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. We had passed through it on several occasions, changing at Waverley station to catch a train to Stirling to see our grandparents, but we had never visited the city itself. 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.
48 hours in Edinburgh itinerary
Day 1: Explore the city
Grassmarket and the Vennel
Our day began bright and early as we wanted to beat the crowds to some of Edinburgh’s popular tourist attractions and shoot in the morning light. We started our 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. If you can, visit this spot in the morning when the light is best and it isn’t too busy.
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 it’s said that this street inspired J. K. Rowling’s Diagon Alley.
If you’re looking for a different perspective then 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 so even if you aren’t the biggest fan of museums it’s worth going just for the spectacular view of Edinburgh castle!
You don’t have to walk far from the city centre to get one of the best panoramic views of Edinburgh city. Calton Hill is set right above the heart of the city and is home to the National Monument and Nelson’s Monument. It is one of the city’s UNESCO world heritage sites.
When you come out of the museum, 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 end of the hill offers spectacular views of the city, whilst the other side looks out to Holyrood Park and Arthur’s Seat. You can also see the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the Queen’s official residence, where Mary Queen of Scots once lived.
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’. It is said to date back to 1544!
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. It’s open all year round and 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.
Entry is £18.50 for adults (£17 in advance) and £11 for children (£10.20 in advance) and allows you to wander the ancient castle and explore the dungeons and St Margaret’s Chapel and see the Crown Jewels and the Stone of Destiny. At 1 o’clock crowds gather to see the firing of the One o’clock Gun, a tradition that dates back to 1861. The shooting of the gun takes place every day except Sundays.
Princes Street Gardens
Instead of walking back down the Royal Mile we went through the gate just to the left of the Esplanade and walked back down the hill 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.
It is one of Edinburgh’s most recognised monuments and offers a lovely view of the castle in the background.
Day 2: Venture further afield
The New Town
If you want to see a different side of Edinburgh, then 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. Georgian townhouses line the broad avenues and lead on to grand squares and private gardens. The cobbled streets and classical architecture made us feel like we had stepped back in time to an era of elegance.
Dubbed as one of the most ‘instagrammable’ spots in Edinburgh, you’ll probably have 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 and 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, we decided to walk back into the city centre and headed to the High Street to walk down the bottom half of the Royal Mile to 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 even higher than the castle so it offers spectacular views over the city. 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!
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. As we only had 48 hours in Edinburgh we decided to stay at the Waldorf Astoria’s Edinburgh hotel, The Caledonian, in the city centre to be close to all the sites. It’s a beautiful hotel with a rich history and we really enjoyed our stay there.
We had a wonderful weekend in Edinburgh. It’s a place like no other and there really is something magical about the Scottish capital. There are so many lovely places to see in Edinburgh but I hope this helps you plan your own weekend getaway!
As always, please leave any comments and recommendations below. I’d love to hear from you!