Smoke-stained buildings watch the busy streets with ancient eyes, silhouetted against a white sky that shows off just a sliver of sunlight as if blue skies were one of the city's many hidden secrets. An open top bus tour in Edinburgh is one of the best ways to experience Scotland's unique capital.
Edinburgh offers so much to see that every visitor should try to stay for more than a day. But if a day is all you have, it's still possible to get a good look at this amazing place. The best way to do this is to take an open top hop-on hop-off bus tour of the beautiful city.
This was a new experience for me as I usually like to explore places on foot, and try to stay away from overly touristy activities like group tours, but it's now one of my favourite ways to see the main sights of a city in a short amount of time.
Edinburgh Castle is one of the stops on the red and green bus routes | Image © ExpatAlli
EDINBURGH'S HOP-ON HOP-OFF BUS TOURS
There are three different Edinburgh hop-on-hop-off bus tours that all leave from Waverley Bridge - the City Sightseeing Tour (red bus), The Edinburgh Tour (green bus) and The Majestic Tour (blue bus). Though all three bus tours stop at Holyrood Abbey, Canongate Kirk, John Knox House and Market Street; the rest of their routes take a different path through the city.
Single tickets are the cheapest option and can be used over a 24-hour period. There are also 24-hour and 48-hour packages which combine all 3 tours.
Those who only have a few hours in the city can stay on the bus for the entire trip. Though the full tour is advertised as 1 hour long, some stops may take a bit of extra time, so plan for the trip to take at least an hour and a half.
Arthur's Seat is an extinct volcano that can be viewed from the bus, or you can hop off and climb it for great views | Image © ExpatAlli
The City Sightseeing Tour // Red Bus
Edinburgh's City Sightseeing Hop-On-Hop-Off Tour shuttles visitors around the city center with an audio commentary in nine different languages about the sights and history around Edinburgh. Many of the stops are the same as the Edinburgh Tour, though this is the best option for those who would like to hear the commentary in their own language. This is the only one of the three routes to stop at Lothian Road and Loristan Place.
1: Waverley Bridge
2: Lothian Road (St John's Church)
3: Grassmarket (Historic Old Town) G
4: Lauriston Place (Edinburgh College of Art)
5: Johnston Terrace (Saturday Farmers Market) G
6: Lawnmarket (Edinburgh Castle)
7: Chambers Street (National Museum of Scotland)
8: John Knox House G B
9: Canongate Kirk (Museum of Edinburgh)
10: Holyrood Abbey & Scottish Parliament
11: Our Dynamic Earth (Arthur's Seat) G
12: Regent Road (Calton Hill)
13: Hanover Street G
14: Market Street (Edinburgh Dungeon) G B
G Edinburgh Tour Transfer B Majestic Tour Transfer
View from the top deck of the double-decker bus | Image © ExpatAlli
The Edinburgh Tour // Green Bus
The Edinburgh Tour is also a great way to see the main sights around the city center and features a live commentary in English only. This hop-on-hop-off bus tour of Edinburgh's city centre adds on a stop at Charlotte Square, where you can view the beautiful Georgian architecture and statue of Prince Albert.
I opted for the Edinburgh Tour on my visit, and wasn't disappointed. Though the live commentary was a bit hard to hear at times due to a few different groups of excited tourists, the guide's positive energy and sense of humour made this tour more enjoyable than a pre-recorded one.
1 // Waverley Bridge
2 // Regent Road (Calton Hill)
3 // Holyrood Abbey & Scottish Parliament B R
4 // Our Dynamic Earth (Arthur's Seat) R
5 // Canongate Kirk (Museum of Edinburgh) B R
6 // John Knox House B R
7 // Chambers Street (National Museum of Scotland)
8 // Grassmarket
9 // Johnston Terrace (Saturday Farmers Market) R
10 // Lawnmarket (Edinburgh Castle) R
11 // The Mound (Scottish National Gallery)
12 // Charlotte Square
13 // Hanover Street R
14 // Market Street (Edinburgh Dungeon) B R
B Majestic Tour Transfer R City Sightseeing Transfer
The Robert Burns monument on Calton Hill can be seen on the red and green bus tours | Image © ExpatAlli
The Majestic Tour // Blue Bus
The Majestic Tour makes a stop at the Royal Botanic Gardens before taking visitors to the coastal districts of Leith and Newhaven. This hop-on-hop-off tour is great for those who have already seen much of the city center, and gives an opportunity to get some different views of the Edinburgh skyline from Ferry Road or take a tour of the famous Royal Yacht Britannia in Leith. An audio commentary is provided along the way in 10 different languages.
1 // Waverley Bridge
2 // Canonmills
3 // Royal Botanic Garden
4 // Ferry Road
5 // Newhaven Harbour & Lighthouse
6 // Leith Cruise Terminal
7 // Ocean Terminal (Royal Yacht Britannia)
8 // Great Junction Street (Leith Mills)
9 // Elm Row (Edinburgh Playhouse Theatre)
10 // Holyrood Abbey & Scottish Parliament G
11 // Canongate Kirk (Museum of Edinburgh) G R
12 // John Knox House G R
13 // Market Street (Edinburgh Dungeon) G R
G Edinburgh Tour Transfer R City Sightseeing Transfer
Edinburgh's gothic-looking buildings can be seen on each of the bus tours | Image © ExpatAlli
Things to Know
• Tickets can be purchased from the info centre at Waverley Bridge, from the bus drivers or online before your trip.
• Make sure you grab a brochure, or download one from the website in advance to be aware of the deals and discounts you're eligible for with your bus ticket.
• The top level of Edinburgh's hop-on-hop-off double-decker busses is open to the elements. There is a covered area at the front, but it may not shield you from the rain and wind, and may be full by the time you get on board. It's best to dress warm!
• All 3 Edinburgh hop-on-hop-off bus tours offer free wifi on board.
• Each of the 3 hop-on-hop-off tours of Edinburgh mentioned in this article are wheelchair accessible.
• Children under 5 years old travel free.
• Busses usually run every 20-30 minutes, though be prepared for delays due to traffic, etc. During busy seasons, you should also be prepared for the possibility of busses filling up, which might mean waiting for the next one.
• When you're ready to hop back on the bus, just look for the bus stop with the "hop on, hop off here" sign - this will show which of the 3 tours pick up at that stop.
Ready for Your Trip?
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