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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

8 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 see the essentials of Scotland's capital city and also take a trip to some of the wonderful sites around the city.

This itinerary is designed for you to get to know both the old and the new areas of the city and then spend some time to make an excursion to one of the many options that Scotland offers in its surroundings, such as Loch Ness, some other important city or to see castles further away. If you are lucky enough to be able to explore Scotland at your leisure, this itinerary will give you the best tips on what to see and do in Edinburgh.

Day 1: discover the old part of the city and end the day at Calton Hill

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

On the first day of the itinerary we will tour the historic center of the city. This area is very picturesque, and we will be able to see the most important points of the city of Edinburgh. The Old Town, as it is called, has as a great protagonist the Edinburgh Castle, and is the first thing you should not miss on this vacation in the city. Shall we go?

Start the day at Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle is the first mandatory stop on your tour. We start the day early visiting its interiors and enjoying the views from the hill where it is located. Don't forget to book your tickets in advance so you don't miss the chance to visit Edinburgh Castle.

  • Hours: 9.30 am to 6 pm from April to September and 9.30 am to 5 pm the rest of the year. Every day.
  • Tickets: about €23 at the box office and about €21 online.
  • Tour duration: about 2 hours.

Buy tickets for 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. When you enter here, you are greeted by houses with colorful facades and perfectly decorated stores. You will have to be very careful not to want to take pictures of everything around you.

You can make a technical rest stop in Grassmarket, a very popular square that houses perfect bars and taverns.

At this point, we will be just a few meters from 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.

After taking our photo with Bobby, we will discover more of the Royal Mile, the main street of the Old Town, the old part of the city.

This is where the main stores and most important restaurants in all of Edinburgh are concentrated. But what you didn't know, is that the Royal Mile hides small alleys, called closes that will lead you to different little streets and squares with buildings full of history and unique architectural style.

Discover Mary King's Close and pay a visit to 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 this alley, as it has a network of subway alleys where you can make a visit and learn about the history of the city during the plague that struck the country several centuries. Mary King's Close is really a must-see.

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 don't be satisfied with its exterior, because inside you can enjoy its stained glass windows, the great organ and very famous frescoes.

Visit Holyrood Palace

At the end of our walk along the Royal Mile, you can see the Holyrood Palace at the end of the street. It is the royal residence where the Queen of England stays when she visits 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.

Enjoy the sunset in Caltonll

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

Book a guided tour of Edinburgh

Day 2 : discovering 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, and again we will finish the day in another viewpoint of the city. Are you ready?

Discovering the most popular streets of the New Town

The atmosphere of the small streets of New Town is charming and its elegant neoclassical and Georgian buildings, known as terraces, are well worth a visit. Surely you have seen some pictures of their facades decorated with columns and colorful doors, but do not confirm with it, you must take your own!

George Street is the most prestigious of those in Edinburgh and was named after the reigning monarch at the time, George III.

Meanwhile, Princes Street is one of the most famous 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 same king, both males and, therefore, is written with only one "s" at the end. Many people mistakenly translate it as "The Street of the Princesses".

Strolling through this new part of Edinburgh, you will notice 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 its floral clock and 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, with free admission, and where works recognized worldwide as El Greco, Van Gogh, Velázquez, Rembrandt and Rubens, among other great masters, are exhibited. It is well worth a visit.

Dean Village, a village straight out of a fairytale

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

Our tour continues to Dean Village. This village is 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 youare interested in the history of Scotland and other curiosities of its exhibits. Admission is free.

Scott's 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's an easy climb. This grand structure in the city is a Gothic spire 61 meters high, where you will find the 68 statues representing characters from Walter Scott's novels.

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

Book a guided tour of Edinburgh

Day 3: Getting 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 do some sightseeing 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 that you visit the famous Loch Ness, located in the Scottish Highlands known as the Highlands. Surely you have heard the legend about the monster Nessie, this unknown creature that many people spot every year, but in reality its existence has not been proven. I recommend a walk around the lake to see if you can find him.

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

Book a trip to Loch Ness

Second option: the locations of Outlanders

The second proposal contemplates a special audience, but today it is a multitude. Outlanders is a television series based on Diana Gabaldon's saga of novels, and many of its scenes were filmed throughout Scotland.

Thousands of tourists a year take a guided tour around the Outlanders locations. In fact, even if you are not a fan of the series, the places you will visit are some of the most famous, representative and beautiful in Scotland, so be sure to take it into account.

Book a tour of Outlanders

Third option: Glasgow

My third and last proposal is to visit the city of Glasgow, the second most important city in Scotland.

Of course the big star is the city of Edinburgh, and its charm is unique and wonderful, but Glasgow has to offer very interesting places like St. Mungo's Cathedral, famous for being the only medieval cathedral in Scotland that remains standing. In addition, it is free to visit and you can enjoy its Gothic style interior, with impressive stained glass windows.

You can also visit the Necropolis located next to the cathedral. Other places of interest are its historical center, very nice and picturesque, having as main tourist point the George Square. You can also visit the famous Kelvingrove Museum which has about 30 exhibitions, including some on Ancient Egypt, and an enviable architecture.

You can reach 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 both take an hour and a half. Their main advantage is that they will drop you off in the center of Glasgow.

Book a tour to Glasgow from Edinburgh