48 hours in Edinburgh
A hub of culture, history and natural beauty, there’s much more to Edinburgh than the famous Fringe festival. The Scottish capital is renowned for its many other festivals, stylish shopping arcades, historical monuments, stunning art galleries and lush green spaces – giving you plenty to cram into a visit. Check out hilarious comedy acts throughout the year, sample a few drams of whisky or scare yourself silly on a haunted tour as you discover the city’s secrets. As the place that provided much of J.K Rowling’s inspiration for Harry Potter, Edinburgh can also act as a gateway to the music hub of Glasgow, to the Highlands and to the beautiful coasts of Scotland beyond.
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When it comes to accommodation, Edinburgh is awash with chic hotels, cosy B&Bs and modern hostels to choose from - take a look at VisitScotland to discover all the options.
Start your tour of the Scottish capital by visiting its most imposing structure, Edinburgh Castle. Perched high on a rocky crag in the heart of the city, it stands proudly as one of the oldest fortified locations in Europe. Throughout history the site has served as a royal residence, military garrison, prison and fortress, meaning you can walk in the footsteps of kings and queens, soldiers and spies as you set foot across its cobbles. The castle houses the National War Museum and the Scottish National War Memorial, as well as military artefacts including the Mon Meg siege gun. For stunning views out over the city, be sure to visit the Half Moon Battery that overlooks the main entrance.
Pop into Edinburgh’s pioneering street food venue at the Pitt Market to grab a bite to eat, where you’ll find an abundance of award-winning street food vendors selling everything from locally-sourced steaks to Vietnamese noodles.
Embark on a journey of discovery through Scottish history at the National Museum of Scotland, where you can explore the wonders of science and technology, art and design, nature and fashion all under one roof. From the age of dinosaurs to the technology of tomorrow, the galleries contain treasures from around the world, while numerous specialist exhibitions run throughout the year to help tell the story of our planet.
Discover the Palace of Holyrood House and delve into its close associations with key figures from Scottish history, including Mary, Queen of Scots and Bonnie Prince Charlie. Standing proudly at the opposite end of the Royal Mile to the castle, Holyrood Palace is still used by the Queen for official engagements in Scotland. Explore the State Apartments and the ruins of Holyrood Abbey, once one of the grandest medieval structures in the country.
Peek into Edinburgh’s ghostly past on a haunted city tour of the most fearsome vaults. Discover tales of mischief and murder, as a cloaked guide leads you through the underground passageways of the Blair Street Underground Vaults, revealing a history packed with treachery, torture and deceit.
For dinner, sample the award-winning a la carte menu at The Witchery, surrounded by original 16th-century oak panelling in its atmospheric candlelit dining room. Housed in a set of historic buildings at the gates to Edinburgh Castle, expect a menu teeming with delicious local produce including Scottish lobster, haggis and Angus beef steak tartare.
Sink into one of Number One’s striking dove grey wool banquettes before enjoying delightful flavours at The Balmoral’s Michelin-starred restaurant. With seasonal dishes inspired by the best of what Scotland has to offer, expect mouth-watering flavours, exquisite hospitality and a memorable culinary experience.
Edinburgh is renowned for its comedy and theatre, and especially during August when the Fringe takes over the city. There’s an array of shows to catch throughout the year though, including the chance to see a production at the UK’s largest working theatre – the Edinburgh Playhouse. With seats for more than 3,000 people per show, the venue first opened as a super cinema in the 1920s, although it now hosts large scale touring musicals.
You could head to the King's Theatre in Tollcross, to the south west of the city centre, where you’ll find a variety of drama, opera, music and stand-up comedy, depending on when you visit. If comedy is more your thing, pay a visit to The Stand. Its flagship Saturday show regularly sells out and with five different acts on the bill each week, there’s a chance to catch some of the biggest names in comedy, as well as up-and-coming stars.
Start your second day in Edinburgh by taking in stunning panoramic views from one of two highpoints. The easier climb is to the top of Calton Hill, part of a UNESCO World Heritage site and home to a number of impressive monuments, including Edinburgh’s Acropolis. Alternatively, you can hike up Arthur’s Seat in Holyrood Park, an extinct volcano that offers breathtaking views out over the city.
The National Galleries of Scotland can be found dotted across the capital, and all in their own spectacular surroundings. Situated right in the heart of Edinburgh, the Scottish National Gallery is home to one of the world’s finest art collections, including masterpieces from greats including Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Turner, Vermeer, Constable, Botticelli and a host of others. There’s also a comprehensive collection covering the history of Scottish painting that shouldn’t be missed.
Venture to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery to come face-to-face with the people who have helped to shape the nation’s history. Found in a remarkable red sandstone neo-gothic palace, the building from architect Sir Robert Rowand Anderson was the first purpose-built portrait gallery when it opened its doors in 1889!
Enjoy Sunday lunch in one of Edinburgh city centre’s many gastro pubs. The Scran & Scallie gained a prestigious Bib Gourmand listing from the Michelin Guide in 2019 and offers a seasonal menu packed with classics including Haggis, neeps and tatties and Highland Wagyu beef, as well as a scrumptious Sunday roast. The Jolly Botanist, near Haymarket, is another with a splendid Sunday lunch offering, as well as an award-winning set of gins.
Take a sensational journey into the land of whisky at the Scotch Whisky Experience on a Silver or Gold tour. Serving as an introduction to the world of whisky, embark on an innovative barrel ride through the production process as knowledgeable guides impart their expertise, before capping things off with a tasting from an incredible whisky collection that features nearly 3,400 different bottles!
If you’ve worked up a taste for Scotland’s national drink, head to Kaleidoscope Whisky Bar where you’ll find more than 200 whiskies on offer, including an array of single casks and a guest selection of other spirits, beers and wines.
Travel just one mile from the city centre and you can explore the picturesque nature of Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Gardens, 70 acres of beautiful landscape which capture the imagination. Walk around its magnificent Victorian glasshouses to gaze upon 3,000 exotic species or head outside to see a collection of around 100,000 plants that dates back nearly 350 years. Packed with colour at any time of year, you can also enjoy spectacular panoramic views of the city from the gardens’ lush surroundings.
Finish your stay in Edinburgh with afternoon tea at the Colonnades, set in the beautiful surroundings of the Signet Library. Offering peace and quiet just metres from the hustle and bustle of the High Street, the library works exclusively with award-winning caterers Heritage Portfolio, who hold a Royal Warrant from the Queen for their catering services! In addition to the stunning Neo-Classical surroundings, indulge on an afternoon tea menu that is full of seasonal treats, delicious savoury food and decadent cakes!
Edinburgh is in Scotland, four hours and 30 minutes by train from London. Scotland’s busiest airport, Edinburgh Airport is also served by many airlines, including easyJet, Ryanair and Norwegian.