3 Day Itinerary for Edinburgh
Sometimes all you need is a weekend in a city to be completely enamored, which is all it took for me when I visited Edinburgh. To be quite honest, I really wasn’t all that excited to even visit Scotland, but decided to add it to our itinerary on our trip to Ireland. I can now say that I am SO happy I did!
Edinburgh is the capital city of Scotland and a must-visit for anyone traveling to the United Kingdom. While visiting any city for a weekend is never enough, this three-day itinerary features the best of Edinburgh for first-time visitors including a few places recommended by locals along the way.
As Alan Bold once said, “There’s no leaving Edinburgh, no shifting it around: it stays with you, always.”
When to Visit
We chose to visit Scotland in May, where the temperature was starting to warm up, however still a little cold (about 60 during the day/50 at night), but bearable. If you have a flexible schedule for your trip and are not too concerned about temperatures then I would assume anytime is a great time to visit Scotland. I typically prefer warmer temperatures especially when you’re in a city where you are mostly walking. If you can not bare the cold temperatures then you should probably plan to visit Scotland in the Summer months.
Weather and Wardrobe
When planning your trip to Scotland consider prepare! The weather fluctuates constantly throughout the day. It is rare to have an entire day of sunshine, so if you happen to experience this you are very lucky. We had a few days where this happened and it was lovely. Locals could be seen outside enjoying meals at the park and involving themselves in any activity to enjoy the weather. On other days, you could experience all four seasons. Yes…you heard that right! There are days that begin with sunlight then clouds roll in and it rains and may even snow. We were exploring the city on one occasion and it began raining and then proceeded to HAIL! Crazy right?!
The most important thing you can bring on your trip is a waterproof jacket with a hood. Trust me, the hood is essential! A small umbrella may work too depending on the wind factor. If you have a bag that can fit your umbrella great, if not, then you may not want to carry that around all day and opt for the jacket. I would suggest bringing comfortable walking shoes as there are many cobblestone roads. If you have comfortable water resistant shoes, even better, since it can rain at any time.
Where to Stay
We stayed at The Courtyard by Marriott located in the downtown area of Edinburgh. This hotel is classic on the outside and modern on the inside. The location was wonderful as it was in walking distance to mostly all the local sites including a 10 minute walk to Royal Mile. Many great restaurants and even pubs in walking distance. The hotel is brand new so everything was very clean. Staff was accommodating and helpful with any needs we had. Breakfast is available in the lower portion of the lobby every morning for an added fee. The hotel is also connected to The Lantern Room, which has a great restaurant/lounge and is very convenient for grabbing cocktails at night before heading out or even a nice little night cap. Upon on check-in you are provided with 2 vouchers for cocktails that you can use at The Lantern Room. They also have a full food menu and offer afternoon tea. I highly recommend this hotel if you are visiting Edinburgh.
We arrived in the early morning on a Friday and dropped off our belongings. Most hotels have a check-in time around 3:00pm, however you can leave your bags with the bell hop until your room is ready. If you need to freshen up usually there is a restroom where you can touch up and change your clothes. Once we were ready, we grabbed a quick bite and some coffee and headed out for our first adventure.
What to Explore in the City
Arthur’s Seat is the main peak of the group of hills in Edinburgh, Scotland which form most of Holyrood Park. It is situated just to the east of the city centre, about 1 mile to the east of Edinburgh Castle. The hike will take anywhere from 30-45 minutes depending on your pace. Make sure to wear appropriate shoes because there are some steep areas and depending on the weather it can get muddy. I would definitely do this hike if you are physically able to. It is a workout but like most things that take effort there is a reward. The reward is incredible views!
We began our day with a walking tour of Edinburgh, which is FREE…well kind of. The tour guides do work on tips so it is suggested that you tip on what you think is appropriate or what you can afford. I would highly recommend this tour especially if you are interested in a great introduction to the city of Edinburgh. Also for those, who have limited time in Edinburgh, this tour takes you through most of the city and hits the main spots! Our guide lead us down narrow alleyways, telling stories behind the history of Edinburgh, and showing awesome views for photography shots! During this tour you get an idea of what this city is about and get to see places like St. Giles’ Cathedral, Edinburgh Castle, National Museum, The Royal Mile, Old town, Grassmarket, The original “Hogwarts” and much more. The tour is approximately 2.5-3 hours in duration so dress appropriately to the weather, bring your camera and wear comfy shoes!
I really enjoyed this tour because we were able to get a glimpse of alot of the major attractions in Edinburgh and its history. Typically, you walk around on your own and have no idea that you are passing buy such historical places and what stories are behind them. Your tour guide literally serves as a book with everything there is to know. If you feel there are places you would like to go back to, no problem. After our tour, we decided which places we wanted to go back to and explore on our own in further detail.
Anyone who knows anything about Scotland knows that whisky is a huge deal! Most of the best whiskys in the world come from Scotland! If your a whisky drinker, this is an incredible experience! Even for those of you who don’t particularly drink whisky, this will not only open your eyes to the world of how it’s made, but may give you a new found appreciation for it.
The tour begins with a ride that takes you through the Scotch whisky making process. You sit in little cart that is made to look like a barrel and it visually takes you through the different steps on how scotch is made. You are then guided by a knowledge Scotch expert on the different regions where scotch whisky comes from. Following a brief education on Scottish whisky you enter their collection room, where they house the largest whisky collection in the world. We decided to do the “Gold Tour”, which included a sampling of 4 different type of Scottish whiskys at the end of our tour. Clearly the best part of the tour is the end when you get to sip on the product! Although I am not a whisky drinker, I found this experience to be true to Scotland, educational and highly enjoyable. If you are Edinburgh make your way to The Scotch Whisky Experience!
On our second day in Edinburgh, we decided to check out the Highlands! We booked a tour in advance and were driven on a beautiful Mercedes Bus for the day. We visited the iconic Wallace Monument and legendary Castle. Our HAGGIS guide provided us with the history behind Scotland’s most passionate patriot – William Wallace. We also visited the quaint village of Dunkeld, in Macbeth country, whose stunning cathedral sits by the banks of the River Tay. Lastly, we were taken to The Hermitage Forest where we participated in short hike to see beautiful waterfalls and greenery within the woodland area.
Our day was quite adventurous, however not over by any means because we ended with a visit to the Famous Grouse Experience featuring The Glenturret Distillery. Yes, more Scottish whisky, because that’s what Scots do! They drink whisky, therefore when in Scotland…you do as the Scots do!
We toured the distillery and learned specifically about the history of how Glenturret whisky has been made in the past and how it continues to be made to this day. Glenturret is officially the oldest distillery in Scotland. After this tour, whisky was becoming a little more palatable and my taste buds were building an acquired taste. I am really starting to understand the whole process….or maybe that’s just the whisky talking. Either way, our second day in Scotland was a success!
Edinburgh Castle is Scotland’s most visited attraction and rightfully so! Edinburgh Castle sits upon Castle Rock, the end result of a volcano that erupted about 350 million years ago! There is evidence of people living on top of Castle Rock since the Bronze Age, almost 3000 years ago! Castle Rock had been a military base and royal residence for centuries. However, the edifice that is known as Edinburgh Castle was built during the 12th century by David I, son of Saint Margaret of Scotland. The tensions between the English and Scottish monarchies nearly always centred on Edinburgh Castle. He who held the castle held rule over the city of Edinburgh and, therefore, over all of Scotland. Consequently, the castle was almost constantly under siege.
As I walked throughout the castle, I could not help but think how amazing it was that I was experiencing this amount of history with my own eyes! With that being said, a mini photo sess was necessary when your backdrop is a castle!
Edinburgh Castle is now one of the most popular tourist attractions in Scotland. Those who visit can witness military ceremonies, historical re-enactments, and can visit sites such as St. Margaret’s Chapel and the Great Hall of King James IV. If you haven’t yet realized, Edinburgh Castle is a must-see!
The Balmoral Hotel, also known as ‘the grand old lady’ of Princes Street, has been one of Edinburgh’s most famous landmarks for over 100 years. Afternoon Tea is served in the Palm Court and is known as one of the most iconic spots for tea in Scotland. If your like me and like a little bit of glam and champagne this is the place! Prepare to be treated like a Queen, I mean we are in the United Kingdom, so it’s only right!
The menu offers more than a variety of 20 options for tea. One of the reasons we chose The Balmoral for afternoon tea was because they cater to all different dietary restrictions. Being that I must avoid gluten, they were very accommodating in offering gluten free alternative options for all items on their menu. On the middle plate they served sandwiches as they come and on the bottom plate they served all sandwiches on gluten free bread for myself. Among the selections of sandwiches were a warm hoagie with an egg and chicken salad, curried chicken salad on wheat bread, Scottish smoked salmon open face sandwiches, egg salad on brioche bread and the classic cucumber and cream cheese. They were all delicious but my top pick was the curried chicken salad.
Once we were finished with our sandwiches, freshly warmed scones were brought to our table with jam and fresh clotted cream. O-M-G! Amazing! The cream, the jam…the scones! I’m dead! I don’t think a soul would have known that those scones were gluten free!
To finish it off we then were given a choice of a selection of freshly made deserts from the desert table, including a mango sorbet to cleanse the palate! Simply DIVINE! All in all, a lovely experience and I would would recommend to anyone, even if you only do it once.
If you decide to get fancy and visit The Balmoral be sure to make reservations a few weeks in advance as they do book up very quickly.
Looking for places to eat or have cocktails while in Ediburgh? Check out my recommendations here!
That concludes my three day itinerary for Scotland. Overall, Edinburgh is a European destination that should be on your bucket list!
Have you visited Edinburgh? What were your favorite things to do?
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