Edinburgh in One Day: Best Itinerary + Map, Tips & Guide

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How to Spend One Day in Edinburgh

The capital of Scotland, Edinburgh is a beautiful city where medieval and neoclassical history and architecture exist in harmony. Full of quirky corners and hidden squares just waiting to be discovered, you’ll be enchanted by the city’s wonderful hospitality and unique vibe.

We’ll show you Edinburgh’s fascinating tapestry of medieval lanes and grand avenues lined with historic buildings, elegant churches, and world-class museums, with our one-day Edinburgh itinerary.

In this Edinburgh one day travel guide, you’ll find a complete itinerary of all the most important must-see Edinburgh attractions, with an interactive map, organized to make the best use of your time. We also share recommendations for places to stay, where to eat local food, and tips about how to make the most of your perfect day in Edinburgh.

Edinburgh in one day

Are you planning your trip to Edinburgh last minute?

Be sure to book your accommodation and tours in Edinburgh ahead of time to ensure availability! Here are our top picks!

  • Top Hotels in Edinburgh:
  1. Luxury: Glasshouse Autograph Hotel (well located and very lux!)
  2. Mid-Range: Market Street Hotel (Old Town style, our fave!)
  3. Budget: Ibis Edinburgh Centre Royal Mile (simple, central & great value)
  4. Hostel: CoDE Pod – The CoURT (great choice of dorms & private rooms)
  • Top Activities & Tours in Edinburgh:
  1. For all the best things to see in Edinburgh, grab this guided walking tour 
  2. Get your Edinburgh Castle tour + tickets to see the city’s top historic site
  3. Ride the Edinburgh hop-on hop-off bus to see all the main attractions
  4. Explore the history with this Royal Mile walking tour with a local guide
  5. Book this underground evening ghost tour to meet Edinburgh’s spooks!

Things to See & Do in Edinburgh

Interactive Map

ROUTE: Edinburgh Castle – Victoria Street – Grassmarket – The Royal Mile – Scottish Parliament Building – Palace of Holyrood​ – Arthur’s Seat – Auld Reekie

How to use this map – Use your fingers (or computer mouse) to zoom in and out. Click or touch the icons to get more info about a place, and click the arrow in the box top left to open the index. To add to your own Google Maps account, click the star next to the title of the map.

Itinerary Notes

  • Is one day enough for Edinburgh? This is a compact city with most things you’ll want to see within easy walking distance. Follow our full day itinerary and route to see all the top places to visit in Edinburgh, and get a real flavor of the city’s history, culture, and cuisine. 
  • Or, if you prefer to have your day organized for you, check out our recommended Edinburgh guided walking tour and place yourself in the hands of a local expert who will show you the historical, cultural, and architectural heritage of the city. 
  • Is this your first visit to Scotland? Get all the information you need in our United Kingdom Travel Guide, including what to pack, the best time of year to go, getting there and practical tips to help you have the best trip!


Visit Edinburgh Castle

When people ask what to do in Edinburgh in the morning, there is only one answer! Spend your morning reveling in the history of the fortress that is Edinburgh Castle, one of the best-known historic sites of the city and an absolute must-visit in the capital city of Scotland.

The castle is located on the Castle Rock, one of the oldest parts of Edinburgh, on the west side of the Royal Mile. Built for King David I in 1103, Edinburgh Castle is one of the oldest fortified places in Europe and the most besieged place in Britain.

With a long and rich history as a royal residence, military garrison, fortress, and prison, the castle is alive with many exciting tales and is one of the best sights in Edinburgh. When you climb Castle Hill, you will walk in the footsteps of kings and queens, soldiers, prisoners, and as legend has it, the odd pirate or two!

Today, you can find a combination of museums, exhibitions, and themed rooms, along with superb views over Edinburgh. One of the top attractions is The Honours of Scotland which are on display in the Crown Room and are the oldest Crown jewels in Britain.

The jewels are made of gold, silver, and precious gem and include the stunning crown, sceptre, and sword of state, which are all objects of immense importance. The crown was made for James V, who first wore it at the coronation of Queen Mary of Guise in 1540.

The castle grounds in front of the Portcullis Gate are always busy, but to enter beyond this, you do need a ticket. To get an expert’s view into the history of the castle, join our highly recommended Edinburgh Castle guided tour including fast-track entry tickets.

stone castle on a hill with grass and trees

Stroll Victoria Street & Grassmarket

After finishing your castle visit, your next stop requires a little detour to Victoria Street, with its cute independent boutiques and shops. This colorful curving street is thought to have been J.K. Rowling’s inspiration for Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter books, where Harry and his wizarding friends go shopping for their Hogwarts supplies.

Then, continue to Grassmarket, with its lively atmosphere and outdoor restaurants. If it’s market day, then you will be able to find many local products to buy. From Grassmarket, you also have an amazing view of the castle. 

Then, continue to Grassmarket, with its lively atmosphere and outdoor restaurants. If it’s market day, then you will be able to find many local products to buy. From Grassmarket, you also have an amazing view of the castle. 

TOP TIP: As you wander, take the less obvious streets and alleys for a different Edinburgh perspective – many of the main thoroughfares are connected by steps or pedestrian-only winding alleys, where you’ll discover hidden squares and corners.

colourful painted terrace houses on a cobbled road


Experience The Royal Mile

It is time to properly explore The Royal Mile. This historic street is actually Edinburgh’s Old Town High Street. It became known as The Royal Mile as historically it was used as the processional route between Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace.

On your way to Victoria Street, you will have already passed some tourist attractions such as the excellent Scotch Whisky Experience, offering virtual tours to a whisky distillery along with some whisky tastings, the Camera Obscura and World of Illusions, and the neoclassical Scottish National Gallery. 

There are a few more ahead which you can visit including The Real Mary King’s Close, which gives you the chance to learn about life in Edinburgh a few hundred years ago. 

Make sure to stop and see the Heart of Midlothian mosaic set in the pavement outside St Giles Cathedral, the High Kirk of Edinburgh. The heart marks the spot where Edinburgh’s Old Tolbooth stood before being demolished in 1817. The medieval building served a variety of purposes such as housing the council and early meetings of the Parliament of Scotland and the Court of Session.

The Tolbooth was also the city’s main jail where physical punishment and torture were known to be commonplace. Locals will often spit upon the heart as a sign of good luck, originally believed to be done as a sign of disdain for the executions that took place within the Old Tolbooth.

OStatue of David I on the West Door of St. Giles High Kirk, Edinburgh

If you like museums, you can find the Writer’s Museum, which celebrates the life of Robert Louis Stevenson, just off the Lady’s Stairs, the People’s Story Museum, and the Museum of Childhood further down the road. 

This entertaining Royal Mile walking tour with a private local guide will help understand and interpret the history of this iconic part of Edinburgh. If you’re on a budget, grab this audio guide Royal Mile tour on your smartphone.

TOP TIP: Once the High Street becomes Canongate, take a right onto Coopers Close just after the Museum of Edinburgh to find Bakehouse Close and the famous archway dating back to 1570, which is featured in Outlander.

wide street lined with cobbled and elegant buildings

Scottish Parliament Building

The Scottish Parliament Building, situated at Holyrood within central Edinburgh’s UNESCO World Heritage Site, was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II and became the home of the Scottish Parliament in 2004.

Controversy surrounded the building from its inception, with criticism directed at its location, design, and the handling of its construction. Originally scheduled to open in 2001, it was delayed by three years and incurred costs far exceeding initial estimates.

A public inquiry was conducted, highlighting mismanagement and cost overruns. Despite these challenges, the building received praise from architectural circles for its attempt to reflect Scotland’s landscape, culture, and people. It won several awards, including the prestigious Stirling Prize in 2005, and has been lauded as a significant achievement in British architecture.

Constructed from a mixture of steel, oak, and granite in a striking contemporary design, this is a real Marmite building, with people either loving or hating the imposing structure.

There is free entry to visit the Scottish Parliament Building and take a guided or self-guided tour. You can also watch parliamentary business taking place, and visit the exhibition, café and gift shop.

modern creamy stone building with large rattan style overhand

Palace of Holyrood​

At the bottom end of the Royal Mile, you can find Holyrood Palace. The Palace of Holyroodhouse is the King’s official residence in Scotland. The royal palace dates back to the 16th century and since then it has accommodated many important figures in its state apartments, 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.

Scottish royal palace surrounded by green grass and a moat

Holyrood Park & 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, a long extinct volcano and the highest peak in Edinburgh at 251 meters.

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 panoramic views of Scotland’s capital city, from the nearby castle all the way to the port of Leith and the Pentland Hills.

view over a city from a grassy green hill


Edinburgh is also known as Auld Reekie, meaning Old Smokey. The name emanated from the stench of badly managed sewage in the Middle Ages and has stuck!

Down-to-earth and unpretentious, much like the Scots themselves, Auld Reekie comes alive at night, with busy pubs, live music, vibrant restaurants, and late-night drinking clubs, full of would-be comedians and storytellers.

With legendary hospitality, you’ll be welcomed into the pubs and clubs of the city with open arms, whether you prefer a bawdy comedy club or a tiny, cozy nook.

Go Ghost Hunting

Considered to be one of the most haunted places in Scotland, if not the UK, Edinburgh’s history is a tapestry woven with both beauty and horror. The Old Town’s ancient winding streets serve as the stage for chilling tales and eerie tours.

There are plenty of these tours on offer but we think the best is this Edinburgh underground vaults evening ghost tour, probably because it comes with whisky!

arched and covered stone alleyway at night

Visit a Comedy Club

Home of the Fringe Festival, Edinburgh is no stranger to comedy. Stand-up takes place all year round in the city, and visiting a comedy club is one of the best ways to end your 24 hours in Edinburgh. 

TOP TIP: Our top picks are The Stand Comedy Club for up-and-coming talent and great nachos and Monkey Barrel Comedy for Edinburgh’s typical alternative approach to comedy and a fab cocktail list!

painting on a wall of a boy wearing a cowboy hat and holding a gun

Where to Eat in Edinburgh

Urban Angel

For breakfast or brunch, head to Urban Angel, a café and bistro just a few minutes away on foot from Princes Street, to try some of their healthy dishes made with locally sourced and free-range ingredients.

During weekends it can be busy, but their Eggs Benedict is worth the wait.

The Fiddlers Arms

Anyone visiting Scotland for the first time should try haggis, a savory 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. The Fiddlers Arms at the Grassmarket is one of the best places to try this most Scottish of dishes. 

TOP TIP: Across from The Fiddlers Arms is Mary’s Milk Bar, an ice cream shop serving the most unique ice cream flavors and chocolates. 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.

The Elephant House

If Harry Potter is your thing, make sure to have a coffee at the Elephant House, the café where the boy wizard was created by writer J.K. Rowling, and the first chapters of the Harry Potter series of books were written.

Just 100m from the Elephant House, is a statue depicting the Skye Terrier, Greyfriars Bobby. The little dog is famous for guarding his owner’s grave in the nearby Greyfriars Kirkyard for fourteen years.

After a fire in 2021, The Elephant House is temporarily closed. You can still take photos of the outside though! The owners say they are expecting to open again by the summer of 2024, but check before you visit.


For dinner, and a more upscale dining option, head to Hemingway’s in Leith. There you should try their delicious small plates, perfect for sharing, while enjoying the quirky interiors and awesome cocktail offerings.

If you have time before or after dinner, you could go for a short walk along the Water of Leith, the main river which flows through Edinburgh to the port of Leith, from where it joins the sea via the Firth of Forth. See if you can spot the Royal Yacht Britannia, which is berthed here.

Plate of haggis, tatties and neeps

Other UK Travel Ideas

Top Five Edinburgh Tips

  1. Edinburgh is cold and windy, so make sure to dress warm and in layers even in summer – I may have already said that!
  1. Also, it’s a good idea 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!
  1. If you are coming to Edinburgh from London as part of a longer trip, 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, although probably not the best option if you only have a day in Scotland – you’d spend all your time traveling!
  1. Avoid the incredibly naff souvenir shops on the Royal Mile, where tartan tat reigns supreme. Items are overpriced and of dubious quality. Give them a miss and do your Edinburgh souvenir shopping elsewhere. 
  1. Last but not least, remember to enjoy your time in the city and try some whisky on this excellent whisky history and tasting tour.
bottles of whisky on a shelf

More Than One Day in Edinburgh?

If you have just another half a day in Edinburgh, you could also explore these attractions;

Princes Street Gardens

Take a stroll in beautiful Princes Street Gardens, between the Old and New Towns and in the very center of Edinburgh’s World Heritage Site before visiting the Scott Monument, a much-photographed Victorian Gothic spire, built to commemorate Scottish author Sir Walter Scott.

green and grassy garden next to a river with a bridge and church in the distance

National Museum of Scotland

Visit the National Museum of Scotland and explore Scottish history and culture. As well as the national collections of Scottish archaeological finds and medieval objects, the museum contains artifacts from around the world, encompassing geology, archaeology, natural history, science, technology, art, and world cultures. 

domed inside of a museum with suspended walkways over three floors

Dean Village

Go for a stroll in Dean Village on the Water of Leith. With historic buildings, art galleries, and an olde worlde ambiance, it’s easy to while away a few hours here.

historic red brick buildings next to a river

Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

The Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh is a peaceful haven where you can escape the bustle of the city. Founded in 1670 by two doctors studying medicinal plants, the gardens were moved to their current site in 1820 and cover 70 acres just north of the city center.

The gardens have over 10,000 species of plants and trees, divided into sections of different vegetation. There’s a woodland garden with Giant Redwoods, the Chinese gardens, a rock garden, and most impressive of all, the original Victorian temperate palm house, which was built in 1858 and is one of the tallest traditional palm houses ever built.

inside a Victorian glass house with large ferns and tropical plants

Calton Hill

Calton Hill, known in the 18th century as ‘the Athens of the North’, is famous for its collection of historic monuments, which form some of the most important landmarks of the city.

One of the most striking is the National Monument, inspired by the Parthenon in Athens. Intended to commemorate the Scottish servicemen who died in the Napoleonic Wars, it was never completed leaving just the twelve columns you see today. 

Also look out for the Nelson Monument, shaped like an up-turned telescope. Completed in 1816 the monument commemorates the death of Admiral Lord Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. 

With fantastic views across the entire city and surrounding countryside, it is also one of Edinburgh’s best spots to watch the sun go down.

Calton Hill Edinburgh

Loch Ness, Glencoe and the Highlands Small Group Day Tour

If you take one day trip from Edinburgh, go north on this highly rated and well organized day trip from Edinburgh.

Explore some of the most famous attractions of the Scottish Highlands, including Glen Coe, Loch Ness, and the stunning Cairngorms National Park.

With a professional guide to offer insights, an organized tour is the perfect opportunity to see more of Scotland in less time!

small stream in green valley with small white cottage

Edinburgh Practicalities

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 months, which makes it a great time to visit Edinburgh’s attractions. At the same time, summer is when the Scottish capital comes to life with many festivals taking place. 

The most popular of them is the Edinburgh Fringe Festival which takes place in August every year and is the world’s 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 should 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.  


Autumn brings wonderful colours to Scotland and some summer heat remains into early October. The city will be quieter as crowds thin out, making hotels and attractions better value for money.


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, followed by Hogmanay, Edinburgh’s New Year celebrations.

RELATED POST: 14 Stunning Places for Autumn Breaks in the UK

edinburgh city covered in snow

Getting to Edinburgh

Edinburgh Airport is only 7 miles from the city and has a couple of different options for your transfer.

You can catch the tram from the station located right outside the terminal. There is a tram every 7 minutes between 7am to 7pm and every 15 minutes outside of these hours. The journey time is about 30 minutes to get to St Andrew’s Square. Buy your tickets before getting on the tram at the vending machines at the airport.

There is also a bus which leaves the airport every 10 minutes and also takes 30 minutes to get to the city center. You will find the bus stop for the Airlink100 bus right outside the terminal. You can purchase tickets on board, using the exact amount or a contactless debit card, or you can purchase beforehand here.

For a great way to start your Edinburgh trip book a private transfer from the airport with Intui directly to your accommodation in the city center – it’s more cost-effective than you think! Intui works with a large range of local operators to bring the best options and prices for your transfer.

Are you visiting Edinburgh as part of a longer trip? A Scottish road trip is the best way see this gorgeous country, and our guide to road tripping in Scotland has all you need, including maps, routes, highlights and tips, to help you plan the perfect trip.

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 center 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 services the tram which connects the city centre to the airport and is only a short walk from the main bus station.

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. 

Luxury: Glasshouse Autograph HotelBooking.com | Agoda

Located at the foot of Calton Hill in a fabulous modern building with a historic facade, the Glasshouse is a real treat. With full-height windows in all the rooms, the views over Edinburgh are spectacular. Add a delicious local breakfast and a rooftop garden, and this hotel makes a great place for a special visit or celebration.

Mid-Range: Market Street HotelBooking.com | Agoda

Superbly located in Edinburgh’s Old Town, the Market Street Hotel is one of our favorite places to stay for a short visit. The rooms are simple but stylish, and many local crafts have been used in the decor throughout the hotel. Make sure to enjoy a glass of something fizzy in the rooftop champagne bar!

Budget: Ibis Edinburgh Centre Royal Mile Booking.com | Agoda

Another well-located hotel, the Ibis holds no surprises. Comfortable, functional, and clean, you’re in a perfect place to see all the top attractions, many of which are literally on the doorstep.

Hostel: CoDE Pod – The CoURTBooking.com | Agoda

One of Edinburgh’s top hostels, CoDE Pod hostel offers simple but clean dormitories and private rooms making it a great option for those spending a night or two in Edinburgh on a budget.

Make sure you have travel insurance you can trust when visiting Edinburgh. We recommend True Traveller for their 5-star TrustPilot reviews, variety of cover options, best activities cover as standard, great prices, and excellent service.

Written for The Gap Decaders by Elina at Empnefsys and Travel.

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