With three days in Edinburgh, you have plenty of time to soak up the city’s atmosphere, see its most famous sights, and head out of town into the surrounding countryside. Here are a few ways to experience the very best of the Scottish capital in 72 memorable hours.
Day 1: Explore the Contrasting Old and New Towns
Soak in the atmosphere of the medieval Old Town, filled with cobblestone streets and winding alleys, on a private or group walking tour that leads you along and around the Royal Mile. Walking tours take you to top attractions such as Princes Street and the Scottish National Portrait Gallery while your guide tells related tales of secret Edinburgh societies and inventions of the Enlightenment period. Alternatively, a hop-on hop-off bus tour of the whole city offers more flexibility: you can get off at any point of interest along the route and spend as long as you like there.
After your tour, admire the contrasting architecture of the elegant New Town—together the two areas form a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In the evening, get a taste of the local nightlife on a pub crawl through the Old Town, which includes free drinks.
Day 2: See the City’s Royal Side
Edinburgh Castle, the historic fortress perched atop an extinct volcano, dominates the city’s skyline. Save time by booking a castle tour that includes skip-the-line entry. Private and group guided castle tours provide historical insights and take you to see such sights as the Crown Jewels of Scotland, including the Stone of Destiny, which was used in the coronation of Scottish monarchs.
Afterward head into the port of Leith for a glimpse into the lives of more recent monarchs at the Royal Yacht Britannia, the former royal yacht of Queen Elizabeth II. Explore the stately ship’s five decks, peeking into elaborately decorated rooms like the State Apartments, the State Drawing Room, and the Queen’s Bedroom. Conclude the refined experience with an elegant high tea in the Royal Deck Tea Room.
Day 3: Head for the Highlands
Scotland’s compact size means that its wild landscapes are within easy access of its capital city. A small-group day trip can take you out of the city and into some spectacular landscapes as you journey to the haunting valley of Glencoe, Cairngorms National Park, the charming Victorian town of Pitlochry, and Loch Ness, where you can embark on a cruise across the famed loch in pursuit of the Loch Ness Monster. Alternatively, you can head in the opposite direction to see the Roman-built Hadrian’s Wall (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), Melrose Abbey, and the mysterious architectural gem that is Rosslyn Chapel, associated with the Knights Templar and Freemasons and brought to worldwide fame by the book “The Da Vinci Code.”
Back in Edinburgh, conclude your trip with a traditional Scottish evening spent listening to folk tales recounted by an entertaining storyteller while enjoying whisky, haggis, and cranachan, a traditional dessert of oats, berries, and cream.