Edinburgh in one day

How to Visit Historic Edinburgh in One Day

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Overview

The capital of Scotland, Edinburgh is a beautiful city, where medieval and neoclassical 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, perfect for a 24 hour visit with our one day Edinburgh itinerary.

When

   

    

 
 
  

Travel

Edinburgh airport is located 8 miles from the city centre and has a large range of European routes, some direct flights from the eastern seaboard of the US and excellent connections with Heathrow and Gatwick.

You have several options to get into Edinburgh city centre from the airport;

  • Transfer – the quickest and most convenient option, you can book in advance with Intui Travel.
  • Taxi – grab a metered cab, which will cost you around £20 and take about 25 minutes.
  • Bus – the Airlink 100 Express Bus departs every 20 minutes and takes 30 minutes to arrive at Princes Street (west), a five minute walk from our top recommended Edinburgh hotels. Tickets cost £4.50.
  • Tram –  the Edinburgh tram will take you directly from the airport to Princes Street in 35 minutes. Trams leave every 7 minutes and tickets cost £6.

Stay

  
 

  

 

   

   Haymarket Hub Hotel       

See & Do

  Follow our route to see all the top places to visit in Edinburgh in one day, and get a real flavour of the city’s history, culture and cuisine. 

Morning

Visit Edinburgh Castle

 

    

 

What to see in Edinburgh in one day? Edinburgh castle is a must.
Edinburgh Castle | Photo by rabbit75_cav

Stroll Victoria Street & Grassmarket

After finishing your castle visit, do a little detour from the Royal Mile and go to Victoria Street, with its cute independent boutiques and shops. 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. 

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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.

Afternoon

Experience 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. Strolling the Royal Mile is one of the top things to do in Edinburgh, as so many of the city’s attractions are here.

On your way to Victoria Street you will 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 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. 

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 seat of power. This entertaining Royal Mile walking tour with a private local guide will help understand and interpret the history of this iconic part of Edinburgh.

The Royal Mile should be top of your Edinburgh to do list
View along The Royal Mile | Photo by Jenifoto for Getty Images

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 & 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.

What to do in Scotland for a day? Visit Edinburgh and Arthur's Seat
Arthur's Seat overlooking the city | Photo by Sarah Klein for Getty Images
Other UK City Guides
  • How to Visit Historic Edinburgh in One Day

Evening

Edinburgh is also known as Auld Reekie, meaning Old Smokey – the name emanated from the stench of badly managed sewage in the Middle Age and has stuck! Down-to-earth and unpretentious, much like the Scots themselves, Auld Reekie comes alive at night, with busy pubs, lively restaurants and late night drinking clubs, full of would-be comedians and story tellers. 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, have the bejesus scared out of you on 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.

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. 

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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!

Eat

Urban Angels

For breakfast or brunch, head to Urban Angels, a cafe 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 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.  The Fiddlers Arms at the Grassmarket is one of the best places to try this most Scottish of dishes.
 
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Across from The Fiddlers Arms, you will find Mary’s Milk Bar, an ice cream shop serving the most unique ice cream flavours 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 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.

Hemingway's

For dinner, and a more up-scale 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 around the Water of Leith.

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!
  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 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 travelling!
  4. Having said that, if you have more than one day in Scotland, do head out of the city on a day trip and explore the countryside. St. AndrewsSouth Queensferry and Perth are some of the best 1 day tours from Edinburgh. 
  5. Last but not least, remember to enjoy your time in the city and try some whisky!

Do you have just a little longer to spend in Edinburgh?

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

  • Take a stroll in beautiful Princes Street gardens, between the Old and New Towns and in the very centre of Edinburgh’s World Heritage Site. 
  • Visit the National Museum of Scotland and explore Scottish history and culture.
  • Go for a stroll in Dean Village on the Water of Leith. With historic buildings, art galleries and an olde worlde ambiance, it’s east to while away a few hours here.
  • 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 city and surrounding countryside, it is also Edinburgh’s best spot for watching the sun go down
What to see in Edinburgh one day? Calton Hill is a must
Calton Hill | Photo by SAKahn Photography

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