Edinburgh Itinerary 3 Days of History, Culture & Food

Big Sky Campers’ Recommended Edinburgh Itinerary – 3 days to pack in the best of Scotland’s capital. In this guide, we’ll give you a fairly pacey 3 day Edinburgh itinerary. It will take in must-see landmarks and the historical and cultural highlights of the city, as well as introduce you to some of the more interesting and picturesque neighbourhoods outside the city centre. 

If you have a couple of extra days to spare explore our other suggested routes for a couple of nights away to experience Scotland’s wild and beautiful natural landscape.

Scottish Piper Edinburgh Itinerary 3 days
Royal Mile 3 Days in Edinburgh Scotland

The Best Edinburgh Itinerary: 3 Days to see the best of Edinburgh

Big Sky Campers’ Guide to the best things to do in Edinburgh in 3 days

Edinburgh welcomes over 4 million visitors each year, who come for its history, culture, restaurants and atmosphere. There’s a lot to see and do, here’s our suggestions for the best Edinburgh itinerary – 3 days to see the best the city has to offer.

Day 1: The Historic Heart of Edinburgh

A full day of sightseeing, on the first day of our 3 day Edinburgh itinerary you will explore the historical city centre and visit some of Edinburgh’s most famous landmarks.

Calton Hill

We suggest you start your 3 day Edinburgh itinerary with a climb up Calton Hill, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. When you reach the top you will enjoy breathtaking views of the city. Calton Hill is the site of three famous Edinburgh landmarks –  the Nelson Monument, the City Observatory and the National Monument. 

The Nelson Monument & City Observatory

The Nelson Monument was built between 1807 and 1815 after the death of Vice Admiral Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar. A later addition was the Time Ball that drops precisely at 1pm. This was added so ships setting off from Edinburgh could set their clocks correctly before embarking on long voyages. 

If you have an interest in astronomy, you will also enjoy visiting the neoclassical City Observatory which also has a very good visitor centre. 

The National Monument

The National Monument commemorates Scots who fell during the Napoleonic Wars. It was designed by Charles Cockerell and William Playfair. The original intention was for the monument to be an exact copy of the Parthenon in Athens. However, the funds ran out meaning that only twelve columns were built. Nevertheless, the striking monument was one of a number of buildings and monuments taking their inspiration from ancient Greece that contributed to Edinburgh acquiring the nickname  – ‘the Athens of the North.’

Calton Hill National Monument 3 Days in Edinburgh

Scott Monument

From Calton Hill, it is just a 10 minute walk to the Scott Monument, a Victorian Gothic monument built in honour of the famous Scottish literary figure, Sir Walter Scott. The monument is the largest in the world to a writer, reflecting the importance of Sir Walter Scott to Scotland’s cultural heritage. The 200 ft high monument is decorated with carved figures of characters from Scott’s works. It was designed by George Meikle Kemp who was in fact a carpenter rather than an architect. He won the commission through a competition, his design was selected by a panel of judges beating a number of more established architects of the day. It was a controversial choice, however, that divided opinion and even attracted the derision of Charles Dickens.

Scott Monument Edinburgh 3 Day Itinerary

This was an exciting period for invention and discovery and the structure was being built as the new science of photography was being developed. Some of the earliest photographs are actually of the Monument being built. 

The monument is on four levels and you can climb to the top for great views of the city. However, having already climbed Calton Hill, we’d recommend that you save your legs and instead explore the small museum room on the first floor where you can learn about the life and works of Sir Walter Scott.

Nearby Attractions

Edinburgh Itinerary 3 Days

Our ultimate destination this morning is Edinburgh Castle, but there are a number of other attractions close by that you can visit beforehand. You won’t be able to fit all of these in. We have picked out suggestions to cater to a range of interests.

National Galleries of Scotland

Just a few steps away from the Scott monument art lovers will enjoy the National Galleries of Scotland, home to an impressive collection of European paintings. These include works by artists like Titian, Vermeer, and Turner. The gallery’s neoclassical architecture is a work of art in itself.

The Edinburgh Dungeon

Allow just over an hour for this immersive journey into the darker side of Edinburgh’s history. It is a highly interactive experience where you meet some gruesome characters from Edinburgh’s past and a fun way for younger folk to get a taste of history. 

The Writers’ Museum

Delve into literary history at the Writers’ Museum, dedicated to the lives and works of three of Scotland’s greatest writers: Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson. Explore their personal belongings, manuscripts, and memorabilia. This is a free museum

Camera Obscura

The original Camera Obscura was on Calton Hill, founded in 1835 by entrepreneur Maria Theresa Short. It attracted mixed reviews with some claiming the attraction was tasteless. She was forcibly evicted from Calton Hill by the council. Undaunted, she bought a building on Castle Hill and opened an observatory and museum of scientific curiosities there. Edinburgh’s oldest tourist attraction now has over 100 optical illusions to amaze and entertain all ages. You can easily spend an hour and a half to two hours here.

No trip to Edinburgh would be complete without a visit to this historic fortress, whose iconic structure dominates the city’s skyline. The oldest surviving part of Edinburgh Castle dates from the 12th Century but historians believe that there has been a fortress on this site since the Iron Age. During its history it was a royal residence for 5 centuries, then a fortress and finally a prison. Now it gives visitors a chance to dive into Scotland’s often turbulent history. 

Edinburgh Castle Scotland Edinburgh Itinerary 3 days

Highlights of Edinburgh Castle include:

The Great Hall built during the reign of James IV

The ornate Royal Palace, home to the Stewart monarchs

The Honours of Scotland, the nation’s crown jewels consisting of crown, sceptre and sword of state

The Stone of Destiny, a symbol of Scottish nationhood

St. Margaret’s Chapel – the oldest surviving building in the City, built in 1130

Mons Meg, the giant cannon that could fire cannonballs weighing 15kg over two miles

Try to time your visit to Edinburgh to coincide with the daily firing of the One O’Clock Gun, a tradition which dates back to 1861, brought from Paris to Edinburgh by businessman John Hewatt. 

Exploring the Historic Old Town

Grassmarket 

After your visit to the castle, explore the Grassmarket area of Edinburgh’s Old Town with its labyrinth of preserved cobblestone streets. The area is a haven of independent merchants, designers, and artisans, offering an array of high-quality gift, clothing, and homeware shops. You will also find an assortment of bars, restaurants, and cafes that cater to all tastes and budgets.

This historic area dates back to the early 15th century, evolving from a bustling marketplace for horses and cattle into a hub for various merchants and artisans. Over the centuries, it played a significant role in the city’s story, from hosting public executions to serving as a central location for social gatherings and celebrations. During the 18th century, the Grassmarket Area garnered notoriety for its vibrant pub culture, attracting poets, writers, and intellectuals. 

Edinburgh Itinerary Three Days Fleshmarket

Grassmarket in Literature

Several famous authors have taken inspiration from Grassmarket’s distinctive atmosphere. Sir Walter Scott’s “The Heart of Midlothian” depicts the Grassmarket’s role as a site for public executions, vividly portraying the emotional turmoil and societal complexities surrounding them. 

Ian Rankin’s Crime Novels

Contemporary authors have also used Grassmarket as a backdrop for their works. Ian Rankin, a master of contemporary crime fiction, uses Grassmarket as a recurring setting throughout his work. In his “Inspector Rebus” series, Rankin weaves Grassmarket into the fabric of his plots, using its atmospheric streets and labyrinthine alleys as a backdrop for gritty crime investigations and exploring the dark criminal underbelly of the area.

Harry Potter

The Grassmarket in Edinburgh was a source of inspiration for the vivid wizarding world of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. It provided Rowling with a blueprint for the bustling and fantastical Diagon Alley, where wizards could procure their magical supplies and wares.

Other novels set in Grassmarket 

In “The Last Banquet of Temporal Confections” by Tina Connolly, the Grassmarket is where the protagonist, a skilled confectioner, navigates a world of magical delicacies and political intrigue. In “The Ghost of Helen Addison” by Charles E. McGarry, the Grassmarket provides the haunting backdrop for a supernatural thriller that delves into the area’s darker historical aspects. 

The Real Mary King’s Close

If you want to immerse yourself further in Edinburgh’s past, explore The Real Mary King’s CloseVisitors will delve into the mysterious underground passages and concealed streets that once formed the bustling heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town giving you a unique perspective on Edinburgh’s history. Upon entering The Real Mary King’s Close, you are transported back in time, discovering the authentic stories and secrets of the city’s past inhabitants. The Close itself, named after Mary King, a prominent businesswoman in the 17th century, provides a glimpse into the daily lives of Edinburgh’s residents during various historical periods.

Through immersive guided tours, visitors can explore the well-preserved underground streets, homes, and businesses, gaining insight into the living conditions and social history of earlier times. Guides narrate tales of plague outbreaks, mysterious occurrences, and showcase the resilience of the local community living through Edinburgh’s rich and sometimes tumultuous history. It sheds light on the social, economic, and cultural aspects of life in Edinburgh and gives the visitor a real insight into the spirit of Edinburgh and how it became the place it is today. 

Edinburgh Historic Old Town 3 day Edinburgh Itinerary

Where to Eat in Edinburgh

There are numerous restaurants for all budgets in the City Centre. Here are some of our favourites

Ondine

Seafood lovers will appreciate Ondine’s fresh and expertly prepared seafood offerings, including oysters, mussels, and more. 

The Sheep Heid Inn

A country pub in the city! A bit further out, but worth the trip. For a taste of traditional Scottish cuisine, head to The Sheep Heid Inn in Holyrood Park, one of the oldest pubs in Scotland. Try their delicious pub fare and perhaps even a round of Skittles, a classic Scottish pub game.

The Gardener’s Cottage

The Gardener’s Cottage, a restaurant known for its farm-to-table philosophy. Enjoy dishes made from locally sourced, seasonal ingredients in a charming cottage setting.

The Witchery

For a taste of Scottish cuisine, head to The Witchery by the Castle, an atmospheric restaurant housed in a historic building. Try their renowned haggis, neeps, and tatties – a quintessential Scottish dish.

Day 2: A Walking Tour of Edinburgh’s Neighbourhoods: Dean Village, Stockbridge, & Leith

Get your walking shoes on for day 2 of our 3 day Edinburgh itinerary. You will explore some of the City’s most popular neighbourhoods starting in Dean Village and exploring Stockbridge before culminating in the vibrant Leith district. Plan to be out for the entire day, finishing with dinner in Leith which has become a culinary destination in its own right.

Dean Village

Begin your day with a leisurely stroll through lovely Dean Village, with its picturesque 19th-century architecture. Once a bustling water milling centre it is a picturesque and historic area northwest of the city centre, known for its charming cottages and the tranquil Water of Leith that runs through the area. You can either pause to visit the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art and its extensive collection of contemporary and modern artworks or simply continue your scenic stroll to Stockbridge along the meandering path beside the Waters of Leith. This peaceful riverside walk will be a nice contrast to yesterday’s exploration of the bustling city centre.

Edinburgh itinerary 3 days Stockbridge
Edinburgh Itinerary 3 Days Dean Village

Stockbridge

Stockbridge, is a vibrant neighbourhood full of independent shops, bars and restaurants. You can happily while away several hours enjoying the neighbourhood’s atmosphere and architecture and discovering interesting and quirky shops and galleries. On Sunday’s Stockbridge Market offers an array of artisanal foods and street food vendors.

The Botanic Gardens

Before continuing along the Waters of Leith to your journey’s end in lively Leith, botany lovers should make a stop at Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Gardens. One of the world’s leading botanic gardens, there are 70 acres of beautiful landscape to explore. There are four different gardens to explore including the magnificent Palm House (also a handy place to stop if the weather turns).

Royal Botanical Gardens Edinburgh 3 day itinerary

Foodie Leith

Follow the path by the Waters of Leith to the conclusion of your walking tour – the bustling district of Leith. Leith has enjoyed a chequered history, historically being one of the less salubrious areas of Edinburgh as depicted in the film Trainspotting. However, that’s all firmly in the past. Leith has evolved into a trendy district, with a rich culinary scene and lively arts community.

You will find plenty of bars and restaurants to choose from in the waterside area known as The Shore or a little further out to Newhaven. The following suggestions cater for all tastes and budgets.

Teuchters Landing

This down-to-earth bar is a Leith favourite. If you haven’t been able to make it to the Highlands then a visit will give you at least a taste of a traditional Highland pub. Teuchters is actually a slightly contemptuous word for a Highlander (as the founders both are). There is a wide selection of whiskies, predominantly Scottish bottled or draught beer, gins and an extensive wine list. Menus include Scottish favourites such as haggis, neeps and tatties, cullen skink alongside British pub staples. 

Nobles Bar

Good quality fresh, local and seasonal dishes with weekend brunches and roasts on a Sunday after 3pm

The Chop House

Located in a 17th Century watchtower on The Shore, this award winning Leith institution is one of the best places to sample Scottish seafood. Casual, friendly atmosphere.

Fishers

Located in a 17th Century watchtower on The Shore, this award winning Leith institution is one of the best places to sample Scottish seafood. Casual, friendly atmosphere.

The Fish Market, Newhaven

A little further out in Newhaven, but worth the walk for fish and seafood lovers. This Victorian harbourside eating house offers simple pleasures such as classic fish and chips (take away available), oysters or langoustines washed down with chilled white wine or a local beer. There is an outside deck with magnificent views of the fishing boats, lighthouse and the Forth Bridges.

Loch Fyne Seafood & Grill

Loch Fyne is an established chain of seafood restaurants serving the best local seafood. The Newhaven restaurant combines the high quality seafood they are famous for, with a historic maritime setting. The restaurant is housed on the site of a Victorian fish market and is decked out with maritime themed artwork. Newhaven still has an active fishing community and you can enjoy harbour views when dining outside. 

The Kings Wark

A relaxed Gastropub on The Shore offers a traditional, seasonal menu using only Scottish produce in a building that dates from the 1400s. Wild game and seafood are specialities

The Kitchin

One of Edinburgh’s finest Michelin-star restaurants, Tom Kitchin’s restaurant serves the finest, freshest Scottish seasonal produce in exquisite dishes for a fine dining experience.

The Shore Leith 3 Day Tour of Edinburgh

Day 3: Iconic Edinburgh Essentials not to be missed

A visit to Edinburgh would not be complete without visiting these iconic sights and enjoying a taste of our national drink.

Arthur’s Seat

On your final day in Edinburgh, venture out to the serene Holyrood Park. Start your hike up Arthur’s Seat, an extinct volcano, for panoramic views of the city, the Firth of Forth, and beyond. This is a must-visit for outdoor enthusiasts.

Holyroodhouse

After your descent from Arthur’s Seat, those with an interest in royal history can visit the nearby Palace of Holyroodhouse, the official residence of the British monarch in Scotland. Explore the opulent State Apartments and learn about the history of the palace, which dates back to the 16th century.

Arthurs Seat Edinburgh Itinerary 3 Days

Scottish Parliament building

The Scottish Parliament at Holyrood is open throughout the year. When it is sitting you can watch parliamentary business taking place. There are also free guided tours and talks on certain days (check for days and times when planning your visit). Or just explore the building unguided. There is a free exhibition and you can explore any of the public areas without booking.

The building was opened in 2004 by HM the Queen. The project was controversial from the outset with the choice of Enric Miralles, a Spanish architect, as the winner of an international competition to design it. Its location was audacious, opposite the Queen’s house in what had once been the garden of James Douglas, the 2nd Duke of Queensbury. Douglas, as Lord High Commissioner, was pivotal in negotiating and passing the Acts of Union 1707 with England, essentially creating the United Kingdom of Great Britain. The project ended up costing 8 times its original budget. Nevertheless, it is an amazing piece of architecture and is now an iconic part of Edinburgh’s story.

National Museum of Scotland

The National Museum of Scotland is an incredible museum that hosts collections on Scottish history and archaeology, science and technology, the natural world and art, design and fashion in an incredibly beautiful building. You could spend several days exploring the exhibits but as time is limited, choose from one of the museum trails that have been designed around different themes. If you are travelling with children, a number of the trails have been designed with younger people in mind. 

Scotch Whisky Experience

What trip to Edinburgh would be complete without indulging in a taste of our national liquor? Learn everything you could possibly want to know about the intricacies of whisky production with a tour of the Scotch Whisky Experience. You will get an understanding of the differences between whisky produced in different regions of Scotland and the art of whisky-making. Don’t miss the interactive barrel ride, which simulates the whisky-making process. There are a variety of tours and tastings on offer, including somewhere you can combine a tour with a Scottish Tasting Menu in the Amber Restaurant. Booking is essential and you are advised to book at least 3 months in advance.

Scotch whisky experience Royal Mile Edinburgh Scotland

Essential Edinburgh Itinerary: 3 Days to Explore Scotland’s Capital

Our 3 day Edinburgh itinerary offers something for everyone. Whether you are interested in art, architecture, folklore, food, history or sightseeing we hope our suggested itinerary helps you get the most out of your trip to Edinburgh. We have packed as much in as possible but if you wanted to take things at a slower pace, you could take your time and make it a 4 or 5 day Edinburgh itinerary.

Big Sky Campers Campervans for Hire

Scotland

If you have a few extra days in Scotland, why not rent a campervan and head out of Edinburgh to experience Scotland’s wonderful natural landscape? Big Sky Campers are based just outside Edinburgh and offer a pick up service from local transport stops. We are on the route of the airport bus and are a short local train ride from Edinburgh Waverley or Haymarket stations. We are happy to suggest the best itinerary for your needs, or you can take a look at the itineraries we have on our website. All our campervans for hire come fully equipped with everything you will need for your road trip in Scotland. Everything is included in the price, including extra sets of bedding if requested. 

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