Your Edinburgh 1 Day Itinerary: A Capital Idea

Edinburgh is one of the UK’s most beautiful cities. But how to make the most of it on limited time?

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View over Edinburgh from Arthur's Seat

Scotland’s capital is a remarkable blend of history, natural history and everything you’d expect from a modern city. Let our Edinburgh 1 day itinerary show you the way.

If Walt Disney was designing a capital city, even he couldn’t come up with Edinburgh. Sure, he might have thrown in a castle and the great mix of architecture. He’d no doubt add a major landmark or two, the great shopping and the ever-improving dining scene. It’s just he might have drawn the line at the volcano…

Happily, Edinburgh has evolved into a proper box of delights over the last several centuries – and very happily, the volcano is dormant. It’s a city where history and natural history rub shoulders with great architecture, a thriving food scene – with many places promoting the “Scottish larder”, as Scotland’s ingredients, from berries to meat (and all points in between) are justly celebrated by many leading chefs – the creative arts and all the facilities you’d expect of a modern capital city.

Morning

Now, let’s get back to that volcano… Arthur’s Seat – as it’s now called – is a fine place to start your (frankly all-too-short) Edinburgh 1 day itinerary. A sunrise (or sunset) walk here – on dry ground, it only takes around 45 minutes – is something of an Edinburgh tradition, particularly during the annual arts Festival, or at Hogmanay. The views across the city are spectacular, making it a great way to get your bearings for the rest of your visit. It’s also located in Holyrood Park, meaning you’ll return to ground level close to two other places worth seeing (the Scottish Parliament building and The Palace of Holyrood House). You’re also extremely close to the National Museum of Scotland (for those with a keen interest in history) and / or Surgeon’s Hall Museums (definitely not for those with a fear of dentists).

Arthur's Seat, Edinburgh

While Edinburgh has reasonable transport – multiple bus services, many black cabs, a tram service – it’s a very walkable city, provided you don’t mind hills. Everywhere you go can feel like it’s uphill in Edinburgh – even when you turn around and walk back the way you came. Our suggestion is to focus on what it’s doing for your appetite (as well as your glutes).

Breakfast (or elevenses or lunch) at the Scottish Café and Restaurant is thus a fine idea. It’s run by local legends Victor and Carina Contini (Scotland has a surprisingly large Italian community), some of the herbs etc., they use are grown in nearby Waverley Park (most of the produce comes from their own smallholding just outside the city) and it’s a great and well—priced introduction to Scottish produce. It’s also located just below another recommended destination, the Scottish National Gallery, home to Canova’s The Three Graces, as well as extensive collections of Scottish and international art from the Renaissance to the present day. (Should your tastes lean more towards Miro and Hockney, among many, many others, the Scottish National Gallery of Modern art is located just over a mile away).

Lunchtime

From the Gallery (or the Café) it’s a short walk (of course uphill) to The Royal Mile. The heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town, The Royal Mile runs from the aforementioned Palace of Holyroodhouse to Edinburgh Castle. The Castle itself is fascinating, from the fortress parts to the very tiny St. Margaret’s Chapel which is, officially, Edinburgh’s oldest building, dating back to around 1130 and well worth the tour. Alternatively, you could happily kill your entire day on this street alone, with attractions such as The Scotch Whisky Experience (an entertaining look at the making of and history behind Scotland’s national drink, plus tasting bar), Camera Obscura (a very family friendly collection of optical illusions, plus the titular Victorian technology – and a rooftop terrace – with astonishing views over the city), and St Giles’ Cathedral (imposing and impressive 14th century church or “kirk” in these here parts). There’s also great eating, from The Witchery (one of Scotland’s first Michelin-starred restaurants) and Castle Terrace (run by the team behind Leith’s Michelin-starred The Kitchin), and a very short diversion to celebrated and stylish seafood specialist Ondine.

The Royal Mile in the heart of Edinburgh's Old Town

Midafternoon

From The Royal Mile, it’s a short stroll towards the Grassmarket area, one of the oldest parts of the City. In its time, it’s been home to public executions, markets and, allegedly, witchcraft. Now Grassmarket is home to many independent shops, designers and cafes, as well as the White Hart Inn, which is widely accepted as being the oldest pub in Edinburgh. Our recommendation – because in the Plum Guide world of expertise, multiple visits is not greed, it’s research – would be The Bow Bar with its extensive collection of local (and international) craft beers and several hundred bottle-strong whisky / whiskey list. Mostly, as one would expect in the circumstances, without the “e”.

Views of Edinburgh Castle from the Grassmarket

From Grassmarket, it’s a pleasant walk to Greyfriar’s Kirk, the church that was home to Greyfriar’s Bobby, a Skye Terrier who guarded the grave of his late owner for 14 years at the end of the 19th Century and was the subject of a 1960s film. Those with younger family members in tow may wish to make a quick diversion to the nearby Elephant Café where a more recent tale was created: it was here that J K Rowling wrote her early Harry Potter novels.

Evening

Still with us? Good. By now, it’s getting close to dinner time. There are myriad options around this part of town – including the remarkable Scandinavian-style-meets-Scottish-ingredients cuisine of Timberyard - but, in our (comfortably padded) view, it’s worth a final walk (or black cab ride) to the likes of Aizle or its sister place Noto for quite brilliant small plates of Scottish ingredients given a New York-esque spin with a hint of Asia. Just trust us, it works. Chef / owner Roberta Hall’s The Little Chartroom is well worth the journey across town and, if planning allows and you’ve booked long in advance, Tom Kitchin’s aforementioned The Kitchin is not just Edinburgh’s best but one of the country’s finest restaurants.

If manage to squeeze an overnight stay into your Edinburgh 1 day itinerary, look no further than Plum Guide's collection of homes in the city. Each and every one on our site has undergone the meticulous judgement of our home critics, so you can rest assured your home-away-from home will be everything you need…and more.

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