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Edinburgh in 3 Days: tips, what to see, and much more

I present this practical guide to Edinburgh in 3 days, a perfect time to discover this city and its charming surroundings.

Ana Caballero

Ana Caballero

7 min read

Edinburgh in 3 Days: tips, what to see, and much more

Victor Street, Edinburgh | ©Ralf Steinberger

If you're planning a 3-day trip to Edinburgh, those 72 hours give you plenty of time to get the essentials, plus a trip to some of the wonderful sites around the city such as Loch Ness. And if you're lucky enough to be able to explore Scotland at your leisure, this itinerary gives you the best tips on what to see and do in Edinburgh.

Day 1: discover the old town and Calton Hill

Sunset on Calton Hill| ©Akulatraxas
Sunset on Calton Hill| ©Akulatraxas

On the first day of the itinerary we will tour the historic center of the city, also known as Old Town. This area is very picturesque and we will be able to see the most important points of the city of Edinburgh.

Start the day at Edinburgh Castle

Booking a tour of Edinburgh Castle is the first mandatory activity on your tour. We start the day early visiting its interiors and enjoying the views from the hill where it is located.

If you prefer, you can also book just the entrances, but do it in advance so you do not miss the chance to visit the Edinburgh Castle.

  • Opening hours: from 9.30 am to 6 pm from April to September; and from 9.30 am to 5 pm the rest of the year. Every day.
  • Tickets: from €21 online.
  • Duration of the tour: about 2 hours.

Book a tour of Edinburgh Castle

Continue your walk through the historic center

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

Victoria Street is the first street you will find coming down from the Castle and the most characteristic of Edinburgh. You are greeted by houses with colorful facades and perfectly decorated stores. You can make a technical rest stop in Grassmarket, a square with bars and taverns.

At this point, we will be a few meters from the Greyfiars Cemetery and the statue of" Bobby". Legend has it that this dog accompanied his owner's grave for 14 years until he was finally buried next to the cemetery walls. In commemoration of this story, a statue has been erected in his name.

We will then discover more of the Royal Mile, the main street of the Old Town. This is where the main stores and most important restaurants are concentrated. It also hides small alleys, called closes, which will lead you to different streets and squares with buildings full of history and unique architectural style.

Discover Mary King's Close and St. Giles Cathedral

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

Of all the alleys of the Royal Mile, I recommend Mary King's Close, as it has a network of subway alleys where you can visit and learn about the history of the city during the plague that struck the country several centuries.

Just opposite, you will find St. Giles Cathedral, the most important church to visit in Edinburgh. Its gothic style facade leaves you with your mouth open. But do not be satisfied with its exterior, because inside you can enjoy its stained glass windows, the great organ and very famous frescoes.

Visit Holyrood Palace

Already ending our walk along the Royal Mile, I recommend you book tickets to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, located at the end of the street.

It is the royal residence where the royals of England stay when they visit Edinburgh and is very popular for the ruins of Holyrood Abbey, a green and ancient space that everyone wants to photograph, and why not, sit on one of its benches to contemplate the stillness.

Book tickets to the Palace of Holyroodhouse

Enjoy the sunset at Calton Hill

There are only a few hours left on our second day itinerary and what better way to end the day than watching the sunset at one of the best spots in the city of Edinburgh**, Calton Hill**, while enjoying a panoramic view of the entire city. Don't miss it!

Book a guided tour of Edinburgh

Day 2 : visit the New Town and the National Museum of Scotland

Inside the National Museum of Scotland| ©Fil.Al
Inside the National Museum of Scotland| ©Fil.Al

At the end of the 18th century, the inhabitants needed more space and sought to expand the city. The new part was then created : the New Town. Today it is mainly a residential area, but it concentrates some attractions that you should not miss.

On the other hand, I have included a visit to the National Museum of Scotland so you can learn all about the history of the country, ending the day in another viewpoint of the city

Discover the most popular streets of the New Town

The atmosphere of the New Town's narrow streets is charming and its elegant neoclassical and Georgian buildings, known as terraces, are well worth a visit. George Street is the most prestigious and was named after the reigning monarch at the time, George III.

Princes Street is one of the best known streets in the city for being the center of shopping in Edinburgh. A curious fact is that this street has been named in honor of the children of the king himself, both male and, therefore, is written with only one "s" at the end.

Finally, there are two streets that refer to emblems of Scotland: Thistle Street and Rose Street. The first one means "the street of the Thistle", flower of Scotland, and the second one is the one of the rose, flower of England. Rose Street is also a pedestrian street full of pubs and restaurants, ideal for those who want to have fun.

Enjoy the scenery from Princes Street Gardens

Princes Street Gardens are the most important green space in the center of Edinburgh. They represent the division between the Old Town and the New Town and are very famous for their floral clock and the Victorian iron fountain. In addition, you have very nice views of the Old Town from the heights.

Learn about Scotland at the National Gallery of Scotland

Just 5 minutes from the gardens, you will find the National Gallery of Scotland, free admission and where world-renowned works of El Greco, Van Gogh, Velázquez, Rembrandt and Rubens, among others, are exhibited.

Enter Dean Village, a village straight out of a fairy tale

Visiting Dean Village| ©cattan2011
Visiting Dean Village| ©cattan2011

Our tour continues to Dean Village, a charming place worth including in your itinerary, as it is only a 15-minute walk from our last point.

Its location is right next to the river, creating a truly movie-like landscape. You will enjoy its stone houses and bridges, surrounded by great vegetation.

National Museum of Scotland

I recommend you to take the tour of the National Museum of Scotland if you are interested in the history of Scotland and other curiosities of its exhibitions. Admission is free.

Scott Monument, last destination of the day

The last effort of the day is to climb the 287 steps of the Scott Monument. It may seem like a lot, but I assure you it is an easy climb. This great structure of the city is a gothic spire of 61 meters high, where you will find the 68 statues representing characters from the novels of Walter Scott.

It is a main attraction in Edinburgh, which will also allow you to enjoy panoramic views at sunset, right in the middle of the whole city.

Book a guided tour of Edinburgh

Day 3: get to know Edinburgh's surroundings

The beautiful scenery of Loch Ness| ©Dave Conner
The beautiful scenery of Loch Ness| ©Dave Conner

On this third day in the city, I suggest you to go beyond the urban boundaries and take a walk that will allow you to see other attractions outside the city center. For a more complete and different view of what Edinburgh has to offer, you can read my article on the best tours and excursions from Edinburgh.

First choice: Loch Ness

The first proposal is to book an excursion to Loch Ness, located in the Scottish Highlands known as the Highlands.

You've probably heard the legend about the monster Nessie. It is an unknown creature that many people spot every year, but its existence has not actually been proven. I recommend a walk around the lake to see if you can find him.

Also, you can learn much more about him by visiting the Loch Ness Exhibition Center in Drumnadrochit, where the history is reviewed and where you can buy a souvenir of Nessie in the souvenir store. I leave you my article on how to get from Edinburgh to Loch Ness so you have all the information for this visit.

Book an excursion to Loch Ness

Second option: the locations of Outlander

The second proposal contemplates a special public but that, nowadays, is a multitude. Outlander is a television series based on the saga of novels by Diana Gabaldon, and many of its scenes were filmed throughout the Scottish territory.

Thousands of tourists a year set out to book an Outlander tour around Outlander locations. In fact, even if you're not a fan of the series, the places you'll visit are some of the most famous, representative and beautiful in all of Scotland, so be sure to keep that in mind.

Book an Outlander tour

Third option: Glasgow

Edinburgh is the star and its charm is unique, but Glasgow is the second most important city in Scotland and has to offer you very interesting sites such as:

  • St. Mungo's Cathedral: the only medieval cathedral in Scotland that remains standing. Its visit is free and will allow you to enjoy its Gothic style interior, with impressive stained glass windows.
  • The Necropolis is located next to the cathedral.
  • Its historical center, very nice and picturesque, having as main tourist point the George Square.
  • The Kelvingrove Museum: it has about 30 exhibitions, including some on Ancient Egypt, and an enviable architecture.

You can get to Glasgow very easily from Waverley train station, but you can also take a bus from Edinburgh Bus Station. It doesn't matter which transport you choose, as the journey time is about an hour and a half. Its main advantage is that you will be dropped off in the center of Glasgow.