So you only have 24 hours in Edinburgh? Well, my first piece of advice would be to start planning your return visit NOW!
A single day simply isn't enough to time to get more than the briefest taste of the fantastic flavours that Edinburgh has, but you can certainly spend your time getting to grips with some of the key aspects of our city.
Wear sturdy shoes, dress for the weather, take regular coffee breaks at some of the city's many independent cafes and coffee shops, and carry an emergency supply of chocolate to keep your blood sugars up - this day is going to get hardcore (Jack Bauer eat your heart out!).
Here's my official #ThisIsEdinburgh24 guide to how best to spend your one and only day in Edinburgh...
Assuming you're visiting during the summer, the sun has been up for a couple of hours already, so there's nothing to stop you rolling out of bed super early to begin exploring the city! Of course there's not much open at this time of day, but it's a perfect time for doing what is probably the city's best cost-free attraction: Arthur's Seat.
Climbing to the highest point in the city gives you a fantastic 360-degree views for miles in every direction. It's a relatively easy walk - about 45 minutes from the Palace of Holyroodhouse at the bottom of the Royal Mile, and only the top section is a little scrambly. Even better than the views will be your sense of achievement at this time in the morning!
Having descended Arthur's Seat (or even if you're only just now getting up) grab a hearty breakfast from one of the cafes on the Royal Mile and get ready to go again! Right across Edinburgh you'll find cafes, bars, and restaurants offering you a Full Scottish Breakfast - a variation on its Full English equivalent from south of the border, with the potato scone, Stornoway black pudding, haggis and (if you're lucky) lorne/square sausage providing the local flavour - baked beans, grilled tomatoes, mushrooms and (less commonly) white pudding are all things you're likely to find amongst the standard fare of bacon, eggs, sausage and toast.
Of course the other traditional Scots breakfast of porridge is having a resurgence too - many cafes offer a 'luxury' take on this simple dish. If you intend to take Edinburgh seriously over the next few hours, you might be best advised to have both of the above!
Having refuelled, you're now set to visit the city's most iconic feature, Edinburgh Castle. Open from 9.30am every morning, book your tickets in advance and be at the drawbridge on time to get direct access to this historical site. The castle may not appeal to everyone, but even if you're not into military or royal history, you should find enough of interest here to fill a couple of hours - and the views (more close-up on the city than Arthur's Seat) are stunning. Be sure to visit the birth room where James VI and I was born to Mary, Queen of Scots, and the Prisons of War exhibition is particularly interesting.
Leaving the castle, you should make your way down the hill to the Grassmarket, historically a site not just of an agricultural market but also one of the city's sites of execution - you'll find a shadow of the gallows marked in the pavement at the eastern end of the square. Along here you can top up your energy levels with a drink or a light lunch from the bars and cafes, before moving towards -
- Greyfriars Kirkyard, accessed from the bottom of Candlemaker Row at the east of the Grassmarket. This graveyard is one of the city's most picturesque and peaceful places, and is the resting place of a large number of the city's famous sons and daughters. You'll also find the grave of Greyfriars Bobby, a dog whose story has entered the annals of local mythology for spending 14 years sleeping on the grave of his dead master. Exit the graveyard near Bobby's grave and you'll find a statue to Bobby, usually thronged with visitors taking photographs! Cross the road and you'll be right on the doorstep of the National Museum.
You can easily spend hours wandering around the National Museum of Scotland - lose yourself in the labyrinthine modern wing, or browse the galleries of exhibits in the original Victorian section. Be sure to see Dolly the Sheep, the world's first genetically cloned animal, and The Maiden, a gruesome piece of local history, being the guillotine which sent men to their deaths in the 17th century.
Entry to the museum is free, although you can also pay to visit one of the visiting exhibitions, but whatever you do, don't miss the somewhat hidden roof terrace, with views over to the castle and out to the summit of Arthur's Seat (where you were standing barely 6 hours or so ago!).
From the museum, pass the side of the University of Edinburgh's iconic Old College quad building and head north along South Bridge (yes, you did read that correctly...!), crossing the Royal Mile at the Tron Church and continuing onto North Bridge over the roof of Waverley Station - take a moment (or two) to photograph the views from either side of the bridge. Ahead of you is the Balmoral Hotel and the eastern end of Princes Street. You are now entering Edinburgh's New Town, a Georgian-era city development nearly 250 years old - depending on your inclinations you can choose to browse the shops on George Street or relax in Princes Street Gardens.
If you fancy completing the trilogy of volcano summits in Edinburgh (having already done Arthur's Seat and the rock underneath Edinburgh Castle), turn right to walk up Calton Hill, with its monuments and views. Otherwise your next mission is to tackle -
- the world's tallest monument to a writer - the monument to Sir Walter Scott, colloquially known as the Gothic Rocket, on Princes Street; 287 steps up, and the same number back down - if you have no head for heights, a dodgy knee or a fear of confined spaces (the staircase is pretty steep and narrow) then you can be excused this part of the day by providing a note from your mum....!
The National Galleries of Scotland are not to be missed - the permanent collection of classical work is free to view in the buildings on the Mound, between Princes Street and the Old Town, or if you are more of a fan of modern artists then walk or catch a bus to the two galleries on Belford Road, at the west end of the city centre. The National Portrait Gallery on Queen Street is accessed through St Andrews Square, and again entry is free.
Treat yourself to a quality meal at one of the city's many independent restaurants, and prepare for the evening portion of your visit.
Depending on the time of year, Edinburgh's cultural scene is a rich and varied one. Catch a show at the city's Royal Lyceum Theatre, or check out the Traverse Theatre for contemporary and new writing. The Usher Hall hosts a variety of classical and contemporary music throughout the year, or during the summer you can take your pick of events from the Edinburgh International Festival or the Edinburgh Fringe.
Alternatively, head back into the Old Town for some spooky history either with an evening tour of Mary King's Close, the original 'underground' city, or with one of the city's many and varied ghost walks - you'll find meeting points for the different tour companies along the Royal Mile, between St Giles' Cathedral and the junction with North/South Bridge.
Congrats, you're almost done! You've seen the city from a variety of angles, explored some of its most historic sites, and (hopefully) not been drowned out by the Scottish weather.
Time to kick back and relax with a drink at one of the city's many, many watering holes! No need to ditch the tourist theme just yet though - you've earned a dram or two of Scotch whisky - the nation's favourite export - so head to Sandy Bell's or the Royal Oak in the Old Town for live folk and traditional music every night of the week...
This is just a personal pick of some of the highlights that Edinburgh can offer, and is not intended as a serious single-day itinerary - why not book a more manageable bespoke walking tour tailored to your own personal interests...
Edinburgh Expert Walking Tours is run by Gareth, an adopted native of Edinburgh, with over 20 years experience of living and working in the city...
Search the blog archive...
© COPYRIGHT GARETH DAVIES 2014-21