How do I spend a day in Edinburgh
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How do I spend a day in Edinburgh? Find out more about what to do while visiting this historic Scottish city. We discover the best sights to visit in Edinburgh.
The best time to visit Edinburgh
Like any other capital or major city anywhere globally, the best time to visit Edinburgh, Scotland is also when you will find it at its busiest.
From June to August, the city can reach a comfortable 18°C, attracting legions of tourists through the summer season.
Due to the city's latitude, the summer days are also very long, making it the perfect time for Edinburgh to host its vast array of festivals which take place every day.
If you are planning to visit Edinburgh during the summer, it would be best to book your accommodation months in advance, given how busy the city is no doubt going to be.
It would be best if you also were prepared to find huge crowds wherever you go.
If you're looking for a quieter, more relaxing visit to Edinburgh, booking for either early autumn or spring is your best choice.
These seasons offer a wonderful middle ground, with agreeable weather and much smaller crowds.
Main sights in Edinburgh
If you have never been before and only have one day in Edinburgh, Scotland, we have a few suggestions of which main sights you should place in your Edinburgh itinerary.
There are several essential visits that you can fit into a single day, even with a few breaks for a drink along the way. Having only one day in Edinburgh doesn't need to limit your options, and just one visit or day trip can provide you with enough wonder to bring you back in the future.
The Royal Mile
Stretching from Holyrood Palace through Edinburgh's Old Town centre up to Edinburgh Castle, the Royal Mile is an essential walk for those who are only in the city for a day.
The entire length of the street is framed by stunning and ancient architecture, making you feel as though you're truly walking through history.
This picturesque walk is essential for a one-day visit.
Dominating the entire city is the stunningly imposing Edinburgh Castle. Sitting atop Castle Rock, which forms the plug in an ancient and dormant volcano, there has been a settlement on this site since the Iron Age.
The first royal castle was established by David I in the 12th century. Marching up the Royal Mile, it can be a bit of a climb for some to reach the castle. But trust us, the views from the parapets are worth it.
There are numerous museums inside the castle, including the National War Museum, with every corner being saturated in centuries of history.
The Elephant House
Birthplace of Harry Potter A must-see for any Harry Potter fan, the Elephant House is famous as the birthplace of the boy who lived. Established in 1995, this tea and coffee house is where J.K. Rowling first began writing her world-famous books.
If you are looking for similar inspiration, or are simply a fan on a pilgrimage, then the Elephant House should be on your list of places to visit in Edinburgh.
This cemetery surrounding Greyfriars Kirk, located in Edinburgh's Old Town, is the resting place of many notable Edinburgh residents.
With stories of ghosts and some of the finest memorial architecture in Scotland, this is the perfect place to visit for those with a love of the macabre.
The name itself comes from a Franciscan monastery that used to stand on the site, the friars famously wearing grey habits, hence Greyfriars.
St. Giles' Cathedral
St. Giles' Cathedral is also known as the High Kirk of Edinburgh, with the current building was constructed in the 14th century. Since then, many new additions have been made, most recently in the 20th century, with the Thistle Chapel.
This cathedral played a pivotal role during the Scottish Reformation, with the movement's leader John Knox becoming its first minister.
Knox was also the founder of Scottish Presbyterianism, after which St. Giles' became the mother church of this particular sect.
The cathedral provides a quiet moment of rest from the hectic world of the Royal Mile, with stunning vaulting and stained glass windows offering a moment of calming and quiet reflection.
Alongside the Royal Mile, Princes Street is another world-famous stretch of road in the Scottish capital.
Most people will recognise this street from the opening scene to Danny Boyle's iconic "Trainspotting".
While many will travel here just for this connection alone, Princes Street also acts as the primary commercial shopping area of the city. Here you will also find numerous memorials studded throughout the Princes St. Gardens, such as those to Walter Scott and Wojtek the Soldier Bear, as well as the Scottish National Gallery.
Victoria Street is yet another visually stunning section of the city for you to wander through and admire.
To further the Harry Potter connection, Victoria Street, with its colourful and sloping architecture, is the inspiration for Diagon Alley.
The street draws inspiration from many sources, including classical and Flemish architecture, giving it a striking and oft-photographed aesthetic.
Grassmarket is the perfect place to head to when you want excellent restaurants and a lively, nighttime atmosphere.
It lies in the centre of the city, between the south side of the castle and Greyfriars, and is an open square stuffed full of amazing eateries, bars and shops. If you're visiting Edinburgh during the summer, eating outside is a brilliant option.
But, be warned - British weather can turn quickly, so make sure you don't get caught in a downpour.
One day in Edinburgh - Itinerary
If you are looking for the best way to see most of what Edinburgh has to offer in a single day, follow our itinerary, and you won't go far wrong. Even if you only have a few hours in Edinburgh, you still have plenty of time to see the main sites.
Start in Holyrood Park
Starting early is your best chance of fitting everything in, but if you are hoping to catch the sun rising over the city, you're going to have to be an extremely early bird.
In the busy summer season, the sun rises around 4:30 am, so if you like to lie in, you might want to wait until autumn or winter to catch any dramatic natural lighting.
But if you do wake up early enough and are lucky to be given a clear day, hiking through Holyrood Park to the summit of Arthur's Seat offers some of the most awe-inspiring panoramic views of the city that it's possible to get.
As free attractions go, this one cannot be beaten, with the view from the highest point of the city all the way to the coast of Scotland - you're sure to fall in love with the place. The best way to reach the summit is to approach Arthur's Seat from the east. The climb isn't too demanding, given that the peak is only 250 metres high - be sure to take some appropriate footwear.
Alongside the stunning views of the city, the hill fort on Arthur's Seat and the ruins of St. Anthony's Chapel offers additional views in all directions. This is an excellent way to start your one day in Edinburgh.
The Palace of Holyroodhouse
Next on the agenda, and fittingly enough having started in Holyrood Park, is the Palace of Holyroodhouse. From your starting place on Arthur's Seat, take one of the many footpaths north for roughly 20 minutes, and you should find the palace.
Holyrood is the Queen's official residence in Scotland, and for the price of £15 for adults (with lower costs for children, families and students), you can take a tour.
You can purchase tickets online beforehand to make things easier. You can take part in the audio tour, which is included in your ticket price, which will take you through the history of Holyroodhouse and its notable occupants, such as Mary, Queen of Scots.
Behind the palace itself, you can stroll through the ancient ruins of Holyrood Abbey, built by King David I, with wardens dressed in traditional Stewart tartan offering guided tours.
Of course, Holyroodhouse stands at the opposite end of the Royal Mile from Edinburgh Castle, so you can guess where our itinerary will take you next.
Follow the Royal Mile
The series of streets that make up the Royal Mile from Holyroodhouse up to the Castle takes you directly through Edinburgh's Old Town centre.
These streets' names may be self-explanatory, but they connect two of the most important royal locations in Scotland and measure almost exactly one mile. When walking from Holyrood to the Castle, it will take most people an average of 30 minutes.
However, it is easy to get distracted along the way, with innumerable shops, bars, pubs and restaurants to divert you; it may take a little more than half an hour.
Other attractions worth visiting along the way include the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood, Canongate Kirk, John Knox's home, St. Giles' Cathedral and many more besides.
Museum of Edinburgh
A short journey along the Royal Mile will bring you to some beautiful, historic buildings across from the Canongate Kirk.
You will not help but notice the bright yellow one with several chimney pots on its roof and a red front. This is the Museum of Edinburgh. Do not be put off by the look of the building; this is one of the top free attractions in the city. It was formerly the Huntly House Museum, and its exhibits educate visitors on Edinburgh's history, legendary figures and ancient beginnings.
The museum has a beautiful selection of traditional Scottish pottery, alongside exhibits on the Suffragettes and an authentic copy of the Scottish National Covenant from 1683. For military history lovers, there is plenty here for you to dive into as well and, depending on how long you have to spend here, you can get a good idea of the history of Edinburgh in around one hour.
There are also plenty of interactive spots throughout the museum to keep your kids entertained and engaged as you take a tour.
Explore Princes Street
Gardens Just south of the main shopping area of Edinburgh, Princes Street, are the Princes Street Gardens, offering beautiful park walks in the shadow of the castle.
Of course, the shopping opportunities are the primary draw of this area of the city, but a charming walk through the gardens could easily take up an hour or so of your day while you explore.
Acting as the border between Edinburgh's Old Town and the New, the Princes Street Gardens are full of delightful landscaped gardens, flower beds and monuments.
Two notable pieces worth checking out are the Walter Scott memorial, its stunning Victorian spire, and the Ross Fountain further to the west.
Places to eat in Edinburgh
The Skyline Restaurant
The Skyline Restaurant is voted the number one restaurant in Edinburgh on TripAdvisor.
They are open from Thursdays to Sundays, with menu options for most eating times, including lunch, dinner and even a traditional Sunday lunch menu. They also, of course, cater to children as well. They serve alcohol and have recently created a brand new cocktail menu.
Being located in Tynecastle Park, the home ground of the Heart of Midlothian Scottish football club, those with season tickets over 65 can take advantage of a 10% discount when dining at their restaurant. The recent covid-19 restriction limits their seating possibilities to 6 persons per table.
Mash Bar Inspired by the micro-brewery industry currently flourishing in Scotland, Makars focuses on small dishes created with high-quality, locally sourced ingredients.
They are a member of the Scotch Beef Club, ensuring that all of the produce used in their food is ethically sourced from local farmers. They also have a wide range of fine wines, beers and spirits to choose from.
As a restaurant bar, Makars is well suited to any dining occasion or purpose. Whether a quick snack, drinks with friends or a sit-down meal, Makars is the place to be, they are open 24 hours a day throughout the week, offering snacks, dining, coffee and alcohol.
The Salt Cafe is located in the Morningside area in the south of the city. They primarily cater for brunches, with a focus on locally and ethically sourced produce.
They have recently created a seasonal menu with delicious seasonal dishes freshly prepared with the highest-quality artisanal ingredients and produce.
One 20 Wine Cafe
Located in the heart of Edinburgh's New Town, One 20 is a family-run cafe offering a great selection of food and drink.
Their primary dining experience includes fine wines, coffees and light dishes. They serve food throughout the day, and while they may not be the best choice for a large sit-down meal, their small plates and independently produced selection of wine makes this cafe an excellent dining choice.
Located in the west of the city in Murrayfield, Dine is open every day of the week. They offer breakfast, lunch, brunch and dinner, so no matter what time you want a good bite to eat, Dine is the place to head for.
Dine often collaborates with local distilleries and gin specialists when crafting drinks and has a wide array of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks available at the bar. They also host guest chefs and gourmet menus for those with a refined palette.
Where to stay in Edinburgh?
Kingsley Guest House
This bed and breakfast have been a popular accommodation in the south side of Edinburgh for over three decades. Currently owned by Alan and Allison, you could not ask for a more comfortable and welcoming home-from-home when visiting the Scottish capital.
No matter the reason for your stay, whether you are simply visiting to take in the beauty and history of the city, studying at the university or working, this guest house can accommodate anyone for anything.
They have a hotel-like selection of room sizes, including a family room that can sleep up to five people or a single room perfect for backpackers or those exploring alone. Kingsley Guest House truly offers exceptional central accommodation in Edinburgh.