Skip the rental car.
Edinburgh is a very visitor-friendly city, compact and easy to navigate. In the center, most of your travel will be on foot—by far the the most efficient way to get around. But if you’re venturing outside the carousel of Old and New Town, or want to treat yourself to a cab home at the end of the night, here is the info you need. Bear in mind that during the Edinburgh Festival, when the city’s population swells with visitors (not to mention actors, comedians, and musicians getting to their gigs) cabs are at a premium and it might be best to plan ahead.
Edinburgh Turnhouse Airport
Arriving into Edinburgh airport is usually pretty painless; it’s small and efficient, and you can be out the door minutes after your plane arrives. The airport is to the west of the city. From the airport into town, for a couple of pounds can take the Airlink bus (no. 100) which runs 24/7 and takes about 30 minutes to the city center (Waverley train station), or a tram that takes 20 mins. A cab to the center in metered Black Cabs will cost around 20 pounds (US$26).
This is a pretty good rule of thumb for in U.K. airports, with very few exceptions: Everything good to eat and buy is after you go through security. Because the airport is pretty small, the car drop-off options are pretty sketchy: you might have to go into short-term parking to get anywhere near.
Despite its sometimes steep terrain and winding streets, Edinburgh is a walking (or cycling) city. Skip the rental car unless you’re driving to the country. It’s a small city, but car traffic is terrible around the central zones, because the castle and Princes Street Gardens form an impenetrable core, and cars must navigate around them in a congested carousel. Also, thanks to the new trams, there are some confounding loops and one-way streets in the city center.
Taxis and Ubers
There are Black Cab stands at the following city center locations:
Crossing of Royal Mile and North Bridge
At Waverley Train Station
At St Andrews Square
At Frederick Street (New Town) at the Princes Street end
On Castle Street (New Town) at the Princes Street end
And some city center hotels, such the Caledonian, the Balmoral, and the Sheraton.
Otherwise, you can flag down Black Cabs if you see a free one (with the orange light on) but if you’re far from the center it might be a while. Outside of the center, and late, it might be trickier to flag one down. If it’s during the Festival, free cabs are like unicorns—be prepared to walk.
Uber has been steadily gaining ground in Scotland, but they’re not as widespread as in some larger U.K. cities. This means that if you’re far out of the center, you might be waiting a while for your pickup.
If you get tired walking the cobbles and hills, the buses are cheap, and there’s no need to get a transport card or tickets beforehand; just jump on and hand over some change, it’s 1.50 pounds (US$2) for a single ride (if you don’t have the exact fare, some will change it for you, but not always). Bus stops have signpost detailing the direction and stops, and a couple of each bus’s major destinations are clearly marked on the front. To double check, you can always ask the driver if they’re heading where you want to go. A day bus pass with unlimited rides costs 4 pounds. You can also purchase tickets in advance if you download the m-tickets app.
The tram system that launched 2014 is somewhat of a city-wide inside joke and byword for ambitious, overpriced projects that fail to deliver. Edinburgh had trams until the 1950s, then got rid of them, then spent the best part of a decade and 776 million pounds (over US$1 billion) on the new tram system and its 15 stops, all while screwing up the city’s traffic even more.
That said, the trams are clean, sleek, and have free Wi-Fi, but right now it only has one route—from the airport to cutting through the western side of the city and into the center along Princes Street to St Andrews Square and Waverley train station (and back). And much to residents’ dismay, after years of planning, delays, and disruption the city promised would be worth it, the tram’s route clocks in at one minute slower than the airport bus route that was already in place. It’s a sore subject with locals, particularly with taxi drivers.
Tram tickets: each tram station has machines where you can buy single or day tickets, and accept both cash and most credit cards. Singles are £1.70 for City Zone travel (all stops excluding Edinburgh Airport) and £6 for Airport Zone travel (all stops).
The city-wide bike share scheme has been delayed yet again, but you can rent bicycles at Biketrax, Cycle Scotland, and Leith Cycle Co. But cycling around all over the city, make sure to lock the bike securely; the city has its fair share of opportunistic bike-part theft.