This 3 days in Edinburgh itinerary will help you plan the perfect trip to Scotland.
Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland since 1437. With its distinctive look, Edinburgh is one 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
Follow this Edinburgh itinerary for a perfect long weekend to get the most of your time. Find a detailed map of the itinerary here.
How to spend 3 days in Edinburgh (the perfect Edinburgh itinerary)
- Day 1: Holyrood Palace, Canongate Kirk, Mary King’s Close, St Giles’ Cathedral, Old Calton Burial Ground, Calton Hill
- Day 2: Greyfriars Bobby Statue, Greyfriars Kirk, National Museum of Scotland, Scottish National Gallery, Scott Monument, Princes Street Gardens, St John’s Episcopal Church, St Cuthbert’s Church
- Day 3: Edinburgh Castle, St Mary’s Cathedral, Dean Village
Day 1 – Old Town of Edinburgh
Morning – Holyrood Palace
08:30 AM – 09:30 AM
Start the first day with breakfast at Sugarhouse Sandwiches.
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. The abbey and the gardens are included in the ticket price.
You can also turn the ticket into a one year pass.
12:10 PM – 12:30 PM
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.
12:30 PM – 02:30 PM
Stop for a lunch at Oink or the Edinburgh Larder. If you love pork meat, go to Oink. Their pulled pork sandwiches are to die for.
Afternoon – Mary King’s Close and Calton Hill
Mary King’s Close
02:30 PM – 03:30 PM
If you ever wondered if the city is haunted, then add Mary King’s Close on your list.
The 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.
St Giles’ Cathedral
03:40 PM – 04:00 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.
Old Calton Burial Ground
04:20 PM – 04:50 PM
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.
05:00 PM – 06:00 PM
Calton Hill is home of 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.
Finish the first day of the itinerary three days in Edinburgh with some Scottish specialities at Howies Waterloo or Café Royal.
For really good and cheap Italian food, visit Taste Of Italy.
Day 2 – New Town and museums
Morning – National Museum of Scotland
08:30 AM – 09:30 AM
Start the second day of this long weekend in Edinburgh with breakfast at Brew Lab Coffee.
Greyfriars Bobby Statue and Greyfriars Kirk
09:30 AM – 10:10 AM
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 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).
National Museum of Scotland
10:20 AM – 12:30 PM
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 the Edinburgh Castle from the rooftop terrace.
12:30 PM – 02:30 PM
For a quick lunch stop at the Piemaker. They offer small delicious pies.
For a longer break and delicious traditional Scottish food, go to Mums Great Comfort Food.
Afternoon – Princes Street Gardens
Scottish National Gallery
02:30 PM – 03:30 PM
If you are into art, don’t miss the Scottish National Gallery. The entrance is free, so it is worth a visit even for an hour.
03:40 PM – 04:00 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.
Princes Street Gardens and Wojtek Statue
04:00 PM – 04:30 PM
The Princes Street Gardens is an ideal place to stop for a 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 from Ben’s Cookies. They are so awesome, that I would return to the city only to try them again.
St John’s Episcopal Church
04:40 PM – 05:00 PM
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
05:00 PM – 05:20 PM
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.
For some Scottish food go to the Royal McGregor. For a more fancy dinner combined with great cocktails, go to Devil’s Advocate.
If you search for a good craft beer, BrewDog is your place.
Day 3 – Edinburgh Castle and Dean Village
Morning – Edinburgh Castle
08:30 AM – 09:30 AM
Start the third day of the itinerary 3 days in Edinburgh with a healthy breakfast at Hula Juice Bar & Gallery. Their Maca Nana Bowl and avocado toast with salmon are very delicious.
09:30 AM – 01:00 PM
The castle is not only an iconic landmark, but it is also one of the most haunted places. The castle dominates the skyline of the city for more than nine centuries. There are plenty of things to do and see, so spare half a day there.
Another option is to book a tour of the castle.
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 off 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 the Edinburgh Castle, Stirling Castle and Linlithgow castle.
01:00 PM – 03:00 PM
There are two Oink restaurants. If you missed it the previous day, you can try this time the one on Victoria Street. Another option for a quick lunch is Peppers Sandwich Bar.
If you want to finish the lunch with something sweet, try the cakes at Lovecrumbs or some gelato at Mary’s Milk Bar.
Afternoon – Dean Village
St Mary’s Cathedral
03:00 PM – 03:30 PM
This beautiful 19th-century cathedral definitely deserves a stop. Approach it from Melville Street for the best view.
04:00 PM – 06:00 PM
Dean Village was a separate grain milling village until the 19th century. Although now part of Edinburgh, it still keeps his medieval charm. Take your time and explore the beautiful banks of Water of Leith River.
I took this picture from the bridge that connects Hawthornbank Ln and Damside Str.
For some Scottish food visit The Dogs and for steaks go to Wildfire.
For awesome Mexican food, go to El Cartel and try their tacos and frozen margaritas.
Finish the evening with some cocktails at Panda & Sons.
3 days in Edinburgh – more ideas
If you have more time or some sites in the itinerary Edinburgh in 3 days are not interesting for you, check out these suggestions.
Royal Yacht Britannia
Located on the bank of the North Sea, Royal Yacht Britannia is a little far away from the city centre. You can visit the Royal Yacht Britannia and get an insight into how the royals travelled.
Take a ghost tour
Take a ghost tour and reveal the dark side of the city’s history.
Gin and whisky tours
There are few distilleries that offer tours. You can learn how the beverage is made and try different samples. For gin visit Edinburgh Gin Distillery or Pickering’s Gin Distillery and for whisky – the Scotch Whisky Experience. You can find the websites on the map at the beginning of the article.
Loch Ness and Highlands
Take a day tour to Loch Ness and Highlands, the most picturesque region of Scotland.
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 also a bit far from the city centre. Yet, if the weather is nice, don’t miss this green oasis.
Camera Obscura and World of Illusions
If you want some variety of castles and churches, visit Camera Obscura. It is a museum full of illusions.
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.
How many days in Edinburgh
Almost all the landmarks are packed in the city centre at a walking distance from each other. Overall for 3 days in Edinburgh, you can see the most famous sites plus take some tours.
If you plan to visit several castles, buy the Explorer Pass to save money (see my Historic Scotland Explorer Pass review for more details).
During my trip to Scotland, I spared 5 days for Edinburgh. However two of these days I spent exploring the rest of Scotland. Scotland is such a beautiful country and there is so much to see.
It has an amazing location and the amenities are superb.
The easiest way to get from the airport to the city centre is by using the City Airlink bus.
Located right on the Royal Mile, the hotel is a great base to explore both the New and the Old Town.
This lovely hotel has one of the best locations in the city, right next to the castle.
Luxury serviced apartments offering a home-from-home experience.
If you haven’t picked a hotel yet, check out the best places to stay in Edinburgh.
How to save money on your Edinburgh itinerary
Royal 2-Day Attractions Ticket
The Royal 2-Day Ticket includes:
- skip-the-line entry to the Castle, Holyroodhouse and the Royal Yacht Britannia
- 2 days access to the hop-on-hop-off sightseeing bus
By using this ticket (£55) you will save £17.
- the Castle, Holyroodhouse and the Royal Yacht Britannia – £50
- Hop-on hop-off buses – £22
Getting around the city
How to get from Edinburgh Airport to the city centre
The Edinburgh Airport (EDI) is about 15km from the city centre. There are several options to get there:
- 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.
- Book a private transfer with a hotel pick-up for a stress-free ride to the airport.