This was the first visit to Edinburgh in 2 years following Covid restrictions. We go February every year for a short city break, so we were really looking forward to it. We travel to Edinburgh primarilly by rail but have travelled by air a number of times also. There are pros and cons with both modes but on balance we prefer rail. Currently LNER (London and North Eastern Railways) run the franchise having taken over from Virgin a few years ago who themselves bid for the franchise from previous holders.
LNER trains run a half hourly direct service out of London Kings Cross. I prefer and always buy my tickets direct from the LNER website. I also have the LNER app on my phone. Not only is this convenient for e-tickets, it provides a range of services (eg reserve a seat up to 5 mins before you board), information and critical updates - more on this later!
King's Cross , along with Paddington, is my favourite terminus. It is a beautiful airy station - a harmonious combination of the old and modern - with ample facilities. As the journey to Edinburgh is long we treat ourselves to first class - expensive but worth it in my book. One of the advantages travelling First is the use of the First Class Lounge. This is located just past the cash dispensers. You could miss it as, unless you are travelling very early/late, there will be a long queue of Potterheads queuing to have their photos taken next to the sign for Platform 9 3/4 (which it is not). If you go through the indistinct door and up the lift you will have to present your train ticket to the attendant before allowed entry. The lounge has had a refurb since we last travelled and it is in a tasteful grey and purple. It isn't anything special but is an oasis of calm, compared to outside, containing ample comfortable seating and private areas with complimentary hot and cold beverages and snacks (crisps and shortbread biscuits) and complimentary wifi. The windows look out onto the platforms and there are departure boards throughout so you can keep check.
A tip when your train is called, don't take the lift back downstairs to go through the ticket barriers. Rather avoid the crush by turning right and following the raised concourse which takes you to lifts for each platform.
LNER run the relatively new high speed Azuma trains, I had long want to travel on these. I have heard a lot about the discomfort of the seats but I have to say I had no issues with these. Perhaps people easily over 6ft or a certain weight may have issues? Compared to the previous 225 trains, that had tables for every seat, there are fewer tables and more airline style seats so bear this in mind if this is important to you though all seats have AC power/USB sockets. The 2-1 configuration remains the same. On a standard 11 coach train, First Class is coaches K, L and M - remember the tradition: First class coaches are always nearest to London ie always first on and first off.
We usually catch the 9am train which is generally one of the fastest clocking the journey in circa 4 hours 15L non-stop to York then only 3 stops after. However we caught the slower 10.30 which took half an hour longer stopping at 6 stops. It may be due to Covid but it appears you are not offered complimentary newspapers anymore.
LNER's catering originally consisted of a vastly superior weekday menu and a weekend menu (which was essentially light meals/snacks). We discovered this first time and have never travelled weekends since. During Covid, LNER like everyone else, offered a restricted service but since have announced the return of their renowned hot breakfast. They have reorganised catering and now have 3 meal plans: Deli (light meals/snacks), Dish (more substantial meals/snacks) and Dine (the premier service offering 'gourmet' meals and notably the return of the LNER cooked breakfast). Here comes my gripe. The problem is they advertised this to much fanfare on their website and refer customers to a link to find out which menu will be served on their train. However this leads to a notice informing this was not available but they were 'working hard behind the scenes' to get this ready. I tried researching online and best answer was one forum that suggested it would be Dine as Edinburgh was a long journey. To make it worse, when we boarded we were told it was too late for breakfast (their site said breakfast is served up till 11am) but would have to choose from the rest of the day menu. When menus were given out only then did we discover we had the Dish menu. Disappointed! I had feasted on the Dine menu on their website and this was a definite step down. I had the beef & ale casserole with champ potatoes. It was tasty but I was disappointed with the small portion. Another change I noticed pre-Covid, after I finished breakfast I was offered more food, but on this journey that was it - save for a salted chocolate pot given to some children which I seized the opportunity to grab (it was delicious btw). I have to say though the LNER staff were great - as I usually find - cheerful and efficient. They were constantly passing through serving complimentary hot and cold beverages, shortbread and alcohol.
Where the train really scores is taking you right into the heart of Edinburgh on arrival. The other is the journey. Unlike the twisting West Coast line that can be unstable on the Pendalinos, the East Coast line is relatively straight and comfortable. The East Coast line imo is one of the great UK scenic routes. Make sure you sit on the right hand side heading North (away from Kings Cross). The journey is indistinct up until York but after that it's time to take pictures and tick the landmarks off: York Minster, Durham Cathedral, Angel of the North, Tyne Bridge, the North Sea coast, Almouth, Lindisfarne (Holy Island), Berwick-upon-Tweed - surely one of the most stunning sights as the train slows and curves crossing the viaduct over the River Tweed, The Border - challenge yourself if you can catch it much less take a picture at 125mph, the dramatic Scottish Borders coastline, Eyemouth Lighthouse and finally Arthur's Seat approaching Edinburgh.
On the return journey there is a First Class Lounge at Edinburgh in the same style as London. We had to cut out trip short owing to the storms/heavy snow. Luckily I had the LNER app and discovered all trains would be cancelled the day we were due to return, so we had to get out the next day or just get refunded the money and be stuck for days. We went to Waverley Station that evening and transferred our ticket without fuss. So I recommend it enough even if it's just to save the hassle of searching for your tickets/going through the gates. On the journey back we had the Dish menu - again - so hungry when we returned, The attendant on the train was not even awre the menus were not on the site, he even went and checked himself!
So LNER you need to get your menus sorted out and clearly communicated. Also one meal is not enough considering what people are paying. At least offer snacks like sandwiches or wraps. One only has to look at Avanti West Coast's First Class offering to see the gulf between the products.