Edinburgh is a city small enough to easily explore by foot. That doesn’t mean it always should be. For one thing, Edinburgh is known for its rainy climate. As such, getting a bus tour of Edinburgh can be really fun. Then again, so can eating the local food. Good thing you can do both on the Red Bus Bistro.
Edinburgh is full of the iconic red double-decker buses you probably associate with London. Unfortunately, most of them ban eating and drinking on the buses. The single exception is the Red Bus Bistro. Leaving from Waterloo Place just a few feet down the street from Waterloo Train Station and the iconic Balmoral Hotel, there are two afternoon tea tours available at 12 or 3, and a burger tour available on Fridays and Saturdays at 6.
Afternoon Tea on the Red Bus Bistro
I’m willing to call myself an ignorant American for not even knowing what an afternoon tea was before coming to the UK. Even then, it wasn’t until I took the Afternoon Tea Tour on the Red Bus Bistro that I learned firsthand exactly what it entailed.
The afternoon tea is a British tradition dating back to the 1840’s. It’s an interim meal between lunch and a late dinner. Finger sandwiches and pastries are a common component. Scones, clotted cream and jelly were added later.
Along with my dad and another blogger, I tried out the afternoon tea tour at noon. We had a table on the upper deck of the bus. When we arrived, everything was already set out for us – a glass of champagne, a slate “caddy” of pastries and slate trays with sandwich slices, salmon-covered crackers and mini quiches. As soon as everyone was seated, we were offered coffee or tea (we all accepted tea) and moments later we were underway.
For the next 90 minutes, we toured around the city center, hitting landmarks around the Old and New Towns. Every few minutes, the guide on the bus would give us information about the locations we were passing. Somehow, despite all the other walking and bus tours I’ve done in Edinburgh, I still managed to learn several new facts on the Red Bus Bistro Tour. One of these was how the dead bodies from the plague were thrown into…well, I don’t want to spoil the tour. You’ll just have to go yourself!
As to the food that as served, it was surprisingly good, considering how literally everything provided is made on the bus. I’ve never been a fan of the UK’s proclivity toward using white bread, but beyond that, there was nothing I could fault with in the meal. My dad was particularly fond of the salmon crackers, as they were easy to eat with his lack of teeth. I got to devour his quiches, and I also ate his scone and jam when he said he couldn’t eat another bite.
What truly amazed me was how well the caddy stayed up on the table, despite the bus bouncing down the cobblestone streets. I actually thought the slate was bolted to the table…until the waitress casually removed the trays at the end of the ride. They were just heavy enough not to move, and the second and third tiers were supported by a high-quality spring. Still, the scones were on the top tier and I just can’t believe they didn’t topple off.
If you’d prefer a slightly “harder” version of the afternoon tea, go for the Gin Experience. Along with everything already mentioned, you’ll also receive a gin “pot-tail,” a gin cocktail in a teapot.
Red Bus Bistro Burger Tour
Update: The Burger Tour has been replaced by the Harry Potter-Themed Tour.
Afternoon tea is good and filling, but there’s something about a thick Angus beef burger in Scotland which just can’t be beat. In fact, I almost cried a few years ago when I returned to the states after a year of traveling abroad and found my favorite burger restaurant simply sucked compared to the burgers that I’d discovered overseas.
The Red Bus Bistro Burger Tour is available on Friday and Saturday night at 6 p.m. It lasts about 90 minutes and follows relatively the same route as the Afternoon Tea Tour. The difference is the menu.
Instead of the light snacks, you have the choice between an Angus beef burger, cajun chicken burger, pulled pork burger or veggie burger. All burgers are served with a side of fries, and the welcome champagne will be on the table when you arrive. Tea or coffee also comes with the meal, and there is a selection of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks available for purchase.
I got wildly lucky in securing a Saturday evening tour last minute during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, taking advantage of a cancellation. The burger tour is often sold out, and not just during the Fringe, which is the largest art festival in the world and sees millions of travelers descend upon the Scottish capital. Again, I had my dad in tow along with another close friend. She and I both had Angus burgers, while my dad had the pulled pork burger (easy to eat without teeth). The burger was so big, my friend had to give me half of hers, although my dad (who usually insists he has a tiny appetite) devoured every part of his.
As mentioned, everything is cooked on board. If you want to take the burger tour, you have to book a couple days in advance as they need to order the meats and other ingredients ahead of time. Of course, it’s also a good idea to book as far in advance as possible as the tour really does sell out. After all, who wouldn’t want to have a gourmet burger while riding on the Red Bus Bistro around one of the most beautiful cities in the world?
- Departure Point: Waterloo Place, Edinburgh
- Departure Times:
- Afternoon Tea Tour/Gin Tour: Wed-Thurs, Sun – 12 p.m.; Fri-Sun – 3 p.m.
- Burger Tour: Sat-Sun – 6 p.m.
- Tour Duration: 70-90 minutes
- Tour Price:
- Afternoon Tea Tour: £35 ($45)
- Gin Tour: £44.95 ($57.85)
- Burger Tour: £39.50 ($50.85)
- Red Bus Bistro Website: redbusbistro.co.uk
- Phone Number: (+44) 01355 229 448
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Red Bus Bistro tours are also available in Glasglow. Soon there will be a “Sexy and In the City” Tour for a cocktail-filled date night. The bus is available for private hire, including for bachelor and bachelorette parties.
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Don’t fancy riding on the Red Bus Bistro? Here are some other places to eat at, and activities to partake in around Edinburgh.
- 5 Amazing Cafes and Restaurants in Edinburgh That I Frequent
- Best Places to Eat in Edinburgh on a Budget
- How to Find the Best Brazilian Crepes in Edinburgh
- The Village Hotel in Edinburgh is So Much More Than a Hotel
- There’s a Cat Cafe in Edinburgh!
- Enjoying the Happiest Place in Scotland at Edinburgh’s Chihuahua Cafe
- Begin Your Journey in Scotland with a Secret Food Tour in Edinburgh
- What the Da Vinci Code Didn’t Show You About Rosslyn Chapel
- Camera Obscura in Edinburgh Brings Out the Kid in You
- Experience the Underground Preservation of Mary King’s Close
- Escape Edinburgh: The Most Fun Activity in Edinburgh’s New Town
- Finding the Best Ghost Tours in Edinburgh
- 9 Free Attractions to Visit in Edinburgh
- 10 Activities for The Perfect Day Trip from Edinburgh
Here’s some extra reading to save hundreds on your next vacation or stage of your journey.