When my best friend was here in May, we flew to Edinburgh on a too early 6 a.m. flight and spent a magical day traversing Diagon-alley like streets, tiptoeing through a haunted graveyard housing graves that inspired the characters in the Harry Potter series, pretending we were buying books at Flourish and Blotts, and dreaming of drinking pints at the Leaky Cauldron. I fell in love with Edinburgh and after 24 hours in this magical city it took everything I had not to cancel our road trip through the Scottish highlands to continue exploring the dark alleys and bright corners that pop out of nowhere while trotting around the cobblestone streets. If you are trying to figure out how long you should spend in Edinburgh hopefully this post will convince you that 24 hours is not nearly long enough.
Where to stay
Edinburgh is very safe and walkable (despite the fact that there are a ton of stairs). As long as you stay within a 20 minute walk to the Royal Mile/Castle you are in a good spot to explore all that Edinburgh has to offer. The AirBnB culture is very strong here and we had a great experience at an artist’s flat near The Meadows. Unfortunately, this flat has been taken down but here are two more really good options:
- $80/night artist’s flat near castle
- $135/night beautiful flat on the Royal Mile (smack dab in the middle of the city)
Use this link to get $30 off your first booking on Air BnB.
When to go
If you are heading to Edinburgh to have a sun holiday I would suggest finding a different location. Edinburgh is chilly year round with averages temperature in January hovering around freezing and in the summer around 60 °F. Because Edinburgh is so far north, in the summer expect the sun to rise around 4:00 a.m. and set in between 10-11 p.m. with the winter months seeing very little sunlight.
What to do in Edinburgh
The above walking route is good if you only have 24 hours to explore Edinburgh. At the end of this post I’ll describe a few other sites we missed, but when we go back in January will be visiting.
Start your day walking through The Meadows park. We went at the end of May while all of the cherry blossoms were starting to fall.
Then head over to the Elephant House cafe to drink a hot cup of coffee or tea with a traditional Scottish breakfast and revel in the fact that J.K. Rowling wrote the life of Harry Potter in these same seats. The food isn’t all that bad (nothing to write home about), but the experience is so worth it.
Next, pop over to the statue of Greyfriars Bobby and lightly rub his nose for good luck. He recently received a nose job because too many tourists had rubbed poor Bobby’s nose. Legend has it that Bobby the dog watched over his master’s grave after he died of tuberculosis.
If you are feeling brave, head over to the haunted Greyfriar’s Kirkyard and explore some pretty famous gravestones. If you go on a cloudy, dark day or at night it feels like you are walking through Godric’s Hollow (yes, another Harry Potter reference). J.K. Rowling even used some of the names from the graveyard in her book including Moody and Tom Riddle.
Now, for the famous Royal Mile. At this point it’s a good idea to get lost in the streets for a bit. We spent quite a bit of time popping in and out of quirky little shops and dark alleyways and ended up traversing a few too many stairs as a result. Edinburgh is by far one of my favorite cities to get lost in.
After you have done plenty of exploring, head over to the Scott Monument, which commemorates Sir Walter Scott, and Waverly station for some of the most fantastic views of the city.
If you are getting hungry hop over to The Outsider Restaurant and ask for a view of the castle and gorge yourself on some of the best food in Edinburgh.
Now it’s time to head over to Edinburgh Castle. Now, some will say “skip the castle” if you only have 24 hours in Edinburgh. I loved everything about this castle (see my post about it here) and while there are multiple other options (see my “alternative” options below) I still would highly suggest visiting the castle. However, it takes at least two hours of your time so plan accordingly.
After the castle your tongue is likely parched so head over to Grassmarket street for a cold one. We happened to be in Edinburgh on a beautiful, sunny day so we headed to the Beehive Inn which has a massive beer garden and drank a few too many pints before stumbling home.
- Hike Arthur’s Seat
- Visit the Scottish National Gallery
- Stroll around Dean Village
- Visit the botanic gardens
What not to do
- The Edinburgh Dungeons – This is more of a tourist hotspot with little to no real history. If you want a theme park type attraction then this is your perfect spot.
- The ghost tours – I really wanted to like this. So much so I tried to talk myself into believing that it was amazing, but really it was a lot of hype and scare tactice with few details of the actual historical events that occurred underground the streets of Edinburgh. If you, like us, have had a few too many pints this might be a nice chill thing to do, but if you are wanting a historically accurate tour this is not it.
Have you ever been to Edinburgh? What was your favorite thing about this historic city?
– Boots not Roots