The vast majority of travelers to Edinburgh from outside of Britain make their way through London. Even with some great flights available between mainland Europe and Scotland’s capital city, the easiest and often cheapest way to get there is by first taking a cheap international flight to London. The two cities host the busiest airports in their respective countries, so there are plenty of flights between them, but it is also worth considering the other transportation options for making the trip.
With the rise of small discount airlines, flying short distances has become a far more economical option than it was a few decades ago. The big advantage of flying is the time saved – from takeoff to landing is only about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Aside from giant London-Heathrow, there are four other airports in London, all of which have flights available to Edinburgh. Here are the airlines flying out of each one, in order of largest airport to smallest:
- From Heathrow (LHR): BMI, British Airways
- From Gatwick (LGW): British Airways, EasyJet
- From Stansted (STN): EasyJet
- From Luton (LTN): EasyJet
- From London-City (LCY): CityJet, BA CityFlyer
London-Gatwick is usually my choice for flying from London to Edinburgh, because there are plenty of flights and the prices are usually better than flying out of Heathrow on one of the bigger airlines. Stansted, Luton and City are worth a look, but expect to find much fewer options and no real difference in price.
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The train is certainly a slower way to travel (the quickest route is a little over 4 hours), but it allows you to get a glimpse of the northern English countryside along the way. Trains leave London-Kings Cross station hourly, stopping in Newcastle and York before pulling into Edinburgh’s Waverley Station. There are also a few trains between the hours (9:10 AM, for example), but they usually have more local stops and the trip can take as much as an hour longer. Check the schedules, because in some cases, waiting 45 minutes for the next (and more direct) train can actually get you to Edinburgh faster.
If you aren’t particularly concerned about the view, you can also take the Caledonian Sleeper train, which leaves London-Euston station at around 11pm and arrives in Edinburgh in time for a good hearty Scottish breakfast.
If you’ve rented a car in London for your trip, and you have time to take in the countryside, there’s no better way than to jump behind the wheel and head north. With a car, you obviously have the full freedom of the road, and can stop and divert whenever the mood strikes you. Be warned – it’s a deceivingly long drive, especially for Americans who look at a map of Britain and think everything is incredibly close together. It takes between seven and eight hours, nonstop, in the best of weather, so budget basically a full day and strongly consider spending a night along the way. After all, if you’re going to rush, why not just fly?
If you do drive, there are two main ways to go. The M6 takes a western route and passes through Birmingham, Preston and Carlisle. The M1 and A1 route heads east, through Leeds and Newcastle before making its way up the Scottish east coast. I recommend the M1/A1 option, if only for the last 2 hours, which offer some great views of the coastline.