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Edinburgh in 1 Day: a guidebook for getting the most out of your visit

Are you planning your vacation and wondering what you can see in just 24 hours in the city of Edinburgh? Well, don't worry. A day well spent in the Scottish capital can be enough to take away its Celtic spirit and enjoy its medieval atmosphere.

Ana Caballero

Ana Caballero

9 min read

Edinburgh in 1 Day: a guidebook for getting the most out of your visit

Edinburgh | @Gary Campbell-Hall

Edinburgh is considered one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. Despite being quite small, it has so many unique corners, museums and emblematic architecture that you can feel that with one day you will run out of time.

If you have dreamed of touring all the attractions of Edinburgh and getting into the Scottish culture ...let nothing stop you! Here's an itinerary to capture the essence of Scotland's capital in just 24 hours. Will you join me?

1. Start the day with a visit to Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle| ©Lindsay Holmwood
Edinburgh Castle| ©Lindsay Holmwood

Edinburgh Castle is, without a doubt, the emblem and great protagonist of the history of Scotland. This incredible fortress stands imposingly in the skyline of the city, on the main hill, and is a must on your visit to Edinburgh.

In addition to having dreamy views from the top, it is very interesting to learn about the history of this structure and its peculiarities. For example, the castle includes a cemetery for pets, something totally curious given that its construction dates back to the 12th century. I recommend you to read this special post on how to visit Edinburgh Castle for more information.

Interesting facts

  • Hours: open every day of the year from 9.30 am to 6 pm from April to September (included) and from 9.30 am to 5 pm the rest of the year.
  • Tickets: The entrance to the castle costs about €23 at the ticket office and about €21 online.
  • Duration of the tour: keep in mind that touring the castle can take 2 hours, so do not hesitate to get up early to take it easy.

Book tickets for Edinburgh Castle

2. Continue the day strolling along the Royal Mile

Royal Mile by night| ©Jorge Franganillo
Royal Mile by night| ©Jorge Franganillo

The Royal Mile is the main street of the Old Town of the city. It is almost 2 kilometers long and joins two main points of the city: Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace. You will see all kinds of stores of everything you can imagine, and you can buy everything from souvenirs to drink the famous Scotch whisky.

But the main charm of this avenue are the famous "closes" that open between historic buildings: this is the name of the alleys that start from here and that you will easily recognize thanks to the plaques that you will see distributed throughout the street.

Each one tells a different story that will make you understand the logic of the city and they also have many myths and mysteries created around them. You can read more about it in this post about Ghosts and Mysteries tours.

My advice is to let your curiosity get the better of you and go exploring, as you will come across beautiful sights and hidden squares.

Ana's Traveller Tip

If you have little time and you have to choose, I recommend you to locate the "Lady Stair's Close", close to the castle. Besides being very picturesque, there you will also find the Writers' Museum, whose entrance is totally free.

3. Take pictures in Victoria Street

Victoria Street| ©Gary Campbell-Hall
Victoria Street| ©Gary Campbell-Hall

Victoria Street is characterized by its colorful facades and independent stores, and when you stand in front of it you will feel like you are inside a painting. Its stone buildings, typical of the Edinburgh landscape, are the perfect backdrop for your postcard in the city.

But the particularity of this street is that it has two levels. Yes, you read that right. In the upper part, you can find restaurants of very good category; and on the lower level you will find the little houses we talked about before and stores and taverns for all tastes.

A colorful fact: it is said that J. K Rowling was inspired by this little street to create Harry Potter's Diagon Alley. Test your imagination and see for yourself.

Book a guided tour of Edinburgh

4. Make a technical stop at the Grassmarket

Touring the Grassmarket| ©Lukas Koster
Touring the Grassmarket| ©Lukas Koster

This famous square is the perfect place to stop during a busy day of sightseeing. Grassmarket is home to bars and taverns perfect for that beer you've been waiting for.

But this square is not just any square. If you look around, you can find a somewhat elevated circular platform. Right there was the place where public executions were held, in the middle of the market that took place in this same place.

Fortunately, these practices and customs no longer exist. But what is still standing is the bar "The last drop", whose name comes from the fact that here, the condemned took the "last drink" before their death. Did you imagine it?

Ana's Traveller Tip

When you finish your visit, don't forget to go to "The Vennel" viewpoint. It won't take you long. You only have to climb a few simple stairs, but the views of the castle will take your breath away.

5. Visit Greyfiars Cemetery and learn about the history of "Bobby"

Greyfiars Cemetery| ©Jorge Franganillo
Greyfiars Cemetery| ©Jorge Franganillo

You may be wondering why I have decided to include a visit to a cemetery when you have so much to visit. This cemetery far from being a gloomy and gloomy place, has a great beauty and a lot of nature around it.

But its fame and popularity is due to a small and loyal friend named "Bobby". Legend has it that this dog (yes, he is a canine friend), accompanied his owner to his grave for 14 years. Finally, Bobby ended up being buried next to the cemetery walls so that he could continue to be next to his owner as he would have wanted.

The law forbids burying a dog in a sacred place, but he also didn't deserve to be separated after showing so much loyalty. For this reason, you will find a monument to Bobby as a tribute to this touching story.

Book a guided tour of Edinburgh

6. Take a break at "The Elephant House"

Exterior of The Elephant House| ©HarshLight
Exterior of The Elephant House| ©HarshLight

At tea time, a good place to take advantage of is this site where J.K. Rowling wrote the first chapters of the Harry Potter saga. Edinburgh is full of representative and crucial sites for what was the creation of this fantasy character and his adventures, and I think it has earned a place among the must-see tourist attractions of the city.

Yes, it is a very touristy place, but I think the gastronomic offer is reasonably priced, even if you want to go to try their dishes.

If visiting The Elephant House has made you want to know more about the Harry Potter circuit, I leave you this post about the Harry Potter tour and let your imagination fly.

Book a Harry Potter Tour of Edinburgh

7. Don't miss St.Giles Cathedral

St.Giles Cathedral| ©Gary Campbell-Hall
St.Giles Cathedral| ©Gary Campbell-Hall

This incredible architectural work of the twelfth century, is the most important church to visit in Edinburgh. Its beauty will captivate you both inside and out. Its dome in the shape of a royal crown attracts the eyes of all those who pass through the area, but those who do not dare to enter, will be missing the multi-colored ceilings and the magnificent stained glass windows that only St. Giles can offer.

Take a look up high and feast your eyes on the great organ and the Thistle Chapel, where you'll find the famous image of the angel playing the bagpipes.

Last but not least, if you look right in front of the cathedral, you can find a granite heart. The famous "Heart of Midlothian", which indicates the point where the old prison of the city was located.

Interesting facts

  • Visiting hours: Monday to Friday from 9am to 7pm, Saturday from 9am to 5pm and Sunday from 1pm to 5pm, from May to September. In the rest of the months from: Monday to Saturday from 9hs to 17hs and Sundays from 13hs to 17hs.
  • Admission: free

8. Mary King's Close

Mary King's Close Alley| ©Jayne W
Mary King's Close Alley| ©Jayne W

This alley deserves a special mention, as it is the gateway to a whole wonderful world, a journey through time that you cannot miss. In the 17th century, the plague ravaged the city. During outbreaks, infected people would lock themselves in their homes and indicate their status by displaying a small white flag out the window.

Mary King's Close consists of a network of subway alleyways that themselves tell the story of how people lived and died in that terrible time for Scotland. You can see everything from old shopping streets to visiting the rooms of the victims. Simply something you can only do in Edinburgh and you can't miss it.

Facts of Interest

  • Visiting hours: Sunday to Thursday from 10hs to 17hs; Friday and Saturday from 10hs to 21hs.
  • Tickets: I recommend booking well in advance, as it is one of the star activities in the city.

9. Holyrood Palace

Holyrood Palace| ©Doug Burns
Holyrood Palace| ©Doug Burns

At the end of this dream tour along the Royal Mile, you will find Holyrood Palace. This work of infrastructure of the twelfth century, is the official residence of the Queen of England when she visits Scotland.

This baroque style work also has a subway network that you can visit, but the star itself is the ruins of Holyrood Abbey, site where kings were crowned in ancient times and one of the most beautiful things to see on your visit to Edinburgh.

Facts of Interest

  • Visiting hours: every day from 9:30 am to 6 pm from April to October; the rest of the months it closes at 4 pm.
  • Tickets: I recommend booking in advance and you can even get discounts by booking online.

Book a guided tour of Edinburgh

10. Enjoy the sunset from Calton Hill

Sunset at Calton Hill| ©Akulatraxas
Sunset at Calton Hill| ©Akulatraxas

By this time of the day you must be tired and there is nothing that can compare to going to the best spot in the city to watch the sun go down with the fantastic view of the city of Edinburgh. The classic postcard of the city you have in mind is taken from Calton Hill, a small hill at the end of Princes Street.

Don't worry about the climb, as there are stairs and it's perfectly set up for everyone to do it. And the reward is exactly up to your expectations. If you pay attention, you'll be able to identify the Dugald Stewart monument in the foreground and, behind it, Old Town and Edinburgh Castle.

If you still have some energy left, I suggest you walk around the hill to see all the angles of this beautiful city and the National Monument, a replica of the Parthenon.

Get the sightseeing bus ticket and save time in transfers

Edinburgh Tourist Bus| ©Viator
Edinburgh Tourist Bus| ©Viator

If you want to see even more of the city, but don't want to waste time, I recommend getting a ticket for the city's tourist bus.

You will be able to use it unlimited for the duration of your day trip to Edinburgh and it connects perfectly all the most popular points of interest. In addition, you will be able to adapt your itinerary as you prefer and manage your own time, the bus schedules are completely convenient and designed to make the most of your visit to the Scottish city.

On the other hand, you can also get a package that includes the main attractions such as Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace in your ticket, which will save you money.

If you need more information, I recommend you this post this post about the best tourist bus in Edinburgh.