You might think it would be tough to fit in all a millennia old city has to offer in one day, and you’d be right. However, if you are fortunate enough to be heading to Edinburgh but unlucky enough to only have twenty-four hours to see this stunning city, you shouldn’t feel too despondent.
They city itself is very walkable, and as long as you’re willing to accept that you can’t do everything (because as much as we’d all like to go on a whisky tour, when time is of the essence you can’t take out two hours to get drunk), then you can make your one day in Edinburgh as memorable as it can be.
We’d recommend starting the day with a hearty breakfast at BBL, where there are a range of traditional Scottish breakfast meals available at a reasonable price. If you’re not too keen on haggis and fry-ups, then they have some excellent baked goods. Vegetarians and vegans are also well catered for, with plenty of meat alternatives on the menu (we’d recommend their vegan haggis!). Their hot drinks are excellent too, but if you want something truly special we’d recommend taking a short walk over to Black Medicine, which serves possibly the best coffee in Edinburgh.
A vital part of any Edinburgh itinerary is a hike up Arthur’s seat. It’s a short walk from the suggested breakfast spots to Holyrood park, where the famous summit is located. The walk up from the bottom takes anywhere between 30 minutes and an hour depending on fitness and the route you walk, but sweeping, panoramic views of the city and the sea from the top are worth any trek. If you want to avoid the crowds, it’s probably best to aim to get up there for before 10am. The trek isn’t too arduous… as long as you have a decent level of fitness you should complete it with minimum fuss.
Once you’ve climbed back down, then you can catch a glimpse of the Palace of Holyroodhouse and the Scottish Parliament. The former is run by the National Trust and can be visited, if you think you have enough time. If not, then you should still take some time to admire the architecture from outside.
No Edinburgh in a day guide would be complete without a walk up the Royal Mile; take in the majesty of the ancient buildings and, if you’re feeling peckish, you can even pick up some excellent porky snacks from Edinburgh institution Oink. At the top of the street is the magical Edinburgh Castle, which no Edinburgh itinerary is complete without a trip to. Tickets can usually be bought on the day, and exploring the castle usually takes around an hour but you can stay for longer if you want to spend your one day in Edinburgh focused on history.
Once you’re done with the castle it’s time for lunch. Make the short walk down (quite literally down a massive hill) to Grassmarket, where there are a plethora of pubs and eateries to be enjoyed. Howies on adjacent Victoria Street is a much loved local favourite, but if you want a more traditional pub lunch then Maggie Dicksons (named for a local woman who survived a hanging in the 18th Century) is always a good bet. Make sure to stop by for a pint at The White Hart, too, and see if you can spot the ghost that haunts the pub.
By now you should be fed, watered, and ready for a bit more walking. Make the hop from Old Town to New Town and swing by the Scottish National Portrait Gallery to soak in some culture, going via the impressive Scott Monument in Princes Street Gardens. It’s likely that whilst you wander around and take in the monument, you’ll be treated to local buskers playing the bagpipes, for that extra Scottish feel.
As the afternoon reaches its apex, walk further north to the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, where you can see a selection of astoundingly gorgeous flora that, frankly, has no right to exist in this climate. You can easily spend over an hour wandering around this beautiful space and taking in everything that nature has to offer, so if you are trying to see as much of Edinburgh in a day as you can, you should set a time limit for yourself.
Depending on the time of year, the sun may be starting to drop down about now, which means that it’s time for another cocktail. Even if it is still bright out, head back to the bustle of Princes Street via Bramble Bar, making sure to sample their house cocktails, or, if you know what you like, asking their world class bartenders to whip something up for you. The bar is quite hidden; it’s only accessibly via some stairs, and the sign itself is quite small, so make sure to keep a look out in case you stroll past it.
Once you’re done you may be feeling peckish again, so you can head back to Old Town for a fancy dinner to cap off your one day in Edinburgh. There are a number of great fine dining choices that could happily exist on any Edinburgh itinerary, but we at Orbzii would recommend The Witchery by the castle. It’s award winning and utilises the best of local, seasonal produce to produce meals that are to die for. The restaurant also boast an extensive wine list, and some brilliant Scottish whiskies to put that extra bit of shine on your gastronomical experience.
Once you’re fed and merry, walk down to Cowgate and have a gander at some of the ancient pubs that make up the street. You can finish off your Edinburgh in a day adventure with a couple of pints in an establishment that’s likely older than most countries. If you want one last injection of culture, Stramash have local bands on every night, playing a mixture of contemporary sounds, classic covers, and traditional Scottish music. If you want a less sweaty end to your evening, then House of Gods is another cocktail bar with impeccable service and even better drinks. Here, you can enjoy one last concoction as you look back on your one day in Edinburgh.
Want to discover more of Edinburgh’s famous whisky offering? Take a look at our guide to the city’s best whisky tours.