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Edinburgh in 5 Days: tips, what to see, and much more

If you have decided to spend your vacations in Edinburgh for 5 days, let me tell you that you will have time to see the whole city. History, culture, fun and even excursions to the surrounding area, let's get started!

Ana Caballero

Ana Caballero

11 min read

Edinburgh in 5 Days: tips, what to see, and much more

Holyrood Palace | ©cattan2011

Edinburgh is one of the cities that arouses more curiosity among tourists visiting Great Britain. The capital of Scotland has a lot to see and do and if you have decided to come to spend five days you can walk without any pressure all its streets and know its neighborhoods, its history and tradition.

The city has an aura of mystery due to its medieval past and a strong contrast between the old and new areas. That is why, in this five-day itinerary through Edinburgh I have organized routes through Old Town, New Town, great monuments such as Edinburgh Castle, excursions to the surrounding area and a few surprises if you are a fan of Harry Potter.

1. Day 1 First contact with Old Town

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

You have just arrived in Edinburgh and, although you still have many days ahead of you, I suggest you have a first contact with the city by spending the day touring one of its oldest and most iconic neighborhoods: Old Town.

You will visit one of the most important museums of the city and walk along the main avenues, ending the day in one of its most characteristic viewpoints.

Visit the National Museum of Scotland

If you have never been to Scotland and want to learn a little more about the history and culture of this impressive country, one of the first stops you should make is the National Museum.

Located in the heart of the old town of Edinburgh, this museum is completely free and offers a careful and thorough collection covering the entire Scottish history.

The building has a very interesting and groundbreaking exterior facade, the result of the merger in 2006 of the Royal Museum and the Museum of Scotland. Inside, it has an impressive gallery of stained glass and a beautiful terrace on the top floor with views across the city.

You can choose to tour the museum by yourself or follow the chronological route to understand the passage of centuries. I recommend going in the morning because it closes its doors at 5 pm.

Book a guided tour of Edinburgh

Grab some lunch on the Royal Mile

Walking the Royal Mile| ©Herbert Frank
Walking the Royal Mile| ©Herbert Frank

After an intense first morning of museum and learning, you will surely want to stop to rest and recharge your batteries with a delicious lunch typical of these lands.

Throughout the historic center of Edinburgh there are many picturesque places but, for today, I have reserved for you a real gem in the middle of Royal Mile.

This is the famous restaurant The Witchery, designed with a medieval aesthetic that will transport you to the most ancient and mysterious Edinburgh. You must remember that you are in one of the cities with more legends of ghosts across the continent and, in this place, you can not only eat typical Scottish food, but also get infected with this bucolic spirit.

Get a good view of the city at Calton Hill

After lunch, I leave the afternoon free for you to stroll through some of the surrounding streets of the Royal Mile and get acquainted with its cobblestone floors and wraparound architecture. However, when the sun sets, I suggest you go to watch the sunset at one of the most emblematic places in Edinburgh: Calton Hill.

From where you are, you will be just a few steps walking from this prominent hill that crowns the entire city. At the top, you will find a neoclassical monument similar to that of the city of Athens. There you will have one of the best views of Edinburgh to end this first day.

2. Day Delve into Edinburgh Castle and its legends

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

For this second day you will get to know in depth one of the greatest attractions of Edinburgh: its Castle, one of the oldest places and from where the city was founded.

You will also be able to visit the Palace, another of its must-see attractions, and finish the day with an interesting tasting of local whiskies.

Spend the morning at Edinburgh Castle

It could be said without exaggeration that Edinburgh without its Castle would not be Edinburgh. Located in the center of the city and crowning the end of the Royal Mile, this imposing castle was the place where the city was founded and is preserved to perfection, having been named a World Heritage Site by Unesco.

Since you will have enough days to see the rest of the city, I suggest you dedicate a whole morning to let yourself be conquered by this historic place. Its impressive medieval architecture, its exhibitions, the numerous memorials and its famous canyon of the one deserve to be seen without haste.

Whatever the season, the castle is always crowded with tourists, as it is the main attraction. Therefore, I recommend that you book your tickets to Edinburgh Castle in advance so you can see it without complications. Tickets are usually around 15 € and is open every day of the year.

Buy tickets for Edinburgh Castle

See Holyrood Palace and parkland

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

Surely the Castle has left you with your mouth open, but there is still more. You still have to visit Holyrood Palace. The Castle and the Palace of Edinburgh are the two oldest buildings and are just over 20 minutes walk.

Before entering, you can have lunch at one of the most emblematic places in the area and located at the gates of the palace, the Cafe at the Palace.

Once you have recharged your batteries, you can enter, for about 20 €, inside the Palace and discover all its baroque structure that looks like something out of a fairy tale.

At the exit, and if you have time, you can stop by to see the incredible ruins of the Chapel of Saint Anthony's, located in Holyrood Park. From the Castle you will be just 10 minutes walk and from there you will not only see the ruins of a chapel dating from the XV century, but you will have beautiful views of the city.

Take a whisky tasting

Today has been an intense day full of great visits and non-stop going from one place to another. That's why, to end the day, I propose one of the most interesting and idle activities in Scotland. Surely you know that this country is one of the largest exporters of whiskey. This national drink can be drunk all over the world, but it is here that you can learn more about its nuances.

My suggestion is that you do one of the many whisky tastings around Edinburgh, where you can try various strains and learn to differentiate and enjoy this strong liquor that will warm you up and end the day in a carefree way.

Book a whisky tour of Edinburgh

3. Day Discover the newest Edinburgh in the New Town

Princes Street Garden| ©Mari Smith
Princes Street Garden| ©Mari Smith

Edinburgh is history and tradition but it is also progress and modernity and there is no better neighborhood that reflects this than New Town, one of the most cosmopolitan areas of the city.

For today I have in store for you a morning of shopping in the main stores, a nice picnic in one of the largest parks in the area and an afternoon in which you will end up having a drink in the most exclusive restaurant in Edinburgh.

Morning shopping in Princes Street

You are at the halfway point of this fantastic trip around Edinburgh and for the morning of your third day I have prepared a route through the best galleries in the city.

I propose a morning of shopping in one of the most commercial and exclusive streets of Edinburgh. In Princes Street you can find all kinds of stores and galleries with international brands but also national.

Surely you will not leave here without taking a treat or a good deal. Besides, it is not only about spending, but also about discovering a more residential and new area of the city that will give you another perspective of the lifestyle of the Edinburghers.

Stroll and Picnic in Princes Street Gardens

Very close to Princes Street, is one of the largest gardens in all of New Town. Precisely, its name is Princes Street Gardens and is a very nice place to take a walk and enjoy a piece of nature.

To do something different from the rest of the days, you can have a picnic in the park and have lunch outdoors.

In the vicinity of the park you can find take-away food shops or supermarkets where you can buy something simple and practical to eat on the lawn.

During the summer in Edinburgh, this park is usually full so, if you have come and the weather is good, take the opportunity to enjoy a little paradise in the middle of the city.

Tour New Town and finish with a drink at The Dome

This third day is coming to an end and I suggest that, before going to dinner, you take a walk through the new neighborhood. You can go up to see the monument to Walter Scott, from which you will have a beautiful view of the whole new area of Edinburgh or, if you prefer, enter to see the National Gallery of Scotland, where you can see the best examples of Scottish art.

Whatever you choose, I'll take care of dinner, because in this area of Edinburgh is one of the best restaurants in the city: The Dome. You can easily locate it because its exterior looks like the Pantheon itself with several neoclassical columns.

However, although it looks like a museum, inside you can taste the best dishes of local cuisine. If you can afford it, you can eat a knife and fork menu for about 50€, but if not, just a snack and a drink will be worth it.

Book a guided tour of Edinburgh

4. Day Experience a magical Edinburgh: Harry Potter, cruise and many mysteries

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

If you like movies and you are a fan of the Harry Potter saga, you are in the right city since it was here where J.K. Rowling gave life to the iconic character. This fourth day will be dedicated to visit the main scenes of the movies, have a bite to eat at the famous The Elephant coffee shop, take a cruise and finish with a spooky tour of the mysteries.

Take a tour of all the sets of the film

The city of Edinburgh has given place to many of the scenarios that have appeared in the Harry Potter saga. If you follow the story of this young wizard and want to see with your own eyes the places where the great scenes took place, one of the best plans is to hire a tour that takes you through all the places marked by Harry Potter, telling you anecdotes and being able to take pictures in strategic places.

This type of tour usually lasts between 2 to 3 hours and, for less than 20€, you can spend the whole morning touring Edinburgh in a different way and, undoubtedly, full of magic.

Book your Harry Potter tour of Edinburgh

Have lunch in the cafe where the magic began

If you want to keep with the Harry Potter theme, I can't think of a better place to stop for lunch than The Elephant House, the cafe where J.K. Rowling started writing and bringing all these stories to life.

The menu is quite simple, having quite affordable menus and lunches. However, beyond the food, the essential of this stop is to be able to sit in the same place where the magic of Harry Potter began.

Embark on a cruise through the Firth of Forth

Firth of Forth Cruise| ©Alice J
Firth of Forth Cruise| ©Alice J

After lunch I have prepared a very entertaining plan that will put you aboard a boat for a ride of about 2 hours. It is a cruise that takes you through the three most important bridges of Edinburgh across the Firth of Forth.

To get there, you will have to take the streetcar, which will leave you at South Queensferry Pier in just 20 minutes.

The ride will allow you to see Edinburgh from a distance and all the surrounding environment, in addition to crossing the Forth Railway Bridge, a World Heritage Site. It has an approximate value of 25 € and is the perfect plan to do in the afternoon, as in the evening I leave you prepared an activity that will leave you breathless.

Take a tour of the mysteries

I have reserved for the night of this fourth day one of the most demanded activities by all tourists. Since you come from spending a day full of magic and mystery, what better than ending it knowing closely all the mysteries and legends that Edinburgh has been dragging for centuries?

The city offers numerous tours of the mysteries of Edinburgh, with prices ranging between 20 € and 40 € and travel in the dark of night the canals, tunnels and alleys where, years ago, all kinds of misfortunes and horrors occurred.

Edinburgh has always boasted of being one of the most mysterious and ghostly cities on the continent and with this tour you can discover if it is real or not, do you dare?

Book a mystery and ghost tour of Edinburgh

5. Day Trip to Loch Ness and the Highlands

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

You have already seen during these days the most important points of the city of Edinburgh, but you still have to get to know its surroundings. For this last day, I am going to propose a full day trip where you will visit the most emblematic landscapes of Scotland: Glencoe Valley, Loch Ness and the impressive Highlands.

Discover the incredible Glencoe Valley

There are numerous tours and excursions through the Highlands, Loch Ness and other highlights of Scotland. Many of these routes pass through one of the places with the most incredible views of the country, Glencoe Valley, entrance to the famous Highlands and formed by the action of volcanoes and glaciers for centuries.

This incredible natural environment is only 2 hours from the capital and most of the tours make a stop so you can walk around the valley for a while and take pictures of such an incredible place that has been the scene of numerous films such as James Bond.

Delve into the heart of the Highlands

TheHighlands are a region in their own right and are one of the largest natural parks in all of Great Britain. Thanks to tours departing from Edinburgh you will be able to visit some of the most emblematic places and see these imposing mountains up close in a vehicle adapted to all types of terrain.

Book a tour to the Highlands from Edinburgh

Visit the Loch Ness Monster

To finish the excursion, most tours stop at one of its most famous places, Loch Ness. This place has gained enormous fame due to a legend that tells that in its depths lies an ancient monster.

I can not assure you that you will see monsters, but certainly the views of the lake with the mountains in the background is one of the best postcards to put a finishing touch to your visit to Edinburgh.

Book a Loch Ness tour from Edinburgh