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A Weekend in Edinburgh: Your Perfect 3-Day Itinerary


“Edina! Scotia’s darling seat! All hail thy palaces and tow’rs.”

Perhaps Robert Burns, one of Scotland’s most celebrated poets, said it best. For a weekend getaway, look no further than Edinburgh, the Scottish capital that’s packed full of iconic architecture, significant history and impressive natural beauty—including a mountain in the middle of the city!

The Scottish people are charming and warm in a climate that can be anything but. Go on a Harry Potter pilgrimage or simply relax with a pint of Scottish ale—either way, the hilly city offers something for everyone. Traveling to Edinburgh is only getting easier and a few days is all you need to cover a large part of this historic medieval city.

Day 1: Old Town

Don’t fret if you wake to a pouring rain your first morning in Edinburgh. Instead, grab a raincoat and head for historic Old Town. You’ll appreciate a light drizzle while navigating cobblestone alleyways and medieval castles. The rain is not something to celebrate, but the brooding clouds seem to just fit.

What better way to start your stay than with a hearty Scottish breakfast? Head to the Larder in historic Old Town for some smoked bacon, black pudding, sausage, beans and toast. Don’t worry, they have vegetarian options as well. Make sure you grab some English breakfast tea at the counter for a quick rest after all that food.

After breakfast, make your way to the top of the Royal Mile, where you’ll find Edinburgh Castle, a beautiful old fortress sitting atop an extinct volcano. The views overlooking the city are breathtaking, but it’s the bloody history that keeps you engaged. The castle’s stories of slaughter and betrayal make even the newest Game of Thrones seem mundane.

Participate in the scheduled tours or navigate the 12th-century castle by yourself. Make sure you see the Scottish Crown Jewels and the giant Mons Meg canon! If you happen to still be at the castle by 1:00 p.m., cover your ears for the firing of the 1 o’clock artillery gun.

Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle. (Photo courtesy of Hans Brunk)

Afterward, head down the Royal Mile to the sound of distant bagpipes and look for the David Hume statue. Make sure you touch his golden toe, the Scots do it for good luck. Next, head into St. Giles Cathedral and make sure to look up at the vaulted blue ceiling! Once outside, and after gazing up for a half-hour, look down at your feet for the Heart of Midlothian stone mosaic. If you are feeling particularly Scottish, spit on it—another “good luck” tradition.

If it’s still a downpour, participate in one of the scheduled tours of Mary King’s Close. The tour will take you underground, where you will experience what it was like to be a part of the plague outbreak in the 17th-century. It is said that the ghosts of the dead still haunt the area, so don’t be too surprised if you hear a child’s footsteps or trailing voice.

Next, walk down Victoria Street to see Edinburgh’s very own Diagon Alley. With JK Rowling writing the Harry Potter books in Scotland’s capital, this is one of the must-see Potter-pilgrimage stops. You won’t find any wizards or elves among the colorful buildings, but you’ll definitely see shops for all your Harry Potter souvenir shopping. Go to Diagon House to pick out your very own magic wand.

Lunchtime—stop by the Bow Bar, a local favorite, for a pint of Scottish Ale and a beef pie. It’s not a very big bar, but for what it lacks in size, it makes up for in charming simplicity. For dessert, ask the bartender to sample one or two of their 220 scotch malt whiskeys.

After a couple glasses of scotch and ale, head outside for a walk through Greyfriars Kirkyard. Here, you can find the graves of Scotland’s favorite Skye Terrier Bobby, who guarded his owner’s grave for fourteen years, as well as some Harry Potter inspirations like Thomas Riddell, Elizabeth Moodie and William McGonagall, also known as Rowling’s Voldemort, Mad-Eyed Moodie and Professor McGonagall.

Next door is the National Museum of Scotland, where you can learn about the history of tartan and kilts, or simply grab a coffee on the rooftop terrace. Walk to Holyrood Palace and make sure to grab some fudge along the way! Behind Holyrood is where you can find the burnt down abbey, which is eery and scenic among the vibrant palace gardens.

If it’s not too dark, head up Arthur’s Seat for some of the best views of the city. This mountain sits in the heart of Edinburgh and towers 800 feet at its highest point. If you’re lucky to catch a clear afternoon, the views are truly magnificent.

For dinner, the Whiski Bar & Restaurant serves mouthwatering fish and steaks, as well as more traditional Scottish food. If you’re feeling local, order the Haggis and don’t ask what’s in it.

Greyfriars Kirk
Greyfriars Kirk. (Photo courtesy of Hans Brunk)

After dinner, round out the night at one of the celebrated pubs. Stop by the Royal Oak, or the Captains Bar for some local music, or go to Deacon Brodie’s Tavern or Maggie Dickson’s Pub for some history and folklore.

Day 2: New Town

After waking up, make your way to Artisan Roast in New Town for some of the best coffee in Scotland. There are three Artisan Roasts in Edinburgh, but go to the original on Broughton Street.

Strolling along the elegant avenues of New Town are worth at least a couple of hours of exploration. You’ll find grey stonework contrasting red mailboxes—if you didn’t know any better, you’d think you were a part of Downtown Abbey. If you’re more into shopping, you’ll find everything your heart desires on George Street or Princes Street.

Right across Princes Street, you’ll find the Scott Monument, which is the largest monument ever made for a writer! Make sure you take a selfie in front of the gothic giant and then take a stroll through Princes Street Gardens. When the weather is nice, the whole city will be in the park with you picking flowers and napping in the grass.

When it’s time for lunch, you’ll find tons of options along Rose Street. The Wildfire offers mouthwatering meats while Mussel Inn offers tasty seafood. After lunch, head to Dean Village—the must-see list when visiting Edinburgh is long, but Dean Village sits towards the top.

While walking through this little village, you’ll find stone plaques decorated with baked bread and pie insignias. Cobblestone alleys wind their way down to the Water of Leith, a river cutting through this quaint village. All the photography takes place on Dean Bridge overlooking the iconic Well Court.

Wind up the river for a short walk and you’ll find the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. Stop in the cafe for a quick coffee break. Take a cab back into Edinburgh and climb Calton Hill.

Calton Hill
Evening view from Calton Hill. (Photo courtesy of Hans Brunk)

From the top, you can see Arthur’s Seat, Holyrood Palace, the Royal Mile, Edinburgh Castle and New Town. At the foot of Calton Hill is where you’ll find dinner: Gardener’s Cottage, a beautiful restaurant situated in an actual old little cottage.

For a nightcap, head to the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. One glass of their smoky single cask, single malt whiskey and your voice will get deeper and your beard will grow longer. If you’re up for another stop, head to Panda and Sons, a modern day speakeasy. You’ll have to pass the barber shop and enter through a bookcase, where you’ll find an underground bar serving a wild variety of foaming cocktails.

Day 3: Head North, or Make Up for Lost Time!

If you were speed walking your way up over Arthur’s Seat or navigating the bustling city streets with ease, head north! The nature and beauty of the Scottish highlands are worth a day trip. Otherwise, stay in the city and make up for lost time by visiting the stops you missed.

Make sure you’ve had a chance to climb Arthur’s Seat and see Dean’s Village. If a trip north is not on the agenda, take a black cab to Leith, a cultural melting-pot with some of the best food in the city. You can find amazing fish and chips at the Newhaven docks and a Michelin star meal at the Kitchin.

Make sure you end your stay in Edinburgh with some song and dance at one of the many famous city pubs.


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