I write this post as I sit in a coffee shop overlooking a bustling medieval city street shadowed by the Edinburgh Castle. In an environment like this, it’s hard not to fall in love with this city and it takes everything within me not to shamelessly convince you pick up your life and move here. While I understand that not everyone can come live in the “best wee city in the world” I do encourage you to carve out at least two days of your trip to the U.K. to take in it’s charms. In this post I’ve outlined how to make the most of that time and see all of the “not to miss” places in town.
What Should I See?
1. Edinburgh Castle
Yes, it’s worth the hype. We have visited the castle countless times and always enjoy the visit. You can see the main parts of the castle, minus the museums, in 4-6 hours. This is something not to miss on your visit to Edinburgh. Entrance fee is £16.
2. Holyrood Park
Holyrood Park is around 600 acres in the middle of the city that was set aside by the royal family. It includes Arthur’s Seat (an extinct volcano), Salisbury Crags, and the ruins of Saint Anthony’s Chapel (built around the 1300s or earlier). A beautiful escape from the bustle of the city. Come for great hiking and stunning views. Entrance is free.
3. Palace of Holyroodhouse and Holyrood Abbey
Located at the end of the Royal Mile and directly next to Holyrood Park, this is the royal residence in Scotland. Give yourself around 2-3 hours for the tour. The entrance fee is £11.60 and includes an audio guide. I also suggest a visit to the Cafe at the Palace for tea if you have time.
4. Calton Hill
Ask any local and they’ll tell you that the best way to see Edinburgh is to get up high above the city. Doing this will give you stunning views of the medieval old town. While there are many places to do this, Calton Hill offers some of the best and most iconic views down Princes street and to the castle. You can also take a look at the many historic sites on the hill while enjoying the views. Entrance is free.
5. St. Giles’ Cathedral and the Royal Mile
It is very important that at some point you take a stroll down the royal mile. This street hasn’t changed much in many hundreds of years and you can feel the history all around you. You will be serenaded by pipe music as you walk and there are plenty of tourist shops to find your souvenirs. Make sure you also stop at St. Giles’ Cathedral. Entrance is free.
6. Princes Street Gardens and the Scott Monument
Yet another park in the middle of the city. The locals love taking a load off and enjoying the views from this park. On a sunny day, the park will be full of people soaking up the sunshine. Be sure to stop by the Scott Monument (the largest monument to an author in the world). You can climb it for £4.00 or simply view it from the ground. Entrance to the park is free.
7. Elephant House
I know its touristy, but it’s also cool! This is where J.K. Rowling wrote the first few Harry Potter books. Despite what London might like you to believe, Edinburgh is the actual home of Harry Potter. The books were written here and Rowling still lives here. Brave the crowds and enjoy a lovely coffee while looking out the back windows at the castle and graveyard where many character names came from. Also, be sure to take a look at the bathrooms. Entrance is the price of a coffee or tea.
*Prices are as of January 2016
3:30 Arrive and check into accommodation (click here for suggestions)
5:00 Afternoon tea reservations at Mimi’s Bakehouse (click here for info)
8:30 Elephant House for coffee and breakfast
Be sure to rub Bobby’s nose for luck as you walk up to Elephant House!
If you have extra time, head into Greyfriars Kirk to see Bobby’s grave and to look for the headstones featuring names from Harry Potter (including Tom Riddle!)
9:30 Tour Edinburgh Castle
1:00 Leave after 1:00 gun
1:30 Lunch at Pie Maker (see my restaurant guide here)
2:00 Tour St Giles Cathedral, and the Royal Mile
3:30 Go to Mary’s Milk Bar for a hot chocolate float! (click here for info)
4:00 Stroll through Princes Street Gardens and stop at the Scott Monument
4:45 Tour Calton Hill
6:00 Dinner (see my restaurant guide here)
9:00 Pub hop
8:00 Breakfast at a Costa or another café (see my restaurant guide here)
9:30 Tour the Palace of Holyrood House
12:00 Eat at Oink (see my restaurant guide here)
12:30 Hike Holyrood Park including Arthur’s Seat and Salisbury Crags
6:00 Dinner (see my restaurant guide here)
9:00 Pub hop, or enjoy an evening in an prepare for tomorrow’s departure