Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland and one of the most visited places in Europe; the city ranks second in most popular tourist destinations in the United Kingdom, welcoming an average of 5 million visitors annually. If you’re one of the millions of travelers wanting to see what the Scottish capital has to offer, then you’re probably looking for the best ways to get around Edinburgh prior to your visit.
Despite being Scotland’s busy capital, Edinburgh is quite compact, making it easy to explore. In addition to this, the city has an impressive and efficient public transport system (operated by Transport for Edinburgh) that includes a network of buses, trams and rental bicycles.
The Edinburgh Airport is also well connected by various modes of public transportation, which makes it easy for incoming travelers to transfer from the airport to the city limits. Whether you’re staying within the city center or are looking to explore the suburbs, you can take a load off (literally!) by storing your bags at any of the Edinburgh luggage storage locations found across the city. Here’s everything you need to know about getting around Edinburgh.
How to get around Edinburgh by bus
Perhaps the best and most popular way to get around the city is by riding one of the public buses. These buses come by frequently and operate 24 hours a day; their routes include both the city center and the outskirts. While there are several bus companies in Edinburgh, the two main ones are Lothian Buses and First Bus; these two operators utilize the same bus stops but the latter is more focused on routes to the city’s outskirts.
Lothian Buses, which is Edinburgh's main bus company, has the largest number of buses and routes within Edinburgh. Passengers can opt to buy either a single-use ticket, a return ticket, or a DAYTicket. The DAYTicket is a whole-day pass that gives ticketholders unlimited access to both Lothian buses and Edinburgh trams for free (this excludes use of the night buses or the Airlink bus to the Edinburgh Airport).
The most common way to buy a ticket is upon boarding, there are small ticket vending machines found inside the bus. Note, however, that the bus driver has no access to cash and cannot offer you change if you pay with large bills. Therefore, it would be best to have the exact change ready for when you need to take the bus. Other options would be to buy your ticket at the Lothian Travelshops, online through the bus company’s website or through the Transport for Edinburgh mobile app.
How to get around Edinburgh by tram
Trams are another popular choice for getting around Edinburgh, especially if you’re coming from the airport. Established in 2014, Edinburgh Trams are extremely comfortable, efficient and easy enough to learn. Because it was only founded recently, the city’s fairly new tram system only has one line at present; however, the network is constantly being developed and will be made to extend to the outskirts of the city in the coming years.
Extending about 14 kilometers in length, the current tram line’s route stretches from the Edinburgh Airport until the city center, particularly York Place; there are multiple stops along the way in key points of interest across Edinburgh, including the Royal Mile, St. Andrews Square, Haymarket, Princes Street, West End and Murrayfield Station, all places to shop and eat.
The Edinburgh trams operate from 5:29 AM to 11:08 PM daily from York Place and 6:15 AM to 10:45 PM from the Edinburgh Airport. Passengers can either buy a single journey ticket, a return ticket or a day ticket (unlimited access to Edinburgh trams and Lothian buses for an entire day). Tickets can be bought from ticket vending machines found in the tram station or through the Transport for Edinburgh mobile app.
How to get around Edinburgh by taxi
Just like any other major city in the world, taxis are readily available in Edinburgh. Just like in London and most cities in the United Kingdom, traditional taxis in the Scottish capital usually come in the form of black cabs and can easily be hailed on the street or in one of the many taxi ranks in the city. You can also book a cab online, by phone or through the cab company's mobile app.
Black cabs are usually preferred by travelers who are coming from the airport and don’t mind paying a little bit more than usual for convenience. Otherwise, it is not really advisable to travel around Edinburgh via taxi because fares can be pricey and the traffic can get bad during rush hour. A more inexpensive option than the taxi is through a rideshare app. Companies like Uber operate in Edinburgh and are typically cheaper compared to the traditional black cabs.
There are several taxi companies that operate in Edinburgh but the two most renowned ones are Central Taxis and City Cabs. Fares depend on the day and time and are calculated based on distance and waiting times. Naturally, the average fare becomes higher on holidays or during major city events such as the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Passengers may pay the fare either through cash or card, although the latter option includes a 5% surcharge that will make the fare even more expensive.
How to get around Edinburgh by car
If you want more freedom to move around or possibly have plans to visit places outside of Edinburgh such as terrific hiking destinations, renting your own car might be the ideal option. There are plenty of car rental companies to choose from, the most popular ones being Hertz, Avis, Budget and Sixt. You can either rent a car from the Edinburgh Airport or within the city center; it is recommended that you also add GPS to your car rental to avoid getting lost.
Generally, you do not need to have an international license in order to drive a rental car in Edinburgh. If you decide to rent a car for your trip, you should know that traffic in Scotland is on the left side of the road. If you’re coming from the United States, it might take some getting used to driving on the opposite side of the road. Moreover, many of the streets in Edinburgh are either pedestrian-only or one way streets.
Parking can also be a challenge, especially if you're staying within the city center, as most parking spots are either reserved for residents or restricted areas. Your best bet would be to look for a parking spot in a pay-and-park lot or to ask assistance from your hotel on where you can safely park your rental car.
All that said, driving your own car isn’t really ideal if you’re just planning to stay within the city limits. Consider renting a car only if you have plans to visit further tourist destinations (such as the famous Portobello Beach) or to venture outside of Edinburgh to visit other places in Scotland.
How to get around Edinburgh by bicycle
Edinburgh is compact enough that you can easily cycle your way around the city and visit the top spots and attractions. The Scottish capital is extremely bike-friendly (except for the Royal Mile area, which gets really busy); in fact, most locals prefer to ride on two wheels to get to their destination. Apart from being an environment-friendly option, another advantage of using a bicycle to explore Edinburgh is that you can beat traffic while getting a workout in.
Edinburgh is filled with cycling paths ranging from canals and esplanades to former railway lines, all of which are traffic-free. These paths are also easy to navigate and connect some of the city’s top attractions; you can easily download maps of the cycling paths from the Edinburgh council website.
There are many independent companies in the city that offer bike rental services, such as Biketrax, Pedal Forth, Leith Cycle Company and Cycle Scotland. From tandem bikes to electric bikes, you'll find the choices are many.
Rental fees are dependent on how long you plan to use the bike; many companies offer helmets, locks and other necessary gear for enjoying a pedal around the city.
Can I get around Edinburgh by foot?
The answer is yes! Edinburgh may be a busy capital but the city is surprisingly compact and easily walkable. What’s more, a good portion of the city’s top attractions (like Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace) are found along the Royal Mile in the city center, which means everything is within walking distance from each other.
The Edinburgh Old Town is also known for its winding network of one-way streets, pedestrian-only lanes, narrow paths and steep hills, which means that going on foot might just be the most efficient way to explore part of the city. Hence, if you are only staying in the Old Town or New Town areas during your time in Edinburgh, you can simply pack some good walking shoes and a map of the city and spend the bulk of your trip wandering on foot.
The beauty of walking around Edinburgh is that you get to take your time and truly take in the loveliness of the city. Moreover, you may even stumble upon some hidden gems that only pedestrians can access, such as the impressive labyrinth of alleyways by the Royal Mile.
Accessible Public Transportation in Edinburgh
Edinburgh is known for its cobbled streets and steep hills, which can be off-putting for travelers who are in need of accessibility. This concern is understandable, especially if you plan to utilize the city’s public transportation throughout your stay. Fortunately, the city has taken passengers with special needs into consideration; Edinburgh’s public transport system is well-equipped to aid passengers with disabilities.
For instance, all Lothian buses are outfitted with ramps, multiple handrails and dedicated spaces for wheelchair users. The Edinburgh trams are also extremely accessible and have wheelchair spaces, wheelchair ramps in carriages and step-free access in the tram platforms. In addition, all of the black cabs from the city’s major taxi companies accommodate passengers using wheelchairs; those that aren’t able to do so have stickers on their windows to help you discern them easily.
Edinburgh Airport and Beyond
Edinburgh is a lovely and charming city that should be included in any traveler's bucket list. A treasure trove of culture and history, the Scottish capital boasts plenty of activities and attractions that tourists will thoroughly enjoy. Finding your way around Edinburgh is also easy, especially with the city's well thought out public transportation system.
With this overview on how to get around Edinburgh, you should be able to plan which mode of transportation to use to get to your desired destinations around the city. Enjoy your stay to the fullest!