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.
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.
Where to Stay In 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
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.
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.
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.
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
Five Top Tips for Spending One Day in Edinburgh
- Edinburgh is cold and windy, so make sure to dress warm and in layers even in summer – I may have already said that!
- 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!
- 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.
- Having said that, if you have more time in Scotland, do head out of the city and explore the countryside. St. Andrews, South Queensferry and Perth are some of the best day trips from Edinburgh.
- 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.