Did you know that Edinburgh is the second-most popular city in the UK? Yes, after London, most people make their way up north to explore the medieval lanes, century-old closes and the gorgeous castle of the Scottish capital. Even though the city is actually very small there is plenty to see and do, whether you are after tourist attractions or local treats. Being based in Glasgow myself I frequently go on day or weekend trips to Edinburgh to soak up the glorious architecture – and the sun which pokes through along the Scottish east coast much more often than in Glasgow and the West.
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Day 1: Essential Edinburgh
Take a walk around Waverley train station which lies right in between Edinburgh’s Old and New Town. Don’t be fooled by the name though – New Town is still a couple of hundred years old (built in late 18th & early 19th century).
My personal favourite street in New Town is Rose Street, although it is a shopping mile and the restaurants are rather touristy – it’s just so pretty. You can find all the high street shops along Princes Street, but even if you’re not into Primark, H&M & Co., it’s worth strolling down the street for great views of the Castle, a visit to the top of Scott Monument and a wander through Princes Street Gardens.
The Nelson Monument on Calton Hill is a great alternative to the Scott Monument if you don’t like narrow staircases!
Did you know that many people who originally owned buildings in Edinburgh’s New Town, benefitted from the transatlantic slave trade? Find out more about this here or join a Black History Walking Tour of Edinburgh with Lisa Williams.
Once you’ve had enough from the shopping crowd, head up the hill on Cockburn Street towards the Old Town. There are a number of really cool shops, bars and restaurants along this street, which are worth to check out. Once you reach the top you find yourself on the Royal Mile, the road between Edinburgh Castle on the top and the Palace of Holyroodhouse on the bottom of the hill.
Edinburgh Castle is well worth a visit – if only for the view – but my favourite place along the Royal Mile is Camera Obscura, a museum for optical illusions. It’s not your average tourist attraction, but something more special, and from the top of the tower you get a great view!
If you’d like to visit Edinburgh Castle, I highly recommend booking skip-the-line tickets in advance to save time.
You can also get skip-the-line access when booking this guided tour which includes a knowledgeable tour guide to tell you more about the history of the castle and the city.
Just across the road is the Scotch Whisky Experience, a whisky museum where you will learn everything you need to know about Scotch whisky, the different regions, how to taste it properly and so on.
Afterwards follow the crowds down the hill in the other direction towards Grassmarket. Get some more vintage shopping done at W. Armstrong & Sons, Godiva, Herman Brown or Carnivale, and stop for a pint or coffee at one of the many pubs and coffee shops. Maybe even the sun will poke out!
Unless you plan to spend hours in the castle and various museums, one day should be enough to explore the Old and New Town and you can explore other parts of Edinburgh in the evening and on the next day.
Where to eat & drink in Edinburgh’s Old & New Town
- Tower Restaurant, top notch restaurant on top of the National Museum of Scotland with great view over the castle
- The City Cafe, popular diner-style cafe just off the Royal Mile
- Hula Juice Bar, juices, smoothies and cakes on Grassmarket
- Palmyra Pizza, a great falafel place on Nicolson St
- Holy Cow, a vegan cafe in Edinburgh’s New Town
- Lovecrumbs, amazing cakes and coffee on West Port
In the evening, we were heading back to New Town for dinner at The Boozy Cow on Frederick Street, a hip burger and steak place – and they do great cocktails too.
For amazing drinks, make your way to Panda & Sons though, a speakeasy cocktail bar at the bottom of Queen Street. It looks like a barbershop on the outside, so don’t walk past it! I kid you not – the best cocktails I’ve ever had, especially the Bird Cage which you can see in the video!
Day 2: Edinburgh off the beaten track
The next day was a lot more relaxing – we needed that – and we decided to discover the streets of Leith. Many years ago, this area used to be quite rough and mainly workers from the shipyards used to move here with their families. Leith has seen quite some change recently though, with many students and artists moving here, and with them little shops and cafes sprouted like mushrooms.
In Leith there is really no shortage for you ti find things to do. I’d suggest coffeeshop hopping around and browsing through the little vintage shops. You could also spend a few hours at the Royal Yacht Britannia, learning about this impressive ocean liner, the Royal Family used to sail around the world.
I highly recommend booking your ticket for Royal Yacht Britannia in advance as it gives you skip-the-line access and saves you time of your precious Edinburgh trip!
After a few hours in the urban jungle of Leith, it is time to switch things up a little and see a greener side of Edinburgh. The city has a lot of parks and green spaces and on a sunny day, these will be busy with locals enjoying the sun rays tickling their noses. Here are some options for you:
The Royal Botanic Garden is located in Inverleith, roughly halfway between Leith and New Town. In the garden, you can find plants from all over the world, which are studies to learn more about biodiversity and conservation. This is also a great place to check out when it’s raining, as the glasshouses offer shelter and a welcome change in temperatures!
If the weather is good though, it is worth to climb some of Edinburgh’s many hills. The city was built on an extinct volcano which left behind several hills in and around the city. The castle is actually built on one of them!
Another one is Calton Hill, which makes a great little walk to get a view over Old & New Town. It’s easy 15-minute walk from The Balmoral Hotel to the top.
Arthur Seat is a slightly longer walk up the highest point of Edinburgh, but the views of the city and towards the sea are well worth the effort! Plan around 1.5h to climb Arthur Seat and come back down again.
After two days, I found myself on the bus back to Glasgow, feeling refreshed and inspired – exactly what a weekend in Edinburgh does to you!
Where to eat & drink in Leith
- Harmonium is a vegan gastro-pub in Leith which serves great vegan food, even meat-eaters will love.
- King’s Wark is a pub by the waterfront in Leith with typical Scottish cuisine. The building dates back to the 1400s.
- Teuchter’s Landing is a pub on the other side of the canal in Leith. On the menu are Scottish classics and seafood, but there is also a vegan menu available.
More things to do in Edinburgh
Tours & Museums
- Edinburgh Gin Distillery on Rutland St offers guided tours & tastings.
- Visit the museums, for example, the National Museum of Scotland, Scottish National Gallery or Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.
- Go on a Harry Potter-inspired walking tour.
- Take a hop on, hop off bus, or try the city tour with Rabbie’s.
More Food & Drink
- The Pantry is an awesome brunch spot in Stockbridge, one of Edinburgh’s coolest neighbourhoods.
- Civerinos is just off the Royal Mile and serves great pizza & pasta.
- Whistlebinkies is a cool pub and live music venue just off the Royal Mile.
- Half Way House is the smallest pub in Edinburgh Old Town with lots of local flair.
- Scottish Design Exchange in Leith for clothes, art and useful items made by local designers.
- The Red Door Gallery on Victoria Road for locally sourced art and decor.
Need help planning your Scotland trip? Book a Travel Consultation Session with me!
Getting to Edinburgh
Travel between Edinburgh and Glasgow is really easy as the two cities are only ~45 miles apart. The fast train takes 45 minutes and costs £12-13 return, and while the bus takes a little longer (75 minutes) it is even cheaper (from £1).
Where to stay in Edinburgh
I stayed at Hotel Indigo on York Place, which was the perfect spot to start our walking tours around the Old Town and Leith and get to the cool bars all over New Town. It’s a stylish 4-star hotel and all the staff was super friendly and helpful. It is certainly one of the best hotels I’ve ever stayed in Edinburgh!
You could easily fill weeks with things to do in Edinburgh, but if you’re pressed for time you can really see a lot of Edinburgh is just 2 days!
Have you ever been to Edinburgh?