Hey, did you ever hear about that wizard kid with the glasses and a funny looking scar? H something? Well, odds are that unless you have been living under a rock, the name Harry Potter will ring a bell. I’m guessing you’ve also heard of his birthplace? Good ol’ Edinburgh. If you asked me, I’d say that Scotland’s capital is one of the best cities to visit in the UK. Considering the quality and variety of places in the UK, that is no small statement. It’s just that Edinburgh is a very likeable city. It looks like it’s been plucked from the pages of a history book, is surrounded by gorgeous nature and has a great food scene. I mean, seriously, what’s not to like? Possibly the steep inclines.
I’ve written quite a few ’24 Hours In’ posts (archive here) but Edinburgh has been one of the most difficult. There are just too many great things to do in Edinburgh to squeeze them into 24 hours. However, in the name of giving you a taste of what Edinburgh has to offer, I’ve done my very best to pick out some highlights for this 24 hours in Edinburgh, Scotland guide!
Travel to Edinburgh
Edinburgh is connected by both railway and airport to the rest of the world and is fairly easy to get to.
As always, the best website to book trains in the UK is trainline, link here. I’ve never used the airport myself as I’ve always arrived by car or train. However, it’s the busiest airport in Scotland and connects to plenty of destinations in Europe and further afield. The link for the airport is here and you can see transport links to Edinburgh city centre here.
24 Hours in Edinburgh
Morning in Edinburgh
We’re kicking the day off with a pretty typical Edinburgh activity. I mentioned the wizard kid already and the first stop of the day is The Elephant House café where JK Rowling famously wrote much of her early novels. The queue inside The Elephant House was really long when we arrived but did move pretty fast. So, if you’re feeling peckish I suggest you stop by for a morning drink and brunch. Don’t forget to check out the bathroom where Harry Potter fans have left loads of messages. The café opens 8 am on a weekday and 9 am on the weekend so get ready for an early start!
Continue your morning with a stroll up George IV Bridge to the statue of Greyfriars Bobby. Little Bobby, according to the tale, watched over his dead owner’s grave for 14 years before he died himself. Have a look at the statue of Bobby and then continue into the graveyard behind; Greyfriars Kirkyard. I’ve seen debates as to whether the story was true or just a 19th century publicity stunt but who cares. It’s sweet anyway.
Once you’ve had a look around the graveyard, continue towards W Bow and Victoria Street. This is the quintessential picture of Edinburgh; the incline with colourful terrace houses. I seriously adore this street and it’s way too pretty for words.
Next on the agenda is another typical Edinburgh sight and probably the most famous. Edinburgh Castle is the most visited attraction in Scotland and synonymous with the city. You can admire the castle from the outside for free or pay £18.50 (£17.00 if purchased in advance) to go inside. If you really want to visit the castle, then by all means buy the entry ticket. I chose to only view the castle from the outside.
After admiring the castle, head down the Royal Mile towards your lunch destination. The Royal Mile connects Edinburgh Castle with Holyrood Castle but you’ll be turning off the Royal Mile at Cranston Street. Walk down Cranston Street to East Market Street where you’ll find The Arches. This is an area where cute independent shops and eateries fill the arches along East Market Street. Check out their Facebook page here.
Afternoon in Edinburgh
After lunch head across Waverley Bridge to have a look at Scott Monument. Scott Monument is dedicated to the writer Walter Scott and is the second biggest monument to a writer in the world. The design of Scott Monument was decided through a competition and the winner George Meikle Kemp had never designed anything on this scale before. You can climb the monument for £8. However, I suggest that you carry on because I have another viewpoint in mind (much mystery, much excitement).
Head towards The Mound where you have a great view of Edinburgh Castle from the corner of the park. Walk up the hill towards the castle but this time your destination is Camera Obscura & World of Illusions. It might seem a bit frivolous to dedicate a few hours to Camera Obscura when you only have 24 hours to spend in Edinburgh, but I think it’s worth it. If you’ve never heard of Camera Obscura before, it’s a museum of illusion and a fun contrast to all the history of your day so far. The majority of the exhibitions are interactive and lots of fun, especially if you’re travelling with someone else.
Another huge draw of the Camera Obscura is the camera at the top and its surrounding view. Join one of the tours that shows you the camera filming the Royal Mile in real time and then explore the rooftop afterwards. We opted to get a birds eye view of Edinburgh from here, rather than climb Arthur’s Seat. Partly because my joints don’t agree with hills and partly because it’s more time efficient. Entrance to Camera Obscura is £15.50 but I thought it was well worth it, both for the views and fun displays.
Evening in Edinburgh
Your day in Edinburgh is coming to an end (and you did manage to squeeze a fair bit into the day!). Start the evening as you mean to go on with pre-dinner drinks in Monteiths on Royal Mile. Look for an arch entrance decorated with flowers that lead to a narrow alleyway. Walk down a set of stairs and you’ll find this cozy bar and restaurant. Forever the grown up in any setting, I ordered the Skittles Swizzle cocktail. The cocktail was great and I did enjoy the social faux pas of fishing up my Skittles from the empty glass.
Next on the agenda is dinner! I was really pleasantly surprised by the great places to eat in Edinburgh. We tried Contini on George Street and it was seriously amazing. Somehow they also let us stay for 4 hours chatting away, so extra bonus points for that. I would strongly (like seriously strongly) recommend the Arancini Balls and Amaretto Sour (forever my drink of choice). Also don’t forget to admire the interior, the look of the restaurant is as spectacular as the food.
It’s been a whirlwind 24 hours in Edinburgh but I hope this guide has at least given you a flavour of the things to do in Edinburgh. The amount of historical things to do in Edinburgh coupled with its great food makes Edinburgh the ultimate short break in the UK. I honestly think it’s one of the coolest UK cities to visit and you really couldn’t get here fast enough.
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