For once in my travels, I actually missed a nightmare travel day because I chose to spend hours on the train Edinburgh to London rather than fly. My First Class Virgin East Coast train ride would occur one day after the failure of the British Airways computer system in which thousands of flights were grounded and canceled from London Heathrow (and Gatwick). The flights to/from Edinburgh from those airports were canceled for a few days until operations resumed to normal (I totally forgot about London City flights). Normally I would have flown between the two cities but today I would be happily seated on the Virgin East Coast train from Edinburgh to London First Class staring out the window at the pretty views and stuffing my face with shortbread cookies.
Deciding on a Train Edinburgh to London First Class
At the time I was planning my three days in Edinburgh with flights from Philly on British Airways, I chose to fly to Edinburgh but take the train back to London on a Sunday afternoon. It was slightly more expensive to do so rather than just fly between the cities on my ticket but I wanted something different than a three hour plus airport experience for a one hour flight. The nearly four and a half hours on the train offered:
- Leg Room with Space in my Single Seat Window View
- No Security Pat-Down or Wait
- No Checked Baggage Fee (just put luggage in storage racks in train car and/or on shelf above your seat)
- No strangers to squeeze next to in the plane
- No boarding queue
- No waiting on the runway for our take off slot
- Free Shortbread Biscuits (cookies)
- Free Food & Drink
- Free Wifi
- Free Entertainment via BEAM app of Movies, TV shows, Kids Animation, Games, Magazines
- Edinburgh City Center to London City Center
- Avoiding Heathrow
- Avoiding Baggage Claim
- Avoiding the 1 hr journey from Heathrow to London
I could go on…..suffice it to say, the train seemed a perfect swap for about the same journey time. A one hour flight is really end to end over four hours from hotel to hotel at a cost that adds up (taxi/train from hotel, baggage fees, food at airport, wifi, taxi/train to hotel, etc.). Others might choose the Scottish Rail option, Mega Bus, National Express or to drive between cities – each is a viable alternative but costs vary as does journey time. London City Airport is also an option for those that want to be away from LHR. For me, the Virgin East Coast train was the winner.
Virgin East Coast First Class Train Edinburgh to London
Trains in the U.K. are not cheap, but to me the £58.50 one way first class ticket from Virgin East Coast seemed a good deal just slightly more than the coach (standard) ticket at the time (others might declare me mad I’m sure). I bought it online at the Virgin East Coast train website in advance and snagged one of the last discounted tickets that day. Advanced discount tickets sell out quickly and prices go up as you get closer to the journey date. The Virgin East Coast First Class train Edinburgh to London fare would include access to the First Class Lounge at the Edinburgh train station as well as free food and drinks onboard. As it was a bank holiday weekend, the food/drink options were limited and would not include alcohol (a bit annoyed by that one) but I survived and brought my own food with me.
Unlike the long lines (queues) of Amtrak in the U.S. where you need to strategically work a good spot to find a good seat as they are not pre-assigned, with Virgin East Coast trains you pick your seat at booking. Everyone picks a seat which makes it all so civil – the boarding track is open, you find your train car, put luggage in the storage area, and find your seat with space above for smaller bags. Nice and easy. For me, I was interested in the single seats rather than the shared four top tables. The single seats had the coastal views although I did have to travel backwards facing those across from me.
First Impressions – Virgin East Coast First Class Single Seat
Boarding, I found coach L and, of course, boarded on the wrong end as my seat number was 5. I first noticed the grey plaid flooring and the leather seats. I quickly loaded my luggage in the storage area and then looked for my seat. I tried not to laugh but my seat table was down and set for tea. The English do take their tea seriously.
Realizing I was at the opposite end, I retrieved my luggage and moved to the storage space nearest my seat. The train car was bright and spacious. The windows were large to enjoy the views and each end of the train held a luggage rack for storage. The leather seats were large and comfortable with individual power on the side.
One quibble is that my tray table didn’t fully go up to give me more leg room. I was the exception not to have a laptop open to work on or enjoying tea time. I had a book and wanted to cross my legs and get slouchy to read which was a bit hard with the fixed table position. The middle does go up which helps a bit.
The Coastal Views of the U.K.
Once we left the Edinburgh train station, the city buildings slowly melted away and the views of the coast emerged on my side of the train which is why I picked this seat which was riding backwards. I saw the ocean, beaches below and many relaxing landscape views of Scotland. This is why you travel by train – to be awed by the views (note in the US on the East Coast the views are in no way awe inspiring which makes the European journeys that much better). We would stop just four times – York was familiar but Grantham made me think of Downton Abbey.
The Virgin Trains BEAM app
Prior to your trip, you will receive emails letting you know what to expect onboard. One the emails, reminded me to download the BEAM app prior to boarding. Right now only IOS and Android versions are available. The BEAM app would provide wifi access on board as well as a myriad of video options to watch during the train journey. You do need to register to use the wifi and access content onboard.
Categories included Movies, TV Shows, Little Ones, Reads, Games and Shorts. Movies such as Avengers: Age of Ultron, Guardians of the Galaxy, Fast and Furious 7 to films like Boyhood, Birdman, In Bruges and classic comedies like Blades of Glory and Anchorman. TV shows like my favorite Catastrophe (a UK comedy), House of Cards, Gotham and An Idiot Abroad. For little ones there was animated favorites Beauty and the Beast, Dora the Explorer and Minions to name a few.
I could also use the BEAM app to see where in our journey we were with a live map and train information. It also listed the food menus which was good to know if a trip to the café car was needed. The prices listed on the food menu were actually quite reasonable, in my opinion, with a plethora of items on offer.
The BEAM app was a nice complement to the Virgin East Coast train journey. It also listed the Foodbar menu items in the Cafe car.
First Class Food – Virgin Train Edinburgh to London
The first class menu has just been upgraded by Virgin East Coast trains and was curated by a chef in the UK. For a train, I have to say it was quite an impressive menu during the week. As the first class cars were serviced by two staff, the food trolley went through first with a drinks cart (no alcohol today) followed by a food trolley.
With a modified food schedule, I had the choice of two pre-made and packaged sandwiches (a duck wrap or an egg and rocket sandwich), shortbread biscuits (cookies), lemon poppy seed muffin, crisps and fruit. I had gone online prior to check out the menu offerings in First class as well as the food café car (Foodbar) so I chose to go to M&S in the train station before boarding so I could bring my own food onboard.
After each stop, a new set of trolleys and employees appeared to feed us and offer drinks. You won’t go hungry or thirsty on the Virgin East Coast train from Edinburgh to London in First Class. You may overdose on cookies though (like I did) and find some stuffed in your backpack two weeks later when you are home.
The Virgin East Coast Train Bathrooms
My seat was at the end of the train car with not only accessible seating (we would have a passenger board who used this seating) but an extremely large accessible toilet (bathroom). The other end of the train car had a normal (small) train bathroom. The accessible bathroom was quite advanced with features that my inner OCD traveler was impressed that I didn’t need to touch anything (a quick elbow in and out).
The accessible bathroom also included a changing table and was large enough for a mum and two kids. The smooth ride made it easy to use throughout the journey unlike Amtrak where you can feel like a pinball in a machine.
Train Edinburgh to London Arrives in Kings Cross
The train arrived on time to London King’s Cross and the journey went by quickly, almost too quickly. I was really impressed with the travel from start to finish (ok, except for the fixed table). I would definitely travel by Virgin East Coast train again in First Class, next time choosing the Quiet Car. While the Brits may complain about train travel in the U.K., they really need to come to the U.S. to better appreciate what they have access to despite its unending rail works, delays and costs. Train travel in the U.K. was quite pleasant on my train Edinburgh to London in First Class.