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Can You Do A Day Trip From London To Edinburgh

Can you? Yes. Should You? No. 

It’s a fairly straightforward answer – the train journey takes about 4½  hours each way. Theoretically, you could spend 6-8 hours in Edinburgh seeing some of the highlights, but honestly, a one day trip is not worth it for the hours on a train. 

However, if you are determined to make the trip in one day, I’m still here to help you out. So, let’s look at your options and how to make the most of your time.

Travel Options

Train

If you are determined to make the trip, booking your own train tickets is the most sensible option. Book as far in advance as you can to get the cheapest prices. 

The train takes between 4 and 5 hours depending on the operator and time of day. Visit Trainline to see all the options. Make sure it is a journey with no changes – most of them are but a few routes include a transfer in York which could cause problems if the train is running late. 

You need to be certain that you can make it to the station early enough for your train from London – if you miss it you’ll need to buy a new ticket which will be significantly more expensive on the day. 

Trains are reasonably comfortable with toilets and a small cafe to buy food and drinks. But it is still around 9 hours on a train in one day. 

So take the earliest train that you are sure you can get to. There is one that leaves Kings Cross at 5.48am and takes just 4hrs 20mins, or the 6.15am that takes 5 hours. Then you’ll want either the 5.30pm or 6.30pm return trains depending on how late you are willing to get back.

Of course schedules change, so head to Trainline to check what is available to you. 

Edinburgh from the castle

Flights

I’ll give you the facts here but I can’t in good conscience recommend this option, as short-haul flights like this are terrible for the environment. 

A few different London airports have flights to Edinburgh. In terms of timing, you aren’t much better off than taking the train. You need to factor in getting to and from the airports to the city and checking in early enough for security.

Appallingly, it is often cheaper to fly than take the train if you don’t take anything with you so it is a viable option but I don’t recommend it. Book your train early enough and the price will be about the same for both options. 

Scott Monument

Tour

There are tours you can book for a day trip to Edinburgh, but they are really just booking your train tickets for you as well as a ticket for the castle and a hop-on hop-off bus tour. 

These ‘tours’ are about £250, and usually don’t involve a tour guide – just the tickets for standard activities that you can arrange yourself. 

I could provide a link here to one of those tours which would then give me a small commission if you book it, but I’m not going to – you’ll be paying a premium without adding any value. 

The tours are often well-reviewed but that’s because Edinburgh is fantastic, not because the tour is worth your hard-earned money. 

Of course, if you want to reward me for my honesty and advice by using one of my links to book your own hop-on hop-off bus tour I wouldn’t complain. The commission (which doesn’t cost you anything) is much smaller but I won’t feel guilty for wasting your money!

Book your Edinburgh City Sightseeing tour here!

Coach

The cheapest option would be to take an overnight National Express coach in each direction. There are coaches that operate between London Victoria Station and Edinburgh – they take 9 hours each way.

For a total cost of around £60 if you book in advance you could skip the cost of two nights in a hotel and sleep on the coach. That would give you closer to 14 hours in Edinburgh. 

I’ve not taken overnight coaches and you’d need to be fairly confident about your ability to sleep for a few hours. 

I wouldn’t do it myself (largely because I have a neurological condition that requires a lot of sleep to manage) but I’m sure some people would be willing to sacrifice sleep for a day trip from London to Scotland. 

Even if I think they are crazy to do it. 

Key Activities in Edinburgh

Once you arrive head to the City Sightseeing Hop-on Hop-Off bus a short walk from the station. For most of the year the buses arrive every 10-12 minutes between 8.45am and 6pm. From November to early April the buses are only every 30 minutes so that is something to bear in mind.

I don’t normally recommend these types of tours, but with limited time in a city they are a good way to see as much as possible.

You’ll need to keep an eye on the time to make sure you don’t miss your train home if you spend more time than you expected in any particular place.

The first Edinburgh highlights you’ll see will be the Scott Monument and Princes Street Gardens. Get off the bus once you reach the stop for Edinburgh Castle. 

Castle

The main attraction is of course Edinburgh Castle. Sitting high above the city on Castle Rock, it’s the big draw. It’s an impressive building with lots to see, especially on the subject of military history. There is a large memorial to soldiers who have died in conflicts since World War II. 

You can also see the Scottish crown jewels and the Royal Apartments.

It’s the most popular attraction in the city, so book early. You don’t want to spend hours on the train just to turn up and find you can’t get in!

Scotch Whisky Experience 

You obviously won’t be driving on this day trip, so if you want to try out one of Scotland’s most famous exports, head to the Scotch Whisky Experience just a few minutes from the castle.

There are tasting experiences you can do but given time constraints I would skip those and head down to the whisky bar for a dram. 

You can also order sharing boards at the bar which would fit in nicely for lunch. 

Alternatively, head to one of the many pubs near the castle for something more substantial. 

Museum

After lunch head over to the National Museum of Scotland. It’s free to enter and aside from being a beautiful building there is also a lot to see inside. 

There is a gallery dedicated to fashion and design. Another gallery focuses on the history of Mary, Queen of Scots – she had a fascinating life and was a rival to Elizabeth Tudor (speaking of which, check out my article about Tudor history in London). 

There is also a wide range of artefacts and information about Scottish history, from prehistoric times to the present day. 

Royal Mile

The sightseeing bus has a stop just outside the museum, so hop back on to it for a trip down the Royal Mile. The Royal Mile is a series of streets that form a straight line route between the castle and Holyroodhouse Palace. 

This is one of the most popular parts of the city, with a range of shops and dining areas in beautiful old buildings. Given your limited time in the city, the sightseeing bus lets you see all of the highlights without spending so long walking between them. 

The bus will then take you past the Scottish Parliament building and the palace. You’ll do a loop near Holyrood Park and then head back towards the station in time for your train.

Additional Stops

If you’ve gone for the overnight coach options you’ll have some extra time to fill. Options to consider would be to spend a bit of time in Holyrood Park or visit Dynamic Earth. You could also do a tour of Holyrood House. Check out Whiski Rooms for dinner, and make sure to try cranachan – a delicious dessert with whisky, honey, raspberries, oats and cream. 

Cranachan at the Whiski Rooms

Alternative Suggestions

Stay Overnight

This is the most obvious solution – Scotland deserves several days, not just one. Take a look at this 1 week itinerary to make the most of Scotland. 

And as I was so helpful in making sure you don’t waste money on an expensive and unnecessary organised tour, perhaps you’d like to use my accommodation link if you do decide to stay overnight!

Of course there might not be anything you can do about having just one day in Edinburgh, in which case you’ve now got all the information you need to make the most of it.

Cambridge is a good alternative for a day trip

Options Closer to London

I have a dedicated article about day trips from London on the train. If you want to visit a beautiful historic city by train, I would recommend Oxford or Cambridge. You’d even get more time to spend in Paris on a one day tour from London on the Eurostar than you would have in Edinburgh. 

Conclusion

As you can see it is possible to do a day trip to Edinburgh from London, but you would spend most of your time on a train or coach. My recommendation would be to try and alter your itinerary to have more time in Scotland or visit a city further south.

If you can find some extra time, check out these other articles for more information.

Edinburgh vs London

1 Week In Scotland

Edinburgh to London Driving Routes

Is Edinburgh Worth Visiting?

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