If you only have 24 hours to spend in Edinburgh, nicknamed the “Athens of the North,” use this itinerary to plan your day!
8 a.m. Grab breakfast at Edinburgh Larder
Start your day at this farm-to-table café, located right off the Royal Mile. The team at Edinburgh Larder pride themselves on sourcing local food, and have great takeaway options as well. Go traditional and order a Scottish breakfast, or opt for something a little lighter (their “wee breakfast” options) and save room for later.
8:45 a.m. Wander through Princes Street Gardens
Turn left out of Edinburgh Larder and walk up the Royal Mile. Make a right on Cockburn Street and continue straight through the roundabout at the bottom of the hill. Turn left on Princes Street when you reach Scott Monument, and enter the Gardens through the gateway across from the Scottish National Gallery. (15 min walk)
Located in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle, these gardens mark the divide between Old Town and New Town. Though the public space wasn’t always a garden, take advantage of it and explore the entire grounds. If you happen to visit in the weeks before Christmas, this area becomes a “Winter Wonderland,” making it even more picturesque than usual.
9:30 a.m. Visit Edinburgh Castle
Head out of Princes Street Gardens and around the back of Edinburgh Castle while admiring the view of the looming fortress on the hill. Cross the Castle Terrace, then turn left, walk up the Johnston Terrace, and head up the stairs. The castle will be on your left. (20 min walk)
Edinburgh Castle dominates the city’s skyline. The land it sits on has held a royal castle since the 12th century, and the castle is actually still in use today. Learn about the history of the city in the castle’s buildings, and use its strategic location to take photos of the rest of the city. Though your visit will be over by 1 p.m., listen carefully later in the day. The One O’Clock Gun is fired exactly at 13:00 every day except Sunday, Good Friday, and Christmas.
11 a.m. Walk the Royal Mile
The Royal Mile stretches from Edinburgh Castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Follow the road downhill — you’ll know you’ve come to the end when you see the gated Palace of Holyroodhouse.
Take ample time to walk down the Royal Mile, the busy main stretch of town that has existed for centuries. Learn to appreciate bagpiping, step inside St. Giles’ Cathedral, check out the market at Tron Kirk, poke into some of the closes, count the statues of famous Edinburgh residents, and marvel at how much tartan is available for purchase in the shops. If you’re feeling up for a bit more walking, take a guided tour of the town.
1:45 p.m. Have lunch at Oink!
Head back up the Royal Mile. Oink of Edinburgh will be on your left — look for the pink pig-shaped decals on the windows. (2 min walk)
For a quick lunch, stop at Oink of Edinburgh in Canongate, one of three franchises of the Scottish hog-roast restaurant in the city. Oink was founded by Scottish farmers who specialize in hog roasts (which Americans will know as “pulled pork”). Ordering is simple — pick a size, a bread, a stuffing, and a sauce. If you’re feeling brazen, add some traditional haggis to your sandwich.
2:30 p.m. Go on a self-guided photo tour of Edinburgh’s most scenic streets
Head back up the Royal Mile, turn left on South Bridge, then right on Chambers Street. Greyfriars Bobby Memorial statue will be at the end of the street. From there, walk up the George IV Bridge and turn left on colorful Victoria Street. Take in the quaint Grassmarket area at the end of the stretch. After that, follow King Stables Road until it dead-ends at Lothian Road, then take the first left. Make an immediate right onto Queensferry Street, which you’ll follow until it forks. Take the right-hand path, then an immediate left onto Bells Brae, which will lead you to Dean’s Village Path. Explore Dean’s Village, then take Miller Row through Dean Gardens. Continue onto MacKenzie/India Place and take the second right onto NW Circus Place. Circus Lane will be on your left (1 hr walk, not including photo stops).
Edinburgh as a whole is great for photographers, but there are some spots in the city that are just perfect. Use the directions above to take a self-guided tour of the following areas: the Greyfriars Bobby Memorial statue, Victoria Street, the open Grassmarket area, and picture-perfect Circus lane and Dean’s Village. But make sure you have plenty of space left on your memory card!
5 p.m. Grab a drink at the Elephant House
At the end of Circus Lane, take a right onto Howe Street (which will turn into Frederick Street). Turn left on Princes Street, then right on the Mound. Follow that until you reach Bank Street, then take a right. Bank Street will lead onto the George IV Bridge, and the Elephant House will be on your right (30 min walk).
Harry Potter fans will definitely love this stop — the café where J.K. Rowling wrote the second and third books of the series. This moody café has a lovely atmosphere (which is probably why Rowling chose it!), so rest your feet after all that walking and order a drink and an appetizer to tide you over until dinner.
5:45 p.m. See the Headstones of Greyfriars Kirkyard
Leave the Elephant House, turn right, and walk down George IV Bridge until you come to the statue of Greyfriars Bobby. The entrance to the Kirkyard is to the left of the Greyfriars Bobby pub. (2 min walk)
The moody setting of Greyfriars Kirkyard is perfect for an evening walk. If you’re a Harry Potter fan, try to spot the names that inspired some of J.K. Rowling’s well-known characters. Just don’t linger too long — parts of the Kirkyard are supposedly haunted.
6:30 p.m. Catch the sunset from Calton Hill
Head back out the entrance of the Kirkyard and head up the George IV Bridge. Make an immediate right onto Chambers Street, which you’ll follow until it dead-ends at South Bridge Street. Turn left. Follow South Bridge (which will turn into North Bridge) until you reach Princes Street. Turn right, and continue until you see the entrance to Calton Hill on your left. Follow the stairs up to Calton Hill. (20 min walk)
The view from Calton Hill is perfect for sunset — the sky will be illuminated with colors in the west, with the landmarks of Edinburgh and Princes Street perfectly situated in the foreground. Get there a bit early to stake out a spot. And don’t forget to grab a drink before you arrive!
7:30 p.m. Have dinner at Holyrood 9A pub
Come down from Calton Hill and head back down Princes Street. Turn left on North Bridge, then left again on the Royal Mile. Make the second right onto St. Mary’s Street, then the first left onto Holyrood Road. The pub will be on your left. (20 min walk)
After the sun goes down, head to Holyrood 9A for dinner. This pub boasts a great variety of beer and ales, classic cocktails, gourmet burgers, and vegetarian options. Enjoy your meal and take in the Scottish pub atmosphere.
9 p.m. Listen to live music at the Jazz Bar
Take a right when you leave Holyrood 9A and walk up Holyrood Road, which will turn into Cowgate. Make the fourth left onto South Bridge, then right onto Chambers Street. The Jazz Bar will be on your right. (5 min walk)
Make sure you have cash for your last stop of the day — you’ll need it to get into the Edinburgh Jazz Bar. This cozy music venue features a rotating array of jazz duos and crossover groups that start relatively early in the evening and continue into the night. Check their calendar and arrive in time for the nine o’clock show.
11 p.m. Head back to your hotel
After a full day in Edinburgh, grab one last cocktail at the Jazz Bar, then head back to your hotel with good music still ringing in your ears.
Please note that the sunset times in Edinburgh change drastically depending on when you visit. This itinerary accounts for a late summer/early fall sunset, so adjust your schedule accordingly for other months.
Header image by Graeme Ross.