Edinburgh in one day

How to Visit Historic Edinburgh in One Day

Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland, is a beautiful city in the north of the United Kingdom. Visitors from all over the world visit Edinburgh to experience the uniqueness of the city and the energy of its festivals. This historic and compact city is perfect for a 24 hour visit, find out how to visit Edinburgh in one day here.

 

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When to Visit Edinburgh

Edinburgh is known for its cold and windy weather year-round. Despite that, blue skies are not that uncommon during the summer, which makes a great time to visit the city. At the same time, summer is when Edinburgh comes to life with many festivals taking place. 

The most popular of them is the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (also known as the Edinburgh Festival Fringe) which takes place in August every year and is the worlds largest arts festival. There are thousands of performances and shows of all types, from comedies to talk shows to circuses. This does mean that the city becomes extremely crowded, so if you want to experience the quieter side of Edinburgh, then you may want to consider visiting during one of the other seasons.

Spring provides a great spectacle of blossom trees in the parks, while autumn sees the city fill with students from all over the world as they start the new University year. Winter is the most tranquil time to visit, although note that it is usually very cold, and days are extremely short. Of course, there is the Christmas period (late November to early January), when the city comes to life once again, with the famous Edinburgh Christmas Market.

Where to Stay In Edinburgh

Edinburgh is a relatively small city and despite being built on a hill, it is easy to walk around. There is an extensive network of buses, along with a tram line to connect the different parts of the city. However, if you are visiting Edinburgh in 1 day, then you may not need to use public transport at all if you choose centrally located hotel accommodation.
 
Princes Street is the centre of the New Town and is where the main shopping street is located. This street and its parallel ones, Rose Street and George Street have a lot of hotels and restaurants for various budgets. This area is also convenient for getting in and out of the city as it is close to the train station, services the tram which connects the city centre to the airport, and is only a short walk from the main bus station. Close to both Princes Street and the station is the Market Street Hotel. Sleek and sexy, you’ll find fantastic design coupled with really good service, followed up by an excellent breakfast to set you up for your perfect day in Edinburgh.
 
On the other hand, the Old Town is where you will find the more historic (and touristy) side of the city, with just as many Edinburgh hotels and other accommodation options. The Royal Mile, Victoria Street and the Grassmarket are all great areas to spend a few nights. Stay at the superb luxury serviced apartments of the Old Town Chambers, just a few yards from The Royal Mile, in the heart of the old town. Stylish and atmospheric, these serviced apartments are well thought out and beautifully appointed.
 
For cheaper accommodation, but with great links to the airport and Edinburgh city centre, you should look around the Haymarket train station. The area has many restaurants, and it is only a short bus ride, or a long walk, from the main attractions of the city. The Haymarket Hub Hotel is a fifteen minute walk from Edinburgh Castle and the New Town, and is over the road from Haymarket Rail Station. The modern decor and facilities and helpful staff make this an ideal budget option. 
 
Leith may provide cheaper and modern options as well, but it will considerably take more time to reach the city centre, as it is in the outskirts of Edinburgh.

What To See & Do in One Day in Edinburgh

Is one day enough for Edinburgh? This is a compact city, and you will be surprised by the number of things you will be able to fit into a day. I recommend starting your day at one end of the Royal Mile and finishing off at the other end with a few stops and detours along the way. By no means will you be able to see everything Edinburgh has to offer, but this walk along the Royal Mile will give you a good overview of the city. 

If you have more than 24 hours in Edinburgh, you can explore the beautiful Princes Street gardens, visit the National Museum of Scotland, go for a stroll in Dean Village, visit the Edinburgh Zoo, or enjoy a spectacular Scottish sunset from Calton Hill

Morning in Edinburgh

Edinburgh Castle

Spend your morning in Edinburgh Castle, one of the best known symbols of the city. The castle is located on the Castle Rock, one of the oldest parts of Edinburgh, at the west side of the Royal Mile. The castle used to be a royal residence during the 12th to 15th centuries and later it became a military settlement and prison. Today, you can find a combination of museums, exhibitions and themed rooms, along with amazing views over Edinburgh. If you want to get an expert’s view into the history of the castle, you can join one of the castle tours that take place at various times during the day.

Edinburgh Castle - one of the top places to visit in Edinburgh in one day
Edinburgh Castle
Victoria Street & Grassmarket

After finishing your stroll in the castle, do a little detour from the Royal Mile and go to Victoria Street, with its cute little shops. Then continue, to Grassmarket, with its many outdoor restaurants. If it’s market day, then you will be able to find many local products to buy. From Grassmarket, you can also have an amazing view of the castle. 

Afternoon in Edinburgh

The Royal Mile

It is time to properly explore the Royal Mile, a succession of streets forming the main thoroughfare of the Old Town of the city. Although on your way to Victoria Street you have already passed some tourist attractions such as the excellent Scotch Whisky Experience (offers virtual tours to a whisky distillery along with some whisky tastings), the Camera Obscura and World of Illusions, and the neo-classical Scottish National Gallery, there are a few more ahead which you can visit. The Real Mary King’s Close  gives you the chance to find our about life in Edinburgh a few hundred years ago. 

Museum-wise you can find the Writer’s Museum just off the Lady’s Stairs, the People’s Story Museum and the Museum of Childhood further down the road. The last building you will encounter before the next place of interest is the Scottish Parliament, which has a unique design and offers free entry for anyone who wants to have a peek into the Scot’s parliament. This entertaining Royal Mile walking tour with a private local guide will help understand and interpret the history of this iconic part of Edinburgh.

1 day in Edinburgh what to do? The Royal Mile of course!
The view along The Royal Mile
Palace of Holyrood

At the other end of the Royal Mile, you can find Holyrood Palace. The Palace of Holyrood is the Queen’s official residence in Scotland. It dates back to the 16th century and since then it has accommodated many important figures, such as Mary, Queen of Scots. A visit to the palace will allow you to visit the Throne Room, marvel at the Great Gallery, walk in the ruins of Holyrood Abbey and even come close to some royal gifts. Next to the palace, you will find the Queen’s Gallery, which houses different rotating exhibitions

Holyrood Park and Arthur's Seat

If you still have energy and there is still daylight, you can finish your day at Holyrood Park and attempt to climb up to the top of Arthur’s Seat. Arthur’s Seat is the highest peak in Edinburgh at 251m. The hike is neither very difficult nor long, but it can get steep in places. Depending on when you visit, the actual top can be very crowded. Nevertheless, the whole hike offers amazing 360o views of Edinburgh from the nearby castle all the way to the port of Leith and the Pentland Hills.

Arthurs Seat one of the best things to do Edinburgh
Arthur's Seat overlooking Edinburgh city

Evening in Edinburgh

Considered to be one of the most haunted places in Scotland, if not the UK, I suggest an evening ghost tour of the Old Town and underground vaults. Find out about the fascinating history and secrets of of the city and see the dark side of Edinburgh’s history.

Where to Eat in Edinburgh

For breakfast, I suggest visiting Urban Angels, a few minutes away on foot from Princes Street, to try some of their healthy dishes. Note that during weekends it is extremely popular, and you may have to wait if you don’t visit early in the morning.
 
Anyone visiting Scotland should have a go and try haggis, a savoury mixture of sheep’s pluck (heart, liver and lungs) minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices and salt, and served with tatties (mashed potatoes) and neeps (mashed turnip). For vegetarians, there is a non-traditional version made primarily from beans and mushrooms. You can try either version at many pubs around the city.  I recommend visiting The Fiddlers Arms at the Grassmarket to try this most Scottish of dishes.
 
Across from The Fiddlers Arms, you will find Mary’s Milk Bar, an ice cream shop serving the most unique ice cream flavours (and some chocolates as well). During winter, their opening times vary, but if you visit during the summer,  stand in line after finishing your lunch to grab a scoop or two of this delicious dessert.
 
If Harry Potter is your thing, make sure to have a coffee at the Elephant House, the cafe where the boy wizard was created by writer JK Rowling. Just 100m from the Elephant House, is a statue depicting the Skye Terrier, Greyfriars Bobby. The little dog is famous for guarding his owners grave in the nearby Greyfriars Kirkyard for fourteen years.
 
For dinner, and as a more sophisticated dining option, head to Hemingway’s in Leith. There you should try their delicious small plates while enjoying the interesting interiors. If you have time before or after dinner, you could go for a short walk around the Water of Leith.
 

Five Top Tips for Spending One Day in Edinburgh

  1. Edinburgh is cold and windy, so make sure to dress warm and in layers even in summer – I may have already said that!
  2. Also, remember to pack a pair of comfy shoes or trainers, because the best way to explore this city full of hills is on foot – forget about the Edinburgh bus tour, you’ll see much more walking!
  3. If you are coming to Edinburgh from London, then usually the quickest (and sometimes cheapest) way to arrive in the city is by train. Of course, you can always choose the plane or the bus, but the trains are in general very comfortable and efficient.
  4. Having said that, if you have more time in Scotland, do head out of the city and explore the countryside. St. AndrewsSouth Queensferry and Perth are some of the best day trips from Edinburgh. 
  5. Last but not least, remember to enjoy your time in the city and try some whisky!

Elina is travel enthusiastic based in the UK and has travelled to over 20 countries around the world. Elina runs Empnefsys & Travel, a travel blog dedicated to inspiring people to travel. On her blog, you can find detailed itineraries for cities in Europe and other travel-related content. You can follow her adventures on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

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