Edinburgh, thankfully, isn’t particularly large and many of the main tourist hot spots are located within easy walking distance of one another. Just remember to bring comfortable footwear.
Where to stay
Generally speaking, accommodation in the Scottish capital does not come cheap, but that doesn’t mean an affordable roof cannot be found.
Short-term Airbnb lets go for as little as £20 a night, while there are a number of budget hotels and hostels within the city centre and along the Royal Mile that offer similar rates during the quieter periods.
If you are visiting Edinburgh on a budget, you should avoid the month of August, when the city is at its busiest and dearest due to the Edinburgh International Festival and Edinburgh Fringe.
On the flip-side, if money is no object then you might want to spend a night or two at the Caledonian, Edinburgh’s Waldorf Astoria, or the Balmoral. Both hotels have Edinburgh’s main thoroughfare, Princes Street on their doorstep and boast stunning views of Edinburgh Castle and the Old Town.
What to do
Edinburgh has plenty to offer for the first time visitor and the great thing is you won’t need a lot of time to see most of them. The city is compact with good transport links, meaning that most of its sights are easily doable on a three-day trip.
• Day 1
Day one would involve a trip to the city’s historic centre, the Old Town. Landmarks include the world-famous Edinburgh Castle, St Giles Cathedral and Holyrood Palace. Other places worth a visit include the Grassmarket, Victoria Street, the National Museum of Scotland, Greyfriars Kirkyard, the Canongate and John Knox House. The Old Town closes (alleyways sloping down either side of the Royal Mile ridge) and tall tenements lend Edinburgh a unique atmosphere that you won’t find anywhere else.
• Day 2
Day two takes us to the other side of the coin: Edinburgh’s New Town. As one of the world’s most intact Georgian housing developments with thousands of buildings dating from the Regency era, the New Town is well worth its UNESCO status. Many of Edinburgh’s greatest individuals lived and worked in the New Town, and a trip tread the footsteps of internationally-renowned figures and former New Town residents such as Robert Louis Stevenson, James Clerk Maxwell and David Hume is heavily-recommended.
Located at Inverleith, within half an hour’s walking distance of the New Town, is Edinburgh’s beautiful Royal Botanic Garden, a horticulturist’s paradise of exotic trees and plants from all around the world. Stockbridge, a short walk from the Garden’s west gate, will offer a little respite with its abundance of cafes and eateries.
From here, we recommend taking a 36 bus to Ocean Terminal in Leith to visit the Royal Yacht Britannia. Her Majesty’s floating palace is a sight to behold. A number 22 bus will take you back into the city centre within 35 minutes.
• Day 3
Having taken in many of the architectural sights around Edinburgh, it’s time to check out its amazing natural offerings. A good place to begin would be Calton Hill, regarded by some as the best vantage point in the city. Its monuments are well worth checking out too.
We also recommend a trip to Arthur’s Seat. This extinct volcano covers a vast portion of central Edinburgh and you’ve not truly seen the capital in all its glory until you’ve hiked to the top. Fret not, though, the ‘hike’ is more of a brisk walk, and it only takes about 30-40 minutes to reach the summit.
Lastly, why not take a wander along the Water of Leith through the stunning Dean Village? This quaint little corner of Edinburgh remains a bit of a local secret despite the fact it’s located just 15 minutes’ walk from Princes Street. A jaunt down here is like stepping back in time to another age.
Where to eat (with thanks to Scotsman Food & Drink Editor, Sean Murphy)
Assuming you wish to dine out each night of your trip, here are three restaurants covering three different Edinburgh districts for you to try out.
• Devil’s Advocate, Advocate’s Close, Royal Mile
Hidden away off the Royal Mile is the excellent Devil’s Advocate, which can be accessed by Advocate’s Close.
With a stripped back bar menu that’s filled with some delightfully innovative dishes, you can chow down until your heart’s content before trying out some of their excellent cocktails or grabbing yourself a dram or two from their extensive whisky list.
• The Scran and Scallie, Comely Bank Rd, Stockbridge
Talk about pedigree, the Scran and Scallie is the brainchild of two of the city’s most experienced chefs, Tom Kitchin and Dominic Jack, and is the perfect place to unwind on a cold winter’s day with delightful ‘scran’ – Scottish pub grub. The gastro pub is small but cosy and offers dishes like Smoked haddock, steak pie and home-made beef sausage & mash all cooked to a level usually found in fine dining establishments like The Kitchin and the Castle Terrace Restaurant.
• The Kings Wark, Shore, Leith
One of most popular pubs in Leith – as well as the venue for one of the city’s most popular cooked breakfasts – the Kings Wark has a long and illustrious past but nowadays its simply considered as a wonderful place to pull up a pew and enjoy some stunning pub grub. With a view that looks out onto the Shore waterline, it’s one of the cosiest places on this list – perfect for whiling away the afternoon or evening – with a small fire to heat you up and a menu that’s filled to the brim with winter warmers.
Where to drink
Edinburgh is famous for its pubs and vibrant night life and has plenty of variety.
The Royal Oak, Infirmary Street
A folk lover’s dream, the Royal Oak is a small establishment that offers a big-hearted welcome. Drinkers are encouraged to bring their own musical instruments and play a song, so get ready to clap your hands and stomp those feet. Especially if it’s a Friday. The Oak specialises in real ale and whisky.
Kay’s Bar, Jamaica Street, New Town
One of the smallest bars in Edinburgh but makes up for its diminutive size with a delightful personality. Kay’s Bar is off the beaten path but is generally packed to the rafters. A local bar in the true sense and usually void of tourists. A good place to mix with New Town natives.
Carriers Quarters, Leith
Situated on Bernard Street, a stone’s throw from the Shore, the Carriers is housed within a block of old buildings and oozes rustic charm. The pub is generally quite lively, though its back room with crackling hearth is great for sitting back and enjoying good conversation.