Edinburgh Europe Scotland

Everything you need to know on spending 3 days in Edinburgh

To us, Edinburgh is probably one of the most magical cities in the world. For starters there is a ton of history which can be seen when walking down the atmospheric streets of the Old Town. It honestly feels like another world, with its cobbled streets, spooky cemeteries, and incredible architecture. 

So here is our guide from where to stay, eat, drink, and what to do to help you plan your own 3 day Edinburgh itinerary.

Edinburgh Itinerary Factsheet

Before you start planning your 3 days in Edinburgh here are some basic facts about the city.

Country: Scotland

Languages Spoken: English

Currency: British Pound (although some notes you might notice are Scottish Bank notes)

Famous for: Castles, the birthplace of Harry Potter, old buildings

Visit if you like: History, beautiful cities, whisky, and ghost stories

Tips for spending 3 days in Edinburgh

  • Book any must do tours in advance especially in the summer
  • The same goes with restaurants!
  • Stay in the Old Town if you can as the majority of the tourist attractions are around here
  • Bring decent walking shoes, all those cobbles aren’t easy to negotiate in poor footwear.

When is the best time to plan your 3 day Edinburgh itinerary?

Personally I think Edinburgh is magical at any time of the year. In the summer you get longer days and sunshine whilst exploring the outdoors. In the winter you can hide away in atmospheric pubs whilst sheltering from the cold.

That being said to make the most of your 3 days in Edinburgh, you probably want to visit in June or July. The days are longer, and the weather is mild. We recommend avoiding August as this is when school holidays fall and tourist season really picks up. Winters do tend to be harsh in Edinburgh as well, so if you are planning on climbing Arthurs Seat for instance the winter months won’t be ideal. Whilst it is not often that it gets below freezing, it does get foggy, and tend to rain a lot, so probably not ideal for a 3 day trip.

Getting to Edinburgh

 If you are coming from somewhere in the UK for your 3 days in Edinburgh then you will more than likely be arriving by train. Particularly if you are coming from Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle or Glasgow. From Manchester for example you are looking at a travel time of around 3 hours. Once in Edinburgh you will arrive at Waverly Station, and from here it is only a 10 minute walk to the Old Town.

If you are travelling from further afield, from the UK or beyond than you will probably be flying in to Edinburgh Airport. From here you can get a train to Waverly station, which as mentioned above is a 10 minute walk into the Old Town. The train takes just under half an hour and they leave every 7 minutes.

Where to stay for your 3 days in Edinburgh

As this was a special trip we wanted to stay somewhere a little bit fancy for our 3 days in Edinburgh. So we chose the Macdonald Holyrood Hotel. The location was brilliant as it was within walking distance to the train station and also the Royal Mile. We stayed 3 nights but got 1 night free because it was a hotels.com reward night. For every 10 nights you book you get one free. What we loved about the hotel was that there was a spa in case you were in need of some pampering. There was also an on site bar and restaurant. The rooms were spacious and modern, so we couldn’t ask for anything more.

If you are trying to decide where to stay as part of your own 3 day Edinburgh itinerary, then we would recommend basing yourself around the Royal Mile or the Old Town. This is where pretty much all the tourist attractions are, as well as many places to eat and drink. It is also the most atmospheric part of the city.

Is 3 days in Edinburgh enough?

3 days in Edinburgh is a good amount of time to explore the city and see most of the main attractions. It also helps that the main tourist attractions are quite close to each other. If you want to delve a little deeper 4 or 5 days is probably the maximum time we would recommend visiting.

Things to do during your 3 days in Edinburgh

Here are some of the things we think you definitely have to add to your 3 day Edinburgh itinerary. 

The Scotch Whisky Experience

Aside from the Irish Whiskey Museum in Dublin, the Scotch Whisky Experience is probably one of the best Whisky tours we have been on so we highly recommend adding this to your 3 day Edinburgh itinerary. And no it wasn’t just because we were really buzzed at the end of it. You start the tour by sitting on a moving barrel that wheels you around to different stations that provide you with information on the process of making whisky. Once you are off the barrel you learn all about the different flavours you can taste when drinking whisky, as well as the different areas it originated in.

There is of course some tasting involved and if you go for the premium tour package you get a few additional whiskeys to taste at the end. For us it was a lot of fun, and we got to sip whisky whilst looking out at a gorgeous view of the city.

Edinburgh Castle

This is an obvious choice of attraction for your 3 days in Edinburgh. The castle dominates the Edinburgh skyline, as it sits atop of castle rock. In the evening it is well lit affirming its place as a watchful fortress above the city. There are so many places to get some cool pictures of the castle, particularly if you decide not to do the tour.

If you want to know more about the castle, and its dramatic history then you should do the tour. Especially because you get to see the Scottish Crown Jewels. Although we do recommend visiting early in the day before the swarms of tourists arrive, as it can get quite congested. There is also a cannon fired at 1pm everyday (with the exception of both Christmas and Good Friday) which can be heard around the city.

Walk the Royal Mile

The Royal Mile is a succession of streets that make up the main part of the Old Town. There are a lot of quirky shops and places to buy souvenirs and  yes we may have bought so much shortbread that our bags couldn’t close.

If you have the time make sure you pop into St Giles’ Cathedral. You will notice it’s unusually designed spire straight away. The church dates back to the 14th century with restoration works taking place late in the 19th century.  The interior as well as the stain glass windows are impressive and it certainly is worth a visit.

When walking the Royal Mile also make sure you walk down some of the back alleyways to get a real taste of Edinburgh in the old days. This is possibly one of our favourite things during our 3 days in Edinburgh – just exploring the backstreets.

Do a ghost tour

Something that we highly recommend adding to your 3 day Edinburgh itinerary is a ghost tour. Whether you are a believer in the paranormal or not, a ghost tour is another must in Edinburgh. You can book most tours on the Royal Mile, and whilst there are a few different tours to choose from, we went with the City of the Dead Haunted Graveyard Tour. The tour took us to an area of Greyfriars Kirkyard allegedly haunted by the McKenzie Poltergeist. Yes I screamed and yes I stayed very close to Dave throughout the tour. Thankfully on our tour there was no sign of the poltergeist, and even if you are a non believer the tour is good fun. You get to learn about the history of the city as well as some of the ghost stories that haunt it to this day.

Looking for alternatives

Did you know that you can also do secret food tours in Edinburgh? They are a great way to learn about the culture, history, and cuisine Edinburgh has to offer.

Climb Arthur’s Seat

If you are wanting to do something a little more outdoorsy during your 3 days in Edinburgh then head to Arthur’s Seat. I’ll be honest when we first arrived I did think it was a literal seat or throne on top of a hill but as it transpires Arthur’s Seat is one of the hills that towers over Edinburgh. Don’t let that discourage you though because it is beautiful. Located in the south east of the city the hike is a must do especially if you want some amazing photo opportunities. We started the hike in Holyrood which was where our hotel was located. The walk itself isn’t too strenuous and we read that you can reach the top in 30 minutes.

But if you are anything like us and you are a little unfit then take your time. It took us a little under an hour to reach the top. This included a lot of breaks to catch our breath and take photos. Make sure you bring a bottle of water and some decent shoes, hiking boots aren’t necessary but shoes with good grip are. Once you reach the top you will be rewarded with panoramic views of Edinburgh.

Real Mary King’s Close

One thing we booked on a real whim was the Real Mary King’s Close tour. And seriously this might have been my highlight on the whole trip.  Hidden deep underground the Royal Mile is a medieval alleyway which has been preserved to show you exactly what life was like in Edinburgh in the 17th century. You get a guided tour in a group of about 20 or so and you explore the vaults whilst hearing ghostly tales and historical accounts.

The great thing about this tour is that is it so easy to feel like you have gone back in time. It is worth doing, although I should add that there is a lot of walking up and down stairs and uneven ground so again sturdy shoes are recommended. You are also unable to take photos on the tour hence why we are unable to add them to this post. Make sure you book in advance so that you don’t miss out.

Greyfriars Kirkyard

Greyfriars Kirkyard is probably one of the most famous cemeteries in Edinburgh, and it is a beautiful and fascinating place to walk around. I know that it is a weird thing to call a cemetery beautiful but there is no other way to describe it. Walking past the timeworn graves with the castle looming over in the background makes it feel almost otherworldly, or like you have gone back in time.

The history here though is quite gruesome. For starters the cemetery had a pit where plague victims were buried by the masses. And of course, there is also the story of Burke and Hare. They were body snatchers who would rob graves to sell the bodies to the local medical school. If you can do a tour of the cemetery do it, because you will learn so much.

Calton Hill

You certainly cannot spend 3 days in Edinburgh without a trip to Calton Hill. You probably guessed by the name that it is a bit of an uphill walk to get to the top. But once you are there you are treated to some amazing views of the city including the Castle and Arthur’s Seat.

There are a few monuments on top of the hill including the National Monument. Here you can sit and watch people attempting to climb it, as you pluck up the courage to have a go yourself (or not).

Victoria Street

Vicitoria Street in Edinburgh is probably one of the most beautiful shopping streets in the city. The street is slightly curved and so is perfect for that all important Instagram shot. Take your time walking down and exploring the quirky shops and bars. The street is a great access point from Grassmarket to Lawnmarket, and surprisingly was only built in 1892-34 as part of improvement works to the Old Town to ensure easier access around Edinburgh.

The Vennel

If you want an incredible shot of the Edinburgh castle then head to the Vennel, an alleyway just off the Grassmarket. If you walk up it you will find one of the most photogenic views of the castle.

3 day Edinburgh itinerary

Here is our 3 day Edinburgh itinerary to give you some inspiration to plan your own trip.

3 day Edinburgh itinerary – Day 1

We highly recommend starting your 3 day Edinburgh itinerary by getting the lay of the land and exploring the Royal Mile. It really makes you feel like you are in another world.  Whilst on the Royal Mile head towards Edinburgh Castle and do a tour, making sure that you make time to see the Scottish Crown Jewels.

Grab some lunch before embarking on a whisky tour, because trust us you don’t want to do it on an empty stomach.

Later visit the Real Mary King’s close before an evening of drinks and dinner. We recommend drinks at Greyfriars Bobby followed by dinner at Devil’s Advocate.

3 day Edinburgh itinerary – Day 2

Start the morning with a hearty breakfast in bed, as you will need to fill up to climb Arthurs Seat afterwards. When you descent Arthurs Seat follow the directs towards Duddingston Village, a quaint and picturesque village that sits in the shadows of Arthur’s Seat. There is also a pub in the village called the Sheep Heid Inn that we recommend stopping at for drinks and some lunch. I mean climbing up hills is thirsty work after all! Apparently, it is one of the oldest Inns in Edinburgh and its licence dates back to 1360.Inside you will find wooden floorboards and tables tucked away in dark nooks. The food here was excellent and the atmosphere was cosy. It is the perfect place to rest your weary legs.

Make your way back into the Old Town in the afternoon and explore Greyfriars Kirkyard, and book yourself on a ghost tour in the evening. Afterwards explore some the pubs and restaurants on the Royal Mile.

3 day Edinburgh itinerary – Day 3

On the final of your 3 days in Edinburgh, start the day with some breakfast at a local café. We recommend Southern Cross Café for some delicious brunch style dishes.

Afterwards your way towards Calton Hill to take in the surroundings. The walk towards Calton Hill is really fascinating and you will stumble upon graveyards and alleyways that you have to explore.

In the afternoon make your way to Victoria Street, and find the Vennel to get some cool pictures of the Edinburgh Castle. Afterwards have some drinks and dinner around Grassmarket.

Travelling as a couple – Romantic things to add to your 3 day Edinburgh itinerary

If you are travelling to Edinburgh with your significant other, and you are looking for romantic things to do during your 3 days in Edinburgh here are some ideas.

Afternoon Tea

A lot of hotels in Edinburgh do a mean afternoon tea. And since it is Edinburgh you can ditch the tea and opt for something a little harder.

Sunset at Calton Hill

Take a picnic with you and enjoy the sunset at Calton Hill. It does get a bit chilly so do wrap up warm.

Do a ghost tour

I know this sounds like a weird suggestion but if you scare easily like I do you will probably spend a lot of time very close to your partner (I mean I also feared for my life but you know).

Eating and drinking during your 3 days in Edinburgh

Food and drink is a big part of any holiday. Here are some of our favourite places to add to your own 3 day Edinburgh itinerary.

Greyfriars Bobby Pub

One of our favourite places to drink in Edinburgh has to be  Greyfriars Bobby Pub. You will know you are in the right place as there is a little statue of a dog out the front. The statue is a tribute to the popular story of the little dog whose owner was buried in the Kirkyard just behind the pub. The dog refused to leave his owner’s grave and the tale has been turned into both a book and a film. It is a great place to go for a pint and they serve some pretty mean pub food too.

Devil’s Advocate

Located down one of the side alleys off the Royal Mile you will find Devil’s Advocate which has a romantic atmosphere so is a really great place to have a couples dinner. It does get really busy especially on a Friday and Saturday night so if you want to eat here you are best off booking a table.  Also, I should add the cocktails are immense.

Grassmarket

If all the stories of bodysnatching and plague victims don’t put you off your food then we recommend heading down to the Grassmarket to unwind with some dinner and drinks. Chances are you will pass through the Grassmarket quite a bit during your 3 days in Edinburgh as it is located directly below Edinburgh Castle and was actually once a place where public executions were held.

One of the most unusual hangings occurred in 1742 when Margaret Dickson was hanged for murdering her illegitimate baby after birth. While her body was being taken away she awoke and since her punishment was already carried out she was allowed to go free. You will now find Maggie Dickson’s pub located in the area which has been named after her.

Drink in the oldest pub in Edinburgh

Another  must visit place in Grassmarket is the White Hart Inn. It is said to be one of the oldest pubs in Edinburgh and is also said to be haunted. They serve some pretty good grub, but it is also a great place to sit with a pint. It does get pretty busy so be prepared, but if you can handle the jostling then it really is worth visiting.

The deep fried Mars Bar

You cannot spend 3 days in  Edinburgh without trying a local delicacy. And considering there was no way we were going to try Haggis we went for the less offensive option, the deep fried Mars Bar. Apparently the thought of deep frying a Mars Bar came about in Stonehaven, Scotland in the Haven Chip Bar. It is now called the Carron in case you ever want to visit. There was some discussion as to whether you could deep fry a Mars Bar. So the only logical thing to do was to test it.

The result was a deliciously crispy on the outside, melted chocolate on the inside, treat. And I’m pretty certain it will clog your arteries. Word spread and the treat is served as most chippers particularly in Edinburgh. Although we would probably recommend that you stick at one as there is no way this is good for you. Still we will try anything once (unless of course its Haggis)!

Southern Cross Cafe

Southern Cross was recommended to us as one of the best places to go for breakfast. When we arrived it was easy to see why, it was heaving. The food is really good though, and it is a great place to fuel up for the day.

How to get around during your 3 days in Edinburgh

Good news, all of the attractions listed in our 3 day Edinburgh itinerary are within walking distance of each other, so you don’t need to worry about public transport. But if you did want to travel a bit further away from the Royal Mile to the Botanical Gardens for instance then you will need to get public transport. Buses in Edinburgh are super reliable and often run 24 hours. You can purchase tickets from the driver, although it is best if you have exact change or smaller notes.

How much money do I need for my 3 days in Edinburgh

You might be wondering how much money you need for your 3 days in Edinburgh. Not including accommodation, we budgeted around £100 per day per person. This included entry to tourist attractions and food and drink. Edinburgh is more expensive than some UK cities but not nearly as expensive as London. Hotels average at about £120 per night, although this will obviously increase or decrease depending on the standard of accommodation.

What to pack for your 3 days in Edinburgh

Here are some things that we definitely think you shouldn’t leave home without when planning your Edinburgh itinerary.

  • Layers are a good idea in Edinburgh, as even in the summer warm days can lead to cooler nights.
  • A waterproof jacket is a must no matter what time of year you visit.
  • Umbrella
  • Sturdy walking shoes, heels are a no no especially with the uneven cobbled streets.
  • A decent day bag for carrying your bits around
  • Phone charger – seriously carry it everywhere because you will take so many pictures

Harry Potter locations in Edinburgh

Harry Potter is obviously a big deal in Edinburgh, so it you are a fan you might want to know some of the significant locations in the city.

Elephant Café

Dubbed the birthplace of Harry Potter this café is allegedly where JK Rowling would come to write the Harry Potter novels. The view from the café over Old Town has many people understanding why. We should note that the cafe is temporarily closed due to a fire, so keep an eye on the official webpage for updates.

Greyfriars Kirkyard

If you look at some of the gravestones you might notice some of the names from the Harry Potter books.

George Heriot’s School

Not far from the Elephant Café is George Heriot’s School, allegedly the inspiration for Hogwarts.

Victoria Street

It might feel like you are walking around Diagon Alley and perhaps the inspiration in the books.

More than 3 days in Edinburgh? Day trip ideas

If you have more than 3 days in Edinburgh you might want to consider doing a day trip to explore a bit more of Scotland.

Glasgow

Despite its proximity to Edinburgh Glasgow feels like a completely different world to Edinburgh. There are a lot of museums and brewery tours you can do here, and it’s probably a better representation of Scottish city living than Edinburgh. If you are planning a visit you are better off getting the train as there are a number of frequent connections every day.

St Andrews

 Yes this is where William and Kate met, and yes there is way more to the university than this real life fairytale. A visit to Fife is a nice way to see some of the famous Scottish scenery, as well as some old churches and dramatic coastlines. It’s about 90 minutes trip in total from Edinburgh, although you will need to transfer between train and bus to get there.

Loch Lomond

Another day trip idea from Edinburgh is Loch Lomond. It really is a beautiful part of the world, with Lochs, sprawling forests, and incredible mountains. It is also the largest inland body of water by surface area in the UK, which is pretty cool. The trip is probably just under an hour, and you will need to first of all get a train to Glasgow before travelling onwards towards Loch Lomond.

A reflection – 3 days in Edinburgh

Have you ever visited a city and felt so sad to leave? Edinburgh certainly had this impression on us and not just because we were going back to work the next day. Edinburgh is truly a magical city and if you are planning a trip to the UK then Edinburgh is a must. Whether you are a Harry Potter fan, a history buff, or simply someone who loves beautiful places Edinburgh has something for everyone. We hope that you enjoy your 3 days in Edinburgh as much as we did.

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