How to Spend 2 Days in Edinburgh

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Going to Edinburgh was my first real solo backpacking experience. Sure I’d been living in Ireland for a few weeks by then and seen a bit of the country, but I had either been with my parents or close enough to my new home that I didn’t feel that it really counted. I chose Scotland because it was nearby, they spoke English, and it just seemed like a good place to start. It was a good pick because I fell in love with the country, especially Edinburgh. Since my original visit I’ve been back twice, each time finding something new and difference to see and explore. So for any first-timers heading to Scotland’s capital, here’s my take on how to spend 2 days in Edinburgh.


How to Get to Edinburgh, Scotland

Unless you are arriving from somewhere else in Scotland or England, you are likely going to be arriving by plane.  The Edinburgh Airport is about a 25-30 minute bus ride to the city centre. 

There is a city bus that will take you into town; tickets can be purchased outside the arrivals doors, at the Visit Scotland office, or on the bus itself. If you are also returning to leave the country from the Edinburgh airport it is most cost-effective to get a return ticket. The bus makes a few stops on the way to the city centre, with the final stop being a Waverly train station (where you will arrive from if travelling by train). From here you can likely walk to your final destination, or grab a cab or bus; both of which are abundant in this area.

Where to Stay in Edinburgh for 2 Days

I’ve stayed in a couple different areas in Edinburgh and I don’t think there is really a bad location. I do recommend trying to stay close to the city centre. Look for accommodation close to the Royal Mile or Edinburgh Castle to be close to all the action.

If you are looking for a great hotel in Edinburgh, my mom and I loved the Scotsman Hotel. It’s in a great location within walking distance to all the main attractions, offers beautiful views, and is in a gorgeous historical building. We lucked in and found a sale but, typically, it’s a pricier hotel. 

Some more recommendations on where to stay in Edinburgh:

Hostel: High Street Hostel

Midrange: Courtyard by Marriott Edinburgh or Mercure Edinburgh City Princes Street

Luxury: Apex Waterloo Place Hotel or the Scotsman as described above!

Ps: If you are spending more time in Scotland and want to explore the countryside, take a look at one of these Castle hotels in Scotland

Edinburgh, Scotland

Getting Around Edinburgh in 2 Days

Edinburgh is pretty small and compact and easy to walk around. That being said, it is a very hilly area and no matter where you are, you always seem to be climbing uphill. However, it’s a beautiful city so if you are planning on stopping for photos, it doesn’t really matter.

If a lot of walking and hills is not quite what you wanted, try the Edinburgh hop off hop on tours. It’s a great way to see the sites and the city without tiring yourself out and doesn’t cost a fortune. Book your tickets for the Edinburgh Hop on Hop Off Bus here. 

Finally, Edinburgh also has city buses and a tram system you can use as well. I wouldn’t, however, advise renting a car to explore the city as the roads are small and windy and the Royal Mile is pedestrian only.

Two Days in Edinburgh: The Best Things to do

There is a lot to do in Edinburgh from museums to castles, shops and pubs, even ghost tours of Harry Potter sites. Every time I visit I always find something new, but here are a few of my all-time favourite and top recommended things to do and see with 2 days in Edinburgh.

Day 1 in Edinburgh

For your first day in Edinburgh I recommend exploring the Old town area highlights. I suggest:

Take a Free Walking Tour

Greyfriar's Bobby

Part of Edinburgh’s draw is its incredible history, and unless you want to spend your entire visit with your nose jammed in a guidebook the best way to get the stories is by taking a tour. Sandeman’s New Europe Tours offer a free (aka tip at the end) 3-hour walking tour of the city every day at 11am and 2pm. They will show you some things you will never find on your own, as well as let you in on some great stories. My favourites include the reasoning behind the term ‘shit-faced’ and the story of Greyfriar’s Bobby. A free walking tour is an easy way to see the highlights of the city if you only have 2 days in Edinburgh. 

Tour Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle

Perched atop the highest point in the city, Edinburgh Castle is impossible to miss. You could easily spend half a day exploring this fortress. From the prison barracks to the National War Museum to the royal jewels and Stone of Destiny, there are a million and one things to see at the castle. Not to mention the stunning views looking over the town. Your best bet to beat the crowds is to visit first thing in the morning. Tickets can be booked online ahead of time, or just inside the gates. Make sure you also listen for the one o’clock gun fired every day at 1 pm (except Sundays). Although it is fired from the castle walls, it can be heard throughout the city, so keep your ears open. Book a walking tour of Edinburgh castle here. 

Walk The Royal Mile

This pedestrian-friendly road is what connects Holyrood Palace (still a working palace today) to Edinburgh Castle. Literally one mile, this stretch of road is lined with pubs, shops, and interesting museums. This is the best place to purchase some famous Scottish cashmere (though do some price comparisons first) and makes for some great photos. Places to visit along the way include St. Giles Cathedral (although make sure there isn’t a wedding going on before you burst inside!),  Scottish Parliament, Museum of Edinburgh, The Writer’s Museum, Mary King’s Close, and Tron Kirk. The Royal Mile is also a great spot to duck into a pub to escape the rain or grab lunch and a pint.

Climb to the top of The Scott Monument

Scott's Monument

The Scott Monument is one of the main sights of Edinburgh. Located in the Prince’s Street Gardens this gothic tower makes for beautiful photos and, for the price of a few pounds, is open to visitors to climb. There is a totally of 287 steps to the highest platform with a couple viewing platform stops along the way. From the top, you will be rewarded with great views from all sides including Edinburgh Castle. Warning: unlike at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome there are not two separate staircases- everyone goes up and down the same one. So yell as you go in the hopes that whoever is below/above you will wait at the platform or else one of you will be retracing your steps.

Day 2 in Edinburgh 

For your second day in Edinburgh I suggest branching out a bit and exploring more of the city. If the weather is nice, there are also two great viewpoints I highly recommend adding to your Edinburgh itinerary! 

Climb Arthur’s Seat

Check climbing an extinct volcano off your bucket list by taking a hike up Arthur’s seat for the best views around. Located in Prince’s park down by Holyrood Palace, hiking up Arthurs seat and the surrounding area is a popular activity for locals and tourists alike. Make sure you wear good shoes as the ground is rocky and uneven- and only climb if the weather conditions are good- it’s incredibly slippery if you get caught in the rain (like I did). It’s not a huge hike, the climb takes most people around 30-45 minutes including short photo stops so it’s easy to add into your 2 days in Edinburgh. I recommend going earlier in the morning to skip the crowds.

Geek out over Harry Potter 

The Elephant House, Edinburgh

Any Harry Potter fan knows that Edinburgh is the birthplace of this world-famous series and has tons of interesting sites associated with it. From The Elephant House cafe where JK Rowling wrote some of the stories, to the Greyfriar’s Kirkyard where you can find certain character’s names on tombstones; there’s lots to see and find. You can do your own tour to see the highlights, or if you really want the best experience, take a guided tour. Book your Harry Potter tour in Edinburgh here

Wander through New Town

At 200 years old, the ‘new’ part of the name may be a little questionable, especially given that it is older than my own country. This part of the city is mainly made up of neo-classical and Georgian style architecture, is popular for some beautiful hotels and for shopping. The most famous street of new town is Princes Street which is lined with boutiques and shops including Jenners; the Edinburgh equivalent of London’s Harrods. New Town is also home to a few museums including the National Gallery of Scotland.

Visit Calton Hill

Just east of Prince’s Street, Calton hill is another great place to find some spectacular views of the city. It’s also home to numerous monuments and the city observatory. Legend has it that Calton Hill is actually a gateway to the fairy world. But whether you believe in those stories or not, it makes a great place to catch the sunset if you have good weather! 


Edinburgh at Night

Your two days in Edinburgh will be busy, but it’s a fun city to experience at night as well. Here are my recommendations. 

Take a Haunted Tour 

Edinburgh is renowned for its violent and macabre history, and has a reputation for being one of the most haunted spots in Europe- so you can’t leave without doing a big of ghost hunting yourself! I’m a big baby when it comes to anything supernatural but have done a different tour each time I have visited. Different tours and companies will show you the different sides of Edinburgh. Some will take you through underground vaults where you will hear terrifying stories of fires and plagues that have left behind ghostly children seeking out a woman’s motherly touch.  Others will take you to the graveyard in search of the MacKenzie Poltergeist, one of the world’s most malignant spirits who is said to leave physical marks on his victims.  But amidst the legends of the supernatural are also the real stories of witch hunts and torture, and the notorious Irish serial killers Burke and Hare. Learn about Edinburgh’s Dark History with this tour

Hit the Pubs

Pub life, like in Ireland, is a staple of Scottish culture, and they aren’t hard to come by in its capital city. The two most popular areas for pubs include the Royal Mile and Grassmarket. Grassmarket is probably the most popular and is known as a hot spot for bachelor parties or the place to be during sporting events. Although it’s hard to go wrong with any Scottish pub I would highly recommend The World’s End on the Royal Mile and the Fiddler’s Arms in Grassmarket. Both have great food, drink, and atmosphere. Scottish pubs are also perfect spots to try the infamous Scottish dish of Haggis, or a plate of good ol’ fish and chips.

Additionally, if you are a whisky enthusiast you can’t leave Edinburgh without a dram or two! Whiskey lovers may also be interested in this Scottish whisky experience with a local.

If you Have More Time

Two days in Edinburgh is great for city exploring, but Edinburgh isn’t representative of Scotland. You can use the city as a base to see some other parts of the country. If you have the time, I suggest considering the following day trips from Edinburgh. 

Final Thoughts on Edinburgh in 2 Days

So, is 2 days in Edinburgh enough? It’s a great start to explore the highlights of the city but if you do have more time then yes, there is definitely more to see and do including some great day trips I suggested above. However, if two days is all you have then go for it! The capital of Scotland is a beautiful city and remains one of my favourites and somewhere I highly recommend.

A Note on Travel Insurance in Scotland

Please, do NOT travel without travel insurance! I’ve had to rely on mine multiple times. While the cost may seem annoying and better spent elsewhere, trust me when I say you’ll be sorry if you don’t have it. For just a couple bucks a day, you can save yourself a whole lot of stress and money. I like to recommend SafetyWing for travel medical insurance as they are one of the most affordable options I’ve found, plus, they are who I use and I have had great experiences with them. Learn more about the importance of travel insurance here.

Only have two days in Edinburgh? Here are the top things to do in Edinburgh. From Harry Potter to haunted Edinburgh tours to Edinburgh Castle and more! Click to see my Edinburgh Itinerary #Edinburgh #Scotland



  1. Alli on June 17, 2014 at 1:29 pm

    The Haunted Tour has really sparked my interest. I love doing things like that! The mood in your photos kind of has that gloomy, haunting feeling, also, but beautiful all the same. Fascinating!

    • on June 17, 2014 at 10:30 pm

      One of the best parts of Edinburgh for sure! I loved the tours- the stories are incredible

  2. Chris Boothman on June 17, 2014 at 4:22 pm

    I love the statement that ‘pub life is culture’ and that is pretty much the case throughout UK in general. I have visited Edinburgh only once before and really didn’t spend long enough there to really add any value to what you experienced. Edinburgh Castle is a must-see for anyone visiting the area though and I would also go beyond this to suggest folks should head north of Edinburgh to St. Andrews and sample that part of Scotland. There is so much beauty in Scotland (and yes, that’s coming from an Englishman so not sure how much credibility I have!) that it is certainly worth taking some time to explore.

    • on June 17, 2014 at 10:29 pm

      I totally miss the pub culture- I had it while living in Ireland and its what I miss most! Definitely one of the best aspects of the UK. I haven’t been up to St. Andrews so definitely something to check out next time!

  3. Dave Cole on June 17, 2014 at 4:45 pm

    I feel a bit of a special connection to Edinburgh – it was where my family arrived on my first transatlantic trip at 12 years old. Although I enjoyed those hilly, old streets as a kid, it looks like I’d love it even more as an adult tourist. Your description of the pubs along the Royal Mile and Grassmarket makes them very appealing and I can easily picture myself settling in for a couple of pints and some pub grub. Definitely need to return to this city soon!

  4. Paul on June 17, 2014 at 5:45 pm

    Awesome article Hannah, you have some great information there for sight seeing – I’ve been toying with the idea of doing a weekend in Edinburgh for a while now, but didn’t really know what there was to do. Think I will plan a few days up there later in the year!

  5. Margherita @The Crowded Planet on June 17, 2014 at 9:15 pm

    Edinburgh is so beautiful. It was one of my first backpacking experiences too and i think it has an eerie feeling I’ve never seen anywhere else. Great post, made me want to go back!

  6. Lauren on June 18, 2014 at 4:37 am

    Half of my family is from Scotland, so I really need to get out there sometime to visit! They mostly live in Stirling. But of course when going to Scotland…I would love to rent a car and drive all about! Thanks for sharing this post all about Edinburgh!

    • on June 18, 2014 at 9:56 am

      I’ve driven through Stirling but don’t know much about it, other than the newly painted yellow castle that the locals just love….not!

  7. Antonette on June 18, 2014 at 11:02 am

    Great psot about a wonderful city. We were here in 2012 and even though the weather messed up our schedule a little (we were camping just out of town and with huge winds that wasn’t that big a success) we enjoyed our time here a lot. As we love being active, Arthur’s Seat was definitely the highlight with the great views. And I agree, don’t do this when it’s raining, I can imagine the trail incredibly slippery. Thanks for such a long post, we only were here one day so there’s still a lot to see for us there!

    • on June 18, 2014 at 9:34 pm

      Wow camping in one of the windiest cities! Good on you- I bet that sure was an experience!

  8. Ashley @ A Southern Gypsy on June 19, 2014 at 4:52 pm

    Great tips and ideas for Edinburgh! I’ve never been and I’d love to do all of these things especially the haunted tour and visit Greyfriar’s Kirkyard (only partly because of Harry Potter!)

  9. Heather Boothman on June 25, 2014 at 1:40 am

    Awesome Article!!! We will be gong to Scotland later this year and these sounds like great places to start our journey. Thanks for sharing

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  11. Independentpeople on May 18, 2017 at 10:06 am

    This city is our favorite in the UK for what we’ve explored so far while living here. Don’t want to upset anyone, but far more beautiful than London, both the old and new part of the town 😀 -personnal opinion-

    • Hannah Logan on May 18, 2017 at 11:54 am

      haha no worries I would agree with you! London is cool but Edinburgh is where it’s at 😉

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