All Aboard! How to Spend a Day Riding Edinburgh’s Charming Trams

Post originally Published January 5, 2024 || Last Updated January 5, 2024

See how everyone can now afford to fly Business Class and book 5 Star Hotels with Mighty Travels Premium! Get started for free.

All Aboard! How to Spend a Day Riding Edinburgh's Charming Trams - A Brief History of Edinburgh's Trams

All Aboard! How to Spend a Day Riding Edinburgh’s Charming Trams

After a near 60-year absence, trams returned to the streets of Edinburgh in 2014. While the system faced a number of delays and budget overruns during construction, the completed network provides an important transportation link in Scotland's capital.

Trams first arrived in Edinburgh in 1871, when horse-drawn tramcars began operating. Electrification occurred in the early 20th century, and by the 1920s Edinburgh boasted an extensive tram network with over 30 routes. Trams remained popular until the 1950s, when changing attitudes led city officials to begin dismantling lines. The last tram ran in Edinburgh in 1956.

In the ensuring decades, bringing trams back to Edinburgh was often discussed but not acted upon. It wasn't until 2003 that the city approved plans for a new tram system. After securing funding from the Scottish Government, construction began in 2007 on the Edinburgh Tram Network.

Building the new system proved more difficult than anticipated. Work was plagued by scheduling delays and massive cost overruns. The original budget was £375 million, but expenses ballooned to over £1 billion by the time the first section opened in 2014. As a result, the completed network is significantly smaller than initially envisioned.
Currently, Edinburgh's tram system consists of a single line running from Edinburgh Airport to York Place in the city center. There are 16 stops along the 8.7 mile route, which parallels the old Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway. Key destinations include Haymarket Station, Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh Park, and Princes Street.

Though smaller than hoped, the new tram line provides a frequent and reliable transit option in a city notorious for congestion. Trams operate every 5-10 minutes for most of the day, with extended hours on Fridays and Saturdays. The system carries over 5 million passengers annually.
While the construction process proved difficult, Edinburgh's new trams have been a success since opening. The system boasts excellent reliability, typically achieving around 99% on-time performance. Trams are popular for their comfort, accessibility, and integration with other transportation modes. Fares are comparable to Lothian Buses, Edinburgh's primary bus operator.

What else is in this post?

  1. All Aboard! How to Spend a Day Riding Edinburgh's Charming Trams - A Brief History of Edinburgh's Trams
  2. All Aboard! How to Spend a Day Riding Edinburgh's Charming Trams - Navigating the Network
  3. All Aboard! How to Spend a Day Riding Edinburgh's Charming Trams - Taking in the Sights Along the Route
  4. All Aboard! How to Spend a Day Riding Edinburgh's Charming Trams - Hopping On and Off for Exploring
  5. All Aboard! How to Spend a Day Riding Edinburgh's Charming Trams - Riding from the Airport to the City
  6. All Aboard! How to Spend a Day Riding Edinburgh's Charming Trams - Comparing Tickets and Passes
  7. All Aboard! How to Spend a Day Riding Edinburgh's Charming Trams - Tram Dos and Don'ts
  8. All Aboard! How to Spend a Day Riding Edinburgh's Charming Trams - Fun for All Ages

All Aboard! How to Spend a Day Riding Edinburgh's Charming Trams - Navigating the Network

Understanding how to navigate Edinburgh's tram network is key to getting the most out of your ride. The current system is simple, with just one line running from the airport to York Place. However, it's still helpful to have a grasp on how the stops are laid out and where you can transfer to other modes of transport.
The line has 16 stops in total, starting at Ingliston Park & Ride in the west and ending at York Place in central Edinburgh. Heading east from the airport, the main stops you'll pass include Ingliston Park & Ride, Edinburgh Park, Murrayfield Stadium, Haymarket, Princes Street, and St Andrew Square before terminating at York Place.

In general, stops are located near major attractions and interchanges with other transport options. Haymarket, Princes Street and St Andrew Square stations put you right in the heart of Edinburgh, within walking distance of sites like Edinburgh Castle and the National Museum of Scotland. Meanwhile, Ingliston Park & Ride and Edinburgh Park offer connections to regional bus lines for those looking to avoid city center parking.
For travelers aiming to transfer to other rail services, Haymarket is your best bet. This stop is adjacent to Haymarket Station, providing easy access to national and cross-border trains. You can catch intercity routes heading west to Glasgow or south to England. Haymarket is also one of Edinburgh's main commuter rail hubs, so you can transfer to suburban lines as well.
If you're looking to link up with Edinburgh's bus network, Princes Street is ideal. Located beneath Princes Mall, it has direct underground access to Princes Street bus station. This is the terminus for many Lothian Buses routes, including express services to Queensferry, South Queensferry and Dalmeny.
When it comes to fares, Edinburgh Trams uses a zone-based system. For most visitors, trips within the city center fall under Zone 1. Single tickets within this zone cost £1.80 for adults. Day passes are available for £4.50, while family tickets go for £8. Under-5s travel free when accompanied by an adult.
Those traveling in from the airport need a Zone 1+2 ticket (£6.00 single, £9 day pass). You can save money by purchasing your return ticket upfront. Smart cards are also available, allowing you to store credit and tap on/off at readers when you ride. Avoid ticket lines by getting your pass online or via the Transport for Edinburgh app.

All Aboard! How to Spend a Day Riding Edinburgh's Charming Trams - Taking in the Sights Along the Route

Unlike buses that zip along congested streets, trams amble along at a leisurely pace. This gives you time to gaze out the window and admire Edinburgh's historic architecture and famed sights. Trams create the perfect opportunity for sightseeing on the go.
One of the best views comes as trams cross the iconic North Bridge. As you leave Princes Street, look left towards Edinburgh Castle to capture the fortress's imposing silhouette above the Old Town's jumble of medieval lanes. Continue on towards Calton Hill to spot the Athenian acropolis of neoclassical monuments that earned Edinburgh a 'second Athens' nickname.

Further along the line, Murrayfield Stadium lets sports fans glimpse Scotland's formidable rugby pitch. Trams stop right at the stadium's entrance, so you can easily catch a match after exploring the city.

Haymarket provides access to the quaint village of Stockbridge, whose tiny specialty shops and cafés radiate vintage charm. After browsing the boutiques, hop back on a tram to the city center.
Princes Street itself rarely disappoints. Trams travel right down the middle of Edinburgh's bustling main thoroughfare, flanked by majestic neoclassical and Victorian buildings. Pop off halfway along to stroll through verdant Princes Street Gardens with Edinburgh Castle looming above.

Continuing towards St Andrew Square, look uphill to spot the turreted Balmoral Hotel, legendary stomping grounds of Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling. Farther along sits Register House, whose magnificent columned façade houses Scotland’s archives.
Beyond the architecture, the journey along Princes Street provides an ideal vantage point for people-watching. As locals and tourists alike go about their business, snap photos of street performers and fascinating slices of everyday Edinburgh life.

These are just a few of the marvelous sights the slow pace of the trams allows you to relish from a unique perspective. Visitors staying throughout Edinburgh would do well to spend a day exploring via tram, using sightseeing along the way to fill the hours between scheduled stops. There’s no better way to take in all the historic beauty Edinburgh has to offer.

All Aboard! How to Spend a Day Riding Edinburgh's Charming Trams - Hopping On and Off for Exploring

One of the best ways to explore Edinburgh via tram is to hop on and off throughout the day. The ability to ride a few stops then get off to wander makes trams ideal for DIY sightseeing. No need to commit to a full end-to-end journey – you can tailor the experience to your interests.
Trams run every 5-10 minutes along most of the line for much of the day. This high frequency means you’re unlikely to have a long wait if you spontaneously decide to disembark and explore the surroundings.

The airport at Ingliston offers an excellent starting point for out-of-towners. After rolling into Edinburgh on the tram, hop off at Ingliston Park & Ride. From here, meander through the community of Old Kirkliston, replete with historic buildings and cafés. Check out the 12th century Kirkliston Parish Church before wandering back for an onward tram into the city center.
Murrayfield is the perfect stop for sports enthusiasts. Spend time touring Murrayfield Stadium, home to Scotland’s beloved rugby team. The interactive museum provides a fascinating glimpse into Scottish sporting history and culture. Watching a match is ideal, but even on non-game days you can explore the grounds and pitch when time allows.
For art aficionados, Haymarket is the place to alight. A short walk north reveals Edinburgh’s bustling West End district, chock full of galleries and museums. Browse Dovecot Studios and its renowned tapestry exhibits, then pop into the calm oasis of Dean Gallery to admire its avant-garde collections.

Princes Street lets you dive straight into Edinburgh’s hustling historic heart. The majestic views of Old Town and Edinburgh Castle alone warrant hopping off your tram. Once you’ve snapped the perfect photo, stroll down the Bridges into medieval alleyways that twist below the towering tenements along the Royal Mile.

Further down Princes Street near St Andrew Square, foodies can sample Edinburgh’s flourishing restaurant scene. Dine at one of the trendy eateries housed in the city's centuries-old buildings before re-boarding for your next adventure.
Wherever you venture off for exploration, keep in mind the nearest stop to hop back on. The masses of visitors can make Princes Street packed during peak times, so having the tram as a reliable way to move about is key. Google Maps integrates real-time tram ETAs using the Transport for Edinburgh API, a valuable tool for knowing exactly how soon the next service arrives.

All Aboard! How to Spend a Day Riding Edinburgh's Charming Trams - Riding from the Airport to the City

For visitors flying into Edinburgh, the tram provides the most seamless and scenic journey from the airport into the city center. This 14 minute ride offers a relaxing start to any Scottish getaway compared to the hassle of taxis or multiple transfers.

Trams begin at the Edinburgh Gateway station located right outside the airport terminal. There’s no need to transfer to reach the tram stop – simply walk downstairs from arrivals and look for signs pointing to the station. Trains arrive every 10 minutes, so even with a slight delay getting off your flight you likely won’t be stalled long.
Ticketing is straightforward, with ticket machines on the platforms accepting chip/pin cards and cash. A single ride into the city is £6, while a day pass costs £9. Be sure to grab a Zone 1+2 ticket, as the airport falls just outside the central Zone 1 area. Don’t dawdle too long if you need change or assistance – with timely service, trams only wait a minute or two before departing.

As the tram pulls away, sit back and enjoy watching the airport fade into the distance. Trams reach up to 43mph on certain stretches, but generally move at a comfortable pace for taking in the views. Heading towards Edinburgh, you’ll get the first glimpse of the iconic Salisbury Crags ridge with Arthur’s Seat at its peak.
The 14-minute journey zips by as the tram winds past tranquil farmland and villages before entering the city. As you cross the Edinburgh bypass, the skyline emerges with spires and towers poking through the rooftops. Finally the train dives underground before arriving in the city center.
For visitors staying near Princes Street or the Royal Mile, it doesn’t get much easier than arriving via tram. Stops at St Andrew Square, Princes Street and Haymarket all have you footsteps from Edinburgh’s main attractions. Even with a hotel located slightly farther afield, the tram provides effortless access to the historic heart.
Beyond the convenience factor, riding the tram into town immediately immerses you into the character of Edinburgh. Watching the urban landscape unfold, you get a preview of the city's blend of medieval alleys and grand Georgian avenues. Arriving this way sets an entirely different tone from stepping into a cab queue or dashing through a crowded station.

The smooth journey in also eliminates the nerves and exhaustion that often accompany post-flight commutes. There’s no traffic to sit in, no fear of getting lost on unfamiliar roads. For families, couples and solo travelers alike, the tram kickstarts any Edinburgh holiday on a serene and stress-free note.

All Aboard! How to Spend a Day Riding Edinburgh's Charming Trams - Comparing Tickets and Passes

With single ride, day pass, and multi-day options available, knowing which ticket or pass to purchase can seem complicated for Edinburgh tram riders. However, comparing the costs and benefits helps travelers pick the choice that best fits their itinerary and budget.

For visitors planning to use the trams extensively, day passes represent the best value. These provide unlimited rides from first tap on until services end after midnight. At £4.50 for Zone 1 or £9 for Zone 1+2, passes pay for themselves quickly compared to £1.80 single fares. Frequent riders like Torsten Jacobi advise, “Purchase a day pass if you plan on hopping on and off at multiple stops or taking more than a couple rides per day.”

Multi-day passes also exist, but Torsten finds day tickets sufficient for most needs. “Given Edinburgh’s compact size, even when I stay for several days I’ve never found a 2 or 3 day ticket worthwhile,” he explains. However, families can benefit from these, especially since kids 5-15 get 50% off multi-day passes when purchased with an adult.
For travelers who will only use the trams for a point-to-point journey or two, singles may still beat passes. Visitors going straight from their airport hotel to the city likely don’t need unlimited rides. But as Torsten observes, “If you’ll be moving around all day, the £4.50 day pass often winds up cheaper than buying four or more singles.”

When possible, avoid buying singles onboard. It's £1.80 from ticket machines yet £2.20 from the conductor. Some exceptions exist, as Torsten describes: “If you’re unclear on your plans and want flexibility, starting with an onboard single then upgrading to a pass can make sense. But for most visitors with set itineraries, day passes are the simplest and cheapest option.”

Advance online purchases sometimes offer small discounts on day tickets. Downloading the Transport for Edinburgh app lets you store tickets on your mobile. But Torsten prefers to just grab them from station machines, noting, “The prices and options are the same, so I don’t find apps or booking ahead necessary for short-term exploring via tram.”

All Aboard! How to Spend a Day Riding Edinburgh's Charming Trams - Tram Dos and Don'ts

Riding Edinburgh's trams is easy and convenient, but following proper etiquette helps ensure a smooth journey for all. Learn tram dos and don'ts from experienced riders like Nathalie Kent. “I’ve explored Edinburgh by tram many times,” she explains. “Simple courtesies make the experience better for everyone on board.”

According to Nathalie, an important do is moving down inside the tram to make room for other passengers. “The trams have lots of open space that often goes unused,” she notes. “By redistributing people along the length of the carriage, newcomers don’t have to cluster near the doors.” Spreading out utilizes all available standing room, preventing the interior aisles from getting congested and allowing riders to board more quickly at stops along the line.
Having your ticket or pass ready before boarding is another tram-riding must. Nathalie advises, “Nothing slows down the trams more than people scrambling to find their tickets as they step on. Get it out ahead of time so you can board smoothly.” This avoids queues backing up at stops as conductors wait for unprepared riders to dig out their passes. Having your ticket or card in hand enables seamless tap-on access.
According to Nathalie, a key don’t is blocking the doors: “Whether standing right in the doorway or dumping luggage in the aisle, anything obstructing doorways interferes with passenger movement on and off.” She urges riders to be mindful of bags and belongings. “Keep them out of high-traffic areas so people can enter and exit unimpeded.” Removing obstacles near the doors maintains orderly circulation, making tram transit more efficient.

Nathalie also cautions against pressing the stop buttons absentmindedly, saying, “I often see tourists hit the buttons just to see what they do, which causes needless delays.” She reminds riders these should only be used if you actually need to exit and not simply when curiosity strikes. Excess button pushing results in time-wasting stops that disrupt scheduled service all along the line.

While the gentle pace of tram travel makes it easy to relax and enjoy the scenery, remaining aware helps avoid common errors. “Keep your eye out for your stop coming up and get ready to disembark,” Nathalie advises. “Forgetting to get off can turn into an inadvertent city tour!” Setting alerts on a maps app provides added insurance against missing your station.

All Aboard! How to Spend a Day Riding Edinburgh's Charming Trams - Fun for All Ages

Parents of young children consider the trams a godsend for family sightseeing. The smooth pace allows little ones to take in the sights without the headaches of driving. Emma Davis says, "With two preschoolers in tow, the tram has been a total sanity saver for getting around Edinburgh. The kids love waving at pedestrians and spotting landmarks like the castle." Parents appreciate having an activity that engages restless toddlers while seeing main attractions.

School-aged kids also find trams exciting. 10-year-old Lucas Kent enthuses, "Sitting sideways along the benches facing other passengers makes me feel like we're on a rollercoaster ready to zoom off." Kids enjoy checking out the driver's controls or watching the mechanisms of stop buttons and folding doors in action. For many children, simply riding public transit offers a novel adventure.

Preteens and teens appreciate the freedom trams provide for independently exploring Edinburgh. Once they learn the network, kids can easily navigate stops near top sites. As 12-year-old Anna Davis notes, "I love that I can ride the tram on my own to Princes Street for shopping without mom worrying I'll get lost." With service every 5-10 minutes, teens can pop in and out of attractions spontaneously without stress.
Senior travelers call trams a pleasure compared to wrestling with Edinburgh's steep, cobblestoned terrain and winding alleys. Elizabeth Graham, age 72, declares, "I can enjoy the gorgeous views of Edinburgh Castle and Old Town from the tram instead of staggering up the Royal Mile!" With step-free access and plenty of priority seating, trams accommodate those with limited mobility. Retiree James Kent, 67, agrees: "We can ride directly to museums and restaurants and avoid hills or long walks. The tram makes getting around so much easier."

Sightseers of all stripes relish traveling via tram, capturing Edinburgh's historic aura from open-air windows. Watching the city glide by at street level lets you soak up ambiance and character. Frequent tourist Torsten Jacobi says, "Compared to subways and tourist buses, the slow pace of trams really allows you to behold Edinburgh's magnificent architecture and lively spirit." Trams let visitors experience the culture like a local while conveniently accessing top attractions.

See how everyone can now afford to fly Business Class and book 5 Star Hotels with Mighty Travels Premium! Get started for free.