The Perfect 2 Days in Edinburgh Itinerary

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by Maggie Turansky

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Spending 2 days in Edinburgh is the ideal amount of time to get to see the top sites of the Scottish capital while still getting a great feel for the city.

As the second-most-visited city in the UK and the cultural and political capital of Scotland, Edinburgh has a lot to offer visitors and planning the perfect Edinburgh itinerary can seem like a daunting task, especially when you factor in all of the amazing things to see and do in the city.

Whether you’re planning a proper Scotland itinerary or are just looking for a weekend away in Edinburgh, there is no debate — you can’t miss this magical city.

How Many Days in Edinburgh?

While Edinburgh is a compact city with several sites located within easy reach of each other, you do still need to make sure that you give the city adequate time to be able to get to know it.

That’s why we say that 2 days in Edinburgh is the minimum amount of time you’d want to spend in the city to get a fulfilling experience.

The fact that the city centre is quite compact and a lot of sites are all within easy walking distance of each other makes it easier to have a really busy and jam-packed weekend in Edinburgh. However, if you really want to get the most out of you’re time in the Scottish capital, try to spend as much time as you can.

3 days in Edinburgh will give you time to explore the city more intimately, or even just slow down a bit and take in things a bit of a calmer pace.

4 days can allow you to go on any of a myriad of fantastic day trips from the city. Edinburgh can also make for an excellent base if you’re planning an itinerary through the south of Scotland, especially if you’d prefer to have the amenities and dynamics of a bustling city rather than a handful of pubs or cafes that lie in many smaller towns.

Edinburgh Skyline
The beautiful city of Edinburgh

Getting To & Around Edinburgh

Many people who are spending a short time in the city will arrive at Edinburgh airport. From the airport, there are several options to get into the city centre including hopping on the tram, taking a bus transfer from the airport or organising a taxi or private transfer in advance.

If you’re travelling to Edinburgh from other cities in the UK, it is possible to arrive by train or bus. The main train station is Edinburgh Waverley and the bus station is located nearby. You can view schedules here.

To get around Edinburgh, you walk to most sights in the city centre, however, there is also an extensive bus network that can be used to get to some attractions further away or if you need to give your legs a rest.

2-Day Edinburgh Itinerary

Day one sees you exploring a lot of the highlights of the Old Town and day two takes you through some of the city’s lush parks and through the bustling New Town.

Day 1 – Old Town Highlights

If you want to learn more about the history of the Royal Mile and Edinburgh’s Old Town, it’s worth taking a historical walking tour as the capital’s past is truly fascinating!

Royal Mile

There is no trip to Edinburgh that would be complete without strolling down one of the most iconic and bustling thoroughfares in the Scottish capital — The Royal Mile. Though packed with tourist-centric shops, buskers and lots of visitors, the Royal Mile is an unmissable stop in Edinburgh and packed with historic sites and an undeniable energy.

So named because it is a one Scots Mile long (which is 1.8 kilometres — about 200 metres longer than the English Mile that we use today) thoroughfare that connects Edinburgh Castle with the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Filled with shops and historic sites, walking along the Royal Mile is something that cannot be missed while you’re visiting Edinburgh.

Some sites to make sure you see on this thoroughfare include St Giles’ Cathedral, which is essentially the Vatican for the Church of Scotland, and the Real Mary King’s Close, a historic close (an old Scots term for an alleyway) located underneath the buildings of the Royal Mile where you can pre-book a guided tour.

St Giles Cathedral
St Giles Cathedral

Edinburgh Castle

While exploring the Royal Mile, walk in the direction of the Edinburgh Castle, as that is our next stop and one of the most popular things to do in Edinburgh! As one of the most iconic landmarks in the city, you both literally and figuratively cannot miss this beautiful and imposing historic structure while visiting Scotland’s capital.

Situated atop a hill known as Castle Rock, the site has been inhabited since the bronze age, though the current buildings there only date as far back as the 12th century.

An imposing fortification that is an integral part of Edinburgh’s skyline, you can tour this iconic building and get a great insight into the vast and complicated history of Scotland’s capital. You can book a guided tour here that will give you skip-the-line entrance.

Edinburgh Castle
You can’t miss Edinburgh Castle!

Princes Street Gardens

The lovely Princes Street Gardens make a great stop during your time in Edinburgh to take a short break after visiting the castle. Located at the base of Castle Rock, these lush gardens are a lovely place to visit during your two days in Edinburgh.

Take the time to 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.

Victoria Street

From the Princes Street Gardens, it’s only about a five-minute walk to another of Edinburgh’s most famous and beautiful thoroughfares.

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 or even offering a guided walking tour of Edinburgh’s Harry Potter ‘sites’.

For the carnivores amongst you, visit Oink for a budget-friendly pulled pork sandwich!

Winding Victoria Street
Winding Victoria Street


From Victoria Street, it isn’t too far of a walk at all to get to the cool Grassmarket area of the Old Town. And while this area is best to visit if you happen to be there on a Saturday, it’s worth exploring any day of the week as there are convivial pubs to duck into and some cute shops to browse.

Every Saturday there is an open-air market at Grassmarket with 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 or a dram of single malt whisky!

The famous Greyfriars Bobby Statue
The famous Greyfriars Bobby Statue

Greyfriars Kirkyard

From Grassmarket, head over to Greyfriars Kirkyard — a cemetery that is the final resting place of many prominent Scots. It is an incredibly popular tourist site to visit during any length of Edinburgh itinerary, however, its 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 some names from various gravestones 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!

If you are a Harry Potter fan, then make sure to pop into the Elephant House nearby for a coffee and a bite to eat. 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, it is worth making the pilgrimage.

Make sure to visit the toilets (don’t recommend that every day!) and see some of the Harry Potter graffiti that has been scrawled across the walls.

Elephant House - The "Birthplace" of Harry Potter
Elephant House – The “Birthplace” of Harry Potter

The Scotch Whisky Experience

A great way to round out your day of sightseeing before the evening activities ensue is by learning more about (and tasting) one of Scotland’s most famous exports — single malt whisky!

The Scotch Whisky Experience is 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! You can pre-book tickets here to ensure you don’t need to wait when arriving.

whiskies on display at The Scotch Whisky Experience
Many whiskies on display at The Scotch Whisky Experience

Edinburgh Ghost Tour

Finally, wind down your first day in Edinburgh by exploring and learning about the darker side of the city’s past on a ghost tour! There are several ghost tours to choose from that will take you to some spooky spots of the city and teach you about some more gruesome aspects of Edinburgh’s history.

If you’re looking for the perfect ghost tour in Edinburgh, this eerie tour led by a local guide will tell you some creepy stories and take you through some spooky spots.

If you’re looking for another option, this ghost tour also packs some dark spots into it and will take you through the chilling Blair Street Underground Vaults. It also includes a complimentary drink.

Ghost tours leave in the evening for obvious reasons and because of their spooky nature, they may not be the best option if you’re travelling with young children — especially those with active imaginations!

Day 2 – Arthur’s Seat, Scottish Parliament, the New Town & More!

Holyrood Park and Arthur’s Seat

Located at the opposite end of the Royal Mile to Edinburgh Castle, Arthur’s Seat (situated within Holyrood Park) offers spectacular views of Edinburgh as well as giving you a bit of a workout in the process — making it the perfect place to start your second day in the Scottish capital.

The steep path to the summit takes about half an hour, however, there are also more leisurely winding paths around Arthur’s Seat. From the top of the hill, you will get some of the best views in Edinburgh, however, be warned that it does get windy!

If the weather is fine and you want to spend a bit more time outdoors, then make sure to wander through the vast expanse that is Holyrood Park.

There is far more here than just Arthur’s Seat including Hunter’s Bog, the Salisbury Crags and the ruins of St Anthony’s Chapel. It really is the perfect place to get your heart rate up before exploring more of Edinburgh!

View from Arthur's Seat
View from Arthur’s Seat

Palace of Holyroodhouse and Scottish Parliament

Situated right next to Holyrood Park lies the Palace of Holyroodhouse and the ultra-modern Scottish Parliament — both of which make for an excellent second stop for the day!

Holyrood Palace and the Scottish Parliament represent two sides of Scottish history. The Palace of Holyroodhouse 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 time in Edinburgh.

You can pre-book your ticket here to visit the Palace of Holyroodhouse.

The Scottish Parliament
The Scottish Parliament

Dynamic Earth

If you’re looking for the perfect interactive museum to visit (especially if you’re travelling with children!), then you’re sure to love Dynamic Earth.

Located a stone’s throw away from Parliament and Holyrood Palace, this museum is a unique place to learn about our planet as it covers the Earth’s history from the Big Bang through to the Modern Day.

This interactive museum begins with recreating the Big Bang for you to learn about and then takes you through the rest of Earth’s incredible, vast history, giving you a dynamic and holistic view of everything that has happened in time.

Perfect for both young and old alike, Dynamic Earth is a wonderful place to visit in Edinburgh — especially if you want a break from historic monuments and picturesque views.

Calton Hill

If your walk up Arthur’s Seat wasn’t enough for you, then you’re sure to love the next stop on this Edinburgh itinerary — 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 several historical monuments.

These include the National Monument which might make you think you’re in Greece for a second before you realise how cold it is and the Nelson Monument.

View from Calton Hill
View from Calton Hill

Explore the New Town

After enjoying the views of the city from Calton Hill, it’s time to mosy down and explore Edinburgh’s bustling New Town.

The main thoroughfare of the New Town is the lively Princes Street which is jammed with cool shops, inviting cafes and great restaurants. This is a great place to grab a bite to eat, pick up some souvenirs, or people-watch from a bench while listening to some buskers.

The New Town may not have a lot of the same charms and traditional sites as the Old Town, but it is very much worth exploring to see the numerous sides of Edinburgh and to get a holistic view of the city.

If you want even more green space, then consider taking a stroll through the lush Queen Street Gardens, located to the north of Princes Street just off, you guessed it, Queen Street.

Visit one of Edinburgh’s Many Museums

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 which details the lives of three of Scotland’s most famous writers – Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson.

Another great place to visit, especially if you’re travelling with kids, is the Camera Obscura & World of Illusions which is packed with whimsical exhibits and boggling optical illusions that are sure to delight both young and old alike.

National Gallery of Scotland
National Gallery of Scotland

Listen to Live Music or Stand-up Comedy

And finally, to round out your 48 hours in Edinburgh enjoying the cultural and artistic scene that Edinburgh is so famous for.

Home to the world-renown Edinburgh Fringe Festival that takes place every August, Edinburgh is a cultural and artistic capital year-round and the creativity doesn’t leave when all of the performers do in September!

If you want a convivial pub scene with traditional music and great vibes, then make sure to spend an evening at Sandy Bell’s, which has live music on most nights. If you’re looking for more of a laugh rather than music, Edinburgh also has a killer comedy scene.

Obviously, countless comedy shows come out of the Fringe Festival, however, you can 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 trip to Edinburgh.

If you’re interested in learning more about the city’s comedic side, it can also be worth considering going on a stand-up comedy walking tour that will show you all of the hotspots and around town while you laugh yourself silly!

Or, if you would rather indulge in the incredible brews that are available throughout the city, consider booking a spot on a beer walking tour and tasting through the Old Town! If you’re not a drinker, another option is this half-day food tour.

Have 3 Days in Edinburgh?

If you have 3 days to spend, then you have a wealth of options open to you to explore. For instance, if you want to spend more time in the capital itself, then there are countless other places for you to explore. Leith is a great option for this.

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.

You can also walk to Dean Village which is a picturesque area just a short walk from the main tourist sites where you can enjoy some beautiful scenery.

The Old Leith Docks
The Old Leith Docks

If you want to see some sites outside of Edinburgh, then there are a wealth of options out there for you as well. For instance, if you’re keen to explore another Scottish metropolis, you can easily get to the city of Glasgow within an hour or so from Edinburgh. There are lots of things to in Glasgow over a day trip or even longer!

You also could opt to go on a day trip to the beautiful Loch Lomond from Edinburgh. This is great if you don’t have a lot of time to explore the beautiful Scottish countryside but don’t want to miss out. Alternatively, you could head north and do a day trip to the mystical Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle.

In fact, if you’re including the highland capital of Inverness as your next stop on your trip to Scotland, then you can’t miss all of the amazing sites to see along the Edinburgh to Inverness drive such as Fort William and Glencoe.

There is so much to see and do in Edinburgh that you can’t go wrong if you only have two days, or have three, four or even more.

Beautiful Loch Lomond
Beautiful Loch Lomond

Where to Stay 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.

Cityroomz Edinburgh — If you prefer to stay in a budget hotel then this 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.

Apex Waterloo Place Hotel — This luxury hotel is an excellent option for those whose budget is a bit higher. There are numerous chic and comfortable rooms available, great amenities, an on-site restaurant, and its central location will ensure that you can walk to most of Edinburgh’s best attractions.

Castle Rock Hostel — If you’re travelling solo and are on a budget in Edinburgh, then this hostel is a great choice. Centrally located in the Old Town next to Edinburgh Castle, they have a range of dorm beds and private rooms available and great common areas for meeting other travellers.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Edinburgh hotels!

Edinburgh is a brilliant and beautiful city to explore and there are plenty of tourist attractions and local activities that are possible to enjoy during your 2 days in Edinburgh!

Are you planning an Edinburgh itinerary? Have you visited the city before? Let us know in the comments!

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Maggie is a co-founder and writer for The World Was Here First. Originally from the US, she has lived in five different countries and has travelled to dozens more, both solo and with her partner, Michael. She particularly loves exploring Spain and spending time in the Caucasus and the Baltics. Read more about Maggie


  1. Thank you, Maggie and Michael, for what I have read so far in relation to my family’s upcoming trip to Scotland. Very helpful to gain an understanding of the number of sites that can be reasonably visited in a day in Edinburgh.
    Can you tell me whether there are parking stations that allow you to get close enough to the Old Town or is best to catch a bus into the centre?

  2. Thanks for the notes. Our group of four will be taking a summer bus tour starting in Edinburgh so we’ll arrive early for a two-day pre-visit.

  3. I’ve been to London and Scotland in 1996 and 2000. The second time we visited the house my grandfather was born in, on Skye. We are going in Sept 2019 and it will be my significant other’s first trip there. I’m sure some things have changed in 20 years, but I’m very excited to show around and discover new things myself.Thank you very much for all the tips!


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