Edinburgh Scotland: The Perfect Weekend Itinerary

3 Days in Edinburgh: The Perfect Weekend Itinerary

Edinburgh is a city rich in history. As you stroll down the Royal Mile, surrounded by historic shopfronts and medieval townhouses, you’ll hear the solemn sound of the pipers playing when you near the fortified gateway to Edinburgh Castle. 

Lose yourself in the maze of cobblestone streets, underpasses, overpasses, and passageways that form the Old Town before retreating to the cozy confines of a traditional Edinburgh pub for a pint of ale and a spot of local “scran” (food).

You can join walking tours, ghost tours, or open-top bus tours to learn more about the city’s heritage, traditions, and legends, or visit the National Museum of Scotland for a serious adventure through centuries of history. 

Spending 3 days in Edinburgh is never enough to truly explore every nook and cranny of this fascinating city, but it’s certainly enough time to give it your best shot. If you’re planning a weekend getaway to the Scottish capital, then keep reading as we detail our ultimate 3-day Edinburgh itinerary! 

If you’re still deciding where to stay then make sure to check out our article on the best boutique hotels in Edinburgh!

How to Spend a Weekend in Edinburgh, Scotland

Getting Around Edinburgh


Getting Around Edinburgh Scotland: The Perfect Weekend Itinerary

As the Scottish capital and the second-largest city in the country (Glasgow has a larger population than Edinburgh!), Edinburgh is well connected to the rest of Scotland, the United Kingdom, and an increasing number of international destinations. 

You’ll find Edinburgh’s international airport is a convenient half-hour drive outside of the city. The airport is connected to Edinburgh Waverley Station by regular direct trains, while the Airlink bus service also stops nearby. If you’re in luck, then you can land at the airport and be on the Royal Mile in just one hour.

Edinburgh has direct connections to many major UK cities, either through domestic flights or the train services departing from Edinburgh Waverley Station. The fastest trains to London take five and a half hours, while flight time is 1 hour and 20 minutes. 

Glasgow is just an hour away by train, with regular connections throughout the day. Internationally, there are direct flights to major hubs like Dubai, Amsterdam, or Paris, where you can connect to almost anywhere else in the world, or you can connect via London to most major international destinations. 

Getting around Edinburgh during your weekend stay will be a breeze. The major tourist attractions are focused on the Royal Mile, a long and historic stretch of road that connects Holyrood Palace with Edinburgh Castle. You can walk the Royal Mile and the wider streets and sights of the Old Town on foot, or you can make use of the hop-on hop-off bus, which stops at most major tourist sights. 

You can walk or take the bus or tram from the Old Town to the New Town. The local transport will come in handy if you’re staying in one of Edinburgh’s suburbs, as it will if you’re planning a day trip to the coastal port of Leith, which is a 30-minute bus ride away from the city. Uber and taxis are plentiful in Edinburgh, although they might struggle to get around the Old Town with much speed.


Edinburgh Weekend Itinerary – Day 1

Traditional Scotch Drinks and Dishes

3 Days in Edinburgh Itinerary: Traditional Scotch Drinks and Dishes

Your first day of your 3-day trip to Edinburgh begins on the Royal Mile, where you’ll explore the historic heart of the Scottish capital, visit the best of the city’s museums, and try plenty of traditional Scotch drinks and dishes. Be prepared for a long day of walking, as day one of our Edinburgh itinerary takes you to the most iconic sights in the Old Town. 

There are several ways for you to approach your first day of sightseeing. You can follow the itinerary we suggest below, making your way on foot or by bus or tram to the sights we’ve recommended. You can purchase a hop-on-hop-off bus ticket and enjoy a bit of guided commentary and much less walking, or you can opt for a walking tour. 

Edinburgh 3 Day Itinerary Weekend Guide: Traditional Scotch Drinks and Dishes

We recommend the latter option if you’d like an overview of the city, as there are several walking tour companies offering daily guided tours of the Royal Mile, taking in all the sights we’ve listed. Edinburgh Free Tour, for example, runs tips-based walking tours where you only pay what you feel the experience was worth at the end. They organize two-hour tours departing at 10 am, 11 am, and 1 pm from the Copper Still on the Royal Mile. 

Edinburgh Castle

3 Days in Edinburgh Weekend Itinerary: Edinburgh Castle

Today, you’ll be exploring the western portion of the Royal Mile, and you can start by making your way to Edinburgh Castle. This is the city’s most iconic sight, and you’ll want to spend some time exploring the many museums within either now (if you’re not on a walking tour) or at the end of your walking tour.

Edinburgh Castle sits atop a craggy, volcanic outcrop named Castle Rock which offers sweeping views of the surrounding suburbs. There’s been some sort of fortress here since the Neolithic Age many thousands of years ago, while construction of the castle walls you’ll stand atop began in the 11th century. The castle is still partly used by the British Army to this day and forms the backdrop to the world-famous Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, which takes place every August. 

St Giles’ Cathedral

3 Days in Edinburgh Itinerary: St Giles Cathedral

Next up is the Tartan Weaving Mill, where you can learn more about kilts and the Scottish tartan that the Highland clans have always been famous for. From here, it’s a short stroll to St Giles’ Cathedral. This famous historical attraction has been a landmark on the city’s skyline for 900 years, as it was founded in 1124 by King David I. 

Edinburgh 3 Day Itinerary Weekend Guide: St Giles' Cathedral

Ever since, it’s been the “High Kirk of Scotland,” and you’ll love the layers of religious history and architecture which make it so unique. We’re still on the Royal Mile, and you’ll also stop at the Mercat Cross before making your way through the cobbled streets of the Old Town toward Cowgate Street, a historic medieval underpass that will connect you to Grassmarket, which was a medieval suburb of the city. 

Grassmarket

Weekend in Edinburgh 3 Days Itinerary: Grassmarket

By now, you’re probably starting to feel a bit hungry. The Grassmarket was Edinburgh’s traditional public marketplace, and among the colorful Victorian townhouses that surround this picturesque area, you’ll find many independent cafes, bistros, and restaurants. 

3 Days in Edinburgh Weekend Itinerary: Grassmarket

Pop into the Black Bull, The Fiddler’s Arms, or The Last Drop for a pub lunch and a pint of local ale. Now that you’ve eaten, we can also let you know that the Grassmarket has a more notorious history to it. It was also the scene of grizzly public executions during the medieval era, and many an unfortunate Scot met their end here in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle.

Greyfriars Kirk

Edinburgh 3 Day Itinerary Weekend Guide: Greyfriars Kirk

Rather appropriately, your next stop is Candlemaker Row, where you’ll find Greyfriars Kirk. This 16th-century church is surrounded by Greyfriars Kirkyard, where many of Edinburgh’s famous historical figures are buried. 

One gravestone was even the inspiration for Tom Riddle, the infamous character created by J.K. Rowling for her Harry Potter series. The most iconic point of interest here, though, is the Greyfriars Bobby statue, which commemorates a loyal dog named Bobby who is said to have sat by the grave of his master in the churchyard for 14 years.

National Museum of Scotland

Weekend in Edinburgh: National Museum of Scotland

Leave the graveyard behind and step inside the doors of the National Museum of Scotland, where you’ll need the rest of the afternoon to explore the galleries and exhibitions within. You’ll begin in the Grand Gallery, where the “Window on the World” offers a sweeping insight into global history and culture. There’s the Discoveries Gallery, the Natural World Gallery, and so much more to see.

For dinner, you’ll also be dining in the Grassmarket area, so you can either pop into a pub for a pre-dinner drink or head back to your hotel to freshen up after your visit to the museum. We’ve got a few options for you to try on your first night, all of them highly-rated, fine-dining restaurants. 

For delectably fresh-tasting menus prepared using locally sourced ingredients, book a table at either The Cellar Door or Timberyard. For something a little different, head over to Kanpai Sushi, where you’ll find the best Japanese restaurant in Edinburgh. Either way you go, it’s sure to be a great ending to the first evening of your weekend in Edinburgh.


Edinburgh Weekend Itinerary – Day 2

Calton Hill

3 Days in Edinburgh Itinerary: Calton Hill

Your weekend in Edinburgh continues on day two with a trip to Calton Hill. Located just a short walk from Edinburgh Waverley Station, Calton Hill offers wonderful views over the surrounding townhouses of the old and new quarters of the city. It’s a great place to start the day, not least because you’ll be able to see several of the major landmarks you’ll be visiting later – including Holyrood Palace, the Scottish Parliament Building, and Arthur’s Seat. 

Calton Hill is also home to several major landmarks itself, including the mighty Scottish National Monument. Inspired by the Greek Parthenon in Athens, this monument was intended by the Victorians to commemorate the Napoleonic Wars, but it was never completed. 

Calton Hill is home to several other important statues, including one of Lord Nelson (of Battle of Trafalgar fame) and another of Dugald Stewart (a Scottish philosopher). If you haven’t had breakfast yet, we highly recommend popping into The Lookout, a fantastic gourmet restaurant on Calton Hill offering excellent views while you dine!

Scottish Parliament Building

3 Days in Edinburgh Itinerary: Scottish Parliament Building

After fueling up for day two, continue downhill toward the Scottish Parliament Building. This magnificent modern building sits in contrast to the older buildings of the Royal Mile, as it was only opened in 2004. 

It’s the seat of the devolved Scottish parliament and is an important mark of Scottish nationhood and national identity. You can take a tour to learn more about the inner workings of the local government and the history of Scottish independence. 

Holyrood Palace

3 Days in Edinburgh Weekend Itinerary: Holyrood Palace

The Scottish Parliament is next to Holyrood Palace. This extravagant palatial home marks the eastern end of the Royal Mile, and it’s the official residence of the British monarch (now King Charles III) when he’s visiting Edinburgh. 

When the royal family isn’t in residence, then many of the stately rooms and halls are open to the public, while the chambers of Mary Queen of Scots and the Queen’s Gallery are open all year round. If possible, take the guided tour to learn more about centuries of regal history.

Café at the Palace

By now, it’ll be just about time for lunch. Before heading off on the next part of your day two adventure, why not stop off at Café at the Palace? You can order coffee, tea, and light bites like sandwiches and jacket potatoes, or you can opt for the traditional afternoon tea spread if you’re particularly peckish.

Now you’re going to leave the Royal Mile behind as you step into Holyrood Park. Few capitals in the world can claim to be so close to nature as Edinburgh, and you’ll be awed by the dramatic sight of Arthur’s Seat as it rises above the park. 

Arthur’s Seat

Edinburgh 3 Day Itinerary Weekend Guide: Arthur Seat

Arthur’s Seat is an extinct volcano that formed millions of years ago, and at 251 meters high, it offers spectacular views of the city. It’s a leisurely 2-hour walk there and back from Holyrood Palace and a great place to spend the rest of the afternoon. 

The Scotch Whisky Experience

After your hike, make your way back along the Royal Mile, where you’ve got one more stop before dinner. If your feet aren’t aching, then you can choose to walk the length of the Royal Mile to The Scotch Whisky Experience, or you can hop on a bus. This is Edinburgh’s premier whisky museum, where you can learn all about the nation’s most famous export and see the largest collection of whisky in the world. 

Amber Restaurant

Weekend in Edinburgh: Amber Restaurant

Follow up the tour with a tasting in the Amber Bar, where there are 450 different types of whisky for you to try. The Amber Restaurant also makes an excellent location for dinner, as the chefs serve up a seasonal “Taste of Scotland” dinner menu that includes everything from Ham Hock Terrine to Sticky Date Pudding. 

World’s End

3 Days in Edinburgh Itinerary: World's Ends

If you’re looking for somewhere a little less formal for dinner, then you could walk along the Royal Mile to the World’s End, a historic pub dating to the medieval era that serves a fine selection of ales, whiskies, and classic pub dishes late into the night. It’s the perfect way to cap off the second day of your 3-days in Edinburgh!


Edinburgh Weekend Itinerary – Day 3

Scott Monument

Edinburgh 3 Day Itinerary Weekend Guide: Scott Monument

Now that you’re on the last day of your 3-day trip to Edinburgh, you’ll have explored the most important sights in Edinburgh’s Old Town, so on your third and final day, it’s time to head further afield. Make your way to Edinburgh Waverley Station, and start your day in Princes Street Gardens, where you’ll find the monumental Scott Monument.

The Scott Monument is dedicated to Scotland’s most famous writer, Sir Walter Scott, and the monument and gardens sit on the edge of Edinburgh’s New Town. The New Town is your next destination as you stroll through the neat rows of Georgian townhouses found north of the Old Town. 

Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

Weekend in Edinburgh: Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

Walk toward the picturesque Royal Circus, where you can stop for breakfast or brunch at The Pantry before continuing to the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. This beautiful area of landscaped gardens dates back to 1670, and the collection is now home to over 13,000 different species held outdoors and within the spacious greenhouse. 

Next, walk north to Ferry Road, where you can jump on a bus and travel east to the Port of Leith. You’ll be met by the fresh sea breeze sweeping in from the North Sea as you overlook the spacious Firth of Forth that marks the end of the River Forth’s run. Leith is Edinburgh’s historic harborside district, and you’ll love the waterside pubs and colorful townhouses that make this such a unique area to explore.

First things first: lunch in Leith is in order. Nowhere quite beats The Kitchin, which is one of Edinburgh’s best restaurants. This Michelin-starred restaurant serves up an eclectic array of seasonal tasting menus, but you might prefer the a la carte menu for lunch. For somewhere a little less stately, our other recommendation would be The Fishmarket, where locally sourced fish and chips are served with a gourmet twist. 

After lunch, spend the afternoon leisurely exploring Leith. Take a walk along the Water of Leith, pop into the Port of Leith Distillery for a quick dram of whisky, then visit the iconic Royal Yacht Britannia moored in the harbor. 

Royal Yacht Britannia

Weekend in Edinburgh: Royal Yacht Brittania

From 1954 to 1997, the Royal Yacht Britannia was the official yacht of the British royal family. Queen Elizabeth II, and many other royals, traveled to over 100 countries on the yacht, as it was used for state visits and trips across the world. When it was decommissioned, it quickly became one of the most popular tourist attractions in Edinburgh.

Weekend in Edinburgh 3 Days Itinerary: Royal Yacht Britannia

Once you’re satisfied that you’ve seen the best Leith has to offer, hop back on a bus to Edinburgh Old Town (not back to the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh), where you’ve got one last evening to enjoy in the Scottish capital. 

Museum of Childhood

3 Days in Edinburgh Weekend Itinerary: Museum of Childhood

Depending on how much time you’ve spent in Leith, you may be able to visit one more museum in the afternoon. If so, you could choose to visit the Museum of Edinburgh to learn more about local history or a niche museum like Camera Obscura or the Museum of Childhood. All are located along or near the Royal Mile, which by now, we’re certain you’ll be well acquainted with. 

For dinner, we recommend enjoying the finer delights of Edinburgh’s British-Indian cuisine. Scotland is famous for its curries (the tikka masala was invented in Glasgow, after all), and Edinburgh has an excellent selection of curry houses. 

One of the best is Dishoom (located a short walk from Edinburgh Waverley Station), where you’ll have a gourmet menu packed with fusion dishes inspired by the streets of Mumbai. Visit a few more of Edinburgh’s pubs for a final drink on the third night of your weekend in Edinburgh, where you might even be entertained by the dulcet tones of local musicians. 


What to do if you have more than 3 days in Edinburgh

If you’ve still got time to explore, then you’ve still got plenty of great things to do and attractions to see in Edinburgh. Here are the best things to add to your 3-day Edinburgh itinerary:

Museum of Edinburgh

3 Days in Edinburgh Itinerary: Museum of Edinburgh

We mentioned this excellent museum briefly in our itinerary, and it certainly deserves a visit if you’ve got extra time in the city. Located on the Royal Mile, the Museum of Edinburgh is focused on local rather than national history, as the exhibitions explore the history and heritage of the city itself. 

Camera Obscura

Edinburgh 3 Day Itinerary Weekend Guide: Camera Obscura

This quirky museum welcomes you to explore a world of illusions as you’re thrust into five extensive floors of imagery and trickery at the Camera Obscura. Dating back to the 1830s, this is one of Britain’s oldest attractions, and you can still find the original “Camera Obscura” on the top floor.  

Edinburgh Ghost Tours

Weekend in Edinburgh 3 Days Itinerary: Edinburgh Ghost Tours

The Scottish capital has a spooky past, and many of the streets and alleyways you’ve walked are said to be haunted. Find out more by joining one of the many ghost tours that depart after dark as you explore a different side of Edinburgh. 

Scottish National Gallery

3 Days in Edinburgh Itinerary: Scottish National Gallery

Art lovers will want to find time to fit a visit to the Scottish National Gallery into their Edinburgh itinerary because it’s home to some of the nation’s most important collections of art. Located in a grand neoclassical building next to Edinburgh Waverley Station, the Scottish National Gallery features fine art from the Renaissance period onwards. 

Weekend in Edinburgh: Scottish National Gallery

The Potter Trail

If you’re a big Harry Potter fan, then you’ve got much to see in Edinburgh. The Potter Trail is a tips-based walking tour that takes you to the many Edinburgh spots that inspired J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, with daily tours departing from the Greyfriars Bobby Fountain at 12 pm. 

We hope you enjoy your weekend trip to Edinburgh, Scotland! Should we add something else to our 3-day Edinburgh itinerary?


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Author

  • Richard Collett

    Richard is an award-winning travel writer based in Southwest England who’s addicted to traveling off the beaten track. He’s traveled to 75 countries and counting in search of intriguing stories, unusual destinations, and cultural curiosities.

    Richard loves traveling the long way round over land and sea, and you’ll find him visiting quirky micronations and breakaway territories as often as he’s found lounging on a beach (which is a lot).

    When he’s not writing for BBC Travel, National Geographic, or Lonely Planet, you can find Richard writing for the Wandering Wheatleys or updating his off-beat travel blog, Travel Tramp.

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