Despite being the Scottish capital, Edinburgh is a surprisingly compact city. You can easily explore the Royal Mile – where the bulk of the attractions lie – on foot. In fact, due to a winding network of narrow lanes, steep hills and one-way streets, walking is usually the most efficient way to get around Edinburgh Old Town. 

Keen to dive off the beaten path or visit the city’s farther-flung neighbourhoods? Edinburgh’s public transport system is nothing to scoff at. It might not be quite as finessed as London’s, but there are direct routes to all four corners of the city. From 24-hour bus services to a vast network of cycle paths, here’s what you need to know about getting around Edinburgh, Scotland. 

The Balmoral Hotel clock tower stands above on Princess street in Edinburgh with a queue of traffic, including a red bus, making its way along the street to the green hills in the background
Edinburgh has an extensive bus network ©JOHN BRACEGIRDLE/Alamy Stock Photo


Best for getting further afield, especially at night

The bus network is extensive and well-run, making it one of the most popular ways to get around in Edinburgh. That doesn't mean it’s always the fastest option, though. If you’re in a hurry, avoid the bus during rush hour (7-9:30am and 4:30-6pm) when the city’s winding streets can swiftly become gridlocked. 

Buses are largely run by one company, Lothian Buses, which have over 50 routes criss-crossing Edinburgh. You can check out the Lothian bus timetables on their website or track services in real-time on the Transport for Edinburgh app. Some, such as the N22, run every 30 minutes throughout the night, which makes catching the bus back to your hotel a cheaper alternative to a cab. 

Under the Lothian Buses umbrella are also Skylink and Airlink buses which connect Edinburgh Airport to the city. A large chunk of Edinburgh’s buses are electric, too, making it one of the most eco-friendly public transport options.

You can pay on the bus with cash (exact change is needed), a contactless debit/credit card or via the Transport for Edinburgh M-Tickets feature, a mobile platform that lets you load your tickets directly onto your smartphone. When you want to use one, press the "activate now" button below your selected ticket and then show it to the bus driver when boarding.

If you’re planning on using your contactless card, Lothian runs a "tap, tap, cap" policy meaning if you take more than three journeys on the same day, your fare will be automatically capped. Visiting with kids? Buses are free for under-5s. 

Top tip for taking the bus: If you don’t want another app on your smartphone, Citymapper is brilliant for finding nearby bus stops and working out journey routes. 

Edinburgh Tram stands at Gogarburn Station
A relatively quick and direct way to navigate between key hubs in Edinburgh including the airport © Max Blinkhorn / Getty Images


Best for efficient journeys across town

Look at the Edinburgh tram map and you’ll see it runs in a straight line from Edinburgh Airport to York Place in New Town. Services are regular and generally faster than the bus as there are fewer stops to contend with. 

All the same, having only 15 stations can make Edinburgh Trams less helpful when exploring the city. The tram network is in fact being extended all the way to Newham and Leith (home to some of Edinburgh’s best restaurants), however the new line isn’t expected to open until early 2023. 

Overall, the tram is an efficient way to reach the airport or main rail stations. Buy your tickets at the station machines or ticket offices before you board. You can also use the Transport for Edinburgh M-Ticket function if you’d prefer to have digital tickets. To use your mobile ticket, scan it at the QR code point on the tram platform. If you’re not going all the way to the airport, a single journey actually works out at about the same price as a single bus ticket. 

Top tip for taking the tram: The Edinburgh Park and Ride at Ingliston tram stop is ideal if you’re just visiting for the day and don’t fancy driving in the city. Park up and jump on the tram to reach the centre in less than 30 minutes.

Commuters travelling through The Meadows by foot and bike
Edinburgh is surprisingly bike-friendly with numerous dedicated cycle lanes: here through The Meadows. ©Will Salter/Lonely Planet


Best for exploring, and your green credentials

Want to exercise and keep your carbon footprint to a minimum? Cycling is a great option for getting around Edinburgh. The only exception is the immediate city center where you’ll likely be sharing the road with busy traffic.

Beyond the Royal Mile, the city is surprisingly bike-friendly, with numerous dedicated cycle lanes and off-road paths ideal for more nervous cyclists. The Water of Leith path (and the connecting Warriston Path) offers a direct route from Leith to the city center. The North Edinburgh bike network also uses disused rail lines to connect the northern suburbs with New Town. Known as the QuietRoutes, cyclists can download maps of the network from the Edinburgh council website.

Edinburgh’s bike hire scheme is Just Eat Cycles and it’s run by Edinburgh Cycle Hire. Download the app and it will show you where to find bikes at 63 locations across the city. If Edinburgh’s steep hills sound a little daunting, you can even hire electric bikes.

There are numerous independent rental outlets too, like Biketrax, who have bikes for varying terrains, plus helmets, locks and child seats.


Best for groups travelling together

Black cabs operate across Edinburgh and you can either hail them in the street or head to a taxi rank outside a train station or hotel. They typically accommodate up to five people and are wheelchair-friendly. 

City Cabs and Central Taxis are the main cab companies. Both have apps you can use to order taxis. The price is often calculated in advance and varies depending on the distance you’re travelling and the time it will take. In general, cabs are more expensive during commuting times. 

Uber also operates across the city and is usually cheaper. Sometimes surge pricing can make it more expensive, so it’s best to go with a local company during peak periods like Hogmanay (New Year) or the Edinburgh Fringe Festival

Edinburgh castle from Heriot place
A car is useful for going on day trips, but in central Edinburgh you really don't need one © steny02 / Shutterstock


Best for day trips out of the city

Edinburgh’s center isn’t particularly car-friendly, especially for those unused to driving in cities. Finding parking can be tricky, too. Don’t completely rule out hiring a car, though. Driving can be useful for day trips out of Edinburgh and to visit places like Portobello Beach. 

You can hire cars at various spots around the city, including from the Enterprise and Europcar branches outside Edinburgh Waverley station or from Sixt and Avis at Edinburgh Airport.

Accessible transportation in Edinburgh

Hills and cobblestones may not be the best match for those travelling with access needs. Thankfully, Edinburgh’s public transport system is well thought out, especially Lothian buses which are equipped with ramps, dedicated wheelchair spaces and plenty of handrails.

Edinburgh trams are also very accessible for those with disabilities. All offer step-free access and spaces for wheelchairs. Wheelchair ramps are usually located in the middle carriages and you’ll find each station platform should have a sign indicating where to wait. 

If you’re venturing from A to B by taxi, all of the major black cab companies are able to accommodate wheelchair users. Some vehicles might be exempt, but you’ll find stickers displayed on their windows if that’s the case. 

There are lots of things to do in Edinburgh for visitors, even with accessibility needs. Even centuries-old Edinburgh Castle now provides excellent assistance for those with additional needs. New Town is one of the better places to book wheelchair accessible accommodation and the streets are wider and less sloped.

Edinburgh's busy Royal Mile (The Highstreet) is one of the most iconic streets in Scotland
Walking is often the best way to see a city, especially Edinburgh's compact Old Town © matthi / Shutterstock

Transport Passes

While it’s often easiest to pay for your tickets on the day or using your contactless card, there are a handful of Edinburgh public transport passes worth knowing about. 

If you’re arriving by train, add a Plusbus Edinburgh pass to your ticket to gain unlimited access to the city’s tram and bus services for as little as £3.80 a day. There’s also the Lothian Citysmart, a prepaid card with 20 or 40 single bus tickets loaded onto it. It works out a little cheaper than buying your tickets separately; simply tap it on the ticket reader when you board a bus.

You might also like:
Old Town and beyond, these are Edinburgh's best neighborhoods
The 9 best day trips from Edinburgh
The ultimate guide to Edinburgh's Fringe Festival for first-timers

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