Notwithstanding disruption caused by the construction of the tram network, public transport in the centre of Edinburgh is reasonably fast and reliable, and is certainly a better option than driving.
The city and its suburbs are very well served by a comprehensive bus network. Lothian Buses (555 6363, www.lothianbuses.com) runs the majority of services throughout Edinburgh and into Mid and East Lothian; it’s these services that are listed throughout the guide.
Several parts of town are served by a large number of buses. In these cases, rather than list each bus on every occasion, we’ve broken them into groupings. Below are the groupings used in the guide, together with a list of routes that serve the respective streets or areas.
Nicolson Street–North Bridge buses 3, 3A, 5, 7, 8, 14, 29, 30, 31, 33, 37, 47, 49.
Playhouse buses 1, 4, 5, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12, 14, 15, 15A, 16, 19, 22, 25, 26, 34, 44, 45, 49.
Princes Street buses 1, 3, 3A, 4, 10, 11, 12, 15, 15A, 16, 19, 22, 24, 25, 26, 29, 31, 33, 34, 36, 37, 44, 47.
Night Buses, operated by Lothian Buses, run nightly on ten routes around the city. Most routes run hourly from around midnight, but a few are more frequent (including the N22 between Ocean Terminal and the airport). For more, see www.nightbuses.com.
Single journeys in Edinburgh cost £1.20 for adults or 70p for children aged 5-15; under-5s travel free, up to a maximum of two kids per adult passenger. There are no single fares on the city’s Night Bus network; unlimited travel on it costs £3 a night. Exact change is required for all single fares.
Daytickets allow for unlimited travel on Lothian Buses (excluding the Airlink 100 bus, tour services and Night Buses). Daytickets cost £3 (£2.40 for children aged 5-15), and are available when you board your first bus of the day.
For longer periods, the Ridacard affords the holder unlimited travel on the network. The card costs £15 for one week (£13 for students aged 16-25, £10 for 5-15s) or £45 for four weeks (£38 for students, £30 for 5-15s). Ridacards aren’t valid on tour buses and Night Buses, though they do entitle riders to half-price travel on the latter. You can buy a Ridacard from Lothian Buses Travelshops.
Lothian Buses Travelshops
27 Hanover Street New Town. Princes Street buses. Open 8.15am-6pm Mon-Sat.
7 Shandwick Place New Town. Princes Street buses. Open 8.15am-6pm Mon-Sat.
Waverley Bridge New Town. Princes Street buses. Open 8.15am-6pm Mon-Sat; 9.30am-5.15pm Sun.
In addition to Lothian Buses, First Group (0871 200 2233, www.firstgroup.co.uk) runs a handful of services between Edinburgh and outlying areas. Tickets are not transferable.
The majority of Scottish rail services are run by First Scotrail. Details are available from National Rail Enquiries on 0845 748 4950 or www.nationalrail.co.uk. The information desk at Waverley station (Waverley Bridge, New Town) can also help.
As well as Waverley and Haymarket stations, the city has several suburban stations; check with National Rail Enquiries for full details.
The construction of Edinburgh’s new tram network has been beset by delays and financial difficulties. It’s hoped that the first phase of the network, linking Edinburgh Airport with Leith via Murrayfield, Haymarket, Princes Street and Waverley Station, will be ready to open in summer 2011, but no one’s holding their breath. When the system does open, it will be integrated with the Lothian Buses network; Ridacards (see above) will be valid on both trams and buses.
Thanks to some successful lobbying by the local cycle campaign Spokes, Edinburgh is a pretty decent place for cyclists. The city council has invested in some off-road cycle paths and road-edge cycle lanes; although it’s not compulsory for motorists to observe the latter, the lanes ease the flow of cyclists during rush hours and make some roads safer. Cyclists can travel freely along bus lanes.
Be sensible when tethering a bike in the street: bikes left on the Grassmarket and Rose Street are prone to vandalism and theft. Otherwise, the only real worries for cyclists are the steep and cobbled streets around the Old Town.
Spokes produces four cycle maps that show the cycle routes in Edinburgh and the Lothians. All cost £4.95 and are available from the Spokes website (www.spokes.org.uk).
If you’re planning on staying within Edinburgh during your visit, driving isn’t recommended. For one thing, the town is reasonably small and thus very accessible either on foot or via the public transport system. For another, the preponderance of pedestrianised and one-way streets means the traffic can be terrible. And parking (see below) is difficult and pricey.
If you’re a member of a motoring organisation in your home country, check to see if it has a reciprocal agreement with a British equivalent.
AA (Automobile Association) 0870 600 0371 enquiries, 0800 887766 emergencies, 08457 887766 emergencies from mobiles, www.theaa.com.
RAC (Royal Automobile Club) 08705 722722 enquiries, 0800 828282 emergencies, www.rac.co.uk.
All firms below have branches at the airport; several also have offices in the city centre. Shop around for the best rate; always check the level of insurance included in the price.
Alamo UK: 0870 400 4562, www.alamo.co.uk. US: 1-877 222 9075, www.alamo.com.
Arnold Clark UK & US: 0844 576 5425, www.arnoldclarkrental.co.uk.
Avis UK: 0844 544 3407, www.avis.co.uk. US: 1-800 331 1212, www.avis.com.
Budget UK: 0844 544 3439, www.budget.co.uk. US: 1-800 472 3325, www.budget.com.
Enterprise UK: 0870 350 3000, www.enterprise.co.uk. US: 1-800 261 7331, www.enterprise.com.
Europcar UK: 0870 607 5000, www.europcar.co.uk. US: 1-877 940 6900, www.europcar.com.
Hertz UK: 0870 844 8844, www.hertz.co.uk. US: 1-800 654 3001, www.hertz.com.
National UK: 0870 400 4552, www.nationalcar.co.uk. US: 1-800 222 9058, www.nationalcar.com.
Thrifty UK: 01494 751500, www.thrifty.co.uk. US: 1-800 847 4389, www.thrifty.com.
The city is divided up into central and peripheral parking zones. In the central zone, you must pay to park between 8.30am and 6.30pm, Mon-Sat; in the peripheral zone, the controlled hours are 8.30am-5.30pm Mon-Fri. Parking costs £1.20-£2 an hour; maximum stays vary from three to six hours. You can pay at a pay-and-display machine or by mobile with mPark (instructions will be on the pay-and-display machine). Information on parking in Edinburgh, including a map of parking locations, is at www.edinburgh.gov.uk/parking.
If you park illegally, you may get a ticket (the fine is £60, reduced to £30 if it is paid within 14 days) or even towed (a release fee of £105 plus £12 a day). If you fear your car has been towed, call the police on 0131 311 3131, who have a record of all towed cars. They will tell you how to get back your vehicle.
If you don’t fancy taking your chances with street parking, consider one of the car parks around the city. It’s more expensive than street parking but less hassle, and there’s no limit on the amount of time you can park your car.
All the car parks detailed below are open 24 hours a day. Rates vary; call for details. There’s a full list of city centre car parks, complete with a map, online at www.edinburgh.gov.uk/parking.
Castle Terrace Old Town (0845 050 7080, www.ncp.co.uk). Rates from £4.80/2hrs up to £23/24hrs.
Greenside Place Calton Hill & Broughton (0845 050 7080, www.ncp.co.uk). Rates from £3.50/2hrs up to £20/24hrs.
St James Centre Leith Walk, Broughton (0845 050 7080, www.ncp.co.uk). Rates from £3/2hrs up to £19/24hrs.
St John’s Hill 2 Viewcraig Gardens, Old Town (0845 050 7080, www.ncp.co.uk). Rates from £3/2hrs up to £16/24hrs.
Most of Edinburgh’s taxis are black cabs, which take up to five passengers. When a taxi’s yellow ‘For Hire’ light is on, you can hail it in the street. The basic fare, for the pick-up and the first 450m or 90 seconds of waiting time, costs £1.60 (£2.70 between 6pm and 6am); each additional 210m (242m after 9.30pm) or 45 seconds costs 25p. There’s a 20p charge for every additional passenger over two.
Phoning for a taxi is advisable at night or if you’re outside the city centre. To book, contact Central Taxis (229 2468, www.taxis-edinburgh.co.uk), City Cabs (228 1211, www.citycabs.co.uk) or Computer Cabs (272 8000, www.comcab-edinburgh.co.uk). Most taxis accept only cash.
Private hire cars
Minicabs (saloon cars) are generally cheaper than black cabs and may be able to carry more passengers (specify when booking). Cars must be booked in advance. Reputable firms include Bluebird (621 6666) and Persevere (555 2323). Call around first to get the best price.
Complaints about a taxicab or private hire company journey should be made in writing to the Edinburgh Council Licensing Section, 249 High Street, Edinburgh EH1 1YJ. Be sure to make a note of the date and time of the journey and the licence number of the vehicle.
To fully appreciate the beauty, elegance, charm and contrasts of the city centre and its environs, Edinburgh is best explored on foot. Although the usual caution should be exercised at night, especially around those areas of the city with abundant and rowdy nightlife (Lothian Road and the Cowgate, to name but two), walking around the city is safe and rewarding.
Edinburgh Bus Tours 220 0770, www.edinburghtour.com. Rates One bus tour £12; £5-£11 discounts. Four bus tours £15; £6-£13 discounts. Bus & boat tour £18; £7-£16 discounts.
Lothian Buses (see above) runs a number of different double-decker bus tours: City Sightseeing, a sights primer in nine languages; the Edinburgh Tour, more of the same but with live English commentary; MacTours, conducted on vintage buses; and the Majestic Tour, which runs to Holyroodhouse and Ocean Terminal. In summer, there’s also a Bus & Boat tour, which takes in a boat trip on the Firth of Forth. The bus services start around 9-10am and finish at 5-6pm (later in summer, earlier in winter). All tours depart regularly from Waverley Bridge, and booking isn’t required; tickets allow riders to alight or rejoin the tour at any point over a 24-hour period.
Auld Reekie Tours
557 4700, www.auldreekietours.com. Tours Ghost & Torture hourly, 6-9pm daily. Terror Tour 10pm & 10.30pm daily. Underground Tour hourly, 12.30-5.30pm daily. Meeting point Tron Kirk, High Street, Old Town. Tickets Ghost & Torture £8.50; £7.50 discounts. Terror Tour £10; £9 discounts. Underground Tour £7; £6 discounts. Credit AmEx, MC, V.
Sacrificing some factual accuracy for engaging pantomime, tour guides lead you through the streets of Edinburgh to a section of the Underground Vaults, where you’ll allegedly find a pagan temple.
City of the Dead Tours
225 9044, www.blackhart.uk.com. Tours Underground City of the Dead Easter-Oct 1.30pm, 2.30pm, 7.30pm, 8pm, 9pm daily. Nov-Easter 1.30pm, 3.30pm 7.30pm, 9pm daily. City of the Dead Haunted Graveyard Tour Easter-Oct 8.30pm, 10pm daily. Nov-Easter 8.30pm. 9.30pm daily. Meeting point Mercat Cross, High Kirk of St Giles, High Street, Old Town. Tickets £8.50; £6.50 discounts. No credit cards.
The haunted graveyard in question is at Greyfriars, and is said by people who believe in this sort of thing to be home to a poltergeist. The underground tour, meanwhile, takes you to what’s billed as ‘the closest place to hell on earth’.
Edinburgh Literary Pub Tour
0800 169 7410, www.edinburghliterarypubtour.co.uk. Tours May-Sept 7.30pm daily. Mar, Apr, Oct 7.30pm Thur-Sun. Nov-Feb 7.30pm Fri. Meeting point Beehive Inn, Grassmarket. Tickets £8; £7 discounts. Credit MC, V (advance bookings).
A lively guide to the city’s literary history, from Burns to Welsh via most points in between. Prebooking (recommended) saves £1-£2 on the ticket price.
Mercat Walking Tours
557 6464, www.mercattours.com. Tours Ghosts & Ghouls Apr-Sept 7pm, 8pm, 9pm daily. Oct-Mar 7pm, 8pm daily. Ghosthunter Aug 9.45pm, 10.30pm daily. Apr-July, Sept 9.45pm Mon-Wed, Sun; 9.45pm, 10.30pm Thur-Sat. Oct-Mar 9.45pm daily. Gallows to Graveyard Apr-Sept 9.30pm Fri, Sat. Oct-Mar 9.30pm Sat. Ghostly Underground 3pm daily. Paranormal Underground 5.45pm Mon-Thur, Sun; 4.45pm, 5.45pm Fri, Sat. Historic Vaults Apr-Sept noon, 2pm, 4pm daily. Oct-Mar 2pm, 4pm daily. Secrets of the Royal Mile 2.15pm daily. Meeting point Mercat Cross, High Kirk of St Giles, High Street, Old Town. Tickets Ghosts & Ghouls £11; £6.50-£10 discounts. Ghosthunter £8.50; £7.50 discounts. Gallows to Graveyard, Paranormal Underground, Secrets of the Royal Mile £8.50; £5-£7.50 discounts. Ghostly Underground, Historic Vaults £7.50; £4-£6.50 discounts. Credit AmEx, MC, V.
The longest established and most professional of all the companies prides itself on historical accuracy. Don’t expect a lecture, though: the black-cloaked guides feed the customers a grisly portrait of Old Edinburgh. Mercat’s walks pass through the extensive Underground Vaults. The earlier tours are less sinister than those staged in the evenings.
Real Mary King’s Close
0870 243 0160, www.realmarykingsclose.com. Tours Apr-Oct every 20mins, 10am-9pm daily. Nov-Mar every 20mins, 10am-5pm Mon-Fri, Sun; every 20mins, 10am-9pm Sat. Meeting point Mary King’s Close, via Warriston Close. Admission £10.50; £6-£9.50 discounts. Credit MC, V.
The remains of a street beneath the City Chambers have been turned into an historical attraction, overseen by a costumed guide. It’s a fascinating look at life in the city over the years. More supernaturally focused tours are usually scheduled to run around Hallowe’en; call or check online for details.
553 7473, www.rebustours.com. Tours usually noon & 3pm Sat. Meeting point Royal Oak, Infirmary Street, Old Town. Tickets £10; £9 discounts. No credit cards.
Ian Rankin’s Edinburgh is uncovered on a pair of walking tours run by knowledgeable enthusiast Colin Brown. Booking is required, but payment is on the day and in cash only.
225 6745, www.witcherytours.com. Tours Murder & Mystery Apr 7.30pm, 8.30pm, 9pm, 9.30pm daily. May-Aug 8.30pm, 9pm, 9.30pm daily. Sept 8.30pm, 9pm daily. Oct-Mar 7pm, 7.30pm, 8.30pm, 9pm daily. Ghosts & Gore Apr 7pm daily. May-Sept 7pm, 7.30pm daily. Meeting point outside Witchery restaurant, 352 Castlehill, Old Town. Tickets £7.50; £5 discounts. Credit AmEx, MC, V.
Moving from the castle through the Cowgate, a character guide entertains in agreeably light-hearted fashion, with other characters – including Burke and Hare, the bodysnatchers – frequently popping up to startle the unwary tourist. It’s an amusing evening out. The summer-only Ghosts & Gore tour is a daylight reworking of the same event.
Getting to Edinburgh
Fast facts A-Z
When to go to Edinburgh