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.
One-week scenic Scotland by train itinerary
Day 1: Edinburgh
Start your trip around Scotland by train with a full day in Edinburgh. Spend the day visiting 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.
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.
Edinburgh’s an unexpected gem for foodies, with a range of Edinburgh 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 right 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 furnished with antiques, artworks, gilt and velvet. It’s packed with old-school glamour, with one of the city’s most romantic restaurants attached.
Read more: Visiting Edinburgh on a budget
Day 2: Edinburgh > Glasgow
Next morning, catch the train from Edinburgh Waverley to Glasgow Central or Queen Street (which are within a short walk of each other). The journey only takes around 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 the 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 which runs through Glasgow, linking 25 works by different local artists.
Take a walk along the River Clyde past the dramatic 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 you can visit 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 the shops, bars and restaurants of Merchant City. Rooms are smart and comfortable, with penthouse views over the city rooftops and special touches like handmade wallpapers, vintage cameras and free cupcakes.
Read more: A weekend in Glasgow: A 48-hour itinerary
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 into 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 around 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 yourself.
If you fancy something a bit more sedate, it’s a pretty 1.5-mile walk along the banks of 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.
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’ll 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 10.25 and arrives into 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 before you set off – 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.
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 about 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 there 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.
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 the highlights of Skye. A 9-hour, small group day tour costs £50 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 where dolphins and whales are spotted offshore, 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.
Day 6: Isle of Skye > Inverness
The next day, catch the CityLink bus from Portree to Kyle of Lochalsh, where you’ll 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, you can 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’s edge with views back to Syke, across moorland and past the Torridon Peaks – keep an eye out for deer along the way.
Spend the evening in Inverness – the capital of the Highlands. You can 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 hotel. This Georgian house has been converted into a lavish boutique hotel with bar and restaurant. The luxurious rooms come with Egyptian cotton bedding, emperor-size beds and 24-hour room service – and some have outdoor hot tubs, saunas or private balconies.
Read more: A weekend in Inverness: A 48-hour itinerary
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 around 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.
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 of other Scottish cities to discover nearby, including Dundee, Aberdeen and the university city of 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.
Ticket prices depend on how early you book and whether you are booking a specific train or want to be flexible. There are three main fare categories: Advance, Off-Peak or Anytime. Advance are the 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.
Using the cheapest Advance fares, the total 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 which covers up to four adults and four children. Both UK and overseas residents are eligible.
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 InterRail/Eurail 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 (60+) in second class.
ScotRail also offers its own rail passes, which are available to both UK and overseas residents. The best option for this Scenic Scotland by train itinerary is the Spirit of Scotland Pass for 4 days within 8 days, which gives you 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.
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 Rail Europe – 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.
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