Edinburgh is a city with too much choice: Over 30 museums to explore, the greatest amount of pubs of any city in Scotland (732 at the last count), and plenty of historic castles and palaces to keep you busy for weeks.
So narrowing down your options when you only have a weekend to explore can be a tricky business. Thankfully I’ve done the hard work for you, so here are my suggestions for a fantastic, well-balanced weekend in Edinburgh.
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Wake early and get your day started with breakfast at Southern Cross Café just off the Royal Mile (see review here). Stroll the rest of the Royal Mile up to Edinburgh Castle, where you have already booked your tickets online so can skip the long queue to get inside. Clever you.
Spend the morning exploring the castle’s history including some of the best military exhibits in Scotland. Don’t forget to admire the crown jewels before taking in the views of the city from the top of the castle.
Grab a light lunch near the castle and head to the Scotch Whisky Experience, a journey through the whisky making process (with a love-it-or-hate-it immersive ride to kick it off). Your guide will explain how whisky is made, fermented and distilled in each region of Scotland to give a different flavour each time.
Your £14.95 entry fee includes a souvenir glass and one dram of whisky (I recommend the Glenfarclas from Speyside), but you can pay extra to taste up to 5 whiskies. The tour finishes with a look at the largest whisky collection in the world at 3,384 bottles.
Walk back down the Royal Mile, stopping in at the Royal Mile Market which is situated inside Tron Kirk, a 17th century converted church. The building has kept a lot of its original features including some gorgeous stained glass windows that provide a really lovely backdrop to the market.
Shop for trinkets including clothes, jewellery and tiny little doors to put on your skirting boards to let the fairies in! Once you’re finished in the market, head back onto the Royal Mile and walk downhill, stopping at the teeny whisky shops as you go.
Once you hit the bottom of the hill, you’ll be at Holyrood Palace, home to the Queen when she’s in town. Take a tour of the palace and then treat yourself to an indulgent afternoon tea at the Café at Holyrood Palace… Beyond a doubt the best afternoon tea I’ve ever had.
Head back to your hotel to freshen up for a night on the town. Again, the Royal Mile is a good place for a few drinks, with plenty of establishments including the World’s End, where travellers from all over come to sample the ales.
For something a little livelier Bar 50 at Safestay Edinburgh is a lovely place to meet people. Not just for those staying at the hostel, it’s a great bar in its own right, with regular quiz and open mic nights (with prizes too!).
They also have an extensive menu of pub grub style food such as burgers, pizzas, nachos and chicken wings for much cheaper than you’ll find anywhere else in the city. Perfect for the late night munchies. Their drinks menu is also brilliant, with cocktails from £6.50, singles and mixers from £3.75 and even a selection of whiskeys on offer if you want to keep up your education from earlier today!
Collapse in your bed at Safestay Edinburgh which for £39 per night for a private twin room and £11 for a bed in a dorm room is an absolute bargain for such a central place, just a minute walk from the Royal Mile.
Blink away last night’s woo woos and reach for the Berocca because you’ll need all the energy you can muster for today’s activity – hiking up the famous Arthur’s Seat! A hill sitting 250 metres above Edinburgh, and giving amazing views.
If you stayed at Safestay Edinburgh after your night at Bar 50, then you can walk directly from the hostel to the top of Arthur’s Seat and back again in about 3 hours. Head down the hill to Holyrood Palace again, and across Holyrood Park to the start of the walking track. Take it easy and take plenty of water and you’ll be rewarded with incredible panoramic views of the city and coast.
Freshen up and head to No 11 Brasserie for a three course lunch (you’ll need it after the hike!). What I love about No 11 is that its menu is ‘mix and match’ style, so you can choose your meat, fish or veggie option and then complement it with your choice of side and sauce. Plus the white wine is really great quality.
Depending how tired you are, you can either aim to catch a show at nearby Edinburgh Playhouse or head into Edinburgh old town again to check out some of the other sights.
One of my favourites is the National Museum of Scotland, which could take all afternoon to see if you allow it. Be sure to see the technology exhibit, where robots spell your name and you can ‘dress’ in a space suit. Entrance is free.
This evening, either spend your night hitting up the restaurants and bars of the old town, or grab a cab to Leith, a district to the north of the city centre. Here you’ll find a beautiful historic shoreline (called The Shore) for a sunset walk and plenty of bars to while away your evening including Nobles, a cool Victorian bar with oodles of charm.
I know that a weekend will never be enough to do a city like Edinburgh justice, there is just so much to see and do! My weekend was well-paced, and we saw a lot, but I’d definitely like to head back soon to see a bit more. I feel so at home there. Have you been to Edinburgh? I would love to hear your tips in the comments below!