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The Ultimate One-Day Guide to Edinburgh

One-day in Edinburgh - Itinerary, Places to Eat & Map

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After visiting Edinburgh for this first time this year, I am hooked - totally obsessed and planning on going back to do some more exploring in Edinburgh and will make my way to the Highlands and the Isle of Skye. Stay tuned for more Scotland travel guides!

But for this guide, I wanted to highlight my top 5 picks for a day in Edinburgh! If you are lucky enough to get to travel to Edinburgh, be sure to check out these out!

Edinburgh is the vibrant capital city of Scotland. It has a captivating blend of history, culture, and natural beauty. With its stunning architecture, intriguing heritage, and lively atmosphere, Edinburgh offers an array of experiences that leaves visitors enchanted. Whether you're a history buff, a nature lover, or an art enthusiast, this city has something to offer everyone.

So let's jump into it! Starting off at Edinburgh Castle and making our way down the Royal Mile to Holyrood Palace. This route can easily be done in one day.

Edinburgh Castle (Castle Rock)

Photo of entrance to Edinburgh Castle

Perched on a volcanic rock at the heart of the city, Edinburgh Castle is an iconic landmark and a testament to the city's rich history. Dating back to the 12th century, this magnificent fortress has witnessed numerous battles and royal ceremonies. Step inside and explore the Crown Jewels, the Stone of Destiny, and the historic Great Hall. The panoramic views of the city from the castle's ramparts are simply breathtaking, especially during the famous Edinburgh Military Tattoo in August (this is on my bucket list now!).

TIP: Be sure you are there for their One O’Clock Gun! Ships in the Firth of Forth once set their maritime clicks by the One O’Clock Gun. The firing of the gun dates back to 1861. The gun fires daily at 1 pm (except on Sundays, Good Friday and Christmas). Tickets often sell out in advance, so to be sure to purchase your tickets ahead of time, especially in the summer. General admission is 18.50 pounds, they are open daily from 9:30 am and the last entry at 4 or 5 pm depending on the time of year you go. There is also a cafe for food and drinks.

The Royal Mile stretches between Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse. It's a bustling street brimming with history, shops, and traditional pubs. Stroll along this historic thoroughfare and immerse yourself in the city's charming atmosphere. Admire the stunning architecture, visit the intriguing museums and galleries, and indulge in Scottish delicacies such as haggis (more on this later) and whisky. Don't forget to explore the hidden closes (alleyways) that reveal intriguing stories of Edinburgh's past. There are many tour outfits that you can choose from if you want to adding a walking tour of The Royal Mile. This is a great way to learn the secrets of this hidden area as you explore. The cost is super reasonable and many only last an hour and you learn so much! Check out Viator's tours in Edinburgh, they have one for the Royal Mile and one for Edinburgh's Secret Underground Tour.

Both are located at the end of the Royal Mile, at the opposite end of Edinburgh Castle, the Palace of Holyroodhouse is the official residence of the British monarch in Scotland. Explore the grandeur of this palace, marvel at the beautifully landscaped gardens, and learn about its historical significance. Adjacent to the palace, Arthur's Seat sits on an ancient dormant volcano and offers breathtaking panoramic views of the city.

TIP: Tickets to Holyrood Palace are easy to get and are about 18 pounds (or you can save a few pounds by purchasing in advance). The rooms are stunning and kept as if they would have been back when Mary, Queen of Scots lived there! Arthur’s Seat is open year round, but bring water as it is a climb. Also bring a jacket as it can get quite chilly.

A photo of afternoon tea

On your way from the castle to Holyrood, you an ndulge in a unique dining experience at The Witchery by the Castle. Nestled in a historic building at the foot of Edinburgh Castle, this renowned restaurant offers a magical ambiance and exquisite cuisine. Immerse yourself in the Gothic decor and enjoy a sumptuous meal featuring Scottish specialties. The Witchery's rich history and atmospheric surroundings will transport you to another time. I had afternoon tea here after my visit to Edinburgh Castle and after spending a few hours touring the castle, it was the perfect place to relax.

If you are feeling adventurous, try the Haggis, but I won’t explain what it is - you’ll have to Google that!

St. Giles is a beautiful building that stands right in the center of the Royal Mile. This medieval parish was dedicated to St. Giles as the patron saint of lepers (and subsequently of Edinburgh itself).

BONUS: Recs for eats in Edinburgh:
  • My favorite place to eat, and it is just off the Royal Mile, is Makers Gourmet Mash Bar. It’s a perfect place to jump in to enjoy some delicious locally-produced Scottish artisan food during your sightseeting. It is touted as Endinburgh’s Wee Hidden Gem! I suggest making reservations in advance because it can get quite busy.

  • For Harry Potter fans, The Elephant House is a must visit, as its the birthplace of the Harry Potter novels. J.K. Author wrote while she was in the back room of this place while overlooking Edinburgh Castle. They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner, but I would advise trying to visit there in morning because it gets busy. For Harry Potters fans, Viator offers the Original Harry Potter Tour in Edinburgh.

  • For a treat, check out Mary's Milk Bar. They make their gelato and chocolate every morning and their flavours change each day and each season - no day is the same.

DID YOU KNOW? Unicorns are real in Scotland?

Okay, maybe they are not real, but they are the national animal of Scotland. Since I was kid I have loved unicorns ... but maybe that’s because I grew up in the 70’s/80's. When I found out it was Scotland’s national animal, it just made me fall in love with Scotland even more! For Scotland the unicorn symbolizes power, ferocity, innocence and purity and was adopted as Scotland’s heraldic animal by King James I in the 15th century. The Scots Gaelic name for the unicorn is "aon-adharcach."

Finding all the unicorns in Edinburgh is also a fun way to explore and would be great for kids (or for those that are kids-at-heart). You can also check all the unicorn photos on Instagram by searching the hashtag: #EdinburghUnicorns.

photo of unicorn statue in Edinburgh
Unicorn - St. Giles

For a unicorn hunt in Edinburgh - Here’s where you can find them:

  • Edinburgh Castle: Many crests and coat of arms at the castle feature a unicorn or two.

  • National Library of Scotland: A unicorn faces off with a lion in the traditional emblem of Scotland above the doorway.

  • High Court: Either side of the High Court main doorway a small unicorn can be found signage.

  • St. Giles Cathedral: Inside the cathedral you can spot a stained glass window with a unicorn in chains.

  • Mercat Cross Unicorn: The white and gold unicorn sits high above The Royal Mile near St. Giles.

Summing It All Up

Edinburgh's rich tapestry of history, culture, and natural beauty makes it a captivating destination for travelers. From the historic Edinburgh Castle and the vibrant Royal Mile to the tranquil Holyrood Palace, this city offers an array of experiences that cater to all interests. Embark on a culinary adventure at The Witchery by the Castle and savor the flavors of Scotland. Whether exploring the city's iconic landmarks or discovering hidden gems or hunting for unicorns, Edinburgh promises a remarkable journey filled with charm and enchantment. Here is a link to Google Maps that includes these destinations and eateries!

Enjoy your visit to one of my favorite places and happy unicorn hunting!


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Jun 11, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Loved the tips!

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