Arthur's Seat View during 24 hours in Edinbugh

24 Hours in Edinburgh (from a local)

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Edinburgh is an absolutely beautiful city that is teeming with things to do. Ideally, you would spend more than one day here, but sometimes time constraints mean that that just isn’t possible. So, to help you out, I have put together the perfect itinerary for 24 hours in Edinburgh (or one day in Edinburgh) for those that are short on time but want to experience the best that the city has to offer.

How to Spend the Perfect 24 Hours in Edinburgh from a Local’s Perspective

Advice on how to spend the perfect 24 hours in Edinburgh from a local’s perspective. Go beyond the best things to do in Edinburgh and discover the local favorites.

Morning

To experience the city like a local, start your one day in Edinburgh at the lovely Portobello Beach. I would recommend taking a bus to Portobello as it is too far out of the city center to walk. The number 26 goes straight to Portobello High Street which runs parallel to the beach.

Located on the East Coast, Portobello Beach is two miles long which makes it a great spot for an easy morning stroll along the seafront. You can opt to walk along the sand, or if you prefer, there is a boardwalk that runs the length of the beach as well. Take your time as you stroll along, watching the early morning runners, or the happy dogs leaping in the water. As it is on the East Coast, Portobello Beach is a beautiful place to watch the sunrise, and if you can manage it, it is well worth the early morning alarm.

24 hours in Edinburgh visit to Portobello Beach

Don’t forget to pack your swimsuit! Every morning, Edinburgh locals embrace the rejuvenating power of cold and go for a swim in the sea at Portobello. Warning: the water is bracing. However, there’s no better way to wake yourself up and it’s a fun way to truly immerse yourself in local Edinburgh life.

Once you’ve gone for a morning swim then you definitely deserve a hot coffee! You’ll find a plethora of coffee shops along the boardwalk and the high street in Portobello. Tanifiki, Passey’s, and Crumbs are all local favorites. If you have the time, I recommend sitting in at The Beach House where you can enjoy a hot cup of coffee and get cozy in a warm beachside setting. Before you leave Portobello don’t forget to grab a pastry to go from Twelve Triangles on Portobello High Street.

Afternoon

From Portobello you can take the number 26 bus all the way to Carlton Terrace Brae. From there it’s an easy 10-minute walk to Holyrood Palace and the base of the Royal Mile. The Royal Mile is bookended by Holyrood Palace and Edinburgh Castle – hence its regal name.

Enjoy Edinburgh Castle during your one day in Edinburgh

Enjoy a wander up the cobblestones of the Royal Mile and soak up Edinburgh’s rich and fascinating history. There are a variety of guided tours in the area which are a fantastic way of getting an in-depth summary of Edinburgh’s history. You’ll be amazed at how many points of historical importance are right under your nose – and you wouldn’t realize unless you are told. A guided tour is a must.

Other popular attractions around the Royal Mile are Greyfriar’s Bobby (don’t rub his nose!), Camera Obscura, Greyfriar’s Kirkyard, and Mary King’s Close. Harry Potter fans will find lots of Harry Potter-based tours in the Old Town as well, as it is said to have been where JK Rowling wrote the first books. There is certainly something to entertain everyone in your party across all age groups.

You’ll also find plenty of souvenir shops along the Royal Mile so you can pick up a Scottish memento to bring home with you. If you have Scottish ancestry these tourist shops will also be able to help you to find your clan – there’s nothing more Scottish than that!

Once the hanger pangs kick in, you can get a casual lunch from one of Edinburgh’s most famous eateries – Oink (Canongate). You’ll probably have noticed it on your earlier wander as the full hog roast in the window is hard to miss. This, alongside their delicious rolls, means that Oink has long been a talking point with locals and visitors alike.

If you can’t get past the hog in the window – or want something less casual – there are a great range of other restaurants to opt for a lovely lunch. Enjoy dining in Scottish cuisine at Contini Cannonball, Monteith’s, or Howie’s Victoria Street. Reservations are required at all three.

Finally, those wanting to try some traditional Scottish haggis during their one day in Edinburgh should head to Makar’s Mash Bar or Whiski Bar & Restaurant. Bon appetit!

Once you’re fueled up from lunch, it’ll be the perfect time to work it off and go for a hike up Arthur’s Seat. Arthur’s Seat is an extinct volcano (cool huh!) that lies on the south side of Edinburgh city. You’ll get there by walking back down the Royal Mile towards Holyrood Palace and into Holyrood Park. Arthur’s Seat towers above the park so you absolutely cannot miss it.

Keen climbers can opt to take the steeper and rockier route and head straight up. If steep and rocky are not your thing then take the more gentle incline up Queen’s Drive to Dunsapie Loch and then go straight up from there. There is no option that doesn’t involve a bit of steep climbing.

The climb will get your heart pumping, but once you’ve made it to the top of Arthur’s Seat you’ll be rewarded with 360-degree views of Edinburgh. It’s most spectacular on a clear day of course, but that can’t always be guaranteed, unfortunately. The silver lining if you don’t get the weather is that mist and rain contribute to an authentically Scottish experience!

Arthur's Seat View during 24 hours in Edinbugh

If you think the Arthur’s Seat hike might be too much for you, then the less steep Salisbury Crags sits right next to Arthur’s Seat and would be the best option for your climb. You’ll still get a view (not 360 degrees) but without as much physical exertion.

After an active afternoon, it’s time to put your feet up and enjoy a well-deserved drink. On the Duddingston side of Arthur’s Seat, you’ll find a cozy bar called the Sheep Heid Inn. It’s a traditional British pub with dark wood and rich interiors. You’ll instantly feel warm and comfortable when you walk through the door. There is no better spot to enjoy your drink of choice after your hike. The Sheep Heid Inn also has a skittle alley so you can have a game of skittles if you’re not quite ready to relax yet!

If you would prefer to stay in the region of the Royal Mile, then you will find dozens of pubs in the area. Try Kilderkin, the Albanach, or the Malt Shovel Inn for cozy and traditional British pub vibes.

Evening

In the evening of your one day in Edinburgh, I recommend heading towards the east end of Edinburgh city to experience some more local favorites and enjoy some arts and culture. You can easily walk here from all the central hotels, or there are numerous bus links if you prefer.

First of all, climb to the top of Calton Hill to enjoy more panoramic views of Edinburgh and find the perfect spot to watch the sunset. After all, there is no limit to the amount of time you can take soaking up the beauty of Edinburgh from above. Don’t be too worried about the thought of another hike – the climb up Calton Hill is paved and easy. It takes most people around 10 minutes.

There are some buildings with an interesting history to be explored at the top. Find out why a certain structure is nicknamed “Edinburgh’s Disgrace”. I would leave at least half an hour to walk around before setting down for sunset. As the evening goes on, you’ll see lots of Edinburgh locals setting up picnic blankets to enjoy the sunset with friends. It’s important to note that the sunset at the height of summer can be as late as 10 pm so if you’re visiting at that time then you may need to change the order of your evening and end your night on Calton Hill.

Once you’ve enjoyed a spectacular sunset then it’s time for dinner. Calton Hill is only a short 5-10 minute walk away from another Edinburgh food institution – Kahani. Did you know that Scotland is famed for its Indian cuisine? It’s true. This BYOB restaurant was among the first Indian restaurants in Edinburgh and is often considered Edinburgh’s favorite. It’s busy every night of the week and if you go here for dinner you’ll soon find out why!

If you do not want to eat Indian cuisine tonight, other noteworthy restaurants in this area are The Walnut, Eleanore, or The Newsroom (a more casual option). I would recommend making reservations at any restaurant you opt for, particularly on weekends or during the high season.

After a delicious dinner, you can top off the perfect 24 hours in Edinburgh by catching a play at the Edinburgh Playhouse. This is the UK’s largest all-seated theatre and has hosted world-class shows such as The Lion King, Wicked, Madam Butterfly, and many others. Check ahead of time what shows will be performed during your stay, and buy your tickets in advance on the Playhouse website.

If you have more time to spend in Scotland, consider taking a drive up the North Coast 500 by campervan!

Tips for One Day in Edinburgh

If you are arriving in Edinburgh by plane then you have a number of options to get from the airport to the city. The 100 Skylink bus will take you directly into the city center and costs an adult £4.50 for a single journey. Alternatively, you can take the tram into the city.

As of Summer 2023, the tram line will be operating all the way to Newhaven in Edinburgh’s North. A single journey is slightly pricier at £6.50 for an adult, but check out the Edinburgh Trams website for ticket deals. For those who are not inclined to take public transport, there is a taxi rank at the airport and a black cab into the city center will cost around £25. All black cabs are metered so you don’t have to worry about haggling over the price or being ripped off.

If you are arriving in Edinburgh by train then you will arrive at either Waverly or Haymarket stations. Both of these are centrally located – with Waverly on the East side of town and Haymarket on the West side. Depending on where you are staying you could either walk to your accommodation from the station or take a short taxi ride. Waverly is the best-located station for those staying in the Old Town.

Getting around Edinburgh is so easy. It’s a fairly compact city so most people with a basic level of fitness would be able to walk around most of the main sights. Do note though that it’s not a flat city so expect lots of hills and cobblestones.

The Edinburgh bus system is very efficient and keeps the city connected. In fact, the bus system is so good that it often wins national and international awards. If you buy a day ticket then you can ride as many buses as you need over the course of the day. This is the best value if you will be taking three or more bus trips in one day.

For just one day in Edinburgh then the Old Town is the best area to stay in. The Old Town is steeped in history and you’ll have the majority of the historical tourist spots right on your doorstep. If you have been to Edinburgh previously, then you may opt to stay in the great hotels of the New Town. This would give you a change of scenery and you’ll be close to shopping, fine dining restaurants, and quirky Leith.

Old Town hotel recommendations:

New Town hotel recommendations:

Edinburgh’s most luxurious hotels:

By far the most popular time of year to visit Edinburgh is in August when the annual Festival Fringe takes over the city for three weeks. The Festival Fringe is the world’s largest arts and culture festival.

You’ll find thousands of shows being performed through the day and night, street performers, packed bars and restaurants, and custom-built show grounds to sit and enjoy the arts. If you’re not a fan of crowds then this is not the best time for you to visit the city as it is the busiest that Edinburgh gets. The population of Edinburgh literally triples during this time as tourists and performing arts fans flock to the city to soak up the atmosphere. If you are a fan of performing arts, there is no better time to be in Edinburgh.

December is a very charming time to visit Edinburgh. The annual German Christmas market sets up in Princes Street Gardens and runs for 6 weeks across the festive period. There are market stalls of course, as well as fairground rides and an ice skating rink is built in the center of town. The short winter days mean that this is a very cold time of year to visit, but you can enjoy the glittering fairy lights and festive ambiance for even longer during this time. You’ll be swept up in the romance of an Edinburgh Christmas.

If you go to Edinburgh during December then I recommend having a drink or a meal at The Dome. From the moment you see the beautiful façade you will feel like you’re in a winter wonderland. This is by far the most popular dining option in the city at this time and it books out months in advance so make sure to get in early and make your reservation.

August and December aside, May to September are the best times to spend 24 hours in Edinburgh as the weather is a little warmer. It is Scotland though so the weather can be a bit temperamental and unfortunately, warmth and sunshine are never guaranteed. However, tourists do not visit Edinburgh for its sunny weather. They come for its rich history, its beautiful scenery, and its magical feel. There is no better city on earth and even after 24 hours here, you are guaranteed to fall in love with it.

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