Edinburgh… the dream city of many a tourist. The capital city of Scotland has rightly earned it’s as one of the most spectacular cities around the world; castles to museums, great food to art, this city has it all. But how to squeeze all of these into just two days?
To be honest two days is not enough to see and experience everything that this amazing city has to offer, especially with places like the National Museum of Scotland which itself could easily take more than half a day to look around. But still, with some careful planning, you can cover almost all the important places in Edinburgh in two days, just like I did with my friends in the summer of 2019. Anyway, keep it in mind that Edinburgh is a traditional weekend getaway place in UK, so it gets really crowded during weekends, especially in summer.
Ticket Price : Free
Start your day from Calton Hill. It is very close to the city bus station, so if you happen to reach the city by bus early in the morning, head up straight here to get a 360° view of the beautiful city of Edinburgh, at sunrise and fall in love with the city instantaneously! Yah, just like that.
This place is occupied by several monuments that include the picturesque Dugald Stewart Monument and the famous National Monument of Scotland which has been built replicating the Parthenon of Greece.
Ticket Price : Free
Take a walk from Calton Hill to the city centre through Prince street to reach the iconic Scott monument. Dedicated to the great Scottish writer Sir Walter Scott this Gothic monument is the second highest monument in the world for a writer.
If you happened to reach Edinburgh’s Waverley station by train then this will be the closest tourist attraction that you can go to.
Continue the walk along the Castle Hill road but instead of going to the castle take a turn to go to the beautiful Victoria Street first. I don’t think your Edinburgh trip will be complete without taking a picture from this colourful street.
By the way, there are a huge number of many souvenirs shops and restaurants here.
Most of the important sites in Edinburgh are at walkable distance from each other. But in case you plan to take a bus, keep one thing in mind that you need to provide the exact change to get the tickets in the city buses and they don’t take cards either. So the best option is to purchase the tickets through the ‘Lothian ticket’ application which is available on Android and iPhone. Their £4 day pass can be used for the city tram service as well.
Stroll through the Grassmarket
Once a bustling market and the infamous spot for public executions in the old times, today the Grassmarket is home to independent merchants, designers and artisans. The street starts where Victoria street ends.
You can get some very delicious bread and cookies from the open stalls here, so don’t hesitate to grab something before you head up to the castle.
Didn’t that soothen your hunger? Don’t worry, there are any number of restaurants and pubs nearby.
Ticket Price : £18.50
Take a right turn from the market to climb the stairs that lead to the side of the castle. Undoubtedly, the star of the city is this 900-year-old castle, situated on top of the castle rock which once was an active volcano.
This place gets insanely crowded during the weekends that you may even feel suffocated once you go inside the castle rooms. Go as early as possible to enjoy this beautiful castle without any hassle. Take the audio guide tour (£3) with you if you really want to know each and every bit of the history that this castle has to tell, or take the free guided tour which starts from the front gate in every 30 minutes.
If you are in the castle at noon on any day apart from Sunday, you can witness a very interesting ceremony. It is the one o’clock gun firing, a tradition that goes back to 1861 which helped sailors to set the time correctly. Make sure you reach near the big green gun a little early to avoid the huge crowd that will surround the place.
You can save up to £1.50 and skip the long queue if you book the tickets online. But there is a catch; when you book online, they give you an allotted time to enter the castle and depending upon the crowd on that day, you could be getting a time slot which is a few hours from your booking time. So make sure you book the tickets well in advance to get a suitable timing.
St Gills Cathedral
Ticket Price : £6 (Roof top tour), visit is free
This iconic cathedral is right opposite to the castle. You can see some spectacular stained glass paintings inside the church. I heard they charge a very little fee to take pictures inside but I didn’t bother to do. Sometimes you need to keep certain moments just to yourself, in your mind, isn’t that so?
Where to stay
We stayed at the West End Hostel near St. Mary’s cathedral, they have dormitory rooms with 16 bunk beds. One bed costs around £12 through bookings.com.
Where to eat
This city is full of good restaurants with cuisines from all around the world, but you MUST try the lamb biriyani from ‘Dishyum’, the famous Indian restaurant. Honestly, I never had such a tasty biriyani even in India… trust me guys!
Take a walk through the Royal Mile
Ha, the Royal Mile, the heart of the city. Each corner on this bustling street has a story to tell you from Scottish history. Walkthrough the Royal Mile and enjoy the live street performances that feature Scottish bagpipers to floating Dobby from the Harry Potter series. This and some other streets nearby would be an ideal place for you to shop for some souvenirs. Another thing that you can do is to take any of the walking tours that start from here.
St Mary’s Cathedral
It’s around a mile from the city center. I bet you feel so relaxed once you reach Palmerston place where this cathedral is situated, mainly because of the absence of a crowd. The beauty of this cathedral add to ambiance as well. The West end hostel where we stayed is very close to here.
Some ridicules fun fact.
Scotland and my far way homeland Kerala, in southern India, has a few things in common. We both love some hard scotch whisky, our English accent is quite difficult to understand at times, and in both the places we men wear skirts!
Forth Bridge & Queensferry
I didn’t know why many people don’t mention Queensferry in their itinerary but for me, it’s a must-visit place if you are going to Edinburgh. Heads up to the north coast to see the amazing Victorian era British engineering marvel which is Forth bridge, built in the 19th century. Watching the trains go over the Firth of Forth through this spectacular construction is such a soothing sight.
Queensferry itself is a pretty beautiful little town with numerous good restaurants where you can spend a lovely late evening. There are buses till midnight from this town back to the city, so don’t hesitate to go there, people. Well, I’m the sort of person who thinks that the late evenings are more beautiful when you are far away from the crowd.
Painting the Forth bridge
People here jokingly say the Forth bridge is so long that it takes a mammoth effort to paint the entire structure, leaving the other end in need of repainting just when the painting is finished. Thus, the British saying, ‘painting the Forth bridge’ for any never-ending task!
Calton Hill at night
Still got some energy left before going to bed? Then head straight to Calton hill again but this time to see the neon face of Edinburgh. This place will be so dark without any light at night but many people go there even at midnight to see the city at night.
Day 2 : Scottish National Gallery
Ticket Price : Free
It is time to unleash that art enthusiast inside you. Start the day from the Scottish national gallery which has an impressive array of masterpieces of renowned painters like Raphael, Botticelli and Van Gogh. It could easily take a couple of hours to see around even if you are not paying attention to the details.
Most of the museums and galleries in the UK runs on donations so contribute a little donation or try to buy some souvenirs while you are there.
National Museum of Scotland
Ticket Price : Free
The pride of modern-day Scotland undoubtedly is this magnificent huge museum that has an incredible number of artefacts collected from all around the world, throughout it’s history. Do you want to know how the geography of Scotland was formed millions of years ago, do you want to know how the life of a peasant was during the Roman era, then this is the place. Once you master the history of Scotland, move on to the upper floors to get acquainted with stories from Africa, Asia and Australia.
One can easily spend a whole day inside this multi million-pound modern time jewel. Alas, all I had was a few hours.
Enjoy the streets
The streets near the museum, George IV Bridge and Chambers street has so much of life in it, so why don’t you spend some time there. Well, J K Rowling wrote her first Harry Potter book in one of the cafes on these streets called Elephant House, so it can’t be that bad, isn’t it?
Another local attraction here is the statue of Greyfriar’s Bobby, a lovely loyal dog who stayed near his owner’s grave for thirteen years, throughout the rain and sun. The locals believe that touching the nose of Bobby brings you good luck which has resulted in an erosion of paint on the statue, so please avoid that.
Take a hike to Arthur’s seat
Enough with city life, it is time for us to get back with nature.
Take a bus to Parkside Street and start the walk from there to Arthur’s seat. The climb to the once upon a time active volcano is a bit of moderate walk which will take between one to two hours to and fro. Just like the view from Calton Hill, the city looks dazzling from up here. But unlike the former, this place does get a little windy at the top so make sure you take your jacket.
Underground Vault Tour
Ticket Price : £15 varies
There are many companies out there that organizes tours to the famous underground vaults of Edinburgh. You can book the tickets either online or directly from the people who conduct it, from Royal Mile street where most of these walks start. Some of these include a scotch whisky distillery tour as well.
Since they have tours even at night 7.30, it will be better if you reserve the time for it in the evening after you finish up all other activities. I would really recommend taking any one of these tours to get to know about the stories of witch hunting, murders and other scandalous events that rocked Edinburgh in medieval times. For me, the real life stories of this city during those days were much darker and intriguing than the cheesy ghost stories.
And finally, a story to end our journey, the story of ‘going to the loo’