Edinburgh is one of my favorite cities of all time. For me to claim a city is my favorite is a big deal because I am not a huge city person and usually when traveling I don't spend much time in them. Edinburgh is even a city where I could see myself living. Why is it so cool? The preserved buildings and street plan from the medieval era in the "Old Town", the Edinburgh castle, and the neoclassical and Georgian architecture of the new town, are just a few of the reasons. Whenever I've been there it has felt like the closest I can come to time-traveling to the historical eras that fascinate me.
While I encourage exploring Edinburgh for more than a day, if you only have one day, here are my tips for what to see and do.
At the top of the Royal Mile is the glorious Edinburgh Castle. The entrance fee is high and it's usually quite busy. Beat the crowds by getting there when they open. The coolest part about being inside the castle is.... being inside the castle. There is a complete little town inside those walls and it is well preserved. The exhibits inside some of the buildings actually don't give as much history as I would have liked, but just walking around and taking in the view is fabulous. I was glad to have a smart phone with me so I could look up the history of the castle as Ben and I explored.
Free Walking Tour
My first time in Edinburgh, my then boyfriend (now hubby) and I were on a very tight budget. So anything with FREE in the title grabbed our attention. The free SANDMANs New Europe Tour of Edinburgh was fantastic. The tour wound through alleys (called "closes" in Edinburgh), many historical sights, and many Harry Potter landmarks, all while incorporating a wealth of fascinating history. We regretted not doing it again when we returned to Edinburgh this past year. The disappointing ghost tour we tried instead seemed a bit fabricated. If you can't do the walking tour, definitely hit St. Giles Cathedral to see the famous little bagpipe-playing angel carved into the wall.
If you are up for more walking after your free walking tour, make your way down the Royal Mile to the Palace at Holyrood, the Queen's residence in Scotland. On your way drop into Cadenhead's Whisky Shop for a unique whisky experience. This store sells whisky from the Scottish distilleries that they support without adding color or water as the large distilleries do. I highly recommend having at least a taste of one of their delicious single malts.
If you are enjoying a clear day and you still have energy when you reach the bottom of Royal Mile, hike up to Arthur's Seat (next to Palace at Holyrood to the south), an ancient volcano offering a stunning view of Edinburgh and the Royal Mile.
Those are the activities I would make a priority when visiting Edinburgh for only a day, but also try to experience Edinburgh by going into some old pubs and getting lost wandering in the closes of the Royal Mile. Also be sure to enjoy the gorgeous Princes Street Gardens (see picture below).
There are many pubs I'd still like to discover in Edinburgh, but I'll always stop at The Bow Bar, especially if I only have a day in the city. It is located on one of Edinburgh's most iconic streets in Old Town, West Bow/Victoria. This is the kind of pub I'd love to visit after work to chat with locals and feel the homey pub vibe. We found pubs near the University with live Scottish music in the evenings, so walk around there if you are in Edinburgh at night.
The best restaurant I've found in Edinburgh is just off the Royal Mile in Advocate's Close, The Devil's Advocate. It has a old-town, hipster vibe and scrummy food. I had the beet and goat cheese risotto, which I would definitely order again.
Did this post inspire your marvelous wanderings? Let me know and comment below!