Living in a city allows you to experience a destination in a completely different way to travellers only visiting for a short time. That much has always been clear to me and often when travelling to a new city I evaluate it based on how liveable it appears to me. Many moons ago, I spent a year living in Edinburgh and always felt that the Scottish capital was an extremely liveable place and one where you could potentially struggle to experience it in its full glory if only visiting for a short break. So when I found myself with 2 days in Edinburgh with Maggie, who had only previously there as a young child, I was determined to come up with an itinerary that allowed us to see the main tourist attractions as well as experience the city through the eyes of a one-time local.
One of the advantages of Edinburgh is that it’s a small, compact city meaning you don’t need to plan a stop by stop itinerary and can instead have the flexibility to create your own route and hop between places. So with that in mind, here are twenty things to do on your 2 days Edinburgh itinerary, combining the best of the tourist attractions and some favourite local activities.
2 days in Edinburgh itinerary: The tourist attractions
1. Edinburgh Castle
It would be negligent of me not to mention Edinburgh Castle, however, I’ll be totally honest with you – I’ve never actually been inside the castle despite living in Edinburgh for a year! This was primarily to do with me prioritising drinking at the pub rather than being cultural during my year here and many visitors I’ve spoken to leave extremely impressed after visiting the castle. I didn’t get a chance to visit during my two days in Edinburgh recently, however, I do suggest at least taking the time to see the castle from the Johnston Terrace to take in the impressive view from street level. If you do want the castle, it’s worth buying a ticket in advance so you can skip the line when you arrive. Click here to buy a ticket for Edinburgh castle today!
2. Free Walking Tour
You might have noticed us recommending free walking tours a lot in our articles however there’s a good reason for this – it’s simply one of the best ways to get a quick introduction to a city and see some of the main sites. City Explorers run a free tour every day at 11am and 1pm taking about 2 hours and this will give you a fantastic introduction to Edinburgh as well as covering some of the other things I recommend in this article!
If you can’t make the free walking tour, there are also a range of specialised walking tours in Edinburgh that can be worth doing, particularly some of the evening ghost tours that focus on Edinburgh’s dark history! Click here to see some of the walking tours on offer.
3. Holyrood Palace and Scottish Parliament
Holyrood Palace and the Scottish Parliament represent two sides of Scottish history. Holyrood Palace has been the official residence of the British Monarchy since the 16th Century and currently, Queen Elizabeth II spends one week of the year living there in the summer. The Scottish Parliament building has been opened since 2004 following the devolution of powers to Scotland in 1999 and represents the recent autonomy of the region. It’s undeniable that both buildings are an important part of Scotland’s history and are open to visitors who want to learn more during their 2 days in Edinburgh.
4. Calton Hill
Located just on the edge of the New Town, the short climb up to the top of Calton Hill offers spectacular views of Edinburgh as well as allowing you to see a number of historical monuments including the National Monument that might make you think you’re in Greece for a second before you realise how cold it is and the Nelson Monument.
5. Greyfriars Kirkyard
Greyfriars Kirkyard is a cemetery that has contains the final resting places of many prominent Scots however it’s recent popularity is primarily due to a dog named Bobby and Harry Potter. The story of Bobby, a dog who slept next to his master’s grave for thirteen years, is famous in Edinburgh and resulted in them erecting a statue of Bobby just outside the cemetery. In recent times, JK Rowling used a number of names of buried people as inspiration for characters in her Harry Potter novels so if you wander around and are a fan of the books, you’ll be sure to see some familiar names!
6. The Elephant House
One of the reasons that names from Greyfriars Kirkyard were used in Harry Potter was because JK Rowling spent a lot of time writing the early novels next door at The Elephant House Cafe. Whilst these days the cafe is very much cashing in on the fame that has been bestowed upon it, the food and drinks here are still good even if slightly overpriced and for Harry Potter fans (such as Maggie!) it is worth making the pilgrimage. Make sure to visit the bathroom (don’t recommend that every day!) and see some of the Harry Potter graffiti that has been scrawled across the walls.
7. Visit a museum
One of the best things about travelling in the UK is that so many museums are free to enter and Edinburgh is no different! The National Museum of Scotland, the National Gallery and Museum of Edinburgh are some of the major museums that are free to enter. It’s also worth exploring the smaller Writers Museum during your two days in Edinburgh which details the lives of three of Scotland’s most famous writers – Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson.
8. The Scotch Whisky Experience
The Scotch Whisky Experience is definitely designed for tourists however if you’re looking to learn more about the whisky making process and aren’t planning on visiting a distillery elsewhere in Scotland then it is a great place to visit. The tour lasts about an hour and depending on which option you take, you get to taste one or five whiskies from different regions as part of the tour. It might be touristy but it’s still a fun time!
9. Princes Street Gardens
The Princes Street Garden is a great stop to take a short break when walking between the Old and New Towns during your two days in Edinburgh and appreciate the magnificent views as well as the relative calmness of the gardens. Keep an eye out for the impressive Scott Monument – a huge gothic spiral in memory of Sir Walter Scott.
10. Shop at Victoria Street
Winding Victoria Street in the Old Town is arguably Edinburgh’s most famous street and for very good reason – it’s full of beautiful buildings, independent shops and some great places to eat. Many people also believe Victoria Street was the inspiration for Diagon Alley in Harry Potter, however, even though that has never been confirmed, it doesn’t stop many shops from taking advantage of that fact and selling Harry Potter merchandise. For the carnivores amongst you, visit Oink for a budget-friendly pulled pork sandwich!
2 days in Edinburgh itinerary: The local attractions
1. Climb Arthur’s Seat
So, truth be told, I could have easily included this in the tourist attractions section, however, depending on the time of day you visit Arthur’s Seat you are just as likely to find many locals at Arthur’s Seat as tourists! Located at the opposite end of the Royal Mile to Edinburgh Castle, Arthur’s Seat offers spectacular views of Edinburgh as well as giving you a bit of a work out in the process. The steep path to the summit takes about half an hour, however, there are also more leisurely winding paths around Arthur’s Seat. The views are stunning, however, be warned that it does get windy!
2. Saturday Market at Grassmarket
Every Saturday there is an open-air market at Grassmarket with a number of stalls selling street food, fresh produce and arts and crafts. This is a great place to visit, particularly in the warmer months as the area comes alive and there is often also live music. If it does get rainy, as is often the case in Edinburgh, then just pop into one of the many pubs at Grassmarket and enjoy a pint!
3. Enjoy a great cup of coffee
One of the things that have improved dramatically over the years in Edinburgh is the quality of the coffee. Nowhere is that more evident then Milkman Coffee, a small, somewhat hipster cafe located near Waverley Station which serves fantastic coffee and makes for a logical stop when exploring Edinburgh. Another local favourite is Press Coffee, located close to Arthur’s Seat which not only has delicious drinks and food but also an inviting open space that is perfect to have a lazy morning reading the newspaper.
4. Relax at the Meadows
The Meadows is the place to be if the sun is out in Edinburgh! The large park, located south of the Old Town is always brimming with activity in the summer, whether it be locals kicking around a football, walking their dog, reading a book or just chatting with friends. A great place for some downtime during your two days in Edinburgh!
5. Listen to live music at Sandy Bell’s
Sandy Bell’s is an Edinburgh institution and well known as one of the best places to listen to live traditional music in the Scottish capital. They have live music every night of the week plus additional sessions during the afternoons on weekends and throughout the Fringe in August. Combined with an impressive selection of whiskies and beers this is simply a great place for a night out!
6. Enjoy the international cuisine
Another thing that has improved significantly since I lived in Edinburgh is the quality of international cuisine on offer. And unless you having a hankering for haggis every night then there’s a fair chance you’ll want to eat something other than Scottish food! One of my favourite budget-friendly restaurants was a Thai restaurant called Ting Thai Caravan located not far from Greyfriars Kirkyard. It serves great Thai food at very affordable prices however it doesn’t take reservations so be prepared to wait for a table.
7. Watch a football game
Whilst Edinburgh’s two football teams aren’t particularly famous outside of Scotland, the local rivalry between Hearts (west of the city) and Hibs (east of the city) is immense and it’s definitely worth trying to get tickets to see a local football match during your two days in Edinburgh. Aside from derbies or when one of Celtic or Rangers are visiting, it’s usually quite easy to get tickets to a game and experience a proper local football match!
8. Explore Leith
The port of Leith used to be considered one of the seediest parts of Edinburgh, however, it has been transformed in recent decades to now be one of the most thriving parts of the city. Explore the neighbourhood’s restaurants, cafes, pubs and shops and see a part of Edinburgh that many people call home. You can also see the Royal Yacht Brittania here which was, as the name suggests, previously used by the Royal Family.
9. See a comedy show
In terms of comedy, Edinburgh is most famous for its Fringe festival that occurs every year in August. However, if you happen to be here during other months of the year, then you can still see some great comedy nearly every night of the week. A local favourite is The Stand Comedy Club and you can check out their website to see what they have on during your 2 days in Edinburgh.
10. Go to the pub
There’s arguably nothing more Scottish than going to the pub so if you want a truly local experience during your two days in Edinburgh then head to any local pub, order a pint or a dram of whisky and enjoy!
Where to stay during your two days in Edinburgh
Edinburgh is a compact city so no matter where you stay, you will be able to easily walk to all the attractions outlined in this article. Airbnb is a great option as there are a number of options such as this luxury loft apartment on the Royal Mile or this comfortable private room in the city centre. Click here to browse the best Airbnbs in Edinburgh.
If you’re travelling solo and are on a budget, then I highly recommend staying at Castle Rock Hostel. When I lived in Edinburgh, I ended up staying here for nearly four weeks while looking for an apartment and it continues to be one of the highest rated hostels in Edinburgh. Click here to see their latest prices
If you prefer to stay in a budget hotel then Cityroomz Edinburgh is a great option, located in the heart of the city. There are plenty of hotel rooms available in the city however they tend to book up fast in the summer months and it’s advisable to book well in advance. Click here to see their latest prices
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse the best deals on hotels in Edinburgh
Edinburgh is a brilliant and beautiful city to explore and there’s plenty of tourist attractions and local activities that are possible to enjoy during your two days in Edinburgh!
Before setting off on your Edinburgh trip make sure you have a valid travel insurance policy. We personally used World Nomads for our Ireland trip however it’s important to read the policy details to ensure it’s right for you. Click here to get a quote from World Nomads!
Are you planning a trip to Edinburgh? Have you been before? Add a comment below!