Greetings Internet Stranger and welcome to a one day in Edinburgh itinerary. Do you consider yourself a person of culture and learning? Are you a fan of the literary arts? Have you always pictured yourself swanning about a leather-bound, gold-embossed library, wearing a smoking jacket and brocade slippers? Then head out for a One Day in Edinburgh Itinerary.
Many of the greatest English-language writers either hail from Edinburgh or have spent time in this beautiful city. It’s got Edinburgh Castle, it has an underground series of chambers haunted by ghosts, and it has whiskey and haggis. What more could a true born Scotsman want? Join me for this One Day in Edinburgh Itinerary and I guarantee you’ll fall in love with the city too.
One Day in Edinburgh Itinerary
Where to Stay?
I don’t know about you, but when I roll up to a historic Scottish city, I want to stay in a charming bed and breakfast that serves a full fry-up every morning in a room decorated with lace tablecloths. If you feel the same, try the Ashgrove House Hotel. It’s a bit of a walk from the historic part of Edinburgh, but it’s definitely worth it. And if you’re enjoying your One Day in Edinburgh Itinerary for the famous Fringe Festival, you won’t be overrun with crowds!
One Day in Edinburgh Itinerary
What to Pack?
The United Kingdom, as you may have heard, is on the rainy side. So the two most important things you’ll need to bring are an umbrella and some rain boots. My favorite travel umbrella is the Repel Teflon Waterproof Umbrella. It is strong enough to stand up to the sometimes-quite-strong winds of Edinburgh.
For rain boots, I recommend the Asgard Rain Boots. They are comfy/cozy and keep my feet dry all day. Plus they’re cute enough that I can wear them to tea without feeling like some gauche American with gross feet.
Finally, if you’re not from the UK, you need a universal adapter if you’re going to plug in electronics. UK electrical outlets don’t work with either American or European plugs. I suggest the NEWVANGA travel adapter. It’s usable with any electrical outlet in the world, so you won’t need to keep buying new adapters. I always carry two with me, just in case something happens to one.
One Day in Edinburgh Itinerary
Morning: Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle isn’t exactly shy about tooting its own horn. It bills itself as “Scotland’s Iconic Attraction”. And were I a castle who could toot a horn, or any musical instrument, I wouldn’t be shy about proclaiming my virtues either. Edinburgh Castle is one of the few places in the city that predates the English occupation of Edward I back in the late 13th century. The Edinburgh Castle complex contains the oldest building in Edinburgh, great views of the city, and a chance to sample some free whiskey.
There is so much to do in Edinburgh Castle that you could probably spend a satisfying One Day in Edinburgh Itinerary just hanging out here. But we don’t have time for that! Get here at 9:30 AM when the castle opens and buy your tickets in advance online. That should give you more than enough time to learn…
three fun facts about edinburgh castle
1) The Oldest Building in Edinburgh
The ticket to enter Edinburgh Castle is rather pricey, but fortunately a guided tour is included with the price of admission. And you really can’t enjoy a One Day in Edinburgh Itinerary without seeing Edinburgh Castle! My guide, whom I shall call Sean in honor of Sir James Bond, gave us detailed information about the castle with good humor and flair!
Sean led us to one of the most important landmarks of Edinburgh Castle, which is Saint Margaret’s Chapel. Saint Margaret’s Chapel is the aforementioned oldest building in Scotland. Scottish King David I built it back in 1130 for his mother, Queen Margaret. Do you see those fresh flowers in the background? Those are always present because they are donated by the Saint Margaret’s Chapel Guild. To be a member, you needed to be named Margaret and live in Edinburgh. That is adorable! I’m going to start a league of Stellas of New York City. I think the requirements to join this league will be obvious.
If you’ve seen the movie Braveheart, which isn’t historically accurate at all, you’ll remember the mean king Edward I who took over Scotland, including Edinburgh Castle. Then William Wallace painted his face blue, yelled YOU WILL NEVER TAKE OUR FREEDOM!, and then got very executed.
But it was actually Wallace’s dark-haired cranky friend, Robert the Bruce, who ended up retaking Edinburgh Castle for the Scots. He burned down the original buildings so the English couldn’t get their grubby hands on them, except for the Saint Margaret Chapel, for religious reasons. Robert the Bruce ended up becoming the actual King of Scotland, so I don’t really understand why there hasn’t been a major motion picture about him. History isn’t fair sometimes.
2) Artillery of Edinburgh Castle
As with any good fortress, you need lots of cannons to frighten off enemy hordes. That’s just science. This cannon pictured above is named Mons Meg, which dates all the way back to the 15th century. They sure like the name Margaret in Scotland! First they name chapels Margaret, next they have a society of Margarets, and now they name their cannons Margaret.
My favorite weapon at Edinburgh Castle, however, is the One O’Clock Gun. Sean said that traditionally it should should go off at noon each day. But the Scots are a practical people, so they decided to make it go off at one. That way they only have to fire the gun once instead of twelve times. It saves money! Some might say I’m trafficking in stereotypes about the Scots being cheap, but Sean’s the one who said it! I’m just reporting it.
3) Great Hall
The Great Hall was built back in 1511 for James IV of Scotland. Some of you might think that it doesn’t really look medieval, and you’d be right. When Oliver Cromwell, the notorious Puritan, took over Edinburgh Castle, he purified the hall by taking away all the fancy medieval trappings. “Welcome to the OC, bitch!” he probably yelled at them.
I get that being a Puritan means no one gets to have any fun, but I don’t understand why people want to be Puritans in the first place. There’s a reason no one invites you to their birthday parties Ollie! You’d just burn all their decorations and make everyone drink skim milk.
Fortunately the Great Hall was restored in the Victorian era. It’s not terribly historically accurate because it looks more like a Victorian’s idea of a medieval Great Hall than an actual medieval Great Hall. But it’s still an excellent place to pretend you are a Very Fancy Lady, which is really all I am ever looking for in life.
One Day in Edinburgh Itinerary
Afternoon: Eat Walk Edinburgh Tour
On my first day in a new city, especially one as big as Edinburgh, I always try a walking tour. A local guide can really help you get oriented and point you in the right direction. Also, small group tours are an excellent way for a solo traveler like me to make some new friends ASAP. But even better than a walking tour is a delicious food tour! You get the information and the meal all rolled into one price. It’s the perfect addition to our One Day in Edinburgh Itinerary.
Before taking the Eat Walk Edinburgh Old and New Town Tour, I had no knowledge about Scottish food aside from haggis. Fortunately our local guide Alan was full of knowledge and love for his country and his cuisine. On this tour, you’ll become acquainted with much more than…
approximately top 5: edinburgh food edition
1) Smoked Salmon
The tour met up at the Hotel du Vin where we feasted on a light and refreshing smoked salmon appetizer. Alan explained that Scotland hasn’t always had a fine dining tradition because it has been a poor country for much of its history. But one thing Scotland is famous for is its cold smoked salmon. (The oldest smokehouse in Scotland dates all the way back to the 16th century.)
As tasty as the smoked salmon was, my favorite part of the Hotel du Vin was the Burke and Hare Room. This mural is dedicated to two graverobbers, Burke and Hare, who made money by stealing dead bodies and selling them to medical students who wanted to study the human anatomy.
Apparently they weren’t able to get the dead bodies fast enough, so they decided to step their crimes up…to murder! They were caught, convicted, and executed. Alan hastened to point out that Burke and Hare were both from Ireland, not Scotland. Well, it’s like my grandmother always said, “You can’t trust an Irishman with a dead body.”
2) Scottish Gin
Of course the alcohol that Scotland is most associated with is whisky. (I never heard anyone in Scotland call it Scotch.) But at our next stop, we were presented with a cocktail made from gin mixed with Prosecco. Alan explained that gin was quite popular in Scotland too because unlike whisky, it doesn’t need to be aged. But don’t worry, Internet Stranger. We’ll have plenty of whisky on this tour.
Along with the fizzy gin, there were portions of ox cheek and potato, served with that Scottish classic, black pudding. Don’t worry, no oxen were hurt in the making of this dish. Ox cheek is really just made with cow cheek meat. This was so soft that I could literally cut it with a fork. Don’t worry about the black pudding; it isn’t burned. It’s just made with pig blood and oatmeal. Sometimes I think all Scottish cuisine is really just obscure animal parts mixed in with grains. Let’s see if this remains true at our next stop.
3) Whisky Tasting Club
It is true! Just look at my beautiful haggis above! Our next stop was at a private whisky tasting club. It’s not open to the public, so the only way to get inside is to be friends with a member or take this tour. I definitely think taking the tour is easier than making friends with someone.
At the whisky tasting club, we were seated in a private room where we were served Scotland’s national dish, haggis. Haggis is made with various parts of a sheep like the heart and liver. It is cooked inside a sheep’s stomach, but you don’t eat the stomach. Basically haggis is just a lamb sausage, and if you eat sausage, I don’t see why you wouldn’t like haggis. Many sausages are cased in animal intestines and that’s not weirder than a sheep’s stomach.
Traditionally haggis is served with “neeps and tatties”, or turnips and potatoes for those of us unfortunate enough to not have a brogue.
But what would a stop at a whisky club be without a whisky tasting? Alan showed us how adding a little water to the whisky mellows it out and alters its flavor. I love how peaty a fine Scottish whisky is. It makes me feel like I’m going to put on my best kilt, go tramping across the heather, and solve a murder mystery.
For whisky aficionados, seeing the whisky wall in the club alone is worth the price of the tour. I wonder how long it would take me to drink all those bottles? Challenge Accepted!
4) Le Di-Vin
Le Di-Vin is a charming Franco-Scottish wine bar, lest you think the Scots only drink whisky that smells strongly of moss. I was a big fan of the chalk drawing on the wall that shows famous Scotspeople like Sean Connery and Mary Queen of Scots alongside French celebrities like…the mime Marcel Marceau. But I guess Marceau would be popular in Edinburgh because I hear the Scottish appreciate a man who knows how to drink in silence.
Of course nothing goes better with wine than a big ol’ meat and cheese plate. I had no idea that Scottish charcuterie was even a thing, but here is some Scottish ham and Brie to prove me wrong. It was good to see that, though the Scots are proud of their yummy traditional dishes, Edinburgh is an international city and you can find all types of cuisine here.
Keep in mind that the food tour has now moved to the New Town part of Edinburgh, so don’t miss the beautiful Georgian townhouses all around you. Earlier we were in the medieval Old Town. Of course, in Edinburgh New Town means that it only goes back to the 18th century. I don’t understand how anything that’s at least 250 years old can be called new, but I’m sure that’s only because I’m American. Why you can’t even eat a proper haggis until it’s been aged for at least 400 years!
5) Ghillie Dhu
Our last restaurant had my favorite name on all the tour: Ghillie Dhu! I defy any non-Scot to spell this correctly on their first try. Apparently Ghillie Dhu is a mischievous sort of male fairy who loves children. I guess that explains why Ghillie Dhu has a kids’ menu called “The Wee Rascals Option”. But I’m not sure any story that encourages kids to wander off with a stranger older man who lives in the woods and likes kids is a very good idea.
Here we finished our giant meal with a creamy Scottish dessert that I believe is called cranachan. This is an upscale version of the treat, which always includes cream (or cheese), oats, and red fruits. You can tell it’s fancy because it has a cute little chocolate cup. It was creamy and delicious, and the red fruit added that perfect touch of summer. But is there any food the Scots won’t put oats in? I mean, fiber is important, but it’s possible to have too much of a good thing.
One Day in Edinburgh Itinerary
Evening: Mercat Ghost Tour
After eating your way through Edinburgh, you probably won’t want to go out to dinner. Of course Edinburgh has a great theater and music scene, but I had the misfortune to be there just before the legendary Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Literally nothing was open because everyone was getting ready for the fest. So why not spend your evening roaming above and beneath the streets of Edinburgh in search of ghoulies, ghosties, and long-legged beasties.
There are a ton of ghost tours operating around St. Giles Cathedral every night of the week in Edinburgh. In fact, I suspect there may be more ghost tours in Edinburgh than there are people. I recommend the Mercat Evening of Ghosts and Ghouls tour because they will take you into the special Blair Street Underground Vaults, which were absolutely a highlight of my time in Edinburgh. You’ll learn more than…
three spooky facts about edinburgh
1) where does the tour begin?
The Mercat tour begins, appropriately enough, at Mercat Cross. This is one of the saddest places in Edinburgh, as it was traditionally a place of execution. According to the guide, this is where two men were tortured for saying God Save the King after Oliver Cromwell was made Lord Protector of the Commonwealth. (The two ladies above in my photo are very politely pretending to be tortured.)
Ollie baby, I really wish you’d take my advice about being kinder to the people. First you take away their medieval decorations and now you’re breaking their thumbs in the middle of the city. It’s like you don’t even want your poll numbers to go up.
2) why is there a parking lot?
There’s a reason that the area around St. Giles is considered so haunted. It actually used to be a cemetery. Eventually the graves were paved over and a parking lot was put up. I assume this decision was made by an unscrupulous real estate developer who doesn’t mind being haunted for the rest of his life.
You can see the proof that this parking lot was a cemetery because there’s a marker showing that famous Protestant reformer John Knox was buried there. So this definitely isn’t some spooky story that my tour guide randomly made up.
3) Why can’t i see anything?
The final part of the tour was the most exciting part. We got to descend into the underground vaults that lie below Edinburgh’s cobblestones. The vaults used to contain underground markets. Eventually the markets went bust and they became a hiding spot for assorted thieves and brigands. Now the only folk who visit the vaults are tourists and, if you believe my guide, ghosts.
First off, I’d like to apologize for the poor quality of my photo. It’s hard to take a good picture in a pitch-black underground vault. I’m not afraid of ghosts, but even I was a little creeped out when our guide told us there was an evil spirit haunting the vaults who liked to turn out the lights suddenly without warning. I could almost feel someone invisible creeping up behind me as he told this tale.
But on the other hand, I was amused by his story of a friendly ghost who was a cobbler back in his “alive” days. Now he is attracted to any guest wearing a cool pair of shoes. I like to think if I ever become a ghost, I’d be this kind of friendly spirit. Only instead of shoes, I’d haunt airplanes so I could continue my travel adventures.
Whether or not you were spooked on the tour, it’s nothing a little free whisky in an underground bar can’t fix. Cheers! I hope you enjoyed your One Day in Edinburgh Itinerary. And pleasant nightmares…
That’s a Perfect One Day in Edinburgh Itinerary
What would you do on a One Day in Edinburgh Itinerary? Are you ready to start booking your hotel in Edinburgh right now? Can an Irishman be trusted with a corpse? And does all Scottish food have red liquid and oats in it? Please leave your thoughts below!
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY have a One Day in Edinburgh Itinerary. If you have time for another One Day in Edinburgh Itinerary, try this itinerary!