“Fàilte gu Alba”Welcome to Scotland
Grab your kilts, start the bagpipes, and pack your golf clubs because you are traveling to Scotland. Visitors from all over the world come just ready to experience the friendly culture, see the amazing castles, visit the numerous isles off the coast, view the stunning Scottish Highlands, and possibly see the Loch Ness Monster. You can enjoy the solitude that Scotland provides in its remote countryside of lochs and rolling hills or find yourself in one of the best cities in the world and the capital of Scotland, Edinburgh.
With its mix of classical and modern architecture side by side, it’s an enjoyable destination for anyone, second only to London in the UK in popularity. It has enough history to keep you occupied for days and it’s a must-stop for any first-timers to Scotland. These are just some of the Edinburgh highlights you can fit into a 2 day trip.
Things to do in Edinburgh
Edinburgh Old Town
The maze of small streets and narrow alleyways makes up the oldest neighborhood in Edinburgh. It’s more of a popular attraction for tourists now than for the locals but it’s still one of the most Instagrammable places in Edinburgh. Some of the best pubs in the city can be found here. Throw in some cozy boutique stores selling tartans on the cobbled streets, some old-fashioned houses, and a few historical monuments to put the whole place together. You can spend a nice day here just exploring all the nooks and crannies. It’s a nice way with all the twists and turns down the different paths through the heart of the city to get a real feel for it.
Most of the important landmarks on this list are located in the Old Town area known as the Royal Mile, such as Edinburgh Castle, St. Giles, and Holyrood Palace. It’s one of the best places to stay in Edinburgh. This is a great place to stretch your legs with a nice walk through the main street. Afterward, you can end your day at the Scotch Whisky Experience with a superb glass or two.
With overlooking views of the entire city, Edinburgh Castle should be top of anyone’s must-see places in Scotland. Sadly, this isn’t one of the castles you can stay overnight, but there are other Scottish castles to stay in throughout the country that are just as good. It carries important historical artifacts of the Scottish monarchy and the UK. The grounds in and around the castle are great to walk around and you wouldn’t even notice you are standing on top of an extinct volcano to view the city. You can choose to take a guided tour from one of the many castle stewards or explore on your own with audiobook directions and details of the castle’s history.
Once you pass inside the castle walls you can look into the National War Museum as well. Where you can find and learn about Scotland’s military history and its involvement both domestically and abroad. Learn about The Highland Soldier, which has continued to be a pivotal figure in the identity of Scotland. See the uniforms, unique medals and decorations, weapons, and key events that shaped its history. You will find it very detailed and well informative if you are a fan of this subject as I am.
St. Giles Cathedral
Smack dab in the middle of the Edinburgh Royal Mile, between Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace, this is the principal church in the city for nearly 900 years and is still continuously active. Another part of the gothic architectural landscape that makes up Edinburgh, a lot of key historical moments in Scotland’s history have taken place here. There have been major restorations throughout the last few hundred years with only the pillars remaining from the original. This is a working church but you should be able to explore at your own pace without interrupting the other churchgoers. Be sure to bring a few pounds as visiting the church is free but donations are appreciated.
Scottish National Portrait Gallery
Want to see some of the most famous historical and modern figures of Scotland? This is where you need to go. Part of the National Galleries of Scotland, you can learn more about the country’s history while strolling through multiple halls displaying monarchs and public figures. You will find a mix of paintings, sculptures, prints, and photographs. Take a break at the lovely Cafe Portrait where you can shift your attention to the beautiful interior of the building. It’s slightly off the usual tourist path in Old Town but you will feel like you gained some worthwhile knowledge here.
After this, you may want to go on a museum tour binge so stop by the Scottish National Gallery and National Museum of Scotland. Both of these museums are free and contain plenty of exhibits and all Scottish-related items. You can experience more of Scottish history, art, culture, fashion, and technology. Each museum’s building is impressive just by itself with its classical style of architecture. After you are done take a break and grab a coffee at the cafe inside or eat at the restaurant. This is a great way to fill part of your day here.
Another recommended castle that has been considered a hidden gem is just outside of Edinburgh and is named Blackness Castle. It’s been a home, fortress, and prison over the centuries. But now it’s mainly used as another tourist attraction. It’s great because it’s right along the Scottish coast and its numerous towers and high walls give you plenty of views.
Located at the top of the Royal Mile, this tall spire is a landmark as a public arts and events building but it’s surprisingly quiet once you enter from the busy and loud streets of the city. Its tip is also the highest point in Edinburgh. Even though it was previously used as a church, its venues have changed considerably. It’s more popular now for its held performances in music, dance, theatre, and even opera. Large events like the Edinburgh International Festival are held here annually. You can even have your wedding here.
This is only one part of the Palace of Holyroodhouse, which is the official residence of the British monarch during their time spent in Scotland. But for art lovers in the city, it has to be one of the most desirable places to visit. The Queens Gallery is an art gallery displaying exhibit classical works from the Royal Collection, the largest private art collection in the world. Because of the excess of the collection, it is continuously being rotated throughout the United Kingdom, being placed in current and former royal properties.
Plenty of seasonal exhibitions are here throughout the year, so you will always find something new. It may be smaller compared to other art galleries but that and the building itself make up for it as you explore. You can combine this with visiting the rest of the Palace of Holyroodhouse on a walking tour or purchase a ticket packet on your own.
Other Edinburgh Highlights to See
Arthur’s Seat – Once you are done at Holyroodhouse Palace, peel off to enjoy this top-notch city park which is unique in its entirety. Located in the center of Edinburgh in Holyrood Park, taking this walking excursion will lead you to a peaceful summit that has fantastic 360 views of the entire city and green landscape. It’s easy to follow with multiple trails and paths but remember if you want those Instagram-worthy views you are going to have to go uphill part of the time.
Camera Obscura – Filled with floors of optical illusions and interactive exhibits, this is a more family-friendly place to stop by but it’s just as fun for us adults too if you want to go solo or with friends. Climb up to the top of the tower to experience the show of its namesake or just to get more sightseeing views of the inner city.
City Tours – So many tours, so little time. You can find plenty of different guided walking tours to help explore the city. Find a foodie tour and try traditional Scottish dishes like haggis, cranachan, and of course deep-fried Mars Bars. Or take a haunted tour and find out the dark side of the city across graveyards like Greyfriar Kirkyard and the underground passageways of the city underbelly. Enjoy the fine taste of whisky with a scotch-tasting tour. It’s all up to you and your preferences.
Day Trips – If you prefer to leave Edinburgh for just part of the day, you can find other tours that explore parts outside of the city. You can head to St. Andrews, Fife, Stirling, Falkirk, and Dundee just to name a few. Any of these exciting towns are just an hour away. It’s a nice way to spread out if you are making this an extended stay.
3 days are plenty of time for sightseeing in the city but staying longer won’t seem like such a problem once you’ve arrived. Once you’re done, it’s time to head out to explore the rest of the country. Research the other cities and towns you want to village or find a solid Scotland itinerary. If you have a short time here you can find plenty of day trips from Edinburgh as well.