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The Best of: Edinburgh in Two Days

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Going to Edinburgh was my first real solo backpacking experience. Sure I’d been living in Ireland for a few weeks by then and seen a bit of the country, but I had either been with my parents or close enough to my new home that I didn’t feel that it really counted. I chose Scotland because it was nearby, they spoke English, and it just seemed like a good place to start. It was a good pick because I fell in love with the country, especially Edinburgh. Since my original visit I’ve been back twice, each time finding something new and difference to see and explore. So for any first-timers hearing to Scotland’s capital, here is the best of Edinburgh in two days.

Edinburgh

Getting to Edinburgh

Unless you are arriving from somewhere else in Scotland or England, you are going to be arriving by plane.  The Edinburgh Airport is about a 25-30 minute bus ride to the city centre. There is a city bus that will take you into town; tickets can be purchased outside the arrivals doors, at the Visit Scotland office, or on the bus itself. If you are also returning to leave the country from the Edinburgh airport it is most cost-effective to get a return ticket. The bus makes a few stops on the way to the city centre, with the final stop being a Waverly train station (where you will arrive from if travelling by train). From here you can likely walk to your final destination, or grab a cab or bus; both of which are abundant in this area.

Where to Stay in Edinburgh

I’ve stayed in a couple different areas in Edinburgh and I don’t think there is really a bad location. I recommend trying to stay close to the city centre, look for accommodation close to the Royal Mile of Edinburgh Castle to be close to all the action.

If you are looking for a great hotel in Edinburgh, my mom and I loved the Scotsman Hotel. It’s in a great location within walking distance to all the main attractions, offers beautiful views, and is in a gorgeous historical building.

If you are on a budget, try Haggis Hostels. Also a city centre location with a fun backpacker vibe.

Make sure to also check out Edinburgh’s Airbnb options. 

Edinburgh, Scotland

Getting Around

Edinburgh is pretty small and compact and easy to walk around. That being said, it is a very hilly area and no matter where you are, you always seem to be climbing uphill. However, it’s a beautiful city so if you are planning on stopping for photos, it doesn’t really matter.

If a lot of walking and hills is not quite what you wanted, try the Edinburgh hop off hop on tours. It’s a great way to see the sites and the city without tiring yourself out and doesn’t cost a fortune.

Book your tickets for the Edinburgh Hop on Hop Off Bus here. 

Finally, Edinburgh also has city buses and a tram system you can use as well. I wouldn’t, however, advise renting a car to explore the city as the roads are small and windy and the Royal Mile is pedestrian only.

Best Things to do in Edinburgh in Two Days

There is a lot to do in Edinburgh from museums to castles, shops and pubs, even ghost tours or Harry Potter sites. Every time I visit I always find something new, but here are a few of my all-time favourite and top recommended things to do in Edinburgh in two days.

Tour Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle

Perched atop the highest point in the city, Edinburgh Castle is impossible to miss. You could easily spend half a day exploring this fortress. From the prison barracks to the National War Museum to the royal jewels and Stone of Destiny, there are a million and one things to see at the castle. Not to mention the stunning views looking over the town. Your best bet to beat the crowds is to visit first thing in the morning. Tickets can be booked online ahead of time, or just inside the gates. Make sure you also listen for the one o’clock gun fired every day at 1 pm (except Sundays). Although it is fired from the castle walls, it can be heard throughout the city, so keep your ears open.

Book your advance ticket and tour of Edinburgh Castle here

Climb Arthur’s Seat

Check climbing an extinct volcano off your bucket list by taking a hike up Arthur’s seat for the best views around. Located in Prince’s park down by Holyrood Palace, hiking up Arthurs seat and the surrounding area is a popular activity for locals and tourists alike. Make sure you wear good shoes as the ground is rocky and uneven- and only climb if the weather conditions are good- it’s incredibly slippery if you get caught in the rain (like I did). The climb takes most people around 30-45 minutes but that includes stopping to take in the views. I recommend going earlier in the morning to skip the crowds.

Take a Haunted Tour (or two!)

Edinburgh is renowned for its violent and macabre history, and has a reputation for being one of the most haunted spots in Europe- so you can’t leave without doing a big of ghost hunting yourself! I’m a big baby when it comes to anything supernatural but have done a different tour each time I have visited. Different tours and companies will show you the different sides of Edinburgh. Some will take you through underground vaults where you will hear terrifying stories of fires and plagues that have left behind ghostly children seeking out a woman’s motherly touch.  Others will take you to the graveyard in search of the MacKenzie Poltergeist, one of the world’s most malignant spirits who is said to leave physical marks on his victims.  But amidst the legends of the supernatural are also the real stories of witch hunts and torture, and the notorious Irish serial killers Burke and Hare.

Explore Edinburgh’s vaults on this haunted underground tour

Learn about Edinburgh’s Dark History with this tour

Geek out over Harry Potter 

The Elephant House, Edinburgh

Any Harry Potter fan knows that Edinburgh is the birthplace of this world-famous series and has tons of interesting sites associated with it. From The Elephant House cafe where JK Rowling wrote some of the stories, to the Greyfriar’s Kirkyard where you can find certain character’s names on tombstones; there’s lots to see and find. You can do your own tour to see the highlights, or if you really want the best experience, take a guided tour.

Book your Harry Potter tour in Edinburgh here

Walk The Royal Mile

This pedestrian-friendly road is what connects Holyrood Palace (still a working palace today) to Edinburgh Castle. Literally one mile, this stretch of road is lined with pubs, shops, and interesting museums. This is the best place to purchase some famous Scottish cashmere (though do some price shopping first) and makes for some great photos. Places to visit along the way include St. Giles Cathedral (although make sure there isn’t a wedding going on before you burst inside!),  Scottish Parliament, Museum of Edinburgh, The Writer’s Museum, Mary King’s Close, and Tron Kirk. The Royal Mile is also a great spot to duck into a pub to escape the rain or grab lunch and a pint.

Hit the Pubs

Pub life, like in Ireland, is a staple of Scottish culture, and they aren’t hard to come by in its capital city. The two most popular areas for pubs include the Royal Mile and Grassmarket. Grassmarket is probably the most popular and is known as a hot spot for bachelor parties or the place to be during sporting events. Although it’s hard to go wrong with any Scottish pub I would highly recommend The World’s End Pub on the Royal Mile and the Fiddler’s Arms in Grassmarket. Both have great food, drink, and atmosphere. Scottish pubs are also perfect spots to try the infamous Scottish dish of Haggis, or a plate of good ol’ fish and chips.

Up for a fun night out? Try one of Edinburgh’s pub crawls. 

Take a Free Walking Tour

Greyfriar's Bobby

Part of Edinburgh’s draw is its incredible history, and unless you want to spend your entire visit with your nose jammed in a guidebook the best way to get the stories is by taking a tour. Sandeman’s New Europe Tours offer a free (aka tip at the end) 3-hour walking tour of the city every day at 11am and 2pm. They will show you some things you will never find on your own, as well as let you in on some great stories. My favourites include the reasoning behind the term ‘shit-faced’ and the story of Greyfriar’s Bobby.

Visit Calton Hill

Just east of Prince’s Street, Calton hill is another great place to find some spectacular views of the city. It’s also home to numerous monuments and the city observatory. Legend has it that Calton Hill is actually a gateway to the fairy world. But whether you believe in those stories or not, it makes a great place for a picnic.

Wander through New Town

At 200 years old, the ‘new’ part of the name may be a little questionable, especially given that it is older than my own country. This part of the city is mainly made up of neo-classical and Georgian style architecture, is popular for some beautiful hotels and for shopping. The most famous street of new town is Princes Street which is lined with boutiques and shops including Jenners; the Edinburgh equivalent of London’s Harrods. New Town is also home to a few museums including the National Gallery of Scotland.

Climb to the top of The Scott Monument

Scott's Monument

The Scott Monument is one of the main sights of Edinburgh. Located in the Prince’s Street Gardens this gothic tower makes for beautiful photos and, for the price of a few pounds, is open to visitors to climb. There is a totally of 287 steps to the highest platform with a couple viewing platform stops along the way. From the top, you will be rewarded with great views from all sides including Edinburgh Castle. Warning: unlike at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome there are not two separate staircases- everyone goes up and down the same one. So yell as you go in the hopes that whoever is below/above you will wait at the platform or else one of you will be retracing your steps.

The capital of Scotland is a beautiful city and remains one of my favourites. There’s plenty to see and do but you can manage to see and do quite a bit in Edinburgh in two days.

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance

*This post was updated June 2018

Only have two days in Edinburgh? Here are the top things to do in Edinburgh. From Harry Potter to haunted Edinburgh tours to Edinburgh Castle and more! Click to see my Edinburgh Itinerary #Edinburgh #Scotland

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*Please note that this post does contain affiliate links

23 thoughts on “The Best of: Edinburgh in Two Days

  1. Alli

    The Haunted Tour has really sparked my interest. I love doing things like that! The mood in your photos kind of has that gloomy, haunting feeling, also, but beautiful all the same. Fascinating!

  2. Chris Boothman

    I love the statement that ‘pub life is culture’ and that is pretty much the case throughout UK in general. I have visited Edinburgh only once before and really didn’t spend long enough there to really add any value to what you experienced. Edinburgh Castle is a must-see for anyone visiting the area though and I would also go beyond this to suggest folks should head north of Edinburgh to St. Andrews and sample that part of Scotland. There is so much beauty in Scotland (and yes, that’s coming from an Englishman so not sure how much credibility I have!) that it is certainly worth taking some time to explore.

    1. hannahlogan21@gmail.com Post author

      I totally miss the pub culture- I had it while living in Ireland and its what I miss most! Definitely one of the best aspects of the UK. I haven’t been up to St. Andrews so definitely something to check out next time!

  3. Dave Cole

    I feel a bit of a special connection to Edinburgh – it was where my family arrived on my first transatlantic trip at 12 years old. Although I enjoyed those hilly, old streets as a kid, it looks like I’d love it even more as an adult tourist. Your description of the pubs along the Royal Mile and Grassmarket makes them very appealing and I can easily picture myself settling in for a couple of pints and some pub grub. Definitely need to return to this city soon!

  4. Paul

    Awesome article Hannah, you have some great information there for sight seeing – I’ve been toying with the idea of doing a weekend in Edinburgh for a while now, but didn’t really know what there was to do. Think I will plan a few days up there later in the year!

  5. Lauren

    Half of my family is from Scotland, so I really need to get out there sometime to visit! They mostly live in Stirling. But of course when going to Scotland…I would love to rent a car and drive all about! Thanks for sharing this post all about Edinburgh!

  6. Antonette

    Great psot about a wonderful city. We were here in 2012 and even though the weather messed up our schedule a little (we were camping just out of town and with huge winds that wasn’t that big a success) we enjoyed our time here a lot. As we love being active, Arthur’s Seat was definitely the highlight with the great views. And I agree, don’t do this when it’s raining, I can imagine the trail incredibly slippery. Thanks for such a long post, we only were here one day so there’s still a lot to see for us there!

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  8. Independentpeople

    This city is our favorite in the UK for what we’ve explored so far while living here. Don’t want to upset anyone, but far more beautiful than London, both the old and new part of the town 😀 -personnal opinion-

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