London or Edinburgh?
September 17, 2017 7:11 PM   Subscribe

Trying to decide where to spend some precious vacation time!

I'm headed to England for 2 weeks in October! The first ten days of the trip I'm traveling with a group and the itinerary is set by them--we'll be spending the first few days in London, then visiting Brighton, Stonehenge, Wells, and Glastonbury. We'll check out some of the famous sights but a lot of the big "touristy" London stuff is not on the itinerary (I'd love to visit the Tate, for example)--the group plan is focused on more unique/off-the-beaten-path activities.

I took a few extra days to travel solo after the group portion, so I'll have Oct 24 - 27 free to explore on my own (leaving from Heathrow on the afternoon of the 28th). I originally thought about heading up for a quick couple days in Edinburgh, but now I'm wondering if I should just stay and explore more of London.

Trying to figure out which would be the better option. Was wondering if any mefites had suggestions on the better itinerary based on their own travel experiences. Stay in London or go up and get a taste of Scotland?

Thanks in advance! :)
posted by sprezzy to Travel & Transportation (24 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Would this be your first time in London, or have you been before?
posted by praemunire at 7:30 PM on September 17, 2017

Back in the mid 90s or so, my brother and I visited London (both in our 20s at the time, both from the U.S.) and after a few days seeing the major sights there, decided to travel up to Edinburgh without much of a plan. Was definitely a good decision for us even though we unintentionally ended up spending our first very cold September night there outdoors. Very different vibe from London, had a lot of fun, though it helped a lot that we were young, I doubt we could quite duplicate that particular enjoyment now that we're 20-something years older. YMMV, but I'd say Edinburgh is worth a visit. In my memory, I liked it better than London.
posted by smcameron at 7:31 PM on September 17, 2017

Response by poster: First time in London! With the group we'll be visiting the Grant museums of zoology, V&A museum, Highgate Cemetery, Tower, and doing a double decker bus definitely more of a creepy-cool focus.
posted by sprezzy at 7:34 PM on September 17, 2017

What are you interested in? There is more than enough in London for a lifetime. That said, you could do a day trip to Edinburgh. Head up early/5-6am train, arrive Edinburgh around 10/11, spend a day exploring and head back on an evening train. If you book in advance, it's only about 80 pounds return. It would be squeezing, but there's some beautiful views from what I remember of the train ride and then you don't have to choose. I did this on one whirlwind trip a few years back and it worked fine. Not ideal for leisurely immersion, but an option if you're really torn.
posted by HonoriaGlossop at 7:35 PM on September 17, 2017

Edinburgh for sure! It's not a long trip on the train. Stay a couple days, see the sights in city center, maybe hit York for a day on your way back to London? Given that much time, you can definitely branch out.
posted by mochapickle at 7:41 PM on September 17, 2017

Response by poster: HonoriaGlossop, I love history, museums, art, touristy sites (they're touristy for a reason!), eating, books, cool/creepy stuff...just not much of a clubgoer/parties/drinker :)

I would love to see a bunch of places if I could, since I might not travel back to the area for a while. I don't want to feel too rushed but I don't need a super leisurely schedule either, I'm usually a pretty active traveler
posted by sprezzy at 7:50 PM on September 17, 2017

If you want to do a day trip you might consider taking the sleeper train either there or back to maximize your exploring time (plus it's pretty neat if you've not been on one before).
posted by btfreek at 8:23 PM on September 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

If you're going to go, there's the Caledonian Sleeper, leaves Euston around midnight and gets in to Edinburgh around 7AM. I did it last November, booked a day or so in advance and it was only £30 or so. It was fairly empty, given it was a Tuesday. That would give you a full long day in Edinburgh, which I think is enough to cover a lot of it. I was there for a day and half, and walked everywhere in the first day, and covered quite a bit of it, old mills, Royal Mile, National Gallery.

Presumably there's an overnight back, but that's probably too long a day.

Having said that, if I had 4 days to split, I'd at most dedicate one to Edinburgh. It's not that big a city, and there's a lot more unique things and areas in London that are worth seeing. John Soane's Museum is amazing if infrequently open. Or just pick an area, Brixton, Brick Lane, Camden etc and wander around there.

Atlas Obscura , is pretty good for offbeat cool things, you can see London is well represented.
posted by Boobus Tuber at 8:46 PM on September 17, 2017 [3 favorites]

Edinburgh is lovely, and there's plenty to see and do there, but if I only had 4 days, I probably wouldn't want to spend one of the four in transport (half a day up and half a day back down).

I would recommend staying in a different part of London from wherever you are staying with your group; you get a different perspective just going through the little quotidian parts of the day; getting a coffee and so on.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 9:12 PM on September 17, 2017

Yes, Edinburgh is worth a look but it's hard to give up essentially a day to travel when there's so much to see in London.
posted by praemunire at 9:32 PM on September 17, 2017

It depends on whether you think you'll ever get back to that part of the world. If you will, then visit Edinburgh another time due to your time constraints. Edinburgh is great, but a regular train will take at least 4 hours each way, so a whole day of train travel just getting there and back to London. You could possibly find a flight, which takes about 30 min, but then you have to get from your hotel in London to an airport like Heathrow or Gatwick, which will also take at least an hour but likely more given that you have to arrive prior to your boarding time. Then when you fly into Edinburgh you need to take a bus or train into the city. So I'd stay in London and see the sights your group declined. Also, the castle in Edinburgh is not nearly as extensive or interesting as the ones around London like the Tower.
posted by KatNips at 11:09 PM on September 17, 2017

There is no practical way to just nip up to Edinburgh for a day without disproportionate amount of travel. And I would argue that Edinburgh deserves more than one day to explore - it's one of my favourite cities and I love London...

Having said that, it is easier to get back to London another time than it would be to get to Edinburgh because it is easier to route flights through London than through Edinburgh. So if this was me I'd spend those three days in Edinburgh, get back to London on 27th or over night for morning of 28th and hit the Tate in the morning of the 28th and fly back - what time do you have to be at LHR?
posted by koahiatamadl at 11:22 PM on September 17, 2017

I would travel to Edinburgh definitely. A few days isn't enough to fully do it justice, but it wouldn't be in London either and this way you get a taste of both cities. If you're okay with the travel, which will cut into your time a bit. But you have options! I travel between London and Edinburgh for work fairly often, let me tell you of them.

- Standard train: this takes 4h20m/4h40m from King's Cross to Edinburgh Waverley. It's a gorgeous journey by the coast once you get to the north of England, which is an advantage of doing it in daylight, and arriving in Edinburgh by train takes you right into the heart of the city and you get a really stunning view of it for your arrival. The way the UK train system works, it's usually cheaper to book these in advance (you can then pick them up at the station). Look at the prices for first class tickets as well - they are usually more expensive but come with free food and drinks and nicer, roomier seats.

- Flying: you can fly to Edinburgh from Gatwick, Heathrow or London City airports. City is usually more expensive but it's the easiest airport to get to if you're in central London already. Flight takes about 90 mins. On the Edinburgh end, you can get a tram or an airport shuttle bus from the airport to central Edinburgh, the airport's not too far out.

- Sleeper train: this travels overnight, so while the journey time is longer you lose much less of your trip to it. I <3 the sleeper (you sleep through your journey! they wake you up at the end with a coffee!) but it's not for everyone. You'll leave London at nearly midnight and arrive in Edinburgh a little after 7am. You have three options on the sleeper:
standard cabin: this gives you a bed in a shared cabin, which is tiny but has a sink, somewhere to hang up your coat and put your case, a little 'sleeping kit' bag of soap, eye mask and earplugs, and a surprisingly comfortable bed. However you might have to share it with a stranger (of the same gender), who will be in the other bunk bed. Pretty often this doesn't happen because there are more cabins than people booked - I've never had to share, and October when you're travelling is not a super-busy time - but you can't guarantee it, and won't know until you turn up.
first-class cabin: the same, but minus the other bunk bed (so you definitely get the cabin to yourself) and with a better goodie bag. You also get breakfast in the lounge car when you arrive in Edinburgh.
sleeper seat: this is just a bigger, comfier train seat in a carriage full of other people. Cheapest, but do not recommend if you actually plan to sleep for any part of the journey, or indeed wish to retain any good feeling towards your fellow humans.

You could of course do a combo of these things - train up and then fly back, even fly back directly to Heathrow.

UK train tickets/routes/times generically on The Train Line, or for the London-Edinburgh east coast route you can book directly through VTEC (and get free wifi in standard class). Flying: BA or Easyjet to Heathrow, BA or FlyBe to London City. Sleeper train: Caledonian Sleeper.
posted by Catseye at 1:11 AM on September 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

You should absolutely go to Edinburgh. I lived in both Edinburgh & London for several years, and Edinburgh has a totally different feeling, topography, architectural style(s) & culture. Just as soon as you get off the train and look up, you know you're somewhere unique. DON'T try to do it as a day-trip or there-and-back too quickly - give yourself a few days to expand into it & re-set yourself from a London-centric pace. You'll have a very, very wide choice of cool/creepy stuff if that's your thing, plus more art & history than you could ever want. The whole centre of Edinburgh is compact & very easily walkable, which should make a nice change because it sounds like you'll be spending enough time on the bus for the English section of your trip. Take a scarf, it'll be chilly in October - you'll need it on those long windy walks up Arthur's Seat & along the Water of Leith to the modern art gallery.

Take the sleeper train up - that's a great suggestion - and fly back to LHR on the morning of the 28th, in time for your flight home. So your extra travel time doesn't even really eat into the fun parts of the trip.
posted by rd45 at 1:50 AM on September 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

I love history, museums, art, touristy sites (they're touristy for a reason!), eating, books, cool/creepy stuff...

Then another vote to come to here and visit Edinburgh. You will be seeing London and quite a bit of the rest of England on your trip - so you would not be missing out on any of those items by taking a trip north. I say this even though I am normally somebody who recommends not moving around too much on a holiday (and you would not run out of London based sights if you decided to stay). The attraction of Edinburgh is that it is much more compact to get around once you have arrived.

Specific pages to help make that sale: Literary Edinburgh, some of Edinburgh's best restaurants, Edinburgh museums, spooky Edinburgh. Also Atlas Obscura: Edinburgh.
posted by rongorongo at 4:20 AM on September 18, 2017

Hey, just as a heads-up, I didn't see the British Museum on your London itinerary. GO TO THE BRITISH MUSEUM. I can't emphasize this enough.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 5:28 AM on September 18, 2017 [4 favorites]

One huge quirky tourism selling point of Edinburgh which is sadly undersold is the closes, wynds and steps. Not Mary King's Close, which is schlock horror tourism, but just the amount of back routes up and down from the Royal Mile to the Southside and Cowgate and Princes Street. I couldn't find anything written for tourists, but here's someone's blog about it, which has routes and names of places to look out for. This would definitely be a memorable few hours, and would take you past some good coffee shops. It's much easier to find these several hundred year old back routes in Edinburgh than London, and they'll make an impression.
posted by ambrosen at 7:41 AM on September 18, 2017 [3 favorites]

Nthing the advice to go to Edinburgh. Scotland is another country. You do "lose" time to travel but you get to see a lot of the gorgeous English/Scottish countryside from a train, which I think is a particularly nice way to see it. It's also very relaxing to take a bit of a forced break (with scenery) if you've been on the go for 10 days (or, you maximize tourist time by taking the sleeper, as others have suggested).

If you do have a couple of days, it is quite easy to spend a day getting to know Edinburgh, and get out of the city as well. Glasgow is less than an hour away by train, and a completely different place from Edinburgh. Stirling Castle is also an easy journey away and, IMHO, a better experience than Edinburgh Castle.

I always recommend taking one of the on-off bus tours. Yes, touristy (but you like that!) but you get to see a lot in a short period of time and you can decide what you want to see up close and then hop back on when the next bus comes.

With your art/museum interest, the Scottish National Gallery is well worth a visit and right next door to Waverley Station. Compare and contrast the Old Town and the New Town. Climb up to Arthur's Seat or Calton Hill. Go tour the Royal Yacht Brittania.

Honestly, Scotland is amazing and I think you should take the opportunity to see it!

If you do stay down south, there are also plenty of day trips you could take that aren't already on your itinerary - Oxford, Canterbury, Hampton Court Palace, etc.
posted by Preserver at 7:51 AM on September 18, 2017

If you're not going to be back in that area for awhile, here's another vote for going to Edinburgh. It's a wonderful place, and very different from London. Don't just pop up for a day trip, either, that doesn't sound very pleasant. I'd take a morning train in one direction (it's a pretty ride and train travel is fun), but do either the sleeper or fly in the other direction, to maximize time.

If you do go, Edinburgh is great city to just wander around in, and the National Museum of Scotland is fantastic.
posted by breakin' the law at 8:41 AM on September 18, 2017

Nthing the sleeper train, with the caveat that I was so excited about BEING ON A SLEEPER TRAIN that I did not actually sleep much. But we arrived in time to stand on the bridge that crosses over the train tracks (I think this connects Old Town and New Town?) and watch the sunrise, which is one of the coolest things I've ever done.
posted by timestep at 2:47 PM on September 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

Thanks to a recommendation on my previous Ask, I went on a two-hour walking tour with London Walks, and I really loved it.
posted by RedOrGreen at 11:06 AM on September 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

Another Edinburgh vote here--I've been there twice and just love the feel, especially of the Old Town. The train travel wouldn't put me off, but I consider traveling by train to be part of the experience I go to the UK for.
posted by telophase at 11:22 AM on September 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

Just a quick note from going to Edinburgh this weekend: it's really good to get there in the evening and see the castle from Waverley as you arrive, so getting on the 17:00 or 17:30 train from London will give you a nice arrival.
posted by ambrosen at 3:18 PM on September 27, 2017

Response by poster: Just a last update! Thanks for all the advice! I ended up taking the regular train up to Edinburgh (since I heard the sleeper could be uncomfortable) and it was still a lovely scenic ride. Stayed in an airbnb right at the center of everything, and took a highlands daytour, walked around, visited the castle/other museums, hiked Arthur's Seat, and ate at some fancy restaurants (heard that there was a lot of fine dining around so I wanted to give it a try!). Overall I had a wonderful time and Edinburgh was such a lovely and safe city, I'd love to go back someday!

As a bonus, I headed back to London early enough to have one extra overnight, and I spent my day at the British Museum and also took in a show in the evening (Follies!).
posted by sprezzy at 2:46 PM on July 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

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