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Spending a weekend or 2 days in Edinburgh sounds magical to travelers’ ears. As a Harry Potter fan, I constantly reminisce about Edinburgh and the city’s striking similarities to Diagon’s Alley. It’s a city where magic seems to lie around every single corner.
Even though 2 days in Edinburgh is a short amount of time, I promise that you’ll still fall in love with this unique city and visit again in the near future.
As most of my readers know, I’m obsessed with Scotland. Absolutely obsessed. It’s my favorite place in the world to visit for many reasons. I mean, this country changed my life and inspired me to do solo travels around the world.
Firstly, Scotland’s safe and beautiful. The country has great tourist infrastructure in place to help visitors navigate the mystical cities and Highlands.
In Edinburgh, you’ll experience epic hikes, warm and kind people, and a rich culture.
You can’t visit Scotland without starting in Edinburgh – which is a UNESCO City of Literature and dream come true especially for book lovers around the globe.
So, in this “2 Day Edinburgh Guide,” I’m going to break down my favorite things to do, as well as give you suggestions for exploring the city and great accommodation options to rest your head at night.
Let’s start planning!
Edinburgh Travel Tips
Before jumping into the itinerary, here are a couple of travel tips about Edinburgh. These tips will help you plan a successful trip to this incredible city.
Let’s get started!
Is 2 Days in Edinburgh Enough Time?
Are you worried that you might feel rushed with only 48 hours to spare in Edinburgh? Well, I have some good news for you.
The news is … you have nothing to fear! 2 days in Edinburgh is plenty of time to see most of the city’s major attractions.
As you know, I absolutely love Scotland, and I think you should spend (at least) a week in Scotland or more. Scotland’s totally worthy of both your vacation days and money.
Without a doubt, Edinburgh is a magical city and as I’ve said, it’s a fantastic place to start your vacation in Scotland.
However, as much as I adore Edinburgh’s winding Diagon Alley streets, Scotland’s true majesty resides in the epic Highlands.
I mean it, folks. Photos can’t do the scenery a justice. You need to experience Scotland’s countryside in person.
In my personal opinion, if it’s your first trip to Scotland, then trust me, a weekend in Edinburgh is enough time to acquire a taste of the city and decide whether or not you want to come back for more later.
Instead of spending all your time in Edinburgh, you want to dedicate the bulk of your itinerary to Scotland’s spectacular nature.
Furthermore, Edinburgh’s main attractions are all within walking distance of each others. It’s not a gigantic city like London or Paris. For example, I don’t think I took public transportation once with the exception of going to and from the main airport.
2 days in Edinburgh is a wonderful starting point for your trip. No worries.
How to Get Around Edinburgh
From the Airport
As you probably know, the vast majority of overseas travelers will come to Edinburgh through the main international airport.
This airport is roughly a 30 minute drive outside the city. Fortunately, though, reaching Edinburgh’s Old and New Towns is a simple journey!
I think the easiest way to reach Edinburgh is to take the Airlink 100 Express Bus which takes passengers right to Waverley Bridge.
In addition, the bus runs on a 10 minute schedule, so you don’t have the run through the terminal, freaking out because you’ll think you’ll miss your next bus.
Without traffic, the Airlink Express should only take 30 minutes. Be mindful of rush hour, though. Edinburgh’s traffic is scarier than it sounds.
Trust me. I live in New Jersey, the most densely populated state in the US, and even I was surprised at how bad Edinburgh’s traffic was.
Carefully budget your time.
Exploring the City of Edinburgh
Most of Edinburgh is easily seen on foot. You can walk between the Old and New Towns without too much difficulty.
However, the Old Town is elevated, meaning you will be conquering quite a few hills during your 2 days in Edinburgh.
I highly recommend packing a pair of sturdy shoes that are comfortable and waterproof. Hey, it’s Scotland. You’ll experience rain.
If you’re too tired to walk, then take advantage of the excellent bus service that transports locals throughout the city. It’s understandable that the steep terrain would wear you down.
Accommodation for 2 Days in Edinburgh
As a popular city, accommodation in Edinburgh in plentiful and comes in all sorts of budgets and sizes. These hotels and hostels are all centrally located and have unique characteristics.
If you’d rather stay in an apartment, feel free to use my AirBnb link to get $55 off your first qualifying stay.
- Castlerock Hostel: budget and social accommodation located steps from Edinburgh Castle (from $76 on TripAdvisor.com and Booking.com).
- Eden Locke: an adorable condo hotel with cultural programs available throughout the week (from $131 on TripAdvisor.com and Booking.com).
- The Raeburn: this stunning Georgian property is centrally located in Edinburgh’s New Town (from $203 from TripAdvisor.com and Booking.com).
The Best Things to Do for 2 Days in Edinburgh
Time to get into the itinerary itself! Woohoo! I already know you’re excited and ready to go.
So, for your first day in Edinburgh, I put the majority of the focus on the core of Edinburgh’s Old Town.
Is the Old Town a bit touristic? Yes. Yes, it is. However, since you’re a tourist, I already know that you will fall in love with the charming buildings and delicious pubs.
Explore the Famous Castles
Haha, I’m sure some of you aren’t surprised by the mention of castles.
Scotland’s incredibly well-known for its fairy-tale style castles. And believe or not, castles aren’t limited to the Highlands! You can find them in cities too, including Edinburgh.
The best two castles in Edinburgh for visitors are:
- Edinburgh Castle: This historic fortress is one of the most iconic places in all of Edinburgh. It’s actually Scotland’s most visited attraction!
- Palace of Holyroodhouse: This is the official residence for the royal family when they’re visiting Scotland. In other words, this palace is still active! Come here to learn all about the famous residents, especially Mary Queen of Scots.
Scotland’s Signature Drink: Whisky
Want to give your taste buds a special treat now that you’re finished with Edinburgh Castle and its intensive history? Well then I have awesome news for you. Scotland’s also famous for its fantastic, fantastic whisky.
Near the Edinburgh Castle, opt to go on the Scotch Whisky Experience.
The Scotch Whisky Experience has a variety of tours available depending on your interest level. For example, the cheapest tour, the Silver Tour, consists of a viewing of the world’s largest whisky collection and a whisky barrel ride that teaches you all about whisky production.
Even if you don’t drink, you’ll leave the Scotch Whisky Experience feeling happy! The collection is beautiful.
Compare the Old and New Towns
You need to take a nice walk the entire length of the Royal Mile in Edinburgh’s Old Town.
Not sure what the Royal Mile is? No worries! I have you covered. Basically, the Royal Mile is the main thoroughfare that cuts through the center of Edinburgh’s Old Town. You can easily reach one end to the other.
You’ll encounter some of Edinburgh’s most iconic buildings along the Royal Mile such as St. Giles’ Cathedral and the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Take your time seeing all attractions that pique your interests.
Now, fair enough, the Royal Mile might be packed with tourists, but regardless of crowds, this main street is still a “classic” Edinburgh experience, and you shouldn’t miss it especially if this is your first vacation to Scotland.
2 Days in Edinburgh: A Weekend Itinerary
We’re going to branch a little bit outside of the Old Town for your second full day in Edinburgh. Although, let’s be real here, the Old Town is amazing so we’re going to return again later in the evening, haha.
I hope you packed your best hiking shoes. Because you’re going to embrace the outdoors on day two!
Day 1 in Edinburgh
The Old Town’s Best Attractions
Honestly, one of the best parts of visiting Edinburgh is closing your guidebook and exploring the Old Town and surrounding areas. For instance, I like stepping into the tiny alleys without much of a specific plan in mind and simply soaking in the city’s atmosphere.
As for specifics, arrange the remainder of the day according to your personal interests. Be sure to use Lonely Planet’s Edinburgh Pocket Guide for the most relevant information on sites and stops.
Do you love museums, for example? Then go to the nearby National Museum of Scotland. This museum focuses on Scotland’s incredible history and culture. You can even see Dolly the Sheep, the first mammal ever cloned from an adult cell.
Another one of my favorite things to do in Edinburgh’s Old Town is explore Greyfriars Kirk’s graveyard. Here you’ll see the final resting place of the real “Tom Riddle.”
Regardless of what you decide to do, treasures lurk around every corner of Edinburgh’s Old Town. You’ll fall in love with this place.
Edinburgh Castle is the most popular attraction in the entire city, so it makes sense to start here. Not to mention, it’s a smart idea is visit in the morning before all the crowds descend upon the castle and clutter up all the best views.
At Edinburgh Castle, you’ll see the exquisite Crown Jewels, as well as some of the loveliest views of this charming city. Go to the batteries for pictures. More highlights include the Great Hall, the Dog Cemetery, and Scottish National War Memorial.
Depending on your interests, you can spend well over two hours at Edinburgh Castle, so come in with a plan for your visit.
A Pint at The World’s End Pub
Unsurprisingly, Edinburgh is home to several wonderful historical pubs. Pub culture is a big part of social life in the United Kingdom, and therefore, worth experiencing in person.
My favorite pub in Edinburgh is called The World’s End.
And luckily for you, The World’s End is conveniently located right off the Royal Mile.
Inside, the pub has an old fashioned feel ranging from its cosy bar stools to the bank notes adorning the walls behind the bartenders. The World’s End is a great place to take a break from all the hustle and bustle of the day.
A Spooky “Adults Only” Ghost Tour
Edinburgh is supposedly the most haunted city in the United Kingdom. So why not do something scary like a ghost tour in the city’s endless underground vaults?
Personally, I think the best ghost tours are 18+, because honestly, some of these stories are so grisly that children shouldn’t listen to them. However, Edinburgh has ton of ghost tour options available for families, as well.
As for me, I went on a night ghost tour that took us down into the the Blair Street Vaults, which used to be a hot spot for all sorts of criminal activities. The vaults are pitch black and cramped, so if you’re claustrophobic or afraid of the dark, then this might not be the tour for you.
Day 2 in Edinburgh
Time to break out your hiking boots.
Even staying in Edinburgh, you’re still able to experience Scotland’s rough and beautiful nature wonders.
However, if you’re planning on going into the Highlands, do your research on Scotland’s Highlands and Islands ahead of time. (Feel free to also check out my guide for a week in Scotland! You’re welcome!).
In Edinburgh, Arthur’s Seat is located at the very end of the Royal Mile, and this “mountain top” is technically the highest point of an extinct volcano. Pretty awesome, huh?
It takes about an hour to reach the summit of Arthur’s Seat. Perhaps less time if you’re a super fast hiker – which I am totally not, haha. Make sure to enjoy the sweeping views upon reaching the top of the summit.
Yes, we have more hills on the agenda for your second day in Edinburgh. Again, did you pack sturdy footwear?
Calton Hill is included in the city’s UNESCO World Heritage Site. And it’s so easy to understand why.
After all, upon reaching the top, you’ll feel as if you’ve teleported to Athens with the acropolis jutting into the skyline. You’ll have some of the greatest views of the National Monument, as well as an imposing shot of Edinburgh Castle.
Afterwards, roam the vibrant area surrounding the hill. You’ll encounter shops, bakeries, and the Edinburgh Playhouse.
Edinburgh’s New Town Landmarks
In addition to the Old Town, you’ll also want to spend some time wandering through Edinburgh’s New Town. I know, I know. Creative names, right?
Anyway, the New Town isn’t all that new. Planning and construction originally began in 1767, and many of the buildings still have the original (and gorgeous) Georgian architecture.
The most well known attractions in the New Town include the Scott Monument, Princes and George Street for some shopping, the fancy Georgian townhouses, and more!
Scenic Dean Village
Are you ready to see the most beautiful part in all of Edinburgh? Make sure your camera is charged, because now you’re going to Dean Village.
You’ll feel as if you’ve left the big city and entered a bucolic farmer’s village with several streams and splendid greenery. The village is located right on the Water of Leith, so it truly feels like an oasis and it’s easy to waste hours here simply relaxing.
As far as I know, Dean Village has no major attractions, but it’s the perfect place to explore and take photographs.
Edinburgh’s Most Romantic Restaurant
It’s time to return to the Old Town for dinner. Unsurprisingly, Edinburgh has a lot of wonderful restaurants available for you.
However, for this particular dinner, treat yourself to an extra special feast. And don’t worry about your wallet either. Ahem.
Angels with Bagpipes is one of the loveliest establishments in Edinburgh. Eat a fine meal surrounded by 16th century lush decor. This restaurant also sources fresh Scottish ingredients, so you know your dinner is entirely local to the area.
Tea at Elephant House
Want a spot of tea and dessert after your decadent dinner? Then go to Elephant House!
Now I know that some debate exists over whether or not J.K. Rowling really wrote her first drafts of Harry Potter at Elephant House, but it’s still a classic Edinburgh establishment.
Once you drink your tea, you need to check out the bathrooms and read all the testaments to J.K. Rowling and her contribution to literature.
Mary’s King Close
Last but not least, Mary’s King Close is one of my favorite experiences for 2 days in Edinburgh.
However, planning in advance (aka making a reservation) is required. You need to reserve a 1 hour ticket with a qualified guide to see Mary’s King Close. Time slots can and do sell out.
This close is underneath the Royal Mile. You’ll walk through very narrow and dark streets, and hear all about life in Edinburgh at the time of the Great Plague. Hundreds were bricked up and left to die in their homes – which is absolutely horrifying and makes me appreciate modern medicine.
You won’t forget Mary’s King Close after your tour. Trust me.
What would you do with 2 days in Edinburgh? Have you ever visited Edinburgh at all? How about Scotland? Share all your thoughts in the comments. As always, thanks for your incredible support!