Here’s an inside guide on how to spend 3 days in Edinburgh and plan the perfect Edinburgh itinerary.
How to spend 3 days in Edinburgh: Your Edinburgh Itinerary
If you are looking to spend three days in the picturesque capital of Scotland, here is an itinerary that will lead you to the best places in the city.
All times and prices were correct at the time of writing but things do change. If something’s going to be critical to your 3 day Edinburgh itinerary, then double check on the official websites before you make fixed plans.
Also, while you can make this a completely DIY itinerary, you don’t have to. You can check out some of these free walking tours in Edinburgh, for example.
Right, enough chat! Let’s go!
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Day 1 in Edinburgh: Upper Old Town
The best way to begin your 3 day Edinburgh itinerary is in the Upper Old Town, with its castle, museums, and sense of history.
Edinburgh Castle – 2-3 hours
Built on a steep hill known by the name of Castle Rock, Edinburgh Castle was the chief royal residence during the Middle Ages: a mighty fortress brimming with soldiers and defensive firepower.
Visits begin at the 450 years old Portcullis Gate that opens the pathway to a distinct world.
Take the Lang Stairs – the oldest access way to the fortress – to uncover the Argyle Tower and reserve a few minutes for St. Margaret’s Chapel. This is the oldest structure in the entire city and was built by King David in the 12th century in honour of his mother, Queen Margaret, who was, upon her death, declared a saint.
Check David’s Tower to see what the initial construction looked like, take a look at Mons Meg, a huge 15th-century canon that could fire a 150kg ball over a distance of 3.2 kilometres, and head to the Crown Room, where the Honors of Scotland (the Scottish Crown jewels) and the Stone of Destiny are kept.
End your visit inside the royal palace. Here, you can see the room where Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to King James VI and gaze at the original carved stone corbels and hammer-beam roof of the Great Hall where King James the IV held state ceremonies and glamorous balls.
Opening Times: The fortress is open all year round except Christmas and Boxing Day. The first visitors are granted access at 9:30 am, and the venue closes at 6 pm during the summer months (April-September) and 5 pm during the cold season (October-March)
Tickets: At the time of writing, an adult ticket costs £18 whilst children aged 5 to 15 pay only £11. Concessions are made for seniors who pay £14.5. Children under 5 are granted free entry. They also have family packages stretching from £35 for an adult and two kids to £61.5 for two adults and three kids.
Tours: You can book a tour or discover the fortress on your own with an audio guide.
After three hours of rambling around halls and vaults and prisons, a royal afternoon tea experience is exactly what you need. Book a slot at the tearooms in Queen Anne Building (they serve tea starting at 11 am) and have a nice cup of natural tea and a light lunch before heading out to the next location on your itinerary.
Camera Obscura – 1-2 hours
Just a hop, skip and jump from the fortress, you will find the Camera Obscura, where you can have the best time exploring some of the over 100 interactive displays occupying the five storeys of the edifice.
You can take a virtual walking tour around the city without moving an inch or get lost in a magical maze of optical illusions that will leave you completely bamboozled.
Opening Times: The Camera Obscura is open all year round except Christmas day. (9:00am-8:00pm from Monday to Thursday, 9:00am-9:00pm on Friday and Sunday, 9:00am-10:00pm on Saturday).
Tickets: Adult tickets cost £18.95 while students and seniors pay only £15.95. Children over 5 receive a discount of £4 (£14.95 per kid), and kids under 5 are granted free entry.
The Elephant House – 30 minutes
Delight yourself with a cup of coffee and a cappuccino cake in the place where the Harry Potter adventure first began.
During her early writing days, J. K. Rowling used to come here and sit next to the window, gazing at the magnificent view of the castle.
Today, Harry Potter fans have turned this cafe into an essential point on their itineraries. There’s a board where they leave messages for Rowling, and she does stop by from time to time to check them out.
Who knows? Maybe you’ll be lucky enough to find her there.
Greyfriars Kirkyard – 30 minutes
You can continue your Harry Potter itinerary in the Greyfriars Kirkyard, where J. K. Rowling found the stimulus for the names of at least two of her characters. She got the name for Mrs McGonagall from William McGonagall’s tombstone. This 19th-century poet had the reputation of being very bad with words, and the irony is that Mrs McGonagall was exactly the opposite.
A few more steps around the graveyard, and you will stumble into the nearly 200-year-old tomb of Thomas Riddle. Rolwing borrowed the full name and assigned it to the dreariest character in the book, Lord Voldemort.
Not linked to the Harry Potter series, two other tombs remain notable: the burial places of Jon Grey and his faithful dog, Greyfriars Bobby. Bobby became famous in the area for continuing to visit his master’s tomb for 14 years after his burial, until his own death. Just across the graveyard, a fountain with Bobby’s statue is erected. The legend says that it brings luck to touch Bobby’s nose.
To fit more Harry Potter magic into your 3 day Edinburgh itinerary, you can reserve a place on the Harry Potter Magical Guided Walking Tour. For £14.5, you will even visit a wand store on Victoria Street (thought to have inspired Diagon Alley) and get sorted into your Hogwarts House.
National Museum of Scotland – 2-3 hours
This museum offers a multitude of sections that would take up to four hours to explore. Yet, if you are a bit tired after your first day experiences (or a bit late), you can choose two or three walkways and have a great time seeing the art pieces.
The Scottish History and Archaeology gallery is the perfect place to learn more about Scotland’s rich history. Here, you can see the Maiden beheading machine and a replica of Mary Queen of Scots’ tomb.
The World Cultures galleries are also worth seeing for their richness in artefacts from the Asian and African worlds.
Opening Times: The institution is open daily between 10:00 am and 5:00 pm.
Tickets: Free entry
End your first day in the Grassmarket, one of the most picturesque places in the city. Bustling with shops, eateries, and pubs, this place used to be a place of trade where farmers sold their cattle.
It was also the favourite place for public executions, and there is even a great story about a woman called Maggie who woke up inside her coffin after being hanged. Since her sentence was hanging and not death, she was allowed to live. Half-Hingit Maggie had many years ahead of her, and she lived them all.
Dinner Options: Maison Bleue or Petit Paris
Enjoy a lovely dinner at one of the most famous restaurants in the Grassmarket: Maison Bleu combines an inn atmosphere (massive wooden tables and floors) with exquisite services and a delicious menu. The Spicy Grilled Merguez Lamb Sausages are popular ‘bouches’ here, and they are worth trying.
Petit Paris is the place for French cuisine connoisseurs. The ingredients are always fresh, and there is not even one boring dish on the menu.
Live Music at The White Hart Inn
A delightful place to end the night, The White Hart Inn is the oldest in the city, filled with history and legends. As the inn sits just a few hundred steps from the execution market, it would have attracted a lot of customers in the old times.
It was also the spot where Robert Burns found inspiration for one of his most beautiful love poems, Ae Fond Kiss, after spending a week here, visiting his lover Clarissa one last time.
Try a hearty old-style Scottish dish while listening to live music or mingle with the locals on the dancing floor. The success of the night is guaranteed.
The Royal Mile: the heart of Edinburgh
Day 2 Edinburgh: Lower Old Town
You have a new day ahead to uncover the marvels of the Old Town. Today you’ll take the road the royal family followed to Holyrood Palace, stopping at two picturesque churches and a tearoom imbued with history and savour. It’s time to continue your 3 day Edinburgh itinerary!
The Writers’ Museum
This is a perfect place to start the day. Housing a series of objects that once belonged to the three titans of Scottish Literature – Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson – it welcomes tourists all year round into a warm and cosy atmosphere.
As you look at Burns’ writing desk, Scott’s childhood rocking horse, or Stevenson’s riding boots, it is impossible not to feel both awe and nostalgia. You can also take a glimpse at some of their original manuscripts and photographs.
Opening Times: The museum is open every day from 10 am to 5 pm.
Access is free, but donations are encouraged.
St Giles’ Cathedral
This imposing Gothic church sits on the Royal Mile, so you will not need to go out of your way to see it. The present structure dates to the 14th century, but a small Romanesque church existed in this place from the 12th century onwards.
At St. Giles, one of the main attractions is the stained-glass window dedicated to Robert Burns, which was created by Icelandic artist Leifur Breidfjörd. Located on the western side of the edifice, it depicts symbols from Burns’ poetry, combining nature’s green with a mighty sun blossoming at the top of the picture like a ‘red, red rose’.
Opening Times: St Giles’ Cathedral is open from Monday to Friday between 10:00 am to 6:00 pm, on Saturdays from 9:00 am to 5 pm, and on Sundays from 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm.
Between 10:30 and 2:30, the church offers 45-minute free guided walking tours, but you will need to book ahead to be sure you get a spot.
Tickets: Access is free, although donations are encouraged.
This was the road taken by Scotland’s monarchs as they walked to the Palace of Holyroodhouse. It is, in fact, composed of many sections, including the Lawnmarket, High Street, and Canongate. On both sides of the road, you will see shops, eateries and lots of tourists, as this is one of the busiest places in the city.
Lunch at Ondine
If you are feeling hungry after taking a 45-minute-long tour, you must try the seafood at Ondine. Positioned on your way to the palace, this restaurant preserves an old tradition that was popular on the Royal Mile, that of preparing and selling fish and seafood.
It is a prize-winning restaurant that welcomes you with a great atmosphere and impeccable service. The waiters are polite, and the food is to die for. Delight yourself with their classic Fish Soup or Crab Risotto as you rest your feet for the next attraction on your itinerary.
Tea and Cakes at Clarinda’s Tearoom
Stop for dessert and a flavourful tea at Clarinda’s, a cosy place that will make you feel like you are at your grandma’s house. The stars here are the home-baked cakes and scones. They also serve soup and sandwiches, so if you skipped lunch at Ondine, you can have a tasty meal here.
The Scottish Parliament Building
Just before reaching Holyrood Palace, you can admire the Scottish Parliament building, positioned within the UNESCO World Heritage Site in central Edinburgh. It is not open to the public as it is a workplace for the Scottish parliament, but it is thrilling to glance at this piece of recent Scottish history.
Holyrood Palace – 1 hour
Compared to the fortress style of Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace is all about luxury and comfort. Large rooms decorated with gorgeous paintings and tapestries will enchant you as you step inside Queen Mary’s chambers or gaze at the state apartments where only the highest-ranked guests were permitted.
Explore the King’s bedchamber, placed in the middle of the palace. You will observe that, as you are approaching it, the chambers become bigger and bigger.
The Throne Room
The Throne Room was still used by The Queen during Holyrood week when she arrived at the castle to host a series of ceremonies and meet with Scotland’s prime minister and other important dignitaries.
A drearier side of history is linked to Mary Queen of Scotts and her chambers. Placed in the northwest tower and accessible through a flight of steep steps, they silently await their visitors to tell a story of passion and crime.
From the bedchamber, head toward the dining room, where Mary Queen of Scots was dining on March 1566 when she became spectator to the assassination of her private secretary, David Rizzio. The murderer was her spouse, Lord Darnley who, maddened with jealousy, stabbed his rival 58 times and left his body exposed in the Outer Chamber. It is said that, if you look carefully, you can still see the bloodstains left on the floor.
Bonnie Prince Charlie
The Great Gallery is linked to Prince Charles Edward Stuart, better known as Bonnie Prince Charlie, who set up a court for six weeks in 1745 at Holyrood Palace. At night, this enormous room would turn into an extravagant ballroom filled with the warm light of candles and animated by music and beautiful costumes and dresses.
As you finish your tour inside the castle, head out into the royal gardens to visit the vestiges of the Holyrood Abbey. Once one of the greatest Scottish abbeys, it still preserves traces of the magnificent Romanesque architecture, which was later combined with gothic elements.
Opening Times: The palace is open during the week except for Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Entry is allowed starting at 9:30, and the palace closes at 16:30 from November to March and at 18:00 From April to October.
Tickets: The cost of an adult ticket is £17.5, if you plan your visit between September to June, and £18.5, if you visit during the more crowded summer months. There is a discount for young visitors (18-24) who only pay £11.5/£12. Kids between 5 and 17 and disabled visitors pay an access fee of £10/£10.5, whilst children under 5 are welcomed for free. Family discounts are also available and will save you up to £15.
There is still plenty of time in the mid-afternoon to take a short walk around Holyrood Park and even hike to Arthur’s Seat, the peak point in the park on the top of an extinct volcano. This adventure will get your pulse up, but the view is worth all the effort.
Edinburgh Old Town
Spend the evening in the Old Town, walking along the crowded streets and admiring the century-old buildings. As you start feeling tired after such a full day, it is time to take a seat at one of the high-class restaurants in the city centre and enjoy a glass of wine.
Dinner at the Number One at The Balmoral
This Michelin restaurant is a great place to sample some of the finest dishes inspired by French and Scottish cuisine. Try to reserve a table by the window, and you will be able to admire the capital’s magnificent hills whilst enjoying one of the most delicious dinners in the city.
Edinburgh Vaults: Ghost Tour
If you still have the energy, taking a guided tour through the vaults beneath Old Town is totally worth doing. You can find tours that start after 9 pm and spend an hour learning the dark stories of the city’s undergrounds. The ticket costs around £14, and there are concessions for seniors and kids.
Enjoy Leith during 3 days in Edinburgh
Day 3 Edinburgh: The New Town and Leith
Get ready to discover one of Scotland’s most significant art galleries, stroll on the paths of the Royal Botanic Garden, and spend a lovely afternoon on a royal yacht.
The Scottish National Gallery – 1 hour
If you are an art lover, there is no way that you will leave this city without checking out the paintings at the National Gallery. One hour will give you a taste of the big names like El Greco, Titian, Velazquez, Angelica Kauffman and more. You can book a tour guide to learn about each painting or get around the gallery using Smartify.
Within the premises, you will find a gift shop and The Scottish Cafe & Restaurant, where you can have a snack before moving on to the next attraction on your 3 days in Edinburgh itinerary.
Opening Times: The gallery is accessible every day from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm.
Tickets: Many of the displays are free, with just a few requiring to buy tickets. In the second case, the fee is between £15 and £20.
Princes Street Gardens – 30 minutes
Just across from the Scottish gallery, you will find the wonderful Princes Street Gardens, one of the most prominent parks in the city that covers a surface of 37 acres. The gardens are divided in half by the Mound, an artificial hill connecting the Old Town to the New Town.
Access is free, so you can take half an hour to explore this splendid natural place built on what used to be the Nor Loch, a marshland used as natural Medieval defence.
If you are visiting around Christmas, you will find a fairytale Christmas market with food and souvenir stands and even a Ferris wheel.
Exit on Princes Street to discover a world of shops and pubs. The history of this place dates back to the 18th century when some very brave citizens decided to move to the recently drained land of the Nor Loch. The street just got more and more crowded over the years and is now one of the busiest hubs in Edinburgh and a great place to shop.
Follow this street to Calton Hill to uncover a charming part of the city’s UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Here, you can find the National Monument, inspired by the Athenian Parthenon, and a tower-like monument dedicated to Nelson Mandela.
Lunch at The Lookout by The Gardener’s Cottage
Positioned at the top of Calton Hill, this restaurant doesn’t only serve delicious food but also offers a breathtaking view of the city. The staff here are polite, and you will be treated like a king with locally sourced dishes and amazing wines.
Scott Monument – 30 minutes
Somewhere, in the middle of the walking distance between Princes Street Gardens and Calton Hill, you will come across a striking monument erected in honour of Sir Walter Scott. It is one of the biggest memorials in the world dedicated to a writer, with a large statue of Scott made from Carrara marble at the base..
Opening Times: The monument is open daily from 10:00 am to 9:00 pm, and you can buy tickets directly at the venue.
Tickets: The fee for one adult visitor is £8. Children and students pay only £6.
Royal Botanic Garden – 1.5 hours
Spend a lovely afternoon admiring the multitude of plant species in the Royal Botanic Garden, a fairytale natural site dating back to the 17th century. You can book a garden tour to learn about the living collections and finish your visit with a tea experience that includes organic teas and delicious cakes and sandwiches.
Opening Times: The garden opens every day at 10:00 am (except December 25 and January 1), but the closing hours vary with the season (6:00 pm – March to September, 5:00 pm – October and February, 4:00 pm – November to January).
Tickets: Free access.
Royal Yacht Britannia – 2 hours
Britannia is known as the Queen’s former floating palace. With five decks to delve into and lovely state apartments decorated in the 50s’ fashion, the ship is a popular attraction point for tourists who want to learn more about royal life.
Walk around the ship with a free audio guide and hear the full history. And don’t forget to check the clocks – they are all stopped at 3:01, the exact moment when The Queen was piped ashore for the last time during the retiring ceremony.
Opening Times: The Royal Yacht is open for visitors every day. The visiting schedule depends on the month you are visiting (10:00 am – 5:00 pm January to March and November to December, 09:30 am – 6:00 pm April to August, 10:00 am – 6:00 pm September, 10:00 am – 5:30 pm October)
Tickets: An adult ticket costs £18 whilst students pay only £16. Concessions are made for children over 5 and Armed Forces, who are charged £9. Access is free for children under 5.
One of the most beautiful historic sites, Leith port has served as a gateway to the city for centuries. Today it is still a lively place with lots of boutiques, shops, restaurants, and cafes. End your last day here, relishing in the joyful atmosphere and shopping for last-minute souvenirs.
A Leith walk that ends with dinner is what you need after a full day.
Dinner at The Kitchin
One of the most exquisite restaurants in the city, The Kitchin will delight you with its Michelin service and cuisine. Try one of their Chef’s Tasting Menus or select a phenomenal seafood dish from their A la carte menu. Pair them with a fine glass of wine that will lock Edinburgh in your mind forever.
More than 3 days in Edinburgh?
Here are a few suggestions on what to do in Edinburgh and its surroundings if you have a couple more days to spare:
- Sample Scotland’s national drink while learning more about the places where it is produced during a Scotch Whisky Experience Tour.
- Stroll on the streets of the city at night with the Edinburgh Darkside Walking Tour: Mysteries, Murder and Legends.
- Explore Loch Ness and the Scottish Highlands on a day trip from the capital.
- Visit the Isle of Skye, one of the best places in Scotland for climbing and hiking.
- Discover the Glenfinnan Viaduct, famous for the Hogwarts Express, on a full-day tour to Glencoe and Mallaig.
When Is the Best Time to Visit Edinburgh?
The weather is milder during the summer, with temperatures between 15C and 19C and rain is slightly less likely.
Although you should always be prepared with a raincoat, at least you won’t need to pack sweaters and parkas during this period of the year. The Fringe Festival also takes place in the summer, with artists and street performers occupying the main streets for three weeks in August. However, August also sees peak hotel rates and crowds as people from across the world gather to catch the Fringe.
Winters are cold in Scotland, but the people are hardy. Wrap up warm and bring a mac. They were invented in Scotland after all.
How to Get to Edinburgh?
By plane: Edinburgh Airport is Scotland’s most important airport with direct flights from all around Europe and the rest of the world landing here. Since it is only 8 miles from the city, you can either take a shuttle or rent a car, and you will be there in no time.
By train: The city is only 4 hours and 30 minutes from London by train. The trip is comfortable and eco-friendly, and even great fun if you are travelling from within the UK.
By coach: This is the cheapest way to get to Scotland’s capital, but it is also the slowest.
Where to stay
The best place to stay while visiting Scotland’s capital is in the Old Town. This way, you will be at an approximately equal distance from the main attractions and won’t need to take the bus to get around.
For a truly luxurious experience, book a room at the Cheval Old Town Chambers.
Aparthotel Adagio Edinburgh Royal Mile is also a charming and extremely comfortable option.