Edinburgh is the capital city of Scotland and a must-visit for anyone traveling to the United Kingdom. This 4-day itinerary features the best of Edinburgh for first-time visitors and a few off the beaten path spots. Here you can visit all the top tourist attractions and enjoy the best of what Edinburgh has to offer.
Saving Money on Accommodations
There are plenty of ways to have an incredible trip to Edinburgh without breaking the bank. One of my favorite ways to save money on accommodations is to book through Airbnb. I have used Airbnb throughout Europe and have always had a good experience. It’s great for groups, friends, or couples since prices are often cheaper than hotels.
Getting Around the City
Edinburgh is a walk-able city, which makes it easy to get around. If you’re looking to do something touristy (but super fun!), I’m a big fan of the Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour in Edinburgh. It can be an excellent way to see the city’s highlights. Plus, you’ll get 24 unlimited hop-on hop-off with the bus tour. The guides can be quite humorous and provide you with a lot of interesting information about Edinburgh.
Saving Money on Edinburgh Attractions
If you want to save money when visiting the city’s popular attractions, consider purchasing the Royal Edinburgh Ticket. This is a pre-paid attraction pass which includes FREE entry to royal sites including, Edinburgh Castle, Royal Yacht Britannia, and the Palace of Holyroodhouse.
Plus with your Royal Edinburgh ticket, you can enjoy 48-hour unlimited access to the Edinburgh Hop On Hop Off bus tour. The Royal Edinburgh Ticket is an excellent way to discover the city while saving money and time. You can click here to learn more.
Whether you’re visiting during the summer for the Fringe Festival or during the winter to see the holiday decor — you won’t run out of fun things to see and do! As the writer, Robert Louis Stevenson once said, “Edinburgh is what Paris ought to be”.
- Guide to Climbing Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh
- Mercat Ghostly Underground Tour: Edinburgh vaults
- The best tea room in Edinburgh
Arrive in the morning and drop off your luggage at the hotel. The check-in time for most hotels is after 2:00 PM or 3:00 PM. If a room is available early, you may have to pay a fee to check-in early.
Grab a coffee or tea at the Elephant House Café, the birthplace of Harry Potter.
Snap a photo of Greyfriars Bobby. This dog became known in the 19th century for spending 14 years guarding the grave of his owner until he passed away himself in 1872.
Crowds would gather at the entrance of Kirkyard waiting for the one o’clock gun where Bobby would leave his owner’s grave for his midday meal.
Head to the National Museum of Scotland. Plan to spend at least an hour here (or more, depending on your interests).
My must-have Edinburgh accessories:
Click the product to shop
Explore the Scottish National Gallery. Plan to spend about an hour here.
Shop along Princes Street.
Grab a cookie and hot beverage at Ben’s Cookies. I went to Ben’s Cookies every day while I was in Edinburgh. It’s the best!
Enjoy a gourmet burger (or veggie burger) at the Red Squirrel.
Head to Edinburgh Castle first thing in the morning. Aim to be there when it opens as it gets quite busy with tour groups by the lunch hour. FREE entry to Edinburgh Castle included in the Royal Edinburgh Ticket.
PRO TIP: I went first thing on a weekday morning and it felt like I had the whole castle to myself! Plan to spend at least 2 hours here (or more, depending on your walking pace). If you have time, stick around for the one o’clock gun.
Check out Camera Obscura. Don’t miss the Camera Obscura show on the top floor.
PRO TIP: The presentation also gives you a nice overview of Edinburgh and its history, which is great if you’re unfamiliar with the area. Plan to spend about an hour here (or more, depending on your interests).
Visit Victoria Street, which J.K. Rowling used as inspiration for Diagon Alley in Harry Potter.
Walk along the Royal Mile.
Visit St. Giles’ Cathedral. It’s free to enter and beautiful inside!
PRO TIP: If you want to get an in-depth look at Old Town Edinburgh, I recommend going on a walking tour. This is a great way for first time-visitors to explore Edinburgh with a local and knowledgable guide. Here you’ll get the chance to visit three of Old Town’s former execution spots, enjoy the cobbled streets of the UNESCO-listed Old Town, and see the notorious Tolbooth Prison. You can click here to learn more.
Explore free museums such as The Museum on the Mound, the Writer’s Museum and the Museum of Edinburgh. These museums are smaller in size and will not take long to explore.
Go on a ghostly tour of the underground vaults. Edinburgh is one of the most haunted places in the UK, making it a prime destination for ghost tours. Enjoy this fun and historic tour of the Blair Street Underground Vaults. You can click here to learn more.
PRO TIP: I normally don’t do ghost tours because I scare easily. But I am SO glad I went on a ghost tour of the underground vaults. Learning about the history of the vaults was one of this highlights of my trip to Edinburgh. Definitely worth it!
Grab a light breakfast and head to Holyrood Park to hike up Arthur’s Seat.
PRO TIP: Wear comfortable shoes and don’t forget to check out the ruins of St. Anthony’s Chapel.
Enjoy lunch at Clarinda’s Tea Room. Don’t forget to save room for cake and scones! Click the link to check out my review.
Explore the Palace of Holyroodhouse. This palace is the official residence of Her Majesty the Queen in Scotland. Plan to spend around 2 hours here. Don’t forget to check out the gardens and Holyrood Abbey. FREE entry included with the Royal Edinburgh Ticket.
Head to Calton Hill to get another beautiful view of the city.
Have dinner at a local pub. Sample some of Edinburgh’s whiskey.
Take a walk through Dean Village. This is a beautiful green oasis on the Water of Leith (just a 5-minute walk from Princes Street).
Climb to the top of Scotts Monument. This is a monument to the Scottish author Sir Walter Scott and is the largest monument to a writer in the world.
Have lunch in Leith.
Visit the Royal Botanical Gardens.
Spend your last evening in the city at the cinema, theater, listening to live music at a lounge or attending a comedy show.
Want to see more of beautiful Scotland?
There are lots of fun day trips that are worth taking from Edinburgh. Here are a few of my favorites:
- Loch Ness, Glencoe, and the Highlands
Enjoy this small-group tour from Edinburgh where you get your chance explore the spectacular scenery of the Scottish Highlands and Cairngorms National Park. You can also enjoy an optional boat tour in search of the Loch Ness Monster! You can click here to learn more.
- St. Andrews and Fife
Enjoy a small-group day trip from Edinburgh to the town of St. Andrews, home to Scotland’s oldest university and Old Course where golf is played. Your local tour guide will take you over the Forth Road Bridge into the kingdom of Fife. This is a fun way to learn more about Scotland’s rich history. You can click here to learn more.
- West Highland Lochs and Castle
This Scottish Highlands day trip from Edinburgh will give you the opportunity to marvel at majestic castles and stunning landscapes. Enjoy visits to Doune Castle, Kilchurn Castle, Inveraray Castle, and stop for photos at Stirling Castle. You can click here to learn more.