48 Hours in Edinburgh: The Ultimate Itinerary

Edinburgh Cityscape at sunset
Edinburgh Cityscape.

Chris Hepburn / Getty Images

Scottish history and culture are at the forefront of a visit to Edinburgh, one of the country's most popular destinations. The capital city, located on the east coast of Scotland, is easily accessible from London, but can also make for its own perfect weekend away. Whether you're interested in exploring one of Edinburgh's many museums or touring its famed castle, there's a lot to uncover during a stay in Edinburgh. That means you'll want to plan ahead and pick out the best possible highlights, including some of the city's favorite restaurants and bars.

01 of 06

Day 1: Morning

Royal Mile in Edinburgh

TripSavvy / Jess Macdonald

10 a.m.: After arriving in Edinburgh, head to your hotel for an early check-in. We recommend choosing a hotel that's centrally located in the Royal Mile, the main area of Edinburgh's Old Town, which is within walking distance from most of the popular sights and attractions. One of the city's most famous and historic hotels is The Balmoral, a five-star property that's hosted celebrities and royalty over the years. If you're feeling extravagant, opt for a Castle View Suite, which showcases impressive views of Edinburgh Castle. Those on a budget can still get a great location without all the fuss. The three-star Grassmarket Hotel, a quick walk from the Royal Mile, has a youthful, cool vibe and inexpensive rooms.

Noon: For your debut meal in Edinburgh, head to The Forth Floor Restaurant at posh department store Harvey Nichols, which serves modern cuisine with views overlooking the city of Edinburgh on one side and the Firth of Forth on the other. For something more casual, stroll to Bell’s Diner near Stockbridge Market for a burger in a homey, warm atmosphere. On the way, look for the famed Scott Monument, built for Sir Walter Scott.

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02 of 06

Day 1: Afternoon

Edinburgh Castle

TripSavvy / Jess Macdonald

1 p.m.: Your first afternoon in Edinburgh should involve all the sight-seeing you can handle. Start with the obvious: Edinburgh Castle. Tickets to the centuries-old castle can be booked in advance online and visitors should plan to either walk up the hill to reach the castle or book a taxi. A tour of the castles includes visiting the Great Hall, St. Margaret’s Chapel, and the One O'Clock Gun, and there are various itineraries guests can follow depending on what they want to see. Be sure to rent an audio guide, which features the voice of actress Saoirse Ronan, to get all the history.

3 p.m.: After your tour of Edinburgh Castle, pay a visit to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the Queen's official residence in Scotland. The former apartments of Mary, Queen of Scots and the State Apartments are open to the public throughout the year when the royal family is not in residence. The complimentary multimedia guide lasts one hour and is available in multiple languages. Nearby, look for the ruins of Saint Anthony's Chapel Ruins in Holyrood Park.

4:30 p.m.: For your final stop of the afternoon, go back in time at The Writers' Museum, a small museum that celebrates Scottish literary greats Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson. The museum is free and caters to every type of visitor, even those who aren't that familiar with the writers' work. It's a nice place to end your historical tour of Edinburgh and can be found in Lady Stair’s Close off the Royal Mile.

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03 of 06

Day 1: Evening

Edinburgh restaurant The Kitchin

Courtesy of The Kitchin

7 p.m.: Reserve a table at Michelin-starred eatery The Kitchin, run by chef Tom Kitchin. The restaurant, opened in 2006, is located on the Edinburgh waterfront and serves seasonal, local dishes that highlight the best of Scotland. The overarching philosophy is "from nature to plate," which means you can expect especially memorable meat and seafood. Select the "Surprise Tasting Menu" to go on a true culinary journey.

9 p.m.: After dinner, pull up a stool at Bramble Bar & Lounge, an award-winning cocktail bar on Queen Street. The bar is open Thursday through Sunday and reservations, which can be made via email, are recommended, especially on busy weekend nights. The menu includes chic modern takes on cocktails and you can't go wrong with any order. Ask the bartender for a recommendation if you're stumped. If you want to bar hop, try Hoot The Redeemer or The Devil's Advocate once you're finished at Bramble.

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04 of 06

Day 2: Morning

Arthur's Seat

TripSavvy / Michela Sieman

7 a.m.: Wake up early and start your day by hiking to Arthur's Seat, an extinct volcano that marks the highest peak in Holyrood Park. There are several ways to reach the summit, which offers amazing views of Edinburgh and its surroundings (as well as the sunrise, if you're early enough). The most scenic route is a hiking trail that follows the Salisbury Crags, although it's quite steep and involves some stone steps. However, there are easier, more gradual climbs available. Wear a sturdy pair of shoes and bring along some water. If you want to see the views but a hike isn't accessible, hop in a taxi or rental car and head up along the Queen’s Drive, which passes by Dunsapie Loch and the Salisbury Crags.

9 a.m.: For breakfast, settle in at The Pantry, a popular morning spot with two locations. Select between egg dishes, avocado toast, and waffles, or go for a full fry-up, which is popular in Scotland. There are no reservations, so plan to wait if you are dining on a weekend morning. It's perfect for vegetarians, as there are several veggie options available.

11 a.m.: Edinburgh boasts a selection of great museums, but you likely won't have time to explore all of them. Pick between the National Museum of Scotland, which showcases a vast array of exhibits on everything from the natural world to art and design, and the Scottish National Gallery, which focuses on art. Those who prefer something more contemporary will find innovative exhibits and works of art at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, which emphasizes its family activities and sculpture gardens. Whichever museum you choose will offer a glimpse of Scotland's history and culture.

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05 of 06

Day 2: Afternoon

a dark room with walls lined with illuminated shelves of scotch whisky

Courtesy of The Scotch Whisky Experience

1 p.m.: After lunch at Dishoom, one of the U.K.'s favorite Indian restaurants, take a stroll around Grassmarket. There you'll find dozens of shops and boutiques along cobbled streets, with an emphasis on local shops and artisans. Look for the Knight's Vault, which has replica jewelry and swords from "Outlander," and Armchair Books, an incredible second-hand book shop.

3 p.m.: You can't visit Scotland without learning more about Scottish whisky, also known as scotch. To immerse yourself in the spirit's history, make a reservation at the Scotch Whisky Experience, which offers tours and tastings. Most of the tours last between an hour and 90 minutes and include a miniature or two to bring home as a souvenir.

5 p.m.: Carry on your newfound love of scotch at the Albanach, a welcoming pub on the Royal Mile. There are more than 220 Scottish malt whiskys on the menu, so ask the bartender for some help selecting a pre-dinner drink. If it's warm, grab a table outside to watch the passersby on the busy street.

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06 of 06

Day 2: Evening

Edinburgh skyline from Calton Hill at dusk
Sylvain Sonnet / Getty Images

6 p.m.: Dine early so you can enjoy one of Edinburgh's prime theater experiences. Many of the restaurants offer pre-theater menus and are located close to the main theaters. Mamma Roma Restaurant, found near the Edinburgh Playhouse, is one of the city's most popular casual eateries for dinner. If you prefer something slightly more upscale, beloved steakhouse Hawksmoor has a pre-theater set menu (as well as a post-theater option for night owls).

7:30 p.m.: Home to the annual Fringe Festival, Edinburgh is well-known for its theater scene, as well as its many historic and contemporary playhouses. Be sure to check the upcoming shows in advance of your trip and reserve tickets for a play or musical to celebrate your final night in town. Some of the most renowned theaters include the Edinburgh Playhouse, Festival Theatre, Bedlam Theatre, New Town Theatre, and C cubed. If you're winging at the last minute, several of the theaters tend to have a few seats left if you visit the box office. The Traverse Theatre offers discounted tickets to people under 30, making it a great option for travelers on a budget.