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Stormy Calton Hill, Edinburgh | © Andy Smith / Flickr
https://www.flickr.com/photos/smithat/8663584897
Stormy Calton Hill, Edinburgh | © Andy Smith / Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/smithat/8663584897

What to Do on a Layover in Edinburgh

Picture of Deborah Chu
Updated: 3 November 2017

As Scotland’s busiest airport, chances are high that you might one day be killing time in Edinburgh Airport. So why choose duty free when there’s a city of whisky and bagpipes to explore? With the city centre only a half-hour bus or tram ride away, Edinburgh’s intimate size and historic grandeur makes it the perfect layover-friendly city. Read on to find out how to make the most out of your layover in Edinburgh, no matter what the time frame.

If you have three hours…

…Then there’s no time to waste! Hop on the Airlink 100 outside the airport and take it to Princes Street Gardens, a lush valley separating Edinburgh’s Old Town from the New. Wander through and find the Scott Monument, a towering Gothic tribute to Walter Scott, Scotland’s famous champion. If caught out in Edinburgh’s famously perpetual drizzle, never fear – to the east of the gardens is the Scottish National Gallery, a free art museum displaying some of the UK’s greatest masterpieces.

Princes Street Gardens, Princes Street, Edinburgh, UK

Scott Monument, Princes Street, Edinburgh, UK

Scottish National Gallery, The Mound, Edinburgh, UK

If you have five hours…

Take the Airlink 100 to Waverley Bridge, then stroll up the Royal Mile to get your tartan fix at the shops, before arriving at the city’s most prominent address: Edinburgh Castle. This 12th century fortress provides breathtaking views as well as a panorama of Scotland’s turbulent royal past, from Robert the Bruce to Mary, Queen of Scots. Afterwards, nip down the Mile for a dram at The Devil’s Advocate, a bar famed for its staggering selection of fine scotch whiskies.

The Royal Mile, Edinburgh, UK

Edinburgh Castle, Castle Rock, Edinburgh, UK

The Devil’s Advocate, 9 Advocate’s Close, Edinburgh, UK

If you have seven hours…

Follow the five-hour plan, then head south for a spot of haggis at Spoon, a favourite café of students and locals – including J.K. Rowling. Around the corner is the National Museum of Scotland, which houses treasures like the Lewis chessmen and Dolly the Sheep. Finally, head north up Calton Hill to the National Monument, nicknamed “Edinburgh’s Folly” since its construction in the 1800s nearly bankrupted the city. Though still unfinished, it is now a beloved fixture of the cityscape.

Spoon, 6A Nicolson Street, Edinburgh, UK

National Museum of Scotland, Chambers Street, Edinburgh, UK

National Monument, Calton Hill, Edinburgh, UK

If you have twelve hours…

…You’ve hit the layover jackpot! Take the tram to West End–Princes Street and head north-west to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, which boasts avant-garde installations and sculpture parks. Then go west along the Water of Leith, a much-loved ambling river path, before stopping off to admire the flora at the Royal Botanic Garden. Finish this whirlwind tour by zipping south and climbing the famous Arthur’s Seat to behold the city in all its glory.

Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, 75 Belford Road, Edinburgh, UK

Water of Leith Walkway, Dean Village Entrance, 10/3 Damside, Edinburgh, UK

Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, Arboretum Place, Edinburgh, UK

Arthur’s Seat, Holyrood Park, Queen’s Drive, Edinburgh, UK