Instashots at Calton Hill Edinburgh

We personally think that Edinburgh is a GREAT city to visit with teenagers! We have two teenagers of our own and we love spending time in the Scottish capital as a family. We lived there for 11 years and still return on a regular basis as there is so much to see and do, we never get bored. 

We’ve limited our itinerary to three days as that tends to be the average length of time people choose for a city break. As you’ll see, the itinerary is fairly action-packed – you may wish to pick and choose activities according to your own interests and of course, the ever-changing weather! So read on for your perfect Edinburgh with teenagers’ itinerary.

WHERE TO STAY IN EDINBURGH WITH TEENAGERS

There are so many lovely neighbourhoods to stay in Edinburgh, however, if travelling with teenagers, it might be more fun to stay somewhere fairly central such as the Old Town. We once stayed in this great apartment right on the Royal Mile (9.5 stars). Here are a few more suggestions:

🏰Close to the Castle: Parliament Square Royal Mile Apartment (9.5 stars)

🌠Quirky and *on* Calton Hill: Altido Observatory House (9.3 stars)

💰Luxury close to the Castle: Cheval Old Town Chambers (9.4 stars)

🎨Arty apartment close to Scottish National Portrait Gallery: York Place Apartments (9.1 stars)

🏘️Budget Apartment: On the Walk (8.2 stars)

GETTING AROUND EDINBURGH

Red CitySightseeing Bus in front of Dynamic Earth, Edinburgh

Edinburgh’s city centre is really compact and most places can easily be reached on foot.

Alternatively, there’s a fantastic public transport network – use the trams or buses. Click here to check bus timetables and routes (use Lothian Buses’ journey planner or download their app) or click here for the tram timetable.

There are also plenty of taxis – black cabs or licensed taxis (you can hail them down or head to a licensed taxi rank, click here for locations). You can also book taxis online using the following companies: City Cabs, Central Taxis or Uber.

Alternatively, you can buy a hop-on-hop-off bus ticket. There are several companies, however, we particularly like this company as up to three children (under 16) travel free with every full paying adult (although it doesn’t take you out to the Royal Yacht Britannia). And, this one too as the ticket is valid for 48 hours!

3 Days in Edinburgh with Teenagers (2024)

Edinburgh offers a wide variety of activities and experiences that can appeal to teenagers’  interests. There really is something for everyone and we hope that we’ve managed to cover most bases in this suggested itinerary. Obviously all teenagers have different interests so you may need to pick and choose what suits your family best. We’ve included a mix of cultural, historical, outdoorsy and spooky activities.

Here’s a quick summary of the 3 day Edinburgh itinerary:

Day 1: Edinburgh Castle, Camera Obscura, Ghost Walk

Day 2: Sightseeing bus, Royal Yacht Britannia and choice between Calton Hill, Arthur’s Seat or Cat/Dog Café

Day 3: Harry Potter Guided Tour, National Museum of Scotland, The Real Mary King’s Close, Edinburgh Dungeon, The Department of Magic

Day 1: Castle, World of Illusions and Ghost Walk [Old Town]

Edinburgh Castle from the Esplanade

MORNING

Suggested start time: 10am

We’ll assume your teenagers aren’t early birds and so we suggest starting the day at 10am. First stop, head to Edinburgh Castle – yes, you may be met with some eye-rolling – but it really is a must-visit if you’re in the Scottish capital and there’s plenty of insta spots which might increase your teen’s interest.

10:00am -12 noon: Visit Edinburgh Castle

It can get really busy during peak season and/or the school holidays so this is another reason to head there first thing in the morning. Spend a couple of hours exploring the dungeons, the prisons of war, the national war museum, the dog cemetery, St Margaret’s chapel and the Crown jewels of course. Check this post for top tips on visiting Edinburgh Castle. 

Top Tip 1: Head to the prisons of war and get your teenagers to search for prisoners’ graffiti which included one of the earliest depictions of the American stars and stripes flag!

12:00 – 12:45: lunch

Head to the Red Coat Café at the castle for a spot of lunch. There are large picture windows with fantastic views across Edinburgh and towards Fife. 

1pm: 1 o’clock gun

We then suggest you go watch the one o’clock gun which takes place at 1pm. We recommend getting there at about 12:45 in order to get a good view as it’s a popular event at the castle.

AFTERNOON

1:30 – 3:30pm: Camera Obscura, A World of Illusions

Camera Obscura, Edinburgh

A stone’s throw from the castle (literally!) and you’ll find the Camera Obscura, an absolute must on your Edinburgh itinerary. We guarantee you will have so much fun as a family, it’ll be a great bonding experience. Located about 100 metres down the road from the castle and established in 1835, discover Camera Obscura, one of Edinburgh’s oldest attractions. It is set over 5 floors and includes a vortex tunnel (one of our favourite’s!), a mirror maze, loads of optical illusions, interactive exhibits and of course the original 165 year old camera obscura. You can easily spend a couple of hours here.

4pm – Indulge in a well deserved hot chocolate and cake

After all the fun and excitement you’ve had at Camera Obscura , you’ll be ready for a sit down and a refuel. Carry on walking down the Royal Mile and find yourselves a spot at the renowned ‘Mimi’s Bakehouse’ where you’ll find the best cakes in town. The decor is really fun and has instagram written all over it (open 9am – 5pm).

5pm – Rest and dinner

You may find that you’re a little weary by now and need to have a rest at your accommodation. We personally prefer to stay in self-catering accommodation (Airbnb) when travelling as a family as it keeps the costs down and allows us to eat in some of the time. You may, therefore, choose to have dinner at your accommodation. Alternatively, you can get a take-away, order something from Ubereats or cook a lovely Scottish meal. Also, there are several supermarkets in the city centre.

EVENING

7pm – Ghost tour

Edinburgh is known for its haunted history, and there are many ghost tours available that will take you to some of the city’s most haunted spots. Click on the links below to choose which tour suits you best.

BEST GHOST TOURS FOR TEENAGERS

👻Haunted Underground Vaults and Graveyard Tour (4.6 stars)

🦇The Dark Side Walking Tour (4.8 stars)

🪄 Edinburgh’s Underground Vaults Tour (4.6 stars)

☠️Necro Bus Tour (4.4 stars)

🧙 Harry Potter Walking Guided Tour (5 stars; last tour at 6pm in summer months)

Day 2  – Instashots & Royal Connections [Calton Hill, Arthur’s Seat & Newhaven near Leith]

Royal Yacht Britannia, Edinburgh

So we’ve mostly covered the Royal Mile and the Old Town on Day 1, so you might be wanting to explore a bit further afield and head out of town. We suggest jumping on a Hop-on Hop-off bus as it’ll give you a great overview of the city and will also allow you to get right out to Leith/Newhaven. Make sure you catch a sightseeing bus that goes down to the Royal Yacht Britannia as not all hop on hop off buses do – this is the one to book, the Britannia bus!

MORNING

10am – 12 noon – Insta shots

Let’s spend the morning getting some fresh air, a bit of exercise and letting the teenagers loose with their phones. Here are several options that hopefully cater to differing interests.

Option 1 – Insta shots at Calton Hill:

View of Edinburgh from Calton Hill

Let’s head to Edinburgh’s “Acropolis” on Calton Hill. Edinburgh is often referred to as the ‘Athens of the North’ and you’ll quickly understand why when you see the National Monument (ie. the Acropolis). Although it looks like it was built by the Romans, it was in fact built in 1826 in memory of soldiers and sailors that died in the Napoleonic wars. It was never finished as funding dried up before it was completed.

There are some fantastic views of the city and you’re bound to get some great family photos. Your teenagers will no doubt enjoy taking some snaps for their instagram account.

HOW TO GET TO CALTON HILL: The easiest way to get there is to go to the very east end of Princes Street until you reach Waterloo Place. Here you will find the start of the steps leading up to Calton Hill which are located just after “Howies” restaurant on your left.

Option 2 – Hike up Arthur’s Seat:

Do your teens enjoy being outdoors? How about climbing an extinct volcano and getting some fantastic views of the city and beyond? This will involve a little more exertion than walking up Calton Hill but climbing Arthur’s Seat is definitely a great, fun option. Our son loves nothing more than racing up Arthur’s Seat but our daughter has to be ‘encouraged’ with the promise of an ice cream at the end of the hike (there’s almost always an ice cream van at the bottom of Arthur’s Seat, opposite Holyrood Park).

At the top of Arthur's Seat

Option 3 – Furry animal café:

Edinburgh's Chihuahua café

Well, we always need a rainy day option as the Scottish weather can be quite unpredictable! How about a really unusual, quirky experience – a hot chocolate with a furry friend? There’s a choice between the Chihuahua Café (New Town) or Maison de Moggy (Old Town). You’ll need to book this ahead as it’s very popular and gets booked up quickly. Again, this option has instagram written all over it 😉

Lunch: 12 noon – 1pm

Have lunch at Oink, a popular restaurant that serves delicious hog roast sandwiches. Try their pulled pork with stuffing and apple sauce. They have 3 places in Edinburgh – Victoria Street, Canongate and Hanover Street (New Town). They open from 11am until 5pm (or until the pork runs out).

Choose the restaurant location depending on the activity you’ve chosen above. For instance, if you’ve gone to the Chihuahua Café, we recommend heading to the Oink shop on Hanover Street as it’s located on the street parallel and is a short 3 minute walk along Rose Street. We recommend getting there early as it’s very popular.

AFTERNOON

Bus Tour + Visit to the Royal Yacht Britannia

Get a feel for the city and jump aboard the hop-on-hop-off bus. You can simply go for a tour on it or alternatively, get off at the Ocean Terminal Shopping Centre where you’ll find the Royal Yacht Britannia.

We recommend booking the Britannia bus tour which will take you all the way down to the late Queen’s former floating palace (click here to book and make sure you choose the BRITANNIA tour). You will still need to purchase your ticket for the Royal Yacht Britannia (book ahead here). The great thing about this particular bus tour is that your ticket is valid for 2 days. You can then also use your ticket to board the local bus and get out to the zoo if you fancy.

The Royal Yacht Britannia is located at the Ocean Terminal shopping centre. So if your teens aren’t keen on learning about royal history, you could always let them indulge in some retail therapy whilst you visit the floating ship.

EVENING

After another busy day, you might just want to put your feet up and have a quiet night in.

Day 3 – Ghosts, Ghouls & Magic Potions 

Ghost-Bus-Tour-Edinburgh

For our third and final day, let’s head back to the city centre and delve into the world of wizards, ghosts & ghouls. Also, remember that your hop-on-hop-off bus ticket is still valid so you can still use it if you want to veer off course from this itinerary.

MORNING

10:30 am – Discover Edinburgh’s World of Wizarding

Book onto the 10:30am Harry Potter Walking Guided Tour and discover the places that were the inspiration for JK Rowling’s famous books. You’ll visit Tom Riddle’s grave, catch a glimpse of the real “Hogwarts”, walk down “Diagon Alley” and much, much more. The tour lasts two hours and can be booked in different languages including English, French, Spanish and German. 

12:30 Lunch – National Museum of Scotland

The Harry Potter tour starts just next to the National Museum of Scotland so we strongly suggest that you simply pop into the (free) museum for a spot of lunch. This will save both time and allow you to catch a quick glimpse of this fantastic museum. There are two food  options – the Balcony Café on level 3 which overlooks the Grand Gallery or the Museum Kitchen in the entrance hall. You can also bring your own picnic if you need to save some pennies. There is a designated space at level 0 close to the Museum Kitchen.

If time permits, your teens might be curious to see Dolly the sheep, the first cloned mammal or race a Formula 1 car. It’s the perfect place to visit if you have a mix of younger kids, tweens and teens.

AFTERNOON

2pm – The Real Mary King’s Close 

Just a short 5 minute walk and you’ll reach the next attraction which is located on the Royal Mile. Book onto a tour of the Real Mary King’s Close and learn about Edinburgh’s forgotten underground history whilst exploring one of the rare preserved 17th century streets hidden under the Royal Mile. Donning period costumes, the guides bring the life and stories of the inhabitants of this Close (street) to life. A real insight into 17th century living conditions. The tour lasts 1 hour.

Edinburgh Dungeon (opening hours: 11am – 5pm)

Last stop on this action-packed day and just a 3 minute walk away! When you come out of the Real Mary King’s Close, turn left and head down Writer’s Crt (you’ll see a sign for the restaurant Zizzi’s) and follow the steps, the narrow alley (Warriston Close) and once at the bottom of Cockburn Street, turn right. This is where you’ll find the Edinburgh Dungeon, a theatrical attraction that takes you through Scotland’s darkest history. Expect jump scares, actors in character, and lots of fun. It’s sure to appeal to teenagers who enjoy a good fright!

Note: last entry is at 4:45pm

EVENING

Magic Potions at the Department of Magic

Why not round off your city break with a fun evening of magic potion making at the Department of Magic. Located a stone’s throw from St Giles Cathedral and just off the Royal Mile, you’ll find the quirky Department of Magic. Here, you can head to the Magic Potions Tavern and participate in some potion making. Don a magic cloak and mix up some magical ingredients to create some weird and wonderful cocktails such as the Dark Lord, Vial of Venom or the Herbology 101. You can choose both alcoholic and non-alcoholic cocktails.

WHERE TO EAT IN EDINBURGH

Mimis Bakehouse in Edinburgh Royal Mile

We’ve tried to include suggestions of places to eat in our itinerary but here are a few extra ideas that will hopefully appeal to teenagers (mix of restaurants & cafés):

Mamma Roma – great option if you’re fans of Italian cuisine. Great food, pizzas,fun décor and friendly service. Located at the top of Leith Walk opposite the Playhouse Theatre and Omni Centre.

The Hard Rock Café (located on George Street, Edinburgh’s New Town) – with its lively atmosphere and rock-and-roll memorabilia, the Hard Rock Cafe is a fun place for families to dine.

The Filling Station – American diner fayre with fun atmosphere and decor. You’ll find one on the Royal Mile and another on Rose Street (New Town).

Bonnie & Wild – new kid on the block located at the St James Quarter. Bonnie & Wild is a large fun food hall offering a number of independent restaurants and street food options. 

Piggs – funky tapas bar with an authentic Spanish vibe located on the Royal Mile (Holyrood Palace end). This is a good option if you fancy something a little different.

Oink – in their own words, “best pulled pork sandwich you’ll ever taste!”

Mary’s Milk Bar – Ice cream parlour located in the Grassmarket (Old Town) offering a great variety of flavours and high quality gelato. Flavours change daily! 

The Milkman – great spot for coffee and cake. Funky interior too. Located on Cockburn Street.

Mimi’s Bakehouse – head here for some of the best cakes in Edinburgh. There are several Mimi’s in Edinburgh: the Royal Mile, Leith, the City Art Centre, Corstorphine & Comely Bank. Great all-day brunch, cakes, cupcakes and award-winning afternoon tea.

EL&N (St James Quarter) – dubbed as the “world’s most instagrammable café”, this is a really fun (very pink!) place to come for a coffee and cake. It’s located in the St James Quarter, a great place to discover many other eateries. A little overpriced though.

Download this itinerary

We’ve created a handy downloadable PDF version of this itinerary. Go ahead, download it, print it out and get planning!

Final Word

We hope that this itinerary has given you a good taste of Edinburgh’s history, culture, and cuisine, while also providing plenty of fun and memorable experiences for your teenagers. We really hope you enjoy your trip to Scotland’s vibrant capital.

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