A complete guide to Hop on Hop off Edinburgh bus tours
I would always advocate walking as the best way to get to know a city but when you're on a tight schedule this isn't always the most practical way to make the most of your time. I often get asked about the best way to see Edinburgh in a day or a weekend and if this is your first visit to the city, I would recommend buying a ticket for the Edinburgh Hop on Hop off bus tours. Although it is a compact city, it is hilly, and pounding up and down the slopes, steps and cobblestones of the Old Town can be surprisingly energy sapping not to mention time-consuming. There are definite benefits to relaxing while being transported around and learning about the history of the places you pass on your journey. Your bus ticket will also give you a discount at some attractions (see below) which adds even more value.
I recently made a trip to Scotland's capital city and spent a couple of days trying out the different hop on hop off Edinburgh buses and routes and have put together this handy guide to help you plan your own visit. Below you will find -
What's the difference between the various Edinburgh hop on hop off bus tours?
There are three main Hop on Hop off Edinburgh sightseeing buses which can make things a little confusing so I have provided an easy explanation of each bus tour and ticket types below. Most people start their journey on Waverley Bridge, next to the Scott Monument, across from Edinburgh Waverley train station. There are always lots of assistants at the bus stop that will advise you on the different tours and sell you tickets - see the next section for ticket options and information.
Each full tour lasts up to 70 minutes and all the buses are fully accessible with dedicated wheelchair space. Each tour has its own unique benefits so I have listed the main points below so you can compare them and decide which best suits your needs.
WHAT EACH TOUR INCLUDES
EDINBURGH TOUR - GREEN AND YELLOW BUS
CITYSIGHTSEEING EDINBURGH TOUR - RED AND YELLOW BUS
MAJESTIC TOUR EDINBURGH - BLUE AND YELLOW BUS
Bus Ticket Options
It is worth spending a bit of time working out what ticket is best for your needs as getting the right ticket will save you money. Here are the main options -
INDIVIDUAL TOUR TICKETS
There are individual tickets available for each tour, however these are not the best value. You are restricted to that particular tour and route. I wouldn't recommend this option unless you only plan to sit on the bus for a circular tour while enjoying the commentary and views without planning to make use of the hop on hop off benefits.
GRAND 24 TICKET
If you have one day in Edinburgh then I would pay the small additional charge to buy The Grand 24 ticket which will allow you to hop on and off any of the three tour buses mentioned for 24 hours from the time you get your ticket.
GRAND 48 TICKET
If you have two days in Edinburgh, the best value ticket is The Grand 48 ticket which will allow you to hop on and off any of the three tour buses mentioned for 48 hours from the time you get your ticket.
ROYAL EDINBURGH TICKET
One final option to consider, and I highly recommend if you have 2 days and plan to visit the main attractions of Edinburgh Castle, The Royal Yacht Britannia and The Palace of Holyroodhouse is The Royal Edinburgh Ticket. You will get all the benefits of The Grand 48 ticket, plus fast track tickets for the three attractions and you will make a saving on the total cost.
Although the current adult ticket price of £52 may seem expensive, the current total cost of entry to the three sites is £47 meaning you are effectively paying £5 for the bus tour and you won't have to queue, and this itinerary is all about maximising your time!
Two things to note - If you have a Historic Scotland Pass then entry to the castle is free and you will receive 20% off the admission cost to Holyroodhouse so this ticket would work out more expensive.
Secondly, check that Holyroodhouse will be open on the day you plan to visit as it does close for Royal events or when the Queen is in residence. If it is closed then this ticket isn't good value.
Where to buy your Edinburgh Hop on Hop off bus tickets
There are four main options for purchasing your Hop on Hop off Edinburgh ticket
Your Edinburgh bus tour ticket will get you discounts at the following attractions on the tour routes (correct at time of publishing, check for an up to date list when you're travelling). If you're planning on visiting these places anyway then it makes the bus ticket price even better value if you offset the costs.
You can also buy fast track entry tickets to Edinburgh Castle and discounted tickets to Our Dynamic Earth from Edinburgh Bus Tours Ticket Sellers or from your Tour Driver.
Suggested Itineraries for 1 and 2 days in Edinburgh
There is a huge amount to do in Edinburgh and it is impossible to cover even a fraction in a day or even 2 days. If this is your first visit and you really don't know where to start, these itineraries will help you make the most of your time in the city. They include some of the most popular and in my opinion best attractions for first time visitors to Edinburgh.
To follow my 1 day itinerary - purchase either a ticket for the red CitySightseeing bus only or for more flexibility purchase the Grand 24 ticket for 3 city tours.
To follow my 2 day itinerary - purchase either a Grand 48 ticket or The Royal Edinburgh Ticket which will be better value if you don't have a Historic Scotland Pass and if you have checked Holyroodhouse is open.
All timings are approximate and you will need to refer to the bus timetables for each route. Attraction opening hours vary throughout the year so check ahead.
1 DAY IN EDINBURGH
If you only have 1 day in Edinburgh this is for you.
Today you will visit Edinburgh Castle, Mary King's Close or St Giles Cathedral, The Palace of Holyroodhouse or the National Museum of Scotland, Calton Hill
9am - Head to stop 1 at Waverley Bridge (or the nearest bus stop to you) and catch the first CitySightseeing bus of the day (red and yellow). Get off at stop 6 (Lawnmarket) and make your way to Edinburgh Castle. If you don't already have a ticket, buy a fast track entry ticket for the castle from the driver. The castle opens daily at 9.30am.
9.30am - A visit to Edinburgh Castle will take up the best part of a day if you want to explore every exhibition. As you only have 1 day in the city I would recommend not spending any more than 2 hours. You will not be able to see everything in 2 hours but it is enough time to see a few select highlights.
11.30am - Leave the castle and walk down the Royal Mile to The Real Mary King's Close (approx 10 mins) where you can take a 1 hour tour through the warren of hidden streets frozen in time since the 17th Century. You will receive £1 off any tour before 1pm with your bus ticket. This attraction can get very busy so you may have to wait for a tour, to pass the time head across the road to St Giles Cathedral which is beautiful and free to visit. If you can't get booked on a tour then St Giles is a good alternative.
1 - 2pm - This is the heart of the Royal Mile and there are plenty of lunch options nearby so this is a good area to take a break before your next stop.
2pm - Take your pick from visiting either The Palace of Holyroodhouse or The National Museum of Scotland. For the Palace of Holyroodhouse get the red CitySightseeing bus at stop 8 and get off at stop 10.
For the National Museum of Scotland enjoy a 10 minute walk from St Giles Cathedral to Chambers St. The museum is free to visit.
4pm - Catch the next red CitySighteeing Bus from stop 10 at Holyroodhouse or stop 7 at the museum and get off at stop 12 for Calton Hill. Take a walk up this popular hill to see the monuments and enjoy some spectacular views over Edinburgh.
Once you are finished at Calton Hill either walk back to the city centre or if the buses are still running and you have a Grand 24 or Grand 48 ticket - get the green Edinburgh Tour bus at stop 2 and sit back and enjoy the whole tour with live commentary or get off at any stop that interests you.
2 DAYS IN EDINBURGH
Lucky you having extra time to explore this special city! Today you will visit The Georgian House or The Royal Botanic Gardens, The Royal Yacht Britannia, The Palace of Holyrood House or the National Museum of Scotland
9.45am - This morning you have the option of visiting The Georgian House or The Royal Botanic Garden - both open at 10am so you may have to leave earlier if your bus stop is a distance away.
For The Georgian House take the green Edinburgh Tour Bus from the stop nearest to you and get off at stop 12. This is a National Trust for Scotland property so members can visit for free.
For the Royal Botanic Garden take the blue Majestic Tour Bus from Waverley Bridge and get off at stop 3. The gardens are free to visit, however there is a charge to enter the glasshouses although you will get 2 for 1 entry with your bus ticket.
11am - Next stop is the Royal Yacht Britannia - from the Georgian House take the green Edinburgh Tour Bus from stop 12 back to stop 1 at Waverley Bridge and change to the blue Majestic Tour Bus and get off at stop 7.
From the Botanic Gardens take the blue Majestic Tour Bus from stop 3 to stop 7.
1.30pm - 2.30pm - The Royal Yacht Britannia is situated next to the Ocean Terminal shopping and leisure complex which has plenty of lunch choices. Personally I would recommend getting lunch on the yacht while doing your tour, it is quite a special experience and no more expensive than most other lunch options. As the audio tour takes 90 minutes it is also nice to have a rest midway round.
3pm - Depending on what you opted for the previous day, either visit the Palace of Holyroodhouse today or the National Museum of Scotland.
For Holyroodhouse take the blue Majestic Bus from stop 3 to stop 10 - last admission is 4.30pm.
For the museum take the blue Majestic Bus from stop 3 to stop 12 and then it is less than a 10 minute walk to Chambers St. The museum closes at 5pm.
If the buses are still running hop on and hop off at any stop that takes your interest or soak up the atmosphere of the city by taking an evening walk along the Royal Mile or Princes Street Gardens.
Taking a city tour of Edinburgh by Hop on Hop off bus can be a really great way to explore a large area in a short space of time while learning some of the local history. Hopefully my guide will help you to maximize your time in Scotland's capital city. If you've found this blog post useful then be sure to share it with your friends and l always appreciate feedback in the comments section below.
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