Edinburgh holds a dear place in not just Scotland’s heart, but in Britain’s, too. Locals sometimes refer to it as Auld Reekie, Scottish for Old Smoky which is what people would see over the city from afar. The late Queen Elizabeth II’s official residence in Scotland was the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh. And travellers tend to fall in love with its unique charm as soon as they set foot on its hallowed grounds.
Edinburgh can be described as almost an open-air museum with its historic buildings, gardens and palaces. It is a very walkable city which is perfect for maximising your time here. Make sure to pack comfortable walking shoes and a raincoat – you never know when it may rain! While there is so much to discover, here’s how to spend a weekend in Edinburgh for first timers!
Edinburgh is the city that is said to have inspired J.K. Rowling to write her over-600-million-copies-sold Harry Potter series. You will likely find all sorts of references to it during this weekend! Why not start your weekend off with a bite to eat and a night cap along Victoria Street, said to have inspired the quirky Diagon Alley.
Fuel up early this morning for a big day of exploring what the city has to offer!
You will want a good head start on the queues to visit Edinburgh Castle, so make sure you’re there early. Built high up on Castle Rock, the castle has had many iterations over its 900+ years – as a home for the royals, a military base and even a royal treasury. Some of its areas are open to the public, like the Great Hall and St Margaret’s Chapel. Edinburgh Castle also houses the Honours of Scotland, the oldest Crown jewels in Britain.
From a castle to a palace, the Royal Mile is aptly named. The 1.81-kilometre stretch makes a clear path through the Old Town from Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Palace, with a maze of streets running to and off it. Enjoy a stroll along it where you will see that shops, restaurants and cafes are in abundance here, as well as popular landmarks like St Giles’ Cathedral.
Next you will head to the Grassmarket neighbourhood which is just 10 minutes’ walk from the Royal Mile. This historic area was initially a market space, and it has since developed into a vibrant area. It has the perfect mix of shops and eateries, complete with a Saturday market where you can pick up something made locally for lunch.
Keep an ear out for the 1 o’clock gun salute! This is fired daily (except for Sunday’s) from the castle hill. The rest of the afternoon depends on your interests.
Edinburgh has three (main) museums, each one different. There is the National Gallery (featuring a range of artwork including pieces by Andy Warhol); the National Museum of Scotland (for history and artefacts buffs); or The Writer’s Museum (for those interested in inspiring writers like Robert Burns).
If you are a Potterhead (a term used to describe Harry Potter fans), there are guided or self-guided tours available. Travellers often choose to do the Potter Trail, a free walking tour, or you can just as easily Google a guide to every Harry Potter location in Edinburgh.
If you prefer to shop or relax at a local pub or café, Victoria Street or the Royal Mile is your closest bet.
With every city comes a quintessential photo that is instantly recognisable. For Edinburgh, that is often the spectacular view from Calton Hill. Walk to the top in five minutes to watch the sun set over the rooftops of the city.
For dinner, you are spoilt for choice. Edinburgh has the highest density of restaurants in the UK! From cosy pubs to Michelin Star (and Michelin Guide) restaurants, take your pick.
Since you spent Saturday exploring the Old Town, Sunday is for exploring the New Town. Despite its name, you won’t find many modern touches here! In fact, much of its architecture is from the 1800’s and developed after the Old Town. Both areas are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Begin the day in Stockbridge at its weekly Sunday market to pick up breakfast, a coffee and perhaps a local craft. Move on to its popular thrift shops, then pay a visit to Circus Lane, one of Edinburgh’s most photographed locations with its mews houses, cobblestone streets and greenery adorning its sides.
This afternoon, you could choose to have lunch at one of Stockbridge’s many eateries; or you can eat at Dean Village, located just 10 minutes’ walk away. It was here that there used to be a prosperous trade with items that required milling, and you can still see remnants of old mills today. It’s a picturesque place with the Water of Leith flowing through, plenty of greenery and its stone houses.
For the remainder of the day, you can leisurely make your way through Princes Street Gardens. This urban garden space separates Old Town from New Town and is beautiful all year round. Bonus: you can get a great view of Edinburgh Castle from here!
To wrap up your weekend in Edinburgh, enjoy a drink in one of the city’s beer gardens followed by dinner at a pub.