The Ultimate Edinburgh Itinerary For 3-5 Days in Scotland’s Capital
Summary: I’m sharing an example Edinburgh itinerary in this post for 3-5 days along with my advice about when to visit, what to pack, and how many days to spend exploring Edinburgh.
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Edinburgh is a city filled with enough moody architecture and dark academia vibes to keep you wanting to come back again and again. However, if it’s your first time visiting, there are a few must-see places that you’ll want to make time for.
My first piece of advice before I get into the itinerary is to plan to see more of Scotland than just Edinburgh. While this city is magic and you’ll want to spend as much time as you can here, you’d be missing out if you didn’t venture into the Scottish Highlands. My favorite part of Scotland is Isle of Skye, but there are many other quaint towns within the highlands that make excellent stops along a road trip through Scotland.
But enough about that! You came here for Edinburgh, so I’ll give you Edinburgh!
How Many Days to Spend in Edinburgh
Edinburgh is one of those cities that you’ll want to keep going back to again and again. However, I know most people only have a short amount of time to travel, so I made this Edinburgh itinerary for anywhere from 3-5 days. If you can stay 5 days (or longer), that’s perfect! You’ll get to see a lot of the city’s highlights and experience a few things that people don’t usually get to if there only visiting for a few days. That said, you can still get a feel for Edinburgh in 3 very busy days!
The Best Time of Year to Visit Edinburgh
I visited Edinburgh in the fall – November to be exact – and I LOVED it. This is a city filled with gothic architecture and dark academia vibes, so adding a touch of rain into the mix makes the experience perfect. Autumn also tends to have lower hotel rates, less crowds, and cheaper flight prices. It’s a win-win!
That said, spring is another fan-favorite time to visit Edinburgh because of the blooms. There are so many beautiful trees that bloom around April/May and they make the city come alive after a dormant winter. After checking flight prices, I can confidently say that they are most expensive in spring and summer, so keep that in mind when planning your trip.
What to Pack for Edinburgh
This highly depends on when you’re visiting. If you choose to go in Fall, bring a lot of layers. It was chilly at times and borderline warm at other times. Typically, I wore a sweater with a down vest or a base layer, sweater, and rain jacket.
Speaking of rain jackets, you will need rain gear if you visit in Fall. I think Scotland scares some people away because of how much it rains, but it really is tolerable if you have the right gear with you. My favorite rain jacket is the Apollo Rain Jacket by Outdoor Research. I have it in the “Larch” color. It is very packable, light, and breathable. I loved that the hood stays up even in the harshest wind and rain.
I noticed the typical style change a bit in each city I visited throughout Scotland. I am NOT a fashion girlie, but in Edinburgh, I saw a lot of dark academia – think plaid, wool coats, tweed hats, dark leather, wide trousers, etc.
Day 1: Royal Mile, Edinburgh Castle, and Camera Obscura
The first day of your Edinburgh itinerary is going to show you one of the most popular streets in this city: the Royal Mile (also known as High Street). This street is lined with restaurants, stores, and more, so I’d suggest taking your time walking down it.
One of the first places I’d suggest stopping is Tron Kirk Market on the corner of High Street and South Bridge. This is a local market with art, photographs, and other handmade items for sale. This is a great spot to buy something to remember your trip while also supporting local artists! If you’re interested in a wool or cashmere sweater, scarf, hat, or any other piece of clothing, there are so many shops to choose from. I chose to buy a cashmere scarf from Kiltane and I love it. Their pieces are very high quality and beautiful.
While you’re walking along the Royal Mile, you’ll come across St. Giles Cathedral. I suggest stopping in to gaze at the pretty stained glass and take a short walk around the interior. This shouldn’t take more than 10-20 minutes of your time.
At the very end of High Street, you’ll come to the main attraction: Edinburgh Castle. There is a lot to see and explore within the castle walls, so I’d plan to spend at least a couple of hours here. You can purchase tickets ahead of time, or when you arrive, but either way, you’ll need to buy them on your phone/computer and then pick up the tickets at the castle.
Assuming you finish exploring the castle in the early afternoon, I would plan to have lunch nearby at any one of the cafes and restaurants on High Street. But don’t go too far because you’ll be entering a world of illusion at Camera Obscura. This is a fun attraction right by the Edinburgh Castle. Have some fun in the evening and then head to the rooftop terrace to see the sun set over Edinburgh.
Day 2: Harry Potter Tour, Princes Street, and Dean Village
This Edinburgh itinerary is assuming you’re a Harry Potter fan, or you’re at least traveling with someone who is. If that assumption is correct, I think this is going to be your favorite day in Edinburgh!
The Potter Trail is a free walking tour that showcases the different filming locations and areas that inspired JK Rowling while she was writing the Harry Potter books. This is truly one of the best tours I’ve ever been on. The guides are incredibly knowledgeable and very excited about their jobs! While the tour is free, you will need to book your tickets ahead of time, and I suggest donating 10-15 pounds per person if you can.
The tour runs at noon and 4pm each day over the summer and it’s about 1.5-2 hours long. When we ended, we were left to explore Victoria Street (the inspiration behind Diagon Ally!), so poke around in a few shops while you’re there. Museum Context is an excellent option for Harry Potter-themed items.
–> Read more: 16 Places Harry Potter Fans Must Visit <–
Depending on which time you choose for your Harry Potter tour, this next part may come before or after. If you plan the tour at 4pm, this would be the perfect way to spend a morning, but if your tour is at noon, then this part will come after.
Either way, I’d suggest making your way to Princes Street and walking West. Along the way, you’ll pass the Scott Monument and Princes Street Gardens. The Scott Monument is a gothic structure in honor of the writer, Sir Walter Scott. You can walk down into the gardens for an excellent, close-up view of the. monument.
Next, you’ll come to the Scottish National Gallery. This is an art gallery that’s worth a walk through if you have some extra time.
Continuing down Princes Street and eventually veering right, after about a mile, you’ll have made your way to a residential area called Dean Village. This is a quaint storybook section of the city that makes you completely forget you’re in a big city like Edinburgh. Take a walk down by the river and marvel at the flowers and colorful buildings around it. You won’t be able to find a taxi or any restaurants in this area, but when you’re finished, you can call and Uber or walk back to Old Town Edinburgh to finish your day.
Day 3: Palace of Holyrood House and The Real Mary Kings Close Tour
If this is your last day in Edinburgh, that is such a bummer, but I understand that there are so many places in this world to see that sometimes we can’t stay as long as we’d like. Whether this is your last day on the Edinburgh itinerary, or you’ve got a few days after this, day 3 is a tour day.
I suggest starting off by heading to Palace of Holyrood House. One of my favorite things about Edinburgh is how walkable it is. You can certainly walk here from the main part of town, but you can also call an Uber or Taxi. Palace of Holyrood House is the estate where the royal family stays when they visit Edinburgh. It is lavish and such a treat to walk through. We were able to do a self-paced walking tour through the building and surrounding gardens.
This tour will be a bit more formal, so let’s have some fun in the afternoon!
After heading back to the center of Edinburgh and grabbing lunch, it’s time to embark into the Real Mary King’s Close. This tour takes you back in time, centuries ago, and shows how people lived in Edinburgh during the plague. This is a side to this city that you don’t often get to see and the tour guides make it incredibly informative, while also being entertaining. I suggest buying tickets ahead of time for this one because they do sell out.
–> Looking to see more of Scotland? Check out my 7-10 day Scotland Road Trip Itinerary! <–
Day 4: Arthur’s Seat, Writer’s Museum, and The Scotch Whisky Experience
If you’ve made this this far on the Edinburgh itinerary, you’ve probably done a lot of walking around the city so far. Day 4 is filled with even more walking, but stay with me! You’ll get some incredible views out of it.
Arthur’s Seat is a hike that takes you to a spot with an incredible view of Edinburgh and the Castle. It takes about 45 minutes to walk up the hill and it’s fairly strenuous, so athletic shoes are recommended. The hike actually starts outside the Palace of Holyrood House, so if you’re planning to do this hike, you may want to switch it with the Real Mary Kings Close tour, and do that tour on day 4. I have it switched because if someone had to choose between the two, or if they are only visiting for 3 days, I’d recommend the Real Mary Kings Close tour over the hike, but if you have time, both are worth it!
Personally, I enjoy hiking in the morning. So, if it were up to me, I’d start my day by grabbing some breakfast and then hiking Arthur’s Seat before heading back down and making my way to the Writer’s Museum.
The Writer’s Museum is a spot that not everyone gets to see, so I think it’s special if you’re in Edinburgh long enough to fit it into your itinerary. The museum walks you through the lives of three Scottish writers: Robert Burns, Walter Scott (remember, from the Scott Monument!) and Robert Louis Stevenson.
When you’re finished with the museum, it may be early or late afternoon and you’ll likely want to relax after an active morning. The perfect way to relax in Scotland is with a glass (or three) of Scotch Whisky!
There are several different places to try Scotch in Edinburgh, but the two I see most recommended are
- The Scotch Whisky Experience (near the Edinburgh Castle)
- The Johnnie Walker Experience (on Princes Street)
Both of these options have different tasting tours and pairings. Just make sure to reserve this ahead of time.
Day 5: Royal Yacht Britannia and National Museum of Scotland
I’m sure you’re tired (and potentially hungover) after yesterday, so I’d recommend taking a slow morning to start day 5. After some breakfast and coffee, make your way over to the Royal Yacht Brittania. It’s a 45-minute walk or a 12-minute taxi ride from the center of Edinburgh.
The Royal Yacht Britannia served the royal family starting in 1953. Today, it’s publicly available to tour and serves as an event venue for visitors curious about how the royals spent time on board and what life was like for the crew.
It’s recommended to purchase tickets online ahead of time.
When you’re finished, make your way back to the main area of Edinburgh and find a spot for some lunch.
The afternoon will be spent at the National Museum of Scotland. As you can imagine, this museum is full of Scottish history – everything from fashion to airplanes to military, and everything in between. They have rotating exhibitions, so check out their website to see what will be showing when you’re visiting!
If you have some time after the museum, I’d suggest walking up Calton Hill to get yet another amazing view of Edinburgh. This might be your last night here, so soak it in and maybe even use this time to say a goodbye to a city that I know has captured your heart. If you’re anything like me, you’ll vow to go back to Edinburgh as many times as you possibly can, so this likely won’t be your last look.
Let me know what you thought of the Edinburgh itinerary in the comments!