (50min journey). The castle is 800m from there.
- by bus – take a bus (MegaBus or Citylink) from Edinburgh Bus Station to Stirling Goosecroft Bus Stn (1h15min journey). The castle is 800m from there.
Rosslyn Chapel is a very popular day trip from Edinburgh by bus. Sir William St Clair founded the chapel in 1446 to ensure his place in heaven. However, the chapel has never been completely finished.
Rosslyn Chapel is unique and has such amazing stories connected to it. Don’t miss to hear them in the storytelling hoods in the Visitor Centre.
There are audio guides and guided tours included in the ticket price. No photos are allowed inside the chapel, but you can take photos outside the grounds.
How to get to Rosslyn Chapel
- take an organized tour that combines Rosslyn Chapel and Melrose Abbey. You’ll learn the fascinating history of Rosslyn Chapel and its connection to the Holy Grail. You’ll also have the chance to admire the famous view of Eildon Hills (see tour’s details and 160+ reviews).
- by bus – take bus number 37 to Original Rosslyn Hotel (40-60 min journey). The chapel is a short walk from there.
Glasgow is the biggest city in Scotland. It’s quite different from Edinburgh, but it has its own charm!
The most famous sites are the University of Glasgow and the Cathedral. The University is truly magical and a must-see for any Harry Potter fan. Check out my travel guide on how to spend one day in Glasgow.
For an overnight stay, take a look at my guide to the best places to stay in Glasgow, Scotland.
How to get to Glasgow from Edinburgh
- take a bus (MegaBus or Citylink) from Edinburgh Bus Station to Buchanan Bus Station in Glasgow (1h30min journey)
- take a train from Edinburgh Waverley Station to Glasgow Queen Street Station (50min journey)
How many days in Edinburgh
Are 3 days in Edinburgh enough?
3 days in Edinburgh are more than enough to tour the most popular attractions, including Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace. You’ll even have enough time to climb Climb Arthur’s Seat or take a whisky or ghost tour.
What if I don’t have 3 full days in Edinburgh?
I planned this Edinburgh itinerary in such a way, that you’ll visit the main tourist attractions during the first 2 days. For the third day, it’s up to select the attractions you want to see based on your interest. Thus, you can follow my itinerary without any modification even if you in Edinburgh for less than 3 days.
2 or 3 days in Edinburgh?
If Edinburgh is a part of a longer Scotland itinerary, dedicate 2 days to the city. It will be enough to see the most important attractions.
Yet, if you’re visiting Edinburgh on a long weekend, I’d recommend you to spend 3-4 days. You won’t be in a hurry and you’ll have enough time to visit some museums or join guided tours. Plus, there are some gorgeous castles you can visit on a day trip from Edinburgh (see further in my post).
Best time to visit Edinburgh
The best months to visit Edinburgh are May and September. The weather is pleasant and relatively rain-free, days longer. June and July is also good an option, but keep in mind that it rains more.
August is the busiest month due to the famous Edinburgh Festival. The hotel prices skyrocket at that time of the year (plus, you need to book months in advance). If you’re not visiting Edinburgh for the festival, avoid August.
|I'm a travel blogger based in Sofia, Bulgaria. Travelling has always been my passion and I love to discover new places and cultures. I want to show you how easy it is to organize your vacation all by yourself.|