The travel itinerary you need to spend 3 magical days in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Welcome to Edinburgh, the fascinating capital of Scotland. From the magnificent castle to the hidden underworld and birthplace of Harry Potter, this 3-day itinerary is perfect for first-timers or a weekend getaway between friends and family. It will show you all the best things to do and guide you through everything you need to know to make your Scottish city break unforgettable.
I have had the chance to visit Edinburgh twice (in Autumn and Sring), and each time was a wonderful experience. My first time there was particularly eye-opening, as I had not expected so much beauty and history. It was inspiring and made me want to go back again!
Since then, I have fallen in love with the Scottish capital. Its architecture and atmosphere are so special and unique, and the locals are full of kindness. It is a city (and country) that I recommend you visit.
In this 3-day travel guide, I share the best itinerary covering the top attractions in Edinburgh so you can make the most of your time away and enjoy your holiday stress-free. I also provide you with simple eco-tips for travelling responsibility (read more: 10 Eco-Friendly Things to Do in Edinburgh). Have fun!
My Edinburgh experience: Duration 4 Days Dates visited Nov 06 - Nov 10 Season Autumn
- Overview: 3 perfect days in Edinburgh, Scotland
- Edinburgh 3-day itinerary – Map
- Edinburgh travel tips: things to know
- Detailed Itinerary: 3 days in Edinburgh
- Day 1 – Wander Through The Old Town
- Day 2 – Journey Through Scottish History
- Day 3 – Discover The New Town
- Bonus for Harry Potter fans
- Unforgettable experiences I recommend
- Where to stay in Edinburgh for 3 days
- Sustainable travel in Edinburgh
- Edinburgh travel planning guide
- 3 days in Edinburgh – FAQ
Overview: 3 perfect days in Edinburgh, Scotland
- Day 1: Edinburgh Castle, Royal Mile & St Giles’ Cathedral
- Day 2: Holyrood Palace, Arthur’s Seat & National Museum of Scotland
- Day 3: Dean Village, Princes Street Gardens & Carlton Hill
Edinburgh 3-day itinerary – Map
Click on the top left of the map to display the list of stops and locations.
Edinburgh travel tips: things to know
- Book tickets for popular attractions in advance.
- Explore the city on foot (the best way to immerse yourself!).
- Avoid shopping for souvenirs along the Royal Mile.
- Enjoy free attractions such as the National Museum of Scotland.
- Wear comfortable shoes for walking around (and hiking).
- Pack waterproof gear for the unpredictable Scottish weather.
- Avoid the festival season to dodge the crowds (August).
- Have exact change for local buses.
- Do not offend the locals by saying Scotland is part of England.
- Try local food & Scotch whisky.
Fancy a road trip across Scotland? Check out this article: Scotland Road Trip Guide: Epic 7-Day Itinerary
Detailed Itinerary: 3 days in Edinburgh
This Edinburgh travel itinerary covers all the best things to do in 3 days and is perfect for a weekend getaway or if you are visiting the city for the first time.
There is also a bonus at the end for Harry Potter fans.
Plus, you can dedicate one of your three days to exploring Scotland and organising a day trip. For example, a guided day tour to Loch Ness is a great idea to discover the Highlands and the legendary loch. Find out more about Loch Ness in this complete travel guide.
Remember, this Edinburgh itinerary is only a guide with recommendations. You are more than welcome to spend more days or add other stops on your way. The Scottish capital has a lot to offer: you will never run out of ideas (even when it rains)!
Check out this article for more Edinburgh inspiration.
Day 1 – Wander Through The Old Town
🚌 Transportation method: walk
📍 Number of stops: 6 or 7
1- Edinburgh Castle
What better way to discover Edinburgh than by starting your 3-day itinerary at the iconic Edinburgh castle?
Edinburgh Castle is a historic fortress perched on a rock overlooking the city, and the views from there are gorgeous!
Of course, you can also visit the interior of this historic site, but try to book your tickets in advance and come early in the morning to avoid the crowds.
Edinburgh Castle is one of the most visited attractions in Scotland, so I recommend blocking out 1h30 of your time if you go inside.
For your next stop, you have two options depending on your preferences: The Scotch Whisky Experience and Camera Obscura & World of Illusions. But of course, you can select both if you wish!
2- The Scotch Whisky Experience
Not far from Edinburgh Castle, at the top of the Royal Mile, you will find The Scotch Whisky Experience, an attraction telling the story of the national drink of Scotland.
Even if you are not particularly into whisky (like me), this attraction is fun to do and an excellent way to discover more about Scottish culture.
The tour begins with a slow-moving ride that takes you through the whisky-making process and leads you to a room where you will have the chance to sample some of the most iconic Scottish whiskies, with a lesson on flavour and tasting. Finally, you will have the option to purchase your own set to take home at the end of the tour.
An entertaining activity to do with friends or on a rainy day!
3- Camera Obscura & World of Illusions
Camera Obscura & World of Illusions is another fun attraction next to Edinburgh Castle. It comprises five floors filled with over 100 illusions and an incredible rooftop offering 360-degree views of the city.
Each floor will take you through hands-on exhibits to test your brain against unique illusions. A perfect activity to do with kids!
4- Royal Mile
Welcome to the heart of the Scottish capital!
The Royal Mile is a succession of streets running through the heart of the Old Town, linking Edinburgh Castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse.
The Mile is an incredible place to wander, enjoy unique Scottish architecture, and uncover cobbled closes and narrow stairways interlock to create a secret underworld.
It is also home to old and new parliaments, courthouses, a cathedral and churches, and a vast selection of attractions, walking tours, shops, restaurants, cafes and pubs to stop by and recharge.
Yes, you guessed it, there are plenty of things to do along the Mile!
Tip: I would suggest not shopping for souvenirs there, as the street is full of tourist traps and poor-quality products.
5- St Giles’ Cathedral
As you walk along the Royal Mile towards the Palace of Holyroodhouse, you will have the chance to come across St Giles’ Cathedral overlooking the street.
Founded in the 12th century, St Giles’ was the church of John Knox during the Reformation and today represents 1,000 years of history in the heart of Edinburgh.
Take the time to marvel in front of its magnificent façade, and step inside to admire its high vaulted ceilings and beautiful stained glass windows. Admission is free of charge, but donations are encouraged!
6- Cockburn Street
After stopping at the Cathedral, continue walking towards Holyrood Palace and turn left onto Cockburn Street, a picturesque lane created as a serpentine link between the High Street and Waverley Station in 1856.
The road is lovely for strolling around, stopping for a coffee and shopping in small independent stores. You can also venture through its narrow closes and stairways to immerse yourself in Scottish heritage.
To return to the Royal Mile, take Warriston’s Close Stairs, left at the end of the street.
7- The Real Mary King’s Close
Finally, it is time to discover the hidden beauty of Edinburgh: its underground history.
Beneath the City Chambers on the Royal Mile lies its deepest secret: a maze of hidden streets where people lived, worked and died between the 17th and the 19th centuries.
The Real Mary King’s Close takes you on a time capsule expedition through the fascinating history of the Scottish capital. On a one-hour tour led by a character guide portraying a former resident of the Close, you will learn the real stories from the past of Edinburgh. A fun activity for all ages!
And if you have time, head to Calton Hill after your tour to enjoy an incredible sunset over the city.
Day 2 – Journey Through Scottish History
🚌 Transportation method: walk
📍 Number of stops: 7
1- Palace of Holyroodhouse
After a good night of rest, you will start your second day with the Palace of Holyroodhouse (or Holyrood Palace), the official residence of Her Majesty The Queen in Scotland and the home of Scottish royal history, standing proudly at the end of the Royal Mile.
Through this awe-impressive site, you will have the chance to explore 14 historic and State Apartments, the romantic ruins of the 12th-century Holyrood Abbey and beautiful royal gardens.
And if you need a bit of guidance, you can opt for a multimedia tour at the entrance.
2- Arthur’s Seat
Arthur’s Seat is an ancient volcano and the prominent peak of the group of hills in Edinburgh, forming most of Holyrood Park – a 640-acre Royal Park adjacent to Holyrood Palace.
Arthur’s Seat, the highest point of the park, sits 251m above sea level, offering excellent views over the city. It is quite a hike to reach it (climbing to the top and back takes around 2 hours), and the wind is strong up there, but the panorama is totally worth it!
Within the park, you can also visit St Anthony’s Chapel, a 15th-century medieval chapel and Duddingston Loch, a freshwater loch affluent in birdlife.
And if hiking is not your thing, stroll along the Salisbury Crags, a series of 150-foot cliffs dominating the Edinburgh skyline and presenting unique scenery.
3- The Elephant House
After your hike and walk through Holyrood Park, return to the Old Town and stop at the Elephant House for a lovely and well-deserved break!
Opened in 1995, the Elephant House is one of the best coffee houses in Edinburgh. It is well-known as the place of inspiration for writers such as J.K. Rowling, who wrote many of her early novels (including Harry Potter) in the back room overlooking Edinburgh Castle.
The coffee shop serves all types of hot drinks and delicious cakes. The place can also be busy and touristy, but it is worth a visit, especially if you are a Harry Potter fan.
4- National Museum of Scotland
Only a few steps away from the Elephant House, you will find the National Museum of Scotland, taking you on a journey of discovery through the history of the country, the wonders of nature, art and design, science and technology, and world cultures.
It is a great way to learn more about Scotland through exhibitions and events and is a pleasant attraction for all ages.
5- Victoria Street
Victoria Street is another quaint cobbled lane and one of the most photographed locations in the city. It is also famous for being the inspiration for Diagon Alley in Harry Potter.
Its gentle curve and colourful storefronts make it a favourite spot for photos! You will also find plenty of independent shops and cafes – a perfect place to stroll and enjoy the dazzling atmosphere of the city.
Continue your way down Victoria Street and arrive at Grassmarket, a vibrant area full of lively bars and eclectic shops.
Once a medieval marketplace and site for public executions, Grassmarket is now one of the most-loved places to live, work and visit for visitors near and far due to its detailed medieval architecture, sweeping views of the castle and its dynamic atmosphere.
The area is perfect for stopping for a break or shopping, as you will find many independent shops and boutiques.
7- The Vennel Viewpoint
And because you are wandering around Grassmarket, venture up the Vennel Steps for incredible views of the castle – it is worth the shot!
The steps offer the perfect panorama and photo souvenir to remember these three magical days in Edinburgh. You do not have to stay there long, and it can get busy, but it is a lovely place to capture the moment.
Day 3 – Discover The New Town
🚌 Transportation method: walk & bus
📍 Number of stops: 4 or 6
1- Dean Village
Dean Village is a small village right by the Water of Leith, northwest of the city centre of Edinburgh, accessible on foot (approx 30mins) or by bus (15mins). An ideal way to start your third and last day!
A thriving grain milling area for over 800 years, it is the perfect place to wander, take incredible photos and appreciate medieval architecture and quaint cobbled lanes.
Hidden in the village, you will come across a variety of stone slabs decorated with baked bread and pies. You will also encounter the Dean Bridge by walking along the path following the Water of Leith, offering a gorgeous panorama (do not forget to capture it – but remember that the village is a residential area).
And at its heart is Well Court, the most iconic building of Dean Village. This establishment was built in the 1880s and housed local workers who operated the water mills.
2- Princes Street Gardens
After your promenade through Dean Village, return to the citer centre. Your next stop is Princes Street Gardens, one of the most beautiful gardens of Edinburgh and the main shopping area – separating the Old Town from the New Town.
The gardens cover over 37 acres divided into two parts by the Mound, an artificial hill connecting the New Town and Old Town and home to the Scottish National Gallery.
Take the time to stroll and admire the view of the castle perched on its rock. You can also stop for a snack or do some shopping before heading to your next stop.
3- Scott Monument
As you walk towards Calton Hill, you will come across the Scott Monument, a Victorian Gothic memorial to Scottish author Sir Walter Scott – the second largest monument dedicated to a writer.
You can admire the site from the outside or join a guided tour to learn who Sir Walter Scott was, why this impressive monument was established in his honour and take in the stunning views of Edinburgh from the viewing platform on the third floor.
Tip: book your tickets when you arrive directly at the monument.
4- Calton Hill
Continue to walk down Princes Street to reach Calton Hill, an extinct volcano set right in the city centre and one of the primary hills in Edinburgh, offering stunning viewpoints.
Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Calton Hill has some of the best views in the city and is a perfect place to catch the sunset (or sunrise if you are an early riser).
You will also find some iconic Scottish monuments and buildings, including the National Monument, Dugald Stewart Monument, Nelson’s Monument, Old Royal High School, Robert Burns Monument, Political Martyrs’ Monument and the City Observatory.
Calton Hill is easily accessible to anyone. It takes about five minutes to get to the top of the hill from a staircase (you can find many around the park).
If you have time, you can add the following two stops to your 3-day itinerary:
5- Royal Botanic Garden
Not far from the city centre, the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh offers you peace and tranquillity amidst 72 acres of stunning scenery. It is one of the finest botanic gardens in the world and a renowned scientific centre for studying the diversity and conservation of plants.
It is an ideal place for all the family, as the Garden offers fantastic views and an opportunity to discover its captivating history and learn more about its plantings. You can also enjoy the serenity of the Chinese Hillside, explore the famous Rock Garden or stroll among the majestic Giant Redwood trees of Woodland Garden.
6- The Royal Yacht Britannia
Finally, if time allowed, head all the way north to the Royal Yacht Britannia, the former royal yacht of the British monarch, in service from 1954 to 1997.
The Royal Yacht Britannia has hosted some of the most famous people, from Nelson Mandela to Winston Churchill, and above all, it was home to the British Royal Family for over 40 years.
Moored in Leith, it is now open to visitors allowing you to step into Royalty and explore the floating Royal residence – a fascinating insight into the past and heritage of Great Britain.
An audio handset tour is available in 30 languages.
Bonus for Harry Potter fans
Edinburgh is heaven if you are a Harry Potter fan. Here are some places worth visiting if you want to make your Edinburgh itinerary extra magical:
- The Cauldron: a fantasy-inspired bar teaching you how to make magical cocktails.
- Harry Potter Tours: The Potter Trail and Inspired by Harry Potter.
- Greyfriars Kirkyard: graveyard that inspired some of the names in the books.
Unforgettable experiences I recommend
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Where to stay in Edinburgh for 3 days
The best neighbourhoods in Edinburgh
Here is an overview of the best areas to stay in the Scottish capital for a 3-day trip:
- The New Town, best for first-timers: The New Town offers a central location and an easy connection to all public transport, including the train. It is also the primary shopping area of the city, filled with boutiques, buzzing bars and restaurants.
- The Old Town, best for families & history lovers: the Old Town is the heart of Edinburgh and one of the best places to stay to experience what the city offers, as you will have the chance to be close to all major attractions. However, remember that hotels here are likely to be more expensive due to their central and scenic location.
- Dean Village, best for photographers & art lovers: Dean Village is a slice of tranquillity just minutes from the bustling city centre, with quaint cobbled streets and a picturesque footpath by the Water of Leith River. It is the ideal place to enjoy peace and serenity without being far from the main highlights of the capital.
- Leith, best for budget: Leith is an area north of Edinburgh, home to the port and the Royal Yacht Britannia. It is slightly further from the centre but is easily accessible by bus. Perfect for sea lovers, it is a charming place filled with budget accommodations and lively bars and restaurants.
I have visited Edinburgh twice and stayed both times in Leigh. It was a great place as the accommodations were affordable, it was tranquil, and the bus was easy to get to the New Town (20mins).
Wherever you stay in Edinburgh, the city is not big and easily accessible by public transport (I know the city centre can be a little expensive, so do not be afraid to stay a bit further).
Planning an epic city break in London? Check out this article: 3 Perfect Days in London: Complete Itinerary
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Sustainable travel in Edinburgh
Sustainable travel means exploring the world whilst being aware of your surroundings and having a positive social, environmental and economic impact on the places you visit.
Want to know more? Check out this article: 15 Travel Books to Inspire Your Next Eco-Adventure
Be a more responsible explorer in Edinburgh and leave a positive impact with these sustainable travel tips:
- Book direct flights (which require less fuel than indirect flights) and offset your carbon footprint. But, do not use carbon offsetting as a complete solution. Combine it with other sustainable practices, like avoiding single-use plastic on the plane and mindfully packing your suitcase to be ready for your green adventure.
- Select an eco-friendly accommodation. It is not always easy to determine whether a hotel has eco-conscious practices, but try to look on their website for green credentials. You can also use Bookdifferent or Ecobnb to help you decide.
- Use public transport as much as possible or walk! Edinburgh is easily accessible on foot, and you will not produce any emissions.
- Eat at local restaurants that use produce from the region. It will contribute to the local economy and reduce the carbon footprint by supporting restaurants where food does not come from long distances.
- Always respect the local heritage. Treat people and their surroundings with respect. Sustainable travel is not only about the environment but also about the local communities. So, always be respectful and try to learn a few Scottish words!
Want to know more?
- The Complete Guide to Sustainable Travel
- Carbon Offset your Flights: What, Why & How
- 10 Best Travel Apps for Exploring Sustainably
- Best Ecotourism Activities Around the World
- 8 Best Filtered Water Bottles for Travel & Hiking
Download your FREE sustainable travel checklist ↓
Want to surprise a friend or loved one? Check out this article:
15 Best Eco-Friendly Gift Ideas for Travellers
Edinburgh travel planning guide
Yes, buying insurance is always valuable when travelling abroad. Enjoy your city break in Edinburgh stress-free with one of my favourite providers, Nomad Insurance.
Yes, tap water is safe to drink all over Edinburgh. However, I also recommend travelling with the UltraPress Purifier Bottle, a lightweight filtered water bottle perfect for reducing plastic and staying hydrated.
Yes, renting a car in Edinburgh is easy and is a great way to explore the outside of the city freely. I recommend booking yours with Rentalcars.com – they offer a variety of operators for all budgets.
The best way to book your accommodation in Edinburgh is with Booking.com – my favourite platform to compare and reserve places to stay each night, from affordable guesthouses to luxury hotels.
I recommend booking your plane with Skyscanner. It has been my favourite platform for years, as it allows me to book the cheapest flights whilst lowering my carbon emissions.
3 days in Edinburgh – FAQ
Yes, 3 days are ideal to discover the capital and see the main attractions. It will allow you to learn more about the Scottish heritage without rushing. Spending a fourth day would also be a perfect opportunity to visit the country – I did this one-day tour to Loch Ness, and I loved it!
Yes, Edinburgh is a walkable city. Getting around the city on foot is the best way to appreciate its architecture and immerse yourself in its culture. The Scottish capital is compact, and all the main attractions are close together, so you will not have any problems walking around – especially in the Old Town, where there are hardly any cars.
To get to Loch Ness from Edinburgh, you can rent a car and drive (approx 3.5 hours each way), take the train to Inverness (regular direct trains – 3.5 hours) or book a guided day tour (Heart of Scotland is the one I used and loved them).
The best time to visit Edinburgh and avoid crowds is in May and September. The temperatures will still be pleasant, and the days will be long enough for you to enjoy a day of sightseeing. I recommend avoiding August as it is the busiest month due to the many festivals.
And you, have you ever visited Edinburgh or would you like to go one day?
Let me know in the comments below!
With love ♡