With a compact city centre and speedy transport links, it’s possible to cover a lot of ground in a short space of time in Edinburgh. Here’s our guide on how to get the most out of your time in the capital of Scotland.
Walk the cobbles in this 12-century town within the city
Begin your first day with a caffeine hit at the Milkman, an ethical roastery epitomising Edinburgh’s cool urban cafe culture. Grab a coconut-milk turmeric latte and an artisan pastry, then take a wander up the steep and winding Cockburn Street (great for a spot of vintage shopping en route), into the centre of Edinburgh’s Old Town – the Royal Mile. Book a tour at the Real Mary King’s Close for some fascinating history and a spooky trip into the city’s vaults.
Take a whisky flight and journey through the ages
Lunch at the Devil’s Advocate, an old Victorian pump house halfway up a steep and narrow medieval close just off the Royal Mile. It’s stocked with more than 400 whiskies – order yourself a flight to sample a range. From here, continue on to one of the oldest buildings on the Royal Mile, Gladstone’s Land, where you can see and hear the scandalous stories of the building’s residents at pivotal points in history.
Dine on the finest Scottish cuisine at Wedgwood
Nip back to your boutique hotel – we recommend the opulent, yet funky House of Gods on Cowgate – to prepare for dinner. Wedgwood is a five-minute walk from here (cobble-free, so you’re fine in heels). The seasonal, multiaward-winning menu prides itself on locally sourced and raw ingredients. And if you fancy getting even more involved in your meal, chef-owner Paul Wedgwood runs daytime foraging trips nearby. Take a culinary tour of Scotland with the tasting menu, before retiring to your sumptuous pad for a nightcap.
Play a Harry Potter-themed escape game
Breakfast at the trendy Edinburgh Larder, with tea from Scottish brand Eteaket – your cuppa will come with a timer for the perfect brew. Then continue down the hill for a wizard-themed escape game at the Department of Magic (be sure to pre-book as demand is high). The puzzles here are totally unique, created by the same small local team as Monkey Barrel, an indie grass-roots comedy club just along the road. Once you’ve escaped the room, take an Outlander Experience Walking Tour from around the corner.
Tuck into chicken wings and create your own gin
Refuel with a bowl of chicken smothered in one of a huge range of sauces at Wings – go for the super-hot Taps Aff if you’re feeling brave. Then stretch your legs with a 20-minute walk across the city to the West End. See the Balmoral Hotel and cross North Bridge en route, with time to pick up souvenirs at the capital’s shopping hub, Princes Street. By late afternoon you’ll reach the Edinburgh Gin Distillery, where you can take a tour and design your own bespoke gin.
Drink in a secret bar
After hours, the distillery becomes a prohibition-style speakeasy, Heads and Tales. Seating areas in intriguing nooks and crannies, low-level music and comfy vintage easy chairs all combine to make it an inviting spot for a relaxed tipple after a busy day.
Check out local talent and big-name comics in a comedy basement
As the night progresses, venture to the New Town and the Stand Comedy Club’s boho basement (arrive at least 45 minutes before the show starts to be sure of a good seat). Spot exciting emerging and famous acts while tucking into some well-priced scran. Then party till dawn in the swanky Lulu nightclub, a few minutes walk away on George Street.
Brunch Scandi-style and take an immersive trip into space
After a late-night and a good lie-in, saunter along to Swedish cafe-bar Hemma on Holyrood Road, for French Manna-House toast or a full Scottish. Follow this up with a visit to the contemporary, five-star visitor attraction, Dynamic Earth, featuring its incredible 360-degree showdome. The audiovisual spectacle is enveloping (if you start to feel woozy watching it, just shut your eyes for a few seconds and your system will reset).
Picnic with a view and meet the pandas
Having been indoors for most of the morning, it’s time for some fresh air and a hike. Pick up lunch at Gannet and Guga – look out for the daily silly jokes on the sandwich board that have become part of the takeaway’s identity. Then jump on the airport bus (it’s slightly pricier than Lothian buses but comfier and much faster) out to Corstorphine Hill, where you can picnic at the viewpoint. From here you can pop along to the zoo to spend time with the only giant pandas in the UK.
Eat at a heritage gastropub
Catch the bus back to the West End and draw your Edinburgh adventures to a close with dinner at the Voyage of Buck. This bar-restaurant was named after the 19th-century philanthropist, polo player and intrepid travel companion of Prince Albert Victor. Buck’s voyages have inspired the food and drinks menus, with the option of large or small plates to suit all appetites. The vintage decor is a joy to behold – ask to sit at the quirky booth over which hangs a huge glass box of illuminated rubber ducks.