48 Hours in Edinburgh: The Perfect Edinburgh Itinerary

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I absolutely loved my time in Edinburgh, the city is amazing and has such a great feel to it. It’s world-famous for its festivals and culture, and the clash of the medieval Old Town with the Georgian New Town is something you really should experience for yourself.

Unfortunately, I was only able to spend about two days in Edinburgh, but that’s enough to experience the best of the Scottish capital. So if you have two free days, book your ticket to Edinburgh ASAP.

Here is everything you need to know about having an incredible 48 hours in Edinburgh.

What You’ll Find in this Article

  1. How to Get from the Airport to the City
  2. When to Visit Edinburgh
  3. Where to Stay in Edinburgh
  4. The Perfect 2-Day Edinburgh Itinerary

How to Get from the Airport to the City

The Edinburgh Airport (EDI) is only around eight miles from the city, so no matter how you choose to get there, it shouldn’t take longer than 30 minutes, unless there’s a lot of traffic. There are several ways to get to the city (taxi, rental car, etc.), but there are only two I’d recommend – the bus and tram.

1. Coach Bus

Lothian Buses runs an airport express bus called the Airlink 100. The bus runs 24/7 and the route terminates at Waverley Bridge, making several stops along the way, like the Edinburgh Zoo and West End, if they’re requested. At the bus stop, there’s a ticket booth where you can pay with cash or credit/debit card. Buses leave about every ten minutes. A one-way ticket is £4.50 while a return ticket is £7.50. To buy your bus ticket in advance click here.

2. Tram

The tram runs every seven minutes from 7:00am – 7:00pm (every ten minutes outside of those hours), and it can take you as far as York Place. The first tram is scheduled to leave the airport at 6:18am and the last one is scheduled to depart at 10:48pm. The ticket vending machines accept up to £2 coins (no change is given) and most credit/debit cards. Adult single tickets are £6.00 and return tickets are £8.50.

3. Taxi

By comparison, a taxi will cost around £15, depending on traffic and your destination. If you’re traveling with multiple people and lots of luggage or staying somewhere not well-connected to the public transport network, then maybe a taxi is a good idea.

When To Visit Edinburgh

There are several festivals that happen during the summer months, so June – August are when you’ll find the most tourists and probably the highest prices.

Spring sees a lot less tourists and prices are cheaper. The weather is more mild and you can watch flowers bloom, but you’re more likely to get rained on.

In the winter months, Edinburgh hosts a variety of  Christmas festivals and markets, and areas like Princes Street Gardens are turned into a gorgeous winter wonderland.

As you can see, there’s no best time to visit Edinburgh, it’s just a matter of preference.

Regardless of when you’re visiting Edinburgh, you should pack multiple layers of clothing in your travel bag and be prepared for a variety of weather. Any season of the year can yield sunshine or rain, and even though it doesn’t happen every winter, snow is possible.

Where To Stay in Edinburgh

Pretty much all of the main sites in Edinburgh are walkable, and you’ll likely either be staying in the Old Town or New Town, which are connected by a short bridge. To be pampered during your weekend in Edinburgh, check out one of these world-class, New Town hotels – The Principal Edinburgh George Street or The Balmoral Hotel (a real-life Harry Potter destination where JK Rowling finished the last book of the HP series).

For an averaged-priced hotel that still offers excellent service and a great location, the Radisson Blu Hotel Edinburgh puts you right on the Royal Mile in the Old Town.

Edinburgh also has a ton of vacation apartments for rent on Airbnb, many of them cheaper (and a lot more comfortable) than your average hotel. For recommendations check out our list of the best Airbnbs in Edinburgh.

If you’re backpacking on a budget, check out the Castle Rock Hostel, it sits right next to Edinburgh Castle and is one of the best-rated hostels in Edinburgh. Want to party it up during your 48 hours in Edinburgh? Then St Christopher’s Edinburgh has your name written all over it.

The Perfect 2-Day Edinburgh Itinerary

During your 2 days in Edinburgh you’ll spend a lot of time on the famed Royal Mile in Old Town, while also experiencing the best of New Town.

However, before we get to our Edinburgh itinerary, we just wanted to remind you to purchase travel insurance. You never know what will happen and, trust us, you do not want to get stuck with thousands of dollars in medical bills. As a wise man once said, “If you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel.” So don’t leave home without it.

We personally use and recommend SafetyWing. For only around $10 a week, it’s really a no-brainer. You can get a quick, non-binding quote below:

Even if you don’t get travel insurance with SafetyWing, please make sure to get travel insurance from somewhere. One popular alternative, for example, is World Nomads.

With that important note covered, let’s get back to this itinerary and the best places to visit in Edinburgh in 2 days.

Edinburgh Itinerary: Day 1

You’ll start the first day of your Edinburgh itinerary near Queen Elizabeth II’s Scottish home, then head up the Royal Mile and end your day in New Town.

Holyrood Park and Arthur’s Seat

This 640-acre royal park neighbors Holyrood Palace and is highlighted by the ancient volcano Arthur’s Seat. As the highest point in the park, Arthur’s Seat gives you amazing views of the city.

The ascent typically takes between 30 – 60 minutes.

Within the park you can also see the 15th-century St. Anthony’s Chapel, a well-preserved fort, Salisbury Crags (a series of 150-foot cliff faces), and Duddingston Loch.

Your travel camera is guaranteed to get a lot of use in Holyrood Park.

Cityscape of Edinburgh from Arthur's Seat in a beautiful summer day, Scotland, United Kingdom
S-F / shutterstock.com

Holyrood Palace

Once you get to the bottom of the park you’ll be right near the Holyrood Palace. This house is full of Scottish royal history and it’s one of Her Majesty The Queen’s official residences.

Unfortunately, when I visited Edinburgh, Queen Lizzy and Prince Philip were on their way to Holyrood Palace, so it was closed, but it’s definitely a must-do in Edinburgh.

It’ll take you around 90 minutes to get through the palace, and you’ll see everything from artwork by Rembrandt to the 12th-century ruins of Holyrood Abbey.

Adult tickets range from £14.00 – £23.00 depending on what you want to see, and you can buy your tickets on-site or book them in advance here. Tours are self-guided, but audio guides are available.

From March 31 – October 31, the palace is open from 9:30am – 6:00pm. November through March 29, the palace is open from 9:30am – 4:30pm.

Keep in mind this is a working royal palace, so there are some scheduled days for the palace to be closed and occasionally closures can happen with short notice. You can always check their website to make sure it’ll be open when you visit.

Palace of Holyroodhouse, official residence of the Queen in Scotland
JeniFoto / shutterstock.com

Scottish Parliament Building

This is a cool looking building across the street from Holyrood Palace. Entrance is free. It’s an interesting building to look at for a few minutes, and if you want to learn more you can take a tour. They offer one-hour guided tours or you can do a self-guided visit.

The parliament is open from 9:00am – 6:30pm Tuesday through Thursday, and from 10:00am – 5:00pm on Monday, Friday, Saturday, and public holidays.

Exterior of the Scottish Parliament Building, Holyrood, Edinburgh, Scotland
Skully / shutterstock.com

Royal Mile (between Holyrood Palace and Cockburn Street)

This famous street is full of all types of shops, restaurants, and museums (many of them being free). You’re sure to find something to catch your attention on this stretch of the Royal Mile.

Two of the museums I visited were the Museum of Edinburgh (home to a collection of things relating to Edinburgh’s history and origin) and the People’s Story Museum (which gives a unique look into the lives of Edinburgh’s working class from the 18th to the late-20th century). Both museums are free 🙂

The famous Royal Mile in Edinburgh on a summer afternoon, Scotland.
Stefano_Valeri / shutterstock.com

Princes Street Gardens

Keep heading up the Royal Mile and once you get to Cockburn Street, make a right. (It’s pronounced Co-burn 😀 and don’t worry, you’ll get to the other part of the Royal Mile tomorrow.)

Once you get to the bottom of the hill, Princes Street Gardens will be in front of you on the left. This park is a great place to relax while you marvel at the Edinburgh Castle and the rest of the Old Town.

Along with the amazing castle and old town views, the park has several interesting monuments and statues, including the world’s first floral clock and a spire honoring Sir Walter Scott.

Princes Street Gardens is a great place to visit whether you’re here for ten minutes or two hours.

Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh, Scotland
Pahol C / shutterstock.com

Calton Hill

When you cross Waverly Bridge to get into the New Town, turn right onto Princes Street. The impressive hotel you’ll see on your right at the North Bridge intersection is the Balmoral Hotel, where JK Rowling lived for six months and finished writing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the last book in the HP series.

Keep walking a few more minutes up Princes Street and Calton Hill will be on your left. It shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes to get to the top of the hill.

Calton Hill, also known as Edinburgh’s Acropolis, is home to a variety of iconic buildings and monuments like the National Monument, inspired by the Parthenon in Athens, and the City Observatory.

Climbing Calton Hill is definitely one of the best things to do in Edinburgh in two days.

Edinburgh city in winter from Calton hill, Scotland, UK
alice-photo / shutterstock.com

New Town & George Street

When you’re ready to come down and explore New Town, you’ll discover all the gorgeous Georgian and neoclassical architecture surrounding you. You can explore all types of luxe shops and restaurants throughout New Town or you can just wander around and enjoy the energy.

Whatever you’re craving for dinner, you’ll probably find it in New Town. They have a variety of delicious restaurants for every budget. If you haven’t tried haggis before, this is your chance! I was a little nervous about it, but it’s actually pretty great 🙂

After dinner, head to George Street. George Street is well-known for its nightlife and a great spot to dance the night away.

George Street with William Pitt statue in Edinburgh, Scotland
Christian Mueller / shutterstock.com

Edinburgh Itinerary: Day 2

You’ll wrap up your time here exploring the upper part of the Royal Mile and getting a taste of some unique experiences you can only get in Edinburgh.

St Giles’ Cathedral

A religious focal point for around 900 years, St Giles’ Cathedral is the principal place of worship of the Church of Scotland in Edinburgh. Both the inside and outside are incredible, and it’s free to enter.

It sits on High Street on the Royal Mile, and there’s no way you can miss it.

The High Kirk of Edinburgh, also known as the St Giles' Cathedral, is the principal place of worship of the Church of Scotland in Edinburgh.
DavidGraham86 / shutterstock.com

Real Mary King’s Close

Across the street from St. Giles’ Cathedral is Mary King’s Close. An hour-long tour of this historic close takes you underground and opens your eyes to truths about the past of Edinburgh and what life was really like for 17th-century residents.

Adults tickets are £15.50 per person, and they also have family discounts and student rates available. You can buy your tickets in advance here.

Summer hours (April – October) for this attraction are 9:30am – 9:30pm. Hours are shortened during the winter months.

Royal Mile (between Cockburn Street and Edinburgh Castle)

Turn right out of Mary King’s close and keep walking up the Royal Mile. Whether you want to buy some souvenirs or grab some lunch, you’ll find plenty of options along the way.

A bagpiper, a street musician wearing kilt and traditional scottish costume
Igor Guiro / shutterstock.com

Edinburgh Castle

It can be difficult to decide what to see in Edinburgh in 2 days, but one thing that absolutely has to make the list is Edinburgh Castle.

This historic fortress finds its home on an extinct volcano called Castle Rock. It’s been the home of several Scottish monarchs, including Mary Queen of Scots, and it’s also served as a military base. Inside you’ll learn about everything from the dog cemetery to the Royal Crown Jewels of Scotland, and when you look outside you’ll get panoramic views of Edinburgh.

You can remain in the castle as long as you want, but typically it takes around two hours to get through.

You can book your skip-the-line ticket here for entry to the castle along with a brief introductory guided tour. If you’d prefer a full, 90-minute guided tour, book your ticket here.

During the summer months (March 26 – September 30), you can explore the castle from 9:30am – 6:00pm. If you visit between October 1 and March 31, you can still enter at 9:30am, but you’ll have to leave by 5:00pm.

Edinburgh Castle, Scotland, from Princes Street Gardens, with the Ross Fountain in the foreground
godrick / shutterstock.com

Scotch Whisky Experience

When you leave the castle, the second building on your right will be the Scotch Whisky Experience. Here you’ll become part of the whisky-making process and learn all about Scotland’s national drink.

You’ll see the world’s largest collection of Scotch whisky and even take a whisky barrel ride through the production of Scotch whisky.

They have six different types of tours ranging in time from 50 minutes to three hours, and ranging in price from £13.50 to £73.00.

It’s a super entertaining experience and tours do sell out. To make sure you get the tour you want when you want it, book your tickets here.

The Scotch Whisky Experience is typically open from 10:00am – 6:00pm, but if you’re not going to book a tour in advance, be sure to check their website to make sure the hours haven’t changed.

Scotch Whisky experience, popular tourist attraction on the Royal Mile, Edinburgh Scotland.
lou armor / shutterstock.com

Camera Obscura and World of Illusions Edinburgh

Seeing the best of Edinburgh in 2 days can be stressful, so we want you to end your trip on a fun note. Once you finish your Scotch whisky tour, head across the street for a magical experience you may not have heard of.

Nothing is what it seems in the World of Illusions. It features over 150 illusions on five floors, but make sure you save the Bewilderworld experience for last, it’s going to blow your mind.

The Camera Obscura Show is like nothing you’ve ever seen. It’s a Victorian-style virtual reality experience that you won’t soon forget.

You’ll wrap up your time here with unbeatable rooftop views. They even have free telescopes and binoculars you can look through to admire the majesty of the city.

Adult tickets are £15.50. Your ticket is valid all day, so you can always leave and come back if you want. You’ll probably need at least two hours here. You can buy your ticket in advance here.

Camera Obscura and World of Illusions is a major tourist attraction in the Old Town, Edinburgh, Scotland
Mariusz S. Jurgielewicz / shutterstock.com

You’ve done it! You’ve tackled Edinburgh in a weekend. When you’re done here, the Royal Mile is wide open for however you want to finish your time in Scotland’s capital city.

Even though you’ll only spend 2 nights in Edinburgh, it will only take a few hours for you to understand why it’s one of the best places to visit in Europe.

Edinburgh Itinerary: Day 3 and Beyond

Have another day in Edinburgh? Consider visiting the Scottish Highlands and Loch Ness on a full-day tour from Edinburgh. It’s an amazing day trip and the scenery is absolutely breathtaking. Highly recommended. For more recommendations on what to do, check out our list of the best day trips from Edinburgh.


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