When travelling to Edinburgh, it’s likely that you’ll hear the sounds of bagpipes floating through the air.
It’s the kind of place where Scottish experiences seem to happen frequently. Sightings of men in kilts is common as residents head to and from events within the city. The local haggis dish (with modern vegetarian options!) and locally made scotch whiskey are easy to come by. Buskers play traditional tunes that would have been suitable in centuries past, adding to the atmosphere of what was once a prominent medieval city.
I think that all of this provides a feeling that Edinburgh is quite possibly the ‘most Scottish’ place for a weekend away in the northern UK.
I enjoyed wandering through the quaint and Instagrammable cobblestone streets and looking at the historic buildings in Edinburgh–which was the final destination on my Scotland road trip–but I also found it to be a place where you can stray from the popular tourist hotspots and still discover the Scottish vibes away from the crowds.
If you’re planning a trip to this happening city, here’s my suggested itinerary for a truly perfect weekend in Edinburgh!
Where to stay in Edinburgh:
I stayed at the Travelodge Edinburgh Central Waterloo Place which sits between Calton Hill and Waverley Station. The location was great as it was near the old town without actually being in tourist central. It was within a walkable distance of many of Edinburgh’s city attractions.
The hotel itself was basic and clean–exactly what I want in a budget hotel! Really, there’s no need for any frills when you’re staying in such a fab location next to downtown. Our room had a window overlooking Princes Street so we could watch all the action on the main road below.
I always think it’s best to get the touristy stuff over and done with early on when travelling to a new city. Start your day at Edinburgh Castle so that you can see the famous Crown Jewels and Royal Apartments before the crowds arrive. You can pre-book your tickets online a day ahead (which also means you’ll get a discounted price), then turn up when the gates open at 9:30AM.
Afterwards, head downhill to wander through the totally gorgeous streets of Edinburgh old town. There’s no better place for fellow Harry Potter fans to seek out some Hogwarts magic, as JK Rowling was inspired by Edinburgh for some of the book series. If you’re a huge HP nerd like me, then you may even want to hop on an Edinburgh Harry Potter walking tour!
I’d suggest taking a look at the gorgeous Victoria Street (which was inspo for Diagon Alley), then stopping in at The Elephant House (if you can manage to get a seat!) to have a coffee in the cafe where JK spent much of her time writing the books.
Have a quick wander along the western end of the Royal Mile after lunch. This busy thoroughfare starts at Edinburgh Castle and stretches all the way to the Palace of Holyroodhouse on the other end, with the length in between equalling a ‘Scots mile’ (which hasn’t been used since the 18th century but is a tad longer than an English mile). If you’re looking to buy some tacky souvenirs from Scotland, this is the place to find them.
Now it’s time to see some of the pretty areas outside of the old town. A visit to Dean Village is a must during a trip to Edinburgh as it’s like being transported back in time. This former grain milling area has medieval-style buildings including some totally adorable cottages, churches, and bridges.
It can be a little confusing to know which spots to visit as there’s no set path to follow, but if you stick near to the Water of Leith you’ll find some scenic spots. Alternatively, you can book a Dean Village walking tour so that a guide can take you to all the best places and tell you about the history of the area.
If you’ve ever watched the show Downton Abbey, then you’ll know exactly what to expect when visiting the Palace of Holyroodhouse. This prestigious building acts as the royal residence whenever the Queen decides to pop over for a visit, which usually happens once every summer. The remainder of the time, the palace is open to the public so you can walk through the halls on a self-guided audio tour admiring the historic tapestries, over-the-top furniture, and painted portraits of important monarchal figures.
If you’re interested in politics (which I am not, but Rob is a bit nerdy about this stuff), you can inspect the modern Scottish Parliament Building after you’re done at the palace. The official website has info about visits and tours, and if you’re a real politics weirdo then you might even want to go to the Parliament gift shop for souvenirs.
For lunch, we stopped in at the nearby Clarinda’s Tearoom. This cutesy cafe feels just like your Grandmother’s sitting room and has toasted sandwiches and pots of tea on offer. I highly recommend getting the scones with jam and cream for lunch dessert!
The National Museum of Scotland is a good place to spend your last afternoon in Edinburgh. I loved the gorgeous architecture in the Grand Gallery atrium (am I the only one who frequently visits museums for the architecture instead of the exhibits?) and the exhibition on Scottish tartan fabrics was really interesting, too. You can also seek out Dolly the Sheep while you’re there to see the first ever cloned mammal in all her taxidermied glory.
End your weekend in Edinburgh by watching the sun set from the top of Calton Hill. It’s only a short walk to the top and your reward is a view over the rooftops with Edinburgh Castle along with some pretty clock towers and church spires standing proud in the city skyline.
If you’ll be spending another night in the city, I’d suggest topping off your trip with the Scotch Whiskey Experience for an educational (and boozy!) activity where you’ll learn about the distilling process and sample some of the local goods.