Edinburgh is the perfect place for a one day city break in Europe. While you could easily fill days in the Scottish capital by touring the medieval sites and sampling the local delicacies, Edinburgh isn’t the kind of city that’ll overwhelm you if you only have 24 hours to spare. Most of the main must-sees are ideally close together, so you can avoid having to get to grips with public transport or rush from place to place. Everywhere you walk you’ll stumble across Edinburgh gems, but the entire city is really a sight in itself – the photo opportunities are endless!
From where to learn about the Edinburgh’s history to where to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner on a budget, here we have an easy itinerary you can follow to make the most of one day in our favourite Scottish city, while keeping to a budget.
Scottish breakfast at the Royal McGregor
Kick off your morning like a true Scot, with a full Scottish breakfast at the Royal McGregor Pub. Located on High Street right in the heart of the Old Town, you’d expect this place to be packed with tourists looking for a taste of Scotland, but it’s hardly ever as busy as it should be (all the better for us). Sit down for breakfast from 9:30am and order the full Scottish breakfast – pretty similar to an English fry-up but maybe even better… Along with bacon, eggs, beans, sausages, black pudding and tomato you’ll get haggis and a tattie scone to put the ‘Scottish’ in Scottish breakfast. And it’s only £6.75!
One of the stand out features in Edinburgh’s skyline, you won’t be able to miss St Giles’ Cathedral as you leave the Royal McGregor. It’s been standing smack bang in the centre of Edinburgh’s Old Town since the medieval period, having been founded in 1124. It’s still a working church, but it’s now open for the public to take a look around inside and marvel at its history and intricate structure.
Check out St Christopher’s Inns’ guide to Things to do on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile
From the cathedral, Princes Street Gardens is a stone’s throw away. Take a wander through on your way to Edinburgh Castle as it’s one of the prettiest gardens in and around Edinburgh (and the most famous, for sure). Princes Street Gardens separate the Old Town from the New Town, and are divided into two by The Mound. They’re where the famous Edinburgh Christmas Market is held every year, and is a buzzing spot during the summer with deck chairs and picnic blankets spread out across the green.
On the east side of the gardens you’ll see a tall, Gothic black structure – that’s Scotts Monument. This was placed here in memory of the Scottish author, Sir Walter Scott, and now it’s another major landmark in Edinburgh skyline.
The icon of Edinburgh and the city’s ultimate landmark – even with just a day in Edinburgh you simply can’t skip Edinburgh Castle. It dominates the city, overlooking the town and Princes Street Gardens from above at the top of Castle Rock. Edinburgh Castle isn’t just an incredible site to look at, but you can pay to head inside, look around and delve deep into its fascinating history, stories and secrets. Step into St Margaret’s Chapel, the oldest part of the castle which dates all the way back to the 12th century, then see the Great Hall, Half Moon Battery and the Scottish National War Memorial.
Tickets to Edinburgh Castle are £17.50, but so worthwhile for ticking off what’s considered to be one of the most bucket list sites in Europe. Be sure to book your ticket a little in advance to guarantee entry on the day you’ll be in Edinburgh.
Just below Edinburgh Castle is the most colourful street in the city that’s also packed with some great shops, bars and restaurants. The cobbled street curves upwards making for a perfect photo spot, many Harry Potter fans have suggested that JK Rowling’s inspiration for Diagon Alley came from Victoria Street’s hustle and bustle and beautiful, olden day look. And if you’re a fan of the wizarding books, you can pop into the Museum Context which is full of Harry Potter merchandise you can buy!
Lunch at Oink
A really popular spot on Victoria Street for a lunchtime bite to eat is Oink. If the pink exterior isn’t inviting enough, the smell of cooking pulled pork and apple sauce is sure to draw you in. Oink is a great affordable lunch option in Edinburgh – £3.10 for a small one, £4.10 for a medium, or £5.30 if you’re really hungry! Choose your roll, your stuffing and your sauce and you’ve got yourself the best pulled pork roll in Edinburgh.
If meat isn’t your thing, Hula Juice Bar is really near Victoria Street and does some of the best vegan and vegetarian food in Edinburgh. Think falafel wraps, poke bowls, vegan chili con carne and way more on the menu.
Don’t disregard the National Museum of Scotland as just another museum full of uninteresting old artefacts as it’s so much more than that. The exhibits and installations here are incredible and the building itself is light and welcoming. Make your way through the museum, taking in the displays which show off the best of Scotland. From art and design to science and technology and more, once you reach the top level you’ll even get to see some amazing views of Edinburgh on the rooftop.
Home to a contemporary art gallery and the National Monument (which is still yet to be finished) AND being a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Calton Hill is also one of the most photogenic spots in Edinburgh. As you’re only here for a day, a hike up Arthur’s Seat probably won’t fit in, but settling for the amazing views from here is still a great option!
For your final meal of the day, it’s got to be something truly Scottish. The Halfway House does all the local classics at seriously affordable prices. Order the haggis, neeps and tatties for just £750! Or a steak and gravy pie for only £3.95. That’s a real bargain and one of the best hidden gems if you’re looking for haggis in Edinburgh.
Scottish whisky bars are all over Edinburgh selling hundreds of different whiskies from across the country and around the world. The Whiski Rooms are just a couple of minutes walk from the Halfway House making it great for an after dinner tipple. Otherwise, there are loads of other whisky bars such as Black Cat, Bow Bar and Albanach to name a few where you can order a paddle of different drams to taste a few.
Check out the Best Whisky Bars in Edinburgh
WHERE TO STAY
For somewhere central, affordable and fun, St Christopher’s Inns hostel is ideal. Plus, they’ve just opened up a brand new one across the road! Located right in the heart of it all near Edinburgh Castle, the Royal Mile and way more, you’re close to all the action and nightlife. Book a dorm room or a private room, and roll into bed after a big night out at our hostel party bar, Belushi’s, where making friends is easy as anything, especially with guest drinks deals and food discounts.
Fancy staying somewhere a bit different? At the new St Christopher’s Old Town Hostel you can stay in an old Vault Room and literally sleep inside what used to be a safe!