How To Spend 24 Hours in Edinburgh (One-Day Itinerary)

Summary: If you have only have 24 hours in Edinburgh, this post is for you! Whether you’re just passing through, or you’re planning a day trip to Edinburgh, this one-day itinerary will show you a lot of Edinburgh (and will have you planning your next trip back to see more!).

Victoria Street Edinburgh

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Edinburgh is one of my favorite cities on the planet. The architecture, the history, and the proximity to the Scottish Highlands are just some of the reasons I love it. I think someone could travel here for weeks and never get bored. However, I know we’re not all that lucky!

I understand that sometimes our travel schedules are tight and we might only have a day or two to explore a certain area. That is perfectly acceptable and the exact reason I’m writing this post! Keep reading for the perfect one-day Edinburgh itinerary.

Here’s how I’d spend 24 hours In Edinburgh if I was visiting for the first time:

8:00am: Wake Up Early and Have a Full Scottish Breakfast

This guide to 24 hours in Edinburgh assumes you’ll be waking up and sleeping in Edinburgh, so you’ll truly have the full day. I suggest waking up bright and early and having a full Scottish breakfast before you start the day.

The best hotel I’ve stayed at in Edinburgh is Parliament House Hotel. They have a breakfast room with several options, including a full Scottish breakfast, so I’d suggest doing that.

Edinburgh Castle

There are a ton of hotels to choose from in Edinburgh. I’d recommend picking one within Old Town, ideally close to High Street, especially if you only have a day.

9:30am: Enter Edinburgh Castle and Tour With an Audio Guide

Edinburgh Castle sits at the very end of High Street, otherwise known as the Royal Mile. When you’re finished with breakfast, start walking toward the castle. Depending on where you’re staying, you’ll likely pass some notable sites like St. Giles Cathedral, so be on the lookout for them!

Also, depending on the time of year you’re visiting, your walk to Edinburgh Castle may be a lot less crowded than the streets will get during the day, so soak this time in! I love waking up and walking around before it gets busy in Edinburgh, but it starts to get crowded earlier and earlier in the summer months.

View of Edinburgh Castle from Prince’s Street

You’ll want to buy your admission tickets online at least a few days in advance so you can make sure you get an early time slot. There are guided tours available, but I’d recommend just getting the audio guide and walking around on your own.

Within the castle area, there are separate museums to visit, such as the National War Museum and Royal Palace (included in your admission ticket). Right before the gate entrance is also a great spot to get an arial view of Edinburgh!

Edinburgh CAstle Entrance

12:00pm: Start The Potter Trail Tour (or Mary King’s Close Tour)

When you’re done exploring Edinburgh Castle, the next activity is something I recommend everyone do whether they have 24 hours in Edinburgh, or two weeks.

The Potter Trail is genuinely one of the best tours I’ve ever taken. You’ll start at Greyfriars Kirkyard where you’ll get to see where JK Rowling got a lot of inspiration for the names used in the Harry Potter series. Then, you’ll continue on around Edinburgh to see where she wrote the books and the guide will point out different landmarks that inspired aspects of Harry Potter’s world. The tour ends on Victoria Street which is said to have influenced Diagon Alley with it’s colorful specialty shops.

Greyfriars Kirkyard Edinburgh

The best part: this tour is free! However, it is recommended to tip your guide when it’s done. We tipped about $10 per person. You’ll want to book The Potter Trail ahead of time online.

I’m often asked if this is a tour that someone would still enjoy if they weren’t obsessed with Harry Potter. My partner hasn’t read the books and he really enjoyed it. However, if you’d like an alternative, The Real Mary King’s Close tour was excellent as well! This tour is right on High Street and takes you back in time to what life was like in Edinburgh during the Plague. It was incredibly interesting and something I’d recommend anyone do if you have more than one day in Edinburgh.

2:00pm: Explore Victoria Street

If you took The Potter Trail tour, it’ll end on Victoria Street and if you opted for the Real Mary King’s Close tour, it’s not far from Victoria Street. Even if you only have one day in Edinburgh, you need to see this iconic winding street while you’re there!

At this time of the day Victoria Street will likely be quite busy with tourists, but with only 24 hours, we have to squeeze it in somewhere!

Victoria Street Edinburgh

Take a few minutes to just marvel at the colorful fronts of the different specialty shops and pop in a few. Museum Context is a great option for Harry Potter souvenirs. You can also stop by Isle of Skye Candle Company, Chalmers Tweed and Cashmere, or John Kays Bookshop.

There are a number of restaurants on Victoria Street as well. This would be a great time to get a quick bite to eat!

4:00pm: Scott Monument and Prince’s Street Gardens

When you’ve had your fill of shopping at eating on Victoria Street, it’s time to walk over to Prince’s Street. I’d suggest taking High Street down to North Bridge and crossing the bridge to Prince’s Street. You’ll likely see people dodging traffic trying to take a photo in the street because the background from this bridge is an iconic Edinburgh photo.

Once you make it to Prince’s Street, you’ll turn left and immediately see the huge gothic-style monument known as Scott Monument. A common misconception is that this monument is meant to honor the Scots, when it’s actually honoring a famous Scottish writer, Sir Walter Scott. You can learn more about him in the Writer’s Museum if you have more than 24 hours in Edinburgh.

Scott Monument Edinburgh

At this point, you’ll also likely start to hear the sound of bagpipes playing. I often see them on North Bridge or right by Scott Monument. Stay here a minute, listen to their tune, and drop them a few coins if you like what you hear!

Bagpipes in Edinburgh

From here, walk down into Prince’s Street Gardens which is just below Scott Monument. This is a beautiful grassy area with flowers (if you come when they’re blooming), benches, and the infamous Ross Fountain.

Ross Fountain in Prince’s Street Gardens

It wasn’t always that way, though! This area used to be a huge lake where everyone would throw their trash. It was even used as a sort of test during witch trials in Edinburgh (this video explains that). Today, however, it makes for a peaceful afternoon moment.

5:00pm: Department of Magic

We are keeping with the Harry Potter theme of this one-day Edinburgh itinerary and heading to a cocktail bar called Department of Magic! This bar is so much fun whether or not you like Harry Potter.

This is likely unlike any cocktail bar you’ve been to because you get to brew your own potions! You’ll choose a drink from their menu (that has non-alcoholic options available) and the waitress will bring you a set of ingredients and a recipe card. Depending on your drink, it might smoke or bubble while you make it! It really is a lot of fun and the drinks were tasty after they were made.

I came here at 5pm without a reservation and was able to get a table, but it’s very small inside and it filled up quickly, so I’d recommend making a reservation a day or two in advance.

They have a few snacks for purchase, but they don’t serve actual meals here, so you may want to head to a pub or restaurant after for something to eat.

Sunset: Hike up Calton Hill or Arthur’s Seat

Since you only have 24 hours in Edinburgh, you need to make the most of it! When it’s getting close to sunset, start your hike up either Calton Hill or Arthur’s Seat. Of the two, Calton Hill will definitely be easier, shorter, and it’s just outside of Parliament House Hotel. However, Arthur’s Seat is an iconic hike in Edinburgh, so if it’s on your bucket list, you can definitely squeeze it in!

Arthur’s Seat Hike in Edinburgh

Both of these viewpoints will give you sprawling views of Edinburgh from above and at sunset, it’ll be magical. This will be your chance to thank Edinburgh for one day full of adventure and make a promise to come back soon for more.

Read More About Edinburgh

While you’re planning your trip to Edinburgh, I have a few more posts that you should read!

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