More than just a manner of getting from A to B, a train journey around Scotland can be one of the best (and most comfortable!) ways of admiring the stunning landscapes around the country. Where else can you see hundreds of miles of misty mountains, glittering lochs, quaint villages and even elegant mansions, all with a cup of tea in hand and no chance of getting caught in the rain?!
From overnight journeys deep into the Highlands to quick round trips perfect for kids, Scotland’s railways offer dozens of unforgettable journeys with great service and amazing views. Read on to find out about great Scottish rail routes and start planning your next trip.
The West Highland Line
Widely regarded as one of the world’s greatest train journeys, the West Highland Line is known to millions as the railway that took Harry Potter from Platform 9 and ¾ all the way to Hogwarts. The route, serviced by Abellio Scotrail, leads from Glasgow to Mallaig on the west coast, passing over the iconic Glenfinnan Viaduct and offering breathtaking views of locations such as Loch Shiel, Loch Eilt and Ben Nevis, many of which can also be seen in the Harry Potter films.
For a truly magical day out, hop on the old-fashioned Jacobite Steam Train at Fort William, pack a picnic to enjoy as you explore the charming Mallaig Bay, or stop off at Arisaig to take a walk along one of the Highlands’ best beaches. Visitors travelling from England can also catch the Caledonian Sleeper at London Euston and be swept up to the Highlands overnight, waking up to stunning views of Rannoch Moor before arriving in Fort William.
The Far North Line
Britain’s most rural railway, the Far North Lines is run by Abellio Scotrail and connects Inverness with Thurso and Wick at the northern limits of the Highlands. The full journey takes around four hours and leads you through hundreds of miles of beautiful varied landscapes, from peatland bogs and minuscule hamlets to the gates of the magnificent Dunrobin Castle.
The Kyle Line
Departing from Inverness, the Kyle Line leads through charming Highland villages such as Achnasheen and Plockton before arriving in Kyle of Lochalsh. Along the route, also run by Abellio Scotrail, you’ll pass idyllic beaches and tranquil lochs, all set to a backdrop of untouched Highland hillsides – you might even spot herons, eagles or otters if you’re lucky!
The Royal Scotsman
Should you ever happen to find yourself with a couple of grand burning a hole in your pocket, treat yourself to a once-in-a-lifetime trip on the truly glamorous Royal Scotsman. This ultra-exclusive train offers fine dining and five-star hospitality as it whisks travellers around the country on unforgettable luxury breaks, stopping off for day trips and distillery tours along the way.
Strathspey Steam Railway
See the majestic Cairngorm mountains from the comfort of a plush carriage on a trip along the Strathspey Steam Railway. Ideal for kids, the journey lasts 90 minutes round trip and connects Aviemore with Broomhill: tuck into afternoon tea or a three-course Sunday lunch on board the train, or hop off at Boat of Garten to spot ospreys and other wildlife at the nearby RSPB reserve.
Bo’ness & Kinneil Railway
Another great option for young travellers is the Bo’ness & Kinneil Railway, just outside Falkirk, which passes by the local nature reserve, estate and museum at Kinneil and the charming vintage railway station at Birkhill. Wee ones can enjoy a day out with Thomas the Tank Engine, while bigger kids climb aboard heritage locomotives at the Museum of Scottish Railways in Bo’ness, the largest of its kind in Scotland.
Serviced by Abellio Scotrail, this beautiful route winds a path down the south-west coast of Scotland, past some of the country’s most revered golf courses and into the heart of Robert Burns country. Look out for the ruins of Glenluce Abbey, believed to date back to 1192, and the 16th century Baltersan Castle between Ayr and Girvan. Abellio Scotrail also run several other scenic routes around the country: see the best of Ayrshire and Dumfries & Galloway along the Glasgow-Kilmarnock-Carlisle Line, and look out for the Borders Railway Line later in 2015.
The Forth Rail Bridge
No Scottish rail experience is complete without a trip across the Forth Rail Bridge! Connecting Edinburgh with Fife, this remarkable structure has the second-longest single cantilever span of any bridge in the world and is currently being considered for UNESCO World Heritage status. Look out onto great views of the Firth of Forth as you speed across the rails, or celebrate the bridge’s 125th birthday at the Forth Bridges Festival in September 2015.
Find more information on planning and booking your trip on our travel page, or check out our recommended apps for more ideas and inspiration: Scottish National Heritage’s View from the Train app gives you exclusive insights into Scotland’s main rail routes, while the Discover Scotland by Rail iPad app offers a sneak preview of what you’ll see from the tracks on your next unforgettable journey.
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