How to spend a day in Edinburgh. Discover the sites worth seeing, the places to visit, some of the oldest historic buildings and why the city is loved by locals and visitors alike. Written by one of our writers, who used to live in Edinburgh.
Set yourself up for the day by tucking into a hearty breakfast. Leith Walk, Stockbridge, Bruntsfield, Morningside and Broughton Street are areas famed for their cheerful shop fronts, bustling high streets and fantastic brunch haunts. Feast on porridge, ‘tattie’ scones, black pudding, warmed pancakes with lashings of fresh smoked salmon and tomatoes ‘broiled’ with cheese.
These areas feel like miniature villages within the city, each with their own identity, and are easily reached by taxi, bus or on foot (if you’re a keen walker).
If you’ve packed your walking boots, hike up Arthur’s Seat for a breath-taking view of ‘Auld Reekie’. The topography of the capital is truly outstanding - spot the Pentland Hills, the kingdom of Fife and the coastline leading towards East Lothian, along with the old and new buildings intertwined throughout the city. Arthur’s Seat used to be an active volcano and the origin of its name remains a mystery. Some say it derives from the legend of King Arthur, but others argue that the name could come from the Gaelic phrase Àrd-thir Suidhe, which translates as ‘place on high ground.’
The hill is very steep (a staggering 822 feet); so, if you want to take things easier, wander around Holyrood Park and admire the swan lake or climb shorter and more accessible Calton Hill instead. There’s an amazing Parthenon that graces its peak (Edinburgh used to be known as the Athens of the north), so have your camera at the ready.
Funnily enough, Holyrood Palace is next to Holyrood Park. If the Royal Standard flag is flying (instead of a union jack), it means the Queen is in residence. Explore the palace and the Scottish Parliament building opposite, taking in the vibrant history and juxtaposing architectural styles.
The parliament is at the bottom of the Royal Mile, a stretch of road linking the palace and Edinburgh Castle. Walking up the mile, you’ll pass shops selling tartan, whisky and other Scottish delicacies. During the Fringe Festival, held in August, the mile is packed with entertainers, acrobats and actors trying to sell tickets to their shows: the atmosphere is terrific, but it’s equally pleasant to visit in spring or at Christmas when the streets are less crowded.
Before you reach the top, detour past George IV Bridge for lunch. There are plenty of eateries in this area, including ‘The Elephant House’, a beautiful café with a ruby red front; its claim to fame is it’s the café where JK Rowling first began writing the Harry Potter books. Alternatively, head down Victoria Street and walk into the Grassmarket where you can dine in a cosy pub or Maison Du Moggie, the first cat café in Scotland. Only a stone’s throw away is the Christ Church Greyfriars, where you can find the statue of Greyfriars Bobby and his master’s grave. Bobby was a Skye terrier who became known in 19th century Edinburgh for guarding his masters grave in the churchyard for over 14 years.
Complete your journey up the mile with a visit to Edinburgh Castle and Camera Obscura, the museum of optical illusions. Edinburgh’s dramatic landscape is a result of glaciation and other geographical processes which took place millions of years ago; the castle is built on a crag and tail formation that also used to be an enormous volcano.
Walk down the mound or take a taxi to Multrees Walk if you feel like shopping. The walk leads towards George Street (a fanfare of luxury stores and restaurants) and Charlotte Square, the site where the annual International Book Festival is held. For dinner, there are many Scottish restaurants in the centre of town, such as Stac Poly, The Witchery and The Tower. Don’t forget to try some haggis (a few places also offer an equally tasty vegetarian haggis), sample Scotland’s delectable, freshly-caught seafood and finish your meal with a course of cranachan (a dessert consisting of raspberries, whisky, oats and cream), washed down with some locally made beer.
End the evening with a tour around the world-famous Edinburgh Gin Distillery (this will need to be booked far in advance), a cocktail or cup of coffee in the beautifully decorated bar of the stunning Balmoral Hotel or a movie in one of Edinburgh’s arthouse cinemas, The Cameo or The Filmhouse.
Turas math dhut! (have a good trip!).