For those on a longer visit to England or Scotland, a weekend in Edinburgh will seem completely insufficient. But there’s a lot you can fit in in just 48 hours in Scotland’s capital. Edinburgh is easily accessible from London via a 4 hour train ride from Kings Cross to Waverley Station, or a short 1.5 hours flight and a weekend in Edinburgh is the perfect getaway in any season, offering plenty of history, charm, attractions and character.
Weekend in Edinburgh | Day 1
Check into your B&B, then put on your walking shoes and head into town. Your first stop should be the imposing bulk of Edinburgh Castle on Castle Rock, at the top of the Royal Mile. The current iteration of the castle is not original; the oldest part of the castle still left standing is the beautiful, serene St Margaret’s Chapel; built in the 11th century. The rest of the castle dating from that time was torn down by the Scots themselves after they took the castle back from the English. The Scottish king ordered the castle destroyed so it could never be used against them. Take the free tour, then explore the castle on your own time, drinking in the views – from the top of the battlements you should just be able see the sea, stretched out along the Firth of Forth.
You’ll encounter narrow, twisty pathways threading their way between precariously leaning buildings and wooden pub signs swaying in the wind. Edinburgh is much like London was, before the Great Fire of 1666, filled with medieval streets and the remnants of tenement buildings.
Once you’ve had your fill of the castle, take a trip down the Royal Mile, filled with cobblestones, gothic cathedrals, old, leaning houses, mysterious closes and winding steps. Edinburgh is at its atmospheric best along this stretch of road leading from Edinburgh Castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Alleyways lead off into sudden, steep drops, into internal courtyards, underneath gothic roofs, begging for exploration.
Along the Royal Miles are shops hawking the best of Scottish produce – wool products, tartan, whisky and shortbread, as well as restaurants, bars and cafes aplenty, with the occasional historic monument thrown into the mix for some sightseeing. Stop for lunch at Wedgwood, for traditional Scottish dishes served with a modern twist. The restaurant has been named one of Britain’s Top 100 restaurants and best of all, if you come at lunch you’ll find the prix fixe menus surprisingly affordable. The 2 course menu clocks in at an wallet friendly £15, while the 3 course costs £19. Reservations are highly recommended.
After lunch, take the Real Mary King Close underground tour, descending into the cobblestone streets, chambers and vaults of the old close, buried underneath the Royal Exchange. Here, a costumed guide will take you into the dark streets, evocatively describing the tenements soaring up above our heads, 7 to 8 storeys high, a patch of blue sky far above, criss-crossed with lines of washing, the narrow street filled to bursting with merchants and their shop awnings, children running errands, vendors with their wares, burghers going about their business. There are stories of the plague, of hauntings, superstitions, of the ghost of Little Annie.
In Edinburgh, the past is never too far away. The city is filled with stories – the stories of kings and queens, battles and struggles with the English, ghosts and the ordinary, day-to-day details of medieval life.
Emerge into the present and the light, and make a bee line for the Whiski Rooms, on the Royal Mile. Whisky is synonymous with Scotland, and a whisky tour to sample some of the country’s finest is a must-do. Whiski Rooms offer paired tastings of whiskies with cheese or chocolate. There’s plenty of other options for whisky sampling in Edinburgh – you just have to find your way to one of Edinburgh’s many bars. Whiskey connoisseurs staying for a bit longer than a weekend in Edinburgh can also take a whisky masterclass experience.
Now fortified against Scotland’s famously temperamental weather, make a booking for one of Mercat Ghost Tours. You’ll need the Dutch courage from the whisky you’ve imbibed – the ghost tours are not for the faint hearted, but they are an excellent way of experiencing Edinburgh’s stories with one of the cloaked guides, their faces uplit by a flickering candle. The tour takes you into the vaults underneath the South Bridge, a warren of arched rooms and passageways – haunted, so they say. There are a variety of different tours to choose from, with guides speaking a variety of languages.
Conclude the first day of your weekend in Edinburgh with a good dinner, either at the Albanach, a modern, welcoming pub located in a mediaeval building on The Royal Mile with a selection of 250 malt whiskies, or if you’re in Edinburgh with a romantic date, find your way to the Monteiths, ducking underneath an archway twinkling fairy lights to get to this intimate gastropub offering great food and cocktails.
Weekend in Edinburgh | Day 2
Start the day with a hearty Scottish breakfast, then if the day is fine, head out to Holyrood Park, a wild expanse of nature within walking distance of Edinburgh proper. Climb up to Arthur’s Seat, a 251m outlook which offers stunning views across Edinburgh, stretching from the mountains down to the sea. While you’re here you can also visit Salisbury Crags – 150 foot cliff faces dominating Edinburgh’s skyline and St Anthony’s Chapel, a 15th century medieval chapel.
After your walk, make your way back to the town centre towards the National Gallery of Scotland, which has a diverse collection of artists from around the world, including pieces by van Gogh, Cezanne and even El Greco. The gallery also offers an introduction to local Scottish art, with works by Raeburn and McTaggart also on the walls.
From high art, to science. The Camera Obscura is a fun diversion for a few hours. There are 6 floors of interactive exhibits here, with a virtual “tour” of the city projected on the top floor. The floors beneath are where the World of Illusions is located, demonstrating aspects of optical illusions, light, colour.
Finally, cap off your weekend in Edinburgh with a visit to the Edinburgh Larder. This café is always busy, and no wonder. With an emphasis on fresh, local Scottish produce, the Larder offers a lunch menu of smoked meats, fish, cheese, and other deli delights. Try at least one of the brownies on offer – the walnut chocolate brownie is divine!
Where to stay in Edinburgh
For such a short stay in Edinburgh, booking accommodation near Edinburgh’s Old Town is convenient and offers easy access to all of the city’s attractions. If you’re looking for a modern B&B close to the Royal Mile, the Inn Place is great value and also offers a full Scottish breakfast.
Another option is the Edinburgh Residence, a set of classic town house suites where you’ll feel at home. The suites here are luxuriously appointed and there’s an in-suite dining option as well for those lazy nights in.
Lastly, if you’re in Edinburgh with a special someone, consider Witchery by the Castle, a 16th century establishment right on the Royal Mile. Rates may be high here but they include all you’ll need for a romantic weekend away, including champagne, cookies, turn down service and a full breakfast. The rooms are decked out in antiques, wood panelling and velvet drapes and there are roll top baths just begging for a bath to be drawn.
How would you spend a weekend in Edinburgh? Are there any sights you would add to this itinerary? Share your thoughts below!