Edinburgh 3-Day Travel Guide – What to See and Do in the Capital of Scotland

  • 24.10.2023 18:17
  • Bruno Arcos

Have a look at our Edinburgh 3-day travel guide and discover the best the city has to offer, including hotels, restaurants, tips to avoid tourist scams and even a detailed list with everything you must see and do in Edinburgh in 3 days.

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Very few cities in the world can make the somber and mysterious work quite like Edinburgh. There’s just something about this place, from the brown, dark undertones of its buildings to the majestic castle set against the backdrop of the rolling hills, that turn the Scottish capital into the perfect setting for Victorian-Era movies. Almost as if it would make perfect sense to spot Thomas Shelby tucked away in some corner of the Royal Mile or to watch a Nimbus 2000 flying above our heads.

Split in half between the medieval Old Town and the elegant Georgian New Town (18th century “new”, that is), Edinburgh may be a city with multiple personalities, but, strikingly, all these facets coexist in harmony. Maybe that’s exactly why the city hosts so many festivals every year, a particularity that helped shape Edinburgh’s identity as a tolerant international hub, accepting of all forms of performing arts.

That being said, we invite you to have a look at our Edinburgh 3-day travel guide and discover the best the city has to offer, including hotels, restaurants, tips to avoid tourist scams and even a detailed list with everything you must see and do in Edinburgh in 3 days.

Edinburgh 3-Day Travel Guide

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How to get to Edinburgh – Flights from Ireland

Considering its status as the nation’s capital, it comes as no surprise that the city is served by the country’s biggest air hub: the Edinburgh International Airport.

As such, if you’re traveling from Ireland, it is possible to fly directly to Edinburgh from Dublin (Ryanair and Aer Lingus), Shannon (Ryanair), Cork (Ryanair) and Knock (Ryanair).

Edinburgh 3-day travel guide – Best time to visit the city

Considering the city is located in the north of the UK, slightly below the latitudes of Scandinavia, Spring, Summer and Fall are definitely the most sought-after months when it comes to booking a trip to Edinburgh, with the period between May and September standing out as the most researched. However, keep in mind accommodation can be quite expensive in the Scottish capital, an issue that’s even more prevalent during Summer months! Especially in August, during the world-famous Fringe – the biggest festival of performing arts on the planet – Edinburgh can get quite busy and expensive. However, one can’t deny just how delightfully infectious the atmosphere around the city is during the event, as every single venue and street fills up with all kinds of activities and performances.

On the other hand, if visiting during Fringe is not an option, then you might want to look into the  shoulder-season, when temperatures are still pleasant, the streets less crowded and the prices smaller. However, and for those strong-willed enough to face the dark and damp Scottish winters, visiting Edinburgh in the winter can also feel refreshingly rewarding, as dozens of Christmas markets spring up all around the city.

Edinburgh 3-day travel guide – Withdrawals, banking fees and travel budget

Although the Pound Sterling (£) stands as Britain’s official currency, most Irish banks do not charge any fees for withdrawals or payments in this specific currency. Still, for those who do, users might incur in the payment of several different fees. Besides the percentual fee referring to the currency conversion, some Irish banks may also charge a flat commission for withdrawals made outside Ireland. In some instances, you may well end up paying 5%-6% of your original withdrawal in banking fees.

On the other hand, exchanging money before your trip is not a viable solution either. Besides not being any cheaper, it’s also not safe or wise to carry so much money on you during your trip. As such, we recommend using the services of online banking fintech companies such as Revolut, N26 or Monzo.

Although each have their own limitations and fees, they allow you to withdraw a certain amount in foreign currency without any fees involved. And even after that threshold is reached, costs are much smaller when compared to traditional banks. Sign up for Revolut for free >> to get 3 months of Premium.

Edinburgh 3-day travel guide – Common scams and frauds

Given its extremely friendly and hospitable people, along with remarkably low crime rates, Edinburgh stands out as a pretty safe destination for travelers. In fact, it is often branded as one of the safest cities in the UK.

However, and much like you would do in any other big city, using your common-sense is key. That means no taxis whose drivers refuse to start the meter, no accepting help from strangers when you’re using an ATM or trying to buy metro tickets and always keeping an eye out for your stuff when you’re walking through busy areas. To sum up: don’t do anything you wouldn’t feel comfortable doing in any other city!

Where to sleep in Edinburgh – Hotels and Accommodation

If you’re looking out for a place to stay on our Edinburgh 3-day travel guide then we got your covered!

Much like the rest of the UK, Edinburgh isn’t exactly known for being budget-friendly. Whether it’s food, accommodation, transportation or entertainment, this city can drain your travel budget rather quickly, with prices (particularly when it comes to hotel rooms) skyrocketing over the last couple of years.

That being said, here are a few hotel options which have passed our value-for-money test:

Edinburgh 3-Day Travel Guide – Transportation between the airport and the city centre

Upon landing in Edinburgh, the best way to reach the city is by using the 100 Airlink Bus, purposely created for air passengers. The vehicle departs from the arrivals’ terminal and it takes 25 minutes to reach Waverley Bridge, with stops at Princes Street and Haymarket along the way. This line runs 24/7, with a new bus leaving every 10 minutes during the day (04h30-01h00) and every 30 minutes throughout the nighttime (01h00-04h30). Tickets cost 4,50£ (or 7,50£ two-way) and you can buy them directly on the bus using a contactless payment card or cash (no change provided). As a third option, you may also buy your ticket in advance using the Transport for Edinburgh’s official app.

Alternatively, you may also use the tram, with the network’s single line running through the airport. In order to get to the city center, you must get out at Princes Street, St Andrew Square or Picardy Place. Trams leaving from the airport operate between 06h26 and 22h48, running every 7 minutes between 07h00 and 19h00, and every 10 minutes for the remainder of the schedule. The journey to the center lasts about 30 minutes. As for tickets, they cost 7,50£ (or 9,50£ return), and can be bought at the automatic machines located on the platform using card or cash (no change), or though the same app shared above for the bus.

Edinburgh 3-Day Travel Guide – Public transportation

Considering just how compact and walkable Edinburgh is, its public transport system doesn’t really boast the grand scale of other European capitals. However, in true British fashion, you can count on it being clean, efficient, and, of course, reliably punctual! Be that as it may, and aside from the trips between the airport and the city, you might not even need to use public transport during your stay in Edinburgh.

Anyway, to give you a better feel for how the system operates, we’d like to focus on the city’s tram network – arguably the most practical public transportation option in the Scottish capital.

Edinburgh Trams – Maps, Tickets and Fares

While, as I mentioned earlier, you probably won’t need public transportation to explore Edinburgh, if you find yourself staying in the suburbs, the tram system will likely be your go-to option. Currently, Edinburgh tram system consists of a single line, spread across 23 stations in total. This system operates every day, between 04h26 e a 00h44.

When it comes to purchasing tickets, it’s important to mention the “City Zone“. Essentially, the entire tram network falls within this predefined area… except for the airport station, which is considered as part of the “Airport Zone“. So, if your trip doesn’t start or end at the airport, a single ticket will set you back 2,00£, ramping up to 7,50£ if the opposite occurs. However, Edinburgh’s tram system offers a discount fare every time you buy a round-trip ticket, making both legs of your journey cost 3,80£ (City Zone) or 9,50£ (Airport Zone). It’s also good to know that you can purchase your ticket from station machines or through the official Transport for Edinburgh app, and you should use it within 30 minutes of buying it.

That being said, if you plan on using the tram frequently, it’s worth looking into the daily and multi-day options available:

  • 1-Day City Zone Ticket: £5,00
  • 3-Day City Zone Ticket: £10,00
  • 4-Day City Zone Ticket: £13,00
  • 1-Day Airport & City Zone Ticket: £12,00
  • 3-Day Airport & City Zone Ticket: £18,00
  • 4-Day Airport & City Zone Ticket: £20,00

Unlike the regular tickets, daily and multi-day tickets can only be bought through the official website of the Edinburgh Trams. 

Edinburgh 3-day Travel Guide – Best festivals in the city

At the end of World War II, with Europe in ruins both emotionally and physically/structurally, three influential British figures, from politics to the arts, had a vision to create an international festival that could rekindle the spirit of Europe and promote cooperation among nations. After an extensive search, Edinburgh was chosen as the host, marking the beginning of a lasting tradition that would become synonymous with the city.

As such, what started as a modest traditional festival has since grown into something monumental, with the Scottish capital playing host to dozens of festivals every year. If you’re curious about what makes Edinburgh such a popular destination for festival organizers, then there’s nothing better than planning your visit to coincide with some of the city’s finest festivals:

  • Edinburgh Festival Fringe: Perhaps the most popular of all Edinburgh festivals, the Fringe is the world’s largest showcase of performing arts. Every August, the city fills up with all kinds of artists and performers, from acrobats and actors, to stand-up comedians, magicians and illusionists, in an infectious spectacle that runs through every venue, arena and street of Edinburgh.
  • Edinburgh International Festival: Held at the same time as Fringe, this festival tends to focus on more conventional arts such as classical music, theater and ballet. However, as both festivals run on the same dates, they are all part of the same organization.
  • The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo: A contest of military bands. If the concept doesn’t sound particularly interesting, I recommend watching some videos and images from past events, as the level of the displays are nothing short of extraordinary, in line with the legendary grandeur of old Soviet military parades or North Korea’s Arirang Festival. This event also takes place in August.
  • Edinburgh Science Festival: The world’s very first celebration of science and technology, taking place annually around Easter time.
  • Hogmanay: Edinburgh’s New Year’s Eve celebration, famous for its remarkable processions, parades, fireworks and live music. Taking place from December 30th to January 1st, the festival marks the longest nights in the Scottish capital.

Edinburgh 3-day Travel Guide – Best pubs in the city

Considering the pub culture in the UK, we couldn’t craft an itinerary without pointing out the best bars in Edinburgh. Whether it’s their history, atmosphere, prices or decorative theme, these are some of the Scottish capital’s pubs you don’t want to miss:

Edinburgh 3-day Travel Guide – Free walking tours

While in Edinburgh, you have the option to explore the city with a free walking tour. These tours, led by local guides or tour companies, offer guided visits to the historic center, sharing intriguing stories about each place and providing valuable cultural context. Even though these tours are technically free, it’s customary to show appreciation for the guide’s efforts by leaving a tip at the end. In Edinburgh, a reasonable minimum tip would be around 5,00£.

That being said, here are a few companies that run free walking tours in Edinburgh:

Edinburgh 3-day Travel Guide – Hidden Treasures

As mentioned earlier, and despite being extremely beautiful, the Scottish capital is far from other great European cities when it comes to size. Hence why, with 3 full days in Edinburgh, it’s perfectly possible to get to know the city’s main tourist attractions and still go on a day trip.

Be that as it may, and because we believe a good traveler must always be able to explore beyond the obvious, we wanted to add a few more obscure places to your list of things to see and do in Edinburgh in 3 days:

Dean Village: One of Edinburgh’s most underrated quarters, nestled along the riverbanks, it’s the perfect spot for a peaceful stroll away from the Old Town’s hustle and bustle. For the Dean Village’s ultimate experience, I recommend walking along the Water of Leith Walkway, one of the city’s most picturesque paths.

Greyfriars Bobby: Located right in front of the Greyfriars Church and its historic cemetery, the city’s oldest, this small statue of a Skye Terrier hides a tear-jerking tale. After his owner – John Gray – passed away, his faithful companion followed the casket to the cemetery and refused to leave for the next 14 years, with the dog’s moving showcase of loyalty immortalized in this representation.

Royal Botanic Garden: Ranked as the UK’s second-oldest botanical garden, it boasts an incredible collection of over 13.000 plant species, including exotic greenhouses and giant trees from all corners of the world.

Georgian House Museum: To better understand the impact of the New Town’s creation and the kind of residents it aimed to attract, it’s worth visiting this small museum, which faithfully recreates the interiors of an 18th and 19th-century Georgian Manor House.

Leith: Once considered one of the city’s less inviting areas, Leith is now one of the liveliest neighborhoods in Edinburgh, right by the shores of the North Sea. Moreover, it’s home to the Royal Yacht Britannia, the most famous yacht of the British royal family, which has been converted into a museum.

Edinburgh 3-Day Travel Guide – What to See and Do in 72 Hours

Despite Edinburgh’s countless charms, you could comfortably cover the city’s top attractions and must-visit spots in just 48 hours, highlighting its splendid castle and the picturesque Royal Mile, the main staples of the Old Town, and, of course, the classic hike up Arthur’s Seat. With an extra day to spare, you may indulge in an admittedly long (yet rewarding) day trip to the legendary Loch Ness, home to the world’s most famous sea monster.

Without further ado, here’s what to see and do in Edinburgh in 3 days:

Edinburgh 3-Day Travel Guide – Day 1: The Old Town and the Royal Mile

To kick off your adventure in Edinburgh, you’ll start by exploring the Old Town, the city’s oldest quarter. However, before you dive into the winding alleys and dark facades of the historic center, your day will start at the National Museum of Scotland. Much like other British public cultural institutions, this museum is completely free, housing a vast collection of over 8000 items from a wide array of fields. Among its many treasures, people are usually attracted to the preserved body of Dolly the Sheep, the world’s very first cloned mammal! Just across from the museum, you’ll come across the beloved Greyfriars Bobby. Located right in front of the Greyfriars Church and its historic cemetery, the city’s oldest, this small statue of a Skye Terrier hides a tear-jerking tale. After his owner – John Gray – passed away, his faithful companion followed the casket to the cemetery and refused to leave for the next 14 years, with the dog’s moving showcase of loyalty immortalized in this representation.

Next up, it’s time to visit what is arguably Scotland’s most iconic tourist attraction: the Edinburgh Castle (19,50£)! This huge fortress, perched atop an extinct volcano, houses the National War Museum, the Great Hall and the Royal Palace, and is also the place from where the One o’clock Gun is fired daily at 13h00 (a tradition that, according to legend, allowed ships in the North Sea to adjust their clocks). Plus, the views over the New Town from the castle’s ramparts are great too! From the castle, one can officially start walking along the Royal Mile, a 1.5 km route that connects the castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Along this route, you’ll get to witness some of the finest architecture in the Old Town, allowing you to pay a visit to St Giles’ Cathedral and take a little detour to Victoria Street, Edinburgh’s most colorful and Instagrammable street. As you reach the end of the route, you’ll come across the aforementioned Palace of Holyroodhouse (18,00£), which serves as the official residence of the British monarch when in Edinburgh. Although the palace’s interiors and opulence may not be quite up to par with some of its European counterparts, the grounds are also home to the fascinating Holyrood Abbey, a nearly 1000-year-old church, which was left abandoned in the 17th century and whose ruins remain in a captivating state of decay to this day.

First day wrap-up:

  • National Museum of Scotland
  • Greyfriars Bobby
  • Castle of Edinburgh
  • Royal Mile
  • St Giles’ Cathedral
  • Victoria Street
  • Palace of Holyroodhouse
  • Holyrood Abbey

Cheap restaurants in the Old Town:

Edinburgh 3-Day Travel Guide – Day 2: New Town and Arthur’s Seat

Now that you’ve had a taste of Edinburgh’s Old Town, it’s time to turn your attention to the New Town! However, don’t be fooled by the name, since this is the part of the city that was developed in the 18th century, following the Georgian trends of the time (which means it still looks old and charming). However, we’ll kick things off by exploring Dean Village, one of Edinburgh’s most underrated quarters. Nestled along the riverbanks, it’s the perfect spot for a peaceful stroll away from the Old Town’s hustle and bustle. For the Dean Village’s ultimate experience, I recommend walking along the Water of Leith Walkway, one of the city’s most picturesque paths. From there, we’ll move on to the New Town, starting your tour of the quarter with a visit to the Georgian House Museum (12,00£), a small museum which faithfully recreates the interiors of an 18th and 19th-century Georgian Manor House. As you wander through this part of the city, you’ll notice the stark differences from the Old Town, with the winding alleys and crooked buildings giving way to a meticulously planned cityscape (yet equally beautiful).

For a change of pace, and because we’re in the land of whisky, you might also want to consider a tour at the Johnnie Walker Experience (standard tour: 30,00£), a recent venue where you can find out more about the production process of one of the world’s most famous beverages, through an engaging and interactive journey. Plus, the price also includes a tasting of three cocktails tailored to your customer profile, which is determined at the very start of the experience. Once you’ve thrown the drinks back, you may then enjoy a leisurely stroll along the picturesque Princes Street and the lovely Princes Street Gardens, where the silhouette of the imposing Edinburgh Castle looms large atop the hill.

Speaking of hills, your second-to-last stop for the day will take place at Calton Hill, home to one of the undisputed best views in all of Edinburgh. With the Old Town, the castle and the iconic Balmoral Hotel clocktower in the frame, it’s hard to find a more aesthetically pleasing vision. Besides, Calton Hill is home to the National Monument of Scotland. Finally, to cap off your day on a high (literally) note, you’ll complete the most popular trail in Edinburgh. It’s a bit of a workout, but the roughly 40-minute ascent to Arthur’s Seat is an experience you won’t want to miss. Beyond the rewarding view from atop its 250-meter summit (which is truly spectacular), along the path you’ll find a healthy mix of both locals and fellow tourists, making it a popular weekend spot. Definitely a fantastic place to watch the sun setting over the Scottish capital.

Second day wrap-up:

  • Dean Village
  • Georgian House Museum
  • Johnnie Walker Experience
  • Princes Street
  • Princes Street Gardens
  • National Monument of Scotland
  • Arthur’s Seat

Cheap restaurants in the New Town:

Edinburgh 3-Day Travel Guide – Day 3: Day trip to Loch Ness

On the third and final day of your Scottish adventure, you’ll bid farewell to Edinburgh and head to one of the country’s biggest symbols. Home to the world’s most famous monster, the legendary Loch Ness is a quintessential part of Scotland’s imagery, with its expansive waters, green shores and perennial misty atmosphere. To explore Loch Ness independently and return to Edinburgh on the same day, you’ll need to begin your trip very early by taking either the train (60,00£ round trip) or a bus (27,00£ round trip) to Inverness, where you’ll need to transfer to a local bus line at the Bus Station. Once you make it there, you have two options:

  • CityLink Bus 919: To Fort Augustus (15,00£ round trip)
  • Highland Translink Bus 16 or 302: To Dores, Inverfarigaig and Foyers (6,00£ round trip)

Given the limited time, you’ll have to decide beforehand what kind of experiences you prefer. If you’re looking to simply enjoy the lakeside scenery and take on some easy trails, your best bet would be to visit the Port of Inverfarigaig and Foyers Falls. On the other hand, if you’re keen on taking a Loch Ness cruise (19,00£), boats depart from Fort Augustus. Besides, Bus 919 will also take you past Urquhart Castle, the most popular castle on Loch Ness.

Make sure to keep an eye on the schedules because you’ll have a 3h30 journey between Inverness and Edinburgh in the late afternoon. Alternatively, if you’re not entirely comfortable planning the trip independently, you can consider taking a private tour to Loch Ness. It will be a long, tiring day, but at least you’ll get to experience a different side to the country’s culture and landscape.

Third day wrap-up:

  • Loch Ness

Got more than 3 days in Edinburgh? Then you might want to check out these day trips from the Scottish capital:

  • Loch Lomond: Part of Scotland’s first National Park, this is the largest freshwater lake in the country. Beyond the impressive body of water, the area is also home to several ancient castles, including Doune Castle, Inveraray Castle and Kilchurn Castle.
  • Stirling Castle: Just 60 km away from Edinburgh, this is one of the easiest day trips from the Scottish capital. As for the castle itself, is one of the most beautiful and most historically significant in the country, located in an equally charming town.
  • Fife: The region just north of Edinburgh, there’s plenty to see and do in Fife. The standout destination here is the coastal town of St Andrews, famous for its university, cathedral and ruined castle. If you have the time, a visit to the historic town of Dunfermline is also highly recommended.
  • Hadrian’s Wall and Rosslyn Chapel: Made famous by Dan Brown’s cult classic “The Da Vinci Code”, Rosslyn Chapel has since made headlines when it comes to tourist destinations in Scotland. If you can, pair it up with a visit to Melrose Abbey or to the legendary Hadrian’s Wall, Europe’s lesser-known counterpart to the Great Wall of China.
  • “Outlander” Filming Locations: Probably the most popular tv production to ever be filmed in Scotland, it’s possible to visit some of the castles and towns portrayed on the show, some of which bearing real-life connections to Jacobitism.
  • Glasgow: As the nation’s largest city, no visit to Scotland is complete without checking out vibrant Glasgow! Packed with cathedrals, museums and historic buildings, the challenge here is to find enough time to see and experience it all in just one day!

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