Out of all the city breaks I’ve been on, the Edinburgh city break we did for my birthday last year was one my favourites.
I don’t know if it was because the weather was beautiful (it was a heatwave and I got burnt in Scotland) or just the incredible city, but I felt instantly at home. It’s definitely one of the few places I could see myself living.
I did so much research and planning before my visit so I’d be able to see everything I want to and it made my trip so effortless. There is so much to do in Edinburgh and it is impossible to see it all, but, thanks to my itinerary, we saw the best bits!
I’ve done a handful of posts all about my visit to Edinburgh, but it thought it would be useful to share some of the things I discovered and learnt so you can create your own perfect Edinburgh Itinerary!
Tips For Planning You Edinburgh Itinerary
Old Town v New Town
Two of the most popular areas in Edinburgh are the Old Town and the New Town. Both UNESCO Heritage Sites, I really struggled to decide which area we should spend the most time in when I was planning our itinerary.
As the name suggests, the Old Town is the oldest part of the city. A preserved medieval plan with stunning centuries-old buildings, there is no question that this area has plenty to see and do.
Mainly centred around the Royal Mile, Old Town is the most popular and busy area with lots of busy cafes, traditional pubs and good shops. Attractions wise, you’ll find highlights such as Edinburgh Castle, The Scotch Whisky Experience and Victoria Street.
In contrast, New Town is, unsurprisingly, more modern but still has plenty of historical character. Featuring stunning Georgian townhouses and open squares, here you will find the main foodie scene as well as the best shopping in the cities.
Aside from the cool bars and boutiques, you’ll also find the Scott Monument, Calton Hill, Circus Lane.
The two areas are separated by Princes Street Gardens which runs parallel to the Royal Mile and Princes Street.
For me, I spent the most time exploring the Old Town because I found the sights and attractions more interesting. However, I would definitely recommend popping into the New Town to see the contrast and the different atmosphere.
Beware of the hills!
We’ve all checked directions on Google Maps, saw how long it took and then realised you underestimated how far it would actually take you. In Edinburgh’s case, unless you’re used to hills, you’re going to want to add on an extra few minutes.
There is no getting around it, Edinburgh is a super hilly city and you will have to deal with incline differences during your stay.
Whilst this might not be an issue if you’re physically fit, if you do have mobility problems I’d take a closer look at the route you have planned and make sure it is accessible.
Visit a museum
Like most capital cities, Edinburgh has a wide range of museums to add a bit of culture to your itinerary.
The perfect thing to do if you have rain during your stay, you can choose from anything from The Writer’s Museum and the National War Museum to the Surgeon’s Hall Museums and the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.
I know museums might not be at the top of some of your lists, but trust me when I say you should visit at least one whilst you’re in Edinburgh.
Not sure which one to choose? I recommend visiting the National Museum of Scotland which has something for everyone. The building is absolutely beautiful, but beware, you won’t have time to see it all!
Add a Royal touch to your Edinburgh Itinerary
If you are in love with the British Royal Family, you will be pleased to know there are plenty of regal things to do in Edinburgh.
If you’re visiting the city, chances are you will walk even just a small section of the Royal Mile. Spanning the distance between Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the Royal Mile is the busiest place in Edinburgh and is littered with plenty of things to do.
Dominating the Edinburgh skyline, Edinburgh Castle is a must-see when you visit the capital. Boasting an incredible view over the city, there is a climb to get to the Castle but it is definitely worth it. It is also home to the Edinburgh Tattoo and the Honours of Scotland, aka the Scottish Crown Jewels. My top tip for the castle is to head to see the Crown Jewels first and work your way back down.
At the opposite end of the Royal Mile is the Palace of Holyroodhouse, most commonly known as Holyrood Palace. The official residence of the British monarch in Scotland, you can actually do tours of some of the areas including the Throne Room and Palace Gardens. Just be aware that the Palace is closed when there are official events like the Garden Parties in July.
Last but by no means least is The Royal Yacht Britannia. Located away from the city centre, about a 20-minute drive away from the Royal Mile, Her Majesty’s Yacht Britannia is the former royal yacht of the British monarch. In service from 1954 to 1997, it’s a floating palace which visitors are able to take a tour around.
Indulge your inner foodie
The food scene in Edinburgh is absolutely incredible, and I’d really recommend looking into the different options for your stay.
Ranging from high-end restaurants such as The Dome and The Table that are perfect for special occasions to the more laid-back vibe of Makars Gourmet Mash bar and MUMS Great Comfort Food, there somewhere to suit all tastes.
Apart from the obvious Haggis, other traditional foods to try whilst in Edinburgh include:
- Neeps and Tatties
- Scottish Salmon
- Scottish Tablet
- Battered Mars Bar
- Scotch pie
Attend an iconic Edinburgh festival!
Edinburgh is a festival city and there is always some form of festival going in to get involved with.
The main festivals happen during the summer months from June to August. Starting with the International Film Festival, other festivals include the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo at Edinburgh Castle Esplanade and the Edinburgh International Festival and Edinburgh Festival Fringe which promote performing arts.
Alternatively, Edinburgh is the perfect city to visit during the festive season. Located in Princess Street Gardens, Edinburgh Christmas Market is the perfect place to get into the holiday spirit, whilst the Hogmanay celebrations on the last day of the year are famous around the world.
Factor in time to relax in your Edinburgh Itinerary
One of my top tips for planning any itinerary is including time for you just to relax. There is nothing worse than ticking everything off your list, but not really being able to enjoy or experience anything.
One of the highlights of my trip to Edinburgh was having a picnic in Princes Street Gardens. A garden oasis in the heart of the city, this area is the perfect place to relax after a busy day sightseeing.
If you are visiting between July and October, don’t forget to go and see the Floral Clock, an incredible working clock made of plants. It’s design changes yearly and a mechanical cuckoo appears every quarter-hour!
Discover the magic of Harry Potter
It’s no secret that J.K. Rowling wrote some of Harry Potter in Edinburgh, and there are plenty of locations that are said to be the inspiration for the books.
Take a guided tour of famous landmarks such as the Elephant Cafe and Spoon Cafe where J.K. Rowling wrote her early manuscripts and Greyfriar’s Kirkyard where some of the character names can be found including Thomas Riddle!
Scare yourself silly
Harry Potter isn’t the only magical thing in Edinburgh, with many saying Edinburgh is one of the most haunted cities in the UK!
Full of gruesome stories, visit Edinburgh Dungeons or go on a ghost tour and learn about some of the cities, former residents.
Unless you are especially eager, I wouldn’t advise going down to the tombs or the Real Mary Kings Close as there is honestly not much to see.
Book onto a tour of Edinburgh
I’ve already spoken about some of the different tours of Edinburgh, but if you’re new to the city, I’d really recommend going on a more generalised sight-seeing tour of the city.
There are loads of different tours including hop-on-hop-off bus tours and some amazing free walking tours from the Royal Mile.
We did an open-top mini-bus tour with Rabbies which I would 100% recommend, especially if you are unable to walk long distances or deal with the hills. The tour went all over the city, including areas that the hop-on-hop-off bus couldn’t get such as Dean Village. The guide was so informative and we got an amazing overview of the city.
Include a View Point in your Edinburgh Itinerary
Viewpoints or observation decks are my favourite things to do in any city I visit.
As I mentioned before, Edinburgh is full of hills so it actually has quite a few natural viewpoints!
An extinct volcano in the heart of the city, Arthur’s Seat is one of the most popular options, along with Castle Rock and Calton Hill, which is home to the contemporary art gallery, the Collective, and the unfinished National Monument.
Alternatively, head to one of the many roof terraces in the city. Located close to Edinburgh Castle, Camera Obscura offers great views but I prefer the terrace at the National Museum of Scotland which you can access for free!
Make time for shopping
Not going to lie, I do love shopping and, if you’re like me, you will be pleased to know that Edinburgh has some amazing retail opportunities.
For high street lovers, Princes Street is a must-visit. Boasting beautiful views of the magnificent castles, you’ll find everything you could want, from Zara to Primark. I’d recommend popping into Jenners House of Fraser and taking a look at the beautiful main hall – it’s very similar to Liberty London!
For those wanting more luxurious shops, Multrees Walk has a selection of exclusive fashion brands as well as Scotland’s only Harvey Nicholls.
George Street strikes the perfect balance between Princess Street and Multrees Walk and you’ll find brands such as Anthropologie and Kooples there.
My favourite places to shop are Grassmarket and Victoria Street. Ranging from designer to vintage, there is something for everyone in Grassmarket, as well as the famous Mary’s Milk Bar for any mid-shopping refreshments. Rumoured to be the inspiration for Diagon Alley, Victoria Street is a line of brightly coloured boutiques including my favourite shop, Red Door Gallery.
Venture out of the city
Leave the city when you’re on a city break? Really? Trust me I haven’t gone mad.
There are some amazing places to visit close to Edinburgh including Rosslyn Chapel, Glasgow and the Firth of Forth.
For those with more time of their hands, I recommend trips to St. Andrews, Loch Lomond, Loch Ness and Glencoe to get the ultimate Scottish experience.
Taste some Whisky
The iconic drink of Scotland, aside from Iron Bru, there are plenty of opportunities to learn more about Scotch Whisky in Edinburgh
Get a general introduction to the drink at the Scotch Whisky Experience or become an expert with the Scotch Malt Whisky Society in New Town.
If Whisky isn’t for you, you can also do a tour of the Edinburgh Gin Distillery in the Westend of Edinburgh.
Forget your Edinburgh Itinerary
My last tip of this post is to forget your Edinburgh itinerary – a bit of a weird one when I’m telling you how to create your perfect Edinburgh Itinerary.
One of my biggest tips for planning your trip is to include plenty of time to explore the many hidden nooks Edinburgh has.
There are lots of tiny closes and streets leading off the Royal Mile and, if you go down them, you can discover hidden courtyards, astronomical clocks, beautiful stairs and much more. Whilst some are private, many are open to the public and they really add to the charm of the city.
Fingers crossed these tips will help you plan your perfect Edinburgh Itinerary! Let me know your favourite things to do in the city or any other tips in the comments below!
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