How to plan your first visit of Edinburgh?

Edinburgh – the capital of Scotland – is one of the most visited city in the United Kingdom. It is THE most popular city break from London. It’s also a great destination to add in your itinerary if you are travelling in Scotland. This city has a great vibe with charming streets, a rich medieval heritage, a couple of viewpoints and a lovely garden. If you are a huge fan of Harry Potter, you will also be delighted to discover some spots that inspired J.K. Rowling.

We explored Edinburgh during an Easter week-end in April. Nobody can really explain why, but this city is enchanting and loved by many visitors. Edinburgh welcomed us with a surprising sunshine. The weather was terrific and we even managed to get tanned during this trip ;)! If you are planning to spend more than a week-end in Scotland and you like climbing, you should add the hike of the Ben Nevis to your itinerary. It is the highest summit in the UK :)! You can also extend your trip by reaching Isle of Skye from Edinburgh for a scenic drive in Scotland.

In this post, we gathered our top things to do in Edinburgh to assist you with planning your next trip. This list is for first time visitor. We can’t recommend this city enough. We really encourage you to get lost in the little alleyways in Edinburgh. The city is small and you can easily walk around. There are small streets, which go a bit up and down and look sometimes like a labyrinth, particularly in the Old Town. Let’s discover Edinburgh :)!

Visit the legendary Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle is the most iconic building, which dominates the skyline of the city. It is a very popular fortress, which attracts so many tourists every year. In fact it is even the most visited landmark in Scotland and among the top 5 in the UK. The castle was built 8 centuries ago and sits on an extinct volcano high above the city. This is certainly one of the most instagrammable spot in Edinburgh.

The Edinburgh Castle
The Edinburgh Castle

The ticket costs £17.5 (as of September 2020) to discover this Scottish Heritage and history. Sometimes the queue to get in can be very long, so one tip to avoid the crowd is to book a tour of the castle. Once you enter in the castle, there is a lot to discover. The castle is the home of the oldest Crown jewels in Britain and you can learn about the royal family that lived in the fortress. Today the castle is a military site. In the 18th century it was a military prison.

If you don’t have time to visit we still recommend to walk up to the castle. You can observe the guards outside and enjoy the amazing views of the city around the castle.

A Scottish guard in front of the Edinburgh castle
A Scottish guard in front of the Edinburgh castle
Inside the Edinburgh castle

Wander along the Royal Mile

The Royal Mile is the heart of Edinburgh. It is the main street of the Old Town. The road is exactly one mile and starts from the Edinburgh Castle down to the Holyrood Palace.

Start of the Royal Mile – view from the Castle

There are a lot of landmarks on this street, it’s one of the most crowded in the city. You may need a half day to fully explore it. For example the St Giles’ Cathedral, the Childhood Museum and the Heart of Midlothian. There is also the Famous Heart of Midlothian, well-known as it is where several public executions took place.

The Royal Mile - Edinburgh
The Royal Mile

Finally, you will arrive at the Palace of Holyrood House. It is the official home for the Queen when she is in Scotland. If the Queen is not in the city, you can visit the apartments and the garden. If you don’t have enough time for the visit, just go to take sone pictures of this majestic building.

The Palace of Holyrood House - Edinburgh
The Palace of Holyrood House

Discover the history of Edinburgh with an Old Town walking tour

The medieval Old Town is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its street layouts and its rich architectural heritage. If you are interested with discovering more about Edinburgh, you should book the Old Town walking tour. It is the most popular free walking tour in Edinburgh.

View on the Edinburgh Castle from the Princes Street Garden

You will get a lot of information from the Old town, but also from the famous artists of the city, the castle etc. It will give you a nice overview of the history of Edinburgh.

If it is not your first time in Edinburgh or if you spend at least 3 days in the city, you may also decide to take a more specific tour. For instance the Harry Potter tour see below or the Ghost tour by night.

We took this tour but we will not recommend our guide as we had difficulties to understand his fast paced very strong Scottish accent, especially for us not native English speakers. There are a couple of companies that offers this tour with several slots per day.

Climb up to Arthur’s Seat

If you like hiking – you should definitely climb up to Arthur’s Seat. One of the most famous view from Edinburgh. It is the top of an extinct volcano located in Holyrood park. Of course, you have to wear comfortable shoes for this walk. You will need between one to two hour to get rewarded by an impressive view.

View from the Calton Hill - Edinburgh - Arthur's Seat
– View from the Calton Hill – overview on Edinburgh including the Arthur’s Seat in the background

As we climbed the Ben Nevis – Scotland highest mountain 2 days before, we were still exhausted and decided not to climb the Arthur Seat. The only photo we get from this spot is from the Calton Hill – see section below.

Relax at Princes Street Gardens

I love gardens so in each city we visit, we always try to discover a nice garden. The Princes Street Garden is so lovely. The view from the Garden with the Edinburgh Castle in the background is amazing and a perfect spot for photographers. Do not miss it!

The Princes Street Garden
The Princes Street Garden

The Princes Street Garden is actually the combination of 2 public parks located in Edinburgh city centre. You can discover the famous Ross Fountain – a blue and gold beautiful fountain. Probably one of the best angle on the Edinburgh castle.

The Princes Street Gardens is the perfect peaceful spot to relax after a busy day walking around Edinburgh. This is the last spot we visited before catching up our train to go back to London. Look at the transats on the photo – it is pretty sure you will wish to stop by to enjoy a serene break!

Relaxing break at the The Princes Street Garden
Relaxing break at the The Princes Street Garden

Cherry on the cake, in summer there are colourful flowers along the walking paths and the little alley of this park!

Explore Victoria Street – a must see for Harry Potter fan

Victoria street is also a perfect spot for photographers with its colourful shops and buildings. This lovely little street is one of the most charming street of Edinburgh. Just take time to stroll along this street.

The Victoria Street

If you are an Harry Potter fan, you will easily imagine that you are walking in the Diagon Alley! This street is believed to have inspired J.K. Rowling. You will discover many shops in this street but one may particular catch your attention and is called Aha ha ha Jokes & Novelties. It is a funny shop, which is of course an attempt to bring you in the Wealsey’s Wizards Wheezes shop!

Enjoy a panoramic view of Edinburgh from Calton Hill

This is one of the best spot to catch the sunset or to get a panoramic view of the city. It is very close to the city centre and a very easy walk compared with the Arthur’s Seat.

View from Calton Hill - Edinburg
View from Calton Hill

There is a monument, which looks very similar to a Greek temple in the middle of the Hill. In fact, it is the National Monument of Scotland. It was expected to be a memorial to Scottish soldiers who lost their life during the Napoleonic Wars. Unfortunately the building of this monument is unfinished.

Shop for a cashmere scarf

We always like shopping when we are visiting a new place. Usually we like bringing back some food but I was not really enthusiast with the Scottish speciality the haggis. This local food is made with pork belly. You have to try it – you may even like it ;).

So instead of food we decided to bring back a cashmere scarf. This luxurious fabric is smooth and timeless. So you can wear it with pretty much any outfit. There are hundreds of shops on the Royal Mile with cashmere products. Finally after visiting numerous shops, we find the perfect colourful scarf. I love it :).

If you want some tips where to buy the best piece of cashmere in Edinburgh.

Take a Harry Potter tour

One of the best way to discover the secrets and the key spots of Harry Potter in Edinburgh is to book a walking tour. If you have enough time, we really recommend you this option. We read several posts from different blogs that are unanimous – the Harry Potter walking tour is worth it :). If you don’t have time you can of course explore the key spots by yourself like we did.

However, one of the main advantage of the tour is the guide telling you many fun facts and anecdotes about both J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter. There is a team quiz to test your knowledge. It is a great way to know more about Harry Potter’s world with fun. The competition is open between Hufflepuff, Ravenclaws, Slytherins and Gryffindors.

It is the only regret I have with this trip. I wish we had more time to book this tour. Share with us your experience in the comment if you have the chance to take one of this tour.

Places to eat in Edinburgh

We stayed less than 48 hours in the city so we don’t have so many good restaurant to suggest. However, we are still sharing our list of our 2 favourites spots. We recommend them to you without hesitation:

  • Papii – great place for a breakfast. They have amazing waffle with bacon, strawberries and chocolate. We also tried their fresh smoothies. I love breakfast and this one was really tasty. It is a cozy atmosphere with a very welcoming staff. The cherry on the cake – this coffee shop is quite cheap. Fantastic place – highly recommended 🙂
  • Laila – cosy little place for a drink in a little alleyway close to the Old Town. Perfect for a cider and to rest after a full day walking to discover the city centre. We didn’t eat there but their Mediterranean menu looked attractive.
Delicious breakfast at Edinburg - at Pappi - tasty bacon, chocolate and strawberries waffle
Tasty bacon, chocolate and strawberries waffle at Papii

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