Edinburgh is second only to London as the most visited city in the United Kingdom. Its easy to see why, it’s a city full of charm, bursting with amazing historic buildings, cobbled streets, endless gardens and public spaces and surrounded by beautiful scenery. The following post gives what I believe to be the perfect Edinburgh 3 day itinerary to get the best out of a visit to this amazing city!
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Edinburgh: How to get there
Edinburgh international airport is approximately 10 miles away from the city centre. Once at the airport the city centre can be reached easily by public transport. For the best deals on flights I recommend Skyscanner!
Transfer by tram – There is a regular tram link into Edinburgh city centre, for more details check out Edinburgh Trams
Transfer by bus – There are a number of bus links from the airport to various areas around Edinburgh, however the airport link 100 runs every 10 minutes into Edinburgh city centre. For more details on bus services within Edinburgh check out the Transport for Edinburgh website
The main city centre train station is Edinburgh Waverley located slap bang in the middle of Edinburgh within walking distance of both the old and new town. For more information and booking train tickets within the UK check out The Trainline
Edinburgh can be reached by bus from most other UK cities. For low cost bus operators check out National Express.
A useful app for checking out routes around the UK and the rest of Europe is GoEuro. This app will give you options for plane, train and Buses and the ability to book securely through the app.
Edinburgh 3 Day Itinerary: Where to stay
What ever your budget there is an abundance of hotels, guesthouses and hostels located within the city centre and close to most of its attractions. The best area to stay is the old town, close to the Royal Mile, here most of Edinburgh’s attractions will be right on your doorstep. For the best deals on hotels, I recommend using booking.com
Another area worth looking at is around Princes Street, Edinburgh’s new town district. Edinburgh’s Main train station, Waverley is located in-between both of these areas giving easy access. However wherever you decide to stay, you will find it extremely easy to get into the city centre with the excellent public transport links.
As a budget traveller I was looking for a centrally located hostel. After some research I booked my stay at Budget Backpackers which I can highly recommend! This was a very comfortable clean hostel, with an on site bar, lounge and chill out area. The staff were extremely friendly and offered a variety of excursions and advice for those new to the area. For only £12 a night I thought it was very good value for money.
For those unsure about staying in hostels then check out my guide on how to survive staying in hostels.
Edinburgh 3 Day Itinerary – Day One
Walk the mile!
Edinburgh’s Royal Mile is the heart of this historic city running from Edinburgh Castle all the way down to Holyrood Palace. Along the route you will find interesting museums, historic landmarks, secret places and a variety of shops, restaurants and cafes.
Start the day early with a hearty breakfast either at you hotel or the many cafes along the mile. Once your all filed up, walk up the mile towards Edinburgh’s most iconic landmark, Edinburgh Castle.
When visiting the castle be sure to get there early especially in the peak summer months. To make things easier and to save some money on entrance fees pre-book tickets on line on the Edinburgh Castle website.
For more detailed information on visiting Edinburgh Castle check out my guide here.
After spending an hour or two exploring Edinburgh castle make your way down the mile, Along the way you will spoilt for choice with shops selling souvenirs, cafes for grabbing a much needed snack or coffee as well as many small alleyways to explore called Closes. One such Close to check out is Lady Stairs Close, through here you’ll find the quaint Writers museum.
The Writers museum is free to enter and showcases three of Scotland’s most famous writers, Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns and Robert Louis Stevenson.
Once back on the mile, the next port of call will be the beautiful St Giles Cathedral. From the outside it doesn’t look quite as impressive as say the Liverpool Anglican Cathedral or London’s St Paul’s but inside it is incredibly beautiful and the attention to detail in parts is exquisite. Entrance is free but you can pay £6 to take a rooftop tour, for details check out the website here.
After wandering around the Cathedral, you’ll probably be in need of some lunch. Stop in one of the many cafes or restaurants for a bite to eat and then continue down the mile towards Holyrood House.
If interested along the route you will also go past some interesting museums such as The Museum of Childhood, The Museum of Edinburgh and the Peoples Story Museum. If you have the time I recommend all these museums especially if you would like an insight into Edinburgh and Scottish history.
At the bottom of the Royal Mile you will find the beautiful Palace of Holyrood House. Please note though that the last entrance in winter is 15.15 pm and 16.30 pm in summer. Holyrood Palace is the official Royal residence of Her Majesty the Queen when in Scotland and has a close association with some of Scotland’s most historic figures such as Mary, Queen of Scots and Bonnie Prince Charlie.
The entrance fee is £14 for adults and includes an audio guide that walks you through the various rooms and areas of the house providing a detailed history along the way.
Included in the tour is the remains of the Holyrood Abbey and the beautiful gardens.
After exploring the palace you could either head back to your hotel for a freshen up and go back out to enjoy a meal and enjoy some of Edinburgh’s nightlife or like me you could first head up Arthur’s Seat to watch the sunset.
Arthur’s seat sits prominently looking down over Edinburgh and although its a bit of a trek to reach the summit the views from the top are stunning! There are numerous trails up to the peak but the main trail begins behind Holyrood House. It’s useful to use an app such as Maps.Me to help navigate the quickest trail to the top if short on time. This off-line map is also useful for navigating around Edinburgh’s many streets and closes!
Depending on the time of year, make sure you have a bag with some warm clothes such as a jacket and hat as the temperatures are a lot colder at the summit especially if staying to watch for the sunset. If you do decide to do this then I also recommend taking some snacks and a drink with you as well. To walk up to the summit only takes about 45 minutes depending on fitness level and although steep at times it is not a difficult climb.
Edinburgh 3 Day Itinerary – Day Two
The best museums
After a good nights rest and a hearty breakfast, its time to explore more of Edinburgh’s iconic landmarks and museums.
First off I would walk down towards the University of Edinburgh to check out the Surgeon’s Hall Museum. This Museum may not be everyone’s cup of tea but I found it absolutely fascinating! As someone who’s day job is a nurse, I am fascinated by the human body and what medical science can achieve.
This museum gives and amazing insight into the history of surgical techniques without it being a gory medical establishment! The exhibits are shown in an interesting and educational way, with some have a go yourself technical challenges. There is also an interesting pathology exhibit which I will warn you houses hundreds of body parts in glass jars, however I do think its shown in a educational way.
Entrance into the museum is £7.50 for adult and only £4 for NHS workers with valid ID (I never had ID with me but they still gave me the discount) For more info check here
Once finished in the surgeon’s hall then head back towards town and visit what I believe to be one of the best museums in Edinburgh, The National Museum of Scotland, This excellent museum is housed in a magnificent Victorian building appreciated from both inside and out.
The museum itself is huge and has a multitude of displays and exhibits. This diverse collection will take you on a historic journey of not only Scotland but around the world. The museum is open daily from 10 am -5 pm and has free admission.
By now its probably time to grab a bite to eat and then head back up the mile towards The Writers Museum. If you walk back through the Lady Stairs Close past The Writers Museum you will find yourself across the road to The Museum on the Mound. This museum is all about the history of money and is well worth a visit if you have time, if not check out the grounds as it has amazing views across the city!
In the distance you will see The Scott Monument and the Princes Street Gardens. Both are worth a visit, you can climb to the top of the Scott Monument and enjoy some amazing views as well a small museum for £8 entrance fee.
If after all that you are tied of wandering round museums, why not check out the fabulous shopping district around Princes street or take a walk up Calton Hill to check out the Nelson Monument and the National Monument of Scotland.
In the evening, why not check out an underground tour? There are many to choose from, I personally recommend the ‘Double Dead’ underground and graveyard tour from The City of the Dead Tours.
This tour starts from outside St Giles Cathedral and takes you deep into Edinburgh’s historic underground South Bridge Vaults as well as a ghostly tour in the Covenanter’s Prison in Greyfriars Graveyard. Warning! Its not for the faint hearted! Tour prices start from around £13
If ghosts aren’t your thing then a tour of the Real Mary Kings Close will get you experiencing Edinburgh’s underground streets without the scary ghost stories! Entrance is opposite St Giles Cathedral with a £15.50 entrance free with tours running every 15 minutes throughout the day and up to 9.30 pm in the summer months.
Edinburgh 3 Day Itinerary – Day Three
Explore the surrounding area
After all that exploring, today is a time to chill out and get some wonderful sea air with a trip to Cramond island and if you fancy it a trip out to see the iconic Forth bridges.
Cramond island is a lovely island reached only by a causeway during low tide. The surrounding area is beautiful with plenty of walking trails to explore. If wanting to walk across to the island you need to check out the tidal times as you won’t want to end up stranded. For more information on how to get to Cramond check out my Cramond Island guide here.
The Forth Railway bridge is an iconic landmark in Scotland and is now one of three bridges stretching across the Forth River. The bridges are situated in the quaint town of South Queensferry with its lovely promenade and pretty houses. The area is well worth a trip out and will make a great day combined with a trip to Cramond Island. To find out how to get to South Queensferry and the Forth bridges check out my guide here.
If after all that fresh air you still have time to fit in one last spot on the tourist trail then why not have a good old tipple at The Scotch Whisky Experience. They have a variety of tasting tours on offer and also have an onsite restaurant serving traditional Scottish fare. Sounds like the perfect way to finish a perfect 3 days in Edinburgh!
So there you have it my perfect 3 day itinerary of Edinburgh. Of course there are plenty of other things to do whilst in Edinburgh, so if you fancy changing a few things or spending more time in the area and looking for inspiration then check out my other Edinburgh guides.
Have you been to Edinburgh, thinking of taking a trip or know of any other things to do whilst in the city? If so, let me know in the comments below.
Thanks for reading,