How to spend 36 hours in Edinburgh

As a reluctant Scottish virgin, Edinburgh has been on my list of places to visit for years. We finally got round to booking a trip for our anniversary, and decided a late summer weekend break was just what we needed.

I’d seen hundreds of beautiful photos of Edinburgh on travel websites and blogs so I knew it would be up my street, but I wasn’t prepared for how much I would fall in love with the city. Bursting with culture, history and Scottish pride, Edinburgh is a picture-perfect place made up of winding, cobbled streets, manicured stretches of green, open space, beautiful gothic architecture and even a little magic (and not just because Harry Potter was written here).

Edinburgh Caste

We had a blast exploring this friendly, welcoming and charming city. Here’s what we got up to on our short but sweet visit.

Where to stay

There are ample places to stay throughout the city, from the luxurious Balmoral Hotel to more budget-friendly Premier Inns and Travelodges. We chose a boutique B&B – The Lairg – situated in the quiet Haymarket area of the city. The room was clean and comfortable and served as a welcome home-away-from home during our visit.

The Lairg Hotel Edinburgh

Getting around

On the advice of an Edinburgh native, we gave the city bus tours a wide birth and instead opted to take the tram to and from our hotel. At just £4 for a day pass, it’s a cheap and easy way to get you from A to B. Just be sure to buy your ticket at one of the ticket machines on the platform before you get on the tram, or you’ll incur a fine!

What to do

We arrived late on Friday night and headed straight to our hotel to get some much needed shut-eye ready for a busy day ahead. With only one full day in the city, we wanted to make the most of the short time we had to explore.

Arthur’s Seat

We were up early on Saturday and decided to do the walk up to Arthur’s Seat while it was relatively quiet. We probably weren’t dressed as appropriately as we could have been – I recommend packing your gym trainers and a wind-proof jacket – but there were only a few steep, rocky patches and the rest of the walk was pretty easy for people with a decent level of fitness. The climb took us about 40 minutes, with a few stops along the way to admire the stunning views across the city.

Walking up Arthur's Seat

Arthur's Seat Edinburgh

Holyrood Palace

On our way back into town from Arthur’s Seat we took a peek through the gates of the majestic Holyrood Palace, situated adjacent to the Scottish Parliament building. A stunning building that looks even more impressive juxtaposed against the much newer Parliament exterior. There are exhibitions inside the palace so it would be a great rainy day activity if you’re interested in royal history.

Walking tour

Free walking tours are our favourite way to see new places and Edinburgh was no exception. A knowledgeable guide Kenny gave us a lesson in Scottish history – including the origins of the phrases ‘earmarked’, ‘shit-faced’ and ‘the graveyard shift’ – and pointed out some of the best eateries to visit in the city. The two hour tour took us to key points of interest with plenty of background information as to their significance in Scottish history and culture.

Edinburgh

Royal Mile

The central point of the city, the Royal Mile is littered with historical landmarks, from Mercat’s Cross where thieves used to be taunted for entertainment to TheWriter’s Museum housing manuscripts and personal items of Robert Burns, Walker Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson, and the Heart of Midlothian which locals spit in the middle of for good luck.

Grassmarket

Now a huge market square flanked by bars and trendy restaurants, this area used to be the spot where criminals would be publicly hanged. Whilst thankfully there’s no such violence these days – The Last Drop, a bar with a hangman’s noose sign, is the final trace of a bygone era.

Greyfriars Cemetery

As a dog lover, the legendary tale of Greyfriars Bobby was one of the highlights of my Edinburgh experience. I won’t go into the story now as I don’t want to spoil it, but even if you’re not a dog fan, the cemetery is well worth a visit. Wander through this peaceful, off-the-beaten-track green space and marvel at the gravestones of some of the people that inspired J K Rowling’s characters.

Greyfriars Bobby Statue

Flodden Wall

Built to keep out Henry VIII and his English army after the Battle of Flodden, the only remaining parts of this huge stone wall can be found outside Greyfriar’s Cemetery and at a pub called The World’s End which is actually built into the side of the wall.

Flooden Wall Edinburgh

Edinburgh Castle

We didn’t get round to visiting the castle but we were told it’s well worth a trip – especially for the daily 1pm gun fire. You also get a free shot of whiskey included in your ticket price which is a win in my book!

Where to eat & drink

Badger & Co

Situated in the new town just off the main shopping street was quirky brunch spot Badger and Co. Adorned with Wind In The Willows themed pictures and stylish decor, this popular eatery serves up a huge variety of food daily that will set you up for a day of exploring. We opted for full breakfasts each, and they didn’t disappoint!

Badge & Co restaurant Edinburgh

Mimi’s Bakehouse

A 3pm sweet treat is always a good idea and family run cafe Mimi’s Bakehouse was just the place to indulge. There was a huge selection of homemade cakes on offer, from cupcakes to rocky road. We shared a warm maple scone with clotted cream and jam – delicious.

Hot chocolate and scones with clotted cream and jam

Devil’s Advocate

Down a cobbled alleyway just off the Royal Mile stood trendy bar Devil’s Advocate. A dark, atmospheric hole-in-the-wall serving up craft beer and creative cocktails where locals and tourists rub shoulders at the bar and large groups tuck into light snacks in the restaurant. Well worth a visit for the laidback atmosphere and friendly service.

Ecco Vino

This no-frills wine bar situated on Cockburn Street has a great selection of wines and nibbles on the menu – we enjoyed a quick pre-dinner tipple and some fresh bread and olives to kickstart our evening. They also serve a range of Mediterranean dishes which smelt amazing,

Ondine

A stylish seafood restaurant with a huge variety of fresh seafood on the menu – from lobster and scallops to shellfish platters. It’s modern, light and spacious with a huge bar acting as the focal point in the middle of the dining room. It’s not cheap but it’s an ideal place to have a slap-up, no-holds-barred celebratory meal.

Southern Cross Cafe

On our final morning, we had a much-needed lie in and headed back to Cockburn Street for a full Scottish breakfast (we couldn’t leave Scotland without trying haggis!). It was a popular cafe serving up everything from homemade cakes to eggs benedict. Get there early as we had to wait for a table and when we left, there was a short queue, but it was definitely worth stopping by for the friendly atmosphere and hearty Scottish grub. The perfect fare to fuel us up for our long journey back to London!

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