Scotland’s historical capital Edinburgh is a vibrant city teeming with amazing things to do and stunning places to see. You could spend a lifetime in Edinburgh and still find unexpected stones of joy unturned in this magical and mystical city. Thankfully, Edinburgh is not an enormous city, which means you can pack a hell of a lot into a two-day trip. Although it’d be impossible to cover everything, in this two-day itinerary to Edinburgh we’ve planned the essentials to ensure you make the most of your time here.
Before embarking on your exciting two day trip to Edinburgh, it’s important to figure out where to stay. Edinburgh is home to a diverse range of neighbourhoods with something to offer everyone. For this two day itinerary, we suggest staying in either the Old Town or the New Town. However, if you’re not sure which area to stay in then have a read of our article ‘Where to book accommodation in Edinburgh.’
Edinburgh Old Town is a spectacular network of windy cobbled streets, brimming with rich history and an abundance of activities. From the majestic Castle at the top of the historical Royal Mile down to Holyrood and the vibrant Grassmarket, there is an array of restaurants, old pubs, museums, and tours to try out and explore.
Begin with a walk up the famous Royal Mile. As you step into the cobbled world of the Old Town you may feel like you have been transported back in time. Through the maintenance of much of the medieval architecture that surrounds it, the Old Town has retained its historical appearance and is a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site. Continue upwards until you arrive at the top of the Royal Mile, where a medieval surprise will be awaiting you.
The centrepiece of not only the Old Town, but Edinburgh itself, is the Castle. Ancient, dark, and imposing, the Castle sits staunchly on a rocky crag at the top of the Old Town. Pause for a moment to admire or snap a few photos of the scenic views of the city. If you are going into the Castle, typical tour times are approximately 2 hours, so be sure to budget this time in advance. The Castle itself is open from 9:30am to 5:00pm.
After visiting the Castle, take a walk just off the right of the Royal Mile along George IV Bridge and then take another right down the windy Victoria Street. This is one of Edinburgh’s most beautiful and picturesque streets decorated with colourful shops and dazzling historical architecture. As well as its visual allure, Victoria Street is a must-see for Harry Potter fans. It is here that the inspiration for J.K Rowling’s eccentric Diagonalley was formed, evident in its similarities in architecture and assemblage of funky independent shops. Museum Context and The Enchanted Galaxy are great shops to visit for anything and everything Harry Potter!
The charm of the Old Town doesn’t end with Victoria Street. Situated at the bottom is the vibrant and high-spirited Grassmarket, a charming square home to an assortment of independent shops, bars and restaurants. Take a walk around the square to soak in the atmosphere and for a low angle of the Castle looming over which acts as the backdrop of the Grassmarket. A great stop for a coffee or a small bite to eat is The Grassmarket Community Project, open from 11:00am until 4:00pm. If you’re parched and looking for an upmarket place to dampen your lips then Cold Town House is an excellent bar, open from 12:00pm until 10:30pm every day. It is home to a load of beverages both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, and also has a terrace that treats you to a spectacular view of the Castle.
Once you’ve wandered around the Grassmarket, head back to the Royal Mile and saunter down all the way to the bottom. Take in the breathtaking 14th-century architecture of St Gile’s Cathedral and the staggeringly bold design of the unique Scottish Parliament building as you go.
If Edinburgh Castle clinches the title as the Old Town’s centrepiece, then Arthur’s Seat comes in as a close second. The dormant volcano, described by Robert Louis Stevenson as "a hill for magnitude, a mountain in virtue of its bold design”, sits impressively at the bottom of the Royal Mile. With an elevation of 271 metres, Arthur’s Seat is the best place to go for spectacular 360-degree views of the entire city. It is also an excellent temporary escape from the hustle and bustle of the Old Town below.
There are multiple starting points and routes to the summit. We recommend starting from the car park near the Scottish Parliament on Queen's Drive. If you have a car, you will see the parking area on the left side of the roundabout (this parking area is free). Take the main walkway aiming slightly left and heading for the back of the Crags. As the path ascends you will see brilliant views of Holyrood Palace, the Scottish Parliament, and Dynamic Earth. Continue on this path until you arrive at the rocky finale.
After wandering around the hilly Old Town (And especially after hiking up Arthur’s Seat) you may find you have worked up quite the appetite. Fear not as restaurants and eateries are plentiful in the Old Town! For a classic taste of Scottish cuisine, located on Market Street near Mary King’s Close is The Doric. Known as the oldest gastro-pub in Edinburgh, this Scottish restaurant was built in the 17th century and only uses locally sourced produce to give you the most authentic tasting Scottish cuisine. For more information on restaurants in Edinburgh have a read of ‘Discover the best places to eat in Edinburgh’.
If you like what you had in the Doric then we recommend booking the Whisky and History Edinburgh tour with Streetours. Taste 4 deliciously different whiskies while taking a journey into the history of whisky in Scotland and its profound importance within Scottish culture and Edinburgh in particular. On this two hours long tour, you will get to experience four regions of Scotland in a unique way. That's very time efficient and ideal on a 2 day trip to Edinburgh!
If the Old Town transports you to the past, then the New Town will catapult you right back to the present. Lavish, elegant, and lined with shops, art galleries, museums and restaurants, the New Town is the modern beating centre of Edinburgh. From shops to striking monuments to the Water of Leith and beyond, there is a whole range of things to do and places to visit and explore.
Begin with a walk along the unique Princes Street. The main shopping street in Edinburgh, Princes Street is not your average high street. Lined on one side are a variety of shops keen to catch your eye ranging from independent to big brand names. The uniqueness, however, comes from the other side where you are treated to a sensational view of the Castle and the Old Town. What’s more, the luscious greenery of Princes Street Gardens is ideal for a pit stop and to soak in the surrounding views.
Situated in the heart of Princes Street is the Scott Monument, a Victorian Gothic monument erected in honour of author Sir Walter Scott. Climb the narrow staircase’s 287 steps for views of the city that are bound to take your breath away. As you continue along Princes Street another notable building is the remarkable Balmoral Hotel (formerly called the North British Hotel, after a railway company) with its landmark clock tower above Waverley Train Station.
At the Eastern end of Princes Street is a short and sharp upward climb to Calton Hill. This iconic spot is known for its impressive architecture and incredible views of Princes Street, Arthur’s Seat, Leith and the Firth of Forth, and the Royal Mile. A cluster of monuments including the unfinished National Monument, Nelson Monument, and the City Observatory cap a remarkable place for spectacular photos, or a delicious picnic.
If you’re a fan of art, or keen to learn more about Scotland’s past then you’ll be glad to know that New Town isn’t short of an art gallery or three. Conveniently, the three national art galleries are next to each other in the same vicinity. Whether it’s The Scottish National Gallery, the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art, or the National Portrait Gallery that tickles your fancy, be sure to pay one of them a visit. Admission is free, however, tickets must be booked in advance.
After this, for a more upmarket atmosphere, take a walk along the swanky George Street. George Street is teeming with fancy bars, shops, and restaurants from top to bottom. At the East end is St. Andrew Square, a garden open to the public. The focal point is the (literally) towering Melville Monument, a 150-foot high monumental column shooting into the sky. This is an ideal place to sit down, relax, have a snack, and take a breather.
Next up is a street you’d be forgiven for missing due to its hidden location, but is nonetheless a must-see place. Sandwiched between Princes Street and George Street is the discreet, yet charming Rose Street. This narrow pedestrianised street is lined from top to bottom with bars, restaurants and quirky shops. For a bite to eat we recommend trying Ozen Street food. Tucked away just off Rose Street, they serve delicious and colourful pan-Asian street food.
Venture to the West End of the New Town and wander down to the hidden gem of Dean Village. Tranquil, charming, and picturesque are just a few of the words that come to mind when thinking about Dean Village. The 19th-century buildings, lush river, and green scenery will make you feel like you’ve stepped out of the bustling Edinburgh and into a rural village — ideal for snapping a few photos for your Insta.
The river passing through Dean Village is the Water of Leith, a beautiful, serene walk that goes through the heart of the city. Slalom your away along the river until you arrive at the lively Port of Leith. This is a fairly long walk that talks approximately an hour, so make sure you bring some water or a snack with you.
Once you arrive at the port of Leith, it’s fair to say that you deserve a drink! Ideally located next to the river, almost like a reward for completing the walk, is Hemmingway’s. This is a suave cocktail bar accompanied by a great view of the Water of Leith. If you’re feeling hungry, then head on over to Harmonium. This trendy restaurant has built up a reputation for being the go-to place for vegan fast food. There’s fully vegan chicken parmigiana and no-fish ‘n’ chips among other great dishes to tuck into.