Edinburgh’s huge advantage is that it’s hilly, meaning picturesque. Another “good” thing is that it was bombed in WWI and WWII, making its architecture an interesting fusion of modern and old. And, being in Scotland, you get good service, nice people, superb restaurants and… small hotel rooms. What? That could be a good thing for somebody.
Karin and I speed through the cities in one day, but there are some cities worth visiting for 2 days, and very rare cities that are worth 3 days (like Rome or Washington DC).
Edinburgh is on the middle level, yaay! So how many days do you need in Edinburgh? It is one of maybe 20–30 cities in the world that are worth spending more than 1 day in. Edinburgh is a 2-day city.
The central part of Edinburgh is best seen on foot as its compact and you will rarely need to walk more than a 1.5 km (1 mile in retard units—looking at you US and UK for having units without any logic).
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I’d suggest staying as close to the Royal Mile as you can so you don’t have to taxi around unnecessarily to the best tourist sights. You can see that most of the top places to see in Edinburgh are on or close to the Royal Mile.
Our hotel, Leonardo Edinburgh City, is a solid option that’s not on the tourist mile, but very close to it. If you happen to book a hotel through any of our booking.com affiliate links in this article, know that we get a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you if you do!
Ok, it’s a statue of a dog. But what a story! My wife jokingly tells me that I have a heart of ice, but boy this story melts it! It’s basically a monument to loyalty.
Bobby (the Skye Terrier or Dandie Dinmont Terrier) belonged a night watchman at the Edinburgh City Police named John Gray. His trusty dog would stay by his side during all his shifts, and then, when John died, stayed by his grave at Greyfriars Kirk. For no less than 14 years!! Incredible!
Not sure how long terriers live but that seems very long for one dog. It seems very long to other people, too, so there are numerous theories about how true the story is, including one where there were actually 2 Bobbies.
Or that the owner wasn’t John Gray the night watchman, but John Gray the farmer. Or that it was standard back then for graveyards to be full of dogs that hung out there waiting to be fed by visitors, so Bobby might’ve not been loyal as much as just hungry and smart.
Bobby died in 1872 and is now buried at the same cemetery as John Gray.
Greyfriars Bobby has melted many hearts, not just mine, and got his own statue shortly after his death.
Atop a volcano plug (called Castle Rock), towering above Edinburgh’s Old Town, is Edinburgh’s most visited attraction, Edinburgh Castle. The views and the castle itself are spectacular, so expect a lot of tourists, but it is worth enduring the crowds.
The highlight is supposed to be the Scottish crown jewels, which are nice and very old (the oldest in the UK), but castle itself is better.
The entire complex is pretty big, so make sure you set aside enough time to see it all. We only entered after 4 pm and since they close at 6 pm, we had to hurry around quite a bit. I would’ve loved to spend more time there. The castle feels a bit disorganized as there is a lack of maps, which could slow you down.
So why did we get there so late, you ask? Because we didn’t get our tickets up front! Bad decision! You can get your tickets online, which I highly recommend you do, especially in the summer months, or you might not even get in. Tickets are for a specified day and time.
Tip: The Edinburgh Castle website has a number of itineraries that you can follow depending on how much time you have and where your interests lie.
Scotland has some of the best museums and castles I’ve seen (rivaling Belgium’s museums). They really try hard not to bore you to death, so most of what you get is fun facts and it’s all interactive and interesting.
The National War Museum is part of the Castle complex and is great for history and war geeks like me. One of the parts that stood out to me was a wall covered with letters from soldiers from throughout the British history and it’s really brutal and sad.
There is also the nicely laid out Royal Scots Dragoon Guards Museum which will make you feel like a little boy again, because of all the stories about heroism.
Oh and also, the Scots have the same OCD like Karin and me about timelines. They are everywhere. Awesome, because it helps tremendously with understanding history in a very simple way. There are some with the monarchs, there is a timeline of wars, there is a timeline of important events, etc. Timelines rock.
Almost at the end of the castle there is a very nice audio-visual exhibition of Stirling Siege.
There are donation boxes everywhere where you can pay by card—this made me smile, how effective! This way I donated about GBP 100 throughout Scotland.
Like I mentioned, most definitely get your tickets online in advance or you risk not getting in. This is in the summer months. Outside of summer, it should be enough to get there early in the morning, but there’s no guarantee, and you might only be able to snatch up a ticket for later in the day, meaning an extra trip up.
Remember the tickets are for a specific day and time. You can enter at the time on your ticket, not earlier. You can then stay as long as you want (some sites may have a 2-hour time limit).
Audio guides cost extra and are not needed if you speak English.
Museums inside are free to enter, because you can’t get to them without buying the Castle tickets.
A basic adult ticket costs GBP 18, and there are various family options available.
Our top tips on Edinburgh:
The National Museum of Scotland has 7 floors of the best exhibits that can be offered in Scotland, be it domestic or stolen, eh, I mean foreign, from during the British Empire.
Let me explain: I love this museum for the same reason that I love The British Museum in London. Because Britain was a very big empire in 19th century in the heydays of archeology, allowing them to basically “borrow indefinitely” the best of the best artifacts from all over the world. You can now see all of those artifacts in these 2 museums, making them the best museums in Europe (along with the Louvre).
This museum can easily take you a day, or, if you have very tolerant and patient spouse like I do, it will take you about half a day. By which I mean we managed to only explore 2 floors before it was time to leave. I was like a kid being pulled away from a candy shop!
Fun fact: They have an actual skeleton of a T-Rex in there! I’ve seen one only twice in my life—one here and one at the Smithsonian in Washington DC.
The National Museum of Scotland is located in a very modern building so it’s hard to miss.
As with all the best museums—it’s cheap. And by cheap I mean free. Alas, education should be free, right? Donations are welcome.
We visited Holyrood Palace because we had some spare time and its one of the best places to see in Edinburgh. I was skeptical towards this visit, because I usually don’t like official palaces of royals, because they tend to be boring.
This one, though, is really ready for tourists and there’s a nice history of the palace and current royal family and how they use it. Stirling Castle it ain’t, but it’s interesting enough to pay a visit.
Holyrood is an official royal palace of Scotland and it was built in 1503. First it served the Scottish kings and, until recently, Queen Elizabeth and her family actually stayed there while visiting Edinburgh.
There is a nice exhibit dedicated to Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee, which marked the 70th anniversary to her accession to the royal throne. (Note: We visited Scotland before her death, so I’m not sure how things will have changed.)
A big plus is that Holyrood Palace stands in the shadow of the inactive volcano of Arthur's Seat (see below) and the hike up there starts nearby, so you can connect these two attractions into one.
Holyrood Palace is on the opposite end of the Royal Mile to Edinburgh Castle.
An audio/video guide is included in the ticket price. The tour without the audio guide is basically meaningless so I urge you to not forget to pick one up at the entrance. The audio guide tells you stories of past kings and queens and it gives the whole place deeper meaning.
Arthur’s Seat is another part of a volcano that juts out of the Earth right next to Holyrood Palace, perfectly across from Edinburgh Castle, which means more views! This time with no man-made structure on top, this is an easy nature hike that’ll give you Edinburgh on a golden platter.
There are several trails for the Arthur’s Seat hike, most of which are clearly visible on Google Maps. What you will want to see are the Salisbury Crags and Arthur’s Seat itself.
I suggest doing a loop hike which takes you through both, gives you the best views, and there’s no backtracking. It’s an easy hike with some moderate areas in the short section down from Arthur’s Seat to Salisbury Crags.
The trails on the Arthur’s Seat hike are a combination of dirt trails, stone steps (on the way from the top), and paved walks down in the park or at the final section from the Salisbury Crags.
If you look at the Arthur’s Seat map that I’ve whipped up for you, you can see which trails to take. You start close to Holyrood Palace and take the dirt trail that will be on your left (you can get there on the paved one to the right as well, but the left will give you much nicer views!).
You’ll get to the Arthur’s Seat in about 40 minutes.
When you’re done staring down at Edinburgh city center, you start your descent. Take a dirt road that is part stone steps, until you reach a fork in the road. You’ll want to take either the wide, paved (official) trail that takes you underneath the Salisbury Crags, or you can walk along the tops of the Crags. You’ll see it’s been walked, so no worries. Just don’t fall off the cliffs.
You’ll be back at the starting point in 2–2.5 hours.
It gets crazy windy at Arthur’s Seat all year long, so come prepared with a jacket even if Edinburgh city center feels balmy.
The Arthur’s Seat hike is an easy and pleasant way to spend part of you morning or afternoon, the views really are amazing. Of course, if you are heading to the Isle of Skye, it won’t compare, but hey, let’s start building the suspense!
Tip: If you aren’t much of a hiker, don’t fret. Scotland has some incredible drives that’ll give even non-pedestrians a proper bang for your buck!
All aboard the former yacht of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II! Britannia is an ocean liner that the royal family used to entertain official state visitors on almost 1000 trips.
Now a tourist attraction, you can visit the 5 decks, the bridge, the royal apartments, the medical center, and the engine room, among others. It’s cool to see and imagine how the royals live and have fun. The crew certainly did, with three bars just in the crew’s quarters alone! You even enter through red-carpeted staircase, so you, too, can feel like a royal.
Don’t expect cramped little cabins—the living and office spaces are very generous. You’ll also see some royal vehicles, a Lego yacht model, and you can embark on a stuffed corgi hunt (they’re all over the place as a part of the kid’s version of the tour).
You get an audio guide (included in the ticket price) that takes you through Britannia at your own pace. Make sure to set aside at least a couple of hours, and add on extra to relax at the Royal Deck Tea Room at the end. Staff is very friendly, you’ll feel like you’re some sort of prime minister. There’s also a gift shop.
The Royal Yacht Britannia is docked in Leith, about 4 km (2.5 miles) north of Edinburgh city center. A taxi will cost you around GBP 10.
Otherwise known as the High Kirk of Edinburgh, St. Giles’ Cathedral is a prominent building on the Royal Mile. The church is associated with John Knox, the leader of the Scottish Reformation in the 16th century. He also famously married a 17-year-old in his fifties, but I guess that wasn’t much of a big deal back then.
A great cathedral with stained-glass windows and a calming atmosphere. Also a great place to escape the weather if you need to! A nice place to visit even if you aren’t religious. I’m certainly not, and I still thought it was worthwhile.
You can visit St. Giles’ Cathedral on your own with an audio guide (on your own phone), so bring earphones. It’s free, though a GBP 5 donation is suggested.
Alternatively, if you prefer listening to a live human talk, book into one of the two daily guided tours (this link is provided by the St. Giles’ official website, it isn’t an affiliate link). Robot (phone) or human, tours are all free. The human-lead one takes about 45 minutes.
Six floors of optical illusions right near the Edinburgh Castle end of the Royal Mile. A fun thing to do if you’ve had enough history and castles for the day (or if you have kids as part of your entourage and they’ve had enough of the history and castles). Or if the weather is shit and you can’t bear it anymore.
There is a lot of history behind Camera Obscura, the “oldest purpose-built visitor attraction in Edinburgh since 1853”.
A lot of the modern-day illusions you’ll have seen before if you’ve ever been to a similar attraction anywhere else in the world—a vortex, a head-on-the-platter photo op, that room where you look way taller than your spouse, etc. Still, they’ll take up 2 hours of your time if you want to try everything.
You’ll need to wear gloves in the mirror maze, which probably saves the cleaners a million hours of wiping down annoying paw prints every day.
As a bonus, there is a rooftop viewing platform with great views over Edinburgh.
Overall a great place to go if it’s the type of place you think you’d enjoy. If you don’t have kids and aren’t a kid at heart, just skip it and leave the fun to the rest of us.
In summer 2022, the Scott Monument remains closed for renovation works.
This place is here because there is a very nice view towards Edinburgh Castle and the Royal Mile. It’s also a nice stroll down the hill so we could move our asses and get some exercise.
The marble monument is dedicated to writer Sir William Scott, and includes 64 figures + Scott and his dog.
You can learn about Scott, his life and the story of how the monument was built in the Museum Room.
It doesn’t look like there’s a staircase in there, but alas, it fits! Barely. You can climb the claustrophobic, itty bitty staircase to see some great views from the top. You can take a breather on the 1st floor in the Museum Room.
We didn’t, because the inside of the Scott Monument was closed for renovation works, but you might be luckier than us when you visit. It’s still cool from the outside though, and you get those great views of Edinburgh Castle from there, too!
Luckily, there is a lot of natural light in the Surgeons’ Hall Museums, because you’ll be surrounded by a whole lotta skulls, bones, skin, and old medical instruments that look like torture equipment—not something I want to see in a dark room. Yikes.
Seriously though, this is one of the largest and oldest pathology collections in the United Kingdom, and it used to serve as a teaching facility, so there’s a lot of value in visiting. The museum is part of Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh and is one of the oldest museums in Scotland.
It’s incredible to see the advance medicine has gone through in a mere century or so. I am glad I am alive now and not then. Looking at you, dentist’s chair that looks like it belongs in Dracula’s castle and amputation kit that somehow seems way overused.
No photography is allowed. Apparently they couldn’t get consent from the body parts’ former owners.
I would also reconsider taking children here unless you want to give them nightmares. It’s not interactive whatsoever, so you can’t even have fun. No build-your-own-skeleton or anything like that. It’s certainly a fascinating place though.
How long do you need at the Surgeons’ Hall Museums? I’d say 1.5 to 2 hours for regular people, all day for medical freaks and geeks.
Several galleries with portraits of many noble or otherwise famous Scottish people. Sometimes paintings, sometimes photographs. A bust here and there. Some portraits as huge. Most include interesting information next to them, and some of the stories of the nobility read like a hit TV show. Fascinating stuff.
The building itself is at least as interesting as the portraits themselves. The central hall is incredible! You almost expect Harry Potter and his buddies to show up and cast a spell or something.
Tip: Harry Potter fans can put themselves in J.K. Rowling’s handprints—there’s a tile on the ground right across from St. Giles’ Cathedral that she stuck her famous hands into. Give her a high ten if you want. The prints are next to the Cheval Old Town Chambers, a very nice apartment/hotel mix that is perfect for those that want to sleep on the Royal Mile in comfort. Pricey, but very nice.
You can also get an audio guide that can be somewhat confusing, but you should be able to tame it.
There’s a cute little gift shop if you’re into buying too many things and struggling to fit them into your luggage (btw, we have an article full of packing tips that you might find useful), along with a café.
The older portraits are on the top floors and they get more modern as you travel down, so it’s like a trip through Scotland’s history.
You’ll need maybe 90 minutes to walk through, more if you really spend time reading every sign (like yours truly). Alas, if you don’t care to spend ages looking at pictures, you can just fly through—entry is free, so there’s no commitment.
The Scottish National Portrait Gallery is the furthest tourist site from the Royal Mile, located about 1 km (0.6 miles) north of St. Giles’ Cathedral, past the train station and the Scott Monument.
The ruins of Craigmillar Castle are located 5 km (3.5 miles) southeast from central Edinburgh. The Prestons, a local feudal baron family, started building their crib in the 14th century, and kept at it until the 16th century. In 1660, they sold it. Seems a little premature after all those years of building, but I get it. I get bored and move on to new things easily, too.
It is now a monument open to the public and one of the best-preserved medieval castles in Scotland.
Unlike the surprisingly massive rooms on the Royal Yacht Britannia, there are tons of tiny, secret rooms with some tight stairways in Craigmillar Castle. Remember this is a ruin, so don’t expect any furniture or anything of the sort. It’s just bare bones stone walls and nooks and crannies that you can just imagine were full of lavish decorative items back them.
Look out for the short information panel here and there.
You get views of the surrounding landscape from the top of the castle walls.
Overall, it’s not a big place, so 30 to 60 minutes will be enough to walk through (you go on your own, there’s no route or audio guide). Extra points if you visit on a gloomy morning. The atmosphere would be so mysterious.
There’s a small parking lot at the castle, but I expect you don’t have your own set of wheels, so just take a taxi. A taxi to Craigmillar Castle from central Edinburgh will cost around GBP 15.
The Edinburgh Dungeon is a haunted underground experience that takes you through Scotland’s history in about 80 minutes. There’s brilliant staff that act their hearts out to bring you Scotland’s true horror stories, but in a fun (but sometimes scream-out-loud-scary) way.
You need to set your expectations straight—this is a show and a show only. No authentic underground tunnels… think more scary theme park with plastic props and neon lights. Not trashing, just making sure you aren’t disappointed. This is entertainment, not a solemn walk down history lane.
Good luck not getting dizzy in one of the rooms, “enjoy” the freefall drop at the gallows, and hopefully you won’t have trouble getting out through the mirror maze at the end. Good times.
Fun for all the family, but small kids will be scared for sure (recommended age is 8 and up), and there are height restrictions in some places. Check the Dungeon’s website ahead of time to avoid disappointment.
Book online ahead of time, it does, believe it or not, sell out in the summer months.
Tip: There’s a combination ticket that you can get online that includes a meal at the Hard Rock Café. Check it out, Hard Rock never disappoints.
Well, it’s a street. A really old street. You can find Holyrood Palace on one end and Edinburgh Castle on the other, so there’s no way you’ll miss it even if you don’t specifically try to visit it. It’s a nice walk and all of Edinburg’s best places to visit are on or around it. Expect lots of shops and restaurants here a well.
The bagpipe players along the Royal Mile add to the Scottish atmosphere.
Along the way, or in the lanes just off of it, you’ll find some of the other best attractions to visit in Edinburgh, like churches, St Giles' Cathedral, Camera Obscura & World of Illusions, the Edinburgh Dungeon and Greyfriars Bobby.
What I found hysterically funny is the statue of (according to me) the most famous Scot of all time—Adam Smith, which is constantly poop-bombed on the head by a pigeon, which is kinda satirical since that’s exactly what modern politicians are doing to his extraordinary and timeless economic theories.
Over to the west of the Royal Mile area is the Edinburgh Zoo. Not huge, but a nice half-day option if you want it.
The animals seem to be well taken care of, it is a wildlife conservation charity, after all. Everyone seems to love seeing the koalas. The giraffes have a great view over the city which I’m sure they enjoy.
There’s even a dinosaur exhibit… bet you didn’t expect that! A lot of good stuff for kids like playgrounds and such. Not sure what else a kid needs, there are already animals! Oh, they sell pizza and burgers. Kids like those, right?
The zoo’s website says that everyone “must” book a ticket online in advance, so I’m not going to challenge them on that and say you should listen to them. There are time slots that you choose from when booking.
We were really looking forward to another distillery tour (after the fantastic Torabhaig Distillery tour we took in the Isle of Skye), this time of the second most popular drink in the UK (after whisky)—gin.
Karin spent hours finding the best tour possible and after somehow ending up on this tour with this tour guide, she would’ve certainly spent that time better while procrastinating on Instagram. It was crap. If I compare it to the Torabhaig one, Edinburgh Gin Distillery is like a -10/10.
First of all it’s really tiny. My grandfather distilled more illegal alcohol in the Moravian fields than they do here.
But more importantly, the guide was probably one of the rudest Scots we have ever met (are we sure she isn’t from Georgia, or at least her ancestors?) and she was as dumb as she was rude. She couldn’t give a proper answer to any of the questions anybody had. That’s not okay if you are trying to build a good business and have people pay you for a service. What service?!
In the end you get to taste 3 gins and that’s it, you’re on your way. I mean come on, I can do better than that in a bar and get much better service in nicer surroundings.
By the way, the guide’s name was Adriana—one final boo for her.
I may sound biased by now but one last annoyance: Edinburgh Gin Distillery its very hard to find. It’s like Platform 9¾ of the Hogwarts Express.
If you decide to trust my judgement (you should, it’s really good) and spend 2 days in Edinburgh, there are 5 main things that you should not miss:
Of course, we are not all made equal, so perhaps you want to spend the rest of your time on a personal mission to taste all the gin and whisky you can, or maybe you fit in a ton more attractions. For the latter group, pick and choose from the other 11 places to visit on my list (just not the last one).
Edinburgh’s hotel prices tend to run high (just like everything else in the country), so we dug high and low for the best places to stay that won’t bankrupt you but still give you a comfortable stay.
This is the hotel we stayed at and were happy, followed by the hotel we would’ve stayed at if we wanted to spend double the money on it:
The Leonardo Edinburgh City is where we stayed when we visited Edinburgh and I would stay there again. I don’t think there’s anything comparable in Edinburgh as far as bang for your buck.
Room size was large for Scotland and the exterior was so typically Scottish with its stone façade. The location is great, about 800 m (0.5 miles) from Edinburgh Castle and the Royal Mile, and breakfast was good. Not great, but satisfactory. They did a great job with packing us a takeaway breakfast when we had an early morning flight out.
Not to be confused with at least 2 other hotels in Edinburgh under a similar name.
Prices for two start at GBP 140 (USD 160) per night including breakfast.
As I mentioned above, I think the best place to stay in Edinburgh is the 5-star Virgin Hotels Edinburgh. I didn’t stay there due to “budget differences”, but the cool style and service the reviews mention cannot be beat.
Breakfast is supposed to be spectacular, and the location is, obviously, unbeatable.
It’s on the Edinburgh Castle end of the Royal Mile.
Prices for two start at GBP 320 (USD 365) per night with breakfast.
There are many restaurants on or around Royal Mile, and I’m not about to try to talk about them all. I’ll just tell you about the ones we tried and loved. Note that some of the best are a little further away, so don’t limit yourself to just one street!
Vesta Bar & Kitchen is a trendy restaurant on the other side of Castle Rock that has a very nice staff and a meaningful policy towards homeless people: you can pay for your meal and also for an extra meal that will then be served to a less fortunate human.
We met Christina Hendricks while we were at Vesta, so that was a fun little bonus. See, even Christina likes Vesta! And yes, we are now on a first name basis.
Wedgwood Restaurant’s specialty is fusing Scottish dishes with a dash of Asian influences. Not something you’d expect, I know! They use not just seasonal ingredients, but also foraged herbs (as in they go out into the woods and find stuff to put into your dinner), making their dishes extra special.
Wedgwood isn’t very big and it’s located right on the Royal Mile, so you should get a reservation if you want to guarantee yourself a spot at a table. They are suitable for dinner but also have a dedicated lunch menu.
Ok, this restaurant is not exactly in Edinburgh city center, but it deserves to be on the list because it’s spectacular.
Dine Murrayfield is to the west of the Old Town, has a fantastic menu, great selection of gins, and I had a really good fish (can’t tell you what kind because I don’t have a very good fish memory). I also appreciated the cool but classy interior design.
The price was alright, too, at GBP 90 for a three course meal for 2 people.
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In this article, I focus on day hikes, meaning no overnight treks. Some are only a couple of hours long, some will take all day but all deserve their spot on this list… except for the last one. That one is more of a warning.
Some hikes you might know aren’t on this list. Why? Because if I haven’t been there, I won’t be writing about it, pretending to review something I have no clue about. So here is my list of hikes that I've experienced.
Edinburgh’s huge benefit is the city's perfect location in the southeast of Scotland. If you’ve already discovered all the nooks and crannies of this city, you should take a look also outside its borders. Let's go!