Few cities are as charming or as enchanting as Edinburgh: if you’re only in town for the weekend it can be difficult to choose what to see and do.
Short on time and want to know what to see and what to do in Edinburgh in 24 hours? Well then keep reading and get ready to fall in love with this gorgeous city.
What to do in Edinburgh in the morning?
Start the day with a climb to Calton Hill. On a sunny day (and also on a not so sunny one) it has some of the best views of Edinburgh. On one side, the very organised New Town; on the other, the medieval marvel of the Old Town and the very impressive exctinct-volcano of Arthur’s Seat, which is also an amazing park. There is no better way of getting aquainted with Edinburgh that to look at it from the heights.
On your way down, stop for a while at the Omni Centre. It may be too early for a cinema session, but at least say hi to the cute pair of giraffes that stand tall outside this venue.
If the early rising and walking has made you hungry, head over to an Edinburgh institution, the luxurious Balmoral Hotel. In operation since 1902, their bar is a good place for a full Scottish breakfast that will give you all the energy you need to explore this beautiful city.
Descend from Calton Hill and venture into the Royal Mile and the Old Town. Whether you like history or not, the fascinating National Museum of Scotland is more than just a stuffy museum; it’s packed with interactive displays about a variety of subjects, from ancient Roman remains to Dolly the sheep or Sir Jackie Stewart’s F1 car. There’s so much to see and do you could spend a whole day exploring the museum’s vast halls, the most beautiful being the Victorian atrium in the oldest part of the building. Open from 10am to 5pm daily, it’s a fabulous place and it’s 100% free!
Edinburgh Old Town
Now that you have learned a bit more about Scotland’s fascinating past and present, it’s time to hit the Old Town. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the Royal Mile is a very long street (actually longer than a mile) that will take you from Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Palace. Take your time and enjoy the medieval looking buildings along the route.
Just in case you’re feeling a bit more arty and you don’t really want to mix with all the other tourists taking over the Royal Mile, then pay a visit to Summerhall. This former Royal School of Veterinary Science has been transformed into a creative hub, with studio and workshop spaces, as well as very nice café/bar and it’s very own micro-brewery, Barney’s Beer. Make sure you check out whatever exhibitions they have.
Old Western Set
Did you know Edinburgh has a little bit of the old Wild West hidden in the trendy neighbourhood of Morningside? Well, it does! This quirky place was built in the mid-1990s for a furniture business in the area that specialised in Southwestern style. Now abandoned and dilapidated, it still has a lot of charm and remains well-off the typical Edinburgh tourist trail.
Cat lovers will adore this cute little cat café close to the Grassmarket. The teahouse’s 10 furry residents will make sure you feel welcome while you sip a cuppa and cuddle them. But remember to book before you go, since the owners only allow a certain amount of people in at the same time, to make sure the cats don’t get too stressed out and everybody can have a good time.
Where to have lunch in Edinburgh?
Around midday you’ll most likely want to regain your strength by tucking into some delicious food. Why not head over to the trendy Timberyard. This authentic brick warehouse with a south facing yard only uses locally sourced and seasonal ingredients. They have a delicious eight course tasting menu (£70 a head, £120 with paired wines), but any dish from their menu will challenge your tastebuds.
In the shadow of Calton Hill, The Gardener’s Cottage is another perfect option for a lovely spot of lunch. Chefs Dale Mailley and Edward Murray serve excellent dishes made with the best seasonal and local produce – choosing only one or two dishes from their menu will be a challenge as all are delicious!
What to see and do in Edinburgh in the afternoon?
If you’re in need of a little bit of retail therapy, then Harvey Nichols is the place to go to. This high-end super-chic department store prides itself on stocking a wide range of designer clothes, shoes, hangbags, toiletries – everything you might possibly want to freshen up your wardrobe. Even if you’re not in the mood to splash the cash, it’s worth popping inside and heading up to their rooftop restaurant for amazing views of Edinburgh – which look even better with a cocktail from the fourth floor Window Bar in your hand.
In the outskirts of Edinburgh, Jupiter Artland is paradise for art and nature lovers. Just hop on bus 27or X27 and be amazed by this huge sculpture park, a place where the natural environment and the creativity of contemporary artists collide. Wander through the exhibitions, take pictures (selfies are more than welcome) and be inspired.
Set in a medieval building right in front of Edinburgh Castle, Camera Obscura and World of Illusions is the perfect choice for an hour or so of entertainment and fun. This Aladdin’s cave is filled with fascinating illusions, tricks and unbelievable effects. Will you stay on your feet in the Vortex Tunnel? Will you find your way out of the mirror maze? Find out for yourself! Open 9am until 9pm during the summer months, tickets cost about £14 for adults and £10 for children.
What to see and do in Edinburgh in the evening?
Raining outside? Probably, but fear not, The Cameo cinema (allegedly one of Quentin Tarantino’s favourite filmhouses in the whole world) is one of the oldest theatres in Scotland still in use and a good place to catch a film. From chart-topping blockbusters, to foreign films and killer double bills. there’ bound to be a film showing that will entertain and save you from the rain for an afternoon. The cinema’s Cameo Bar is also a cool place to enjoy a drink post-screening, with walls crowded with vintage film posters and big comfy sofas.
Not far from the Wild West film set, down in Morningside, The Canny Man’s pub is an iconic Edinburgh watering hole, serving loyal customers since 1871. With an unusual décor (antiques and paintings hang from the walls and ceiling) and a huge selection of good whiskys, make yourself comfortable in one of their old armchairs and taste their legendary Bloody Marys. Celebrity Chef Rick Stein even called it the best pub in the world.
There are plenty of gastropubs in the city, but one of the best has got to be The Scran & Scallie, from Michelin star chefs Tom Kitchin and Dominic Jack. Serving scrumptious menus of fresh, home-cooked dishes with quality and seasonal local produce that will have you salivating from the very moment you set foot through the door. If you don’t know what to order, go for Scottish classics such as Sheep’s Heid Scotch Broth, Cottage Pie or, to top it all, the seasonal crumble of the day.
What to see and do in Edinburgh at night?
Edinburgh is a city of festivals, and not only the Fringe. All year round there is a great variety of smaller festivals being held in different venues. One of the finest is Hidden Door, a not for profit arts festival that takes place every year in abandoned or hidden places in Edinburgh. Once you cross its gates you will have your senses filled with twinkling fairy lights, beats from some of the best bands in town, tantilising aromas wafting from delicious food trucks and inspiring works from talented contemporary artists.
Grab a cocktail (and maybe some food) at Tigerlily. This trendy boutique hotel has a fabulous bar and restaurant that serves a mean afternoon tea and some of the classiest cocktails in town. So get dressed to impress and head to Edinburgh’s George Street in the heart of New Town to this incredibly cool venue.
You’ve shoppied ’til you flopped into a booth at the Canny Man’s, seen some amazing art and checked out some of the citiy’s museums and galleries, but the night is still young – underneath Tigerlily you’ll find Lulu’s nightclub, the perfect place to see how Edinburgh parties. Try more mouth-watering cocktails, throw some shapes on the light-up dancefloor and enjoy the club’s buzzing atmosphere. Follow the steps of Emeli Sande, Dizzee Rascal, Russel Brand and Girls Aloud who’ve all partied at Lulu’s – the perfect way to round off your trip!
For more tips on what to see and do in Edinburgh, check these out:
Edinburgh – one of the most stunning cities in the world. Here are the most beautiful places to take the perfect holiday pics.
Get the locals’ lowdown on where to eat & drink in Edinburgh: Skyscanner staff reveal their favourite cafés, pubs & restaurants.
Thousands of shows, forever changing weather and endless pints of beer. Here are our top tips for Edinburgh’s biggest festival.
Princes Street is Edinburgh’s busiest shopping street, but it also holds a lot of history and there is far more to see than the many high street shops.