Edinburgh In 2 Days: The Best Itinerary For First-Timers

Visiting Edinburgh is a great way to spend a weekend. if you’ve got a few days to spare, why not let our 2 day Edinburgh itinerary take you around the best places to be.
2 day Edinburgh itinerary
Where will this 2 day Edinburgh itinerary take you? Photo: Kate Bielinski on Unsplash

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If you have never visited Edinburgh, then you really are in for a treat. Two days is the perfect length of time for what is sure to be the first of many trips you’ll make here. Whether you would like to climb a volcano (yes, really!), tour a castle, learn all about Scottish Whiskey or see where JK Rowling got the inspiration for Harry Potter from, this 2 day Edinburgh itinerary is sure to make sure you pack lots in.

As one of the most enchanting and underrated cities, Edinburgh is surprisingly compact and small and certainly easy to get around. It is also incredibly well located for travelling to, which means that if you plan your trip very carefully, you should be able to arrive in Edinburgh early in the morning and leave late in the evening to give you the fullest 2 day Edinburgh itinerary possible. 

Edinburgh has the busiest airport in Scotland and the sixth busiest in the United Kingdom. There are direct flights from other major airports in England to Edinburgh. However, when you factor in airport waiting times, it is often quicker to travel by train. There are direct trains from Manchester, London, Liverpool, Aberdeen and Newcastle. 

Getting to Edinburgh

If you are travelling from elsewhere in Europe or simply prefer to fly, then there are plenty of direct flights. For the purposes of this itinerary, and because getting around Edinburgh is really easy, we have assumed that people will be arriving by train or plane. If arriving by train, you will already be in the centre of the city and following a quick detour to drop off your luggage ready to go. By plane, you will need to get a taxi or the Airlink Express bus, which will take just 25 minutes to get you to the centre from the airport. Once in Edinburgh there is a good bus network; alternatively, walking from one place on the itinerary to another shouldn’t be too strenuous. The itinerary also assumes that you will use the same accommodation for both nights of your stay.

Day 1: Edinburgh Old Town

The thing that many people love about Edinburgh is its charm, and that is never more apparent than in the older parts. With its gorgeous architecture, historic buildings and impressive towers, it really is a beautiful and very picturesque city to visit. 

2 day Edinburgh itinerary
Our 2 day Edinburgh itinerary includes taking in the old town. Photo: Chloe Frost-Smith | Unsplash

What to do and see in Edinburgh Old Town?

Edinburgh Castle

One of the most iconic buildings in Edinburgh is, of course, its famous castle, and it is certainly somewhere that should be on everyone’s list to visit. Parts of the castle were built as far back as the 12th century, and this centrepiece of the city, sitting on Castle Rock, has been the location for many historical events over the centuries. Castle Rock itself is the plug to a volcano, an extinct one, and not the only one that you will find in the city. 

Over one million visitors come to see the castle every year, so we recommend starting your tour of the old town here. You should aim to get to the castle before 10 am if you want to avoid the worst of the crowds. To save time you can book skip-the-line tickets in advance and this is definitely worth considering. 

The things that you will almost certainly want to spend some time looking at are the Royal chambers, the Crown Jewels and the Stone of Destiny. Don’t forget to take in the panoramic city views that await you from the top of the castle. It isn’t necessary to wait around for the 1 pm gun salute, a tradition that dates back to 1861, as you will be able to hear this from anywhere in the city. 

The Royal Mile

The most famous street in Edinburgh, The Royal Mile is actually 1.81km long, this is a Scots mile rather than the mile most people are used to, but as a measurement, it hasn’t been used since the eighteenth century. Stretching from Edinburgh Castle to Holyroodhouse, The Royal Mile was the road the Kings and Queens used to take, and it refers to a stretch of roads rather than just one. Here you will find many of the older buildings in the city with plenty to see. There are also a number of interesting side roads off the mile that also make for interesting places to explore. There are also plenty of places to eat. 

Camera Obscura and the World of Illusions

Located along the Royal Mile, this is a fantastic detour, particularly if you have children. There are six floors filled with puzzles, illusions and optical tricks to delight everyone. The Camera Obscura show is located at the top of the building and will offer live, moving glimpses of the city via a periscope. The rooftop itself offers some of the best views of Edinburgh.

The Scotch Whisky Experience

If you don’t have children with you, then you may prefer a detour to the Scotch Whisky Experience. Starting with a barrel ride through the virtual distillery, the tour ends with a tasting session. There are a number of different types of tours to choose from, so pick wisely!

Edinburgh Chocolatarium 

If neither of these appeal, then don’t worry, there is a third option, and that is the Chocolatarium which is just a little further down the Royal Mile. This is a fairly new attraction, having only opened in 2019, but it is already proving popular, so advanced booking is recommended. Here you can learn all about the history of chocolate, try your hand at making some chocolate and, of course, do some tasting. 

St Giles’ Cathedral 

About a third of the way down the Royal Mile, you will find St Giles’ Cathedral. The exterior and interior of the cathedral are both stunning and very worthy of a stop. However, it is the Thistle Chapel that is an absolute must. The chapel is home to the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle. This was a group made up of sixteen Ladies and Knights and the British Royal Family and was set up in 1687. Still around today, the Order is overseen by the current monarch. 

Museums along the Royal Mile

Aside from the attractions we have already mentioned, the Royal Mile is positively crowded with free museums. A few of those you may want to squeeze into your first day include the Writers Museum, Museum of Childhood, Museum of Edinburgh, and the People’s Story Museum. 

Whilst you might not cover much distance during day 1 of your trip to Edinburgh, you will certainly manage to see a lot of what the city has to offer and all within a relatively small area. 

Where to eat in Edinburgh

Edinburgh is a real melting pot of different cultures and cuisines when it comes to places to eat, so you will be spoilt for choice. Here are just a few places to consider:

  • Makars Mash Bar – a popular destination for great tasting unfussy food – with mash a popular addition to almost all their meals
  • Six by Nico – one of the hottest restaurants in the city. This is fine dining with a bold twist and more than a little bit of quirkiness. 
  • Howies – if you want traditional Scottish fare with full use of wonderful fresh ingredients, then head to this casual, café style restaurant for dishes like Neeps and Tatties, Cullen Skink and Haggis. 

Of course, if you are after something really simple, then you really can’t beat good old Fish and Chips. A little out from the centre of Edinburgh, you will find Pierinos, an Edinburgh Chippy that was crowned the 2022 best Fish and Chip shop in Scotland

Where to stay in Edinburgh?

  • $$$ – The Balmoral Hotel
  • $$ – Hotel Indigo, Edinburgh
  • $ – Edinburgh Central Youth Hostel

Day 2: More Of Edinburgh

A good pair of walking shoes will serve you well on your second day in Edinburgh as there will be a fair bit of walking to undertake. However, it will definitely be worth it. 

Edinburgh museum
A raft of museums await you on day 2 of your Edinburgh itinerary. Photo: Osman Köycü | Unsplash

The National Museum of Scotland

Arguably one of the best museums in Edinburgh, the National Museum of Scotland has a little something for everyone. From science to technology, art to history, the museum is the perfect place to spend time if the weather is inclement or if you are travelling with children. And if you needed anything more to tempt you to visit, this is another museum that is free. 

Surgeon’s Hall Museum

One to avoid if you have children with you or are of a squeamish disposition, the museum has plenty of exhibits for those who are fascinated with all things medical. This is certainly not one of the more popular tourist museums, so a great way to escape the crowds. 

Greyfriars Kirkyard

There are plenty of spots in Edinburgh that are popular with fans of Harry Potter, and no list would really be complete without one. The Greyfriars Kirkyard is somewhere that JK Rowling spent a lot of time, and here you will find graves with some of the names of her characters on. Look out for Moodie, Thomas Riddle and Sirius Black. Of course, the most famous inhabitant of the kirkyard is Greyfriars Bobby. 

Dean Village 

Another less visited location on a trip to Edinburgh is Dean Village, but this really is one of the prettiest areas you will find in the city. It is a rather unassuming residential area; however, it offers some really stunning views and plenty of opportunities to take photographs. A gentle stroll will offer you plenty of exploration. Dean Village is a 15-20 minute walk from Edinburgh Castle or a 10-minute taxi journey. This is a good place to visit early in the morning and will give you a real fairy-tale village vibe. 

Arthurs Seat

Just a few minutes walk from the Palace of Holyroodhouse is Holyrood park, where you will find Arthur’s Seat. This is a large grass hill and is the remains of a now-extinct volcano that erupted over 350 million years ago. From the top, you will see some of the best views of the city. The walk to the highest point is a little strenuous but well worth it if you are able. Salisbury Crags offers the easiest ascent to great views, with the climb to the top of Arthurs Seat being more strenuous. 

If it is cloudy or drizzly, then you may not be able to see much, so with this in mind, a good alternative spot to visit would be Craigmillar Castle. 

Craigmillar Castle

From the city centre, it is a short taxi ride of 10-15 minutes to the castle, it can also be reached using public transport. 

The Castle may seem familiar to some, and with good reason, Outlander fans will recognise it as Ardsmuir Prison, which was used for the Jacobines. The castle dates back to the late 1300s when it was just a tower house. 

This castle started as a tower house in the late 1300s and transformed over the years into the castle we see today. It is a wonderful example of a ruined castle that makes for some great exploring. Those who love exercise may feel able to fit both Arthurs Seat and Craigmillar Castle into their final day in Edinburgh before travelling home. 

Final thoughts

There’s plenty to inspire your next visit to Edinburgh. Photo: Jillian Kim | Unsplash

Edinburgh is a great city to visit at any time of the year. However, it is worth remembering that it can be a little colder in Scotland than it is in England. Make sure you pack accordingly. It is also a good idea to pack something waterproof as they certainly get more than their fair share of rain. Also, don’t forget a good sturdy, waterproof pair of footwear will be worth its weight in gold. 

Don’t let that put you off visiting this beautiful city, however. The people are friendly, the food warm and comforting, the beer and whisky plentiful, and the views incredible. Once you have completed this 2 day Edinburgh itinerary, we are certain you will be planning to return. 


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