It’s no secret, I bloody loved Edinburgh. We booked the trip as a surprise for my friend’s 21st birthday and it was one of my favourite trips of 2016! In total, we spent 4 days in Scotland and here’s how we recommend you spend 4 days in Edinburgh.
We quickly checked into a private 4 bed room at Edinburgh Safestay Hostel and then headed out on the search for food before our first activity!
We quickly stumbled into the first pub that we could find as we were starving. I didn’t expect incredibly high quality food as we chose a pub on Edinburgh’s most touristy street (and we all know tourist traps don’t do good food!); however, I can’t recommend Deacon Brodie’s Tavern enough. The food was incredible and definitely set us up for a full day of exploring! Anywhere that does macaroni cheese as a side is a winner! We found that most places in Edinburgh offered macaroni cheese as a main, starter or both – I’ve found my spirit city!
The Royal Mile is the centre of the action in Edinburgh and is where you will find most of the main attractions (or they will be nearby at least)! Our hostel was perfectly situated just off of the Mile, so it was in the prime location for some great restaurants (I can’t count the number of hearty pubs and cute cafes on this one road!) as well as shops (it took a lot for me to resist buying complete tartan outfits, like a true tourist).
It wouldn’t be an Escaping Essex city guide without a recommendation for a free walking tour really would it? We had Max as our guide and he was brilliant (so much so, that we booked another tour with him the following day). Sandeman’s New Europe are one of my favourite tour companies, and as always the tour covers the majority of the free sights you will want to see in the city.
The website lists the following sights within the 2.5 hour tour, but it felt like we saw much more!
As we arrived in the city mid-way through the day and were completely exhausted, we wandered around for a while after the tour before heading to a local shop, picking up a pack of cards and heading back to the hostel bar to chill.
Even if you’re not staying at The Edinburgh Safestay Hostel, you can go to Bar 41 (located within the hostel) for cheap drinks and good food. They also have events on throughout the week – we respectively failed the pub quiz. If you’re more at home in a pub, do not fear, Edinburgh has a pub basically on every corner to fill your needs!
Located inside the historic Tron Kirk is a gorgeous market filled with independent crafts, arts and fashion traders. My friend picked up a pretty epic pair of tea-pot earrings and I was almost drawn in by some cute prints, before sensibly coming to the conclusion that I have no wall space left for more prints!
We underestimated the long walk to the botanical gardens, it was long but incredibly beautiful, so definitely worthwhile! There were plenty of picturesque spots along the way, my favourite being the Scott Monument (you can’t miss it, it looks like a giant rocket), which is the largest monument dedicated to a Scottish author (Walter Scott). With the backdrop of Princes Street Gardens, it’s definitely worth wandering by and taking a photo or two – if you’re feeling a little bit more active, there are 287 steps that you can climb to the top.
There’s something so god damn relaxing about being in botanical gardens, I loved my visit to one recently in Cologne, and Edinburgh was just as good. As an added bonus, bring a friend who works in horticulture to show you around and pronounce all of the funny plant names. The gardens are pretty huge (especially if you pay to enter the greenhouses too) and with the long walk there, this is easily a half-day trip.
RELATED: Read about my time in Cologne’s Botanical Gardens here!
With my friend’s love for horticulture now suitably satisfied, it was my turn to inflict my love of castles on the group! Edinburgh Castle can easily take up another half-of your day as there’s plenty to see in the castle (including a graveyard to the army dogs, which melted my stone cold little heart).
We visited a few days after The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo and the stage was still in place which blocks the main view of the castle when you are walking towards it – so if you’re a photography buff, you might want to avoid Edinburgh at that time!
RELATED: Do you love castles too? Read all about my latest castle jaunts here!
The castle is at the far end of the Royal Mile, so when you’re in the area you might as well see everything else that the area has to offer. After a long day of gardens and castles, we were shattered and in desperate need of food, but if you have some more energy than us, the main two attractions are:
On our walk back down the Royal Mile to the hostel, we made sure to pop into St Giles Cathedral which is absolutely gorgeous. When we visited (September 2016), a boat used in the current refugee crisis was on view, a really harrowing sight.
As if we hadn’t walked enough today, we decided to take another walking tour. We loved our Free Walking Tour guide Max so much that after our tour with him, we immediately booked onto The Dark Side Tour for the following evening.
Edinburgh has a very spooky past and the stories were great (especially when told by Max)! I would highly recommend this tour if you like to hear a little horror story (and if you are a bit of a scaredy-cat like me, don’t worry, if I can handle the spooky stories, anyone can)!
During the tour, you’ll tick another of Edinburgh’s bucket list items off of your list – Calton Hill! What’s even better is that you will visit the hill at sunset which is really gorgeous in early September.
Whilst Edinburgh is absolutely incredible, sometimes it’s nice to head out into the countryside. We decided to take the FREE Scottish Highlands Tour with The Hairy Coo and I couldn’t recommend it more. The company were so incredible that they deserve their own blog post and you can read all about our experience here.
We decided to go for a wander in the evening as one of my favourite times to explore a city is when they are lit up at night… apparently not all that much of Edinburgh is lit up (unlike some of my favourite evening city views, such as the view of Parliament from Fisherman’s Bastion in Budapest or the view of the Castle in Prague from across the river or the Wesminster/South Bank area of London).
With some time to kill before our flight home that afternoon, and a number of options to chose from in the city, we decided to go to the National Museum (we were mainly swayed by the giant posters of turtles outside telling us that the National Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition was on…. turns out we read the signs wrong and it was next week, oops).
I’m not usually a big museum fan, but this one was great! There were plenty of interactive exhibitions and it reminded me of the London Science and Natural History Museums – a good day out! Plus… did you know that a mega sloth once existed?!
I am a huge Harry Potter Fan, so a trip to the Elephant Cafe was an absolute must! This is the cafe that J K Rowling began writing the famous novel series in and for good reason – the food and drinks are great! Make sure you peep into the toilets to see the messages that fans have left scribbled on the walls!
RELATED: Want to find more Harry Potter locations in Edinburgh? Read all about them here!
Edinburgh is a creative city. It can be felt in the aforementioned memorials to Scottish writers, J K Rowling’s inspirational presence, the Scottish Writers Museum, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the sheer number of crafty independent stores. The arts are really celebrated in this amazing city and it’s amazing.
We headed up Victoria Street (known as the inspiration for Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley) and the surrounding roads popping into cute shops, my favourites were Miss Katie Cupcake (specialising in handmade jewellery) and Museum Context (a shop for creative unique interiors).
After exploring the shops and getting some food, it was time for us to head to the airport to catch our flight home. 4 days in Edinburgh is a good length of time to explore and fall in love with the city, but there is so much more to offer, so you could easily spend longer in the city. Here are all the things we didn’t have time to see/do:
During our time in Edinburgh, I stumbled across some things while Googling Edinburgh that looked great but on further inspection were nowhere near the city centre, so we weren’t able to visit with our limited time. If you’re in the area for longer than a few days or have access to a car, these could be the spots for you!
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