Never fear! We’ve designed an ideal two-day itinerary packed with everything from architecture to laughing, eating to trekking. It’s a busy two days, but we can guarantee this is one of the best ways to get around the city and make sure you’ve seen the best the city has to offer.
A note about pre-planning: Some of the suggestions here may require a little pre-planning (such as buying tickets for a show or booking a table for food).
Day 1: History and architecture
Welcome to your Two-Day Edinburgh Tour! We’re delighted to be your guides over the next 48 hours. As soon as you’ve had breakfast, make your way to Waterloo Place and we'll meet you there!
Edinburgh Bus Tours
Buying a hop-on-hop-off ticket for one of the bus tours is by far one of the best ways to see the city - and get around it. The brightly coloured tour buses all depart from Waterloo Place.
Bus tours are a great way to get to grips with the city’s layout, and you’ll learn lots of interesting facts as you pass the city’s buildings with the guided tour. Pick a route that takes your fancy - and fits with your schedule - and hop on! Use the 24 hour validity to hop on and off to take a closer look. Keep hold of your ticket as it will come in handy for the rest of your Edinburgh sightseeing tour.
Of course, if you prefer to travel like a local, nip into the Lothian Buses Travelhub (on Waverley Bridge or Shandwick Place). They’ll give you all the help you need to buy a day or family ticket so you can make your own way around. Save time by downloading the Transport for Edinburgh app covering bus and tram times.
Whatever you decide to do for your transport today, you’re making your way to the Scottish Parliament Building next, so keep an eye out for that stop, and we’ll see you there.
Scottish Parliament Building
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We’re visiting the Scottish Parliament building in the morning because we like to play a game of MP spotting in the cafe before they head into their offices or the debating rooms.
If Parliament is in session, you can watch the goings-on from the public viewing gallery. And there’s an excellent guided tour which takes you around the building’s incredible architecture and history.
Palace of HolyroodHouse
The Scottish Parliament building is practically on the King’s doorstep so it would be rude not to stop and say hello!
Inside the beautiful Palace of Holyroodhouse are exhibitions and displays that take you through Edinburgh’s rich royal history. Wander around the art exhibitions, curated from Buckingham Palace and learn the secrets of Bonnie Prince Charlie and Mary Queen of Scots. While it’s tempting to spend a whole morning wandering around the grand halls, there are other grand buildings in store for you.
Make your way back to Waverley Bridge and look up. You can’t help but be over-awed by the iconic Scott Monument towering above you. We’re going to take you up that, today!
One of the world’s largest monuments dedicated to a writer, this 200ft tower is as jaw-dropping today as it was when it was built in 1846. Climb all 287 steps for a view across the city that almost rivals the beauty of the building itself.
It’s time for a rest and some hearty grub. Let’s make our way across Waverley Bridge and up Cockburn Street where we’ll stop for some lunch.
You’ll never be stuck for something tasty to eat in this part of Edinburgh, but we know you’ll get some lovely bistro food and delicious wines in Ecco Vino, or if you fancy something a little more sunny, head to Laila’s, whose menu is packed with delicious Mediterranean flavours.
Feeling refreshed and re-energised? Great! We’re going to head up onto the Royal Mile now for a spot of people watching. If you have time to explore, we encourage it. There are so many impressive buildings to admire and secret alleyways to explore. Keep an eye open for street performers and art & jewellery stalls which add some colour to the streets.
St. Giles’ Cathedral
As architecture goes, this is a magnificent building. With crown spires, incredible stain glass windows and parts of the building dating from the 1100s, you can’t fail to be impressed. Inside are memorials to around 200 distinguished Scots and you’ll also find Scotland’s chivalric company of Knights and the Chapel of The Order of the Thistle.
Entry is free, but check the St Giles' Cathedral website for opening times.
National Museum of Scotland
The incredible National Museum of Scotland houses over 77,000 items in collections celebrating Scotland’s culture, history, people and global connections. There’s no better way to explore Scottish primaeval age history to the present day.
Make your way up to the roof garden for 360 degree views across Edinburgh.
Can you spot the Scott Monument from up here?
There’s just enough time to grab a photograph with one of Edinburgh’s most famous residents. The statue of Greyfriar’s Bobby sits in the lovely Greyfriar’s Kirkyard, where the little Skye terrier once guarded his owners grave.
Of course, Bobby has been forever immortalised by Walt Disney and countless books and picture books, so this is a photo opp not to be missed.
We’ve got one more stop on today’s tour before we give you some time off! It’s a big one, so let’s hurry.
One of Edinburgh’s most instantly recognisable landmarks, Edinburgh Castle sits high above the city on the peak of an extinct volcano. You might be wondering why we’re here so late in the day. This is the best time to avoid long queues,, and there’s something magical about the light on the city at this time of day - something you’ll definitely notice as you look over the castle walls to the city below.
This castle is an ancient stronghold and home to royalty for hundreds of years, including Queen Margaret, Mary Queen of Scots and James VI. If you’re short of time we recommend ticking the following off your list of ‘must-see’ items on display:
- - The Crown Jewels
- - Stone of Destiny
- - Ancient Dungeons
- - One o’clock Gun (which goes off at 1pm and will no doubt frighten the life out of you tomorrow at 1pm when you’re walking around Princes Street gardens! You’ve been warned)
Take some time to relax before we head out to dinner. We don’t know about you, but 40 winks and a hot shower seems like a great idea now to rejuvenate us before the night-time entertainment begins.
DINNER & DANCING AT THE VOODOO ROOMS
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Enjoy a relaxed, yet luxurious vibe in the award winning Edinburgh hotspot that is The Vodoo Rooms. Relax before dinner with a few tempting cocktails (their mocktail list is pretty impressive, too). The interiors have a decadent feel and the food and service match the quality surroundings.
After dinner, stay in the bar for a few drinks from their extensive menu, or head into the main room to catch a band or DJ night.
The night is young
What you choose to do next is up to you! The world is your oyster, so they say, and Edinburgh is never short of entertainment.
If you fancy a pub crawl, there’s no better place to head than the Grassmarket area where you can’t walk for tripping over excellent pubs! For comedy and laughs, The Stand Comedy Club is a perfect option.
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If clubbing into the wee small hours is your idea of heaven, then head to a local nightclub like Cabaret Voltaire (Cab Vol as it’s known by the locals), The Liquid Rooms or The Bongo Club.
Whatever you decide to do, make sure you get plenty of rest because Day Two of your Edinburgh tour is just around the corner!
Day 2: Outdoor pursuits and retail therapy
Good morning to you!
How are you feeling after your busy day yesterday? Hopefully, well-rested and well-fed because there’s lots of walking today, starting with a trek up to Edinburgh’s city-centre hill Arthur’s Seat.
We’ll make it easier for you by letting you cut a few corners. Phone a cab or an Uber and ask them to drop you off at Dunsapie Loch, which means the walk to the top will only take half-an-hour. Why make it harder than it needs to be?!
Not many cities can boast a huge hill slap back in the centre, but you’ll know by now that Edinburgh is not like any other city! Arthur’s Seat has long been the spot for Edinburgh locals to escape the noisy streets and find some sanctuary. Which is exactly why we think this is the best way for you to begin day 2 of your tour!
Climb your way to the summit of the 251m extinct volcano, and you’ll soon see why it’s one of Edinburgh’s most popular walking spots. If you’re early enough in the morning you might still catch the sunrise, but the view is incredible no matter where the sun sits in the sky today.
Head back down to Holyrood Park and back to Holyrood Road (where the Scottish Parliament building is) and wait for a tour bus to take you back up to Waverley Bridge. We’re going for a stroll through the city gardens, next!
Princes Street Gardens
If you're feeling weary from your hill walk, ease yourself into the Edinburgh pace of life with a gentle stroll around Princes Street Gardens which you’ll have seen yesterday from the lofty heights of the Scott Monument. The gardens spread from Waverley Bridge, to the foot of Edinburgh Castle in the west end. There are seasonal floral displays to enjoy and you'll find lots of interesting memorials and statues that commemorate moments from Edinburgh’s distant and not-so-distant past.
If you like it here and want to rest awhile, a quick trip across Princes Street to the M&S food hall will give you all the picnic essentials you need to spend some time relaxing and soaking up the late morning sun.
If you have time to spare, spend a few moments wandering around the leafy churchyard of The Parish Church of St Cuthbert at the very western end of the gardens. With it's beautiful and peaceful setting, and with plenty of benches, it’s a great spot to rest your legs before the next stop.
National Galleries of Scotland
Now, this isn’t technically outdoor pursuits, but as you make your way around Princes Street Gardens, you won’t miss The Scottish National Gallery. So why not pop in and unwind in front of some impressive art?
Enjoy original artwork by old masters such as Da Vinci and Raphael and pre-eminent artists Monet and Constable. There are always larger themed exhibitions available - although there’s usually a cost for entry to these, whilst the main galleries are free entry.
Lunch and a wander around Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Gardens
Cross Princes St onto Hanover Street where you can catch a 23 or 27 Lothian Bus to The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. After such a busy morning, we think you deserve a well-earned lunch before any more walking, so your first port of call should be the Gateway Restaurant inside the Botanics, as they are commonly known by locals.
The restaurant is informal and friendly with indoor and outdoor seating, serving traditional and popular meals and snacks to whet your appetite.
Once you’re fully satisfied, spend some time wandering around the beautiful botanical gardens with free entry (apart from the glasshouse area). The Botanics have a huge range of plants and flowers which are always changing with the seasons. It’s a wonderful way to feel connected to nature in the middle of the city and an experience not to be missed.
Now the hard work really begins, as we head back to the city for a spot of retail therapy! Even if you don’t want to spend much time (or money) shopping, there’s still plenty of sightseeing to do in the shopping areas we’re taking you.
THE West End
After the Botanics, jump off the bus at the West End of Princes Street where you’ll find a little hidden world tucked behind the main streets. Head onto the colourful, cobbled William Street and you’re immersed in the delightful West End Village, a picturesque haven of independent fashion boutiques, quirky gift shops and bright and funky accessory stores.
ST JAMES QUARTER
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The latest shopping experience in Edinburgh - St James Quarter opened in June 2021. This four-storey shopping centre replaced the 1960s St James Centre and should definitely be on the go-to list for all followers of fashion. More than 40 retailers, including brands in Scotland for the first time, can be found here, including & Other Stories, Stradivarius, Bershka and Pull&Bear. A five-screen cinema and 244 bedroom W Hotel are due to open later in 2022.
Multrees Walk & Dinner in Harvey Nicholls
Last stop on your whistle stop shopping tour is the wonderfully named Multrees Walk. It’s tucked to the side of St Andrew Square and hosts some of the world’s best known luxury labels like Mulberry, Michael Kors and Louis Vuitton.
It’s also home to Scotland’s only Harvey Nichols department store with five floors of luxury shopping supporting the latest trends in clothing, accessories, beauty products and everything else in between. You’ll be thrilled to know it also features a restaurant, brasserie, bar and roof terrace, the perfect place to drop your bags and relax with a cocktail or two and a delicious meal while overlooking the city views.
Time to rest?
We’ve worked you hard today. Your poor feet must be feeling the pinch, so what do you feel like doing this evening?
We’ve planned a few low key activities (seated!) where you can kick back but if you’ve still got lots of energy left, pick back up on any of the evening recommendations from yesterday’s itinerary. Did you make your way around all 3 nightclubs?
Relaxed evening entertainment
We’re certainly exhausted, so you must be too! So if you’re not sated by all that Edinburgh has to offer, but you’re keen for no more walking, then we’ve got you covered.
Book a ticket to see a theatre performance in one of the many theatre houses in the city. The Playhouse is the largest working theatre in the UK and hosts many musicals and touring shows. The Traverse highlights some of the best in new theatre writing and The Usher Hall is the place to go for an array of top class music and performances.
One final view of the city, before we say goodnight.
However you choose to finish off your 2 Day Edinburgh Tour, one final view of the city is a must. Take a walk up the North Bridge where you’ll see the twinkling lights of the city all around, as well as most of the city’s most stunning buildings and landmarks.
The 5* Balmoral Hotel sits in front of Arthur’s Seat; The Scott Monument seems to sit shoulder to shoulder with Edinburgh Castle. All in all, it’s a beautiful spot to take in the city one last time before you make your way to bed and a much-deserved good night’s sleep.
Thank you so much for joining us on our Two Days in Edinburgh itinerary. You’ve been excellent company, and we can’t wait to welcome you back to another of our itineraries.
If you're looking for more things to do in the city why not have a look at our What's On page. Packed with events, exhibitions, festivals and performances, it's got something for all the family.