Edinburgh is a truly magical place to visit. If you haven’t been before, trust me when I say you must move it up the rungs on your bucket list. It’s a city that has made a lasting impression on me and imprinted itself into my memories of visiting the UK.
Visiting Edinburgh, you won’t run out of things to do or see. In fact, I suggest extending your trip a few extra days so you can take it all in without rushing. Because who wants to rush through the rich history of such a handsome place?
However, if you only have 3 days to explore this amazing destination, I’ve got you covered!
12 Best Things To Do in Edinburgh - 3 Day Itinerary
1. Stay at the Old Town Chambers
Getting a room at the Old Town Chambers is the first thing on the list because it’s one of the most vital! In order to immerse yourself in all that is Edinburgh, you’ll want to set up base in the heart of the action. Old Town Chambers is a strikingly unique apartment style hotel, smack dab in the centre of the Royal Mile.
Literally inches outside the front door is everything that you’ll want to taste, smell and see in the city.
We stayed here because we love being able to walk to attractions instead of relying on expensive cabs. (check out our full review of our stay at the Old Town Chambers)
Transportation can be the most annoying part of travel, so I like to eliminate it whenever I can. I cannot say enough good things about staying in the heart of Edinburgh. I think it dramatically changes the way I experience a new destination.
2. St. Giles' Cathedral
A hop, skip and a jump away from the Old Town Chambers lobby is one of the most beautiful churches in the UK. Founded all the way back in the 12th century, St. Giles Cathedral has been through it all. Fires, plagues, religious conflicts…you name it. Take a moment out of your day to appreciate the vast history of this religious site and learn more about it’s past. Like the legend of the missing bone, St. Giles arm bone to be exact. They say it was placed inside the walls of the church in the 1400’s, but was stolen during a renovation and never seen again!
Time Needed: >1 hour
Cost: FREE! Unless you want to take a photo, then a photo pass is £2.
3. Walking Tour of the Royal Mile
Guided walking tours are incredible! Taking one on the Royal Mile is without a doubt one of the best things to do in Edinburgh. I find myself reminiscing about the uncovered secrets and stories that were told during the tour and passing the legends onto others. It’s one thing to explore a city on foot, but it’s a whole new experience to do it with a guide.
Immediately after visiting St.Giles, we took a walking tour of the Royal Mile with Mercat Tours called ‘Treasures of the Old Town’. This tour took us through the lesser known history of the Canongate and the Royal Mile. They have so many interesting tours it was hard to choose one! Between history walks, underground and ghost tours, there are many ways to learn more about the rich past of Edinburgh.
Our tour started out beside St. Giles Cathedral and took us down the Royal Mile for 2 hours, directly to the Palace of Holyroodhouse. (Our Mercat ticket included entry to the palace as well!)
Time needed: 1.5 to 3 hours.
Cost: From £13 per adult, average £25
4. Palace of Holyroodhouse
Because who doesn’t want to see where Kate Middleton and Megan Markle stay while in Scotland!?
But really, being the Royal Families official home when visiting Edinburgh, it’s very appealing to be able to tour through many of the rooms of Holyroodhouse.
After our walking tour with Mercat, our guide dropped us off at the palace which was included in our ticket. We were provided an audio guide free of charge, which was also a nice touch for us history buffs. It’s a step back into time that goes over many of the different occupants and their personal stories. The grounds are lovely and I particularly liked the ruined abby, which was hauntingly beautiful.
Note: You cannot take photos or video inside the palace at all. I found that out by being scolded by a guard. My bad!
Time Needed: 1.5 hours
Cost: £14 per adult
5. Edinburgh Castle
One of the most famous things to do in Edinburgh is visit its castle! Not only does it have impressive wow factor, but the castle comes with a ton of history too. It was just recently announced that after 26 sieges in its 1100 history, the Edinburgh Castle is one of the most attacked places on Earth! That is probably why there are so many myths and legends surrounding it, not to mention rumours of ghosts. Did I mention witches were even burned here?
Even the land the castle sits on has a story to tell. A dig in the 90’s found proof of early settlers living on castle rock almost 3000 years ago!
While this isn’t an attraction you should miss, know that peak times can be very busy. If you have the budget, invest in skip the line tickets.
Time Needed: 3 hours
Cost: £17 advance, £18.50 at door.
6. Stop For Tea
After exploring the castle all morning, you’re going to need a little pick me up! One thing that Scot’s do right is afternoon tea. There are a million places you could enjoy a cuppa, but we took a stroll from the castle, through Princes St gardens to have ours. Just on the edge of Princes St, we found a great little cafe with the perfect people watching vantage point.
Bottomless tea and a mini cake for 2.95 was exactly what the day ordered.
Time Needed: >1 Hour
Cost: £2.95 for tea and cake. Snacks starting at £5.
7. Shopping on Princes Street
Even though it looks as old as the Royal Mile, Princes Street is technically ‘new town’. It’s a 1 mile long strip of shops, cafes, restaurants and boutiques. All the buildings are located on the North side of the road, making the south open with views of the castle and the gardens in between. Truly a lovely area to stroll, browse and shop in!
Total side note, I loved going into Jenners! (which is a UK version Hudsons Bay for Canadians or Macy’s for Americans.) I had the absolute best service of my life from a Clarins rep and the building was so unique inside!
Time Needed: 1 to 2 Hours
Cost: That depends on what treasures you find!
8. Scotch Whiskey Experience
Wrap up the day with a
boozy enlightening evening of tasting, by treating yourself to the Platinum Tour by Scotch Whisky Experience.
The night starts with a barrel ride through the production of whiskey and an intro to it’s distinct aromas. Then everyones favourite part, a tasting of 5 contrasting single malt liquors. To conclude the event, you are then teased with the worlds largest collection of whiskies, but you do get to keep a tasting glass. If you really want to keep the good times rolling, you can upgrade your visit with a dinner and even more whiskey!
Time Needed: 2 hours
Cost: £38 per adult
9. Royal Yacht Britannia
Such a surprisingly interesting attraction was the HMY Britannica. Now out of service and docked in Leith, this royal ship one travelled one million miles, to 600 ports and 135 countries.
Touring through the ship gave us an idea what life would have been like for the queen travelling in her floating residence.
A self guided tour (with audio) starts at the Bridge, explores through the state apartments, the crew’s quarters and finishes in the Engine Room.
To get to the ship from downtown Edinburgh, take city buses 11, 22, or 35. You can also jump in an Uber.
Time Needed: 2 hours
Cost: £16 per adult
10. Seafood Lunch in Leith
After touring the HMY Britannica, you’re going to be in the mood for some seafood! A 10 minute walk through the quay will get you to The Ship On The Shore, the perfect place to fill your belly. Their impressive and vast seafood menu is sure to satisfy any crustacea loving diner.
Time Needed: 2 Hours
Cost: Appies starting a £7 champagne starting at £10
11. The Real Mary King's Close
The Real Mary King’s Close is a very entertaining and fun way to learn what life was like in old town Edinburgh. Our guide/actor was very interactive and during the entire tour he assumed the role of man of the past.
You are taken through what a ‘close’ would have looked like in the past, from the poorest of people right up to the elite status. There are many character stories to help tell tales from old town Edinburgh.
Time Needed: 1.5 hours
Cost: £15.50 per adult
12. Camera Obscura
You can’t go wrong with this super fun (yet educational) stop! Camera Obscura is a great place to have fun and learn at the same time. There are lots of riddles, games, puzzles, and just interesting things to look at and interact with! It reminds me a lot of Riply’s museums, but with more heart and engagement.
Doesn’t matter if you are 7 or 70, you will have a good time here!
Time Needed: 2 hours
Cost: £15.50 per adult