How to Spend a Perfect Day in Edinburgh’s Old Town

The moody skies over Edinburgh’s Old Town bring the following travel quote to mind: “This is a city of shifting light, of changing skies, of sudden vistas’ – Alexander McCall Smith.

The majestic Old Town shelters in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle as weather swoops in and flashes out. This area is the city’s historic center and one of the most traveled destinations in the world.

If Scotland is on your next-place-to-travel-to list, there is no better place to start exploring than the medieval Old Town. Even if you have only 24 hours to spend in Edinburgh, you must experience this UNESCO World Heritage Site first-hand.

Walk the winding cobblestone streets, following in the footsteps of kings and poets and unlocking a day of magic in Edinburgh’s Old Town.

Start Your Day at Edinburgh Castle

Anyone who has been to the Old Town will tell you that a 24-hour excursion here must start with an Edinburgh Castle visit. So, store your luggage at your hotel, check that you have your castle tickets, and head over there.

Try to get there early to avoid standing in a long line. Moreover, you can give yourself more time to take in the sights. When the doors open, you can start with the Stone of Destiny display, where you’ll find the stone and the Scottish Crown Jewels. Move on to The Great Hall, where the Scottish Parliament met until 1640.

The Castle grounds are home to the Scottish National War Memorial, built for the soldiers who died during WWI. It is a fitting structure that shows the terrible fact that one in five enlisted Scottish soldiers never returned home.

Stay For The One O’clock Salute

When the clock strikes one, stick around for the One O’clock Salute. During the salute, which takes place every day, they fire a gun while a time ball drops at the Nelson Monument at Calton Hill. Ships once set their clocks by this gun, and the firing tradition dates back to 1861.

When you leave the salute site, remember to pop in at the oldest building in the castle, St. Margaret’s Chapel. King David I commissioned the chapel, and it was completed around 1130. The original arches and more recent stained glass windows are still there, and when you enter the chapel, you’ll find fresh flowers on display.

Depending on how much time you spend at the chapel after the salute, you can stop at the National War Museum of Scotland and the Prisoners of War Museum before moving on to the next attraction, the Royal Mile.

Walk The Royal Mile

The famous Royal Mile runs from Edinburgh Castle to Holyroodhouse. Along the way, you’ll pass St. Giles Cathedral with its gorgeous stained glass windows and John Knox statue.

Halfway to Holyroodhouse is a charming pub, The World’s End, where you can grab a late lunch and an ice-cold pint. It is an “old-world” Scottish bar that sits on the spot where the gates to the city once stood.


After lunch, carry on with the Royal Mile as it passes the Scottish Parliament Building and the late Queen’s Scottish home, the Holyrood Palace. Take a moment to stop and explore the Holyrood Abbey and the Royal Gardens. This is the site where the Queen hosted an annual garden party.

Visit The Princes Street Gardens

The Princes Street Gardens are a wonderful green space to visit as the afternoon draws close in the Old Town. Walk down Princes Street, which passes the Scott Monument, towards the gardens. As you get closer, you’ll likely hear the sound of bagpipes filling the air. You can enjoy the views of Edinburgh Castle from the ground while strolling in the gardens and then pop out for souvenir shopping in the adjacent street.

Go on a Self-guided Tour of The Old Town

After stopping in the Princes Street Gardens for a breather and to rest your feet a bit, you can explore more of the Old Town on a self-guided tour. Since you’ve already seen the castle, you can start your walk at Grassmarket. This historic market once drew large crowds for horse and cattle sales and even public executions.

If you want to learn more about the Old Town history, head to Heriot Place, where you’ll find a remaining piece of the ancient Telfer Wall. The wall sprung up in 1630 as a fortification to protect the town. A bronze Roman coin was discovered at the base of this wall during excavations in 1850. Another fascinating discovery was made during further excavations: two oak coffins, human remains, a massive skull and antlers belonging to a deer, and a spearhead.

Visit The Surgeons’ Hall Museums

This is another must-stop on a tour of the Old Town. The Surgeon’s Hall Museums have been open since 1832 and is one of the oldest in Scotland. It houses some of the largest pathology collections on the planet.

Learn the fascinating history of surgical development in a reconstructed anatomy theater. Find out what happened during Scotland’s first public dissection and discover who created antiseptic and chloroform. At this museum, you’ll also learn who the inspiration was behind the character of Sherlock Holmes and how he fits in with the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh.

The museum also offers a tour of the Body Voyager gallery, where you’ll stand amazed at the rise of robotics in the medical field.

End The Day at The Royal Yacht Britannia

End your perfect Old Town day at the Royal Yacht Britannia, two miles from the city center. Here, you can visit the Queen’s favorite room, the sun lounge, and view the grand staircase and state drawing room. You will also pass the Queen’s bedroom and sitting room.


Go to the Royal Deck Tea Room, where you can have tea and snacks. This is where the royals would have entertained others during their royal tours.

The Old Town Offers an Incredible Journey Through Time

The streets of the Old Town echo the ancient tales of monarchs, battles, and revivals. When you visit this stunning part of the world, you leave it knowing that you’ve traveled to the heart of Scotland and experienced unmatched tradition, legacy, and history.

Jeremy Edwards
Jeremy Edwards
On Chain Analysis Data Engineer. Lives in sunny Perth, Australia. Investing and writing about Crypto since 2014.

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