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Day Trip To Edinburgh: A Jam-Packed One-Day Itinerary

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5 months ago

Edinburgh is easily one of the most aesthetically beautiful cities in the UK, but it serves dramatically different experiences depending on the season during which you visit. That means that a day trip to Edinburgh in winter and a day trip to Edinburgh in summer can be quite different experiences. Having said that, there are certain key things that all visitors to Edinburgh should do in one day in Edinburgh.

Let us take you on a whistlestop tour of Edinburgh’s best sights, eats and experiences – it’ll be a whirlwind of a day but it’ll make for amazing memories. And if you’re looking for the best time to go, it’s usually best to visit Edinburgh right in the middle of summer. If you can, try to go in August so that you can catch the some of the world-class performers and acts at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Is a day trip to Edinburgh from London a good idea?

We’ll admit it: a day trip to Edinburgh from London is not a good idea. The best way of getting to Edinburgh is by train, and that’s at least a five-hour ride. Edinburgh is also a stunning city filled with some of the best art, culture, food and sights that the UK has to offer, so you really wouldn’t be doing yourself (nor Edinburgh) a service by trying to do it as a day trip from London.

Getting to Edinburgh

The train journey into Scotland from England becomes particularly scenic during the last 1.5 hours of the trip, so we would highly recommend that you take the train if you’re heading into Edinburgh from London or another city in the UK.

Make sure you book a window seat on your train. You can book direct trains to Edinburgh using Trainline which is the easiest train booking platform for UK trains (and Europe, too, but it’s not quite as big there). They make it so easy to change your booking if need be.

From Glasgow

A train to Edinburgh from Glasgow is less than an hour so it is perfectly possible to do a day trip to Edinburgh from Glasgow. Having said that, we recommend that you stay in Edinburgh and do a day trip to Glasgow if time is limited.

From Northern England

It is at least a 2.5-hour train ride from York to Edinburgh, and 1.5 hours from Newcastle to Edinburgh. You can fit in a day trip to Edinburgh from York and Newcastle, but we suggest that you get yourself on the earliest train available.

One day in Edinburgh

9 am: Breakfast and some sugar

The only way to start the day is by heading directly to The Pantry for an eggs benedict with what is some of the best hollandaise sauce in the country. And then it’s time for their dessert of the day to get the blood sugar going (waffles with blueberry jam, yes please).

The Pantry is located in Edinburgh’s trendy Stockbridge area which is outside of the Old Town where you’ll be spending most of your day, so it’s the perfect place to start your day before you head into the thick of it.

If your day trip to Edinburgh is on a Sunday and you’re starting a little later, then we’ll give you one other option to start your day: the Stockbridge Market. The Jubilee Gardens in which the market is held is only a few minutes’ walk from The Pantry, so you can do both if you like.

Stockbridge Market opens at 10 am and is filled with amazing foods from local traders, including Lovely Paella which is one of our favorites. Don’t go too crazy at breakfast because you’ll be eating plenty more during the day (and you’ll want to save room for the tasty Scottish foods you must try).

10 am: Water of Leith Walkway to Dean Village

Trust us on this one because no other one day in Edinburgh guide will tell you to start your day like this, but you need to get the legs moving after breakfast. Edinburgh is best experienced on foot, and some of the most beautiful parts of the city can only be seen on foot.

After you finish up at The Pantry or Stockbridge Market, stop at Circus Lane for a quick photo of Edinburgh’s famous mews houses in a picturesque street. In the right season, flowers adorn the lane which make for a beautiful photo opportunity.

From there, follow the signs to the Water of Leith which is the river that runs through Edinburgh. Every step you’ll take for the next 15 minutes will be filled with dramatic trees, patches of ancient woodland and rows of very photogenic flowers, all culminating in your arrival at the impossibly picturesque Dean Village.

You’ll pass St. Bernard’s Well which is a Greco-Roman structure that was once believed to have healing powers which houses the statute of the Greek goddess of health, Hygeia, surrounded by stunning mosaic tiling. Continue further along the Water of Leith and you’ll pass The Dean Bridge and Bell’s Brae Bridge and then a full view of Dean Village will come into view.

Take note of the architectural styles here as they’re different to what you’ll experience in Edinburgh Old Town shortly.

But, for now, just enjoy the serenity and unparalleled beauty of Dean Village. You’ll be heading into the city centre of Edinburgh with all of its hustle and bustle after this.

11 am: Visit the Scott Monument

From Dean Village, you can either walk 20 minutes to the Scott Monument, or you can take a ten-minute taxi. Edinburgh is pleasing to the eye in all directions, so we would recommend that you walk and enjoy the sights of Edinburgh New Town on the way.

The Scott Monument has become a symbol of Edinburgh and typifies the Gothic architecture of the city. It stands at the eastern end of Princes Street Gardens. Take 30 minutes to climb the 287 steps to the top for what is probably one of the best vantage points of Edinburgh. It’ll help you get your bearings for Edinburgh Old Town before you enter so you can really appreciate the beauty of the city.

Local tip: The Scott Monument is decorated with carvings of characters from Sir Walter Scott’s famous novels.

11:30 am: The Royal Mile

Cross underground through Edinburgh Waverley Station to the Royal Mile. Edinburgh is a very hilly city as you’ll have seen from the Scott Monument, so make sure you take the route through Waverley Bridge and Cockburn Street (which, incidentally, is one of Edinburgh’s finest Victorian Old Town streets).

The Royal Mile is the famous stretch of road connecting Edinburgh Castle with the Palace of Holyroodhouse. It’s filled with shops and there are vibrant street performances at all times of year to keep you entertained. And although its exterior is genuinely stunning, it’s what’s beneath the surface at the Royal Mile which makes it so exciting – and only a local tour can give you that.

Most of the tours of the Royal Mile will be quite long (over three hours) which, unfortunately, is not feasible given that we’re only on a day trip to Edinburgh. We recommend a guided two-hour tour which includes the detailed insight into all of the exciting things that make Edinburgh’s Royal Mile so special (and a little bit scary).

1:30 pm: Lunch

If your one day in Edinburgh is on a Saturday, you’ll get to experience the wonderfully local and foreign flavors on offer at the Grassmarket Market. You’ll find everything from Ethiopian to Japanese to local Scottish delicacies like haggis and Scotch pie. This is the perfect place for a quick lunch before you head back to seeing the sights.

Some of Scotland’s finest cuisine is on offer in Edinburgh, so you may want to have a longer lunch and enjoy the haggis, neeps and tatties (which can be made vegetarian!) at Makars Mash, the Cullen Skink (a Scottish fish chowder) at Whiski Rooms, or the battered Scottish haddock at The Devil’s Advocate. Either way, you should try a dram of Scotch whisky for the full Edinburgh experience.

2:30 pm: Edinburgh’s Crown Jewel(s) at Edinburgh Castle

After lunch, head to Edinburgh Castle atop Castle Rock. Your earlier tour may included Edinburgh Castle, but if not, we highly recommend a guided tour of Edinburgh Castle. The Castle is inspiring on its approach, and you’ll want to take a second to notice its distinct features.

Make sure you see the Honours of Scotland which are the oldest crown jewels in the UK, and the Stone of Destiny which is an ancient symbol of the Scottish monarchy that was used in the coronation of Scottish monarchy. We would typically suggest about 1.5 to two hours at Edinburgh Castle.

4 pm: Visit the Palace of Holyroodhouse

The Palace of Holyroodhouse is the official residence of His Majesty The King in Scotland and is open to visitors throughout the year. Expect to see all of the splendour and pomp of the British royals, including the Great Stair which is made from stone, the spectacular heart-shaped Darnley Jewel made for Mary, Queen of Scots’s mother-in-law, and carvings of Scotland’s national animal, the unicorn!

Travel tip: The Palace closes at 4:30 pm so get there by 4 pm at least. You only need about 30 minutes here.

Make sure you buy your admission ticket online in advance for a cheaper rate! The Palace is easily one of Edinburgh’s must-see sights, so you’ll want to take an hour to walk around and enjoy. If you want to see the gardens, you’ll need another half hour.

4:30 pm: Climb Arthur’s Seat

Arthur’s Seat is perhaps one of the most iconic places to visit in Edinburgh. Located within Holyrood Park, Arthur’s Seat is a dormant volcano that offers unobstructed 360-degree views of Edinburgh and the surrounding area. Take an hour to climb its 251 metres to take in an amazing view of the city (and an hour to walk down). You can even see the medieval remains of St Anthony’s Chapel.

There’s an array of paths and trails to follow which are suitable for all fitness levels, but no matter which path you take, you’ll be rewarded with a spectacular view.

7 pm: Enjoy a wee dram at the Scotch Whisky Experience

Before you head to dinner, take half an hour to enjoy the Scotch Whisky Experience at the top of the Royal Mile. They have truly perfected the craft of the storytelling of whisky which makes the tour of the flavours of whisky particularly memorable. Book a tour in advance so you can immerse yourself in the enjoyment of a dram of fine Scottish whisky.

8 pm: Scotland’s finest food for dinner

It’s time to end your day trip to Edinburgh with a dinner to cap off the amazing

Fhior

Fhior is Gaelic for ‘true’ or ‘honest’, and that manifests itself in Fhior’s food. They pride themselves on their use use of local produce for all of their dishes in their tasting menu. This is a dining experience that will not leave you wanting.

The Spence

If you’re looking for a little bit of glamorous Edinburgh for a perfect end to your one day in Edinburgh, look no further than The Spence in the Gleneagles Townhouse in Edinburgh New Town. The building that The Spence is located in was once the headquarters of the Bank of Scotland which means that the space feels very grand and perfectly Victorian.

And you won’t be able to skip dessert; the temptation will be too strong when the trolly makes its way to your table.

So you want to stay in Edinburgh after all…

Did you have a few too many drams of Scotch for dinner and decided to stay in Edinburgh for the night? For a more local experience, we recommend staying in Stockbridge (if you’re from London, the closest comparison is Angel in North London). Otherwise, you can’t go wrong with anywhere in Edinburgh’s city centre (Old Town and New Town).

For an accommodation experience that is a cut above the rest, we would recommend Nira Caledonia, the Raeburn Hotel, and New Town Guest House. The Virgin Hotel in Edinburgh is only a few years old and offers a great experience with a very quirky design, right in the middle of Old Town.

Leith is also a great place to stay if you would prefer to stay by the water but is a little bit outside of Edinburgh’s city centre. Edinburgh’s tram network is incredibly efficient so you won’t be too far from Edinburgh if you do choose to stay here. For Leith, we would recommend The Malmaison for its beautiful views of the water right in the thick of it all.

More time in Edinburgh

There is so much more to do in Edinburgh than can be experienced in a day. Our opinion is that Edinburgh is a city with layers of history that can only be experienced by spending time in its alleyways and corners. This is a place where a local guide can make all the difference in your experience so that you don’t miss the small things that make Edinburgh so special.

And if you manage to find some time to spare or you are already planning a trip back, Edinburgh is an ideal base for exploring the beauty of Scotland. From sleeping in a whiskey distillery in the Isle of Skye, to a day in Edinburgh’s sister and rival Glasgow, to visiting some of the last Gaelic-speaking towns in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland really has something for everyone!


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