How to Spend 3 Days in Edinburgh: An Itinerary

Planning a trip to Scotland? Here’s an easy 3-day Edinburgh itinerary for first-time visitors to help you sort out your trip.

I’ve been trying to get Elissa to write about her post-Korea trip for a while now. She went to Europe for a few weeks to meet up with her sister, Jen, who was about to study abroad in Glasgow.

She totally went above and beyond and sent me a TON of information on Scotland alone. I thought I’d split it up into a few different guides, so here’s the first: an Edinburgh Itinerary for 3 days.

Why Edinburgh?

Edinburgh is Scotland’s capital city and a great base for anyone traveling through the country. It’s a beautiful area along the sea with the perfect rocky landscape for a backdrop.

The city itself is historically important to Scotland, and it’s also been home to some very prolific writers over the years. You’ve got Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson, Muriel Spark, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle — all from Edinburgh!

Of course, the most well-known author at the moment is a lovely blonde woman whose magical tale of a teenaged boy and his two best friends helped shape our current generation… But more on that later.

Please note there are a few affiliate links in this post, and they’re marked with an * 

The Perfect 2-Day Edinburgh Itinerary

Since our hostel was along the Royal Mile (the main street that connects Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse), it was extremely easy to walk everywhere.

P.S. Edinburgh is pronounced Ed-in-bruh or Ed-in-buh-ruh. I only say this because everyone will look at you funny if you pronounce it Eden-burgh!

Once you’ve dropped off your things at your accommodation, you can easily fit in the following for day 1.

Day 1

Interior of the National Museum of Scotland

National Museum of Scotland, Photo by Filip Pižl

Visit the National Museum of Scotland

This museum has a little bit of everything, but definitely, check out the exhibits on Scottish history and culture.

  • Hours:
    • Daily: 10:00 am – 5:00 pm
    • Christmas Day: Closed
    • Boxing + New Year’s: 12:00 pm – 5:00 pm
  • Tickets: Free! (donations welcome)
  • Address: Chambers Street, Edinburgh, UK EH1 1JF
  • Tour Options: For a guided tour of the museum, check out the prices + times for this tour

Hang out at the Elephant House

The Elephant House is where JK Rowling wrote Harry Potter + the Sorcerer’s Stone. You know, only a casual, little book that shaped the lives of children and families everywhere…

Its views of Edinburgh Castle even served as inspiration for Hogwarts! Since it’s a cafe and restaurant, you can also plan to grab something to eat or take a coffee/tea break here.

Of course, this isn’t the only place for HP fans to visit in Edinburgh…

Visit many of the places important to JK Rowling while she wrote Harry Potter.

If you’re a Harry Potter fan, there are a ton of book-related things to see.

The easiest way to see most of them is to go on the Harry Potter Tour. It’s about 75 – 90 minutes and runs once a day in the offseason and twice a day in the summer. The best is that it’s totally free! You’ll start at Greyfriars Bobby’s Bar (across the road from the statue of Greyfriar’s Bobby) and end near Victoria Terrace. Check their website for times and more itinerary details.

We missed the start of their tour on our first day, so we did our own makeshift one later! Here are some of the places to visit:

  • Edinburgh City Chambers
    • Great if you want to see JK Rowling’s handprints
    • Address: Council Headquarters, 253 High St, Edinburgh, UK EH1 1YJ
  • Balmoral Hotel
    • This is where JK Rowling finished Harry Potter.
    • Address: 1 Princes Street, Edinburgh, UK EH2 2EQ
  • Greyfriars Churchyard
    • Tom Riddle’s Grave
    • Address: Greyfriars Kirk, 1 Greyfriars Place, Edinburgh, UK EH1 2QQ

Another tour option is this 2-hour walking tour with games and quizzes.

Day 2

Visit St. Giles’ Cathedral.

This is a pretty cathedral with an interesting history. You can pop into it while walking along the Royal Mile.

  • Hours:
    • Summer: (April – October)
      • Monday – Friday: 9:00 pm – 7:00 pm
      • Saturday: 9:00 pm – 5:00 pm
      • Sunday: 1:00 pm – 5:00 pm
    • Winter: (November – March)
      • Monday – Saturday: 9:00 pm – 5:00 pm
      • Sunday: 1:00 pm – 5:00 pm
    • Address: High St, Edinburgh, UK EH1 1RE
edinburgh castle

Edinburgh Castle via Pixabay

Wander around Edinburgh Castle

This castle has a long and fascinating history, and it has great views of Edinburgh. 

  • Hours: 9:30am – 5:00 pm (winter)/6:00 pm (summer)
  • Adult Tickets: Note that you must buy your tickets in advance!
    • On-site: £18.50 (~$27)
    • In advance: £17.00 (~$24)
  • Address: Castlehill, Edinburgh, UK EH1 2NG
  • Tour Option: If you’d like a tour to skip the line, check out the prices + times for this tour.*

Enjoy a Scotch Whisky Experience

I didn’t become a whisky (Scotland spells whiskey without the e) drinker until after I left Scotland. It’s now my drink of choice, so I need to make it back here!

If you love whisky or want to learn more about it, then definitely check this place out. It has an amazing selection and gives a good overview of Scotch (or Scottish whisky), especially if you don’t have time to visit individual distilleries.

  • Hours: 10:00 am – 7:00 pm (These are the whisky shop hours, the guided experience times vary depending on the one you choose.)
  • Price: for adults, it ranges from £15.50 – £73
  • Address: 354 Castlehill, The Royal Mile, Edinburgh, UK EH1 2NE

Go on a Real Mary King’s Close Tour

A friend of Jen’s recommended Real Mary King’s Close, and it didn’t disappoint! This immersive tour is a great way to learn more about the daily lives of the people of Edinburgh during the 17th century.

Day 3

Photo of Dean's Village by the river in Edinburgh, Scotland

Dean’s Village, Photo from Jen

Wander around Dean Village

This is my favorite part of Edinburgh! There isn’t much to do here besides wander around the streets and walk along the Water of Leith (Edinburgh’s largest river), but it’s worth it! It looks straight out of a fairytale.

  • Address: Edinburgh, UK EH4 3AY
carlton hill and views of Edinburgh, Scotland

Carlton Hill, Photo by Elissa

Get a beautiful view of the city from Calton Hill

This is a hilly area overlooking Edinburgh, with great city views. It’s gorgeous!

  • Address: 32 Greenside Road, Edinburgh, Edinburgh & The Lothians, UK EH1 3AJ

Other Things to Do in Edinburgh

Here are a few things we just didn’t get a chance to see or Jen saw later while studying in Scotland. If you’re super efficient, you could fit them into one of the three days or add a 4th day to your itinerary and visit then.

Visit the National Galleries of Scotland

There are three different art museums with a great collection of Scottish and international art. Admission is free with the exception of some exhibitions.

  • Scottish National Gallery
    • Hours: Open daily, 10 am – 5 pm, Thursdays until 7 pm
    • Address: The Mound, Edinburgh, UK EH2 2EL
  • Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art
    • Hours: Open daily, 10am – 5pm
    • Address: 75 Belford Road, Edinburgh, UK EH4 3DR
  • Scottish National Portrait Gallery
    • Hours: Open daily, 10am – 5pm
    • Address: 1 Queen Street, Edinburgh, UK EH2 1JD

Holyrood Park, Photo by Miguel Parente

Hike Arthur’s Seat in Holyrood Park

We didn’t make it here because of time and rain, but Jen went later in her semester and loved it! It also poured when she hiked it so it’s definitely doable in the rain, you’ll just get drenched…but it’s Scotland so it’s bound to happen.

  • Hours:
    • Arthur’s Seat open 24/7
    • Holyrood Lodge Visitor Information:  Monday – Sunday: 9.30am to 3:00 pm
  • Address: Queen’s Drive, Edinburgh, UK EH8 8HG

Visit the Palace of Holyroodhouse

When the queen is in town, this is where she stays! The current palace has been around since the 17th century, and there’s even a lovely cafe if you’d like some afternoon tea.

Go to Fudge Kitchen for the best fudge possibly ever.

This place has amazing fudge!!! It’s on the Royal Mile, and I still think about it 1 ½ years later…

  • Hours:
    • Monday – Saturday: 10am – 5:30pm
    • Sunday: 11am – 5:30pm
  • Address: 30 High Street, Royal Mile, Edinburgh, UK EH1 1TB

How to Get to Edinburgh

We were coming from Inverness, so we actually took the Megabus! It’s about a 3 1/2 – 5-hour bus ride depending on which of the times you pick. If you’re coming from Glasgow, it’s only about an hour journey. The bus will drop you off at the Edinburgh Bus Station.

If you’re flying into Edinburgh from abroad, you can use the Edinburgh Airport. Check here for transfers into the main part of the city or your accommodation.

Where to Stay in Edinburgh

We stayed in a 10-bed female dorm at the Royal Mile Backpackers, and it was lovely! The people who worked there were extremely friendly and helpful, and the room we stayed in was spacious enough that it didn’t feel like there were eight other people in the room. To save money, we bought some food from the local market to eat for breakfast and dinner!

Have you been to Edinburgh yet? I was a huge Harry Potter fan as a kid, so this city has been on my list for well over a decade now. Let us know if we missed anything below, and a big thanks to Elissa for these guides!

For more Edinburgh Inspiration, check these out:

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