Whether it’s a weekend visit or 48 hours in the City here is a guide to ensure you don’t miss out on the best of Edinburgh. This Edinburgh itinerary not only has the very famous castle but many other Edinburgh attractions you may not be aware existed. Regardless of the day of the week, here are the best sights and places to stay in Edinburgh at any time.
How to Get To Edinburgh
Catch a plane in to Edinburgh International Airport, the quickest and easiest way if you only have 48 hours in Edinburgh. From here there are many very easy routes in to the city; train, tram, bus or taxi.
If you are travelling within the UK you may wish to get the train all the way to Edinburgh Waverley station. This is right in heart of the city and an excellent place to base yourself for your 2 days in Edinburgh. You can also catch a train to here from the airport.
Edinburgh has a great tram network connecting the heart of the city directly to the airport. At the time of writing a one way ticket is £6.50 and took approximately 20 minutes to reach the centre of Edinburgh.
Alternatively you can take a bus for £4.50 in to the centre of Edinburgh from the airport. They run very often and take a similar time to the tram, however are more subject to traffic jams.
The Best Sights in Edinburgh – I must start with the Castle
You cannot miss the most famous attraction in Edinburgh regardless of how you arrive in the City. Rising out of the top of a huge hill right in the centre, Edinburgh castle can be seen from all sides for miles around. Tickets must be purchased before you can go within the walls so arrive early if you are interested. Cruise ships full of tourists flock here and it can very busy.
One of the best view points in the whole of Edinburgh is Calton Hill and you do not have to go far out of the city at all to visit here. Listed in many blogs as one of the top 10 things to do in Edinburgh I knew I had to visit here. Right at the end of Princes street (the opposite end from the castle) you will find one of the paths taking you to the top. This particular one is very steep regardless of which way you are going – up or down. There are other pathways around the hill which are a little longer but kinder to the knees. Once you are at the top you have a 360 degree view of Edinburgh which is hard to beat in my opinion.
When visiting Edinburgh make the time to climb up here and you will be rewarded with views of the castle, the sea and Arthurs Seat! Where else can you see all of those in one go? On the hill are the City Observatory, Nelson Monument, National Monument of Scotland and the Playfair monument for you to visit. We walked up to the hill through New Calton Burial ground which was stunning and like walking through the cemetery scene in Harry Potter! You will then pop out by the Burns Monument before taking the slightly less steep walk up to the top.
If you start at the bottom and climb to the top these steps seem to go on forever! The view from the top is worth the pain and if you want the best experiences in Edinburgh and the best photographs get climbing. Looking back down the pretty stairs you will capture the lanterns and in the background the castle dominates the skyline!
The Witchery At The Castle
You don’t even have to go in to the building before you realise this place is an Edinburgh must see. The cute little alleyway leading to the hotel and restaurant is immaculately decorated, changing with the seasons. If you can afford the top dollar prices then the hotel rooms are very special and the restaurant is also superb. Again, book to avoid disappointment.
Similar to the Vennel, this is a cute arched alley leading to steps and a view over the city. Find this and similar alleys off of the Royal Mile. Halfway down you will find a gem of a bar called ‘The Devil’s Advocate’ which has a terrace. Add this cute bar to your places to visit in Edinburgh and grab a photo of your cocktail with Scotts Monument in the background.
Whether you are having a long weekend in Edinburgh or just a day, make time to visit the Scotts Monument on Princes Street. Set within the lush Princes Gardens this 200 feet high building is simply stunning. The colours of the stone change throughout the day as the sun hits it from different angles. One of the top things to see in Edinburgh is the castle, and you can get a perfect view from the top of this monument. All you need to do is climb the 287 steps!
The Balmoral Hotel is the perfect place to stay during your weekend trip to Edinburgh should your budget stretch to it. One of, if not the most expensive hotels in Edinburgh, this hotel is luxurious and grand, even from the outside. The 11th floor (specifically room 552) is where JK Rowling is rumoured to have stayed in and finished the last of the Harry Potter novels. Even if just from the outside add this to your ‘Edinburgh things to see list’, the flower display on the front steps is just beautiful.
Greyfriars Bobby Statue
Placed right outside the Greyfriars pub in front of Greyfriars Kirkyard is a little statue of Bobby the dog. In the 19th century this little terrier sat guarding his masters grave for 14 years after he passed away. Despite the caretaker shooing him away, bobby kept returning and the locals built him his own shelter. He was later buried 75 metres from his masters grave, the inscription reading
“Greyfriars Bobby – died 14th January 1872 – aged 16 years. Let his loyalty and devotion be a lesson to us all”;
Even if you only have 2 days in Edinburgh, make a point to visit this loyal little guy. You can even have a refreshment in the pub named after him right behind his statue.
If you are a Harry Potter fan you will find a gravestone with the name Tom Riddle on it in this graveyard. For more Potter locations go to the Ultimate Edinburgh Harry Potter Guide.
The Real Mary King’s Close
If you are interested in history and like a bit of a dark story then add this to your things to do in Edinburgh list. Mary Kings Close is a guided tour of the underground streets and vaults beneath the Royal Mile.
The Royal Mile
This road is definitely for the Edinburgh tourist as not only does it have many of the famous attractions on it, there are many shops to buy your gifts from. If you begin at the top by the castle entrance, the road goes all the way down to the Palace and Parliament at the bottom. It is 1.8km in length, which used to be called a Scotts Mile! Out of all of the Edinburgh tourist attractions this is again one of the most famous, and can be free. (If you don’t shop).
Top things to see in Edinburgh on the Royal Mile
St Giles Cathedral
There is free entry, so great to hide from the rain in for a while, although you can make a donation at several points inside should you wish to. This cathedral is beautiful from top to bottom, keep looking up is my top tip. Make sure you pop your head in to the Thistle Chapel inside, the ceiling is outstanding.
The Mercat Cross
Outside the Cathedral, at the opposite side to the entrance look down this time. There is a heart created out of stones in the pavement. Locals used to spit on this to bring them luck! How lovely!I did not see anyone doing this thankfully whilst we were there.
Statue of Hume
Not far from the Cathedral is this famous statue with a very shiny toe right big toe. Legend has it that if you make a wish whilst rubbing this toe it will bring you luck. Give it a go!
One of the fun things to do in Edinburgh with kids is to visit the Camera Obscura located right by Edinburgh Castle. 5 floors packed with hundreds of illusions will keep the kids entertained for ages. Right at the top the rooftop views over Edinburgh are amongst the best, being right at the top of the hill!
When you are wondering what to see in Edinburgh and what to prioritise then Victoria Street is a must. With its cobbled streets, beautiful old buildings (inspiration for Diagon Alley in Harry Potter), this street is crammed full of things to do and see. You could sit on the 1st level terrace that spans half the length of the street, sipping a drink whilst people watching. Or you could shop in many stores lining both pavements. From tailors to Potter themed shops & cafes, this street is bustling with life. Half way along is a steep staircase which will lead you up to other tourist sites in Edinburgh on the Royal Mile (see above).
The Writers Museum
Take a walk away from the Royal mile through Lady Stairs Close, you will find yourself in a cute little courtyard. The famous Writers Museum is right in the centre of this yard and has gorgeous little sign outside. A great little place to take a stroll around, especially if the weather is having a damp moment.
John Knox House
The oldest Medieval house in Edinburgh sits on the Royal Mile and was the home of John Knox and described as one of Edinburghs ‘cultural treasures’. Originally home to goldsmiths, this is now a tourist attraction due to the former leader of the Scottish Reformation having lived here.
Climbing this extinct volcano was at the top of my things to do in Edinburgh this weekend. However only having carry-on luggage I did not bring suitable footwear. On average it takes a couple of hours to do the complete loop. Your reward is a magnificent view over Edinburgh city, this time with Calton Hill in it.
An extremely popular tourist attraction in Edinburgh, I would suggest purchasing a ticket before arriving. This beautiful Palace is at the end of the Royal Mile right opposite the Scottish Parliament. To avoid crowds arrive early if you don’t have a ticket (especially when the cruise ships are in town). This stunning building is the Queens official residence when she is in Edinburgh, well she would stay in a Palace! We didn’t have time to go inside unfortunately, although the outside is very impressive. Suitably fit for a Queen!
Village Of Dean
A short 20 minute walk from Edinburgh city centre you will find the picturesque Dean Village. In years gone by Dean Village was a slum. However it has been transformed through renovation and is now an attraction in its own right. Take a stroll around the village before returning to the city via the river walkway, passing by St Bernards Well.
Maison de Moggy
By now you will have worked up a thirst during your 48 hours in Edinburgh. So why not have a coffee at a cafe with a difference. By the Grassmarket you will find a cafe called Maison de moggy where you can relax with cats! Yes cats!
48 Hours In Edinburgh Locations
Find all of the above and much more on this interactive map. Hotel suggestions at each Edinburgh attractions will pop up giving you the latest prices to find your perfect accomodation.