UK travel dilemma
March 7, 2015 8:30 AM   Subscribe

How should we structure our trip to London, Edinburgh, and Glasgow?

My spouse and I will be visiting the UK for the first time for 2 weeks this September. We are flying from the US in and out of Heathrow, and plan to spend some time in Edinburgh and Glasgow. We like to spend the last night of a trip in our departure city, so the plan is to head north upon arrival, then spend the last 5 or 6 nights in London. But, our flight arrives at about 11:30AM, so we don't think we want to go straight to Edinburgh that day. We plan to travel by train (although we could rent a car if that makes a lot more sense). We are trying to decide whether to spend the first night in London or somewhere roughly halfway to Edinburgh. Is there someplace a couple of hours north of London that would be worth spending just one afternoon/night/morning? Since this will be our first trip there, we don't mind seeing the usual tourist sites, museums, etc. Weather permitting, we tend to walk a lot once we've settled in to a place, so someplace walkable would be ideal.
posted by outfielder to Travel & Transportation around Manchester, England (12 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: York. It is part way between London and Edinburgh, bang on the railway, and absolutely beautiful.

There is no better choice.
posted by Thing at 8:34 AM on March 7, 2015 [9 favorites]

Best answer: Seconding York. It also gives you more options on the train, because Grand Central runs non-stop (or few-stop) services between Kings Cross and York, but doesn't go to Scotland.

It's compact, eminently walkable (with plenty of buses if the weather turns inclement) and a day trip gives you ample time to see the Minster, some of the other historic sights, and go to Bettys for tea and cake.
posted by holgate at 9:16 AM on March 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

It is worth knowing that the direct train from London to Edinburgh only takes about 4 to 5 hours (depending on what time you take it). So, if you arrive at 11:30AM, get into town from Heathrow (which is where I assume you'll be arriving) and get on a train at King's Cross around 3 or 4pm, you'd be arriving in Edinburgh at 8 or 9pm. You could break your journey in York, which is also a beautiful city, but the UK is really small.

Booking opens 12 weeks out and that is the cheapest time by far to get your ticket. The franchisee on that line has also just changed to Virgin. You can book directly through their website, which is usually the cheapest way to get tickets.

For explaining train travel in the UK, you can't get more comprehensive than The Man in Seat 61.
posted by Happy Dave at 9:36 AM on March 7, 2015 [3 favorites]

Also booking in advance used to get you relatively cheap first class rail travel on the East Coast Line, which is very pleasant with terrific views as you get up towards the border. So going straight up to Edinburgh could make a nice and not-too-taxing Day 1.
posted by Flitcraft at 9:50 AM on March 7, 2015

Or you could take the Caledonian Sleeper, which leaves London Euston around midnight -- go to sleep and wake up in Edinburgh in the morning. It's pretty fantastic, and if you're booking this far in advance you can usually get good rates on a sleeper berth (cheaper than train + hotel). That gives you most of a day to kill in London and environs, which is easy enough to do, and you can leave your bags at the left luggage facility in Euston (open til 11 at night, so you don't have to get back to the train station crazy early).
posted by katemonster at 10:11 AM on March 7, 2015 [4 favorites]

I agree that a York stopover would be nice, especially if you're not the sort to stand any more travelling after an international flight, but a train up to Edinburgh and/or Glasgow isn't that long, as Happy Dave said. There are trains leaving Kings Cross or Euston around 3-4pm, so that would be just nice esp if nothing holds you up at Heathrow.
posted by cendawanita at 10:11 AM on March 7, 2015

One thing on the Sleeper, it's about to be taken over by a new franchisee too and the new website is so much better and simpler for booking actual sleeper travel (it used to be bundled in with all of the other Scotrail journeys and it was a total pain in the arse). From travel after 1st April, you can book on the new website.

I highly recommend it as a way to get from London to Edinburgh or vice-versa, it's brilliant fun and nothing beats knocking back a bit of red wine in the dining car and waking up in your destination city. Booked well in advance it's also very affordable.
posted by Happy Dave at 11:20 AM on March 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

What about continuing your flight for a couple more hours? Would you fly from Heathrow to Edinburgh? We did Edinburgh-Heathrow-Sydney on our return trip. Whatever airline it was went to Heathrow, we walked to our next plane, luggage was checked all the way. Flights weren't booked at the same time. It was a last minute decision and it was cheap and easy.
posted by stellathon at 2:18 PM on March 7, 2015

I do a similar journey regularly, and you don't have to make a stopover: the UK isn't that big. If you want to, York is lovely, and do check out the Viking museum if you have time.

Given the time of year, take the train in the daytime! The east coast line cuts through the country, and you can enjoy the view as London fades into soulless industrial parks which fade into countryside and then Victorian stations, farmland, coastline, Newcastle, and into Edinburgh.

Come to think of it, you can do the train with a stop off too.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 11:52 PM on March 7, 2015

Just to add to all the good advice: driving long distance in the UK makes no sense at all. Compared to the US, the roads are narrow, meandering and clogged. The train service, while not perfect, is reliable enough most of the time, and way more relaxing than dealing with British traffic. And that's before taking into account left-hand driving and the scarcity of automatic rentals.
posted by harujion at 4:26 AM on March 8, 2015

Nthing everybody who says train. Travel on to Scotland the day you arrive so as not to lose a day - you'll be too tired to do much that day anyway so you may as well while it away relaxing on the train.

Or you could fly. There are normally quite a few budget airline connections to both Edinburgh and Glasgow, take the train to travel between the two cities and fly back down to London from the 2nd city. Having said that, I'd probably take the train. It's too much hassle, especially if you have to get from one London airport to another, budget airlines are no fun and by the time you've paid to check your bags this may no longer be a budget friendly option either.
posted by koahiatamadl at 6:41 AM on March 8, 2015

Having said that, I'd probably take the train.

I'd agree for all those reasons. An up-and-down flight has conveniences, but it's a continuation of a long outbound journey, whereas taking a train is a good way to ground you (literally) in the place where you've landed.
posted by holgate at 5:43 PM on March 8, 2015

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