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Edinburgh's spectacular setting makes a good first impression. You can be here for a day and think you know the place, as even a cursory open-top bus tour enables you to grasp the layout of the castle, Royal Mile, Old Town, and New Town. If your taste is more for leisurely strolling through the nooks and crannies of the Old Town closes, however, then allow three or four days for exploring.
If You Have 2 Days
To start off, make your way to Edinburgh Castle—not just the battlements—and spend some time here, if only to revel in its sense of history. Take a city bus tour for an overview of Edinburgh, and while you ride, consider your must-sees: the National Gallery of Scotland, the National Museum of Scotland, and, unless it's January or February, the Georgian House for an idea of life in the New Town.
If You Have 5 Days
Five days allow plenty of time for Old Town exploration, including the important museums of Edinburgh and the People's Story (in the Canongate Tolbooth), and for a walk around the New Town, including a visit to the Dean Gallery and the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. You'll also have time for shopping, not only in areas close to the city center, such as Rose Street and Victoria Street, but also in some of the less touristy areas, such as Bruntsfield. Head to Leith to visit the former royal yacht Britannia and to have a meal on the waterfront. You could also get out of town: hop on a bus out to Midlothian to see the magnificent Rosslyn Chapel at Roslin (it's of interest to more than Da Vinci Code fans), and visit Crichton Castle, parts of which date back to the 14th century. Consider spending another half day traveling out to South Queensferry to admire the Forth rail and road bridges; then visit palatial Hopetoun House, with its wealth of portraits and fine furniture.
If You Have 8 Days
In eight days, in addition to a thorough exploration of Edinburgh's Old Town and New Town, including a few museums and a shopping trip or two, you will not only have time to explore Leith, Roslin, and South Queensferry but you may also be able to take a couple of side trips from the city. Allow at least a day for each trip so you have time to enjoy stately homes, historic ruins, beaches, and museums. If it's festival time, however, you might want to take in shows, concerts, and exhibitions for eight solid days and hardly stray from the city center.
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