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London Or Edinburgh – Which Is Best To Visit (2024)

If you are torn between visiting London or Edinburgh, then let me help you out. 

They are both wonderful cities and obviously the best answer is to visit both! But if you can only choose one, this is the article for you.

To give you the quickest possible answer, I’m going to recommend London – but you’ll have to keep reading to find out why, and if there are reasons why Edinburgh would suit you better. 

Now I have to admit some bias – I am a Londoner. I’ve lived in London for most of my life. On the other hand, I’ve been to Edinburgh several times and I’ll go back many more. Scotland is one of my favourite parts of the world for road trips, and my usual starting point for those trips is Edinburgh. 

They are very different cities – London is huge with lots to do, Edinburgh is smaller and prettier. 

So, let’s get into the details and break down all the important factors. 

Trafalgar Square in London

Overview

London is both the capital of the UK and the capital of England. It’s an enormous city, and I am one of around 9 million residents. 

It’s an amazing city to visit with a huge range of things to do – after all, it is by far the biggest city in the UK. 

This does mean that some people find it too intense. If you don’t enjoy crowds, it can be difficult to escape them in London. After all, those 9 million are just the residents – there are also millions of tourists visiting each year. 

If you don’t enjoy big cities, you may not like London.  

Edinburgh (pronounced Edin-bruh) is the capital city of Scotland but is significantly smaller than London. The population is around 550,000. 

It’s the second-largest city in Scotland, with Glasgow at around 635,000 residents. 

In many ways, it is also prettier than London, especially in Edinburgh’s lovely city centre. I highly recommend that any visitor to the UK spends some time in Scotland. It’s a stunning part of the world, and Edinburgh is a great city to spend a few days in. 

Top Attractions

London

Where to begin? Whatever you are interested in, London has something to offer you, and many of those attractions are free. 

My top recommendations for a first-time visitor to London would be the Natural History Museum, the V&A, the British Museum, and the Tower of London. 

Several small pale blue gems, housed in a glass case at the Natural History Museum
The Vault at London’s Natural History Museum

The Natural History Museum is free to visit and it’s enormous. There’s a huge amount to see, including my favourite gallery – The Vault. The Vault houses hundreds of diamonds, emeralds and other precious stones. 

The Victoria and Albert Museum, commonly called the V&A, is dedicated to sculpture, textiles, fashion and decorative arts. It’s a lovely museum to wander around, and again, it’s free. 

The V&A

The British Museum’s collection is incredible, with artefacts spanning thousands of years and several continents. It’s another free museum with lots to see, including Egyptian mummies, the Rosetta stone, ancient Greek pottery and medieval artwork. 

Having said all of that, parts of the collection have been acquired through controversial means, especially the Elgin marbles. This collection of ancient Greek sculptures has been the subject of a longstanding disagreement between the British and Greek governments about whether or not they were acquired legally. 

The Tower of London is one of the city’s most iconic buildings, dating back hundreds of years. It has a fascinating history, and is also the home of the British Crown Jewels. 

But that is just a tiny selection of what’s on offer. For more options, I have a 5-day London itinerary to help you. 

In addition to museums and galleries, London also has several lovely parks to visit, plenty of shopping and fantastic markets. 

Edinburgh

Edinburgh Castle is the big highlight here. The castle sits on a rock high above the rest of the city, and if you are visiting Edinburgh then the castle is a must-do. If you only have one day to spend in the city, take a look at my one day Edinburgh itinerary.

Edinburgh Castle

Inside the castle, visitors can explore the royal chambers, the Great Hall, and the crown jewels of Scotland. The castle’s military history is showcased through exhibits of weaponry and armour, while the Stone of Destiny adds a touch of intrigue to the site.

The Royal Mile is perhaps Edinburgh’s most famous road – stretching between Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse. 

Royal Mile is more of a nickname – the route is made up of several streets, none of which are called the Royal Mile. But it’s a straight line from the castle to the palace, so pretty easy to find! Along the way, you’ll find lots of restaurants, shops, and landmarks. 

National Museum of Scotland

The National Museum of Scotland is also excellent, and free to visit. The building itself is lovely and there is a lot to see inside including galleries dedicated to natural history, science, engineering, Scottish history and more. 

Edinburgh is also famous for being the place where JK Rowling wrote much of the Harry Potter series. You’ll find many Harry Potter-associated locations and shops, such as The Balmoral Hotel and Museum Context. 

For many people, the series has developed negative connotations following some opinions expressed by JK Rowling. Although there are many Harry Potter sites around the city there are also plenty of other things to do if you want to avoid that aspect of the city. 

Culture and Arts

London’s National Gallery

London

There are more cultural options in London, simply because it is a much bigger city. There are many free art galleries you can visit and a huge range of music and theatre venues. 

Major musicals and plays will generally arrive in London first and stay there longer. You can get last-minute tickets for almost anything – stand-up comedy, Hamilton, Wicked, ballet or opera. 

The National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery sit next to each other by Trafalgar Square. They are both free to visit and have excellent collections. 

I particularly enjoy the National Portrait Gallery, thanks to my interest in Tudor history. The gallery houses several of the original paintings that are now often included in history books. 

If you prefer modern art, head to the Tate Modern on the South Bank. It is particularly known for the Turbine Hall which displays large art installations that wouldn’t fit in many other museums. 

Edinburgh

Although Edinburgh has fewer options, it is by no means lacking in culture. The National Galleries of Scotland has three sites in Edinburgh – the National, the Modern and the Portrait. 

Edinburgh also has several theatres including the Edinburgh Playhouse and The Lyceum. 

And of course, Edinburgh hosts one of the UK’s most famous arts festivals – Edinburgh Fringe. This enormously popular event runs over 3 weeks every August. You’ll find street performers, plays, comedy, music and more. Some plays and comedy acts start at Fringe and are successful enough to become major hits.

If you want to go to Fringe you will need to book tickets and somewhere to stay in advance – accommodation books up quickly and becomes very expensive for August.

Food and Drink

Seven Dials Market in London

London

Again, London has more options for different foods because it is a larger city. Whatever type of cuisine you are after, you’ll be able to find it in London. 

Afternoon Tea is a popular option for first-time visitors to London, and there are several options.

The Ritz, Claridges, Fortnum & Mason are well-known for Afternoon Tea but can book up far in advance so you do need to plan for it. For those with a limited budget, you can also have Afternoon Tea at the British Museum.

Dinner at one of The Shard’s restaurants is an impressive experience but also comes with a high price tag. The food is generally very good and you get amazing views. Alternatively, you can visit one of the bars to get the views without the full dinner price tag. 

For budget eats, head to one of the many food markets – Borough Market, Camden Market and Spitalfields all have food truck options that give you some variety without costing a huge amount. 

Seven Dials market has several small restaurants, including one serving cheese on a conveyor belt!

For something a little different, check out Circus, with performers providing entertainment in the form of acrobats, aerial performers and more. This is strictly a 21+ venue with ID required for entrance, but it’s a great choice for a date when in London. 

I strongly recommend avoiding the restaurants in the immediate vicinity of tourist hotspots such as Leicester Square – they are notorious for being not very good but still expensive. 

Edinburgh

Edinburgh has some great food options – my favourite restaurant there is Whiski Rooms which serves traditional Scottish dishes.

Try their venison as a main, and cranachan for dessert. Cranachan is a mix of oats, cream, raspberries, honey and whisky – almost like a Scottish version of Eton Mess. They also make a fantastic Old Fashioned cocktail.

Cranachan at Whiski Rooms

I’ve also had some great French food at Le Bistrot, but Whiski Rooms would be my best recommendation especially to try some local dishes. 

Scotch whisky is famous around the world, and if you do head to Edinburgh I also recommend trying some while you are visiting. 

I particularly enjoy the whisky bar below the Scotch Whisky Experience. You can book tours and experiences in the main building, but if you are a novice whisky drinker skip the tours and head downstairs to the bar and try a dram or two. 

Whisky Bar at the Scotch Whisky Centre

The staff are incredibly knowledgeable and are always happy to make a recommendation from the 450 types of whisky they serve. It’s also a fairly inexpensive way to try some whisky – some of the drams only cost around £5.

The only downside is that it is a very small space, so to get a seat try visiting on a weekday afternoon. 

Day Trips

A pebble beach with a pier at sunset with a pink-orange sky in Brighton
Brighton Beach

London

There are lots of places you can visit on a day trip from London. Oxford, Cambridge and Brighton can all be easily reached by train. Cambridge and Oxford are both famous for their universities and beautiful architecture. 

Brighton is a perfect option if you want to experience the British seaside. However, you won’t be relaxing on the sand by the sea – the beach in Brighton is a pebble beach.

On the plus side, there are some amazing seafood restaurants and a wide range of vegan and vegetarian restaurants.

Hampton Court Palace is another lovely option, especially for history fans as it was once a Tudor palace, one of the homes of Henry VIII. 

I also love Hever Castle, the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, especially in summer thanks to its gorgeous rose garden. You would need a car to get there though, compared to other day trips which can be done on the train.

For more options, I have a full list of day trips you can do from London

Edinburgh

To explore the area beyond Edinburgh it is best to hire a car. You could do a day trip to Glasgow, but I recommend skipping Glasgow in favour of towns like Stirling. 

Stirling Castle

If you’ve gone all the way up to Scotland, try to find time to visit the lochs and Highlands. If you hire a car from Edinburgh you can get to Loch Lomond in under 2 hours, perhaps stopping at Stirling Castle on the way. 

But really, the most beautiful parts of Scotland are further north and harder to do on a day trip. The road from Fort William to Skye is stunning. The area around lochs such as Loch Ness is also beautiful.

If you aim to spend time exploring Scotland with a base in a city, I would suggest you stay in Inverness. 

If you are fully committed to a Scottish road trip, consider doing the NC 500 which takes you along the Scottish coastline, but it does take several days if you want to see it all. 

Scottish Highlands

Accommodation

London

From budget hostels to 5-star hotels, London has it all. I would recommend staying somewhere central, such as the Park Plaza County Hall which is just across the River Thames from Westminster. 

Edinburgh

Edinburgh has a good amount of accommodation options, but they can be quite expensive. 

For value for money, have a look at one of the Premier Inn hotels. Premier Inn is a chain around the UK. They aren’t fancy but in my experience (and I’ve stayed in quite a few) they are clean, comfortable, safe and reasonably priced. 

You won’t find them on sites like Booking.com – you can only book through their website. 

If you want something more luxurious, consider Edinburgh Marriott Holyrood, or if price isn’t an issue, The Balmoral Hotel

Walkability

The Queen’s Walk path along the River Thames in London

London

London is easy to walk around, but it’s big. Most of the major attractions are in the city centre, but you still need to plan your itinerary carefully if you prefer to walk rather than use public transport. 

It would take almost 2 hours to walk from the Tower of London to the Natural History Museum. If you want to see lots of things, avoid travelling back and forth through the city and stick to one area at a time. 

Personally, I love walking around London – especially along the South Bank. The central area is pretty flat and it’s a good city for meandering around.

It also has the benefit of Tube stations everywhere – you can wander around and then get the Tube back to where you started if you get tired. 

Edinburgh

The centre of Edinburgh is much smaller than London so you can see the main points of interest without walking very far. 

However, the city is also built on some steep hills. There are several long sets of outside stairs and steep roads. It might be smaller than London for walking around, but it also requires more physical exertion. 

When it comes to exploring these two cities on foot it is essentially distance vs incline. 

Weather

Let’s be honest. It’s the UK. We aren’t exactly known for great weather! 

As it is further north, Edinburgh is generally slightly colder and wetter than London. But you aren’t visiting the UK for the sun, so this probably won’t be the biggest factor in your decision!

Travel

The tube is a great way to get around the city and is also very safe.

London

Getting to and around London is fairly easy. Most international visitors will arrive in London so it is the obvious starting point for any UK visit. 

You can get trains and coaches to and from all major UK cities. In London itself, the public transport system is very good and covers virtually every part of the city. 

I have a dedicated article on public transport in London which goes into detail about each part of the London public transport system.

Edinburgh

Edinburgh does have some international flights, but they are limited to a small number of destinations. If arriving in London you can fly up to Edinburgh, but my recommendation would be to take the train. 

The Caledonian Sleeper train runs from London to Edinburgh overnight, but I would suggest taking a train during the day for practicality. Train travel can be quite expensive in the UK so try to book ahead of time to get the best rates. 

Trainline is the best website to give you travel options, but if you want to make sure you are getting the best deal, cross reference their price with the train operator’s website.

Once you are in Edinburgh, there are local trains, buses and trams to get around. But the city is small enough that you can explore most of it on foot. 

Cost

London

There’s no getting away from it – London is expensive. You can save money by staying in hostels, buying food from supermarkets and spending time in some of the city’s many free attractions. 

Many supermarkets do good value lunch meal deals which generally include a sandwich, snack and drink. They are a great way to keep food costs down. 

Edinburgh

Edinburgh is less expensive than London, but still isn’t a cheap city to visit. Especially if you are there during the Edinburgh Fringe in August, or for the Hogmanay celebrations on New Year’s Eve. 

Book accommodation and transport well in advance to get the best prices, and avoid the peaks of summer, Christmas and New Year if you can. 

Natural History Museum

Conclusion – London vs Edinburgh

Both cities have their pros and cons and are amazing places to visit. 

I would say it boils down to this – pick London for a busy city with lots to do. Pick Edinburgh for a more relaxed and scenic visit. 

Either way, you’ll have a great time. You can’t go wrong with either. 

To help you plan your London visit, have a look at this 5-day itinerary and guides on how to get around the city and the best historical attractions

FAQs

Can you do a day trip from London to Edinburgh?

In theory yes, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

You will spend more time on the train than you would in Edinburgh if you only have a day to spare. You could also theoretically fly from London to Edinburgh for the day, but again I wouldn’t recommend it. Aside from short flights being bad for the environment, you would still lose time by travelling to and from the airports and needing to be there early for check-in. 

Is Edinburgh in the UK?

Yes, Edinburgh is in the UK. It is located in Scotland which is one of 4 countries that make up the United Kingdom – England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. 

Can I drive from London to Edinburgh?

Yes, but it is a long drive. I have done it myself in one day but it took me almost 9 hours from my home in east London to my hotel in Edinburgh.

Having a car in Scotland is very useful if you want to explore the wider area, but my recommendation would be to take the train to Edinburgh and hire a car from there. 

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