What to do in 3 days in Edinburgh? Follow my 3-day itinerary below and get the most out of Edinburgh 😉
Scotland’s capital isn’t as popular as Paris, Barcelona or Rome but it is the United Kingdom’s second most popular tourist destination after London and attracts over a million overseas visitors annually.
There are many interesting things to do in Edinburgh and the city, that actually comprises two cities (Old Town and New Town) is nestled among seven hills, one of which is an extinct volcano. It has a very well preserved castle and other historic sites, stunning scenery and striking architecture, great restaurants and hosts the Fringe, the world’s largest annual international arts festival.
Since I was spending some time in London, and Edinburgh is only a flight away, I could not miss the opportunity to visit this city, which is considered one of the most beautiful European capitals.
What to do in Edinburgh in 3 Days
I just came back from Scotland, and this three-day itinerary will give you some ideas of the best things to do in Edinburgh in 3 days.
1st Day – Visiting the castle and exploring the Old Town
Scotland’s most famous landmark and one of Britain’s most visited tourist attractions is Edinburgh Castle, and if this is your first time here, you must visit this exciting place.
Some highlights of the visit to the castle are: The Great Hall, The Royal Palace, The Stone of Destiny, Crown Jewels, St. Margaret’s Chapel, Mons Meg, One O’Clock Gun, Half Moon Battery, National War Museum, Regimental Museums, and Prisons of War. The ticket is £16.50 and the visit takes at least two hours.
Visiting the castle is one of the unmissable things to do in Edinburgh and I highly recommend going in the morning to avoid crowds and get your ticket in advance here. You can start around 10:30 – 11:00, so you can see the talk and music at the Great Hall (everyday at 12:15, 2:00 and 3:00), and the firing of the One O’Clock Gun (a tradition that dates back to 1861).
Since you’re already in the Old Town the best way to explore it is to follow the Royal Mile, just straight on from the castle’s exit.
The Old Town was a walled medieval burgh from the 12th to the 16th centuries, and is full of landmark buildings. George Heriot’s School, recognized as an important and outstanding example of Scots Renaissance architecture, is visible from the Castlehill and open to the public on Saturdays. Gladstone’s Land is the most important example of 17th-century high-tenement housing to survive in Edinburgh and nearby Laid Stair’s Close is the location of a very picturesque townhouse which is now the Scottish Writer’s Museum.
There is also the Mound Head Office of the Bank of Scotland, constructed in 1806, and Saint Giles Cathedral, a gothic church with an outstanding crown steeple.
After a whole day of walking plus the fact that you’ve arrived from another city, I believe that you’d just want to have dinner and sleep, right? There are some really good restaurants in Edinburgh’s Old Town including: Wedgwood (Scottish food), Thing Thai Caravan (cheap and marvelous dishes), Mother India’s Café and Maison Bleue.
2nd Day – Visiting some Museums and Exploring the New Town
Scotland’s capital has world-class museums and during your 3 days in Edinburgh you should definitely visit some of them.
My favorite is the Scottish National Gallery, which is the home of a sensational collection of fine art that spans a period from around 1300 to the early 20th century. Here you will find wonderful paintings by Scottish artists along with works by Leonardo da Vinci, Vincent Van Gogh, and Goya, among others.
You should also visit the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. The collection is good, the temporary exhibitions are amazing, and the neo-gothic building in red sandstone is breathtaking.
Both museums are open from 10:00 to 5:00 and are free.
If you visited the Old Town during your first day, you should now explore the New Town, a masterpiece of Georgian town planning, to understand why Edinburgh provides clarity of urban structure unrivaled in Europe.
By the way, these two distinctive townscapes provide an exceptional historic and architectural interest and were declared UNESCO World Heritage sites in 1995.
Wandering around the city center you should pay close attention to George and Princes streets, which have some gorgeous buildings and astonishing skylines. You should see the Scott Monument, a Victorian Gothic monument and the largest monument to a writer in the world; Saint Andrew Square and it’s column, The Dome, the Royal Scottish Academy Building, and The Balmoral, a luxury Victorian landmark hotel.
A few blocks beyond the Balmoral Hotel on Princes Street is Calton Hill, my favorite Edinburgh viewpoint and the best spot to watch the sunset. In fact, one of the top things to do in Edinburgh is watch the sunset from Calton Hill.
In addition, other sites to visit are the Nelson Monument, the Dugald Stewart Monument (the cutest one), the National Monument of Scotland, and the Regent Gardens. From Calton Hill you can marvel at the astonishing Edinburgh’s skyline, and also feel glad that you visited this city.
If you still have energy you can visit the Grassmarket area at night that is full of restaurants and pubs.
3rd Day – The last one
Today is going to be dedicated to visiting a museum and a palace to learn more about Scotland’s history, and also some outdoor activities.
The last museum to visit is the National Museum of Scotland. This huge museum wasn’t my favorite, to be honest, but it opens at 10:00 AM, there is no entrance fee, and it’s perfect for families with kids.
After the museum you can visit The Palace of Holyroodhouse. The Queen’s official residence in Scotland is a very nice palace and offers free audio guides. A visit takes about 1 and a half to 2 hours and the best part is the Holyrood Abbey, a ruined abbey with impressive Gothic facades at the back of the palace. Tickets are £12 and I really recommend you to buy your ticket in advance here.
You can also visit the Scottish Parliament building, just in front of the Palace of Holyroodhouse, there is a guided free tour in the building, and it takes one hour; or Dynamic Earth, an interactive tourist attraction that’s really good for kids.
After visiting those places, I highly recommend that you go to Holyrood Park and hike to Arthur’s seat, an extinct volcano in Edinburgh. The hike is relatively easy, takes in general about 30 min and offers unmatched views of the city skyline. It is also a good spot for watching the sunset or sunrise.
And if you want to finish your 3 days in Edinburgh in grand style, there are two good options for fine dining in case you still have some money left. Chaopraya, a Thai restaurant, has a good atmosphere, Castle views, and excellent drinks and food. Paul Kitching 21212 offers Michelin star dining at affordable prices (three course menu for £55) and dishes to die for.
These are just some suggestions of what to do in Edinburgh in 3 days. Although I didn’t see all of the city or the famous Royal Yacht Britannia, I strongly believe that if you follow this Edinburgh 3-day itinerary you will have a wonderful time when you visit Scotland’s capital.
*You can read the review of the restaurants that I visited in Edinburgh here.
Where is it located?
Edinburgh, the capital city of Scotland, is located in Southern Scotland on the East coast (Map here).
How to get there?
∗ There’s an international airport in Edinburgh which is very well connect with many European capitals and other cities around the world. Some of the airlines are: RyanAir, EasyJet, British Airways, Flyby, Emirates , Delta and TAP. From the airport you can take the tram to the city center.
∗ There are also trains from London and other cities in the UK. You can check the National Rail for more info.
∗ The cheapest way to get to Edinburgh is by bus, and some of the companies are: MegaBus, National Express and CityLink.
Best time to go?
You can visit Edinburgh all-year around, but keep in mind that January is the coldest month, October is the month with most rain fall and the driest months of the year are in spring and early summer.
August is considered by many people the best month to visit Edinburgh because of the festivals that happen in the city and also the days are longer and the weather is good. However this is also the busiest month so accommodation tend to be more expensive.
If you want to avoid the crowds you can go from April to June.
Where to stay?
- Tune Hotel
- Holiday Inn Express Edinburgh City Center
- The Salisbury Hotel
- Mercury Edinburgh City
- Fountain Court Apartments
- Palmerston Suites
- Smart City Hostel by Safestay