Visiting the Scottish capital is a trip filled with rich cultural heritage, beautiful city views, and plenty of gorgeous architecture! These are a few of the best things to do in Edinburgh when you have just one full day to explore this fascinating city.
What To Do In Edinburgh In One Day
Following a few days exploring Stonehenge, Bath, and Bristol, we neared the end of our whirlwind UK trip. Heading to the opposite end of the country, we spent 24 hours in Edinburgh exploring some of the top sights of the city, and historical places in Edinburgh.
Read on to see how we spent our day trip to Edinburgh!
Cost Of 24 Hours In Edinburgh
Unlike the southern cities of the UK, the cost of living in Edinburgh is much lower. However, as a tourist you may find that costs are just as high as elsewhere for some expenses. The breakdown costs of our 24 hours in Edinburgh for 2 people were as follows:
- Arriving flights: £65
- Hotel for 1 night: £50
- Activities: £37
- Supermarket breakfast: £7
- Coffeeshop teas: £7
- Cafe lunch: £16
- 2 course dinner with alcoholic drinks: £50
- Transport from airport for 2 single tickets: £12
Total cost of 24 hours in Edinburgh for two people: £244
As you can see, one day in Edinburgh costs an average amount as other UK cities, despite Scotland being a generally cheaper part of the country. Our biggest expenses were of course flights and our accommodation. We splashed out a little with our dinner too as it was a chance to indulge and spend some time with my family who reside in the city!
Finding Accommodation In Edinburgh
Generally, finding accommodation in Edinburgh is more expensive than you might expect. With fewer options under £50 that are within walking distance of the centre, you may choose to search for an Airbnb instead, which is likely to offer a more affordable price.
After a rather traumatic Airbnb experience in Bristol, we were glad to have been smart and book a proper hotel room when finding accommodation in Edinburgh for our one night stay. I am a fan of Airbnb’s, however, the reliability of a hotel’s comfort was a big priority after an early start and what was expected to be a long day!
We booked the Edinburgh Central Rooms which are located on Hill Street, just a short walk away from Princes Street Gardens, the old city, and many of the city’s attractions. It was the perfect place to stay for our 24 hours in Edinburgh! Our room was a private double with a shared bathroom, but we expect we may have had the bathroom to ourselves as we didn’t encounter any neighbours during our stay.
For our low budget, the Edinburgh Central Rooms were perfect. Had we chosen to increase our accommodation budget to £100 per night finding accommodation in Edinburgh might’ve been easier, and we would have had a wealth more options but this suited us just fine. We knew it was just for sleeping and showering anyway as we’re such busy bees on our travels!
The hotel does not have a reception, however, we found the service to be exceptional, with an easy check-in and out process. With a phone number available for any questions plus the building AND your room keys sent by text message where you receive a code, we loved reducing the paperwork and sometimes-tedious rigmarole being eliminated.
Flying To Edinburgh From Bristol
Our early morning flight at 7am from Bristol airport was smooth sailing. Despite the early wakeup call, travelling from Clifton Village to Bristol airport took around 30 minutes at a set price of £20 for the taxi company we used (V Cars). Bristol airport is small enough to quickly get through security, particularly so at an early hour of the day.
The flight time between Bristol and Edinburgh is 1 hour 15 minutes. With the first light of the day peeking over the clouds as we flew north over England, we enjoyed the views of this easy and efficient flight. Arriving into Edinburgh and having only carryon luggage with us, we were swiftly through the domestic terminal to catch the tram to Edinburgh city centre.
24 Hours In Edinburgh Itinerary
As we had just a brief visit to the Scottish capital of Edinburgh, we wanted to do as many of the highlights as possible while still ensuring we made the most of each activity. We focussed on historical landmarks and beautiful architecture more than anything else, and by no means touched even the surface of all the great things to enjoy here!
If you’re looking for a local’s in depth perspective and great tips for some awesome quirky cafes, head over to Edits of Jo for her posts!
Let’s dive in to see what to see in Edinburgh for a day, with the following map showing you exactly where we went:
Early morning flight & Bag Drop Off
Seeing as we arrived so early in the morning, our first mission was to grab a cup of tea, and drop our bags off at the hotel. Taking the tram from Edinburgh airport to the city centre is super easy. As the airport is the start of the line there are clear signs directing you to the right trams. Within 13 stops after around 30 minutes you can hop off at Princes Street to be right in the centre. Trams run around every 5 minutes so there’s hardly any waiting time either!
Due to our early arrival, we had prior arrangement with our hotel to drop off our baggage with them at 10am. We were even earlier than that so woke ourselves up with a delightful tea at Eteaket on Frederick Street, only 2 minutes from our hotel.
Note: Edinburgh Central Rooms do not allow for left luggage any more due to a change in ownership, we believe an exception was made for our circumstances as we had booked prior to this change. To avoid disappointment, it’s highly recommended to enquire ahead of your arrival if there is any opportunity to leave your belongings at the hotel.
With a literal weight off our shoulders, we walked from our hotel in New Town we crossed through Princes Street Garden to the old city, and to the top of Edinburgh Castle. We chose to dedicate the biggest chunk of our one day in Edinburgh to exploring the castle in depth, which is not easily done in just a few hours!
There are so many small exhibitions, hidden corners, and points of interest within the castle walls. One could easily spend the whole day seeing every single attraction! We started off trying to do it all, but soon became a little overwhelmed and saturated with facts that we changed our approach to be a bit more selective.
TIP FOR VISITING EDINBURGH CASTLE:
Plan ahead what you definitely want to see and make sure to allow enough time to do so. Some areas become very crowded at weekends or in the holidays so be prepared to queue!
One of the most interesting exhibitions for me was the Edinburgh Castle Prisons of War section. I love criminal history so this was a fascinating part of the castle where visitors can make their way through the many cells and rooms prisoners were kept throughout the castle’s history.
A major benefit of paying to visit inside the castle are the fantastic views over the city and countryside from the top walls. It’s really quite a spectacular lookout spot to see the many beautiful buildings scattered throughout, as well as an aerial view over Princes Street Garden. The many viewpoints offer 360 views around the surrounding landscapes. You can enjoy finding your favourite view from the walls, or even through the embrasures (the hole in a wall where a cannon will fire from – yes I looked it up!).
Among these attractions are also the Regimental Museums displaying the various uniforms, memorabilia, and historical events of each regiment, as well as the National War Museum of Scotland. As you can probably imagine, many of the exhibitions of Edinburgh Castle are focussed around military history. Particuarly highlights include Mons Meg – one of the greatest guns in Medieval Europe, the one o’clock gun which fires at (you guessed it), 1pm each day, and the half moon battery which is quite the epitome of what you’d expect from a historical castle: lots of big cannons!
As mentioned, we didn’t quite manage to see all the fantastic sections of Edinburgh Castle. There’s the fight for the castle interactive exhibition, the crown jewels, and the great hall that are just some of the additional attractions to explore during your visit.
Needless to say, we still managed to pack a lot in and enjoyed learning about Scottish history and the castle itself during our morning at Edinburgh Castle. It’s an absolute must-do activity when you’re searching for what to see in Edinburgh in a day – if there’s nothing else you do, do this!
Next up on our whiz around Edinburgh, we took a walk to Calton Hill for views of the city from a different vantage point. Calton Hill is deservedly included in Edinburgh’s UNESCO World Heritage Site title, proving how iconic Calton Hill is to the city.
The hill itself is an easy walk to reach the top where you’ll find a number of famous monuments and landmarks. Those include the National Monument, the Nelson Monument, the Dugald Stewart Monument, and more. Functionally, Calton Hill is where you’ll find the Scottish government, as well as the Scottish parliament building and Holyrood Palace at its base. The many significant monuments and varied history at the site makes it an interesting visit which goes beyond that of its aesthetic qualities.
It’s definitely worth a visit the Calton Hill to gain a different perspective of the city when you visit for 24 hours in Edinburgh, and appreciate each of the reasons a monument was built here. You can climb the Nelson Monument and truly be at the highest point of the hill for £5 entry. We decided against this, feeling that the views were already impressive enough!
Calton Hill is also conveniently central, like many of Edinburgh’s attractions. The closeness of many highlight spots makes it a lot easier to pack a lot into one day in Edinburgh!
Following our walk to the top of Calton Hill, we next planned to aim for Holyrood Palace. The meandering paths down the hill presented us with great views of Arthur’s Seat right ahead, and we soon noticed how relatively quiet this area was compared to the busier areas nearer the castle.
After a little confusion in finding the palace (don’t alway rely on Google Maps – street signs really do help!), we found ourselves intrigued by the tall black and gold gates. A peek at the ticket prices and we in the end decided one large historical attraction was enough for us in a day, and at £15 we struggled to justify another expense for something we weren’t too bothered about visiting inside, especially considering we only had one day in Edinburgh.
Had we stayed longer in Edinburgh I imagine it would have been a fascinating visit inside the Palace of Holyroodhouse, but on this occasion we were all museum-ed out!
Sometimes It’s OK To Skip The Attractions
Sometimes when visiting richly historical cities, I find just one or two smaller museums or exhibitions to be sufficient “learning” for the time being. I often prefer to rather enjoy walking the city itself, pointing out unusual architecture that has its own historical significance, or immersing myself in the comings and goings of the destination.
Over time, this has not only been a rather cost-effective approach, but I do feel I gain more than simply reading a few tidbits through a piece of glass. I like to read up on the places I’ve been and seen (and take LOTS of pictures!) to feel like I’ve “been” there, and usually do so after actually visiting.
Our choice to skip this attraction wasn’t a particularly hard one, but I did wonder if we were being too easily dismissive. I’m sure there’s lots to learn at many attractions we didn’t stop at. But, a city is more than its paid-entry tourist bubbles. Particularly when you’re on a budget and time restricted, you’ll realise there’s so much to see that costs very little and is a truly unique experience!
Royal Mile & Victoria Street
Continuing on with our one day in Edinburgh, we elected to walk our way back up the Royal Mile instead, pausing at the alleyways and closes that branch from the main road every few steps. We enjoyed watching the afternoon light turn golden and bathe the glistening edges of the buildings in warming light.
The Royal Mile is one of Edinburgh’s most famously named places and an unavoidable place to visit during your 24 hours in Edinburgh. Comprised of several streets connected in essentially a straight line, the Royal Mile is essentially the spine running through the centre of Edinburgh’s Old Town. Starting from the gates of Holyrood Palace at the bottom of a gentle hill, the Royal Mile stretches all the way up to the entrance of the castle almost an exact mile away. Arguably the busiest street in Edinburgh, there’s clearly plenty to marvel at and enjoy along the Royal Mile.
What makes the Royal Mile so special is the many, many closes that dart off from every angle along the street. You’d be hard pressed to find anywhere with so much intrigue as all the narrow laneways that lead to hidden gems in Edinburgh! Many boasting gothic architecture just as beautiful as the Royal Mile, I’d highly recommend a wander along a few closes if you’ve a little time to spare.
We eventually diverted off the Royal Mile to explore Victoria Street. Considered to be one of the most photographed streets in Edinburgh, we couldn’t miss clicking the shutter a few times at this treat for the eyes! Victoria Street is most recognised for its gentle curve down a steady slope, and its rainbow-hued shop fronts. Built in the early 19th century, of course it’s as historical and beautiful as the rest of Edinburgh, but with a little pop of colour!
For the Harry Potter fans out there, Victoria Street has been speculated as J K Rowling’s inspiration for Diagon Alley – and it’s not hard to see why with those cobbled streets and quaint shops! There’s even an official merchandise shop to really capture the magic (and your money)! Edinburgh has plenty of other spots that inspired the famous writer’s series during her time living in the city.
As more of a Lord of the Rings fan, we weren’t too bothered about stopping by any HP locations during our one day in Edinburgh, but instead came across our own nerd-out zone courtesy of The Knights Vault. This store sells replica swords and armour from your favourite fantasy worlds such as Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings. I love both and so does Kazimir, so we were pretty excited to have found this gem!
For the big architecture lovers, there’s a lot to be learned about the historical relevance of each of the buildings around Victoria Street. However, on our tight-for-time tour of one day in Edinburgh we opted to dart into the odd antique store, take our photos, and carry on with our walk.
Princes Street Garden
At this point, our little (and long for Kazimir) legs were feeling ever so slightly weary. We told ourselves that our next stop would be a coffee shop to warm up from the cold and revive our energy.
Except, we just kept walking. We had our next destination in mind, and chose to walk through Princes Street Garden once more to enjoy the golden hour views of the castle from afar. We paused for a little break to nibble our apples, watching dogs gleefully bound through the fallen leaves.
I’m so glad we did walk through the park, as we stumbled upon a memorial statue for Wojtek the Soldier Bear, which to my surprise Kazimir recognised instantly. His Polish heritage was shining through! Wojtek’s story is a rather unforgettable one. As a young cub in WWII he was bought by a Polish army corp in Iran, and swiftly enlisted a fully fledged Private to ensure he could remain with his new family. Shortly after, he advanced to become a Corporal and helped to transport ammunition, in between being a bit of a celebrity! After the war, he lived out his retirement in Edinburgh Zoo, hence the fitting tribute right in a prime spot of Princes Street Garden.
Exploring the city by foot means even when you have just 24 hours in Edinburgh you’ll stumble upon some real treasures of the city, and not waste a single moment of your visit!
After learning that tidbit of European history, we continued on. Just before exiting the park, we turned back for one last look at the castle and oh my am I glad we did. Rays of light just managed to reach the castle, tickling the edges of the stone walls, and ensuring a most regal aesthetic. Ahh isn’t it gorgeous?
Nearing the end of our one day in Edinburgh, we walked back towards the New Town of Edinburgh as we wanted to pay a visit to Dean Village. This is adorably quaint area that sits along the Water of Leith running through this northern part of Edinburgh, and is quite the popular attraction for those looking to get out of the busy Old Town.
Despite being in the New Town, this quiet village has as much history to it as the Old Town. The area has been used for milling for more than 800 years, and has fortunately been preserved and restored from decay to maintain the village’s charm. We took a short walk along the water via Well Court (my favourite part of Dean Village) until we reached The Great Cauld, a small dam near an old mill location. Here we came across several other tourists seeking out this popular residential area for moment of serenity in the city. It seems like Dean Village is not quite a secret, despite its quiet atmosphere!
With the light beginning to fade, our feet becoming sore, and my camera running out of battery, it was time to head back to our hotel as we came to the end of our one day in Edinburgh. Fortunately, we had planned our route perfectly and were only a short walk to our hotel in Hill Street, passing by yet more beautiful buildings, side streets, and crescents on the way.
Dinner & Bed
Glad to rest for a little while in our comfy hotel room, we both opted to shower and relax for a couple of hours before dinner. I’m fortunate enough to have family living in Edinburgh, and as luck would have it a cousin and his wife were free and not too far away to accompany us for dinner!
A relaxed evening of catching up and chowing down some delicious Mexican food at Wahaca on St Andrew Street, our surprisingly hungry tummies thanked us for a great meal, and our minds for great company.
Exhausted after being awake and busy for so long, we collapsed into bed, satisfied with a job well done for one day in Edinburgh.
Of course, a much longer visit is preferable to just one day in Edinburgh! But, if you’re tight for time and want a taste of Scotland, you’d be surprised how much can be squeezed into a day in Edinburgh!
I adore Edinburgh even more each time I visit, and can’t wait for the next time to see the city and explore even more. It’s truly one of the UK’s most charming cities, and one day in Edinburgh hardly does it justice! Until next time, Scotland!
Have you visited Edinburgh? What are your favourite places to visit in Edinburgh? Share your thoughts below!
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