Edinburgh is brimming with historical and cultural attractions, gorgeous green spaces, and lively food and drink destinations. While two days is sufficient to see the major sights, a 3 day Edinburgh itinerary gives you an even better perspective on this incredible capital city.
Edinburgh is a city packed with history, amazing food and wonderful museums to explore. It’s without a doubt one of the best UK weekend getaways.
Over the course of three days, you will get to explore the sights of the city centre as well as some places a little further afield.
But exactly what to do for three days in Edinburgh? Read on for tips and advice on where to go and how to organise your time.
How to use this 3 Day Edinburgh Itinerary
Feel free to jiggle this proposed itinerary around subject to the weather forecast and where you stay. You might also want to mix and match the suggested evening activities.
Remember to check the opening hours for any museums or attractions featured as some may close on select days of the week. Hours of operation generally change to reflect the season.
Spending less than 3 days in Edinburgh? In that case, you should read our 2 day Edinburgh itinerary. This guide will also help you plan getting there, getting around, and choosing where to stay in Edinburgh.
Getting to Edinburgh
If you are planning to visit Edinburgh by car, it’s best to simply enter the name of your hotel into the Waze app. This, in my experience, is the best option for navigating around Edinburgh (better than Google Maps). This is especially valuable if you have never been Edinburgh before and aren’t familiar with the highways.
Waze can direct you to the nearest parking areas and it will then save that information so that you don’t forget where you parked your car the next morning.
If you are traveling by train, you will come into the main station, Edinburgh Waverley Station. If you are staying near Princes Street or the Royal Mile, you are within about a 10-minute walk to most places from the train station. There are also taxis outside of the entrance to the station.
The Edinburgh bus station is a bit further out of the way, so unless you are staying close to the east side of Princes Street or the National Portrait Gallery, you will likely want to hop on the bus or grab an Uber to get to your hotel.
Getting Around Edinburgh
Almost all of the city buses that you will want to use are with the same company, Lothian Buses.
The best thing to do is to download the Lothian Buses app here.
This app will be your best friend as you navigate around three days in Edinrbugh. It’s very easy to use and will tell you exactly what bus to take to your intended destination, where the bus stop is located based on where you are currently standing, and how much it will cost to get there.
You can pay for your ticket on the bus in cash or with credit card. I highly recommend using Apple Pay or Google Pay (or a contactless credit card) to scan on all of the buses.
The system recognizes your device and if you plan to take the bus several times a day, you will actually save more than if you bought a single-day ticket. It’s called the tap-tap-cap and you can read more about it here.
Ultimate 3 Day Edinburgh Itinerary
This 3-day itinerary will cover all the best places to eat, sights to see and of course, the best pubs to stop into!
Day One in Edinburgh – Morning
Welcome to Edinburgh! As the city centre is divided into an Old Town and a New Town, it makes sense to start with one side. Let’s go ahead and start your three days in Edinburgh in the Old Town.
Old Town/Royal Mile
Edinburgh Old Town is the oldest part of the city and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Royal Mile is formed by a sequence of five streets that connect Edinburgh Castle with the Palace of Holyroodhouse. You can spend a couple of hours pottering along the street and checking out various sights.
Assuming you start at the Castlehill end, take a moment to savour the incredible city views from Castle Rock. Edinburgh Castle is an emblem of the city and you might want to explore the grounds. As it opens daily at 9:30 am, you can escape the crowds by getting through the doors first.
Edinburgh Castle has been used as a military fortress, royal residence, and prison. Exhibitions spill the secrets behind the hilltop stronghold. It’s highly beneficial to pre-book tickets, especially over summer and British school holidays.
Beyond the castle, simply wandering the route of the Royal Mile is one of the best things to do in Edinburgh. Detours down the little alleyways reward you with views and little museums. For example, the Writer’s Museum celebrates the pursuits of Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns, and Robert Louis Stevenson.
Do also take a detour along W Bow, a curved avenue that’s compared to Diagon Alley. The street is lined with elegant 19th-century townhouses where you can browse unique gifts and souvenirs.
It’s actually worth popping down here prior to visiting the museum so that you can take pictures easily. But if you want to pop into the shops during your Edinburgh 3 days trip, you will need to turn up after 10am.
Day One in Edinburgh – Afternoon
In terms of lunch, note that the cafes on the Royal Mile itself are fairly costly. You’re best opting for one of the pubs around the middle of the street where you can get a substantial meal at a decent price.
However, if you scoot down one of the side streets towards Cowgate and the university you will find more agreeably priced cafes and restaurants.
The Edinburgh Larder specialises in scrumptious breakfasts that are available until 3pm as well as hearty lunches using local and regional produce.
National Museum of Scotland
Depending on your personal preferences you now have two options on this leg of your Edinburgh itinerary 3 for days.
First option, you can duck into the National Museum of Scotland which takes you on a journey from prehistoric Scotland through to the modern-day. Astoundingly, it’s free to visit. You can turn up on the day but expect to spend a few hours there if you want to make a dent in the vast collection.
Palace of Holyroodhouse
And now, your second option. Not to be confused with Hollywood, the Palace of Holyroodhouse is an official residence of Queen Elizabeth II. However, it also has a history with Scottish monarchs that dates back centuries.
The palace is open to the public and enables you to see the State Apartments and the Throne Room and rooms used by Mary Queen of Scots.
The last admission is usually around 3:15pm (winter) and 4:30pm (summer). So if you do want to include the palace on your 3-day Edinburgh itinerary you’ll need to plan carefully. As with the castle, it’s advisable to purchase a ticket online in advance.
After winding up from the palace, you can pause to check out the Scottish Parliament Building. This was constructed at the turn of the 21st century and received a mixed reaction from the Scots.
Day One in Edinburgh – Evening
You’ll have exceeded your daily steps by now. But, if you still have energy, consider booking a ghost tour for your first evening in Edinburgh.
Even if you’re sceptical about the paranormal world, these tours explain all about the city’s sordid past and the impact of the plague. Certain tours take you to the “Underground City” – a series of vaults hidden beneath the streets.
Tours are riddled with ghostly anecdotes but the history is sound and skilled guides ensure that the experience is really fun. When wondering what to do for three days in Edinburgh at night, ghost tours have to feature!
City Explorers Edinburgh run free (tips-based) ghost tours. as well as other themed guided walks. But if you want to see the subterranean chambers, you’ll need to book a paid tour with the likes of City of the Dead Tours or Auld Reekie.
Conclude your ghost tour with a drink at one of the old-worldly pubs on the Royal Mile. Both The Banshee Labyrinth and Whistlebinkies claim resident spooks and host live music events throughout the week.
Day Two in Edinburgh – Morning
Seeing as you spent the first of your Edinburgh 3 days itinerary in Old Town, today you will explore New Town. But first, coffee.
Make a pit stop at Fortuna Coffee Bar and pick up a coffee to accompany you on the walk. If you didn’t eat breakfast at your hotel, they offer a mix of satisfying yet nutritious breakfasts including smoked salmon on toast and homemade granola.
Well, we say New Town but the first sightseeing spot on the second of your 3 day Edinburgh itinerary might surprise you. Actually, it’s much like stepping back in time!
Dean Village is a small hamlet upon the Water of Leith consisting of renovated mills, fairytale cottages, and historic townhouses. The area is residential with no major attractions other than the opportunity to wander through the streets and alongside the beck. Take your time snapping photos while you soak up the ambiance.
You can walk to Dean Village from the West End of Princes Street in 10 minutes yet the environment couldn’t possibly feel more different.
Scottish National Gallery of Art
The next suggestion is one for art buffs. The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art is split across two buildings, creatively named Modern One and Modern Two. You can walk to the two galleries in 10-15 minutes from Dean Village.
Modern One exhibits sculptures and paintings by Scottish and international artists. The lawn out front is worthy of a visit on its own. On the other hand, the focal point of Modern Two is the Stairwell Project. This installation by the esteemed Richard Wright features hundreds upon thousands of individually hand-painted forms and abstract shapes.
Day Two in Edinburgh – Afternoon
If you’re not so fussed about seeing the gallery, you can just head straight into New Town. You can rest your feet by taking the bus back to the centre. Bus number 43 departs from Stewart Melville’s College.
Edinburgh New Town
Edinburgh New Town is where you’ll find all the chain shops and department stores. It’s also home to affordable lunch places as well as fancy options for the evening (or if you’re in the mood for a nice lunch).
During the summer festival season when the Edinburgh International Book Festival and Fringe Festival run in tandem, Charlotte Square and George Street erupt into festivities.
Princes Street Gardens is one of the best places for a picnic if your three days in Edinburgh fall during the summer months. If the weather is on your side, grab a sandwich to go and enjoy it on the grass.
These beautiful gardens are appointed with flower plots, fountains, and monuments including the Scott Monument. You can usually follow a spiral staircase to the top of the tower for a small fee although it’s closed at the time of writing.
Princes Street Gardens provides the setting for the Royal Scottish Academy and the Scottish National Gallery. If it’s not too much art for one day, both of these exhibitions are free and provide priceless insight into Scottish history and culture – past and present.
Wrap up your exploration of Edinburgh New Town at its highest point, Carlton Hill.
You can walk to the top of this hilltop park via a sloped path or a stone staircase, both of which start from Waterloo Place. At the top, you’ll see an eclectic mix of sights including the National Monument, the Observatory, and the Nelson Monument.
However, best of all is the views of the city which are made all the more magical if you visit at sunset. If you timed this 3 day Edinburgh itinerary carefully, you will be in for a treat.
Day Two in Edinburgh – Evening
You might want to experience some of the city’s nightlife during your 3 days in Edinburgh. The Scottish capital is overflowing with traditional pubs and stylish wine bars for you to take your pick from.
Edinburgh New Town has an excellent array of restaurants where you can start your night. Here is a selection of recommended places to eat.
- The Queen’s Arms: This cosy pub is packed with books. Classic pub fare is done exceedingly well, with the likes of steak, fish and chips, and haggis.
- Gusto Italian: The food is so good that you’ll forget where you are! Meanwhile, the dining hall is chicly appointed and perfect for a special evening. Reservations are usually required.
- Tigerlily: A sensory menu takes you through the flavours of Asia using Scottish produce.
You can spend the rest of the evening pub-hopping. Many of the joints in New Town host live music or pub quizzes so keep your ears tuned.
Day Three in Edinburgh – Morning
You’ve got a hike to look forward to this morning so you’ll appreciate a Scottish breakfast first. Wanderlust Cafe and Bistro is located at the lower end of the Royal Mile and offers full Scottish breakfasts as well as their signature crepes.
Now for that hike. Arthur’s Seat is a dormant volcano rising 823 feet above Holyrood Park. You’ll have seen it already over the course of your 3 days in Edinburgh but it’s a fantastic hike if the conditions are on your side.
The Arthur’s Seat summit is accessible via a series of hiking trails that range in the level of difficulty with the easier routes being suitable to most abilities. Panoramic views from the top stretch as far as the port.
Outside of the summer season, you can hike up Arthur’s Seat at any time of day. But the atmosphere is best earlier in the day. It’s also incredible at sunset although you’ll need to carry a torch and take care coming down the mound.
You can expect to encounter a variety of other tourists as well as Edinburgh residents out for a morning jog or dog walk. Allow approximately 2 hours to complete the hike at a moderate pace or 3 if you want to take your time. But do factor in your travel from your hotel as well.
If you’re not keen on hiking, consider taking the morning to visit Cramond.
This is a tiny and picturesque fishing village northwest of the city. At low tide, you can walk across the Cramond Causeway to a small island. Once there, you can wander around the rock pools and enjoy scenic coastal views. There is a small cafe in the village where you can grab a bite to eat and a cup of tea.
However, you must check the tides before you visit and ensure you are back at Cramond Beach in good time.
Bus number 41 connects Cramond with Princes Street and takes around 40 minutes.
Concluding your 3-day Edinburgh itinerary
You can conclude this 3 day Edinburgh itinerary with one of several activities.
First of all, if you want to shop, seize the chance to potter around the boutiques of Old Town or stock up on Scottish shortbread and clothing in New Town. The department store Jenners is a great place to shop for yourself or loved ones back home.
Edinburgh is bursting with bookshops that will delight any bookworms. You’ll find a couple of secondhand and antiquarian booksellers around the back of Edinburgh Castle off Grassmarket.
Meanwhile, the award-winning Golden Hare Books stocks a thoughtful range of fiction, non-fiction, and children’s books. Another award-winner that hosts regular readings and events is the Edinburgh Bookshop.
If you love the Harry Potter series, you can follow a whole Harry Potter tour around the city during your three days in Edinburgh.
Anyone who’s partial to a glass of whisky could consider wrapping things up with a tasting session.
The Scotch Whisky Experience hosts daily tours and experiences which vary based on the day of your visit and the time you have available. Expert whisky guides will wisen your understanding of the great Scottish spirit with so much enthusiasm that you’ll be firmly converted.
Finally, if you’re low on funds, check out my guide to the best free things to do in Edinburgh.