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One-week scenic Scotland by train itinerary

One-week scenic Scotland by train itinerary

Travel across Scotland by train from the lowlands to the highlands, with historic cities, ruined castles, deep blue lochs, mountain peaks and wild moorland along the way. This one-week journey takes you from the cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow, north into the Scottish Highlands and across to the magical Isle of Skye before finishing in Inverness – and includes two of the UK’s most spectacular rail routes. This Scenic Scotland by train itinerary will show you which trains to take, how much they cost, how to book and what to see and do.

Read more: Five great one-week rail trip route ideas for Europe and Britain

One-week scenic Scotland by train itinerary

One-week scenic Scotland by train itinerary map
Scenic Scotland by train map

Day 1: Edinburgh

Start your trip around Scotland by train with a full day in Edinburgh. Visit the historic highlights of the Old Town – listen to bagpipers on the cobbled streets of the Royal Mile, learn about Scotland’s history at the National Museum of Scotland, hear the One O’clock Gun being fired at Edinburgh Castle, take a tour of the Queen’s Scottish residence the Palace of Holyroodhouse, or follow in the footsteps of Harry Potter on Victoria Street.

Or head across to the wide Georgian streets of the New Town to admire the artworks at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, wander along the leafy Water of Leith or watch the sun set from the top of Calton Hill. Or why not check out some of Edinburgh’s more unusual attractions? Go underground to the buried streets of Mary King’s Close, visit the gory Surgeons’ Hall Museum (if you’re not too squeamish) or take an evening ghost tour.

Victoria Street, Edinburgh
Victoria Street

Edinburgh’s an unexpected gem for foodies, with a range of food and drink tours where you can try local delicacies – from handmade chocolates and Scottish cheeses to whisky tasting at the Scotch Whisky Experience* and distillery tours at Edinburgh Gin.

Where to stay in Edinburgh: Splash out on a stay on the Royal Mile at the gloriously over-the-top Witchery by the Castle*. This 16th-century Gothic hotel has nine suites with four-poster beds and rolltop baths, eclectically decorated with antiques, artworks, gilt and velvet. It’s full of old-school glamour, with one of the city’s most romantic restaurants.

Read more: Visiting Edinburgh on a budget

Calton Hill, Edinburgh
Calton Hill

Day 2: Edinburgh > Glasgow

Next morning, catch the train from Edinburgh Waverley to Glasgow Central or Queen Street (which are a short walk from each other). The journey only takes an hour with trains running frequently, so you can decide how early you want to get going. Then you have the rest of the day in Glasgow. Where Edinburgh is all about history, Scotland’s second city has a bit more of an edge, transforming itself from industrial centre to city of art and culture.

Admire the Art Nouveau designs of Glasgow’s famous son Charles Rennie Mackintosh at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum or over afternoon tea at the Willow Tea Rooms. Or explore some of the city’s more contemporary artworks on the City Centre Mural Trail, a self-guided walk through Glasgow, linking 25 works by different local artists.

Artwork on Glasgow's City Centre Mural Trail
Artwork on the City Centre Mural Trail

Take a walk along the River Clyde past the modern architecture of the SSE Hydro and Armadillo to the quirky Riverside transport and travel museum, where you can take a tour of the Glenlee, a restored tall ship that’s one of just a few built on the Clyde that are still afloat. Or isit Scotland’s oldest museum, the Hunterian, on the campus of the University of Glasgow, and explore the city’s medieval cathedral and atmospheric hillside Necropolis.

Where to stay in Glasgow: The Grasshoppers Hotel* couldn’t be better located for train travellers – it’s right next door to Glasgow Central Station, close to Merchant City’s shops, bars and restaurants. Rooms are smart and comfortable, with penthouse views over the city and special touches like handmade wallpapers, vintage cameras and free cupcakes.

Read more: A weekend in Glasgow: A 48-hour itinerary

The Riverside Museum in Glasgow
The Riverside Museum

Day 3: Glasgow > Fort William

Then head north on the 3 hour 45 minute journey to Fort William in the Scottish Highlands, departing Glasgow Queen Street at 08.23 and arriving in Fort William at 12.08. The West Highland Line is one of the world’s most scenic train trips, running along the banks of Loch Lomond, around Horseshoe Curve at Ben Dorain, past the UK’s highest altitude train station in Corrour and across remote Rannoch Moor on a line suspended above a peat bog.

Fort William is set on the banks of Loch Linnhe in the shadow of the UK’s highest mountain – Ben Nevis – making the town a real hub for hikers, bikers and other adventure-seekers. The climb to the top of Ben Nevis takes five–seven hours, weather permitting, so you might have to add in an extra day to your trip if you want to tackle the peak.

Train near Bridge of Orchy on the West Highland Line in Scotland
The train through the Highlands

If you fancy something more sedate, it’s a pretty 1.5-mile walk along the River Lochy to the ruins of 13th-century Old Inverlochy Castle and the Ben Nevis Distillery, where you can do a tour and tasting of their whiskies. You can also learn more about the history of the Highlands (and see Rob Roy’s sporran) at Fort William’s West Highland Museum.

Where to stay in Fort William: Spend the night behind bars in a former police station at The Garrison* in the centre of Fort William. Choose from a modern en-suite room, or an original cell that’s been converted into compact double or bunk room with shared bathroom.

Read more: Highland highlights: 13 things to do in Fort William and Glencoe

The ruins of Old Inverlochy Castle near Fort William in Scotland
Old Inverlochy Castle

Day 4: Fort William > Isle of Skye

The following day, reboard the West Highland Line for the 1.5-hour journey from Fort William to Mallaig, crossing the curving Glenfinnan Viaduct and passing lochs and the sandy beaches of Morar along the way. If you depart Fort William at 12.12 you arrive into Mallaig at 13.34.

Or from April to October you can also ride the Jacobite steam train, better known as the Hogwarts Express (departs Fort William at 10.25 and arrives in Mallaig at 12.25). Then swap the train for the ferry to the Isle of Skye, which leaves Mallaig at 14.45, so you have time for lunch – try locally caught prawns or fish and chips at the Fishmarket Restaurant.

The ferry takes 45 minutes to reach Armadale in Skye. From there you can catch the 52 bus to Portree (changing in Broadford), but buses are slow and infrequent so it may be worth booking a taxi if there are a group of you – it takes an hour and costs around £85.

The Jacobite steam train crosses the Glenfinnan Viaduct
The Jacobite steam train crosses the Glenfinnan Viaduct

Portree is the capital and largest town on the Isle of Skye, set around a picturesque harbour with pastel-painted houses and surrounded by hills. It’s the hub of transport and tours for the island, and a good place to shop for souvenirs, with local producers including the Isle of Skye Soap Co, Skyeskyns and Isle of Skye Distillers all having shops in the town.

Where to stay in Portree: The Cuillin Hills Hotel* is half a mile outside of Portree but comes with a knockout view across the Bay of Portree to the Cuillin Mountains from its 15-acre gardens. Inside are lots of traditional Scottish touches, from tartan fabrics to local seafood in the restaurant and a malt whisky bar with over 130 varieties to choose from.

Read more: Isle of Skye itinerary: The best of the island in 3 days

Portree harbour on the Isle of Skye
Portree harbour on Skye

Day 5: Isle of Skye

Today you have the whole day to explore the Isle of Skye – buses connect Portree with most parts of the island, but an easier option is to either hire a car for the day (book in advance as availability’s limited) or take a guided day tour of Skye’s highlights. A 9-hour, small group day tour* costs £54 per person, departing Portree at 9am and returning at 6pm.

The Isle of Skye is known for its magical landscapes, with dramatic rock formations around the Quiraing which look like something from another planet (and are a film location favourite). Admire the 200-foot stone Old Man of Storr and the steep cliffs at Kilt Rock. Visit the lighthouse at Neist Point and look out for dolphins and whales, or tour imposing lochside Dunvegan Castle, which is the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland.

Skye has plenty of myths and legends, and you can get away with the fairies at the Fairy Glen, a grassy glen with rock spirals and ancient trees dripping with moss. Or follow the 1.5-mile path to the Fairy Pools with their clear green waters and cascading waterfalls.

The Fairy Pools waterfalls in the Isle of Skye, Scotland
The Fairy Pools

Day 6: Isle of Skye > Inverness

The next day, catch the CityLink bus from Portree to Kyle of Lochalsh, where you pick up the train for the journey to Inverness. There are a couple of different options – the 10.15 bus from Portree arrives in Kyle at 11.16. Or if you’d like to visit nearby Eilean Donan Castle, catch the 07.30 bus from Portree to Dornie, arriving at 08.50, spend a few hours at the castle and then travel back to Kyle of Lochalsh on the 11.44 service (which takes around 15 minutes).

Then catch the 13.46 train from Kyle of Lochalsh for the 2 hour 40 minute journey to Inverness, arriving at 16.27. The Kyle Line is another of the UK’s top scenic train routes. Opened in 1870, it runs through remote landscapes, following the water with views of Syke, across moorland and past the Torridon Peaks – keep an eye out for deer on the way.

Views from the Kyle Line train to Inverness
Views from the Kyle Line

Spend the evening in Inverness – capital of the Highlands. Follow the pathway along the River Ness to the Ness Islands, a group of tree-covered islands connected by elegant Victorian footbridges. Or head up to Inverness Castle to watch the sun set over the city, before checking out some of Inverness’ live music scene at pubs like Hootananny.

Where to stay in Inverness: End your trip in style with a night at the five-star Rocpool Reserve*. This Georgian house has been converted into a lavish boutique hotel with bar and restaurant. Its luxurious rooms come with Egyptian cotton bedding, emperor-size beds and 24-hour room service – and some have outdoor hot tubs, saunas or balconies.

Read more: A weekend in Inverness: A 48-hour itinerary

Bridge in Inverness Scotland
The River Ness

Day 7: Inverness

Spend the final morning of your Scotland by train trip exploring more of Inverness. You can learn about the history and culture of the Highlands at the Inverness Museum and Art Gallery and shop for secondhand books at Leakley’s. Or if you have time you can take a half-day trip out to either Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle, or the battlefield at Culloden.

Then if you’re flying back home, Inverness Airport is 10 miles north of the city. The two are connected by the 11A bus, which takes around 35 minutes. Or if you’re travelling back to Edinburgh, the train journey from Inverness takes 3.5 hours. There’s also the Caledonian Sleeper overnight train which connects Inverness to London in around 11 hours.

Sunset at Urquhart Castle by Loch Ness
Sunset at Urquhart Castle

More time?

If you have more time, you could head north to John O-Groats – the most northerly point of mainland Britain – Caithness and the Cromarty Firth on a day tour* from Inverness. Or catch the train south to Aviemore in the Cairngorms National Park for mountain hikes in summer, skiing in winter and the Strathspey Steam Railway. There are also plenty more Scottish cities to discover nearby, including Dundee, Aberdeen and the university city of St Andrews.

West Sands Beach, St Andrews Scotland
West Sands Beach in St Andrews

How much does it cost?

When you’re planning a Scottish rail trip, you can either book individual tickets or get a railpass, which can be a better deal if you’re under 28/over 60, want more flexibility or are booking late. Here’s how the prices break down for the two different options on this route.

Individual tickets

Ticket prices depend on how early you book and if you’re booking a specific train or want to be flexible. There are three main fare categories: Advance, Off-Peak or Anytime. Advance are cheapest and can be booked 8–12 weeks in advance, but are non-transferable so you’re tied to a specific train. Off-Peak services are valid on any train outside weekday peak hours. And Anytime are the most expensive but can be bought on the day and used on any train.

Greyfriars Bobby's statue in Edinburgh
Greyfriars Bobby’s statue in Edinburgh

Using the cheapest Advance fares, the cost of trains on this route starts at £89 per person:

  • Edinburgh > Glasgow: from £13.40
  • Glasgow > Fort William: from £32.70
  • Fort William > Mallaig: from £13.80
  • Mallaig > Armadale (by ferry): from £3
  • Kyle of Lochalsh > Inverness: from £25.60

You can also save a third on all rail fares with a Railcard*. These cost £30 and there are different versions for 16–25s, 25–30s, Seniors and Disabled People. You can also get a Two Together railcard for two named adults travelling together, or a Friends and Family Railcard for up to four adults and four children. Both UK and overseas residents are eligible.

Deer in the woodland near Glencoe
Highland wildlife

The railpass option

There are various rail passes available, and which you’re eligible for depends on where you live. If you live outside the UK, you can can get a InterRail/Eurail* pass (InterRail is for European residents and Eurail is for non-European residents). For this itinerary, the best option is the One Country Great Britain pass for 4 travel days within 1 month, which costs €218 for adults, €189 for youths aged 12–27 or €196 for seniors in second class.

ScotRail also offers its own rail passes, which are available to both UK and overseas residents. The best option for the Scenic Scotland by train itinerary is the Spirit of Scotland Pass for 4 days within 8 days, with unlimited travel by train, ferry and coach. It costs £149 for adults, half price for children aged 5–15 and there are discounts for Railcard holders.

Passholders are recommended to make seat reservations – though it’s probably only worth doing for long-distance services or at busy peak times so you’re guaranteed to get a seat – which you can do for free at any UK train station up to two hours before departure.

Outside Inverness Castle and statue of Flora MacDonald
Inverness Castle

How to book

There are a variety of websites where you can book UK train journeys, but most charge a booking fee. To avoid the fee you can either book direct with ScotRail or with Raileasy* – you can use international credit cards and either use a mobile ticket on your phone or collect them from a ticket machine or a counter at the station.

Read more train travel posts

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Scenic Scotland by train: A one-week rail itinerary of castles, lochs and mountains, from Edinburgh to Glasgow, Fort William and the Scottish Highlands, Inverness and the Isle of Skye | Scotland by train | Visit Scotland | Scotland itineraryVisiting Scotland by train – a one-week scenic Scottish rail trip itinerary, featuring, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Fort William, the Isle of Skye and Inverness, with details of what trains to book, how much they cost and what to see and do | Scotland by train | Visit Scotland | Scotland itinerary

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Josephine faler

Sunday 29th of August 2021

Glad we found your site! We are visiting our daughter in London for 2 weeks, and wanting to do some train travel up to Scotland. We will be there in mid October, are the colors all gone, what’s the weather like? Once we arrive at the towns/cities you have outlined, can we walk to explore or can we Uber?

Lucy Dodsworth

Monday 6th of September 2021

Hi Josephine, you should still get some autumn colours in mid-October (if you click through to my posts from the Isle of Skye the photos there were taken around that time). Most places you can easily get around on foot (though you might want to take a tour to explore Skye) bu Edinburgh and Glasgow have Uber too (and Glasgow has a small subway) .

Mark L

Friday 2nd of July 2021

Nice! Going to do this soon. What do you think is thg he best time of year for the trip?

Lucy Dodsworth

Monday 5th of July 2021

I really like Scotland in September as you miss the worst of the crowds and midges, there's good availability but places are still open, plus the autumn colours towards the end of the month are beautiful!

Teri Hurley

Wednesday 24th of March 2021

I just wonder about dragging your luggage all over on a day to day basis. I assume many hotels are not going to be open upon arrival for checking in so you have to hope they will store it for you?? Other than that it seems like fun. )

Lucy Dodsworth

Wednesday 24th of March 2021

Hi Teri, most hotels allow you to leave your luggage with them even if you can't check in yet, or there are left-luggage facilities at the main stations like Edinburgh, Glasgow and Inverness. There are also companies like Nanny Bag or Stasher where you can pay to leave a bag at a range of shops or hotels you don't have to be staying at so there are lots of options (though it's easiest if you pack light!).

Dimitrios Fanourios Pischinas

Saturday 20th of February 2021

We plan to visit Scotland in the summer. And taking the train is not a bad idea! Thank you for the inspiration. Keep up the good work!

Lucy Dodsworth

Monday 8th of March 2021

You're very welcome – hope you have a wonderful trip!