24 Hours in Edinburgh
8am: Princes Street Gardens
Rise and shine. Let’s start our list of what to do with a gentle and relaxing stroll in Princes Street Gardens. Resting in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle on the south side of Princes Street, this beautiful public park separates the New Town from the Old Town. Explore the tiered gardens and discover statues, monuments and stunning floral displays.
Be sure to look out for the floral clock as you enter the gardens at the foot of the Mound. During the summer the gardens are a popular choice for those wishing to relax in the sunshine with a book, picnic or a cup of tea in the outdoor cafe. Take a moment to enjoy the gardens in the early morning light.
9am: Scott Monument
Time to work off some of those breakfast calories with a bit of a climb - 200 feet, or 287 steps to be exact! It’s worth it. The views across the capital from the top of this sandstone tower are spectacular. Constructed as a tribute to author Sir Walter Scott, it is the largest monument to a writer anywhere in the world and has dominated the Princes Street skyline since its completion in 1846.
Bill Bryson likened it to a ‘gothic rocket ship’, and as you approach you’ll see just how appropriate his description is. It’s possible to stop at various levels as you climb so catch your breath and enjoy the changing vistas at each landing stage. As you reach the top, soak up the magnificent view that lies ahead. It will be the first of many fabulous vistas that you’ll enjoy today.
9.30am: Edinburgh Bus Tours
Our next stop is at the foot of the Scott Monument, on Waverley Bridge. This is where you can catch one of the various Edinburgh Bus Tours. They’re a great way to learn more about some of the city’s most interesting features - you'll be surprised by how much you didn't know about Edinburgh! Hold onto your ticket though, because it’s going to come in handy later today.
If you’re quick, there’s just time to sneak in a quick spot of retail therapy in the city’s most famous department store. The upmarket Jenners is an Edinburgh institution, occupying the grand old corner building directly across the street from the Scott Monument. Known as the ‘Harrods of the North’, it’s been located at the same site since it was founded in 1838.
11am: National Galleries of Scotland
Just two minutes walk from Jenners, at the foot of The Mound, you’ll find the National Galleries of Scotland complex. Comprised of the Royal Scottish Academy building and the National Gallery of Scotland, two magnificent neo-classical designs by William Henry Playfair, it houses works by many old masters, including Titian, Da Vinci, Raphael and Vermeer, as well as other pre-eminent artists such as Monet, Degas, Constable, Turner and Cezanne.
Best of all, entry is free (although there is sometimes a small charge for dedicated exhibitions). There are three other buildings that make up the NGS – the Dean Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art in the West End, and the National Portrait Gallery on Queen Street.
12.30pm: Lunch at the Elephant House
Situated on the George IV Bridge, this is a firm favourite with Edinburgh residents and tourists alike thanks to its range of tasty snacks and hot drinks. There’s a strong literary connection too, with authors Ian Rankin and Alexander McCall Smith frequenting the cafe, and it’s also said to be where JK Rowling would sit with a coffee and her laptop while writing the early Harry Potter books.
1.30pm: Greyfriar's Bobby
A hundred yards or so from the Elephant House, you’ll find a little statue commemorating one of Edinburgh’s most well-loved residents – a little Skye terrier known as Greyfriars Bobby. Made famous by numerous books and a Disney film, Bobby faithfully guarded over his owners grave in the nearby Greyfriars Kirkyard for fourteen years. There’s just time for a quick photo with Bobby before the next stop on today’s scheduled.
1.45pm National Museum of Scotland
Directly across the road from Greyfriars Bobby is the National Museum of Scotland housing collections celebrating the nation’s culture, history and people. It’s a great way to explore Scottish history from the primeval age right up to the modern era, and the 360 degree views of Edinburgh from the roof garden are spectacular. Entry is free but some featured exhibitions may carry a cover charge.
3.15pm: Back on the bus
What to do next? Take out your Bus Tour ticket again and catch the bus from outside the NMS straight to the Scottish Parliament. You can use your ticket all day to hop on and off the tour buses at different points along the routes and the tickets also offer useful discounts for some of the city’s top attractions too.
Alternatively, you could plump for an all-day ticket from Lothian Buses if you want to make full use of the city’s extensive bus network instead. Visit the Lothian Buses website for details on timetables, routes and fares.
3.30pm: Scottish Parliament
The seat of power in Scotland, Holyrood is home to the Scottish Parliament and despite controversy surrounding the costs of the parliament building at Holyrood, it is an architectural marvel and well worth a visit. Why not take a free guided tour or, if parliament is sitting that day, watch the proceedings in the chamber from the public gallery?
5pm: Edinburgh Castle
The number one choice for tourists of what to do in Edinburgh, there's no denying the appeal of the city’s most iconic landmark – Edinburgh Castle.
Towering over the city, perched majestically on top of a volcanic outcrop, you can see if from miles around. Aim for last entry, because that’s arguably the best time to enjoy what the Castle has to offer, as it’s usually quieter, and offers the chance to look out over the city below as dusk falls.
There is a lot to view at the Castle, however, so if you’re desperate to see absolutely everything, it might be worth considering going in the morning, or at least a little earlier, instead.
7pm: Dinner at the Dome
Foodies love Edinburgh’s eclectic mix of dining choices. In a city littered with award-winning eateries, and top restaurants, not to mention the most Michelin stars outside of London, you certainly won’t go hungry. With so much to choose from, we’d suggest stopping off at The Dome, located in George Street in the heart of Edinburgh's New Town. Originally the old Physicians Hall (1775) and then a bank, it reopened in 1996 and is now a renowned bar and restaurant – a superb venue to meet friends and colleagues for coffee, cocktails, lunch or dinner.
9pm: Guided Ghost Tour
Dusk descends as it approaches the witching hour. What better time to explore the darker side of Edinburgh with a guided ghost tour and learn about the mysterious and disturbing activities of some of Edinburgh’s notorious residents over the centuries.
Discover dark, subterranean vaults, hidden cities beneath the ancient streets or brave a late night expedition to a graveyard. You’re guaranteed a spooktacular time whilst learning about the formidable history of the Old Town too. There is a good selection of tours to choose from but Mercat Tours and The Real Mary King’s Close are two of the best.
10.30pm: The Grassmarket
Following the ghostly goings-on you might be in need of a stiff drink to calm your nerves. Fortunately the bustling Grassmarket is close at hand. With an excellent selection of lively pubs and bars in the area you can be assured of a warm Scottish at all times.
12am: Late Night Drinks
After a spell in the Grassmarket, it’s time to move on and try some of the other bars in the neighbourhood. There are plenty to choose from, but worth a visit are the hip and trendy Under the Stairs and the award-winning, super-cool Bar at Hotel G&V.
1am: Clubbing at Cabaret Voltaire
Known to all and sundry as Cab Vol, this little nightclub consists of two caverns and is one of the coolest late-night hangouts in town, hosting some of the country’s best club nights. Featuring everything from big name DJs to underground cult favourites, it’s the perfect place to party until the wee small hours.
2.30am: Time to Refuel
Right, now to find some food to see you through the last few hours, and in the wee small hours it has to be steaming hot chips with chippy sauce - a no brainer! In and around the Royal Mile, there’s a great range of takeaways serving food that will appeal to all tastes and cultures.
3.30am: North Bridge
Another tremendous view awaits now. From a vantage point on the North Bridge, with one of the city’s most impressive buildings on either side (the Scotsman and Balmoral hotels), you’ll be able to see both the Old and New Towns lit up at night. From here, you can spot many of the sights you’ve visited today all in one go, including Jenners, Edinburgh Castle, the Scott Monument, and the National Galleries complex.
4am: Arthur's Seat for Sunrise
Finally, one last amazing view to round off your day, but you’ll have to work for this one. It's the perfect time for a wlk up Arthur’s Seat, the 251m high extinct volcano that sits in the middle of Edinburgh. There’s a variety of ways to get to the top, but probably one of the quickest is to take a taxi to Dunsapie Loch, from where it’ll only take about 30 minutes of easy climbing. Offering an amazing panorama of the entire city and far, far beyond in each direction, watching the sun rise over Edinburgh is an unforgettable experience. Just make sure you’re wrapped up warm!
And this completes our list of What to Do in Edinburgh in 24 Hours. Of course, this is only scratching the surface. There is much, much more to see and do in Edinburgh. Take a look at our 2 day itinerary to discover more.
This is Edinburgh: Your top itinerary of what to do in Edinburgh in 24 hours.