Scotland’s capital city looks like a little storybook medieval tourist destination with plumbing our ancestors lived without. Many of the major tourist destinations are concentrated in the old part of Edinburgh, making it a walk-able city to explore without rushing, even if you only have 2 days.

I lived in town for a time and if you’re planning your first visit, here’s how to spend 48 hours in Edinburgh. You can see it all in the video above or read on.

On The Mile

The old part of Edinburgh at first sight is where you might go say to yourself, “oh I get it. Harry Potter makes a lot more sense now.” Not the magic, but the imagery. The Royal Mile is where you’ll spend a lot of your time since it’s the main corridor through the old city. Before planning anything though, know that the weather changes very, very frequently. In most other places a 5 day forecast can all happen in Edinburgh within an hour.

arthur's seat

Keeping that in mind, if you’re up for a solid amount of exercise, start your plans with a hike up Arthur’s Seat. The extinct volcano is a 20 minute walk from the Royal Mile, and another half hour to get to the top. Rain often closes down the main paths but if it’s dry for enough of the day, the views from Arthur’s Seat are beautiful. Warm weather? Sun? You can easily spend hours up there. Everyone else just in it for the views, set aside 2 hours – hopefully sometime in your 48 hours the paths to the top are clear.

Breakfast

Arthur’s Seat or not, enjoy breakfast at Southern Cross Cafe. They’ve got typical Scottish breakfast in vegetarian versions if you prefer, good coffee, with a nice atmosphere saturated with free wireless Internet. Plan to arrive around 10:30am at latest, it gets crowded closer to noon. Then walk down Cockburn (pronounced koh-burn you pervert) for shopping if you need to buy gifts.

southern cross cafe

Cockburn will lead you down Market Street, make a left, then walk 10 minutes up Ramsay Lane. At the top of the street you’ll find Camera Obscura, a good museum especially if you’re traveling with children. To the right is the Edinburgh Castle, not particularly interesting inside so stick to the courtyard in front for city photos to the right and left.

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Working Up An Appetite

I’m burning some calories for you now toward Grassmarket (15 minute walk) where on weekends there are often food and other shopping stalls. Otherwise it’s a fairly bland blend of window gazing. From there you’re going to walk up toward Victoria Street, more shopping plus Instagram opportunities.

edinburgh castle

Like a lot of places here, JK Rowling may have been inspired by Victoria Street and nearby at the The Elephant House she wrote parts of the books. Many people just want a picture from outside so now’s your chance. Overpriced coffee with lousy service? Come back closer to 8pm, it’s much quieter then.

Assuming you didn’t eat at The Elephant House, walk up to Deacon Brodie’s Tavern and enjoy a late lunch with a beer with whisky dessert. You’re back now on the Royal Mile. Walk into St. Giles Cathedral, make a small donation for photos, tell your friends it’s where Avengers was filmed.

Planning The Rest

Hopefully you’ve read this far, because I suggest booking tickets to an underground ghost tour with Mercat. They meet right outside of St. Giles and take you to the vaults underneath Edinburgh. These walking tours are around an hour and a half, afterward you might be hungry again (I don’t blame you). The Albanach is right across the street.

st giles cathedral

This is a very full one day but the weather dictates a lot in Edinburgh. Anything outdoors (e.g. Arthur’s Seat) should be put first in your 48 hour schedule. Pepper in your plans a visit to Golden Hare Bookshop, whisky shopping at Royal Mile Whiskies, not to mention whiskey drinking at these 3 places.

Without a doubt, there’s a lot more to do than all I mentioned above. Warmer weather means more outdoors but bigger crowds and the cooler months ad-hoc planning with the weather (just like in Iceland). There are a few more suggestions here for your trip to Edinburgh, with a lot of reasons to visit the Scottish Highlands while you’re nearby.

Finally, remember it’s pronounced Edinburrah, a water drop or two in whisky is acceptable let me know if you have any questions in the comments below. Cheers!