From medieval streets and secret alleyways to elegant Georgian town houses and private gardens, Edinburgh’s beauty is undeniable. Despite being half Scottish and spending many holidays visiting family in Scotland, my sister and I had never actually been to Edinburgh. So when I was asked to go to Edinburgh for work, we decided to make a weekend of it and spend 48 hours in Edinburgh.
There is almost an endless list of things to see and do in Edinburgh but fortunately the city is actually quite compact which means that you can see a lot of the main attractions in 48 hours. Here’s my 2 day Edinburgh itinerary to help you make the most of your time in Scotland’s capital.
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48 hours in Edinburgh: Itinerary Overview
Explore the main sights in the city and discover some of the best view points
Venture further afield into New Town, Stockbridge and the picturesque Dean Village.
How to spend 48 Hours in Edinburgh
There are so many iconic places to explore in Edinburgh. Luckily most of the main attractions are only a short walk from each other which makes it easy to see a lot in a weekend.
At the end of the itineraries for day 1 and day 2, you’ll find a map with all of the places and a suggested route. To save these maps, click on the star on the right hand side of the title. This will save the maps to “Your Places” in the Google Maps so you have them for when you visit Edinburgh.
DAY 1: Explore the city
Grassmarket and the Vennel
If you only have 48 hours in Edinburgh, I recommend starting your day bright and early so you can beat the crowds to some of Edinburgh’s popular tourist attractions. Start your tour of the city from Grassmarket which is situated at the base of Edinburgh castle.
Grassmarket was originally a market place for horses and cattle and was renowned for its public executions. Today, it is one of the most vibrant and lively areas of Edinburgh, home to some of the city’s best restaurants, bars and shops.
Before you wander down Grassmarket, look straight ahead and you’ll see a stepped alleyway which leads away from the Grassmarket. This is the Vennel and is one of the most iconic photography spots in Edinburgh. If you climb up the steps of the Vennel you’ll get a beautiful view of Edinburgh castle.
At the end of Grassmarket the road forks. If you go left you’ll find yourself on the colourful Victoria Street. This curved, cobbled street is lined with independent shops and cafes and is said to have inspired J. K. Rowling’s Diagon Alley.
If you’re looking for a different perspective, wander half way along the street and you’ll find some steps that take you to the upper level. Walk along the top level back towards the start of Victoria Street and you’ll get a great view of the coloured shops.
The National Museum of Scotland
At the end of Victoria Street, turn right on to George IV Bridge and walk along until you get to Chambers Street. Here you’ll find the Tower entrance to the National Museum of Scotland.
The museum has some incredible collections which showcase Scotland’s history and culture. It’s a great place to escape the crowds and is free to visit although you may have to pay to see some special exhibitions.
On the 7th floor, you’ll find a rooftop garden with beautiful views over Edinburgh. Even if you don’t want to visit the museum, you can’t spend 48 hours in Edinburgh and not see this spectacular view of the castle!
Opening hours: Open daily from 9am
Calton Hill is another great spot for panoramic views of the city. Set right above the heart of the city, Calton Hill is home to the National Monument and Nelson’s Monument. It is also one of the city’s UNESCO world heritage sites.
When you come out of the National Museum of Scotland, walk to the end of Chambers Street and turn left on to South Bridge. If you walk along this street you’ll get to North Bridge which takes you over the top of Waverley Train Station. Turn right at the end of the bridge and walk up Waterloo Place until you reach the steps up to Calton Hill.
One side of the hill offers spectacular views of the city, whilst the other side looks out to Holyrood Park and Arthur’s Seat.
Cockburn Street and Advocates Close
Wander back down Princes Street and turn left on to Waverley Bridge. This will lead you straight on to the picturesque Cockburn Street. There are some lovely bars, restaurants and coffee shops down this street, including The Milkman, a charming and cosy coffee and expresso bar.
Opposite the Milkman, on the right hand side of the street, there are a set of steps which lead up a narrow alleyway. This is Advocates Close, one of Edinburgh’s oldest closes or ‘wynds’. This steep and narrow alleyway connects Cockburn Street to the Royal Mile.
Climb the steps and you’ll get an incredible view looking back down the steps with Scott Monument and Princes Street in the background.
The Royal Mile and Edinburgh Castle
As you climb out of Advocates Close, you’ll find yourself on the Royal Mile face-to-face with St Giles Cathedral. The cathedral, also known as the High Kirk of Edinburgh, was founded in 1124. Entry is free so you can go in and admire the beautiful stained glass windows and look at the Chapel of the Order of the Thistle.
The Royal Mile is made up of a succession of streets which run through the heart of the city, stretching from Edinburgh castle all the way to Holyrood Park. Walk up castle hill and you’ll see the imposing Edinburgh Castle which is perched high on a base of volcanic rock.
If you want to go inside and explore the castle, you can purchase a ticket in advance online or on the day. This will allow you to explore the dungeons and St Margaret’s Chapel. You’ll also be able to see the Crown Jewels and the Stone of Destiny.
Price: £18.50 for adults (£17 in advance) and £11 for children (£10.20 in advance)
Opening hours: Open daily from 9.30am
Princes Street Gardens
Instead of walking back down the Royal Mile, go through the gate on the left of the Esplanade. The path down the hill will take you into Princes Street Gardens. These beautiful public gardens lie at the foot of Edinburgh castle and offer a lovely oasis from the hustle and bustle of the busy Princes Street.
There are lots of interesting public memorials and monuments in the gardens, including the beautiful Ross Fountain. It was built in the 19th century but was completely restored earlier this year by The Ross Development Trust and supported by Edinburgh World Heritage after lying derelict for a number of years.
You’ll find all of the places listed above on this map. This is just a suggested route to make the most of your time in Edinburgh. You can save the map by clicking on the star next to the title.
Day 2: venture further afield
The New Town
If you want to see a different side of Edinburgh, spend the morning exploring Edinburgh’s New Town which runs north from Princes Street.
It was built in the mid-to-late 18th century in response to overcrowding in the Old Town. The initial plan for New Town was approved in 1767 and was the largest example of town planning during the Georgian period.
The area is very elegant. Georgian townhouses line the broad avenues and lead on to grand squares and private gardens. A few of the highlights in New Town include Charlotte Square, the Assembly Rooms, and St Andrew Square.
You can’t spend 48 hours in Edinburgh and not visit the picturesque Circus Lane. Dubbed as one of the most ‘instagrammable’ spots in Edinburgh, you’ve probably seen Circus Lane a few times on your Instagram feed.
It’s one of the prettiest streets in Edinburgh and is situated between the large Georgian houses of the New Town and the lively ‘village’ of Stockbridge. It’s not difficult to see why photographers love it; the terraced mews houses are just enchanting, especially with the flowers and trailing greenery.
This tranquil village is only a short walk from the bustling Princes Street and is definitely worth a visit. Now an affluent part of the city, Dean Village used to be a milling village.
You can still see some of the remnants of its history today. Look out for the hidden mill stones engraved with beans and pies to indicate what used to be produced there.
From Circus Lane, walk down Indiana Place and you’ll come to a bridge with some steps down to the Water of Leith. You can walk all the way along the water to Dean Village and there are plenty of photo opportunities along the way.
Holyrood Park and Arthur’s Seat
After lunch, walk back into the city centre and head to the High Street. Walk down the bottom half of the Royal Mile towards Holyrood Park.
At the end of the Royal Mile, you’ll find the Palace of Holyroodhouse which is open throughout the year. You’ll also see the Scottish Parliament. It is closed during the summer months but during the rest of the year you can go on a free guided tour of the buildings.
Holyrood Park is a 640 acre Royal Park next to the Palace. Its highest peak is Arthur’s Seat, an ancient volcanic summit, which sits 251 metres above sea level. It’s a steep ascent and takes about 30 minutes to reach the top. The winds can be very strong so make sure you wrap up warm and wear some good shoes!
Here are the locations of the places listed above, along with a suggested route. Save the map by clicking on the star next to the title so you can use it to plan your own itinerary.
Everything YOU NEED TO PLAN YOUR OWN 48 hours in Edinburgh ITINERARY
How to get to Edinburgh
As the capital of Scotland, Edinburgh is well connected to the rest of the UK and many other European destinations. There are daily flights to and from Europe and the public transport network makes it easy to get around during your stay.
Edinburgh’s international airport is only a 30-minute tram or bus journey from the city centre. Edinburgh’s main bus company, Lothian Buses, runs the Airlink 100 express bus service. This express bus service departs every 10 minutes and tickets cost £4.50 for a single journey.
If you prefer to go by train Edinburgh has several train stations. The main stations are Waverley and Haymarket. The train journey from London is very scenic and only takes 4.5 hours.
Where to stay in Edinburgh
Edinburgh is the perfect choice for a weekend getaway and luckily there are plenty of lovely hotels, apartments and guesthouses to suit every budget. The most popular areas to stay are the city centre, the Old Town, the New Town, Leith and the West End. Edinburgh is quite a compact city and has great transport links so you’ll find it easy to get around regardless of where you stay.
SOMETHING HOMELY: STOCKBRIDGE RIVERSIDE APARTMENT
Stockbridge is a lovely place to stay if you’d rather stay outside the city centre. It’s only a short walk from the city centre and is close to the picturesque Circus Lane. There are lots of cool Air BnBs and apartments such as Stockbridge Riverside Apartment.
SOMETHING CONVENIENT: LEONARDO ROYAL EDINBURGH HAYMARKET
Situated less than 500 metres from Haymarket Rail Station, Leonardo Royal Edinburgh is a convenient choice if you’re arriving by rail. It’s only a short walk to the city centre and offers great value with modern and stylish rooms.
SOMETHING HISTORICAL: THE CALEDONIAN
If you’re looking for luxury then I highly recommend The Caledonian. As we only had 48 hours in Edinburgh, we wanted to stay in the city centre to be close to all the sites. We found a great deal and loved the old-fashioned glamour and elegant décor.
Best time to visit Edinburgh
Edinburgh is a wonderful city to visit no matter what time of year. July and August are the busiest months due to the weather and all of the international festivals. The Edinburgh International Festival and Edinburgh Fringe both take place in August and attract millions of visitors from all over the world.
Christmas is a magical time in Edinburgh as the city transforms into a winter wonderland. It’s also one of the best places in the UK to bring in the New Year. Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations are spectacular and hundreds of thousands of people plan to spend New Year’s Eve in the Scottish capital. Hotels book out almost a year in advance so if you do plan to go for New Year’s then start looking for hotels in January!
January and February are the quietest months to visit and you can usually get some good hotel deals. September, October and November are also good months to visit Edinburgh.
Edinburgh has a mild climate and has less rain than most places in the UK, regardless of when you visit. The temperatures vary throughout the year; January is the coldest month and July and August tend to be the warmest. October usually has more rainfall than the other months. As with most places in Scotland, the weather can change very quickly so be prepared and pack your raincoat just in case!
There are so many lovely places to see in Edinburgh but I hope this helps you plan your own weekend getaway. As I mentioned above, we stayed at The Caledonian when we visited Edinburgh. It’s a beautiful hotel with a rich history and we really enjoyed our stay there. I’ve written an article about our weekend at The Caledonian in case you’re interested in staying at the hotel.
If you’re looking for more inspiration on places to visit in the UK, I’ve written about my five favourite destinations for a weekend away in the UK, with suggestions on what to do and where to stay.
COMMENT AND SHARE
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