Edinburgh City Breaks by Train: Planning Your Trip

As Scotland's capital city, Edinburgh is a hive of the country's culture, food and famous attractions. Find out our perfect itinerary for your short trip.

speeding train

Written by our web team

7 min read | February 20, 2023

If you’re heading away for a long weekend, you want to make the most of your trip, especially if you’re exploring a capital city. Although Edinburgh is famous for its Fringe Festival, its vibrancy and culture are things that visitors enjoy all year round.

As well as a centre of Scottish history and culture, Edinburgh breaks let you sample its wonderful restaurants and bars. They showcase the best of the country’s food and drink, so pick up as much whisky or haggis as you can handle.

However, Edinburgh is also a cosmopolitan city, where you can explore the world’s cuisines, arts and crafts.

To make sure you pack the most into your three-day trip to Scotland, we created this itinerary. It includes some of our favourite things to do in Edinburgh so you can use it on your visit, or to give you some inspiration for your break away.

Holidays to Edinburgh are just a train ride away

The benefit of train travel is that you can start your relaxing break before you even get to your destination. Watch the world whizz by and see the Scottish countryside turn into a buzzing city full of light, colour and excitement.

Below, we break down a few days in Edinburgh and how you can enjoy a trip to this fantastic Scottish city.

Day One

A lush green garden space, Dr Neil’s Garden in Edinburgh
Scotland’s capital since 1437, there are lots of historical buildings and monuments to see here. In fact, there are at least 4,500 according to Edinburgh World Heritage.

There are few better ways to start your trip than by diving straight into some of Edinburgh’s most iconic attractions.

Arriving at Waverley Station

Edinburgh Waverley Station is the most central of the two railway stations serving the city.

As you emerge from the building you’ll instantly be inspired by the Gothic buildings that make up the city’s old town. You’ll be stepping straight into Edinburgh’s history as you pass the Walter Scott Monument.

Peer upwards at St Giles’ Cathedral and head down into Real Mary King’s Close. Here, you can take a guided tour with a local historian, or just wander the streets and soak in some of the atmosphere.

Lunch at Grassmarket

To take a break from your historical tour, head around the edge of Princes Street Gardens and down into Grassmarket. There you can choose from a variety of cafes and restaurants to rest your feet and refuel.

Visiting Edinburgh Castle

It’s a must-visit destination for a reason. Having played host to kings, queens and invading armies, Edinburgh Castle is well worth the walk. Go for the history, stay for the fantastic views that the grounds have over the city.

Nightlife on the Royal Mile

When it comes to nightlife, the Royal Mile is one place to go for a choice of bars and restaurants.

If you want to treat yourself to some up-market Scottish cuisine or try something a bit different, there’s the likes of Makars Gourmet Mash Bar. Whatever you want, you can find exactly what you fancy here before you head out on an evening in the city.

Visiting the Royal Mile Tavern

To round off your historical day, we recommend visiting the Royal Mile Tavern. It’s not only one of the oldest pubs in Edinburgh, but it also serves a range of drinks (including malt whisky, of course) and has live music playing every night.

You can dance, or just enjoy the music with a satisfying drink, all at the Royal Mile Tavern.

Day Two

An interior shot of the National Museum of Scotland, showing exhibition floors on several layers
During your trip to Edinburgh, you’ll want to experience as much of the city’s character as possible. This itinerary takes you further out of the centre to explore more of the city’s culture and see some more of its landscape.

Breakfast at the Edinburgh Larder Cafe

You may be starting the day a little later than usual, but the Edinburgh Larder Cafe has all the haggis and tattie scones you’ll need for a day of exploring.

Visiting the National Museum of Scotland

To soak up the city’s culture, the National Museum of Scotland and the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art need to be on your destination list.

The National Museum is home to some of Scotland’s rarest treasures and the National Gallery holds some of the country’s best artwork. You won’t find this anywhere else – it’s a unique Edinburgh offering.

For an alternative experience, head to the Surgeon’s Hall Museums. There, you can see ancient medical tools owned by the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh.

Be warned though, this collection may leave you looking a bit “peely-wally” (a local term for pale and sickly).

Going to Calton Hill

If it’s not blowing a hooley and you fancy some fresh air, then head towards Calton Hill. Known as the city’s Acropolis, you can get a panoramic view of Edinburgh from here.

As well as the Palace of Holyroodhouse and the Parliament, you’ll also be able to spot Arthur’s Seat. It’s a hill fort in Holyrood Park that’s thought to be thousands of years old.

If you decide to wander through the park, then see if you can spot Dr Neil’s Garden, a 12th-century secret landscape that looks out over a small loch.

Nightlife at the Haymarket and West End/h3>

For a quieter nightlife experience, head towards the Haymarket and West End. This area is more popular with Edinburgh’s locals and is home to some of the city’s major events and sports venues.

There are still plenty of bars and restaurants here, such as Scottish eatery Forage and Chatter.

A different vibe is found in the bars of George Street. It’s a more commercial zone, so you’ll find chain bars and restaurants there, but there are also a few independent bars to check out.

Of course, there’s nothing to stop you from sampling more than one of the local hostelries.

Settling in at The Jolly Botanist

Edinburgh isn’t just famous for its whisky, but for its gin too. The Jolly Botanist is just one of the bars where you can sample some of the local distillery’s products, and out of vintage cups no less!

Day Three

A view of Leith Docks at dusk
On your third day, you can start it well by heading out towards the outer reaches of the city to take in more of its food, history, and even its stunning shoreline.

Breakfast at Leith

In the morning, take the bus and head into the district of Leith for breakfast. Previously one of the city’s poorest areas, it’s now been renovated into a foodie heaven, with plenty of cafes and coffee bars to wet your whistle.

See the Royal Yacht Britannia

A floating home to the Royal Family for over 44 years, the Royal Yacht Britannia was precious to the Queen until being decommissioned in 1997. Now, it’s a major visitor attraction and is a great place to find out more about Britain’s history with the Commonwealth.

Walk the Shoreline towards Newhaven

From Britannia, wander along the shoreline of Leith towards Newhaven. Take in some views of the North Sea, or if the Scottish weather threatens to sweep you away, head into one of the nearby eateries.

Enjoy the Royal Botanic Gardens

Finally, to wrap up your trip, take a peaceful wander around the Royal Botanic Gardens. Having been in the city for 350 years, the 70-acre park is the perfect way to round off a fantastic short break in the city before taking the train back home.

Do it your way with Avanti

Of course, this is just a suggested itinerary. It’ll be different for friends, families and couples. With Avanti West Coast, you can visit Edinburgh from London, Birmingham, Manchester, Lancaster, and North Wales. However you get here, we'll do our bit to get your city break rolling.

Buy train tickets for your next journey

Buying through our website or app saves you money because we never charge booking fees.

To take a look at more ways to save including using a Railcard, booking in advance, and booking as a group, visit our ways to save page.

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