Edinburgh 2 Day Itinerary
I adore Edinburgh, I really do. My first time visiting Edinburgh was to see the zoo on a school trip; my second to see the Scottish National Portrait Gallery – again by coach with my classmates. I grew up in Northumberland, so Scotland was just over the northern edge of the county’s border.
So are the zoo and gallery musts to visit on an Edinburgh 2 day itinerary? Read on to find out what this magnificent Scottish city has to offer in terms of places to stay, where to eat, and what to see and do.
Is an Edinburgh 2 day itinerary realistic?
As Edinburgh is a fairly compact city, and so much smaller than London, you can get a real flavour of the Scottish capital during 2 days in Edinburgh. You can tick off quite a lot of the things to do in Edinburgh during a weekend, or two day Edinburgh itinerary midweek.
If I could pick one UK city to live in – taking climate and proximity to my nearest and dearest out of the equation – it would be Edinburgh. I lived there for months after graduating, and returning always feels like something of a homecoming. Perhaps that’s down to my Scottish ancestry.
Planning your Edinburgh itinerary
The first step is finding a place to stay. That may sound simple, but have you ever seen how many people are visiting Edinburgh all at once during the festival? The Edinburgh Festival is a big deal, as is the almost-more-famous Edinburgh Fringe.
I’ve been in Edinburgh during festival time and when it’s quieter, and my advice is this. If you’re going to Edinburgh specifically for the festival, then do go when it’s on. If not – go another time. It takes over the entire city, so you have to love that if you’re going to be there. In brief – avoid most of August, unless the festival is your reason to visit Edinburgh.
Places to stay in Edinburgh
Edinburgh is pretty compact, and thus great for walkers. Wherever you stay, the main sights should be within easy reach. Both the Old Town and New Town are World Heritage sites – and the latter is not really so new since its architecture is Georgian.
Various districts surrounding the centre also make suitable places to stay, including Bruntsfield, Grassmarket, Stockbridge and more. If you want to read up on Edinburgh hotels and areas first, you can jump to recommended accommodation HERE.
Getting to Edinburgh
Trains to Edinburgh
I’ve arrived in Edinburgh by coach, car and train – and the latter is by far my favourite. Edinburgh Waverley station is in such a great spot – it’s the best city centre train station in the UK that I can think of. Step off the train, and you can glimpse Edinburgh Castle straightaway, as well as stepping more-or-less straight onto Princes Street.
Driving to Edinburgh
Driving-wise, it’s not too bad – but parking can be shocking. Only in Edinburgh have I seen so many cars blocking other ones in. It’s down to the tall tenement buildings housing flats, and the resulting lack of street space per person residing there.
Do check carefully about parking where you’re staying before you take a car to the Scottish capital!
Getting around Edinburgh
Walking is by far the best way to get around Edinburgh, but of course not everyone is able or indeed willing. The city’s bus service is great, and there are trams and taxis too.
If you do have mobility difficulties, do bear in mind that some streets are very steep, however. There are cobbled streets, especially around the Old Town and Royal Mile areas, too.
An Edinburgh 2 day itinerary
Where to begin? If you’re seeing Edinburgh in two days, I’d suggest starting right in the centre. Princes Street Gardens is as good a place as any, as it instantly gives you something of a feel for the city.
You could also head here straight from Edinburgh Waverley, making a one-night, two days in Edinburgh itinerary possible – if you arrive fairly early on the first day.
On day one, my recommended Edinburgh itinerary takes in Princes Street and Queen Street Gardens, New Town, Stockbridge and the Water of Leith, fine or modern Scottish art, wandering the Old Town and drinking whisky. Cheers!
DAY 1 MORNING
Princes Street Gardens and New Town
As the name suggests, Princes Street Gardens are located on the main thoroughfare in central Edinburgh. This green and floral park offers splendid views of Edinburgh Castle, perched high above. It makes for great photo opportunities, with a flower clock, fountain, and of course the castle.
You’ll also get a feel for life in the Scottish capital as you see picnicking families, fellow tourists and residents rushing to the bus stop, train station or office. There’s also something special about this spot – seeing the busy Main Street, characteristic Scottish architecture and castle all from one place makes Edinburgh somehow seem most welcoming – and appealing.
Cross the street as you leave Princes Street Gardens and head down Frederick Street towards Queen Street Gardens. This will take you through New Town, with its honey-coloured, sweeping Georgian terraces. After the gardens Frederick Street becomes Howe Street, then hang a left through Circus Place towards Stockbridge.
DAY 1 LUNCH
Stockbridge and the Water of Leith
Spend lunchtime in Stockbridge. This suburb is one of Edinburgh’s most bohemian, and interesting cafes abound. The Water of Leith runs close by, so you can stroll a little further alongside it if you’d like to. Pick an eatery that looks inviting – or busy – and you cannot really go far wrong.
DAY 1 AFTERNOON
An art gallery
There are three very impressive art galleries in Auld Reekie. Stay close to the Water of Leith and you can visit the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art on Belford Road in Dean Village. Or you could head back through New Town to Queen Street, which runs alongside the gardens of the same name.
Here you’ll find the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. Or if you prefer, head back to Princes Street Gardens to The Mound, where the National Gallery of Scotland is situated. All three are well worth your time – and free to enter.
DAY 1 EVENING
Old Town and Grassmarket
Once you’ve had your fill of pictures or portraits, head into Edinburgh’s Old Town. Spend the evening wandering the streets, soaking up the atmosphere, stopping for a bite to eat and sinking a scotch whisky or few at some of Grassmarket’s aged pubs.
Sampling the Old Town by night is a must – and the sight of the lit-up castle is certainly one you may never forget. The Grassmarket’s hostelries, meanwhile, provide the most authentic scotch whisky experience you’ll find anywhere.
Don’t miss seeing iconic St Giles Cathedral, too as you head along High Street towards the castle. For Harry Potter fans, Victoria Street is another must, linking George IV Bridge with Grassmarket.
There are lots of lovely Edinburgh eateries, including the Elephant House cafe which is known as it’s where J K Rowling wrote parts of Harry Potter. The area is also rumoured to have inspired Diagon Alley. There are quirky independent stores as well as plenty of pubs and eateries here.
Fill up on that Scottish breakfast for your second day – you’ll need it! For if you’re willing – and able – today’s first destination is lofty Arthur’s Seat. You’ll then explore Edinburgh Castle – not missing the one-clock gun salute – before discovering the Scottish Parliament Building and Holyrood Palace. Even if you follow this itinerary to the letter (and I’m not suggesting that you do; it is intended merely as a guide) this evening is yours to do with as you please.
DAY 2 MORNING
Holyrood Park and Arthur’s Seat
Air really doesn’t get much fresher than that in Scotland. So if you fancy a real blast of it – as well as some stunning panoramas over this beautiful city – the climb up to Arthur’s Seat is well worth it.
At the time of writing, it was Trip Advisor’s number one of all 465 Edinburgh things to do. And it’s free. Wear comfortable, sturdy shoes – and soak up the unspoilt natural surroundings.
DAY 2 LUNCHTIME
Grab a quick bite to eat en-route to the castle today, as you can’t miss Edinburgh Castle’s One O’Clock Gun Salute. Nor those panoramic views…
Of all the paid attractions in Edinburgh, you can’t miss this one. The New and Old Towns of Edinburgh are part of the city’s World Heritage Site. Apparently it is the number one paid attraction in the whole of Scotland. It has also been voted the top Heritage Attraction in the British Travel Awards.
This famous Scottish castle has an intriguing and complicated history. St Margaret’s Chapel is the oldest part, dating from the 1300s. James VI built the Great Hall in the early 1500s, and the Regent Morton constructed the Half Moon Battery in the late 1700s. The Scottish National War Memorial was not built until the early 1900s, following the First World War.
The Crown Jewels of Scotland are at the castle and you cannot miss the famous One O’Clock Gun Salute. Do book your Edinburgh Castle tickets in advance to make the most of your time – as well as avoiding some very British queueing. If you book just one Edinburgh tour, do make it this one.
DAY 2 AFTERNOON
Scottish Parliament and the Palace of Holyroodhouse
Close to the castle in the Old Town is the Scottish Parliament building. Since it first opened in 2004 there have been over 3 million visitors. Guests are welcome to join a complimentary guided tour or may even see parliament taking place – depending when you visit. Booking is essential.
You can choose to visit Holyroodhouse instead of, or as well as, parliament. It is the official Scottish residence of Queen Elizabeth II. Holyroodhouse is at the end of the Royal Mile, and during your visit you can learn about well-known Scottish figures such as Bonnie Prince Charlie and Mary, Queen of Scots.
DAY 2 EVENING
For your final hours in Edinburgh, Scotland – spend them just as you wish! Head back to the Old Town to see the National Museum of Scotland, the intriguing Camera Obscura, or simply to hang out in Victoria Street or a Grassmarket pub. You might well need a rest, as any Edinburgh 2 day itinerary is pretty exhausting…
The Royal Yacht Britannia can be seen in Leith, which is also a great place to chill out by the water. Perhaps while enjoying a superb dinner – Leith is home to some excellent restaurants, including The Kitchin and Restaurant Martin Wishart.
What to pack for Edinburgh
An Edinburgh packing list is largely determined by the season. It can be a very chilly city in winter, while during heatwaves it can be very hot and stuffy. Layers are generally a good idea in the UK, as the maritime climate makes the weather very changeable.
For more guidance on packing for a few days or weekend in Edinburgh, see the Packing List within my London itinerary post HERE.
If you do want to invest in a good guidebook, then Lonely Planet’s ‘Pocket Edinburgh’ is a great bet. I’ve been a fan of LP guidebooks since the mid-1990s, and have now acquired a collection. Including ‘his ‘n’ hers’ Australia titles from my earliest backpacking days when I met Mister! I find – perhaps oddly – that guidebooks make a great souvenir of each trip I take, and I love seeing them on the shelves at home.
An Edinburgh ‘Wonky Weekend’
When you’re visiting Edinburgh at the weekend, do you automatically think Friday to Sunday? Well… think again. As a seasoned travel agent, I learned that flight and train tickets were often cheaper when departing on Saturday and returning on Monday. Check it out and see for yourself!
Should you tip in Edinburgh?
Should you tip bar and waiting staff and taxi drivers in Edinburgh? If so, how much? 10-15% is the going rate in the UK – 10% is usual but can go up to 15% for great service. Some restaurants will add a service charge of around this amount on the bill.
If a service charge is listed, I would say pay it unless the service was not up to scratch. If that’s the case, just explain why you don’t think it’s deserved. As a general rule, tipping is not expected every time, so it’s up to you. Many drivers, bar staff, waiters and so on earn low wages, so any tip you leave should be welcomed.
Hotels in Edinburgh
Hotels in Edinburgh city centre are close to Princes Street and Edinburgh Waverley train station. Located between the Old and New Town areas, accommodation in central Edinburgh makes a great base.
Market Street is very close to Edinburgh Waverley, so it’s ideal for those who arrive by train. It’s just a short walk to the Old Town, and Princes Street, with the New Town just beyond. This can help you to make the most of your time in Edinburgh. Market Street hotel Edinburgh combines comfort with statement, contemporary styling, while interiors reflect the location.
The Rutland Hotel is located at the west end of Princes Street, and there are outstanding views of Edinburgh Castle from the property. This boutique hotel has 12 elegant guest rooms plus 8 deluxe serviced apartments with up to 2 bedrooms. 2 even have private gardens. Luxuries like Nespresso machines and Arran Aromatics toiletries are in every room. There is also a couple of eateries – The Huxley, a welcoming bar that serves great burgers as well as cocktails, and Kyloe Restaurant and Grill – a gourmet steakhouse.
The Balmoral barely needs an introduction – it’s an Edinburgh institution. Granted, it isn’t the cheapest place to stay, but it’s certainly surprisingly affordable as compared with a top London hotel. The location, at number 1 Princes Street, will also allow you to make the most of every minute when you’re seeing Edinburgh in 2 days. Highlights include stylish rooms with a distinctly Scottish flavour, the glass-domed Palm Court and ‘Whisky Ambassadors’ decked out in kilts.
Another location that is very convenient indeed – stay in the beating heart of the historic Edinburgh Old Town to absorb the atmosphere of the city’s past. It’s not far to Princes Street from here, and close to Grassmarket too – ideal for night owls.
Cheval Old Town Chambers combines the convenience of an apartment with the luxury of a hotel stay. Located close to the Royal Mile and High Street, the location can barely be bettered. Guests praise spacious accommodation, superb views and excellent service.
This area is close to New Town and Princes Street, as well as all the pubs, restaurants and shops around Victoria Street and Grassmarket.
Wilde is another Edinburgh aparthotel, with 128 rooms ranging from 1 to 2 bedroom apartments. Stylish accommodation includes apartment facilities like fully equipped kitchens as well as hotel services such as a 24-hour reception. This property is just a third of a mile from Edinburgh Castle.
New Town hotels in Edinburgh all you to stay among the Georgian splendour of this 18th century area. It’s a fairly quiet part of town, yet just a short stroll uphill to Princes Street. Old Town lies just beyond that, while you can easily wander downhill to nearby Stockbridge. If you want to get a feel for this area – as well as Edinburgh as a whole – then I recommend reading one (or all) of Alexander McCall Smith’s 44 Scotland Street novels.
Hotel Indigo in Edinburgh’s New Town is located within an early 19th century building, There are many original, character features. Every stylish room features a media hub, and there’s also an on-site bar and restaurant serving Scottish dishes and drinks with a contemporary flavour.
George Street runs parallel to Princes Street, so this hotel is between Princes Street and Queen Street Gardens. It’s also near to Stockbridge and the Water of Leith. Tigerlily is a cool, boutique property, with decor reflecting the Georgian location as well as contemporary style.
I love Bruntsfield. The relationship that first took me to this part of Edinburgh didn’t last, but my love of this area did. It’s a pleasant, slightly downhill stroll from this leafy area into central Edinburgh, and the neighbourhood is smart yet relaxed.
This hotel markets itself as the Best Western Plus Edinburgh City Centre. I’d say that’s a little misleading – but don’t let it put you off. (Best Western hotels are actually independents who’ve simply chosen to join the big boys for marketing purposes and such.) Regulars love this stylish hotel and return time after time. It’s a smart townhouse building right by the green spaces of Bruntsfield Links and The Meadows – a lovely part of town.
As mentioned earlier, Stockbridge is one of Edinburgh’s most boho quarters – and delightfully so. It’s just downhill from New Town and is definitely one of genteel Edinburgh’s hipper neighbourhoods. This area is rich in bistros, coffee shops, gastropubs, boutiques, delis and antique shops. The riverside path past the Water of Leith takes you to Dean Village with its half-timbered medieval houses. Dean Village is the location of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.
This Edinburgh hotel makes a comfortable, elegant base in gentrified Stockbridge. There is even some guest parking available – a rarity in Edinburgh. The detached Georgian building is pleasing, and echoes the style of nearby New Town.
Edinburgh’s Historic Port of Leith is a dockside area that was once major in shipping. Those days are gone, but now Leith is home to the Royal Yacht Britannia as well as lots of interesting shops, including delis, bakeries, boutiques and antique shops. This area is further out of town, but makes an interesting base for those who love to be by the water.
Fingal isn’t a hotel – it’s a boat. But not just any boat. Fingal was once a Northern Lighthouse Board ship and was developed by The Royal Yacht Britannia, no less. Individually-styled cabins feature rich, polished wood and nods to maritime heritage. Guests just love it – not least the afternoon tea, so make space and time for that if you can.
Your Edinburgh itinerary
As with any other itinerary, you can switch things up as much as you like. As with your visit to the city itself, this Edinburgh itinerary for 2 days is designed to give you a taste of what the Scottish capital has to offer. How many nights in Edinburgh is enough? Well one is better than just a day in Edinburgh, and two should let you get to know this captivating city well enough to want to return. Whether your 2 day trip to Scotland is all spent in Edinburgh or you venture further afield, I’m sure you’ll enjoy your time in Auld Reekie as much as I always do.
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