One of the safest cities in the world, Edinburgh is great for any traveller, whether you’re travelling with children, friends, your partner, or alone. You’ll feel comfortable and at home walking around here! Part of that can be attributed to the friendliness of the Scottish people, and banter and chit-chat that happens the second you enter any of the local pubs. Besides the lovely people, the city itself is enjoyable for everyone.
With modern activities, amazing restaurants and bakeries, trendy stores and wonky vintage shops, and interesting museums, there’s something for everyone in this city. Walking around, you’ll feel like you’re in Harry Potter, or any type of fairytale, as everywhere you turn, you run into a new, enchanting street. As the city is very walkable and easy to get around, you’ll be able to experience the best of Edinburgh in just 4 days!
Day 1: Old Town and Grassmarket
On your first day in Edinburgh, spend your day in the most famous part of the city, exploring Old Town and Grassmarket, which are right in the heart of Edinburgh, and must-sees for any traveler. The neighbourhoods surround the Edinburgh Castle, and are some of the most beautiful in the city.
The streets around Old Town and Grassmarket are always bustling with tourists, and it may get overwhelming at some points. Luckily enough, there are numerous cute and quiet pubs and cafes in these lively neighbourhoods and are a great way to take a break from all the commotion.
Notable Places to Eat in Old Town:
- Oink may put you off at first once you see the pigs head in the window, but this take-out place is a must-try in Edinburgh. They only serve variations of the same sandwich, which is their delicious pulled pork on a roll.
- Mary’s Milk Bar is one of the most unique ice cream shops. Every morning, Mary handmakes the ice cream herself, and the flavours change daily. A favourite of locals is the cheese flavoured scoops, usually Goat’s cheese. Sounds crazy, right? But don’t beat it until you try it!
- Elephant House is Edinburgh’s most famous cafe, as it's said JK Rowling wrote some of Harry Potter here. Not only is it adorable for fans of the series, but it has a delicious menu!
Edinburgh’s most famous landmark is featured in almost every photograph of the city, the iconic Edinburgh Castle. Located on top of a hill, the castle makes the beautiful city even more picturesque. You can walk around the castle and up to it to get a closer view, but we recommend you buy tickets to the museum to learn about its incredible history.
Give yourself at least a couple hours here, depending on your level of interest and how much of the castle that you want to see. Once at the castle, maps are given, and you can curate your itinerary based on your personal preferences.
Get here early right when it opens at 9:30 in the morning to make the most of your day. At opening hours, you’ll be out by lunchtime and still have the full day ahead of you to explore the rest of Old Town and Grassmarket. If you're planning in advance, be sure to book your ticket online for fast-track entry to the Edinburgh Castle so you can skip the line.
This is Edinburgh’s most famous street, and it is an impressive one with gorgeous architecture. One of the Royal Mile’s most famous attributes is its abundance of cashmere stores lining the streets. If you’re going to bring one souvenir home from Edinburgh, it should be one of the iconic tartan scarves. Not only available in the classic colours, but also renditions of every colour combination that you could imagine! For those shopping on a budget, they sell the scarves with lambswool instead of cashmere, with the same typical Scottish pattern.
Walking around Royal Mile, there are a ton of street performers. From acrobatics, to singers, to puppet shows, you’re sure to be entertained walking down the recognizable streets. You can also go on a walking tour of Edinburgh's old town, to really soak up the history of this enchanting city.
Camera Obscura & World of Illusions
Camera Obscura is perfect for families, and if you’re travelling with kids, you won’t want to miss this attraction. But don’t miss it because you think it's for kids! This is super interesting for all ages, and one of the most well-known places in the city. Camera Obscura is home to mind-bending illusions to check out.
Camera Obscura also offers stunning, 360 views of Edinburgh, from the Rooftop Terrace, which is one of the best parts of the museum.
St. Giles Cathedral
Located right on the Royal Mile, you’ll find one of Edinburgh’s oldest cathedrals, dating back to 1124. Not only is St. Giles’ beautiful on the outside and a crucial part of Edinburgh’s skyline, but the interior is very nicely crafted with an intricate history. On request, there are free volunteer tour guides to show you around, and are there to answer any questions you may have if you don’t have the time for a guided tour.
If you are interested in attending a service at the church, there is a daily service every day at noon, and there are four services on Sundays. Occasionally, the cathedral will also host musical events, and many of these are free admission.
The Real Mary King's Close
This is one of the most famous tours in Edinburgh that takes you down to Edinburgh’s preserved street from the 17th century. On a fully guided tour, you’ll learn about the history that follows the lives of the people who used to live on this street.
The Real Mary King’s Close was voted Scotland’s Best Heritage Tourism Experience, and its interesting history tells stories of the plague up until recent history. It's incredible to see how the city was so many years ago, and how it evolved to the place it is today.
The Scotch Whisky Experience Tour and Tasting
What’s more fun and traditional to try in Scotland than a Whisky tasting? Located right at the top of the Royal Mile, near Edinburgh Castle, you’ll find the Scotch Whisky Experience Tour and Tasting, which is one of the most famous tastings in the city. They boast of having one of the world's largest collections of Scotch Whisky, coming in at around 3,500 bottles.
The tour will start off teaching you all about the production of Scotch whisky and the different regions that produce whisky, teaching you what differs between the regions and how to tell. If you book the regular tour, you will get one glass of whisky to try. But who knows when you’re going to be in Scotland again, right? If it's within the budget, upgrade to the Gold Tour Experience for £13 more. You’ll get all the same experiences but you’ll get to try 4 additional single malt whiskies (5 in total) instead of just 1! For whisky lovers, the upgrade is a must.
National Museum of Scotland
The National Museum of Scotland is filled with exhibits regarding countless different subjects regarding Scottish history, culture, and antiquities. Admission to the museum is free, and it is also kid-friendly if you’re looking for an activity for the family.
There are a lot of famous exhibits that you shouldn’t miss when visiting, one of them being the stuffed body of the first successful cloning of a mammal, Dolly the sheep. As it's one of Scotland’s most famous discoveries, of course, you’d find it here! There's also an Ancient Egyptian exhibition and old Scottish inventions. Music lovers need to see Elton John’s suits that are on display. Whatever your interests, the National Museum of Scotland attracted the most visitors in 2019, proving that there truly is something for everyone at this museum.
Greyfriars Bobby Statue
This is the most famous dog in Edinburgh, and once you hear the touching story about the pup you’ll understand why! Greyfriars Bobby was only 2 years old when his owner died, and this good boy spent the next 14 years guarding his owner's grave. His loyalty made him a legend in Scotland, with countless films and movies being made about him. Across the street from the statue is a bar named after the dog if you wanted to give a toast to Greyfriars Bobby!
Now, it is a tradition in Edinburgh to rub his nose on the statue for good luck. That being said, Edinburgh itself has asked tourists to refrain from doing this, as it is ruining the statue. We recommend you follow this advice and come to take a picture with Greyfriars Bobby instead of rubbing his nose.
This street has been argued as the birthplace of JK Rowling’s vision for Diagon Alley. While Rowling never confirmed it herself, the street is still gorgeous and most likely she took some inspiration from it as she lived some years in Edinburgh!
Victoria Street connects Old Town to Grassmarket and has two levels. Both are home to some restaurants and shops. The upper level looks down on the colourful door frames that make this street so distinctive, and you’ll definitely have to wait your turn to get the perfect picture from the overlooking balcony.
There are a few shops and cafes worth checking out, but if you are looking for a pub that stays open to the late hours, head to Finnigan’s, a local Irish pub. With music, cheap drinks, and sporting events, you’re sure to have a fun time here!
Where to stay
This adults-only hostel is known for bringing together its guests and for being a great place to meet other travellers.
You don’t have to go too far out of budget to stay right in the middle of the city while also staying in comfortable, stylish rooms.
This beautiful hotel right in Old Town has a rooftop champagne bar offering panoramic views of Edinburgh.
Day 2 - New Town, Stockbridge, and Dean Village
On your second day in Edinburgh, venture out to the new part of the city. New Town is the place for shopping in the city, with extravagant streets and gardens, and home to some of the city's most famous spots. But just behind New Town are some of Edinburgh’s lesser-known spots, like Stockbridge. Stockbridge is a local hotspot, with an abundance of boutique shops and delicious restaurants, and while it is off the tourist radar, it is a great way to get to know the city. Its proximity to Dean’s Village and New Town makes it the perfect neighbourhood to spend a few hours in a while visiting these other famous spots.
Notable Places to Eat in New Town:
- Wildfire is a steakhouse in New Town with less than 10 tables, offering the best Scottish steaks from Aberdeen.
Notable Places to Eat in Stockbridge:
- The Scran and Scallie in Stockbridge is known for its elevated yet traditional Scottish cuisine. Run by Tom Kitchin, this gastropub is a favourite among locals and tourists.
Dean Village is a quiet, hilly neighbourhood near New Town and Stockbridge. It is very residential, so it is great for a quick stop for photos and to take in the beautiful houses surrounding the river. There is not much to do here besides walk around and take in the beauty, and it is a very relaxing and peaceful area of the city.
The walk down to Dean Village is along a cobblestone road, and the times I went, it was quite empty, and I was sure I was going the wrong way. But don’t fret, once you’re close you’ll start to hear the sounds of the river, and around the corner, you’ll see the crowds of tourists all trying to get the best photographs.
Located in one of Edinburgh’s trendiest neighbourhoods is Stockbridge Market. Stockbridge Market is what makes Stockbridge so famous, as residents of Edinburgh flock to the neighbourhood every Sunday to come to this artisan food market. Every Sunday, different vendors come to share their special products, and Stockbridge Market is a must for gastronomy lovers.
Not only do they sell products that you can pack in your luggage, or high-quality produce for those staying somewhere with a kitchen in Edinburgh, but they also have hot food, making it a great stop for lunch! Keep in mind, Stockbridge Market is open from 10:00-16:00 only on Sundays, and while this is the main attraction of Stockbridge, if you’re not able to come on a Sunday, don’t skip the neighbourhood. It has boutique shops and amazing restaurants, so it's worth a visit.
Royal Botanical Gardens Edinburgh
Right behind New Town and Stockbridge is Edinburgh’s own Royal Botanical Gardens. The botanical gardens are free to enter, and if you have time during your visit for a relaxing walk, this is the perfect place to take a breather, and enjoy the nature and beautiful arrangements that are in place in the park. Originally founded in 1640, with over 13,000 species of plants, these gardens are exceptional.
During the Halloween season, there are lights and a scavenger hunt for the kids. During the holiday season, the best Christmas lights in all of Edinburgh are here in this garden. Here there are activities such as roasting their luxury homemade marshmallows, and amazing light show that are impressive for visitors of any age.
Princes Street Gardens
The gardens right along Princes Street are the most visited in the city and are absolutely stunning to walk around. On one side, you’ll see views of the Old Town and Edinburgh Castle, and on the other, New Town and the Scott monument, dedicated to Edinburgh’s own Sir Walter Scott. During wintertime, the gardens are home to the Edinburgh Christmas Market, a family favourite for the holidays. Right around New Years, the gardens convert to a space for Edinburgh’s famous Hogmanay Festival, with concerts and parties. During the rest of the year, there are a variety of other events you may bump into, and even the occasional concert!
One of the most unique things about the beautiful urban park is the Floral Clock. The Clock is only flowering from July to October, and is a flower arrangement unlike any other. An electric motor for the clock hands was even installed to make it an actual functioning clock. The clock consists of tens of thousands of plants that take weeks to plant, so if you’re visiting Princes Street Gardens then, you should stop and appreciate the intricate design.
Scottish National Gallery
Located on The Mound, the Scottish National Gallery is the home to the collection of Scotland’s finest art, dating back to the start of the renaissance, up until the start of the 20th century. There are also some collections of international art housed in the neoclassical-style building. Some of the most famous artists are featured in this museum, like Claude Monet, Vincent Van Gogh, Edgar Degas, Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci, and Diego Velázquez.
The artworks are accompanied by explanations explaining the background and possible significance of the paintings, and certain information about the artists that may be relevant to their artwork. All that info makes the National Gallery an informative learning experience about Scottish and international art!
Where to stay
Budget - Princes Street Hostel
Save some money to do more shopping on the famous shopping street of Princes Street with this hostel.
This cosy apartment is fully furnished in Stockbridge and great to experience how locals live in this residential area.
Luxury - Waldorf Astoria Edinburgh - The Caledonian
Located right at the end of Princes Street is one of Edinburgh’s most luxurious hotels, housed in the former railway station.
Day 3 - Arthur’s Seat and Leith
Your third day is the perfect day to fit in both Edinburgh’s most famous hike, Arthur’s Seat, and Leith. Leith is perfect to spend about a half day in, making it plausible to fit in both the hike in the morning and the visit to Leith in the afternoon.
If you’ve seen Trainspotting, which was filmed mostly in Leith, ignore it at all costs. This movie does not represent the neighbourhood at all these days! Leith is trendy and safe, although you do need to keep your wits about you like anywhere else of course. That being said, Leith used to have a bad reputation, but that's not the reality anymore, and it's worth seeing for yourself just to see how impressive this quaint neighbourhood is.
Notable Places to Eat in Leith:
- The Kitchin is a Michelin-star restaurant in Leith that advertises using French culinary techniques for a spin on Scottish food. There is both a set tasting menu, allowing the chef to choose their favourite dishes or an a-la-carte menu.
- The Ship on the Shore in Leith specialises in the freshest Scottish seafood right along the waterfront.
This has to be Edinburgh’s most famous hike. It takes around 2 hours and is of medium difficulty. The hike has its own legends and myths with the locals, specifically with University students that it is good luck for the next 7 years if you climb the seat during Freshers Week (a week before Freshman year starts that is all parties and social events).
Arthur’s Seat is an ancient volcano, and the hike up combines both city and nature. Arthur’s seat is visually gorgeous, and so is the walk-up, but the views of Edinburgh are some of the most impressive in the city. If Edinburgh gets a bit of snow, you’ll see families and students sledding down the seat on homemade sleds, either out of cardboard boxes or other funny creations!
From my time living in Edinburgh, Leith Walk was always my favourite place to go on a stroll and explore. That’s because as a foodie, there is no better street in the city. Leith Walk is where you can find tons of International grocery stores that you can’t find anywhere else in the city, like Italian, Polish, Caribbean, Turkish, Portuguese… you name it! These specialised shops are great places to find new products that you wouldn’t find in the rest of Edinburgh. Besides just these grocery stores carrying products from all different countries, Leith Walk has the most diverse restaurant selection in the city, and if you’re looking for a hard-to-find cuisine in Edinburgh, your best bet would be here.
But Leith Walk isn’t just for foodies! The street itself is a beautiful walk, and there are a variety of vintage stores to stop in. Leith Walk is your connection from New Town to Leith, and once you’re in Leith, you’ll find a number of traditional Scottish pubs that have a more local feel than the ones in Old Town and New Town, as most locals stay in Leith.
Royal Yacht Britannia
If you love The Crown or all the royal family drama, head to Royal Yacht Britannia located in Leith’s Ocean Terminal. As the beloved ship of the Royal Family, a museum with an audio guide is now in place to teach visitors about the history of the yacht, and what went on behind the scenes.
For a cool, authentic experience, come for their afternoon tea time and try some pastries and tea like a true Brit. In this elegant cafe, you’ll feel like you’re a royal yourself!
Pitt Street Food Market
Open from Friday-Sunday during the summer in an industrial yard in Leith is the Pitt Street Food Market. Whether you’re just looking to stop for a drink, or eat from one of the many vendors, this is the place for it. There’s award-winning street food and craft beer from Edinburgh to try!
Occasionally, there are vintage stores and record shop pop-ups at the Pitt Street Food Market, and at night, there is live music. This makes the market super diverse and filled with different activities to keep you entertained through the night.
Where to stay
This quaint guest house is a great value and in an adorable neighbourhood near Leith Walk.
Mid-Range - A-Haven Townhouse Hotel
These charming rooms are located in an old Victorian House in Leith, with traditional decor.
These beautiful rooms are literally in a yacht, how cool is that? Not to mention the 360 views of the Water of Leith!
Day 4 - Back to Old Town, Holyrood, and Calton Hill
It is inevitable that the majority of Edinburgh’s tourist attractions are Old Town. That’s why for your 4th day, spend another half day here to fit in whichever activities that you missed from Day 1. For the rest of your day, walk down the Royal Mile to Holyrood, home to the King’s summer residence, and finally to Calton Hill for amazing views at sunset.
Notable Places to eat in Holyrood:
- White Horse Oyster Bar - Near Holyrood is this seafood-based restaurant serving the freshest fish and shellfish sourced from around the United Kingdom.
Palace of Holyroodhouse
The British monarch’s official residence is this palace at the end of the Royal Mile in Holyrood. During the first week of each summer, Queen Elizabeth II would come and stay in the historical palace. Inside, the palace is completely furnished and open to the public as a museum, which is my personal favourite museum in Edinburgh, as it's super intriguing to see how the royals lived back when the palace was used more often, and how the palace is used for royal operations today.
Visit the Royal Dining Room to see where members of the royal family share their meals together when they stay at Holyroodhouse. Another highlight of the palace is the chambers of Mary, Queen of Scots, one of the most famous Scottish historical figures. See where she slept and the untouched decorations.
Located right next to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, you’ll find the ruins of the Holyrood Abbey, which date back to the 10th century. While the exterior is well preserved, there is virtually no inside when comparing it to St. Giles Cathedral. It is very impressive, however, and is some of the most impressive ruins in the city.
A Royal burial vault still exists, with the remains of David II, James II, James V, and Lord Darnley. This abbey was very important to the Scottish monarchs, but was destroyed by English troops in the 16th century.
Keep in mind, to enter Holyrood Abbey, you must first purchase tickets to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, so with the combined ticket, you’ll have a great opportunity to see both of these famous historical places in Edinburgh!
Calton Hill is a short, moderate walk in Edinburgh that offers amazing views over the city, and most of the panoramic shots of Edinburgh are taken on Calton Hill. Included as a UNESCO Heritage Site, this 20-minute walk is perfect around sunrise or sunset for the most spectacular sky above the city.
Make sure not to ignore the National Monument of Scotland, which is a memorial to Scottish soldiers and sailors who died fighting during the Napoleonic Wars. It is modelled after the Parthenon in Athens, and the columns make you feel for a split second like you’re in Greece.
Where to stay
Budget - CoDE Pod - The CoURT - Edinburgh
Where old meets new, this modern hostel is right on one of Edinburgh’s oldest streets.
Mid-Range - 2 BR Royal Mile Apartment
This modern apartment is beautifully decorated, not to mention its perfect location.
Luxury - Cheval Abbey Strand Apartments
Its location on the grounds of Holyrood Palace makes for a unique stay.