Tour Edinburgh Scotland in 4 days with this Edinburgh Itinerary (and Edinburgh Scotland day trips too)
Okay, so I’m not gonna lie, when I first booked my flight and researched how I was going to tour Edinburgh Scotland in 4 days and what my Edinburgh itinerary was going to be, I was not super excited. I mean, In New York, no one is like, “Hey, spring break, Edinburgh Scotland! Woo-Who!”. All I knew was that Scotland had kilts, bagpipes, and lots of green hills. I also nervously wondered if I would be able to understand anyone (Thank God I could understand almost everyone), or if I would drown in an epic and freak rain storm (the weather isn’t that bad but chilly compared to summers in New York).
Well, I am delighted to say that Edinburgh exceeded my admittedly low expectations. And to my complete and total shock, I fell in love with the charm, history, and friendly nature of the people who call this capital city home. There is a warmth of spirit here that makes this bustling city feel like a small town. Plus, don’t even get me started on the food. Anything tea related with finger sandwiches and scones and I am so there (more of an English thing I know but they do it so well in Scotland).
My only regret was that I really only had a weekend to spend in Edinburgh. Because of my limited time frame, I knew I would never be able to see everything I wanted to ( like I totally missed out on a tour of the Scottish Highlands). That’s why I created this Edinburgh Scotland itinerary. I know a lot of people have a limited amount of time when they travel so I created this guide to help you maximize your time in Edinburgh. I want to help yours you tour Edinburgh Scotland in 4 days (mind you, you won’t see be able to everything but you’ll be able to see a lot. But if you have more than four days, check out these 6 Free Trips to Take in Southern Scotland). So enough of this idle chit chat and let’s get to this Edinburgh Scotland itinerary (as a bonus I am gonna throw in some Edinburgh Scotland day trips too. Okay maybe one but its still awesome).
How to Get There
For those of you who don’t know, I am from Westchester County, which is a little north of the world famous, New York City. Because of my location, I was delighted to discover that I can fly directly to Edinburgh, out of Stewart International Airport, with Norwegian Air (to find some cheap flight deals for your next Edinburgh adventure, click here). Plus, the flight only cost me about $300 round trip. But as if the price wasn’t good enough, they actually provide ample on site parking for only $10 a day (parking maxes out at $60). Plus, there was no traffic as I drove the hour and fifteen minutes to Stewart Airport from my house (no more begging for rides to the airport). And get this, the airport is tiny and the people are super nice, so no long lines or surly airport employees to contend with (if I can help it, I will never fly out of JFK again).
Where to Stay
When planning my trip, it was last minute and I was on a budget. But I really hate dorm rooms in hostels (I’m too old for that. I like privacy), so I searched for a reasonably priced private room so that I had a home base and could plan out my Edinburgh Scotland itinerary. I mean, it didn’t have to be lavish since I would tour Edinburgh Scotland in four days. Well, I was surprised to find that many hostels had private rooms that cost over a hundred dollars a night (Kick Ass Hostel is highly rated and is located at 2 West Port, Grassmarket. Private twin rooms here cost about $104 a night). Now this would be fine if I wasn’t traveling alone, but it is a bit pricey when you are all by yourself. That’s why I chose an AirBnB stay that was about a 15 minute walk from the Royal Mile. Not only was the location great, but my host Tom was super helpful and gave me great directions and helpful recommendations. Plus, the room only cost me $56 a night and was clean, quiet, and conveniently located. So if you are in the market for a great Airbnb, check out Tom’s place at 31 Brunswick Road Flat 10, Edinburgh, EH7, United Kingdom (click here if you want to check this Airbnb out for yourself).
***I didn’t stay at any of these hostels but some highly rated hostels include Castle Rock Hostel ($66 for a private room but book it in advance because this hostel fills up quickly. Located at 15 Johnston Terrace) and Safestay Edinburgh ($105 for a twin private room. Located at 50 Blackfriars Street). But wherever you stay, just make sure it is close to the Royal Mile where most of the Edinburgh tourist attractions are located. Click the adad below to book a hotel or hostel for your next trip.
How To Get to Edinburgh from the Airport (and Vice Versa)
Where I live, public transportation is an absolute nightmare. Thank God Edinburgh, Scotland is nothing like that. Getting to and from the airport is super easy. Once you exit customs, head to the right and outside the airport. Here you will find the Blue Airline buses departing for the city center, from stand 19, every 10 minutes (there are other ways to get to and from the airport but I was told this was the fastest).
Depending on traffic (usually not an issue since there are bus only lanes), the journey to and from the airport usually takes 30 minutes and costs £4.00 for a single fare and £7.00 for an open return ticket. I got off at Waverly train station which is the last stop, right near Princes Street and in the center of town, within walking distance of the Royal Mile (from here if you walk across the park and up the hill, you will hit the Royal Mile. You can’t miss it. Actually, I could but I get lost all the time).
Public Transportation around Edinburgh (so you can quickly and efficiently live out your Edinburgh Scotland itinerary)
Anyone who knows me knows that I avoid the bus like the plague. They are usually dirty, hot, smelly, never on time, and always take forever. Ten times out of ten I will choose the subway, metro, underground, tube or whatever you call it. However, the one and only exception to this general bus aversion is Edinburgh, Scotland. Here, the buses are like virtual palaces on wheels, well at least compared to the nastiness that is on offer in New York. These buses are outfitted with electronic screens that detail not only what stop you are at but the time until your arrival at the other stops along the bus route (most but not all the buses have this). Oh, and did I mention that all bus stops have electronic signs that detail both the number of the bus line and the minutes until its arrival? I was totally blown away by this technological awesomeness and am now forced to rethink my entire perception of public buses. Just be aware that some older buses are not outfitted with these electronic route maps. Therefore sit on the left side of the bus so that you can read the bus stop name as you drive by. This way, you can figure out where you are since the bus driver won’t announce the stop. Also remember to push the stop button so the driver knows you want to get off at a particular stop. Before you board the bus, make sure you have exact change because if you don’t, you won’t get any money back. Single ride tickets cost £1.60 so before I even left for the day, I would meticulously analyze each coin I had (because lets be honest, I had no idea what any of them were worth and didn’t want to look like a total idiot on the bus) and create £1.60 piles based on the number of bus tickets I would need for the day. (Day passes for adults are available for £4. For children they are £2, and for families they are £8.50. All day passes include unlimited rides on public buses for 24 hours).
***Below are various Edinburgh points of interest and the buses you can use to get there.
For The Real Mary King’s Close, Edinburgh Castle, and the Literary Pub Tour take the 23, 27, 41, 42, or 67 to the George the IV Bridge stop. For the Royal Yacht Britannia take the 11, 22, 34, 35, or 36 to the Ocean Terminal stop. For Dynamic Earth, Arthur’s Seat, Scottish Parliament, the Royal Mile, and the Palace of Holyrood House take the 35 or 6 to the Holyrood stop. For the Scottish National Museum take the 8, 37, or 31 to the Chambers Street Stop. For the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art take the 13, 901, and 906.
***You can easily make this a 5 day Edinburgh Itinerary by doing a day trip to the Scottish Highlands.
Day 1 in our effort to Tour Edinburgh Scotland in 4 Days
Morning: Gear up guys because when I tour a city for a short period of time, I hit the ground running. So if you want to fuel up before an epic hike up Arthur’s Seat, I suggest setting your alarm and heading to Mimi’s Little Bakehouse in Old Town (250 Canongate). They have great breakfast options and an assortment of wicked awesome pastries that will tickle anyone’s tastebuds, without annihilating your budget. Besides, you have to eat anyway since you’ll need all the fat and sugar you can get to muster up the strength to hike Arthur’s Seat (my lame justification for eating cake for breakfast). Plus, Mim’s opens at 8:00 am during the week and at 10:00 am on the weekend so it’s a perfect stop before your early morning hike.
Once you’ve filled your belly, but not too much because you don’t want to yak (throw up) while ascending Arthur’s Seat, trek on over to Arthur’s Seat and get ready for some insanely beautiful views of Edinburgh (You can’t miss it. It is this huge, extinct volcano that is green and looming over the entire city). Try and hike early and on a clear day so you can get great views without the crowds or the clouds. Also try not to fall off the side of the hill since it can get rather windy up there (Seriously while I was up there I think I saw a small child fly by! Kidding but it was crazy windy up there). Depending on your fitness level and how long you would like to admire the view, this hike should take you anywhere between two and three hours round trip. Once you have conquered the seat this is Arthur’s, swing by the Scottish Parliament to see a uniquely designed building that you will either love or hate (there is no in between). Take a peak inside this building and explore one of the world’s youngest parliament’s. I honestly didn’t spend too much time here but was touched by the joy and the enthusiasm of the Scottish people when they finally received a parliament of their own (plus it’s free so why not check it out).
After this, head across the street to see the beauty and majesty that is the Palace of Holyroodhouse. This enormous structure is the royal residence of the Queen when she is in Scotland. Lucky me, I visited when the Queen was actually in residence, so I couldn’t tour Holyroodhouse itself, but the palace is open to the public, with the purchase of an expensive ticket, when the Queen is MIA. Because I could only snap a few pictures of the palace exterior, I decided to check out the Queen’s Gallery at Holyroodhouse. This art gallery showcases a small subset of the art that is found within the royal, private collection. Generally, exhibits follow a singular theme and are rotated in and out of the gallery every few months. Currently on view until November 26 is the Shadow of War exhibition which displays all of Roger Fenton’s photographs of the Crimean War. It looks interesting but isn’t the collection I saw while I was there. I think its probably worth a visit but I went mainly because I was bummed that I couldn’t see the interior of Holyroodhouse itself. ***For the Queen’s Gallery, tickets for adults are £7.00, £6.40 for adults over 60 or students (with valid ID), £3.50 for children under 17 or the disabled, and children under 5 are free. ***The Queen’s Gallery is open daily from 9:30 am – 6:00 pm.
Evening: After all that hiking and touring, you’re probably dying of hunger. I would head up the Royal Mile and check out some of the charming restaurants here. I had a limited budget so I just stopped in a local coffee shop, but you can check out the Grain Store (30 Victoria Street), Monteiths (61 High Street), or Angels with Bagpipes (343 High Street). I have heard great things about all of these places and will definitely check them out when I have a little more cash and am in town again. Since you are right on the Royal Mile anyway, take some time to walk these historic cobbled streets and see what this iconic place has to offer. Sure, its touristy as all hell, but who cares. You’re a tourist. Feel free to stroll around and check out the street performers, Canongate Kirkyard (Adam Smith the famous economist is buried here), followed by Dunbar Close, St. Giles Cathedral, the Real Mary King’s Close, and eventually Edinburgh Castle itself, all the way at the top. A fascinating area that is rich in history if you overlook that shop in the corner that is hawking all things tartan (not plaid) to the tourists. After all that walking, take a minute to relax at one of the quaint cafes that line this iconic street. There are a lot of great places to relax, get caffeinated, and grab some grub until its time for your free ghost tour at 7;00pm. And make sure you get plenty of food and recharge your battery because this tour goes all the way until 9:30 pm (depending on how enthusiastic and chatty your tour guide is). The ghost tour meets at 7:00pm right at 90/3 Grassmarket, Edinburgh EH1 2JR (Half Way Up the Royal Mile). Trust me, it is totally worth staying up late for this tour (plus you can leave at any time since its free). But I enjoyed the entire experience since my tour guide was super fun and friendly Not only did he show us all around the Royal Mile but he also put a lot of energy and humor into his delivery which really enhanced the whole experience (It was really a performance because people in the buildings above were opening their windows to look at us). Was all of his information factual? No idea, but some of the stories he told were awesomely creepy, making this tour a fun and creative way to explore Edinburgh’s checkered past.
***For additional information on any of the sites mentioned as we Tour Edinburgh Scotland in 4 days click here. Can’t find what you want? Then check out this EPIC local’s ultimate Edinburgh travel guide.
***Not a fan of ghosts but looking for an awesome tour? Check out this book lovers tour in Edinburgh
Day 2 (As we tour Edinburgh Scotland in 4 days! Can we do it? Find out)
Morning: First order of business, sleep in! We did a lot on day 1 and this is a vacation, so you deserve to relax. Once you’re ready, hop on the 11, 22, 34, 35, or 36 and stay on the bus until the end of the line, at Ocean Terminal. Once you get off the bus, head inside the huge mall and take the escalator to the second floor where you will see a ton of signs that will lead you to what has been voted as Scotland’s Best Visitor Attraction, the Royal Yacht Britannia (not my decision but that of the other hordes of tourists).
***Open from 10:00 am – 3:30 pm (from November through March), 9:30 am — 4:30pm (from April through September), and 9:30 am – 4:oo pm (October).
***Tickets cost £15.50 for adults, £13.75 for senior citizens (60+) and full time students, £8.50 for children from 5-17, free for children under 5, and £44.50 for two adults and up to three children.
Now in case you have no idea what the Royal Yacht Britannia is (besides a yacht duh and one of the must see attractions on your Edinburgh Scotland itinerary), it was the British royal family’s floating holiday home throughout their international travels from 1953 until 1997 when the yacht was retired from use. So grab a free audio tour and find out what the everyday lives of the Royals is really like. Its fun because at times you feel like you are being transported back in time as you step into the 1950s style decor of the simple and unfussy surroundings that the Queen preferred. However, you also learn a great deal about the ship, how it was run, and the lives of the crewmen on board, which included 45 members of the royal household, an admiral, 20 officers and 220 yachtsmen (Yikes talk about an entourage). After you’ve experienced all the nautical life you can stomach, head out into Leith and check out some of the amazing cuisine in this waterfront community. Whether you are in the mood for Michelin star rated food at the Kitchin (78 Commercial Street) or Restaurant Martin Wishart (54 Shore) or a pub that serves cocktails in teapots (the Roseleaf at 23-24 sandpit place), there is something for every taste and every budget in Leith. I stuck with the cupcake heaven that is Mimi’s Bakehouse but totally depends on your tastes. Fishers (1 Shore) and the Ship on the Shore (24-26) are also two great seafood restaurants that you can add to your tour of Edinburgh Scotland in 4 days, if you’re a seafood enthusiast (I am a vegetarian so I skipped these places). Afternoon: Once your stomach has ceased grumbling, check out some of the historic attractions that Leith has to offer (and there are a few since Leith was Scotland’s principal port for over 900 years). Trinity House Maritime Museum is a great option for the museum lovers in the audience since this Georgian style house has a vast collection of artifacts and relics from the mariners and shipmasters of Leith’s past.
However, if history and museums aren’t really your thing, take a stroll along the Water of Leith walkway, which is a stunning, twelve mile stroll through the heart of Edinburgh, from Balerno to Leith (Don’t worry, you don’t have to do the whole thing. I won’t tell). Also be on the look out for Antony Gormley’s ‘6 Times’ statues that run all the way from the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art to the docks by Britannia (just look for 6 naked dudes in the water). You can also embrace your inner art lover and wander over to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art which is spread throughout two buildings that are set against a stunning landscape that was designed by Charles Jencks and is home to a fantastic sculpture park that contains a series of pieces by Henry Moore. However, there are also a wealth of artistic treasures inside the buildings that represent the Cubist, Expressionist, post-war and contemporary art movements (Some highlights include Tourists by Duane Hanson (Such an awesome piece. Cracks me up in the best possible way), Master of the Universe by Eduardo Paolozzi, Joan Eardley portrait (hauntingly beautiful), etc). ***For additional information on any of the sites mentioned in day 2 or any other sites mentioned in this Edinburgh Scotland itinerary, click here.
Day 3 (You made it to day 3 and survived all these Edinburgh Scotland day trips. A round of applause to you)
Morning: Up and at ’em my friend because today we head to Edinburgh Castle. If you are staying near Old Town, you can just walk there because it is literally, the huge Castle on the top of the hill. You can also take the bus if the past two days leave you begging for a Segway of your very own. I purchased my tickets online, to avoid the cue, line, whatever, and it works out well because they have an area where you can print out your tickets (if that doesn’t work, it means you got your tickets from a third party website and need to head over to customer service). Just be warned that if you get here early, there will still be a ton of people because Edinburgh Castle is probably one of the most popular tourist attractions in the entire city. Also note that this is a former military fortification so it’s not gonna be as swanky as say Versailles in France. Still totally awesome though with lots of history to explore and experience, like the immortal one o’clock gun. And yes, you should splurge and get the audio tour because the history of this fortification was really interesting, at least to me (for more information on this attraction, click here. I arrived at the Castle when it opened and spent a solid 2 and a half hours there (and I was definitely rushing a little), so by the time I got out I was starving. I was a hangry (hungry/angry) beast and needed some food stat. So I made the executive decision to treat myself to afternoon tea (not to be confused with high tea which typically has a cooked meal component).
Now, I know afternoon tea is typically served later in the afternoon (hence the name) but I went around 1:30 pm because I had a reservation at the Balmoral Hotel, right on Princes Street (Supposedly J.K. Rowling wrote the final Harry Potter books here). I also know that scones and clotted cream are more of an English tradition but I can’t help it. I feel like when I am in the United Kingdom, I have to have afternoon tea. So I totally splurged and had tea at one of the best hotels in Edinburgh. And I am delighted to say that it was totally worth the £40 a person (Insane I know but whatever, I’m worth it). I chose from an assortment of teas and coffees and was then given a chilled, gazpacho amuse to start. This was quickly followed by an assortment of egg salad, cucumber, cheese, and hummus finger sandwiches (since I am a vegetarian). Next up, my favorite course, the scones with clotted cream and raspberry jam, It was heaven in my mouth with a plain scone as well as a raisin scone on offer, both of which were warm and served fresh out of the oven (and yes, the clotted cream was like food crack). Throw in a trio of desserts with a pistachio macaron for my final course, and I happily rolled out of there with some tea and a salted caramel, milk chocolate to go. Impeccable service and delicious food that was worth the hefty price tag. They also served raspberry sorbet in a teeny tiny ice cream cone to cleanse your palette (cutest thing ever). Afternoon: After this lovely tea service, I didn’t really feel like walking too far so I strolled down Princes Street and marveled at some of the gardens, as well as the famous Scott monument. I then meandered on over to the Scottish National Gallery. Now I’m not gonna lie, the National Gallery is not huge. But it does have some interesting pieces on display that are worth exploring (I also heard the cafe has really good bacon rolls). However my absolute favorite part was the Beyond Caravaggio exhibit upstairs and if I’m brutally honest, I feel like the National Gallery is only worth it if you pay for this exhibit (only my opinion so don’t hate me). Thank God it was good because this special exhibit costs £12 to get into, but it was money well spent since this artist challenged conventional ideals about the art of his time. Rather than portray a series of ideals, Caravaggio sought realism in his work and portrayed the realities of life and its impact upon the human body. A truly enlightening exhibit that I was delighted to see (Only runs through September 2017 but I am sure something even more awesome will come after it. Also bear in mind that I am not an art history major and these are just my own opinions).
Now, off to bed… Ha! Just kidding! There is still more to see! I mean this is Edinburgh Scotland and there are like 10,000 things you need to see on this Edinburgh Scotland itinerary. But I promise, this is the last stop for the day, and it is totally worth it. Head right up to the Royal Mile and stop at the Real Mary King’s Close and get ready for one amazing, historically accurate tour of Mary King’s Close. This close, or alley off the main road, is a historic close that is actually located under the buildings on the Royal Mile, in the historic Old Town area of Edinburgh, Scotland (think like an awesome, underground village that transports you back in time). The name of this close actually comes from Mary King, a female merchant of high status who resided on the Close in the 17th century. The only draw back is that you can’t take photos, but that’s okay because the tour guides are fun, informative, and embrace their seventeenth century characters in an exciting and enthusiastic way. And while they do advertise Mary King’s Close with this spooky, bubonic plague era, bird beak costume that makes it look super creepy, the tour is really not scary at all, just fun and informative. I guess the only slightly scary part is that you are underground but its well lit and you don’t feel overly confined. Just be warned that tours fill up fast (at least in the summer), so I would purchase tickets online or book your tour at least a day in advance so you don’t miss out. ***Tours operate daily from 10 am to 9 pm from April through October. From November through March, tours operate from 10 am to 5 pm, Sunday to Thursday, and from 10 am to 9pm, Friday and Saturday. ***Tickets cost £14.95 for adults, £12.95 for seniors over 60 and students, £8.95 for children between 5 and 15, and £40.50 for a family of two adults and two children.
Day 4: A much needed Edinburgh Scotland Day Trip
So for our last day in Edinburgh, Scotland, I think its time to take an Edinburgh Scotland day trip out of the city. I mean don’t get me wrong, the city is lovely, but sometimes you need a little country air. Besides, how can you come to Scotland and not see the Forth Bridge. Actually, if I’m totally honest, my AirBnB host told me all about the Forth Bridge and that is was an iconic, Unesco World Heritage Site. Prior to this trip, I had no idea this bridge even existed. But he informed me that it was quite emblematic of Scotland and totally worth a visit. So I decided to take his advice and am so glad I did. To get here, simply hop on the train at Edinburgh Waverly Station and get off at Dalemny Station in South Queensferry (super easy since its like three stops). The journey only takes about thirty minutes and the fare costs a little over £4 round trip which definitely won’t send you to debtors prison (history nerd shining through). Plus, once you get there, there are a ton of signs that point you in the right direction so even I didn’t get lost (Trains depart regularly from Waverly and Dalemny every thirty minutes). Now once you arrive and walk into Queensferry, the Forth Bridge is pretty hard to miss. It’s an enormous, red, antilever trussed bridge that has one of the world’s longest spans at 541meters. Its pretty interesting since this bridge was originally opened in 1890 and is still in use today since it connects Fife to Edinburgh by railway. Just take a moment to admire the impressive size and innovative design of this amazing feat of engineering. Now once you have procured a ridiculous number of Forth Bridge pictures (God forbid I don’t have enough for my 2 Instagram followers. LoL), I suggest taking a sightseeing cruise on the Maid of Forth. This boat departs from Hawes Pier in South Queensferry and offers lovely day cruises where you get unrivaled views of the Forth Bridge, as well as Inchcolm Island and Inchcolm Abby.
The Maid of the Forth offers two cruise options for you to choose from. You can choose either the hour and a half sightseeing cruise where you remain on the boat, or you can choose the three hour Inchcolm landing trip where you can get off the boat and explore Inchcolm Island and Abbey for an hour and a half (cruises depart from Hawes Pier at 10:30 am, 12:15 pm, 2:00pm, and 3:45 pm each day). As the boat departs the pier and sails towards Inchcolm Island, head upstairs to the open air deck, and bring your camera so that you can get photos of the Grey Seals, Puffins, Guillemots, Razorbills and dolphins that call the Forth Estuary. Also keep an eye out for some pretty great captures of Inchcolm Island, Inchcolm Abbey, and the Forth Bridge. While I was there, I would have loved to explore Inchcolm Island but sadly, I had a flight to catch and just didn’t have the time. But if you do have the entire day free, I highly suggest exploring the Island since Inchcolm Abbey seems absolutely picturesque (no food, drinks, or bathroom are on the island so prepare yourself before you leave the boat). Also be sure to save some time after the cruise to explore the quaint town of Queensferry, which has some lovely shops, restaurants, and bakeries to explore (There are some really good bakeries here but if you are looking for something fancier try Hawes Inn at Newhalls Road for pub grub, Stables Tearoom at Hopetoun House, or Samphire at 17 High Street for seafood).
***Tickets for the hour and a half sightseeing cruise are £14.00 for adults, £13.00 concession, £7.00 for children between 5 and 15, £35.00 for a family of two adults and three children, and free for children under 5. ***Tickets for the three hour Inchcolm Landing Trip are £20.00for an adult, £19.00 for a student, £17.80 for a senior citizen, £10.60 for children between 5 and 15, £54.50 for a family of two adults and three children, and free for children under 5.
You Did it! Your survived this Edinburgh Scotland Itinerary and Figured out How to Tour Edinburgh Scotland in 4 days! Now I know this is a ton of stuff (and even more information) but don’t let it all overwhelm you. You have limited time so feel free to pick and choose what works for you and what doesn’t. I just laid out all the options so you know what attractions you can choose from.
The main thing is, DON’T STRESS. This is supposed to be fun because remember, its vacation. Also note that like you, I was limited in time so there is no way that everything could go on this itinerary to help you tour Edinburgh Scotland in 4 days. So do what I did and pick the Edinburgh Scotland itinerary and Edinburgh Scotland day trips that work for you and enjoy Edinburgh because there is a reason why it is one of my favorite places on Earth.
***Need a little more Scotland in your life? Check out these awesome Scotland Instagram Accounts that you need to follow right now.
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