Uncovering the Best of Edinburgh in Three Days
Updated: Feb 26
My friend Elyssa and I spontaneously booked a one-week trip to Scotland in October 2022 and split our time between Edinburgh (3 days) and Inverness (4 days). I had never been to Scotland before but it had been on my bucket list for a while as it's renowned for its hiking trails and stunning nature as well as it's bustling capital Edinburgh, with its gothic architecture and amazing history.
When I was planning this holiday, last minute, of course, I was looking at various blogs to see what the must-see places in Edinburgh were and how to successfully jam-pack everything within three days. We obviously had to make some concessions, because we were, as always, on a budget but we definitely left feeling content.
Not going to lie, this trip turned out to be pretty costly, I naively wasn't expecting to spend so much in one week and despite our effort to keep costs down, we ended up spending way more than planned. Although I was a bit annoyed at the time, it's all part of the package when travelling. You learn to accept it and to better prepare for the next time! All this being said, here is my guide on uncovering the best of Edinburgh in three days!
Where to stay in Edinburgh
Just Sleep @ Urban BnB
Before we dive in, I would like to say one thing: Edinburgh is expensive, very expensive. When we were looking for Airbnbs in the city, the app said that the average night costs 235€! We were only staying two nights so it seemed silly to spend a fortune as we intended to spend most of the day out. There were a few hostels but we found prices way too high (40€) for a room shared with 10 other people. In the end, we did end up finding a cheap hostel for 15€ a night. Just Sleep @ Urban BnB is a bunkhouse located 10 minutes away from the city centre by bus. It's very simple and clean, there are no facilities apart from showers and toilets and a coffee machine but the beds were comfy and the dorm was quiet. We were welcomed by the cleaner, who was very kind and the only member of staff in the hostel. We shared a room with 7 other people for two nights and it did perfectly the job. The hostel isn't amazing but it's a cheap and practical option if you wish to spend three days in Edinburgh without breaking the bank.
Useful information :
Free towels are provided at the hostel.
The number 11 bus drops you off practically in front of the hostel and goes to and from the centre (Princes Street). You can also get the number 10 bus which is further down the road.
A one-way bus ticket costs £1,80.
Be aware that the night buses serve different stops in the city centre than those during the day. We learnt the hard way and ended up waiting 30mins for nothing until we realised that the 11 bus stops at a different stop from 8 pm.
There are other hostels in the city centre that usually offer similar prices but we booked the trip last minute so they were either all booked up or more expensive.
Uncovering the best of Edinburgh
Founded in the 12th century, Dean Village is a lovely place to take a pleasant stroll and is only a few minutes from the town centre. There is a small bridge over the river and some beautiful stone and coloured houses that have been very well preserved for over 400 years! What's lovely about Dean Village is how quaint and picturesque it is despite being so central. When we arrived we were surprised by how calm it was. It was so nice being able to hear the birds and the sound of flowing water after the bustle of the New Town. The village itself is quite small but you can continue your stroll by walking along the Water of Leith.
Just a short walk from the Royal Mile and Edinburgh Castle, Victoria Street with its colourful houses, cobbled street and small shops is a must-see during your three days in Edinburgh. The street was built in the 19th century to facilitate access around the city and is now one of its most iconic streets. Victoria Street attracts many Harry Potter fans as it supposedly inspired Diagon Alley. There is even the Diagon House shop, which is like the Ollivanders of Victoria Street!
Greyfriars Cemetery is arguably the best-known cemetery in Scotland. Located in the Old Town, the most photographable part of Edinburgh, the cemetery is full of history and has a sinister and gloomy atmosphere.
One of the reasons for its appeal is the history of Greyfriars Bobby, which attracts a lot of people. It is also a must-visit for Harry Potter fans who tend to wander the aisles looking for a few specific graves as it is said that J.K. Rowling, when she lived in Edinburgh and was writing the famous saga, often walked among the graves and was inspired by the names on the headstones for some of the characters in the saga. Minerva McGonagall shares her name with William McGonagall or Tom Riddle (aka Voldemort) is named after Thomas Riddell which many fans believe inspired Lord Voldemort's birth name.
The Royal Mile is Edinburgh's most famous street and connects Edinburgh Castle to the west with Holyrood Palace to the east. Along the street, you will find dozens of lanes and little courtyards and it is worth wandering through them to appreciate the medieval atmosphere of the city. The Royal Mile is divided into several parts, the most famous being :
Castlehill and Castle Esplanade: the two oldest parts closest to Edinburgh Castle.
Lawnmarket: an area full of tourist shops and bagpipe players.
HighStreet: the most well-known part of the street with the St Gilles Cathedral as well as many restaurants and pubs.
Located to the east of the Royal Mile, Holyroodhouse Palace, also known as Holyrood Palace, remains to this day the official residence of the British Royal Family in Scotland. The grounds are steeped in history dating back to the Middle Ages and offer a glimpse of royal life through the centuries. We decided to visit Holyrood Palace instead of Edinburgh Castle as it is less expensive and tends to attract slightly fewer people. The entry fee gives you access to the palace, Holyrood Abbey and the grounds.
To reach the castle you can take the 36 bus to Scottish Parliament or the 35 bus to Holyrood Abbey.
You can also get there by foot, it's about a 20min walk from Edinburgh Castle and allows you to walk down the entire Royal Mile which is a great way to visit the city.
Entry fee costs £11,5 for 18 to 24-year-olds or £17,5 for adults. Prices vary depending on the season so I recommend checking out their website.
This is a charming second-hand bookshop that feels like something out of a film with endless shelves and wall space crammed with books. The store is much bigger than it appears from the outside and offers many types of books, old and new. It is wonderfully small and the many rooms made me feel like I was going through a maze. If you are a book-lover, then Armchair Books is a must-visit!
The monuments and views from Calton Hill are magnificent and well worth a visit. It is located at the east of the New Town, at the end of Princes Street. A short walk will give you a great view of the whole city and the Northern Sea. We were lucky because there were not too many people which allowed us to enjoy the beauty of the place while taking some nice pictures. This was our last activity in Edinburgh before heading north for the Highlands and it was a great way to end our stay!
I truly fell in love with Edinburgh, its history, architecture and its kind inhabitants. I hope my travel guide on uncovering the best of Edinburgh in three days has inspired you to visit this incredible city. As always, safe travels!