Ahhhhhhh Edinburgh! It is one of my most favorite cities in the world. The sites, the sounds, and the history. As someone with mostly Scottish ancestry, this city definitely holds a special place in my heart, and I literally cried when I first arrived. Call me sappy (and I totally am), but I don’t think there’s a city in the world like it.
If you get to spend quality time in Edinburgh, I would definitely suggest taking one of many day tours out of the city to see other things. But if you’re only in town for 24-48 hours, these are my top 10 choices of things that shouldn’t be skipped!
While there are many less expensive areas of Edinburgh to stay in – if it’s your first visit to the city then I highly suggest finding a place near the Royal Mile. There are so many attractions located on this strip that runs through the heart of Old Town. The bottom of the mile starts with the Palace of Holyrood and then ends with Edinburgh Castle at the top. You will be able to walk to so many different attractions and never have any shortage of restaurants, pubs, museums, and gift shops to visit.
It’s impossible to miss this historic castle as it dominates the skyline of Edinburgh sitting atop the plug of an extinct volcano. Once the home of Scottish royalty, the birthplace of King James VI and used as a military fortress, be sure to tour the castle and see attractions such as the Honours of Scotland (crown jewels), St. Margaret’s Cathedral, the National War Museum and so much more! Want to make it more of an event? Make tea reservations at the Tea Room which includes your admission ticket.
Once the home of Mary Queen of Scots and the current residence of Queen Elizabeth II, enjoy the splendor of this beautiful palace whose Abbey dates back to 1128 and whose royal palace dates back to 1503 when built by James IV. They have fantastic audio tours that allow you to roam at your own pace in addition to having a café to enjoy lunch. Whatever you do…do NOT miss the bloodstain on the floor in the small room adjacent to Mary’s bedroom where David Rizzio was famously stabbed 56 times!
St. Giles was founded in 1124 by Kind David I. This is another structure impossible to miss as it is also located on the Royal Mile. While the history of St. Giles is far too much to type here, you can visit and enjoy the beauty of the architecture, see the stained glass memorial to Robert Burns and walk in the same footsteps as Protestant Reformation leader John Knox who once served as minister.
While some might tell you to hike up Arthur’s Seat, I suggest doing Calton Hill first and then Arthur’s Seat second if you happen to have the time. With Calton Hill, you will get some of the most iconic views of Edinburgh in addition to visiting the National Monument of Scotland, the Dugald Stewart Monument, the Nelson Monument, and the City Observatory.
Visit the former royal yacht of Queen Elizabeth II. Between 1954 to 1997, this yacht served as the ocean residence of the royal family and hosted many royal honeymoons including Charles and Diana as well as Fergie and Andrew. It also hosted the likes of Frank Sinatra, Nelson Mandela, and Elizabeth Taylor. Tour the staterooms and dining halls at your own pace with an audio tour and enjoy lunch and cocktails at one of the many eateries at the Ocean Terminal Shopping Centre.
Edinburgh is such a compact city that it’s easily walkable and so many attractions are very close to one another. However, there are multiple benefits to getting a 24-48 hour pass for the Hop-on, Hop-off bus tours. The first one is that you won’t have to worry about transportation. These bus tours take multiple routes and you are guaranteed not to miss a thing! Edinburgh Castle and the Royal Yacht Britannia are nowhere near one another, so instead of having to Uber from one location to the next, you can simply take a bus at one of the many pick-up locations and enjoy a leisurely ride from one attraction to the next. Secondly, you will also enjoy the informative and often hilarious commentary from the audio tours as you make your way through the city. And if it’s a beautiful day? Ride on the open-air second level and enjoy the sunshine with unobstructed views!
Think of this as Disney World for adults. This attraction is also on the Royal Mile just a stone’s throw from Edinburgh Castle. If you’re a whisky lover it is absolutely not to be missed. They offer multiple tour packages that include a ride in a whisky barrel that takes you through the production of Scotch Whisky, an introduction to Scotland’s whisky regions and their signature aroma profiles, a whisky tasting (the number of whiskies you get depends on which package you purchase), and a peek at the largest Scotch Whisky collection in the world. If you have the time to spare (90 mins.), I highly suggest their Platinum Tour that includes everything mentioned previously along with five whiskies to taste. And if you really want to make an evening of it, enjoy dinner at their restaurant and whisky bar, Amber.
You don’t have to be an animal lover to enjoy the legend of Edinburgh’s famous Skye Terrier, Bobby. He was famous for keeping guard of his former owner’s gravesite, police officer John Gray, after he died of tuberculosis and was buried in nearby Greyfriars Kirkyard in 1858. Bobby was known throughout Edinburgh as the loyal dog that guarded his owner’s burial spot every day for 14 years until his own death in 1872. Today you can see a statue in tribute to Bobby opposite the Kirkyard. If you have the time, you can enjoy a lunch at the Pub and visit the world-famous graveyard that also served as inspiration for aspects of JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series.
Not everyone is a museum person. I happen to have my undergraduate degree in Art History so needless to say I love museums. But if you would like to see artifacts and learn more about the history of Scotland, pop into the National Museum located only a few blocks off the Royal Mile, and enjoy the Kingdom of the Scots exhibit. This exhibit explores the history of Scotland from 1100 to the Acts of Union in 1707. While you’re there stop in to see #9, Greyfriars Bobby, which is across the street off of George IV Bridge.