3 Days in Edinburgh: Everything You Should Know

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The capital city of Scotland, Edinburgh is brimming with iconic attractions, old world charm, rich history, and friendly locals. You could spend weeks exploring this vast city and still not see everything that the city has to offer. There are simply too many magnificent and interesting places and attractions to visit!

Trying to see as much as you can in 3 days in Edinburgh? The City Centre has wonderful UNESCO World Heritage Sites you do want to miss and a simple walking tour can quickly check many of those sites off your to-do list. A walking tour can easily be added to any 3-day itinerary since it should only take an hour or two and you can see many of the vibrant street gardens along the way.

When you are planning your 3 days in Edinburgh, you will want to dissect the city into sections so you are not running all over the entire city each day. Plan to stay within one area each day and explore what is offered such as Old Town which has Holyrood House, Canongate, and The Royal Mile along with so many quaint shops and delicious restaurants, perfect for an Edinburgh brunch.

Edinburgh Castle is a big draw as is the iconic St. Giles Cathedral. The National Museum of Scotland is another wonderful place to hang out and learn more about the fierce Scottish people and their journey through the years.

Line up a few hours during one of your 3 days in Edinburgh to hit the shopping malls and find the perfect gifts and souvenirs to take home with you. But don't carry these amazing finds with you as you explore. Drop your things at an Edinburgh luggage storage locker and travel light.

You have 3 days in Edinburgh, so make the most of it! Plan a terrific marathon of sightseeing, shopping, eating, and soaking up the entire experience. You definitely want to plan each hour but give yourself a little downtime, too.

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Edinburgh Itinerary – Day 1

Morning Stroll along The Royal Mile in Old Town

The Royal Mile is a group of streets that form the main street through Old Town. There are five streets that make up the Royal Mile including Lawnmarket, High Street, Castlehill, Canongate, and Abbey Strand. The length of the Royal Mile is almost a Scots Mile which is just over a mile and runs between Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood House or Palace. This is the busiest street for tourists in Old Town.

The cobbled streets will take you back in time and you will be instantly charmed by the historic buildings, quaint alleys, friendly locals, and St. Giles Cathedral rising up in the background. Put on comfortable shoes and enjoy being out in the fresh air. Just remember to have an umbrella handy, Edinburgh sees more than its fair share of rain.

Visit Edinburgh Castle on the Royal Mile

While you are strolling along, have your sights set on Edinburgh Castle and plan to spend an hour or so exploring. To avoid the large crowds, you will want to be at the gates when it opens at 9:30 a.m. so you can zip in, see the Stone of Destiny and Scottish Crown jewels, along with other interesting things, and then zip along on your way to the next thing on your list.

The castle sits on Castle Rock and makes for a fabulous photo op. Visit the oldest surviving building in Edinburgh, St. Margaret’s Chapel, and discover the significance of this historic chapel. The National War Memorial and National War Museum are located at the castle and you will love hanging out and exploring.

Spend the Evening Walking Along Real Mary King’s Close and the Witchery

Looking for things to do at night in the city? We've got a terrific suggestion. Lanes in Edinburgh are called closes and they are generally very narrow and open for pedestrian traffic only. Each close basically was like a neighborhood and there were hundreds of people that lived in each of these closes in tenement houses. Most of the closes are open for you to explore and walk along, but there are some that have been closed.

Mary King’s Close was one that was closed and then fully restored to showcase life in the tenements during the 17th through 19th centuries. Spend an evening on a guided tour or you can explore on your own, which is quicker for those in a time crunch, and learn more about the city, its people, and the rather unsafe and unsanitary conditions that they lived in.

The Witchery is one of the best hidden gems in Old Town. This luxury boutique hotel also has a five-star restaurant and is located in several buildings at the top of the Royal Mile on Castlehill. Kick back and enjoy a delectable dinner, perhaps at a vegetarian restaurant, while recapping all you saw and did on your first day in Edinburgh.

Edinburgh Itinerary – Day 2

Morning at Holyrood Palace and St. Giles Cathedral

Head down Canongate to the Holyrood section of Old Town and breathe in the history of the area which dates back over 800 years. You could easily spend days, if not weeks, discovering all the fascinating details in the nooks and crannies of this area. Holyrood House is one of the royal residences along the Royal Mile and is where the Queen stays when she visits Scotland on official business.

After spending a bit of time at Holyrood Palace, head over to the historic and iconic St. Giles Cathedral. It is the main church, or High Kirk, of Edinburgh and is one of the most photographed structures in Old Town. The current cathedral dates back to the 14th century but the original pillars still stand and are magnificent. 

Afternoon at Camera Obscura and the Scotch Whisky Experience

For over 150 years, Camera Obscura and World of Illusions have been mesmerizing visitors with panoramic views of the city and optical illusions that will blow your mind. You will step into a darkened room to see moving images of the city that are projected onto a table using a huge periscope. There are six floors of visual puzzles and illusions you are going to love.

After trying to figure out the optical illusions, head over to the Scotch Whisky Experience for samples of some of the finest Scotch whisky. Check out the biggest collection of Scotch whisky and learn how distillers make sure a smooth, potent drink. Sign up for a one-hour tour if you are on a time crunch or if you have extra time, plan on the three-hour tour which also includes dinner.

You do not want to miss the opportunity to see the Diageo Claive Vidiz Collection, which has more than 3,380 whisky bottles and was collected by a Brazilian collector but donated back to Scotland in 2006. This collection is in one of the tasting rooms and you will get a brief history of the collection while on the tour.

Spend an evening at the Grassmarket and National Museum of Scotland

Located on Castle Wynd, the Grassmarket is a historic area filled with markets and rather lively pubs and bars. Many times you will get to experience special events and small festivals in this area. Meander down Candlemaker Row and cross George IV Bridge to see Greyfriars Bobby, a statue of the renowned Skye terrier.

After passing through Grassmarket, head over to the National Museum of Scotland filled with artifacts and stories about the history of Scotland. Join an evening tour of the museum, it is free, and listen as your tour guide leads you through the years and brings Scotland’s past to life right before your eyes. Filled with interesting exhibits on science, history, world cultures, nature, and design, there is something that will grab your attention.

Dine at The Piper’s Rest or Vittoria On The Bridge

There are several good restaurants in Old Town, but there are two that have become bustling tourist spots. The Piper’s Rest has live music and fantastic food. You can spend some time unwinding after a day of sightseeing with bottomless drinks. When you only have 3 days in Edinburgh, you want to make the most of them.

If The Piper’s Rest is too crowded, head over to Vittoria On The Bridge for fresh and authentic Italian food. The dishes are simple but bursting with flavor and the drinks keep coming. After your meal, order the gelato and a coffee to end the day on a good note.

Edinburgh Itinerary – Day 3

Spend the morning in Port of Leith

Visit the Royal Yacht Britannia in Leith, the official yacht of the royal family. To get here, hop on the 22 Lothian Bus at Princes Street in the city center. This is one of the best attractions in Edinburgh outside of the Royal Mile. You will step aboard the Queen’s yacht, which has been in the royal family since 1954.

The yacht was retired in 1997 and has been docked at Port of Leith for the public to explore. It is the second royal vessel to have this name; the first one was built in 1893 and was a racing cutter that the Prince of Wales owned. You will learn about the history of the name and the importance of this yacht as part of the royal fleet. After your tour, take a little time to check out Leith and its shops and cafes.

Enjoy an afternoon at the Royal Botanic Garden

The Royal Botanic Garden opened in 1670 as a scientific center used to study plants and their medicinal uses. Today, the garden still is a scientific center but is more focused on the conservation and diversity of the flora of Scotland. There are currently four sites in Scotland with the biggest being in Edinburgh.

The Royal Botanic Garden has become a very popular tourist attraction. As long as it is not raining, you can spend an entire afternoon meandering through this massive garden. One thing you do not want to miss and can even tour in the rain are the glasshouses that are home to a vibrant array of shrubs, trees, and plants.

After leaving the garden, stroll through New Town and check out the many street gardens in the city center and find a plethora of shops, bars, cafes, delicatessens, and restaurants. You can grab lunch here and gear up for an evening of hitting the shops and galleries. 

Last Evening for Shopping and visiting the Scottish National Gallery

Now that your 3 days in Edinburgh are coming to an end, it is time to start seriously searching for those perfect gifts and souvenirs for loved ones back home. Spend a few hours checking out the shops and malls on George Street and Princes Street. You will find a large selection of designer stores, quirky shops, high-end boutiques, and trendy antiques. Multrees Walk is another area for terrific shopping.

After you have shopped to your heart’s content, it is time to head to Calton Hill which is just east of Princes Street in New Town. The National Monument is here and is an attraction you should see before your time is up in Edinburgh. The Scottish National Gallery is not far from here and you can see some of the most interesting and great works of art free of charge.

Once you have soaked up all the culture you can stand at the Scottish National Gallery, head over to Rose Street, George Street, or Thistle Street in New Town for dinner at one of the newer restaurants. You really cannot go wrong when you visit any of those streets, there is a wide variety of eateries to choose from ranging from traditional Scottish to Italian to Indian.

Princes Street Gardens and More

 You may think that spending just 3 days in Edinburgh is more than enough time to experience the city to the fullest. But really you will just be scratching the surface and if you do not plan your itinerary tightly, you may miss some of the biggest attractions the city has to offer.

Take a stroll along the Royal Mile, it is an area you do not want to miss, and then wander along Princes Street and take in the Princes Street gardens and the national galleries along the way. Dine in five-star restaurants or hole-in-the-wall dives, and experience the true Edinburgh.

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