We may never be royals, but we can still pretend to be, especially during 72 hours in Edinburgh, Scotland! Scotland has castles galore, and you could spend years visiting them and learning about the previous royals and Scottish clans. If you only have a short time in the land of sheep, bagpipes, tartan, and thistles, Edinburgh is the perfect place to go! There’s more than enough royal sites to see in three days, but here’s what you should prioritize:

The Royal Mile

There’s nowhere better to start your royal tour of Scotland than the Royal Mile! This slightly longer than a mile long street connects two other Scottish Royal sites: Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse (both which I will talk about in detail later). The gorgeous cobblestone street (yes, I mention cobblestone streets in almost every post, but they’re everywhere in Europe!) is lined with equally gorgeous medieval stone buildings that will make you feel like you’re back in medieval times. Yes, many cities in Europe make you feel like you’re back in time, but the streets of Old Town Edinburgh are really something else. It’s not so much a fairy tale feel, but it feels like you’re in actual medieval times, and attractions like Mary King’s Close (right off the Royal Mile) will even make you feel like you’re in the more unpleasant plague times of Edinburgh. That’s not a very royal aspect to Edinburgh, but hey, Royals could have gotten the plague as well.

Medieval limestone and grey stone buildings in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Along the Royal Mile you can also find St. Giles Cathedral. St. Giles is full of royal history. Not only was it founded by a king around the year of 1124, but it was also rebuilt and added onto by multiple other kings along the centuries, such as the Stewart kings. Mary Queen of Scots, one of personal favorite historical figures, didn’t attend the church though, as she was Catholic and the church was Protestant, but visited the church to open parliament. In more recent times, Queen Elizabeth II has visited the church during its General Assembly.

St. Giles Cathedral on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh Scotland.

Now, the Royal Mile is full of tourist shops selling tartan scarves and shortbread, and there are many bagpipe players along the street, so if you’re looking to hear some bagpipes and buy a tartan scarf, you can definitely find one here. Some scarves are more authentic than others, so make sure you read the labels to see what percentage is wool and what percentage is polyester. Wool is always the way to go, and definitely go for the cashmere if you can afford it! You can also find a lot of traditional Scottish pubs, so make sure you stop in to get a pint and rest your feet. I always preferred Deacon Brodie’s Tavern, but that was mostly because my college mascot was a demon deacon. A lot of the historic pubs are run by the same company, Nicholson’s Pubs, and they all have a similar menu for both food and drinks. I’d recommend eating at one of the pubs and then just getting a drink at another, unless you really love the menu. These are pretty touristy pubs, but they’re very historic, so they are worth a visit.

Deacon Brodie's Tavern on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, Scotland. The facade is black and white, with gold arches over the windows and plants in window boxes and hanging baskets. People are entering the building.Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle sits imposingly in the center of Edinburgh on top of an extinct volcano, and is unmissable royal part of Edinburgh. The castle is a fortress and has multiple buildings inside, such as a Royal Palace and a Great Hall where ceremonies took place. The castle is also home to the Scottish Crown Jewels and the Stone of Destiny, which is the stone used during the coronations of British monarchs. The castle is open from 9:30 am to 6 pm and tickets cost 17 pounds for adults if you buy online in advance, which is highly recommended.

Candlemaker Row with colorful streamers, with Edinburgh Castle and the Grassmarket in the background.

Below the castle is the New Town and the royally named Princes Street Gardens, a public park where you can relax and take it the views of the magnificent castle. You can find locals and tourists alike sunbathing during those rare sunny days in Scotland, and the Scottish National Gallery is near the park if you are looking for day of art. Princes Street is also a popular shopping street, so if there’s anything you want to buy, Princes Street is the place to go. 

Princes Street Gardens with Edinburgh Castle in the background.

The Palace of Holyroodhouse

The Palace of Holyroodhouse is the Queen’s official residence in Edinburgh, and was where Zara Tindall (the Queen’s granddaughter) had her wedding reception. With a cost of 14 pounds, it’s slightly cheaper than Edinburgh Castle, but also has a lot of royal history. The palace includes State Apartments, where Bonnie Prince Charlie lived for six weeks while he was planning the ill-fated Jacobite Rising of 1745, and Mary Queen of Scots’ Chamber. Mary’s chamber itself is full of royal history and intrigue, especially since it was where her private secretary David Rizzo was murdered by her husband, Lord Darnley. It is said that her husband was jealous of her close relationship with her secretary. It’s definitely a grim piece of royal history, but the story is intriguing nonetheless.

The Palace at Holyroodhouse at the end of the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, Scotland. The Palace has grey stone and many towers.

Outside the palace you can visit the ruins of Holyrood Abbey, which was founded by King David I in 1128. This ancient church contains the remains of King James V, Mary Queen of Scots father, which are located in the Royal Vault of the abbey. There are also lovely gardens around the palace and abbey to stroll if you have the time!

Nearby the palace is the Queen’s Gallery, which houses temporary exhibits. When I was visiting, it was during the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee so the exhibit was pictures from throughout the Queen’s life. More recently the exhibit showcases art depicting 18th century Venice.

The ruined Holyrood Abbey with the remains of a stained glass window and pillars in view.

Royal Yacht Britannia

To experience a piece of modern royal history, you need to see the Royal Yacht Britannia.  The yacht was used by the Royal family for 40 years and sailed all over the world for both state visits and honeymoons, including the honeymoon of Princess Diana and Prince Charles. It isn’t used any longer though, and is now a tourist attraction in the Leith neighborhood of Edinburgh. The yacht has five decks, and during the free audio tour you can see the bridge, State Apartments, crew’s quarters, and engine room, complete with original furniture and decorations.

The Dome

If you want to feel like a royal, head to The Dome for teatime! The Dome is located in the New Town of Edinburgh (which is still quite old) in a gorgeous building with lavishly decorated interiors that will make you feel like you are at a royal state dinner. While it’s a bit on the pricey side for dinner or afternoon tea, you can make it affordable by just ordering tea and a scone. That way, you can dine in a location fit for royals without spending like one.

Arthur’s Seat

While the origin of the name of Arthur’s Seat is not certain, legend has it that this extinct volcano was once home to Camelot and King Arthur’s Court. Now, Arthur’s Seat is a popular hike for tourists because you can see great views of Edinburgh from the top. Edinburgh has several other less popular hills that you can hike, which also offer great views, but are a lot less touristy. For those of you who aren’t as interested in hiking, you can always take a much shorter walk up to Calton Hill to also see spectacular views of the city.

A view of Arthur's Seat and Edinburgh from another hill.

A monument and a view of Old and New Town Edinburgh in the background from Calton Hill.Wizarding Royalty

Every true Harry Potter fan knows that J.K. Rowling wrote a lot of the books in Edinburgh. While not a real royal, Harry Potter is basically royalty in the Wizarding World! It comes to no surprise that a lot of Rowling’s inspiration came from her surroundings in Edinburgh. In Greyfriars Kirkyard (kirk means church, and kirkyard is the cemetery) you can find the graves of Thomas Riddell, William McGonagall, and Moody, whose names inspired just a few of the characters in the series. The fictional cemetery in Godric’s Hollow where Harry Potter’s parents are buried is also said to be based off of Greyfriars.

Nearby to Greyfriars is Victoria Street and the Grassmarket, which is reminiscent of Diagon Alley. It’s colorful storefronts and stone buildings make it a magical little street in Edinburgh that’s worth a stroll and a picture. Nearby Candlemaker Row is also another good bet on what influenced Rowling to create Diagon Alley.

You can even visit The Elephant House cafe and restaurant, where J.K. Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter books to grab a cup of tea and a jacket potato (baked potato for Americans). Just be prepared to wait in line because it’s a well known tourist attraction. 

There’s something so enchanting about Scotland, and Edinburgh is no exception. I’m not sure if it’s the rolling green hills, the grey stone buildings, the accents, the bagpipes playing all around, or the immense amount of royal sites and history, but Edinburgh is special. One 72 hour trip to the Scottish capital will have you just as enchanted, and having you wanting more of Scotland!

 

Itinerary: 72 hours in Edinburgh, Scotland 

Day One

  • Edinburgh Castle
  • The Royal Mile
  • St. Giles Kirk
  • Princes Gardens
  • Explore New Town and The Dome for tea
  • Deacon Brodie’s Pub

Day Two

  • Victoria Street
  • Grassmarket
  • Candlemaker Row
  • Greyfriars
  • Elephant House

Day Three

  • Holyrood Palace
  • Holyrood Abbey
  • Queen’s Gallery
  • Arthur’s Seat
  • Royal Yacht Britannia