Scotland’s capital is one of the most captivating places in the UK, with a whole host of attractions to keep you busy. There are world-class museums, stunning natural attractions and secret spots galore. Your only difficulty will be in fitting it all in! We’re sharing our favourite things to do with a weekend in Edinburgh, to help you make the most of your time.
Weekend in Edinburgh – Day 1
To get your bearings, head to Calton Hill, around a mile from the Castle and the Old Town. This UNESCO World Heritage site has quite a few iconic landmarks including the City Observatory and the Nelson Monument. After the 5 minute climb, you’ll enjoy panoramic views over Edinburgh and towards Fife.
For an even better view, pay the £5 fee to ascend the Nelson Monument. Completed in 1815, it has a time ball at the top that was added in 1852 to help sailors navigate, as well as the only W.C. on the hill.
There’s a small exhibition on the ground floor but the real draw is the vista at the top. Be warned that the door at the top is very narrow.
The City Observatory was inspired by a Greek temple and dates from 1818. It’s currently being redeveloped and will be open to the public in the not too distant future.
You get a great view of Arthur’s Seat from here and it’s a lovely place for a hike. This ancient volcano is 251 metres high and stands within the 640 acre Holyrood Park. It’s around 48 minutes walk from Calton Hill so might be best saved for another day.
There are also 3 lochs or lakes in the park including Dunsapie Loch, an artificial lake created at the request of Prince Albert in 1844.
From Calton Hill or Arthur’s Seat, return to the centre and the iconic Royal Mile. There are actually four connecting streets on the Royal Mile: Castlehill, Lawnmarket, High Street and Canongate. On the High Street, St Giles’ Cathedral is the main place of worship of the Church of Scotland in Edinburgh.
Edinburgh is built on several hills and has historic narrow alleyways leading down to the New Town. Advocate’s Close is one of them, dating from the 16th century. There’s a stylish bar called the Devil’s Advocate in a Victorian pump house.
We came across this bagpipe player in New Town but they are dotted around the city for your listening pleasure!
By now we imagine you’ll be getting pretty hungry! Edinburgh is a foodie city and there are lots of great places to eat in Edinburgh. From a foraging restaurant to delicious doughnuts and a speaker bar accessed via a bookcase, there’s something for everyone.
Weekend in Edinburgh – Day 2
One of the best things to do on a weekend in Edinburgh is to take the Leith Walk along the river to Dean Village. It’s hard to believe that you’re so close to the city in this bucolic enclave.
At one point there were 11 water mills here, but today it’s a residential area that has been beautifully restored.
From here it’s a short 10 minute walk to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. Occupying two handsome buildings either side of
Belford Road, they’re open daily from 10 am to 5 pm. The lawn outside Modern One is a work of art itself, designed by Charles Jencks and the building itself was designed by William Burn in 1825 in a neoclassical style.
Modern Two dates from 1833 and houses many more artworks along with a charming cafe and shop.
Whilst not everyone is a fan of modern art, these free to enter galleries will reconcile many people to contemporary artworks. Tourists by Duane Hanson certainly stands out. Although the figures were cast from life, they weren’t a couple and indeed never even met.
There’s a sense of fun throughout, from neon signs in the grounds to a man peeking out of the pavement.
No visit to Edinburgh would be complete without seeing the iconic Castle. Open daily from 9.30 am, it houses the Crown Jewels of Scotland and many other interesting attractions. The castle really catches the light at certain times of day.
The Royal Palace within the castle has been witness to so much history. It’s here that Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to James VI in in 1566.
If you’ve visited the castle on a previous visit, then the Royal Yacht Britannia in Leith is a great alternative. Voted Scotland’s Best Attraction in the TripAdvisor Traveller’s Choice Awards, it’s a fascinating day out for children and adults alike. After the Royal Yacht was decommissioned in 1994, there was a public competition to host the ship and Edinburgh had the winning bid.
It’s an intriguing peek into life on board, with the surprisingly modest private Royal Bedrooms. Prince Philip’s bedroom is top left and the Queen’s bedroom is top right.
The State Apartments are more lavish as they were used to entertain business contacts and visiting dignataries, but the Royals often mingled with staff below deck in the officers’ bar. There was an operating theatre and laundry room on board, and even a Rolls-Royce Phantom V! One of the nicest things about the Yacht is just how friendly all the staff are. Leave time for refreshments in the Royal Deck Tea Room or buy delicious homemade fudge in the sweet shop. Thanks to the free annual pass, once you’ve purchased your ticket you will be able to return any time you like within the next 12 months and will also get a 15% discount in the Tea Room and Gift Shop.
Other Unmissable Attractions
Whilst we didn’t have time to visit these great attractions, they’re all highly recommended, and there are lots more suggestions on the Visit Scotland website.
– Scottish National Gallery – free to enter and with a world-class collection of Scottish paintings, Old Masters and Impressionists.
– Dynamic Earth – telling the story of planet Earth in a fun, interactive way
– Holyrood Palace – the official residence of the Queen in Scotland.
Also, if time permits, consider hiring a car and getting out of Edinburgh to Fife and the coast. It’s a very scenic drive across the Fife Road Bridge to St Andrews, the home of golf.
Where to Stay in Edinburgh
The Old Town Chambers has a fantastic location just off the Royal Mile and Advocate’s Close, with spacious family friendly rooms. There’s a huge gym with Rogue Fitness equipment that’s open 24/7 and a stylish lobby.
These 50 luxurious serviced apartments are excellent value yet they don’t skimp on style. With Cowshed toiletries, high speed complimentary Wi-Fi and most importantly, a warm welcome, they’re a real home from home. We found the laptop safe very convenient and enjoyed using the Bose sound system and Nespresso coffee machine. Our apartment had a large main bedroom, as well as a second clever bed-deck and open-plan living and dining area.
Many of the rooms have balconies with lovely views of the Scott Monument and the New Town.
Best of all is the luxurious breakfast box from Edinburgh gourmet deli Valvona and Crolla. With an appealing array of meats, cheeses, pastries and fresh fruit, it’s a fantastic innovation that other serviced apartments could learn from. In terms of location, value for money and sheer convenience the Old Town Chambers takes some beating. Just make sure to book your accommodation well in advance if you want to visit Edinburgh during the famous Festival Fringe, the world’s largest art festival, as this place is in high demand.
All this activity makes for quite a jam-packed weekend in Edinburgh so you might wish to extend your stay for a few more days…We’re already plotting our return! Have you been to Edinburgh and if so what tips would you give to visitors?