I lived in Edinburgh a few years ago and loved it so much that I started my own travel agency specialising in trips to Scotland. It’s no secret that I think Edinburgh is one of the best cities in Europe for a city break.

In this article, I’ll show you how to make the most of your time if you’re only in Edinburgh for a short visit. I recently spent a day exploring the city and found the perfect mix of local spots and major attractions.

Here’s how to see the best of the Scottish capital in just one day.

Breakfast at Greenwoods Edinburgh

I started my morning at Greenwoods Edinburgh, a lovely little café in the New Town. The breakfast was terrific – I had the full Scottish breakfast, which was the perfect fuel for the day ahead. The atmosphere was cosy, and the staff was super friendly.

Stroll Through the Dean Village

After breakfast, I took a walk over to the Dean Village. This area is so peaceful and charming, with its cobblestone streets and historic buildings. It’s hard to believe you’re still in the city.

I spent some time wandering around and taking in the beautiful scenery by the Water of Leith.

Dean Village How to spend the perfect day in Edinburgh (1-day itinerary)

Walk Along the Water of Leith to Stockbridge and the Royal Botanic Gardens

From Dean Village, I followed the Water of Leith to Stockbridge. The walk is super relaxing, with lots of greenery and pretty views. In this part of Edinburgh, you’ll primarily meet locals who walk their dogs, and I very much enjoy this side of Edinburgh, a city that sometimes can feel slightly over-touristy in the Old Town.

Eventually, I reached the Royal Botanic Gardens. These gardens are stunning – perfect for a stroll or just sitting and enjoying the surroundings.

Lunch at Scran and Scallie

I headed to Scran and Scallie for lunch. This gastropub has such a warm and inviting vibe and it’s a place I used to go to all the time when I lived in Edinburgh. I went for their famous steak and ale pie, which did not disappoint. They take bookings, and it’s a popular place, so I’d suggest booking in advance.

Scran and Scallie. Edinburgh

Enjoy a Pint or Coffee at The Bailie Bar

After lunch, I stopped by The Bailie Bar in Stockbridge. This pub is a local favourite, and I can see why. I decided to have a pint of Guinness, but they also serve coffee and soft drinks (of course) if that’s more your thing. If you want to experience a local pub in Edinburgh, the Bailie Bar is a great spot.

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Explore Circus Lane

Just around the corner from the pub, you’ll find Circus Lane, one of the prettiest streets in Scotland. The quaint houses and flower-filled windows made it feel like a hidden gem, but I will say that it’s been featured in many articles about the most Instagrammable places in Edinburgh, so you might see an influencer or two posing for photos.

Wander Through New Town

Next, I made my way up to New Town. It’s only a 10 minute walk from Circus Lane, and where “we” started the day for breakfast.

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If you plan on visiting the Scottish capital, check out my blog at Destination Well Known where I’m recommending more activities, things to do, and destinations as I travel the world.

Cross Over to Old Town and Experience the Royal Mile

From New Town, I crossed over to the historic Old Town to check out the good old Royal Mile.

This iconic street is full of history but is also the most touristy part of Edinburgh, so you won’t have it all to yourself. St Giles’ Cathedral is a must-see with its beautiful architecture and stained glass.

Visit Edinburgh Castle

Continuing up the Royal Mile, I reached Edinburgh Castle. The views from up there are incredible. You can go inside to explore the castle, but even just taking in the view from the esplanade is pretty cool.

Walk Down to Victoria Street

After the castle, I headed down Victoria Street, one of Edinburgh’s most beautiful streets. The colourful buildings are iconic, and there are some cool, independent shops – contrary to most shops on the Royal Mile, which feel like they only cater to tourists.

It’s also rumoured that Victoria Street inspired J.K. Rowling to invent ‘Diagon Alley’ for the Harry Potter universe, and it’s clear to see why.

Explore the National Museum of Scotland

National Museum Scotland How to spend the perfect day in Edinburgh (1-day itinerary)

If you have time, check out the National Museum of Scotland. I didn’t head in there on my trip, but I wanted to mention it here as it’s genuinely an exciting museum. There’s so much to see, from natural history exhibits to cultural artefacts. And it’s free!

Dinner at Mother India’s Café

I was ready for dinner by evening and went to Mother India’s Café. This place serves delicious Indian dishes tapas-style, which is great for trying a bit of everything. Indian food is almost always excellent in Britain.

End the Day with a Nightcap at The Holyrood 9A or Tolbooth Tavern

Before heading back to the hotel, I decided to have a “cheeky pint”, as the saying goes in the UK. The Holyrood 9A is great for craft beers, while Tolbooth Tavern offers a historic pub experience. Both are excellent choices for unwinding and reflecting on a day well spent. I got a pint of Tennents in the Tolbooth Tavern, which was the perfect end to a busy day exploring Edinburgh.

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This walk is an excellent way to see both the local side of town in Stockbridge and the touristy bit in Old Town. You could easily spend all your time in Old Town, but I think many tourists will also enjoy getting under the skin of the city and not just seeing the main attractions.

Where to stay in Edinburgh?

Apex Waterloo Pool How to spend the perfect day in Edinburgh (1-day itinerary)

I stayed at the Apex Waterloo Place Hotel, a hotel I’d considered staying at for a long time. The staff was incredibly friendly and always ready to help with a smile. The hotel’s location is unbeatable. It’s right in the heart of the city, making it easy to explore both the Old Town and the New Town. It’s located right next to Calton Hill, one of the best places to go for a 360-degree view of Edinburgh. But one of my favourite features was the indoor swimming pool. I headed down there at about 9 p.m. and had the whole place to myself. You can see more hotel costs for Edinburgh here.