Scotland's capital has a massive amount of things to see, do, eat and drink, you could easily spend a week here but sometimes time is limited. Do you only have one day in Edinburgh? Can you see everything you want to in Edinburgh in a day? Whether you want to see the main attractions, like Edinburgh Castle and the Royal Mile, or you are a lover of history, shopping or food this Edinburgh one day itinerary will mean you don't miss a thing. Living only 30 minutes from Edinburgh and spending a whole lot of time there over the years I know what a fantastic city this is and I want to ensure you have the best possible day, 24 hours in Edinburgh is enough to explore all the highlights, eat some gorgeous traditionally Scottish food, have a wee dram of whisky and leave feeling satisfied.
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This itinerary is dependant on the weather, of course, as Scottish weather is famously unpredictable. I have added a rainy day alternative to any outdoor activities. Also, during festivals restaurants can fill up fast so I'd advise booking in advance if the restaurant permits. My biggest advice? Take the day at your own pace. You will enjoy the day more, and remember it more clearly, if you take your time and savour your time in the city, instead of rushing to tick items off a list.
One day in Edinburgh Itinerary
How to get to Edinburgh for your one day in Edinburgh itinerary
If you are arriving at Edinburgh airport to visit Edinburgh in a day there are a few options to get into the city centre quickly and with as little fuss as possible.
The Airlink bus service is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The buses leave every 10 minutes and only take 30 minutes.
The tram service runs from 6 am to almost 11 pm. They leave every 7 minutes and take around 30 minutes.
There are several car hire companies which are available from Edinburgh airport car hire centre, including Avis, Alamo, Budget and Sixt but I wouldn't recommend car hire as the city centre is compact and easy to get around without one, it's actually far easier to walk or jump on the bus than it is to navigate the one way streets and parking. If you are heading to other areas of Scotland after your one day in Edinburgh I'd suggest making your way back to the airport the morning after and pick up a car then.
Where to stay to get the most out of your 24 hours in Edinburgh
I would definitely suggest staying in the heart of the city centre. If you love a bit of history and are interested in finding out more about the history of this fascinating city I'd recommend staying in the Old Town. If you are planning on splashing the cash on some new purchases the New Town may be a better option. The two are actually only separated by the Princes Street Gardens so it really doesn't matter where you stay as long as it's central. You can see my recommendations at the bottom of this article.
When is the best time to visit Edinburgh
Edinburgh's weather is unpredictable and attractions in Edinburgh don't close over winter so you can visit at any time of the year. The weather is nicer in the summer months but the city is also a lot busier so it will depend on whether you want to avoid the crowds. August is a very busy month in Edinburgh as it is when the Fringe Festival takes place. If you want to visit in August make sure you book your accommodation as far in advance as possible, at least a few months before you arrive. December is also an amazing time to visit as the Christmas markets are there, an outdoor ice rink, fairground rides and stalls selling the must-have buy - a mulled wine. If you aren't coming to the city for a special event then I recommend early spring or autumn, the weather is a little more stable and the crowds are more manageable.
One day in Edinburgh Itinerary
Meander the streets before the city awakes
If you only have one day in Edinburgh you want to appreciate every minute so heading out early, like 7 am, will give you a good couple of hours to walk the streets before the crowds even get out of bed. I find this a magical time of the day in Edinburgh. The workers are just beginning their day, preparing the shop fronts, heading into the office for the day or having an early morning jog. You feel like you are part of the city, the streets are calm and quiet and you can take your time. Advice? As well as nosing in the shop windows look up, see the historic buildings above the shops, the streets being so empty also gives you the perfect opportunity to take some photos without the hordes. Take a piece of fruit too, if you think you might get hungry, it'll save you becoming hangry.
Take a walk up Cockburn Street onto the Royal Mile, take photos in front of St Giles Cathedral, relish in the empty promenade in front of Edinburgh Castle, explore the cobbled closes and enjoy the peace and quiet.
Alternative: Do some yoga, meditate or do a work out in Princes Street Gardens.
Have a traditional Scottish Breakfast
For a great value Scottish breakfast, you could head to the City Cafe which is just off the Royal Mile, it opens at 9 am so you can finally go and enjoy a cuppa and some haggis with your breakfast just as the city starts to get busy. Over in the New Town, on Hanover Street, is Urban Angel which opens at 8am, they have an amazing selection of Eggs Benedict with are utterly delicious, and you can add some haggis onto the plate too, you can't spend one day in Edinburgh without trying some of our delicious haggis.
Alternative: If you are staying in an apartment you could make your breakfast and take it with you to enjoy in one of the city's green spaces. Calton Hill has amazing views from the top and is an easy walk, or you could enjoy it in Holyrood Park, or The Meadows.
Visit Edinburgh Castle
No visit to Edinburgh would be complete without visiting Edinburgh Castle. It's the number one paid-for attraction in Scotland and you'll know why when you visit. The oldest part of this castle dates back to the 12th century and has sectioned added over the years. Look out for the Crown Jewels, the Stone of Destiny and the amazing Great Hall and you'll love the views across Edinburgh from the terrace. It may be busy by the time you are finished your breakfast so I recommend booking your tickets online before your trip. To save time you could take a guided tour with skip the line tickets so you don't miss any important facts and waste time getting lost! Skipping the line is an amazing bonus too as the line can get very long.
Skip the line by booking your Edinburgh Castle tickets online :
Alternative: If you don't fancy entering the castle you can still take photos from the outside and there are lots of other attractions nearby. A short 2 minute walk away is the Camera Obscura which has five floors of interactive and fun displays, illusions and visual trickeries. Kids love the games and the camera at the top has views over the city. You can also take a slow walk down the Royal Mile while it is still relatively quiet.
Have a wee dram of whisky
It may be a bit early but this is a brilliant opportunity to learn all about the process of making whisky, about whisky distilling across Scotland and even take a wee journey on the Whisky Barrel ride. The Scotch Whisky Experience is just next to the castle so it makes sense to visit this now instead of making your way back up the hill later on. There are a few packages available depending on budget and how much whisky you'd like to sample.
Skip the line and ensure entry by booking a tour in advance online:
Alternative: Take this time to browse the shops on the Royal Mile and pick up some souvenirs to take home, or visit Gladstone's Land, a 500-year-old building rescued by the National Trust for Scotland. It was once owned by a rich merchant and the rooms were opulent and grand, they were rented to wealthy business owners at a time when the city was growing and influential. See how life was at the time of tenement buildings and how the people lived, in one of the oldest buildings in Edinburgh.
Enjoy some free museums
In you can squeeze it into your one day in Edinburgh you'll enjoy a visit to one of the many free-to-enter museums. There are four within really close proximity to each other, a little further down the Royal Mile. The People's Story tells the story of the people of Edinburgh, funnily enough, and is housed in the Canongate Tolbooth which has been there since 1591. Just across the road is the Museum of Edinburgh which tells the tale of Edinburgh's past. It's a lovely museum, nothing big and fancy but oozes charm and character. Up the hill a bit is the Museum of Childhood, filled with toys of our younger years, toys Scottish children played with growing up. It's a trip down memory lane, rustic and magical. The Writers' Museum is my favourite of them all. I love writing and this museum is truly inspiring. Celebrating the lives and works of Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns and Robert Louis Stevenson I defy anyone with a passion for writing to leave here without feeling hugely motivated and energised. If you can fit it in pop into St Giles Cathedral which is around half-way up the Royal Mile, entry is free and it's an absolutely stunning building.
Eat lunch in Princes Street Gardens (weather permitting)
I love nothing more than escaping to the gardens, lying down, reading a book and enjoying lunch. If you are exploring Edinburgh in a day you need to take a little time out for a breather. Pick up some food from one of the many cafes in the area and find a quiet spot on the grass. Princes Street Gardens separate the Old and New Town and from here you can spot the castle, so if you are lucky enough to be sitting in the gardens at 1 pm you'll hear the One o'clock gun. The firing of this gun, which is situated just outside the Redcoat Cafe in Edinburgh Castle, dates back to 1861 and it is fired every day except Sundays, Christmas Day and Good Friday. It was once used so the ships in the Firth of Forth could set their maritime clocks.
Alternative: Grab lunch on the go and have a stroll down Victoria Street, the inspiration for JK Rowlings's Diagon Alley. The colourful shops are fascinating to rummage around and at the bottom of the hill, in the Grassmarket, you can treat yourself to a delicious milkshake from Mary's Milk Bar or enjoy a pint in Scotland's smallest pub, The Wee Pub.
Explore the city on the Hop on - Hop off open top bus
This is something I like to do when I first visit any city. These open-top buses travel all around the city, stopping at all the main attractions and there is an audio guide so you can hear about each of the streets and about the history of Edinburgh. There is often some hilarious tales to be told too. These buses let you get off and on at any of the stops so if you spot an attraction you want to see just jump off the bus, see what you want to see and jump back on the next one. If you choose your accommodation near one of the bus stops you can use your ticket all day and it'll help you get around if you don't fancy walking. If you only have 24 hours in Edinburgh this is one of the best ways to see all the main sights.
Explore the Palace of Holyrood House
The Palace of Holyrood House is where the Queen carries out official engagements while she is in Scotland, and is her official residence while she is here. There is also a close connection to Bonnie Prince Charlie and Mary, Queen of Scots which you find out about during the audio tour. Just behind the palace is the Holyrood Abbey which was built in 1128, it is a ruin but it's lovely to explore. The Palace is one of the stops on the bus tour so you can jump off there. Opposite the Palace is the Scottish Parliament, a unique and brilliantly designed building. You can look around the visitor areas at any time or book a 1 hour guided tour.
Buy your Holyrood Palace tickets here
Climb Arthur's Seat for panoramic views over the city
To the right of Holyrood Palace is Holyrood Park and the start of the walk up this well-known hill. You can't spend one day in Edinburgh and not climb Arthur's Seat. Just search on Instagram to see the amazing views you can get from the top. It's a short, easy climb, albeit a bit rocky, and totally worth it, especially if the light is good for the photos. Don't worry about the volcano thing, it hasn't erupted for 350 million years so you should be safe. You should allow at least 2 hours here and by the time you are finished you should be ready for some dinner. See some recommendations below
Things to do in Edinburgh at night
There is so many things to do in Edinburgh at night, here are some suggestions
Enjoy an evening of whisky and music
Visit a traditional whisky bar to sample some whiskies from around Scotland. Will you prefer the peaty, smoky whisky from Islay, the light and smooth flavour of the Lowlands, the rich and fruity whisky from Speyside or the robust whisky from Campbeltown? The Albanach, on the Royal Mile, serves over 250 malt whiskies and you can sit outside and watch the world go by while tasting your way across Scotland. Whiski is also on the Royal Mile and has over 300 different kinds of whisky and free live Scottish music every night. Over in the New Town, on one of Edinburgh's most popular streets to spend the evening, is The Black Cat, a quirky and newly opened bar with an amazing selection of whiskies and tables inside and out.
Get spooked on an Edinburgh Ghost Tour
Find out about some of Edinburgh's most notorious characters and learn about Edinburgh's often dark and murky past.
Here are some tours you can choose from :
Ghostly Underground Vaults Tour
Ghostly Underground Vaults Tour with whisky
The Dark Side Walking Tour
Comedy Horror Tour: Edinburgh Ghost Bus Tour
Extreme Paranormal Underground Ghost Tour
Haunted Graveyard Tour
Murder and Mystery Walking Tour
Book tickets to see a show
There are several theatres in Edinburgh and seeing a show is an excellent way to spend the evening, whether it be a big touring musical, a gritty play or an operatic performance. The Edinburgh Playhouse is on Leith Walk, just a 5-minute walk from Waverley train station, the Festival Theatre is across the South Bridge, on Nicolson Street. Kings Theatre, on Leven Street, is a little further away but it is still walkable, or you can jump in a taxi.
Where to stay in Edinburgh
For something pretty unique the CoDE Pod Hostel, on the Royal Mile and on Rose Street, offers pods to sleep in, so you have privacy, your own little space with a comfy bed, a shelf for your stuff, a hook for your jacket, usb sockets and an LED light. You can pull your curtain across for totally privacy, rare in any hostel!
I love to stay in Apex Hotels, they are ultra-modern, spotlessly clean and the staff are friendly and welcoming. Edinburgh has four Apex Hotels, although only three of them are in the city centre. I usually stay at the Apex Grassmarket Hotel and next door you'll find the Apex City of Edinburgh Hotel. At the end of Princes Street is the Apex Waterloo too.
The Radisson Blu is another hotel which gets amazing reviews and there is one right on the Royal Mile. It is stylish and contemporary with stylish artwork and luxury touches. Check prices
Luxurious 5 star hotels
If you want to splash out on your one day in Edinburgh why not stay in the utmost luxury? There are some absolutely stunning places to choose from beginning with the ultimate choice for those looking for the best stay in Edinburgh. The Balmoral first opened in 1902 so you get a good bit of history as well as a 5-star spa and a Michelin-starred restaurant. SCOTCH, the bar, serves over 500 different types of whisky and Palm Court, the onsite relaxed restaurant, serves an outstanding Afternoon Tea. Check rates
The Waldorf Astoria was built in 1903 as part of the Edinburgh's Railway Station and has been beautifully transformed into one of the most luxurious hotels in the city. Dine at the fine-dining Pompadour or the more chilled out but equally scrumptious Grazing or chill out in the Guerlain Spa, a first of it's kind. I love the bedrooms in this hotel, there is just the right amount of traditional features complemented by modern fabrics and luxury extras. Check rates
However you choose to spend your day, have a fantastic time, take lots of photos, make memories, and don't forget to look up! Oh, and don't touch the boaby!