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5 Scenic Trains for Exploring Scotland's Dramatic Highlands, Sparkling Lochs, and Coastal Towns
By Marisel Salazar
The best train rides in Scotland will have you witnessing the drama of the Scottish Highlands, exploring charming castles, and chasing some of the world's best whisky. You’ll be treated to sweeping vistas of some of the most beautiful landscapes in the United Kingdom. Imagine chugging past glittering lochs, breathtaking glens, and vast moors, all while enjoying a meal in a stately dining car or relaxing in a plush cabin.
Around the world, train journeys are experiencing a great revival , with travelers realizing they’re a scenic, eco-friendly, and affordable mode of transportation. In Scotland, riders can also snag a discounted rail pass from ScotRail , which can save a third off the price of an already inexpensive journey.
And if you would rather have your train tour planned for you, there are a growing number of companies that will book and curate a rail-based adventure in Scotland for you or a group, like Vacations by Rail .
The most difficult part of your Scottish train travels will be selecting which of these spectacular lines you want to take. Here are five of the best train rides in Scotland—plus, where to stay and what to do along the way.
The West Highland Line takes passengers from Glasgow to either Oban or Mallaig, both picturesque coastal towns in Scotland.
The West Highland Line
Arguably one of the most visually stunning parts of Scotland , the Highlands are filled with dramatic peaks and valleys, craggy hilltops, and glassy lochs. The West Highland Line starts in Glasgow and runs more than 180 miles to either Oban or Mallaig, two tiny picturesque fishing ports that are resort towns in their own right, as well as departure points for travel onward to the surrounding Scottish Isles.
Along the way, you’ll cruise by charming towns and villages until the line splits at Crianlarich: One branch of the route heads by Loch Awe to Oban, the other towards the coastline through Highland forest and onto Fort William to the train route's final stop: the petite bustling port town of Mallaig.
Many travelers consider the Fort William to Mallaig portion as the nicest section of The West Highland route. The hills of Fort William, a town in Lochaber, set the scene for many iconic films and shows like Starz’s Outlander . On this leg of the route, travelers can spot the ruins of Old Inverlochy Castle on the right just before crossing the River Lochy, the Glenfinnan Viaduct as seen in the ‘Harry Potter’ movies. Halfway between Tyndrum and Bridge of Orchy stops, there is another famous looped viaduct known as the Horseshoe Curve. On the northbound routes, sit on the left-hand side of the train for the best views and on the right side on southbound trains.
For a taste of Highland hospitality, spend a night or two at the charming Ballachulish Hotel in Glencoe along the way from Glasgow to Fort William. Pop into the Ben Nevis Distillery for a quick whisky tasting and tour. (Fort William station is only 10 minutes walk from the bottom of the tourist track up Ben Nevis, Scotland's highest peak).
Tickets for the West Highland Line start around $30.87 (£25.40) from Glasgow to Mallaig on ScotRail for a single fare in a standard cabin but vary depending on how far they are booked in advance and length of the trip.
The Kyle Line runs through mountain ranges and past tranquil lochs
Kyle Line from Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh
The most distinctive mountain ranges in Scotland, the Torridon Peaks, loom north along the Kyle Line to Kyle of Lochalsh. Depart from Inverness to take on even more breathtaking scenery of the Highlands. Passengers glide past sleepy coastal villages and hulking mountains towering over tranquil lochs. The Kyle line draws a wide curve from Inverness along the coast south to the shores of Loch Alsh, with views of the Isle of Skye at the line's end.
On the less than three-hour journey to Kyle of Lochalsh from Inverness, keep an eye out for the snow-capped Ben Nevis mountain, the country's tallest mountain that sits 4,411 feet above sea level, between Muir of Ord and Dingwall stops. Then glimpse the rolling Torridon Hills to the west before the Achnashellach Forest stop. Ride the line along Loch Carron to the Plockton stop, a charming town dotted with palm trees that was used for BBC series Hamish Macbeth and The Wicker Man .
At the end of the line at Kyle of Lochalsh, catch a quick cab ride to tour the spectacular 13th-century Eilean Donnan castle, one of Scotland’s most widely recognizable castles that sits on a small island where three sea lochs converge.
If returning to Inverness, travelers can stay at the 19th century Ness Walk , a five-star property on the banks of the River Ness or Kingsmills Hotel , a four-star luxury spa hotel that mixes contemporary design with historic period features. Make sure to grab a wee dram at The Malt Room , Inverness’ first whisky bar, followed by Hootananny , a ceilidh cafe for live traditional Scottish folk music (even Mumford and Sons have played here).
Kyle Line fares start around $18.48 (£15.20) from Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh on ScotRail for a single fare in a standard cabin but vary depending on how far they are booked in advance and length of the trip.
The Royal Scotsman is a luxurious journey that begins in Edinburgh and takes passengers up into the Scottish Highlands.
The Royal Scotsman, a Belmond Train
The only true luxury train on the list, the Royal Scotsman is a sleek nine coaches, clad in Burgundy and operated by Belmond. First launched in 1985, the all-inclusive train offers exquisite accommodations reminiscent of an Edwardian country house and fine-dining cuisine. Each of the train cars are refurbished 1960s Pullman coaches.
Tours start at the Edinburgh Waverley station, where ticket holders follow a bagpiper dressed in traditional Scottish garb from the first class lounge to the platform. Once on board, passengers can settle into plush armchairs in the observation car lounge—complete with coffee tables and a bar that serves a wide assortment of Scottish whisky —while enjoying the gorgeous scenery of the Highlands.
Meals are cooked on board and served in mahogany-walled dining cars that feature Scottish produce, meats, and seasonal fish alongside wines, liqueurs, and malt whiskies. Private wood-paneled cabins feature beds fitted with soft Scottish wools and tartans and also include an en suite shower, toilet, desk, table, wardrobe, toiletries, bathrobes, and slippers. The train also includes two spa cabins.
Itineraries range from two to seven days long and include sightseeing stopovers and overnight hotel stays. New routes are scheduled to start from April 2023 onwards, but bookings are selling out fast. Tickets start at $4,789 (£4,000) for single occupancy on Belmond’s site or through Vacations by Rail.
The Far North Line connects Inverness with the northern reaches of the Highlands
The Far North Line
Take a four-hour journey on Britain’s most rural railway through hundreds of miles of peatland bogs, tiny hamlets, golf courses, quaint train stops, and salmon rivers. The single track Far North Line connects Inverness with destinations Thurso and Wick at the northern limits of the Highlands. It’s remote, rugged, and spectacularly wild.
The route is the same as the Kyle of Lochalsh line up until Dingwall, where the lines split. Passengers shimmy up the coast until the Tain stop, where the line then plunges into the lands of Sutherland and Caithness, across peat bogs and Flow Country, whilst crossing salmon fishing rivers. Flow Country is a vast wetland blanket bog and peat habitat, an important environmental landscape for preventing climate change and a proposed UNESCO World Heritage site .
Passengers can spot a few castles from the train route after departing Inverness: Just after the Tain stop is the glorious and exclusive Skibo Castle (formerly frequented by Andrew Carnegie) across the sea inlet Dornoch Firth, followed by the hilltop (and supposedly haunted) Carbisdale Castle after the Culrain stop. Then cruise past the thick and mysterious Balblair Wood, midway between the Rogart and Golspie stops on the shores of Loch Fleet. And if you fancy one more castle, the train will take you to the Dunrobin Castle station, where you can stop off and show your train ticket for discounted entry to the gigantic “home” (with more than 189 rooms, this castle is one of Britain's oldest continuously inhabited houses).
For a stay along the way, the Glenmorangie House off the Tain stop is a boutique hotel set amongst breathtaking Highland scenery, near the Glenmorangie Distillery . The award-winning Mackays Hotel in Wick is just a three-minute walk from Wick stop, run by the same family for over 60 years. It’s welcoming, warm, and cozy.
Tickets for the Far North Line start around $14 (£17.02) from Inverness to Thurso and Wick on ScotRail for a single fare in a standard cabin but vary depending on how far they are booked in advance and length of the trip.
The Borders Railway Line whisks passengers from Edinburgh to Tweedbank
The Borders Railway
Explore the “land of Sir Walter Scott” on The Borders Railway line, through former mining towns, wide open farmland, and lush valleys.
Departing from Edinburgh , take in the breathtaking landscapes of the rocky slopes and cliffs of Salisbury Crags in Holyrood Park. You can’t miss Arthur’s Seat, a massive, grass-covered hill that is the remains of an ancient extinct volcano jutting out from the crags. Then pass through the Midlothian. Time it right and you can catch beautiful sunsets between the Gorebridge and Stow stops. Then onto the hills, lochs, farmlands, and cairns (manmade stone piles) of the Scottish Borders to Tweedbank. Tweedbank is also the stop of Abbotsford House, the home of Sir Walter Scott, and the historic market town of Melrose that includes the famous abbey ruins—a quick taxi or bus ride from the station.
Despite being the longest new domestic railway to be built in over 100 years, the line only takes an hour from Edinburgh to Tweedbank.
Start or end your journey in Edinburgh with a stay at the incredible new Virgin Hotel Edinburgh , on colorful and curved Victoria Street in the Old Town, one of the most photographed locations in the city. If looking for something along the Borders Railway line, try the Schloss Roxburghe at Kelso, off the Galashiels stop, the penultimate station on the route. This elegant hotel is part of a historic estate in the Scottish Borders, with a championship golf course, spas, heated swimming pool, and restaurant that offers “Scottish bistronomy.”
Fares for the Borders Railway start around $14.46 (£11.90) from Edinburgh to Tweedbank on ScotRail for a single fare in a standard cabin but vary depending on how far they are booked in advance and length of the trip.
Links House at Royal Dornoch
Kimpton Charlotte Square Hotel
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This Epic Train Journey Through Scotland Is the Best Way to Experience the Country's Stunning Landscapes, Rich History, and Tasty Whisky
The best way to experience Scotland may be by rail.
There’s something I love about train travel : Even while sitting still, you don’t miss a moment. And when it comes to Scotland , the best way to experience the country is by rail. Picture undisrupted rolling hills, rivers, and highland cows for your viewing pleasure as you dunk your customary shortbread into a cup of tea. This trip is about the journey, not just the destination.
I traveled with Vacations By Rail , a rail travel and tour operator that offers memorable adventures through Scotland, whether you're traveling as a group or solo.
I began my tour of Scotland in Edinburgh. From London, you can catch the train from King's Cross St. Pancras, bringing you right into the heart of Edinburgh in under five hours. I checked into the spacious Apex Waterloo Place Hotel , complete with beautiful views of the city that enticed me to go out and explore.
The sound of bagpipes followed me around the city center, with men dressed in traditional Scottish kilts. It didn't matter what plans I had made in advance, I couldn’t help but stop and enjoy the music.
Having hiked Arthur’s Seat on my first visit, I chose the family-friendly walk up Calton Hill, which offers a great view of the city and the chance to explore one of Edinburgh’s UNESCO World Heritage sites. There, you'll find the Nelson Monument — built in 1816 and with 147 steps to the top, you can experience an epic panorama looking out over Edinburgh. You'll also see National Monument, a semi-complete Greek Parthenon-like structure that even in it’s undress is altogether beautiful.
I also went on a walking tour of the Royal Mile and Edinburgh Castle with Mercat Tours , learning about the medieval alleyways, why the town crier still reads important news three days after an event, and how the Stone of Destiny — used to inaugurate Scottish kings — was stolen by university students.
My favorite meal in Edinburgh was at Luckenbooths . I I tried the haggis and beef shin bon bons, Cullen skink, a traditional Scottish smoked haddock and cream soup, and whisky-glazed smoke salmon. (Don't worry, I was sharing.) Even better, I learned all the food is locally sourced.
A stone's throw from the Apex Waterloo is the Waverley train station, where I caught the train to Fort William, via Glasgow, organized by Vacations By Rail.
A short drive later, I checked into Ballachulish Hotel in Glen Coe and was greeted by complimentary chocolates and the hotel's small-batch production of gin.
The best thing about Glen Coe is the landscape. I woke up early to savor the crisp autumn air. It's worth hiring a local tour guide to show you the lay of the land. Most locals have a deep and prevalent knowledge of their history, as well as where Harry Potter scenes were filmed (we went to the location of Dumbledore's house).
A 30-minute drive from Ballachulish Hotel is Ben Nevis Distillery, a must-visit during any visit. This award-winning small-batch distillery has created some of the smoothest whisky from the waters of the Ben Nevis mountain. My favorite was the 10-year-old, peat-smoked single malt, though I also liked their sherry casked Scotch — all descriptors and flavors I learned during a whisky-tasting tour.
If you're looking for an adventure, take the train down to Mallaig, a small, sleepy port with the best local fish and chips and a pleasant hiking trail. It's worth stopping here for lunch before catching a ferry over to the Isle of Skye . (I'm making it my mission to visit the island on my next Scottish venture.)
The Isle of Skye is clearly visible from the Mallaig train station. I boarded the West Highland line to Fort William, and then headed back to Glen Coe for one more night.
I traveled in style on the West Coast Railways steam train, resting against classic upholstered seats in first class and enjoying an onboard service of afternoon tea with scones, jam, and clotted cream while taking in the spectacular Highland landscape. For Harry Potter fans, listen for when the train conductor announces the Glenfinnan Viaduct is approaching, as it's seen in the Hogwarts Express.
I joined the famous Jacobite cruise and voyaged along the legendary waters of Loch Ness. The boat’s audio guide shared details about the mythical legend of the monster in the loch, as well as offered a deep dive into the Jacobite uprising and Bonnie Prince Charlie, who escaped the English army searching for him and traveled to the Isle of Skye, all with the help of a woman named Flora MacDonald in the 1700s.
From the Loch Ness to Eilean Donan Castle, there are plenty of beautiful historic sites to experience in the Highlands. Situated on a small tidal island, in the Western Highlands of Scotland and only accessible by a footbridge, Eilean Donan Castle stands proudly against the rugged landscape.
Roaming the castle walls, you can learn how this fortified stronghold of the Clan Mackenzie was blown up by the English government in 1719 during the Jacobite rebellion. It was left in ruins for 200 years, until it was painstakingly restored in the early 1900s by their allies Clan MacRae and friends.
You'd be hard-pressed to make it to the Highlands without learning about the Jacobite uprising. Scottish history is seared into the minds of every countryman.
I ended my Scotland trip in Inverness. Even toward the final leg of the journey, I struggled to sleep in late while traveling, so I took the opportunity to walk through the city's quaint streets in the early morning. I stopped at Cup & Cone with a friend to enjoy one of the best oat cappuccinos and pastries.
As someone who doesn’t drive, I thought Scotland would be largely inaccessible to me, especially the Highlands, which is why traveling with Vacations By Rail has been so transformative. Suddenly, nothing about visiting Scotland feels daunting. I’ve sailed breezy costal waters, sipped drams of whisky in local distilleries, indulged in haggis and neeps and tatties, danced to bagpipes, bundled up in Highland wool, and strolled around a castle. The best part? Knowing I'll be back to Scotland soon.
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Train & rail tours & trips in scotland.
Relax and admire breathtaking views in Scotland only accessible by train journey. With 6 Scotland train adventures lasting from 2 days up to 9 days, you're sure to find a railway carriage with your name on it on a route that will leave you speechless.
6 Train & Rail tour packages in Scotland with 13 positive reviews
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Loch Ness, the Jacobite and Skye Guided Rail Tour
Edinburgh and the Scottish Highlands by Train
- €100 deposit on some dates Some departure dates offer you the chance to book this tour with a lower deposit.
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Edinburgh, the Highlands and Islands (2024)
North Highlands & Orkney Guided Rail Tour
Jacobite Steam Train & The Great Glen
"great time had by my wife and me"
- 10% deposit on some dates Some departure dates offer you the chance to book this tour with a lower deposit.
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Edinburgh, Loch Ness and Highlands by train
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Strikingly handsome cities, breathtakingly beautiful lochs and glens, noble malts, tranquil romantic isles, white sandy beaches and some of the world's best railway journeys - Scotland has it all!
Our great value pre Christmas Scottish tour stays at the Alexandra Hotel in Fort William and is packed with fantastic attractions and stunning scenery. This winter warmer in the western Highlands includes excellent excursions, great rail journeys on the West Highland and Kyle Lines, full board at the hotel and three drinks vouchers each evening, along with entertainment on two nights.
The West Highland Line, the Kyle Line & the Cairngorms Line - experience a truly magical pre-Christmas circular rail tour of the Scottish Highlands in all their wintry glory, followed by a relaxing and homely Christmas in Stirling with all the trimmings and an excursion to the Royal Yacht Britannia and Edinburgh.
Enjoy a luxurious stay in the heart of the Highlands, with a taste of everything this beautiful area has to offer. Take a relaxing cruise on Loch Ness and keep your eyes peeled for the famous Nessie. Explore the mysterious Castle Urquhart and follow in the footsteps of Michael Palin as you travel to The Kyle of Lochalsh on one of the "Great Railway Journeys of the World".
Join us on a circular tour of the spectacular "Great Railway Journeys of the Scottish Highlands". You may have seen them on TV and now you too can experience some of the most stunningly beautiful scenery in Europe. A superb value Railtrail holiday.
Experience three cities in one on this exciting new tour based in beautiful Perth, taking in the best of the Highlands of Scotland. Explore Dundee and Scotland’s Maritime past, marvel at the history of Stirling and enjoy a private tour and tasting at the award-winning Perth Gin Distillery.
A truly magical circular tour of the Highlands of Scotland, also taking in the magnificent Isles of Mull and Iona, along with spectacular rail journeys, sensational scenery, and steam train nostalgia. With time in Edinburgh at the start of you tour.
Build up a head of steam, uncovering Scotland’s heritage from a different angle. Enjoy the Bo’ness & Kinneil Steam Railway, soar above the canals by boat on the remarkable Falkirk Wheel, cruise Loch Katrine, and steam through the Highlands on the Strathspey Railway. This great railway holiday also features The Kelpies, a distillery tour, and a brewery visit.
A wonderful tour that combines Scotland's Far North and the beauty of the Shetland and Orkney Isles. From the dramatic rugged coastlines and fascinating wildlife to the ancient history and unique blend of Scottish and Scandinavian culture.
The Highlands of Scotland are a joy to behold and our adventure filled short break combines the glorious West Highland rail route with the fabulous "Harry Potter" Jacobite Steam Train, steaming over Glenfinnan Viaduct to Mallaig, plus a relaxing Loch Linnhe cruise, a scenic mountain gondola, and a ‘wee dram’ at the Ben Nevis Distillery!
This tour celebrates the diversity of the east coast of Scotland from royal life at stunning castle retreats to iconic waterfronts, from wildlife cruises to heritage transport, this nostalgic tour has something for everyone and is perfectly combined with a couple of wee drams!
Treat yourself to a new Railtrail tour offering the stunning experience visiting the Outer Hebrides Island of Harris & Lewis. Discover an area of unspoilt natural beauty offering spectacular scenery, impressive mountain ranges, and miles of golden beaches.
Discover four delightful and diverse Scottish cities on our all-rail holiday to Stirling, Perth, Edinburgh, and Glasgow. The tour visits fascinating attractions in each city including the Riverside Transport Museum, Stirling Castle, Black Watch Museum and Royal Yacht Britannia.
Discover the peace, tranquility, and rich heritage of the beautiful islands of Orkney & Shetland on our mini cruise to the northernmost reaches of the UK, part of a wider grand tour visiting John O’Groats, historic Stirling, and Edinburgh, Scotland’s proud capital.
Treat yourself to this Railtrail tour offering the ultimate island-hopping experience in the Outer Hebrides and visiting an impressive eight islands. Discover an area of unspoilt natural beauty offering spectacular scenery, impressive mountain ranges, and miles of golden beaches.
Enjoy a summer circular tour of the spectacular ‘Great Railway Journey of the Scottish Highlands’. You may have seen them on TV and now you too can experience some of the most stunningly beautiful scenery in the UK. This superb summer rail holiday offers a wealth of wonderful landscapes from the comfort of your seat and includes two of the world’s greatest railway journeys - the Kyle Line and the West Highland Line with the fabulous Jacobite Steam Train.
A delightful Railtrail tour inspired by the original BBC "Great Railway Journeys of the World" TV series which saw Sir Michael Palin travelling through the spectacular Scottish Highlands to the Kyle of Lochalsh. Our popular Romantic Highlander tour is based at one of Railtrail's best loved hotels and includes the fabulous Jacobite Steam Train.
A truly magical circular tour of the Highlands of Scotland in 2024, also taking in the magnificent Isles of Mull and Iona, along with spectacular rail journeys, sensational scenery, and steam train nostalgia.
Treat yourself to a Railtrail tour offering the ultimate island-hopping experience in the Outer Hebrides and visiting an impressive eight islands. Discover an area of unspoilt natural beauty offering spectacular scenery, impressive mountain ranges, and miles of golden beaches.
Travel coast to coast from Land's End to John O'Groats, including many of Britain's great scenic rail journeys along the way. Explore England, Scotland & Wales on a one off, once in a lifetime, grand rail tour of mainland Britain!
Escape from it all as you island hop from Arran to Skye on this magical Railtrail tour of the West Coast islands. Every day is different as each sublime, rugged, and breathtaking landscape unfolds before you. This superb rail holiday takes you from the stunning architecture of Glasgow through magical landscapes, across to the beautiful Isle of Arran. Journey on the famous West Highland Line and cross to the stunning Isle of Skye to discover ancient and fascinating history.
The Highlands of Scotland are arguably at their most glorious during the golden weeks of Autumn. This superb rail holiday offers a wealth of spectacular autumnal scenery out of your window, including two of the world's greatest railway journeys - the Kyle Line and the West Highland Line with the fabulous Jacobite Steam Train.
Based in picture-postcard Pitlochry, in the beautiful Perthshire Highlands our rail holiday includes a variety of wonderful attractions combined with outstanding Scottish scenery, painted in glorious colours. The tour includes visits to The Enchanted Forest, a royal retreat, an iconic expedition ship, and Britain's first military airfield. Enjoy a wee dram at one of Scotland's oldest distilleries plus steam on the Strathspey Railway, this nostalgic tour has something for everyone!
This great value short break is a wonderful introduction to ‘Bonnie Scotland’. Roam the glorious Highlands and discover one of the "Great Railway Journeys of the World". Relax as magnificent vistas glide past your window and the sensational views unfold. Enjoy free time to explore Inverness, the Capital of the Highlands, and discover all the fascinating attractions this ancient city has to offer.
Our great value pre-Christmas Scottish tour stays at the Alexandra Hotel in Fort William and is packed with fantastic attractions and stunning scenery. This winter warmer in the western Highlands includes excellent excursions, great rail journeys on the West Highland and Kyle Lines, Half board at the hotel, a bubbly drinks reception on arrival along with Scottish themed singing and dancing entertainment.
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Grand Tour of Scotland by Train
Enjoy a first class trip on the famous Jacobite Express steam train
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A leisurely self-guided fortnight touring Highlands and islands, featuring spectacular rail journeys & authentic experiences beyond the train line.
This comprehensive and sustainable 14-night rail holiday is carefully designed to allow plenty of two night stopovers. Take in the dramatic beauty of the West Highlands including spiritual Iona, the rugged charm of Skye, the delights of Inverness, the prehistory of Orkney and the magnificent scenery of the Cairngorm mountains. Enjoy the nostalgia and romance of the Jacobite steam train as well as trips by boat and ferry – after all, even we can’t arrange a railway journey over the sea!
You’ll spend time in the company of expert local guides exploring the Isles of Mull and Iona , plus Skye and Orkney. On your rail journeys you’ll have the chance to interact with locals going about their daily lives – a great chance to get right under the skin of the areas you’re visiting. The places you’ll stay have all been carefully selected by McKinlay Kidd to ensure a hospitable welcome and comfortable rest.
This meticulously planned journey is the ultimate leisurely and stress-free way to experience the Highlands and islands of Scotland. You really do have the best of both worlds: your own independent trip but with the support throughout of our local knowledge and years of expertise.
You could spend a month juggling maps, timetables and guidebooks without coming anywhere near the company’s expertise and astute choice of stopovers, hotels and guest houses … It has been a truly grand “grand tour”. Stephen McClarence, The Times , December 2016.
- McKinlay Kidd
Day one – west highland line to oban.
Begin your grand tour of Scotland from Glasgow (with a connection also possible from Edinburgh). Travel north on the world-famous West Highland Line by Loch Lomond then westwards to the coast at Oban. Look out for the enchanting ruins of Kilchurn Castle standing jaggedly proud by the shores of Loch Awe as your train glides past.
Your first base is a comfortable and welcoming guest house overlooking Oban Bay. Perhaps complete your first day with a relaxing seafood dinner in one of the town’s fine restaurants – we’ll assist with recommendations.
Day Two – Three Isles Tour to Mull, Staffa and Iona
Today you join a group trip by ferry and coach, whisked across the Sound of Mull then onwards to Fionnphort, with spiritual Iona lying just across the water. Next, it’s a 45-minute boat trip out to Staffa, famed for the geological wonder of Fingal’s Cave. From mid-April until the end of July you’ll also have the chance to seek out comical puffins which nest on Staffa. Returning to beautiful Iona, you will visit the Abbey and discover the history of Saint Columba. Finally, journey back via Mull to Oban.
Day Three – West Highland Line to Spean Bridge
Hop back on board the train to continue your journey along the West Highland Line, branching north and across the wilderness of Rannoch Moor skirting Glen Coe. Your next base is near Fort William in the village of Spean Bridge. Your two night stop is in a long-standing McKinlay Kidd favourite small hotel with views towards Ben Nevis and wonderful home-cooked food – dinner here is included on both nights.
Day Four – Find your Highland Soul
A day at leisure to soak up the Highland atmosphere in this tranquil spot. Stay local, with a gentle stroll to the Commando Monument or venture a little further afield – perhaps ascending the Aonach Mor gondola into the Nevis mountain range or venturing to the southern shores of Loch Ness.
Day Five – First Class Jacobite Express & Over the Sea to Skye
This morning, we’ll transfer you to nearby Fort William to join the Jacobite Steam Train. Enjoy a journey in first-class comfort of yesteryear on the final section of the West Highland Line over the Glenfinnan Viaduct to Mallaig. A true holiday highlight!
Then travel on by ferry for the romantic journey “over the sea to Skye”, arriving on the southern peninsula of Sleat. Here you will be met by local taxi, for the hour-long trip to Portree, the island’s capital. Your accommodation for the next two nights is another family-run guest house, traditional in style and boasting a well-preserved Victorian interior.
Day Six – Uncovering Skye in Local Company
Explore the highlights of Skye on a full day’s tour in a small, guided group, which can include the impressive natural rock formations of the Old Man of Storr and the Quiraing, the man-made wonders of Dunvegan Castle and the enchanting Fairy Glen.
** Please be aware that a reasonable level of fitness and mobility is required for this Tour due to a 1 mile walk in each direction to the Fairy Pools**
Day Seven – Picturesque Plockton
Say a fond farewell to Skye, returning to the mainland via the bridge and on to picturesque Plockton, setting for both the film “The Wickerman” and TV series “Hamish McBeth”. Rather unexpectedly palm trees line the shore! Here you may wish to join a late afternoon seal-spotting boat trip from the harbour. The seafront hotel for this single night stopover includes a welcoming, traditional bar and restaurant boasting plenty of fresh, local produce.
Day Eight – Take the Kyle Line to Inverness
After breakfast and a morning stroll, continue by rail along the Kyle Line, taking in yet more dramatic scenery en route to Inverness. Here, spend two nights in a charming guest house just a short walk from the centre of the Highland capital.
Day Nine – Nessie and More
At leisure to explore Inverness -perhaps wander around the shops, meander by the river, or join a boat trip on Loch Ness and indulge in some monster-spotting! We’ll provide you with plenty of suggestions and can assist with advance bookings if required.
Day Ten – Venture North
Continue by rail to the very end of the Far North Line at Thurso, skirting the coast of the Moray Firth, then across the wilderness of the Sutherland Flow Country. Another warm welcome awaits at a homely and immaculately-maintained B&B in the town.
Day Eleven – Ancient & Modern History on Orkney
Join a small group tour to the Orkney Islands to discover some of the UNESCO World Heritage Site wonders of this northerly island group, from the 5,000-year-old stone age village of Skara Brae to the ceremonial Ring of Brodgar and the towering stones of Stenness. Magnificent in a very different way is the ornate Italian Chapel, built in a Nissen Hut by Italian prisoners of war. This tour will give you an insight into both the ancient and more recent history and current culture of these captivating islands. Return late afternoon for a second night in Thurso.
Day Twelve – Relax on your next Great Rail Journey
Soak in more of the wonderful scenery on the return train trip to Inverness, changing here to head further south to Kingussie, on the edge of the Cairngorm National Park. Your accommodation is a delightful former Edwardian hunting lodge, set in tranquil surroundings.
Days Thirteen & Fourteen – Highland Perthshire
Continue south by train from Kingussie to Pitlochry, with a short transfer to an award-winning guest house for a final two days of Highland relaxation. Located in the heart of Pitlochry, you’re within walking distance of all the local attractions, shops, restaurants, Pitlochry Festival Theatre and The Dam & Salmon Ladder. It’s only a short bus or taxi ride to Blair Castle or The House of Bruar – the perfect spot for last-minute gift shopping.
Day Fifteen – Edinburgh
Depart on a final train journey to Edinburgh to complete your grand tour of Scotland. (Just ask if you would like to add on a few nights’ stay in the capital.)
This holiday is part of our ever-growing collection of public transport based trips, enabling you to reach destinations around Scotland without the need to drive. We feel strongly that true sustainability also means promoting and helping to maintain a way of life in areas where the economic benefit of tourism can make a genuine difference to the local community. That’s why we have selected locally-owned small accommodation and local guides for this holiday.
This car-free tour, based largely on the railway lines which traverse the Scottish Highlands, starts from Glasgow, then heads along the West Highland Line, with stops in Oban and Spean Bridge. Next by ferry to Skye, back to the mainland at Kyle, then via Plockton and Inverness to the far north coast and Thurso for a day-trip to Orkney, before returning South, through the Cairngorm National Park and a final stopover in Perthshire before ending in Edinburgh.
You can also start the tour in Edinburgh, rather than Glasgow. We will be happy to arrange overnight stays in either or both cities for you if desired.
£2895 per person for April & October, £2995 per person from May to September.
All prices based on two adults sharing a double or twin room for 14 nights, and includes 11 nights bed & breakfast, and three nights dinner, bed & breakfast in our hand-picked selection of three and four star small hotels and guest houses. The holiday also includes:
- Train travel in standard class on the West Highland Line between Glasgow, Oban and Fort William, the North Highland Line between Kyle of Lochalsh and Inverness, return travel on the Far North Line between Inverness and Thurso, and between Inverness, Pitlochry and Edinburgh.
- First class single journey on the Jacobite Express steam train , from Fort William to Mallaig.
- Transfers to and from the train at all locations, except for Glasgow, Edinburgh, Oban & Inverness.
- Ferry travel to Skye and Orkney.
- Three Isles day-long group tour to Mull, Iona and Staffa from Oban. * for October holidays an alternative boat trip will be offered. Please also note, from mid-August, construction is taking place and Staffa (including Fingal’s Cave) will not be accessible. However you can still see and cruise around the island and the cave from the boat.
- A day tour of the Isle of Skye in a small group.
- A day tour in a small group to Orkney from Thurso.
The supplement for a single traveller is £1200 , based on single occupancy of double/twin rooms.
We would also be delighted to assist with hotel reservations in Glasgow and Edinburgh from our selection of centrally located hotel options.
Before your departure, you will receive personalised holiday information including full directions, recommended routes, and suggestions on places to visit depending on your interests and our local knowledge to help you get the most from your holiday.
As porterage is not included in this largely self-guided holiday, and assistance at train stations is somewhat sporadic, we recommend packing just one manageable suitcase per person.
All itineraries and room types are presented subject to availability at specific hotels.
We work hard to make sure the unexpected doesn’t affect your trip. On rare occasions, changes or cancellations may occur, affecting accommodation, transport or excursions, including the Jacobite Express Steam Train . We are committed to informing you of any such circumstances and will use our knowledge and resources to offer suitable alternatives wherever possible.
You are requesting availability for
This holiday can be arranged from April to October. In 2023, the Jacobite Steam train will run from the 3rd April until the 27th October. Outside these dates the same route can be booked, but a standard train service operates.
Should you wish to travel at a different time of year or have specific requests, take a look at our full range of train holidays in Scotland or ask us to tailor-make a rail tour just for you.
Availability is individually checked for a hand-picked selection of smaller hotels, guest houses and other independent businesses, so please bear with us and we will respond in 1-2 working days.
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Exploring ancient civilisations in Orkney
Last month I was in Orkney for the first time. I have never been that far north before. I flew from Glasgow to Kirkwall, the main town, instead of tak...
We have never had a holiday where everything is covered in such detail - we could not fault the service.
All of the places you recommended were beautiful and interesting.
The memories we have are unforgettable.
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These 8 Scenic Train Rides Have The Most Stunning Views In Scotland
- European Rail
- Types of Travel
- United Kingdom
I spend a lot of time traveling around Scotland and I never tire of the incredible views, but sometimes it’s how you travel that’s important. For many reasons, train travel is a great way to travel around this rugged and beautiful country. Apart from the environmental benefits of train travel versus other modes of travel like cars and air travel, traveling by train creates a more relaxing journey and a brilliant way to see some of the scenery as you make your way from A to B.
Quiet coastlines, dramatic mountains and castles, and still and calm lochs all glide past your window as you sit back and breathe in these stunning landscapes. I’ve taken most of these train rides myself, though The Royal Scotsman is still on my must-do list! Here are eight scenic train rides with the most stunning views in Scotland.
1. Royal Scotsman
Various routes across scotland, between 2 and 7 days.
I’m starting with a train journey that’s as much about the train itself as it is about the scenery and the journey. Royal Scotsman train tours are operated by Belmond, who operate luxury train vacations around the world. This is much more than just a train ride — it’s a luxury hotel on rails. If you want to get a taste of traditional Scotland while riding through some breathtaking Scottish scenery, this is a great way to do it.
The Royal Scotsman’s 10 carriages feature double en-suite rooms, a regal-looking dining car, an observation car, and two spa rooms. All train tours on The Royal Scotsman depart from Edinburgh Waverley station and travel to various locations including Ben Nevis, Loch Lomond, and The Isle of Bute. Enjoy Scottish cuisine and taste a few whiskies while the countryside rolls by. You can choose from two all the way up to seven-day train journeys on this incredible luxury train.
2. The West Highland Line
Glasgow to mallaig.
I’m a lot more familiar with the east side of Scotland than I am with the west, but this train journey through the West Highlands shows that this side of the country has some truly stunning scenery and though very different to the east side, is equally beautiful. Often said to be one of the most visually incredible train journeys in the world, The West Highland Line begins at Glasgow and travels through Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park and on to Fort William.
It’s a beautiful ride, showing you parts of the landscape you can’t see in any other way. This unique perspective on the land and its features, like castles and coastlines, makes this a must for train lovers and anyone who loves a great view.
3. The Far North Line
Inverness to dunrobin castle.
The Far North Line is Britain’s most rural railway, which won’t surprise anyone who knows the north of Scotland even a little. If you like your landscapes rugged, wild, and remote, this is the train ride for you. Beginning at Inverness, the journey takes you through peatland and Flow Country, which is a wetland blanket bog and an important environmental area. It’s incredible to see, but it’s not somewhere you’d go walking, so seeing it from the train is a real privilege. You can spot castles along the way and stop off for some whisky tasting at one of the distilleries in this area.
4. The Kyle Line
Inverness to kyle of lochalsh.
If you like views of rugged and majestic mountains, this train ride is perfect. The Kyle Line offers views of The Torridon Peaks and other imposing mountains that create a backdrop to the quiet lochs and the sleepy villages that dot the landscape. It’s a largely untouched area, and though you’ll pass beautiful sandy beaches on this coastline, you won’t see many people out on them.
It often feels like you’ve entered another world, and if you opt to take one of the steam trains that use this line, organized by one of the heritage train companies, you’ll really feel like you’ve stepped back in time. At the end of the line you reach the village of Kyle of Lochalsh, the gateway to The Isle of Skye, which you can travel onto from here.
5. Strathspey Steam Railway
Aviemore to broomhill.
The Strathspey Steam Railway is a short train ride, but it’s more of an event in itself than simply a train journey. For a start, you have the steam element. Traveling on a steam train has a certain kind of nostalgia about it and it’s a special way to enjoy the views in this part of the country. Sometimes you’re allowed up to the footplate at stops, which the train makes so travelers can enjoy the views and take photos.
Many people hop off at stops to explore a little, but it’s so nice on the train many opt to view from the viewing areas and windows. You’ll pass by the Cairngorm Mountains and the River Spey, and “Osprey Village,” an RSPB nature reserve where you can do a little bird spotting. Depending on when you travel, Sunday lunch and afternoon tea are served onboard the train.
6. ScotRail Commuter Line
Edinburgh to inverness.
Unlike the other train journeys on this list, this one is a commuter line, a train ride taken by ordinary people going about their daily lives rather than a train ride for leisure, but it’s still a strikingly beautiful journey. Beginning in Edinburgh, the line hugs the east coast, where you can sit back and enjoy the views of the sea and the small untouched beaches.
But before that, on leaving Edinburgh, passengers get to marvel at the beauty and the engineering of the red Forth Bridge, built in 1889. If you like bridges, this is a treat. From the pretty east coast stretch of the line, the train takes you through Perthshire and The Cairngorms National Park, with views of the parkland you can’t gain any other way. The line ends in Inverness, near Loch Ness, where you can explore the historic city and the loch.
7. The Borders Line
Edinburgh to tweedbank.
The highlands of Scotland are very impressive, there’s no doubt, but the borderlands also have their charms and don’t get as much love as they perhaps should. This train ride is a great way to explore this area of Scotland and a great introduction to the borderlands.
It’s a short train ride, but even before you’ve left Edinburgh you’ll get to view attractions like Arthur’s Seat, a grassy hill loved by hikers that covers an extinct volcano. From here you’ll travel through Midlothian and then the small villages, farmlands, lochs, and hills of the Borders. The line ends at Tweedbank. There’s a lot to explore in the village of Tweedbank, including Abbotsford House, the former home of Sir Walter Scott.
8. The Bo’ness And Kinneil Railway
Bo’ness return journey.
This one is for railway lovers and is perfect for taking the grandkids to, but it’s equally fascinating for anyone with just a passing interest in the railways. The Bo’ness and Kinneil Railway journey is best taken as part of a wider railway-themed day out. The Museum of Scottish Railways is located at the beginning of this ride, and as you might expect for a rail enthusiasts attraction, you can take this journey by steam train.
The railway line goes through some beautiful scenery, but most people take this journey for the experience of the steam train. There are added attractions like a day with Thomas the Tank Engine for children, afternoon tea onboard, or a murder mystery train ride for adults.
Always book your tickets in advance. Train journeys in the UK are fun, but can be expensive if you buy your tickets on the day of travel. Always check your train is running and on time before you travel. If a train is canceled or late you can waste time waiting at the station.
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Travel writer, author, and playwright, Samantha loves historic buildings, quirky hotels, woodland walks and literary trails, specializing in food and drink, luxury travel, retreats, spas, and anything arts based. Samantha is based in Yorkshire, the UK, where she lives with her artist partner. Learn more on her website .
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Set off on an unforgettable Scottish rail journey! Discover Scotland’s untamed natural beauty as you embark on scenic train rides through the Highlands. Visit historic cities such as Edinburgh, Glasgow and Inverness and learn about Scotland’s fascinating history. Taste local cuisine and authentic Scotch whisky. Travel over the engineering wonders of the Forth Bridge, Glenfinnan Viaduct and the Caledonian Canal while marvelling at Scotland‘s ever-changing landscapes. Visit the magical Isle of Skye and hop aboard the famous Jacobite Steam Train. From wildlife to city life, this Scotland rail holiday has it all!
- Orientation tours in Edinburgh, Pitlochry, Inverness, Fort Augustus, Fort William and Glasgow
- Take the famous Jacobite steam train trip over the Glenfinnan Viaduct
- Full free days in Edinburgh and Inverness, with plenty of sightseeing options
- Driving tour of the beautiful Isle of Skye region
Itinerary View Full Itinerary Download PDF
Welcome to the start of this epic Scotland rail tour! Where better to start than the capital of Scotland? Edinburgh is a stunning city known for its striking hill-top castle and medieval architecture. Arrive at the hotel and meet up with your tour leader and fellow travellers in the afternoon. This evening, set off on an orientation tour with your tour leader. Head up to the famous Calton Hill and admire the magnificent views of the city and Arthur’s Seat. Later, enjoy a welcome dinner at a restaurant in the heart of the city.
Today offers a full free day to explore Edinburgh and discover what makes it such a magical destination! If weather allows, take a hike out to Arthur’s seat. Or, visit some of the spots seen on your orientation tour yesterday. There is also a fantastic optional excursion on offer this morning, which showcases the main highlights around Edinburgh and offers an in-depth look into the city. Visit Holyrood Palace, John Knox House, St Giles Cathedral and Grassmarket before enjoying some time to explore Edinburgh Castle. This evening, why not join the Spirit of Scotland optional excursion for an authentic Scottish evening of delicious food, dancing, singing, bagpipes and even a bit of haggis?
Bid farewell to Edinburgh this morning and get ready for your first Scottish train journey of the trip! As the tour travels towards Perthshire on the Highland Main Line, enjoy the views and look out for the famous Forth Bridge while crossing the Firth of Forth. Later, arrive in the Victorian town of Pitlochry on the banks of the River Tummel. Set off on an orientation tour of this charming town, which was beloved by Queen Victoria and Robert Louis Stevenson. Then, enjoy an included lunch. Then, get a taste of fine Scotch whisky while touring the Blair Athol distillery!
Meals: Breakfast Lunch
After breakfast, head to the train station for the next stop on this Scottish adventure. En route to Inverness, travel through the Cairngorms National Park, the largest national park in the UK. Be prepared for spectacular views of mountain passes, hilltops and heathland, and look out for the viaducts at Culloden and Tomatin. Arrive in Inverness and head out on an orientation tour of the city. Inverness means the Mouth of the River Ness and is considered to be the Gateway to the Highlands. See highlights including Inverness Castle and St Andrew’s Cathedral! This afternoon, choose to visit Brodie Castle in the Scottish Highlands before an included dinner in Inverness tonight.
Meals: Breakfast Dinner
Inverness is the largest city in the Scottish Highlands making it the perfect place for a free day! Its ideal location means that many of the top sights in the Highlands can be easily reached from the city. One of the most iconic locations is, of course, Loch Ness. Home to the beloved Loch Ness Monster (Nessie), this beautiful freshwater loch is one of Scotland’s most popular attractions. Join the Loch Ness cruise optional excursion today to admire the natural scenery surrounding the loch and try to spot Nessie!
Get ready for two of the most scenic train journeys in all of Scotland in just one day! This morning, travel along the Kyle Line from Inverness to the Isle of Skye and admire the spectacular beauty of the highlands complete with lochs, moors and mountain ranges in the distance. Arrive on the Isle of Skye and embark on a coach driving tour. This region is known for its rugged landscapes, fairytale castles, charming fishing villages and cascading waterfalls. Later, take a ferry to the coastal town of Mallaig. Here, board the famous Jacobite Steam Train towards Fort William. After yet another incredibly scenic train trip, arrive in Fort William and check into tonight’s accommodation.
Enjoy a leisurely breakfast this morning before departing Fort William and setting off on one final train journey. Take the West Highland Line south to Glasgow. This trip is the highlight of the day, with more fantastic views of the moors, mountains and lochs on the cards. Keep an eye out for Loch Treig, Laidon, Tulla, Lomond, Long and Gare. The route between Tulloch and Rannoch stations is not connected by roads, so the train will pass through true wilderness! Arrive in Glasgow, check into the hotel and then take an orientation walking tour with your tour leader before enjoying a farewell dinner with the group. Reminisce over the last 7 days of memorable rail adventures!
Today marks the end of this Scotland rail tour. Enjoy your last breakfast with the group and, if time allows, enjoy more sightseeing in Glasgow before you continue with your travels. From Glasgow, you can easily return back to Edinburgh, as both Glasgow and Edinburgh airports are within easy reach. Be sure to swap contact details with your new travel friends. We hope you enjoyed your scenic train journey through Scotland!
DAY 1: Start of tour in Edinburgh
Edinburgh walking orientation tour: Set out on foot to explore some of the highlights of Edinburgh this evening! Head to Calton Hill, located at the end of famous Princes Street in the centre of the city, and take a stroll to the top where you’ll be treated to wonderful views of the city including vistas of Arthur’s Seat - an ancient volcano which is now an impressive hill popular with hikers. Calton Hill is home to a collection of historical monuments which form “Edinburgh’s Acropolis” and illustrate why the city has been nicknamed the “Athens of the north.” Edinburgh dinner: Enjoy a delicious welcome dinner with your new travel friends at a local restaurant in Edinburgh.
DAY 2: Edinburgh: Free Day
On tour excursions.
Experience the highlights of Edinburgh with your tour leader! Visit Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace, John Knox House, Grassmarket and more!
Enjoy an evening of Scottish entertainment, including traditional music and Highland dancers, along with a four-course meal!
DAY 3: Edinburgh - Pitlochry
Train Journey to Pitlochry: The first of your scenic train journeys takes you out of Edinburgh, over the Forth Bridge past the city of Perth to the Perthshire highlands. With these trains, the journey is all part of the experience. Pitlochry orientation walk: Your tour leader will show you around the sights of Pitlochry. Be prepared for a very different experience to Edinburgh, as Pitlochry is much smaller! However, what it lacks in size, it makes up for in charm. The population is less than 3,000 and the town is surrounded by natural beauty. It was also one of Queen Victoria’s favourite spots! Included lunch in Pitlochry: Due to the trains being fast and direct, the group will arrive in Pitlochry before lunch, which is included today. Blair Athol Whisky Distillery: The whisky lovers are in for a treat! A fantastic tour of this famous distillery is completed with a tutored tasting of some of their finest Scotch whiskies. Slàinte Mhath!
DAY 4: Pitlochry - Inverness
Train through the Cairngorms National Park to Inverness: Enjoy fantastic views from every angle on a train ride through the largest national park in the UK. The highland plateau rises up and down as you journey through. Look out for wildlife and mountains, but also be prepared for rain and mist! Inverness orientation tour: Your tour leader will take you on an orientation walking tour around Inverness. Learn more about Inverness which, with its strategic location, has become a very important city throughout the centuries. Inverness is located between Loch Ness and the North Sea, is the northernmost city in the UK and was also the inspiration for Shakespeare’s Macbeth. It is also the best place on this tour for fresh seafood! Sights will include: Inverness Castle, crossing the River Ness, St Andrew’s Cathedral and Balnain House and the Victorian Market.
Enjoy a tour of Brodie Castle and Estate. Admire the stunning heritage building and grounds as well as the castle’s impressive collection of artworks.
DAY 5: Inverness: Free Day
Search for the mysterious Loch Ness monster as you cruise on the famous loch!
DAY 6: Inverness - Isle of Skye - Fort William
Scenic train journey to the Isle of Skye: Soak up the spectacular natural beauty of the Scottish Highlands as the tour travels along the Kyle Line from Inverness to the Isle of Skye. Keep an eye out for lochs, moors and mountain ranges in the distance.
Isle of Skye driving tour: Discover this breathtakingly beautiful region on a driving tour with your tour leader. Top sights include the picturesque Kyle of Lochalsh village, The Storr, a striking rocky hill steeped in folklore, and the famed Eilean Donan Castle. Enjoy lunch in Portree, the capital of the Isle of Skye.
Jacobite Steam Train: Hop aboard the famous Jacobite Steam Train and enjoy stunning scenery from Mallaig to Fort William. Travel over the Glenfinnan Viaduct, made famous in the Harry Potter movies when Harry and Ron fly over the Hogwarts Express in their borrowed Ford Anglia!
DAY 7: Fort William - Glasgow
West Highland Line train Fort William to Glasgow: One of the greatest mainline trains in Europe, this 4-hour journey will be the pièce de résistance of your train tour of Scotland. Look out for beautiful lochs, moorland and mountains.
Glasgow orientation tour: Get to know the city centre of Glasgow, a city of 600,000 people, with your tour leader. Visit George Square and Glasgow City Chambers, and the shopping area of Buchanan Street and Sauchiehall Street.
Farewell dinner in Glasgow: Enjoy a farewell feast in the city centre of Glasgow. This is the final dinner and time to say goodbye to your fellow travellers and reflect on a memorable week.
DAY 8: End of tour in Glasgow
- 7 nights in 2, 3 & 4* hotel accommodation in twin rooms with private bathrooms
- Single travellers have the option to pay a single supplement to ensure a private room
- 7 Breakfasts, 2 Lunches, 3 Dinners *Vegetarian options available for all meals on request
- Inter-city trains between destinations. These generally offer onboard toilets, with free wi-fi and optional refreshments on longer routes
- Private transfers when transferring from train stations to hotels
- Public transfers for optional excursions and some other activities
- Fully guided tour with experienced tour leader
- Tour leader will accompany group throughout and manage all logistical details
- Explore Edinburgh on an orientation tour
- Enjoy a welcome dinner in Edinburgh
- Embark on a scenic train ride over the Firth of Forth to Pitlochry
- Discover the charming town of Pitlochry on an orientation walk
- Enjoy an included lunch in Pitlochry
- Embark on a whisky distillery tour and taste Scotch whiskies
- Enjoy a scenic train ride to Inverness through Cairngorms National Park
- Discover Inverness on an orientation tour
- Soak up the scenery from Inverness to the Isle of Skye
- Discover the beauty of the Isle of Skye on a driving tour
- Take a trip on the famous Jacobite Steam Train
- Admire the views on the train from Fort William to Glasgow
- Explore Glasgow on an orientation tour
- Enjoy a farewell dinner in Glasgow
Hotels are chosen closer to departure date. We do use a variety of hotels in each destination, so you may stay in a hotel different to that listed here.
Photos of the tour
Experience Edinburgh: City & Castle Tour
Experience the highlights of Edinburgh with your tour leader! Travel to Edinburgh’s city centre and arrive at Holyrood Palace, the official residence of King Charles III! Then, visit the historic John Knox House and the stunning St Giles Cathedral. Wander through the famous Greyfriars Cemetary on the way to Grassmarket where you will learn about this vibrant neighbourhood’s dark past. Enjoy a classic fish and chips lunch before heading to the impressive Edinburgh Castle where you will have free time to explore this icon of Scotland’s capital city.
Unless marked as “Pre-Book”, all optional excursions can be booked on tour and paid for in cash (in the stated currency) to your tour leader. Prices and availability are subject to change
Dates & Rates
For pre-departure and visa information, as well as frequently asked questions regarding preparing for and travelling on this tour, please visit our Help Centre .
Why this tour?
Our 8-day Scotland Rail Express showcases the stunning natural beauty of Scotland as well as top attractions, cultural must-sees and historic sites. Train holidays to Scotland offer an unforgettable way to see the many highlights of this amazing region.
Explore Scotland by train and visit vibrant Scottish cities like Edinburgh and Glasgow as well as quaint, historic towns and the incomparable Scottish highlands!
This Scotland rail tour features a number of highlights:
- Enjoy orientation tours of Edinburgh, Pitlochry, Inverness, Fort Augustus, Fort William and Glasgow!
- Sample Scottish dishes with a welcome dinner in Edinburgh and farewell dinner in Glasgow. Enjoy included lunches in Pitlochry, Inverness and Fort Augustus! Taste authentic Scottish whisky and take a tour of a local distillery.
- Take in the spectacular scenery when you travel Scotland by train! Marvel at the scenic views as you take the train over the Firth of Forth to Pitlochry, through the Cairngorms en route to Inverness and from Fort William to Glasgow.
- Cruise along Loch Ness and try to spot Nessie!
- Spend one night each in the charming Victorian town of Pitlochry and the growing city of Inverness, the inspiration for Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Spend two nights each in Edinburgh, Scotland’s magical capital and Fort William which is often referred to as the outdoor capital of the UK.
- Free days to spend as you wish in Edinburgh and Fort William.
- Great optional activities such as an Edinburgh Castle tour and a ride on the Jacobite Steam Train as seen in Harry Potter.
Is this the right tour for me?
If you’re looking for Scotland train tours that combine exceptional nature and scenery with vibrant city life, culture and history, then this Scotland Rail Express is for you! Our Scotland train holidays offer plenty of exciting included activities as well as ample free time to explore at your own pace.
Can you travel around Scotland by train?
With rail connections in each of Scotland’s seven cities, travelling Scotland by train is one of the best ways to explore the country! Not only are Scotland railway trips convenient and affordable, they are also exceptionally scenic!
What is the most scenic train ride in Scotland?
There is incredible scenery all over Scotland, particularly when travelling through the highlands. However, the best Scotland rail journey is possibly the return journey from Fort William to Mallaig on the Jacobite Steam Train. This route is famously seen in the Harry Potter films.
How fit do I need to be for this tour?
Our Scotland train holidays are made for all fitness levels! If you are fit enough to partake in leisurely city walking tours and to carry your luggage onto the trains, you are fit enough for this tour!
Experience Scotland by train to admire unmatched beauty, discover unique cultural customs and make memories of a lifetime!
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How to Tour Scotland by Train: Advice for Tourists
Scotland has several train lines that are perfect for exploring the country including; the Kyle Line, the Far North Line, the West Highland Line, the Carlisle Line, the Stranraer Line and the Borders Railway. Discover everything you need to know about how to tour Scotland by train in this ultimate guide which includes information about the main train lines and an itinerary for an 8-day train tour of Scotland.
The Best Train Journeys in Scotland
Scotland doesn’t waste an inch of its landscapes when it comes to impressing visitors. From the dramatic coastal railway that runs between Stranraer and Glasgow to the stunning scenery of the West Highland Line, you’re never far from amazing experiences when you hop on board a train.
The sights you’ll see vary in each part of the country so you might consider combining a few routes into one holiday, or if you’re pushed for time maybe just choose your favourite line and base yourself somewhere along it.
A top tip here would be Edinburgh where you’ve got city attractions on your doorstep and the Highlands just a couple of hours train ride away if you fancy a day in the mountains, with the Scottish Borders less than an hour away in the opposite direction. Alternatively, you could head over to the west coast and explore Glasgow before setting off south on the Carlisle and Stranraer lines – both of which offer vastly different scenery to the standard tourist hotspots in the Highlands.
Whatever you choose, whether it’s a visit to Loch Ness to see the monster , a tour of Scotland’s whisky distilleries or an excursion into the rugged scenery of the west coast, getting there by train makes it just that wee bit more pleasurable.
The following list of scenic railway journeys in Scotland will give you an overview of each line along with recommended places to stop and visit.
Map of Train Lines in Scotland
The West Highland Line
Start and end points: Glasgow to Mallaig. Journey time: 3 hours 50 minutes. Highlights: The Highland town of Fort William. Glenfinnan and the spectacular viaduct.
Download the route map from ScotRail .
The West Highland Line – or at least the section of it from Fort William to Mallaig – has gained legendary status among Scotland’s tourists.
Everybody knows the scene in the Harry Potter films where the Hogwarts Express transports the young wizard to the magical wizardry school across a multi-arched viaduct. But not everybody knows that this is actually set in the village of Glenfinnan which in addition to the viaduct features gorgeous views from the Glenfinnan Monument across the shores of Loch Shiel.
The section of the railway track as it winds its way north towards Mallaig has been repeatedly voted the best railway journey in the world, and having taken The Jacobite Steam Train myself I have to say it lives up to the title, and then some.
The Jacobite is a 1930s steam locomotive that puffs its way on the 84-mile return journey past a series of stunning Highland vistas. Unlike the other railways which use modern diesel and electric locomotives with brand-new carriages, The Jacobite pulls restored 1960s carriages which makes the whole experience feel very special indeed.
In my opinion, there’s no better way to see the Scottish Highlands than from The Jacobite with a glass of champagne in hand.
The line starts near Ben Nevis (the highest mountain in Britain) before heading towards Arisaig (the furthest-west train station), passing Loch Morar (the deepest freshwater loch) and skirting the River Morar (the shortest river in Britain) before arriving at Mallaig near Loch Nevis (the deepest seawater loch in Britain).
Once at Mallaig, you can take a boat trip around the coastline to see Britain’s largest birds – sea eagles – which hunt from the surrounding clifftops, or you can take a ferry over to the Isle of Skye and its extraordinary landscapes. Or, of course, you can just head back to Fort William on a return journey.
If you’d like to take this amazing train ride I recommend using Get Your Guide which is one of the biggest and best booking websites for activities and tours in Scotland.
The Borders Line
Start and end points: Tweedbank to Edinburgh. Journey time: 1 hour. Highlights: The Borders countryside. The mighty Arthurs Seat in Edinburgh’s Holyrood Park .
The Borders Railway is one of the newest stretches of track in Britain and is the first to be built in Scotland in over 100 years. This is a route that’s best used to explore Edinburgh and the Lothians, though I have to admit the Borders are a lovely part of Scotland as well.
The scenery isn’t mountainous and dramatic like you’ll find in the Highlands but it’s certainly picturesque, crossing lowland fields, woodland, and quaint country villages along the way.
Much of this line passes through former mining villages which admittedly don’t have much to offer visitors, but there’s a good tourist attraction in the town of Gorebridge that showcases one of the former mines with a guided tour. Having visited the mine myself I have to say it’s well worth the trip, so check out the National Mining Museum website for the current times and prices.
Once past Gorebridge, you’ll pass open farmland before stopping at Galashiels and Tweedbank. I’d personally give Galashiels a miss and get out at Tweedbank instead as you can take a short walk to visit Abbotsford House which was the ancestral home of Scottish author Sir Walter Scott.
Scott was one of the greatest writers of his time and was so revered that after his death the city of Edinburgh built the Scott Monument as a dedication to him.
You can’t fail to miss the Gothic masterpiece Scott Monument in Edinburgh’s Princes Street (it’s not far from Waverley train station) and it has to be one of the highlights of a visit to the city. The monument is the largest ever created in the world for a writer, and it features an internal winding staircase that allows visitors to look at the cityscape from several viewing platforms
Sticking with the Scottish Borders, another attraction not far from Tweedbank is the historic market town of Melrose which is a lovely quaint wee place that’ll give you a good taste of rural Scotland. It’s also home to Melrose Abbey which is a fascinating ruined abbey close to the River Tweed.
The only negative I have about the Borders railway is that it gets incredibly busy with Edinburgh commuters at peak times which means there’s often standing room only, but travel outside those hours and you’ll have a very relaxed journey.
The Carlisle Line
Start and end points: Carlisle to Glasgow. Journey time: 2 hours 30 minutes. Highlights: Gretna Green , home of untold marriage proposals. Glasgow and its fantastic shopping malls and restaurants.
Just like the Borders Line, the Carlisle Line starts in the countryside of the Scottish Borders, only this time it’s on the other side of the country and finishes in Glasgow instead of Edinburgh.
The similarities between the railway lines continue along the length of this journey as it’s mostly low-lying farmland broken up by the occasional country town, but it does have a couple of stages that make it stand out from the other lines in this list. The first of these has to be Gretna Green which is the second stop after Carlisle.
If you’re an international visitor and are unfamiliar with this place it’s one of the most famous villages in Britain where tens of thousands of young couples fled to get married after England tightened marriage laws in the 1700s.
There’s a decent tourist attraction at the Gretna Green Blacksmiths Shop – the original site of those impromptu marriages – that includes a restaurant, museum, shops and a lover’s maze, and it’s definitely worth a visit if you’re romantically inclined or looking to surprise your other half with a proposal.
After Gretna Green, you’ll pass the town of Dumfries a little further up the track which is a historic market town with a lovely river cutting through it (the River Nith) and a museum dedicated to Scotland’s national poet Robert Burns . It’s worth spending extra time in this area as a little further away lies Caerlaverock Castle and the Solway Firth which are both great places to visit, especially if you’ve got children in tow.
Continuing along the Carlisle Line takes you through rolling countryside which is nice enough but not exactly jaw-dropping, but it does at least finish in Glasgow which in my opinion is one of the most exciting cities in Britain.
Glasgow has way too many attractions to list in this article so you might like to check out The Best Places To Visit in Glasgow for a few ideas on what you can do in Scotland’s biggest city. The museums are fantastic and there are more parks, galleries, restaurants, and shopping malls than you’ll ever be able to fit into a single visit, with the bonus being that all the best attractions are completely free to enter.
The Far North Line
Start and end points: Inverness to Wick. Journey time: 4 hours 30 minutes. Highlights: The historic town of Wick. The photogenic Dunrobin Castle.
Possibly the remotest railway in Scotland, the Far North Line runs from the city of Inverness to the (almost-but-not-quite) most northern point of the country at Wick.
Wide-open and desolate, much of the scenery that glides past the window is barren grassland interspersed with the occasional mountain, and it’s not surprising that this part of Scotland is one of the least inhabited regions in Europe outside of the steppes of Russia. But that’s not to say the journey isn’t worth making as there are several sights that more than make up for the apparent desolation.
Starting in Inverness the line sweeps up the northeast edge of Scotland in a gently sweeping arc, crossing the Cromarty Firth and Invergordon along the way. To be honest, I’d give Invergordon a miss, but the Cromarty Firth is lovely in the summer and makes a great starting point for cyclists keen to follow the tourist road up the NC500 towards John O’ Groats .
If cycling isn’t your thing you can continue the train ride to Tain (home of Glenmorangie whisky) and Dunrobin Castle which is arguably the finest castle in Scotland. The train station is just a short distance from this historic attraction so you may as well stop and visit it as it’s a real gem with stunning architecture that faces a drop-dead gorgeous coastline.
The Far North Line continues past Dunrobin for the majority of its journey along the northeast coast till it finally makes a diversion west to Thurso before doubling back on itself at Wick.
Thurso is an ‘ok’ town and while I’ve only visited it once it was raining so it came across as being a bit… grey. Wick isn’t that much better on the looks front but it has a lot of history to be proud of because at one time it was one of the biggest herring fishing ports in the world.
They’re certainly proud of their heritage in Wick which is clearly displayed in the excellent Wick Heritage Museum that’s hidden away at the far end of the harbour. It’s an absolute Tardis in there so don’t get put off by the unassuming frontage as you’ll easily spend a couple of hours exploring the exhibits.
Finally, no train journey on the Far North Line is complete without taking a short detour to Scotland’s most northerly point at John O’ Groats . This is quite a busy little attraction that looks out across the sea to Orkney in the distance, and a selfie in front of the famous signpost is an absolute must if you’re visiting the area.
My advice after wandering around the (slightly gimmicky) tourist area is to take a short walk up the coastline to see the mighty Duncansby Stacks, which are enormous rock formations set against the backdrop of very dramatic cliffs.
The Stranraer Line
Start and end points: Stranraer to Glasgow. Journey time: 2 hours 30 minutes. Highlights: The beach at Ayr. The city of Glasgow.
I’d say the Stranraer Line is probably the least-used by visiting tourists, mainly because this corner of southwest Scotland doesn’t have as many attractions as the rest of the country.
While the Solway Firth to the south draws visitors from far and wide who admire its attractive bays and nature reserves, the stretch of coastline further north tends to go a little unnoticed, even though it gets more attractive the further north you go.
This railway branches off at several points, but the main line from the fishing port of Stranraer to Glasgow is the focus of the journey, with the coastal towns of Ayr and Troon offering a pleasant contrast to the farmland that so inspired the poet Robert Burns .
Both towns have decent enough beaches but not much else, although Ayr is notable for the river running through it and the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum . Troon, meanwhile, is worth visiting for the views across the Firth of Clyde towards the Isle of Arran , and Royal Troon which is a large golf course that regularly hosts the Open Championship.
The town is also a quick 5-minute train ride from Prestwick International Airport, so if you’re visiting and have a few hours to kill before the next flight it makes a decent place to get some fresh air before getting onboard that stuffy plane.
From Troon the track curves inland past Lochs Semple, Barr and Kilbirnie before sweeping further inland past Paisley and onwards into the heart of Glasgow. One attraction you might like to visit before the final stop in Glasgow city centre is Pollock Country Park .
This is the largest park in Glasgow and features lots of woodland and riverside walks, play parks and walled gardens, and as it’s just a few minutes bus ride from the Cardonald train station you can easily get there if you fancy a break from the busy city.
The Kyle Line
Start and end points: Inverness to the Kyle of Lochalsh. Journey time: 2 hours 40 minutes. Highlights: The Torridon Peaks, Achnashellach Forest, Ben Wyvis.
The Kyle Line stretches across North Scotland from Inverness – the capital of the Highlands – to Loch Alsh on the west coast. This is one of the most scenic train journeys in this list and it’s a firm favourite with visitors thanks to the stunning scenery.
You’ll start your journey in Inverness which is easily reached from all the main stations in Scotland, though it might take a little while to get there as the country’s other cities are either located on the east coast or much further south. Expect the train ride from Glasgow and Edinburgh to take around 4 hours to reach Inverness and around 2 hours from Aberdeen.
From Inverness, the train passes the Beauly Firth (a body of water that connects the River Ness to the Moray Firth) and Dingwall where you’ll see the hulking mass of Ben Wyvis. This sprawling mountain dominates the landscape and it’s a recommended hill-walking destination, with the undulating ridge running 3 miles to its highest point at Glas Leathad Mor which has an elevation of just over 3,400 feet.
From Dingwall, the line passes through a mountainous Highland region near Loch Garve where you’ll see the peaks of Torridon before entering a region of thick forest as the track makes its way to Loch Luichart.
There are several points on this journey where the rail track closely follows a relatively busy road (the A835) but once it gets near the loch it runs alongside much quieter roads to the final destination at the Kyle of Lochalsh. From there, you’re just a stone’s throw from the Isle of Skye so you may as well hire a car and cross the Skye bridge to explore this famous west coast island.
There’s a car hire company close to the Kyle Line end terminal if you want to extend your journey and if you do I suggest you take a short drive (about 10 miles) towards the spectacular Eilean Donan Castle while you’re in the area. This stunning castle is situated at the meeting point of lochs Long, Duich, and Alsh (one of the prettiest viewpoints in Scotland) and it’s an absolute must-do if you’re visiting the area.
One-Week Scotland Train Tour Itinerary
Now that we’ve looked at the main railway lines in Scotland, you might be wondering how to put it all together for an extended tour of the country. A quick look online shows lots of opinions about where to go and in what order to see each region, but almost all itineraries involve visiting Edinburgh, Glasgow, The Highlands, and the Isle of Skye.
Concentrating on those areas will show you the best of Scotland – from historic cities to wild mountainous landscapes – on a tour that should take around one week to complete.
Rather than just regurgitate what every other travel writer says, in the following section I’m going to show you the same train tour I took a couple of years ago which I’ve no hesitation in saying was one of the best experiences of my life.
To begin, I bought a Spirit of Scotland rail pass (details further down this page) that gave me unlimited rail travel across the country for 8 days and pre-booked hotels in the middle of each area. I then used each hotel as a base and either took public transport or hired a car to go sightseeing.
By booking everything myself I managed to get the total cost down to around £800, which admittedly isn’t the cheapest holiday in the world but it’s a lot cheaper than most of the specialist package holiday dealers are asking (£2000+ for a week-long train tour of Scotland. Ouch!).
8-day Scotland train tour from Edinburgh
Day 1: Edinburgh
Edinburgh needs no introduction as it’s one of the most-visited tourist cities in Europe and is full of so many world-famous attractions it simply has to be included in a train tour of Scotland.
A single day really isn’t enough to see all of Edinburgh, but because the city is so compact you can walk between the top attractions without ever feeling like you’re getting lost. To start your day I recommend walking from Waverley train station in the city centre to Princes Street Gardens which is home to The Scott Monument and the National Galleries of Scotland.
From the gardens, head to Edinburgh Castle (be aware you could easily spend most of the day at this single attraction), and then soak up the atmosphere of The Royal Mile before taking a look inside St. Giles Cathedra l. If you have time, continue down The Royal Mile to Holyrood Palace , or perhaps stretch your legs in Holyrood Park where you can climb to the top of Arthur’s Seat for unparalleled views of the city.
To be honest, you’ll never fit all of that into a single day unless you fly around everything, so you’ll have to pick what interests you most. I recommend Edinburgh Castle (a must-do), The Royal Mile and the cathedral, followed by Holyrood Palace and Holyrood Park if you have any time before the sun sets.
As far as getting around the city goes, you could walk and hope to stumble across all the main sights, but I can tell you from personal experience you’ll have a much more enjoyable time by using a hop-on hop-off tour bus to visit the top attractions.
Day 2: Central Scotland
Day 2 centres around Fife, Perthshire, and Angus in Central Scotland. This is a less-visited part of Scotland but it features the gorgeous east coast, the forests of Perthshire’s ‘big tree country’, and the possibility of exploring the historic St. Andrews and Scone Palace.
On my tour, I based myself in Dundee, saw the city in the morning, and then took a train ride to Perth in the afternoon. Dundee is a historic city that borders the estuary of the River Tay and the North Sea, and it has a couple of very good attractions in the city centre.
My recommended itinerary is to book accommodation near Dundee train station and walk to the V&A Design Museum and the RRS Discovery, or get a taxi to the superb McManus Museum . Alternatively, take a train to Leuchars (20 minutes) and then take a bus to St. Andrews which is an exceptionally pretty historic town that has a lovely beachfront with a castle, St. Andrews Aquarium , and St. Andrews Cathedral .
From Dundee it’s another short train ride (20 minutes) to the city of Perth which offers lovely riverside walks along the River Tay, the Black Watch Castle and Museum, and the stunning Scone Palace (you’ll need to book a 20-minute taxi from Perth city centre to get to it).
If you don’t feel like heading to Perth, another very good historic attraction is the 600-year-old Glamis Castle which is a 30-minute taxi ride from the centre of Dundee.
Day 3: The Cairngorms National Park
From Dundee, it’s a 2-hour train ride to Aviemore which will take you into the heart of the Cairngorms National Park. The park is situated in the heart of the Scottish Highlands and is the largest national park in the UK, so if you’ve any interest in exploring the wilds of Scotland this is your best opportunity.
Aviemore is often called the gateway to the Highlands and you’ll no doubt find yourself sharing the experience with lots of walkers, cyclists, and skiers thanks to the Cairngorm Mountain Centre which is a 20-minute taxi ride from the town centre.
The centre allows visitors to walk partway up Cairn Gorm mountain where they’ll have breathtaking views across the Highlands landscape at the Coire Cas viewpoint, or they can take the easier option on a funicular railway that glides up and down the mountain slopes.
Other attractions in the area are Loch Morlich (home to the highest beach in Britain), the beautiful Glenmore Forest Park, and the wonderful Cairngorm Reindeer Centre where you can say hello to the UK’s only herd of wild reindeer.
If you have time, a 20-minute drive south of Aviemore takes visitors to The Highland Wildlife Park which features a mini safari around enclosures that house some of the animals that live in the world’s remotest cold regions (including polar bears!).
This is a fantastic tourist attraction and is highly recommended if you have children with you, as is the beautiful Rothiemurchus Estate which offers fun activities in the Highland landscape including pony trekking, quad biking, mountain biking, and white water rafting.
Day 4: Inverness and Loch Ness
This is a short train ride at around 45 minutes but it’s very pretty, so keep your camera at the ready.
Once at Inverness (the unofficial capital of the Highlands), you’ll find yourself with lots of attractions in the surrounding area, but the one essential place to visit has to be Loch Ness . Inverness sits at the northern end of the loch where it transitions into the River Ness which opens out onto the Beauly Firth.
A search on Get Your Guide will bring up lots of tour operators that run excursions to the Loch, or alternatively, hire a car as you’ll be able to explore the loch in your own time (try Travel Supermarket for good car hire deals).
Highlights of Loch Ness are visiting the historic Urquhart Castle and taking a boat tour to see the loch from the water (it’s the best way to see the infamous Loch Ness monster).
To get to either you’ll need to travel along the A82 which is very scenic and presents several spots to pull the car over and admire the body of water with a picnic in hand – but make sure Nessie doesn’t steal your sandwiches.
Heading back to Inverness you’ll find it’s a rather attractive city but there aren’t many attractions in the centre. However, a short (30-minute) taxi ride will take you to Fort George which is a huge 18th-century military base that overlooks the Moray Firth.
The fort features museums, a military chapel, barrack blocks, a munitions depot and much more, but the highlight has to be standing on the gunnery platform and looking across the sea to Chanonry Point which is home to Britain’s only permanent resident dolphin pod.
Day 5 and 6: The Isle of Skye
This part of the tour sees visitors hopping back on the train and heading to Dingwall before swapping onto the Kyle Line which finishes at Kyle of Lochalsh.
Before heading to Skye, I recommend heading to Eilean Donan Castle which is located a 15-minute taxi ride from Kyle of Lochalsh on the A87. The castle is one of, if not the , most picturesque castles in Scotland, so if you haven’t been to a castle by this point Eilean Donan is the place to go.
After the castle it’s time to cross the Syke bridge to spend time on the stunning Isle of Skye, though be aware even two days is not enough time to see all of the island. If you do, you’ll find a hire car (Travel Supermarket) is an absolute necessity as although it’s possible to use buses and taxis on Skye they’re few and far between.
A car, meanwhile, means you can drive to stunning places like the Fairy Glen (a natural landscape of strange earthworks), the Fairy Pools (a series of pools and waterfalls), and the Quiraing (a dramatic landscape formed by an ancient landslide).
Other highlights of Skye are Dunvegan Castle on the island’s northwest tip, the pretty village of Portree, and the huge rock landmark of the Old Man of Storr . There are also lovely beaches surrounding the island, lots of walks into the Black and Red Cuillin mountains, and ferry trips over to the secluded Isle of Raasay.
There’s a lot to see, so if you do find yourself wondering where to go I recommend at least the Fairy Pools, Portree, the Old Man of Storr, the Quiraing, and Dunvegan Castle. After finishing your sightseeing tour you’ll need to travel down to the southwest tip of the island to Armadale and then catch a ferry to Mallaig on the mainland where you can continue your journey on the iconic West Highland Line.
Day 7: The West Highland Line and Glasgow
I already covered the West Highland Line earlier in this article so I won’t repeat myself here, other than to say it is, without doubt, the most scenic railway in Scotland.
By far the best way to experience the route is on the restored Jacobite steam train which runs from Fort William to Mallaig and back in a single day, but sadly the train doesn’t offer one-way tickets so you can’t join it from Mallaig. Instead, visitors can clamber aboard the regular ScotRail carriages to make this journey which isn’t as historic but is certainly quieter and comfier.
The entire journey from Mallaig to Glasgow takes 5-6 hours depending on the time of travel, but there are a couple of places to break it up if you’d like to add an extra day onto the itinerary.
The first is the town of Fort William which is a superb place to base yourself for hikes up nearby Ben Nevis. Climbing Britain’s highest mountain is a dream of many people, but as the return route takes 7-8 hours on average it needs a full day to plan, complete, and recover from. The second place to take an extra day on the West Highland Line is Oban which opens up opportunities for exploring the western isles.
Depending on the ferry times I recommend sailing from Oban to Craignure on Mull as the crossing takes less than an hour and there are usually at least 3 ferries every day.
Returning to the West Highland Line and its endpoint in Glasgow, you probably won’t want to do too much sightseeing when you arrive, but there are plenty of nighttime activities to enjoy thanks to the city’s unmatched collection of bars, restaurants, late-night shopping malls and cinemas.
The best place for families to go on an early evening outing is the city centre around Queen Street and Argyll Streets as there are dozens of family-friendly places to eat, but couples might prefer to head to the Finnieston Strip which is livelier and has more traditional bars.
Highlights have to be the Riverside Museum of Transport on the River Clyde, The Tall Ship (a restored sailing ship) that’s moored outside, and the Glasgow Science Centre that’s located almost directly opposite.
History lovers will no doubt enjoy wandering around the grand Glasgow Cathedral and the Necropolis (a vast Victorian cemetery), while anyone who enjoys museums will have a blast at Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum and the Hunterian Museum at the University of Glasgow .
Day 8: Edinburgh and the Borders Line
Following a busy day of sightseeing in Glasgow, it’s now time to return to Edinburgh with another train journey that takes less than an hour door to door. The bonus here is that you’ll have plenty of time to see everything you couldn’t fit into day one of this train tour, or alternatively, you could venture outside the capital.
If that interests you I have two options to recommend.
The first is to book yourself onto a Get Your Guide tour that will take you to fascinating places like Rosslyn Chapel , and the second is to take a ride on the Borders Railway. This train line opens up the pretty countryside south of Edinburgh where quaint villages and enormous medieval abbeys appear to lie around every corner.
The Scottish Borders is a very underrated region in my opinion, and watching it glide past the window in a train carriage is, without doubt, the nicest way to see it.
My advice for places to visit on the Borders Railway is to ride it to the last station at Tweedbank and then take a taxi to Abbotsford House which is a stunning Victorian mansion set in an incredibly scenic location. The house was built by famed Scottish writer Sir Walter Scott and is full to the brim with collections of books, artefacts from Scott’s travels, curios, and vintage books, while the extensive grounds outside offer pleasant walks through manicured gardens.
The Borders Line takes an hour each way from Edinburgh to Tweedbank and Abbotsford House has enough things to see to keep visitors busy for around 4 hours, making this wee adventure a nice relaxed end to a busy week of touring Scotland by train.
Resources for Scotland Train Tours
The Trainline : The Trainline is the UK’s favourite train ticket booking service, mainly due to the fact they make the process so easy.
Once you’ve registered you can enter your credit card details and book your tickets online with the minimum of fuss, and being able to reserve a ticket when you’re late is an absolute godsend. Not only that but you’ll usually get a big discount by purchasing your ticket through them – sometimes up to 60% or more compared to buying at the station.
ScotRail : ScotRail is Scotland’s main train operator that provides the majority of the routes detailed in this article. While you’ll frequently hear weary commuters complaining about the service, I have to admit I’ve never had any problems using any train in Scotland whether it’s been for work or pleasure.
As a whole the carriages are clean and they’re usually on time. Not to Japanese or Swiss ultra-efficient standards or anything, but never more than a few minutes deviation from the stated time (again, this is purely based on my personal experience here in Edinburgh).
ScotRail gets top marks for its website which seems to offer more and more information the deeper you delve into it. It’s a great resource for rail travel in Scotland and it’s a website that you should definitely bookmark if you’re a new visitor to this country.
Traffic Scotland : Where would the humble commuter be without Traffic Scotland ? Probably gnawing their steering wheels in frustration at being stuck in yet more roadworks I’m guessing, or seething at the fact the fast lane has been closed for repairs AGAIN.
Traffic Scotland distributes real-time information about closures, delays, accidents, and general annoyances on the country’s road network, but it also provides information on the rail network.
It’s not the easiest website to navigate admittedly and the design looks like it’s straight out of 1995, but the information is reliable nonetheless. For rail travel, click the Further Travel Information > Travel information Links section in the sidebar and then the ‘Are you interested in air, rail…’ link at the top of the next page.
You’ll find links to all the main train stations in Scotland along with details of any line closures and whether the next train is on time or not.
Traveline Scotland : The one website I go back to time and time again when planning a train journey is Traveline Scotland . This website has a very useful journey planner that you can access from their homepage which allows you to enter a beginning and endpoint along with a departure time, after which it displays the travel time and train route on a big map.
It really helps to be able to see the journey you’ll be taking and makes it a breeze to see which attractions are located around each station – which is essential when planning a whistle-stop tour of Scotland. Take my advice and bookmark it ASAP.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the best things to see on a train tour of scotland.
The Borders Line : The Borders countryside and Arthurs Seat in Edinburgh’s Holyrood Park . The Carlisle Line : Gretna Green and Glasgow city centre. The Far North Line : The historic town of Wick and Dunrobin Castle. The Stranraer Line : The beach at Ayr and Glasgow city centre. The Kyle Line : The Torridon Peaks, Achnashellach Forest, Ben Wyvis. The West Highland Line : Fort William and Glenfinnan.
Which train tickets can I buy in Scotland?
Off-peak tickets are restricted for use between the morning and evening peak times. Anytime tickets are valid for use at any time of the day and are usually more expensive than off-peak tickets. First-class tickets are more expensive than the other two types but offer a higher standard of service, including free Wi-Fi and refreshments.
Which railcards can I use in Scotland?
Two Together Railcard : Gives a third off all rail travel on off-peak journeys for any two people over the age of 16 when they travel together. 26-30 Railcard : Gives a third off all rail travel on off-peak journeys for people aged between 26 and 30 years. Senior Railcard : Saves a third off train fares for anyone aged over 60 years. Highland Railcard : Offers a 50% discount for people who live in the Scottish Highlands.
What are the best rail travel planning websites?
The Trainline is the UK’s favourite train ticket booking service. ScotRail is Scotland’s main train operator and operates the majority of the lines in the country. Traffic Scotland distributes real-time information about closures, delays and accidents. Traveline Scotland has a journey planner that displays the travel time and train route on a map.
What is the best train journey in Scotland?
The most beautiful train journey in Scotland is The Jacobite from Fort William to Mallaig which has been described as one of the most scenic railway journeys in the world.
What is the nicest way to travel to Scotland by train from London?
The most luxurious train journey is the Caledonian Sleeper train to Scotland which operates overnight between London and multiple destinations between Edinburgh and Inverness. It is called a sleeper train because it has sleeping compartments where passengers can sleep while the train is in motion. Some of these compartments have double beds and en-suite bathrooms.
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Craig Neil is the author, photographer, admin, and pretty much everything else behind Out About Scotland. He lives near Edinburgh and spends his free time exploring Scotland and writing about his experiences. Follow him on Pinterest , Facebook , and YouTube .
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The best Scotland touring holidays are all about taking things at your own pace. We can't tell you what the best way to tour Scotland is because there are so many amazing choices! It's a good idea to explore some of the different types of Scotland tours that are out there, then settle in for a grand adventure.
On a tour of Scotland you’ll meet like-minded people, find hidden gems, and visit those Scottish places you’ve always wanted to see. Longer tours are a great way to travel sustainably, rather than experiencing the country at a glance, and scenic Scotland tours are a great way to get outdoors and explore our stunning landscapes.
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6 of the world’s best mountain-rail trips
Imposing mountains, river valleys and glacial lakes await on these high-altitude rail routes.
From a luxurious, multi-day adventure through Peru to a short hop across the border from Switzerland to Italy, these rail routes all have one thing in common — towering mountain views.
1. Darjeeling Himalayan Railway
New Jalpaiguri to Darjeeling, India Since 1881, this old steam train has been a beloved part of northeast India’s forested landscape. Bright blue against emerald-green tea bushes, it weaves in and out of low-hanging cloud, giving a comical toot at every turn. Built by British colonisers, the railway was used to transport tea, rice and other produce up and down the Himalayan foothills.
Today, it’s a hit with Indian families on weekend breaks and rail fans keen to watch traffic grind to a halt as the train crosses the road, rattling past fruit stalls within arm’s reach. On a clear day, passengers will be treated to views of Mount Kanchenjunga, its snowy peak turning peach in the late-afternoon light.
How to do it: The train departs New Jalpaiguri daily at 10.30am and arrives into Darjeeling at 5.30pm. A one-way ticket starts from £10. Visit IRCTC to book .
2. Qinghai–Tibet Railway
Xining, China to Lhasa, Tibet Connecting Xining in Qinghai province to Lhasa in Tibet, this 22-hour journey is the highest rail route in the world. Barrelling around the Qinghai Lake through the night, passengers wake to the hiss of oxygen being pumped into compartments as the train reaches higher altitude, along with the sight of electric blue skies and blazing yellow plateau. Lakes gleam like molten metal and dreadlocked yaks graze up the slopes before the light chills to a blue glow from the icy sides of the Kunlun Mountains closing in around the carriages.
How to do it: A one-way ticket in a hard sleeper starts from £55, excluding the cost of a Tibet permit. Visit Tibet Travel to book .
3. The Skeena
Jasper to Prince Rupert, Canada Known locally as the ‘Rupert Rocket’, the Skeena train departs Jasper National Park three days a week, taking passengers into the deepest wilderness of British Columbia. With the ice-glazed tops of the Canadian Rockies sparkling all around it, the train curls out of Alberta past the Rockies’ highest peak — the majestic Mount Robson — followed by the Cariboo Mountains, at the foot of which lie teal-green lakes as still as glass. From a panoramic dome, passengers can keep eyes peeled for black and grizzly bears, white-tailed deer, elk and moose, as well as bald eagles swooping through the air.
How to do it: A one-way ticket starts from £98, excluding taxes. Visit Via Rail to book .
4. Bernina Express
Chur, Switzerland to Tirano, Italy Short but very sweet, a journey on the Bernina Express takes four hours to wind its way from the city of Chur in the Swiss Alps down to the Italian city of Tirano. Running on a narrow-gauge track that includes 55 tunnels and 196 bridges, the train swings around pine-filled valleys and vertical rock faces with sage-green rapids swirling below.
Fitted with panoramic windows and comfortable leather chairs, the train offers passengers unrivalled views of powder-dusted peaks, gritty glaciers and villages scattered among the slopes. Don’t miss the train crossing the scenic Landwasser River valley on the towering, six-arch viaduct.
How to do it: A second-class, one-way ticket from Chur to Tirano starts from £60. Visit Rhaetian Railway to book .
5. Andean Explorer
Cusco to Arequipa, Peru Starting in the former capital of the Inca Empire, Cusco, the Andean Explorer embarks upon a luxury two-night journey taking passengers high into the canyons and grassy plateaus of the La Raya mountain range. From the cosiness of bunk-bed cabins or double-bed suites, passengers can wake to the sight of a blood-red sunrise over Lake Titicaca before disembarking to sip coffee in the chill of the morning mountain air. Amid long, lavish meals of seared sea bass and crisp duck breast — along with plenty of pisco sours — there are off-board visits to the Uros islands, Sumbay Caves and strolls around green lagoons before the third day’s arrival into Arequipa.
How to do it: A two-person bunk-bed cabin starts from £5,290. Visit Belmond to book .
( 6 of the best luxury trains around the world .)
6. California Zephyr
Chicago to Emeryville, US Journeying 2,438 miles across seven states, the California Zephyr is the second-longest train ride in the US, clocking in at just over 52 hours. The superliner service rumbles through Illinois before crossing over the Mississippi river into Iowa, with Nebraska’s golden prairies and flatlands slipping by through the night. Most passengers will wake as the train pulls into Denver, Colorado, and begins its ascent into the Rocky Mountains, evergreen forests dropping away and flaming rock faces stacking up the sides. From the sightseer lounge there’s a clear view of Colorado’s gaping canyons, followed by the Sierra Nevadas looming in the west.
How to do it: A one-way seat in coach starts from £120. Visit Amtrak to book .
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Monisha Rajesh is the author of Around the World in 80 Trains, £10.99, Bloomsbury.
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Steam and sparkle: 6 of the best Christmas railway journeys in the UK
From Santa Specials for excited children to a luxury Yuletide Evening Express for the grownups, these colourful trips will get you into the festive spirit
T here’s an affinity between trains and Christmas , but what precisely is the connection? Ghostliness comes into it – the mystique of a train in the wintry night. I think of the misty, hypnotic adaptation of Dickens’s story The Signalman, in 1976, part of the BBC’s A Ghost Story for Christmas strand; or the ghost story in the Christmas number of the Railway magazine (that publication’s only excursion into whimsicality is always worth reading).
Prof Paul Salveson, founder of the Community Rail movement, has written some excellent railway ghost stories, but he thinks the more profound connection is that “trains bring us home to our loved ones, and they have a sense of warmth and comfort that cars don’t have”. He recalls, from the 1960s, “lots of “Christmas extras” taking hundreds of people home, to and from Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool, often through snow-swept Pennine landscapes. Salveson finds an echo of that Christmas warmth in some stations today: for example, Paddington, with its Friday night brass band.
The trains themselves are not so warm as when they were literal fire carriers, and when trains feature on Christmas cards – which they often do – they are always steam-hauled. But in recent years, our many steam-oriented heritage railways have embraced Christmas with Dickensian relish, partly because those other child-friendly earners, Thomas the Tank Engine days, have become increasingly expensive to license.
There’s no copyright on Father Christmas (at the time of writing) and most heritage lines offer a Santa Special, while others have gone for licensed events not yet as familiar as Thomas Days, and which do vary from line to line. Professional performers are usually involved in the shows, most of which start later this month.
Here are six of the best lines for families.
Bodmin & Wenford Railway, Santa by Steam
The B&W has been doing Christmas specials “our own way” for decades. The trains run through the Glynn valley, characterised by a spokesperson as “steeply wooded, lots of trees, glimpses of white, rushing water”. Santa’s grotto will be on the train, in the former bedroom of a saloon carriage, built by the Great Western Railway in 1881 to take Edward, Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) to various racecourses and other West Country indulgences. Speaking of which, I can personally recommend the Cornish pasties dished up by the B&W. Running every weekend in December in the lead up to Christmas , and Thursday 21 and Friday 22 Dec, from £ 15.95 , bodminrailway.co.uk
East Lancashire Railway, Santa Specials
The East Lancs is unusual in being a heritage railway based in a large town, its main station being in Bury. It’s also known for its progressive community outreach and the scale of its Christmas festivities. The gritty, part-Victorian, part-1950s Bolton Street station will become a Winter Wonderland, with a “choir” of mechanical polar bears, a “talking Christmas tree”, “red sleigh photo opportunities”, and Father Christmas supplemented by Mrs Claus and an Ice Princess. Nine trains a day over 13 days will serve an expected 40,000 visitors. They will run along the leafy Irwell valley, with Father Christmas handing out toys. Oh, and a brass band will also be on board. Santa Specials start on 25 Nov , from £ 23 , eastlancsrailway.org.uk
Caledonian Railway (Brechin), Polar Express
Polar Express events are licensed entertainments based on the 2004 children’s film, extrapolated from Chris Van Allsburg’s picture book about a nocturnal train that takes a boy to the heart of Christmas. Characters from the film are portrayed, including the dancing chefs, and participants old and young are encouraged to wear their pyjamas (at least as outer garments). Of the railways offering this, the one nearest the actual pole is the Caledonian Railway (Brechin), which runs from a town of 7,000 people (Brechin) to a village of about 20 (Bridge of Dun), through agricultural scenes that have hardly changed since the line opened in 1848. Starting 18 Nov, from £28.95 plus booking fee, caledonianrailway.com
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Epping Ongar Railway, Lights Express
“Light trains” are another standard attraction, albeit with local variations. Trains are draped in lights that change colour, illuminating the engine’s steam; there are also interior light shows, coordinated to music. This entertainment is likely to seem particularly surreal on the EO because of its coloured steam will be observable amid the trees of Epping Forest, which adjoins the line. Starting 25 Nov, from £20, eorailway.co.uk
Nene Valley Railway, Yuletide Evening Express
This train, operating only on 9 and 16 December between Wansford and Peterborough, is for age 12 and upwards, so the emphasis is on drinks (and nibbles), and the pedigree of the “luxury European coaches” involved. These include an Italian restaurant car of 1926 with marquetry panels in rich mahogany framing and fine brass luggage racks. There is also a Belgian coach from the 1930s, which played the part of a bar car in the 2010 TV film Murder on the Orient Express. The coaches are magnificent, but trainspotterish literalism obliges me to mention that there never was a bar car on the real Orient Express. (The NVR is also running Santa Specials .) Yuletide Express 9 and 16 Dec, table for two £90 , nvr.org.uk
North York Moors Railway, Santa Specials
The NYMR’s Santa Specials start from either Pickering or Grosmont stations. The former has the matt green trimmings of the inter-war LNER; the latter is in ivory and oriental blue, the strangely exotic colour scheme of BR North Eastern Region. Apparently, a strong rivalry has sprung up between the “station teams”, as to which can best supplement these historical themes with Christmas decorations. The line’s Santa Specials will feature the usual cast of characters and gift-giving, but landscape is what makes the NYMR special: lowering winter skies and the variegated shades of the moorland heather ensure that any photograph taken from (or of) its trains is a ready-made Christmas card. Starting 25 Nov , £ 30 , nymr.co.uk
Andrew Martin is the author of Steam Trains Today
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