Edinburgh is packed full of wondrous sights and stories to admire, from murder and mayhem with Burke & Hare, magical mysteries with Harry Potter, and haunting histories in the Grassmarket. Here’s how I spent three days in Edinburgh (Saturday to Monday) in October 2022.
Getting to Edinburgh
Travelling after work on Friday, we eventually made it to our AirB&b by 11pm after catching the 8:45pm flight from Bristol followed by the public bus to the centre.
Fortunately, our AirB&B was located very near Holyrood Castle and so was situated on the popular bus routes. We caught the 100 bus to St Andrews Square which was £4 for a single ticket followed by a short 14-minute walk to our accommodation. Our Edinburgh AirB&B cost £442.50, so between the three of us, it worked out to around £147.50 each for three nights.
Saturday, Edinburgh Day One
Our first stop on our whistlestop tour of Edinburgh was Edinburgh Castle to walk in the footsteps of soldiers, kings, and queens at the most besieged place in Britain. Edinburgh Castle is one of the oldest fortified places in Europe and sits atop the remains of a volcano that erupted millions of years ago.
We booked the tickets in advance at £18 each. We opted not to do a guided tour and instead meandered around the monument, taking shelter from the inevitable rain when we could.
Had we known, we would have opted for the Royal Edinburgh Ticket, that not only provides guaranteed entrance to Edinburgh Castle, the Royal Yacht Britannia, and the Palace of Holyrood House but also unlimited access to three Hop-On Hop-Off City Bus Tours for 48 hours which proved to be an effective mode of transport to the attractions.
Grassmarket and Victoria Street
Finishing at the castle, we bimbled down the Royal Mile frolicking in some shops before eventually coming to Victoria Street. Said to be one of Edinburgh’s prettiest streets and rumoured to be the inspiration for Diagon Alley, along the cascading cobblestones are some Harry Potter inspired shops that are worth a visit if you’re a fan of the franchise. Head to The Enchanted Galaxy and don’t miss the Museum Context for officially licensed Harry Potter merchandise, and if nothing else then to wonder at the decor or head upstairs for a photo opportunity.
Although we were due to partake in a ghost tour the next day, we couldn’t resist a daytime visit to the infamous graveyard since we were walking passed.
Thought to be the most haunted graveyard in Britain, Edinburgh’s Greyfriars Kirkyard has a far more gruesome history beyond housing the graves of Thomas Riddell, Alastor Moody, and William McGonagall who inspired beloved Harry Potter characters.
Mary Queen of Scots granted Greyfriars Kirkyard to the town council for use as a burial ground in 1560s, however, there’s no telling how many bodies are truly buried there – it’s thought to be as many as a quarter of a million. Perhaps even more cumbersome is that the cemetery seemingly appears as a small hill, but it wasn’t originally a hill and is a result of its use as a burial ground.
On a somewhat self-imposed Harry Potter guided tour, we took a little walk around Potterrow hoping to grab a bite to eat at Elephant & Bagels, the sister cafe to Sister cafe to Elephant Cafe where J K Rowling is said to have drafted some of Harry Potter, but both were sadly closed.
It’s not difficult to see how Edinburgh inspired many of the details in the series, and Potterrow in particular is thought to have inspired Harry’s last name.
Mums Comfort Food
With our tummies rumbling, we headed to our second option for food – Mums. Is there anything more comforting than sausage and mash on a rainy day? Mum’s Comfort Food offers just that with plenty of varieties of sausage, mash, and gravy at reasonable prices in a retro diner. They don’t accept reservations, but we had no issues walking in.
We chose Mums as one of my friends is gluten-free and it ranked very highly on many blogs and recommendations.
Hop On / Hop Off Bus
Ordinarily, I would steer well clear of these tourist buses, but given the location of our accommodation and the route of the bus, it was one of the best and affordable options for getting around. So we hopped on the bus, taking the long circular route before departing at our accommodation to freshen up the evening. Be sure to check out the packages for entrance at some of the attractions too.
Haggis, Neeps, and Tatties
The Tolbooth Tavern is a cosy traditional Scottish pub full of character and charm situated at the end of the Royal Mile. Built in 1591, the pub is part of the original Canongate Tolbooth that was used to collect tolls from travellers entering the burgh but has also served as a Council Chamber, Police Court and Prison. Besides its dark history, it’s a great place to try the renowned ‘Haggis, Neeps & Tatties’ in a neat stack priced £7.95 as a starter portion.
Film and TV lovers can’t miss a visit to The Cocktail Geeks, a themed cocktail bar inspired by popular TV Series and movies that changes themes every 4 months. We visited during its ‘There and Back Again’ inspired by the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. A small venue located in an arch, the bar completely immerses you into the fictional world with its decor and dedicated menus.
Sunday, Edinburgh Day Two
Loudons was another highly recommended eatery for gluten-free and it was so good we considered visiting twice! It’s no surprise given that its breakfast, brunch, and lunch menus are inclusive for all dietary requirements, with an ethos that “there should always be something delicious for everyone to enjoy”.
Bellies full, we walked down to our first tourist attraction of the day. Holyrood Palace has been home to Scottish royalty for decades and is today The King’s official residence in Edinburgh. Sitting at the end of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile is where you’ll get to witness dazzling jewels, masterful portraits, lavish rooms, and even a blood puddle. We used the provided audio guide which provided a sufficient overview of the self-guided route.
With the afternoon free, we decided to take advantage of our bus ticket and head down to the Royal Britannia. We hadn’t bought tickets in advance but had no issues buying them on the day.
For over 44 years and more than a million nautical miles, the Royal Yacht served as the Royal Family’s floating palace for glittering state visits, official receptions, Royal honeymoons, and relaxing family holidays. Docked in Leith, explore state apartments, crew’s quarters, and more across five decks.
The Royal Britannia is accessed within a shopping centre, so we opted for a late lunch at a recognised chain for ease.
Near the entrance to Greyfriars Kirkyard is a statue of a small dog affectionately known as Greyfriars Bobby. The Isle of Skye terrier was the pet of a former night watchman for the cemetery, hired to deter body snatchers, and earned his place in the hearts of locals and visitors alike for his refusal to leave the graveyard after his owner’s passing. He’s thought to have guarded his owner’s grave for some 14 years before and is the only known animal to have been buried here. Many believe it’s good luck to rub the nose of the statue.
Edinburgh Ghost Tour
A city of murder and mayhem, it’s no wonder Edinburgh takes the top spot for some of the most haunted spots in Britain! The Famous Underground Ghost Tour concludes in the underground section of South Bridge with some unsavoury sights, sounds, and stories. At £14 per person, the 75-minute tour was one of the highlights of the trip, uncovering some of the gruesome truths with an aptly dressed and very knowledgeable guide.
Monday, Edinburgh Day Three
With an evening flight but an early morning check-out, we left our luggage at Waverley train station luggage drop off charged at £15.00 per item for 24 hours, and set off for our first activity of the day.
Hike to Arthur’s Seat
Arthur’s Seat is the highest peak in Edinburgh offering incredible 360° views of the city and the surrounding area, it’s actually the remains of an extinct volcano that erupted 350 million years ago. You can easily pick up the walking trail near Holyrood Palace as we did.
More Edinburgh Recommendations
With only three days to explore this magnificent city, there were many activities that we didn’t quite get around to doing and will consider doing on a future trip.
Johnny Walker Tour and Rooftop Bar
Whisky drinkers can book a variety of tours at Johnny Walker or simply enjoy a whisky cocktail at the rooftop bar,
Grassmarket Pub Crawl
The Grassmarket was once a cattle market, but it’s more commonly remembered as the public gallows for common criminals and therefore said to be haunted. Fortunately, there are a few pubs residing here with some fascinating histories which makes for a very interesting pub crawl with three establishments in particular…
The White Hart
Named after ‘the rarest of all highland creatures’, The White Hart not only claims to be the oldest pub in Edinburgh dating back to 1516 but also the most haunted in Britain and is said to have been frequented by Oliver Cromwell, William Wordsworth, and Robert Burns.
The Last Drop
The Last Drop is thought to have gotten its name as the place where criminals would have their final meal and were given one last whisky before heading to the gallows. If that wasn’t harrowing enough they’ve chosen nooses as their window decor.
Maggie Dicksons is named for an unsuspecting character nicknamed ‘half hang it Maggie’ whose public hanging ended in her being very much alive, much to the surprise of those carrying her coffin at her burial.
The Ghost Bus Tours
We just happened to be crossing the street as the Knight Bus rolled into view. While Bernie and Ernie weren’t to be found, it did, in fact, belong to The Ghost Bus Tours offering a ‘comedy-horror theatre experience on wheels’ visiting the major attractions – this is definitely something to consider if the weather is unfavourable.
The only note I made about the Three Sisters is that it was one of the best places to visit for live entertainment which sadly we didn’t get to experience.
Popularised for the offering of its alcoholic butterbeer, while The Dog House doesn’t have any official affiliation with JK Rowling – and is as its name suggests dog friendly – it has become popular with fans of the wizarding world.
The Department of Magic
Offering escape rooms and a magic potion tavern, the Department of Magic is a fun place for those looking to buy into the magic of Edinburgh.
Similarly, a more family-friendly version is a visit to The Cauldron for a wizarding afternoon tea. While I haven’t visited this one, I have visited the London branch and it was a fun afternoon tea experience for all ages.
Maison de Moggy
Cat lovers rejoice! Maison de Moggy is Scotland’s first cat cafe offering visitors to relax over a cup of tea surrounded by the 12 resident cats.
Roof Terrace at the National Museum of Scotland
This very popular tourist destination offers a hidden gem, not many visitors are aware of, and that’s the roof terrace offering panoramic views of the old town. This link gives a great introduction and instructions for how to reach it.