72 Hours in Edinburgh
Welcome to our 3 days in Edinburgh itinerary! 72 hours is perfect to make the most of this city. Planning a trip is fun but time consuming, however with this Edinburgh Travel Guide you won't have to spend much time thinking about what to see in Edinburgh. Just follow our suggestions and we are sure you'll have an amazing time. Enjoy!
Edinburgh is an aesthetic masterpiece. Spectacularly carved by nature’s ancient lava flows and pounding glaciers, the city sits on a multi-level landscape, displaying some of the country’s most iconic architecture. Much more than just a pretty face, Edinburgh’s rich heritage captivates modern day visitors just as it did the many legends of literature who have called it home throughout the centuries. Its historical charm is tightly woven into a tapestry of modern infrastructure and entertainment, creating a unique and widely appealing balance of old and new, from hill to coast.
Home to almost half a million residents, the country’s capital boasts a calendar of cultural events which welcomes millions of visitors to the city each year, most notably the Edinburgh Festival throughout August and the Hogmanay celebrations at New Year. The city is mesmerisingly atmospheric year-round, with attractions and experiences that leave imprints on your heart and mind long after departure. This city is one-size-fits-all, a city where you can’t go wrong.
Edinburgh City Bus Tour
Ease yourself into a day of exploration on the Edinburgh Tour bus. Leaving from Waverley Bridge, this open top bus tour will help establish your bearings and take in enough Old Town and New Town sites to inspire the sightseeing itinerary for the rest of your trip. Lasting around one hour, the live commentary will give you an essential insight into Edinburgh’s history and modern life, igniting your curiosity to learn more. You can also use the time to mentally prepare for the series of hills and dips you will traverse on your wanderings.
Regardless of how you arrive into the city, you will experience an inevitable ‘wow’ moment when are treated to your first view of the Edinburgh Castle. Perched on the remnants of a 700 million year old volcano, the site has revealed evidence of human settlement since the Bronze Age, around 900BC. The castle itself, thought to date back to the 12th century, was subject to a violent tug-of-war throughout history, but is now home to the world’s largest cannon (Mons Meg), the sacred Stone of Destiny and the Scottish Crown Jewels. As one of the city’s more expensive attractions, allocate sufficient time to get your money’s worth, or avoid the entry-fee completely by going no further than the Castle Esplanade and drawbridge entrance for some essential tourist photos.
Victoria Street and the Grassmarket
Meander downhill from Edinburgh Castle onto Victoria Terrace for a classic view of one of Edinburgh’s prettiest and most colourful streets. Lined with cute boutiques and a handful of bars and restaurants, Victoria Street is a site in itself, as well as a popular walking route to the Grassmarket.
Named for its long past horse and cattle market, and known as the hot-spot for 17th century hangings, the Grassmarket is now a popular setting for visitors and locals alike. With a castle backdrop and guaranteed atmosphere, this is a great location to enjoy pub-grub and a pint in an establishment with a story; try The Last Drop or Maggie Dickson’s; or some comforting pie and mash at Old Jocke’s Pie Shoppe. Pop into Mary’s Milk Bar for homemade ice-cream in a classic, retro setting. You may wish to take note of the planned live music in the Fiddler’s Arms, for a return to the Grassmarket in the evening.
Greyfriars Bobby – corner Candlemaker Row and George IV Bridge
En route to the National Museum of Scotland on Chambers Street, you will pass the statue of a four-legged local celebrity named Bobby. This Skye terrier, affectionately known as Greyfriars Bobby, mourned the death of his master by sitting at his graveside in the adjacent Greyfriars Churchyard for fourteen years, until he too passed away in 1872. The statue was erected the following year and passers-by have rubbed his nose for good luck in the years since, but are now warned against said tradition, as it is permanently damaging the aesthetics of the statue.
National Museum of Scotland – Chambers St
This national treasure reopened in 2011 after a £47.4 million refurbishment and is set in a stunning building which holds special memories for anyone who grew up in Edinburgh or visited as a child. With a vast and impressive array of exhibits to stimulate your senses and imagination, you can spend as little or as much time as you wish stepping into Scotland’s past, Ancient Egypt or even space. The Animal World pays tribute to some of the planet’s most fascinating creatures, including Dolly the Sheep, the world’s first cloned mammal. This attraction is a particularly good wet-weather option and is free to visit (excluding special exhibitions). The views from the roof terrace are also fantastic.
The Elephant House – 21 George IV Bridge
Within close proximity to Greyfriars Bobby and the National Museum of Scotland, this coffee shop is a must-visit for Harry Potter fans. J.K. Rowling famously sat in the back room in this gourmet coffee shop and wrote her early Harry Potter novels; the architecture of the nearby George Heriot’s School is said to have inspired Hogwarts. Aside from its ‘Birthplace of Harry Potter’ fame, it is an excellent choice for a caffeine-fix and sweet treat.
Angels with Bagpipes – 343 High St
Indulge in a contemporary Scottish meal in a romantic setting at Angel’s with Bagpipes, opposite the stunning St Giles Cathedral on the Royal Mile. Local produce is transferred into beautifully presented modern dishes, including a spin on Scotland’s national dish, haggis. The ambiance is relaxed, the interior is stylish, and if the weather permits, you can dine alfresco on the Old Town cobbles.
Hidden pubs on the Royal Mile
Edinburgh boasts a thriving pub culture, with a seemingly endless selection of inviting establishments luring you inside from their prime position on the Royal Mile. Expect to find traditional furnishings, historical trinkets and overwhelming selections of single malt whisky. There are also a handful of hidden pubs waiting to be discovered including the Jolly Judge, The Secret Arcade, The Devil’s Advocate and The Jinglin’ Geordie. Ranging from traditional pubs to modern vodka bars, they are a novelty just to locate and are each unique in their own right.
Whistle Binkies – 4-6 South Bridge
Reputed to be as haunted as the Old Town itself, Whistle Binkies is the go-to live music establishment any night of the week. Your cask ale will be served in a dingy environment with a great atmosphere and sticky dance floor. Entry is free from Sunday to Thursday, and before midnight on a Saturday. With music until 03.00, it’s the one-stop-shop for a mixture of live tunes in the heart of the city centre.
The Clamshell – 148 High St
End your night like a local, with a ‘chippy’ on the way home. The Clamshell takeaway on the Royal Mile serves a side portion of banter and good tunes alongside your junk-food of choice. The super-Scottish options would be a deep fried haggis or white pudding supper. The less brave can play it safe with a good old fish supper. Regardless of which you choose, it is important that you oblige the offer of “salt and sauce”, a mixture of brown sauce and vinegar which is rarely found outside of the East of Scotland.
Princes Street Gardens
Starting at the most western end of West Princes Street Gardens, take an unhurried eastward stroll and relish the tranquillity and green space rarely found so central in a capital city. You will quickly be met by the beautiful Ross Fountain, with an iconic view of Edinburgh Castle in the background. On exiting the West Gardens midway along Princes Street, keep an eye out for the fairytale-like gardener’s cottage, embellished with a floral garden.
Dominating the skyline in the East Princes Street Gardens is the Scott Monument, a striking Gothic tribute to the famous Sir Walter Scott, and the largest monument to any writer in the world. You can climb the two hundred and eighty seven increasingly claustrophobic steps to the top of the monument for a small fee.
City Cafe – 19 Blair St
Upon leaving the eastern gardens, follow quirky Cockburn Street up to the Royal Mile. Continue straight into the City Cafe. Whilst styled as a 1950’s American diner, their full Scottish breakfast is legendary and features all of the quintessential breakfast items loved by locals. Served all day from 09.00, the choice of breakfasts also include stacks of pancakes, fresh toast and eggs benedict.
The Royal Mile
Beat the afternoon crowds and immerse yourself in the very heart of the Old Town, indulging in souvenir retail therapy and photo opportunities on your walk down towards the royal palace. Stop for a delicious sample at the super-sweet Fudge Kitchen, discover the story of the World’s End pub and try on some colourful knitwear in Ragamuffin. Some particularly pretty points of interest include John Knox’s House, the Canongate Tollbooth and White Horse Close tucked away at the very bottom.
Scottish Parliament and Holyrood Palace – Canongate
At the foot of the Royal Mile, place yourself between two immensely significant buildings, one from the 16th century and one from the 21st. The first is the The Palace of Holyrood House, the official residency of the British Monarchy when they are in Scotland. Diagonally opposite is the Scottish Parliament building, a modern structure which sits interestingly within a frame of old town buildings and an extinct volcano, Arthur’s Seat. There is an entry fee for both attractions, however you can simply admire the contrasting architectural styles from outside.
The most prominent of the three pieces of Edinburgh’s volcanic puzzle – Castle Rock and Calton Hill being the others – is the imposing Arthur’s Seat. Reaching a height of 251m above sea level, and surrounded by the Queen’s Park, there are a number of elevated trails which promise a panorama of perfection, and a true appreciation of Edinburgh’s unrivalled skyline. Whilst steep at parts, the trail to the top is in good condition and can be managed by anyone with a basic level of fitness. Those who make it will definitely be rewarded.
Sheep’s Heid Inn –43-45 The Causeway
Descend Arthur’s Seat in the direction of the Duddingston Village, to a pub that is said to date back to 1360. What is known for certain is that the skittles alley – which is still in use – was frequented by King James VI of Scotland (I of England). The king gifted the inn-keeper with a ram’s head snuff box covered in jewels as a thank you for time he had spent there, hence the origin of the name. The pub was taken over and revamped in recent years, diminishing much of its rustic charm, but its historical significance and quaint setting are worth appreciating nonetheless. The food comes highly recommended, particularly the Sunday roast.
Mercat Tours – 28 Blair St
Nowadays it’s so easy to be seduced by the beauty and magic of Edinburgh’s Old Town, blissfully unaware of its gruesome and sinister past. Mercat Tours will take you on a frighteningly entertaining journey through the centuries, with tales of torture and execution, ghosts and ghouls, and the city’s notorious body-snatchers, Burke and Hare. Be sure to select a tour which also includes a visit to the underground vaults, to experience the city which lies beneath. Pre-book online or at the shop on Blair Street to guarantee a spot during peak season.
The Banshee Labyrinth and Cabaret Voltaire – Niddre Street & Blair Street
Revisit some underground vaults, this time with your dancing shoes. The Banshee Labyrinth is a maze-like myriad of dimly lit rooms, bars, dance floors and a cinema screen. Whilst the style is somewhat alternative, the crowd is varied and the vibe is welcoming. Open until 03.00, this can be your ‘haunt’ for the night, or you can continue onto Cabaret Voltaire, located in Blair Street vaults. Cabaret Voltaire is acool venue which consistently delivers some of the city’s top club nights. Entry fees vary based on the club night.
As well as the Old Town, Edinburgh’s New Town has also been awarded UNESCO World Heritage status, and therefore should not be missed during your visit. Built in the mid-18th century to spruce up the city and alleviate the overcrowding in the Old Town, this side of the city showcases some of the finest examples of Georgian architecture in the UK. Urban Angel on Hanover Street offers an all day brunch menu which is fantastic for healthy local produce. From here, give your legs a good stretch on the walk down Broughton Street to Canonmills and onto the western entrance of the The Royal Botanic Garden. Check out some of Broughton Street’s independent boutiques en route.
The Royal Botanic Garden- Arboretum Place
Much more than just a tourist attraction, The Royal Botanic Garden is at the forefront of research and conservation in plant life. Established in the 17th century, these famous gardens boast a rainbow pallet of exotic flora, breathing life and colour into the outdoors, as well as within the gorgeous glasshouses. Look out for grey squirrels, pass mini-waterfalls and step from stone to stone in the intricate rock garden, count koi carp in the pond at the humid Tropical House, and go oriental on the Chinese Hillside. This is a free attraction, however donations are welcome to contribute to further conservation.
Stockbridge, the epitome of New Town charm, is an essential route back to the city centre. There are ample coffee-stop and cute-shop opportunities, and a varied pub scene if you fancy an afternoon refreshment; try contemporary Hectors or The Baillie for a traditional setting. Lose yourself in the loveliness of Lavender Mews, and follow cobbled Howe Street straight from St Stephen’s Church back to the city centre.
George Street, Rose Street and Princes Street
This trio of parallel streets cater for a wide spectrum of shoppers, offering high-end designer brands on George Street, to high-street favourites on the main retail thoroughfare of Princes Street. Visit Jenners, a landmark on one corner of Princes Street, and the oldest department store in Scotland. On the other side of St Andrew’s Square sits Harvey Nicols, a far more modern and exclusive addition to Edinburgh’s shopping scene. Shopping complete there, take the lift to the Forth Floor Bar and splurge on a cocktail with a view.
The Balmoral Hotel – 1 Princes St
Treat yourself to a classy dining experience in The Balmoral Hotel, famed for its lavish accommodation, iconic clock tower and J.K. Rowling Suite; she completed her final Harry Potter novel at the desk in this room. Based on your budget, you can choose from Hadrian’s Brasserie for a relaxed, informal setting, or splurge on the Michelin star Number One restaurant, for a truly memorable dining experience to conclude your city break.
Cocktails in the New Town
Unwind on your final night with a cocktail-crawl of the sophisticated New Town. Balancing kitsch with class, Panda and Sons on Queen Street is full of vintage quirks and exclusive creations from award-winning Scottish bartender Iain McPherson. If drinking cocktails from a china tea set is a novelty which strikes your fancy, join the mixed crowd at Bramble, also on Queen Street. Otherwise, keep it simple with Tonic, a classic cocktail bar on North Castle Street with a soundtrack of live music or tunes from the resident DJs.