Scotland has a variety of landscapes, including lochs, rivers, shoreline, and mountain ranges, including the famous Munros, as well as towns and cities that highlight art, architecture, and history. However, because it is spread out over a large area of land, traveling by train makes sense if you want to see it all. We’ve selected six of the greatest. Welcome aboard!
Borders Railway Company
This line, which reopened in September 2015 after being shuttered for more than 40 years, connects Edinburgh Waverley with Tweedbank and has introduced seven new stations to the Scottish rail network since its reinstatement. This engineering marvel makes it the longest railway built in the United Kingdom in a century, traveling through woodlands, moorland, and vast swaths of empty space. Visit Rosslyn Chapel in Eskbank or continue on to Tweedbank to see Sir Walter Scott’s house, Abbotsford House. The world’s longest tapestry, The Great Tapestry of Scotland, is set to be rehoused in a new tourist center in Galashiels, the Borders Line’s penultimate station, in spring 2021.
Inverness to Edinburgh
Head north from Waverley, and you’ll soon reach the huge Firth of Forth, complete with the Forth Rail Bridge, a Unesco World Heritage Site and incredible marvel of engineering. As the train travels further, it leaves the water behind and the rolling plains and woods become steeper and more rocky. Beyond Perth, the railway enters the Highlands, where the mountains, as the name says, begin to appear. From the comfort of your seat, you can expect to view deer, mountain hare, mountain steep canyons, and roaring waterfalls. The train goes higher and higher, and the mountains are frequently covered with snow. Get off at Aviemore, where you can board the Strathspey Steam Railway or continue on to Inverness, the Highlands’ capital.
Strathspey Steam Railway is a steam railway in Scotland.
The Strathspey Railway Company reopened this route to passengers in 1978 after it was closed to travellers in 1965. It is obviously more about the journey than the destination. A historic steam engine pulls your comfy carriage over the Cairngorm mountains, where you may see eagles and ospreys. This may sound like enough of a lure in and of itself, but the train also boasts fantastic dining options and, for the true railway aficionado, the opportunity to operate it and fire the steam engine itself.
Cairngorm Guest House, a Victorian-style B&B 10 minutes’ walk from the train station, is an excellent choice for an overnight stay in Aviemore. It boasts 12 country-style rooms, some with spectacular mountain views, and serves complimentary cooked breakfast in the snug dining room or the conservatory, with vegetarian alternatives available.
The Kyle Line departs from Inverness and winds its way through mountains and lochs, past beaches and animals. This is a great area to see the golden eagle or the even larger white-tailed sea eagle, sometimes known as the flying barn door. There are plenty of deer, and you can even spy an otter from your seat. When you disembark in Kyle of Lochalsh on the west coast, you will be at the entryway to the Isle of Skye and the islands to the west.
If you’re staying in Kyle of Lochalsh, we recommend the Kyle Hotel, which has unfussy rooms with a Scottish twist, as well as a pleasant tavern and restaurant. If you’re planning a trip to Skye, choose from our exhaustive list of accommodations ranging from seaside B&Bs to luxury glamping pods.
The Northern Line
This route, like the Kyle line, heads north out of Inverness and twists over mountains and lochs to the top of Scotland and the cities of Thurso and Wick. It’s a long voyage because the topography forces the track to curve and twist, causing your train to frequently double back on itself. There are gorgeous villages along the way, as well as request stops, which are frequently nothing more than a platform in the middle of harsh, uninhabited territory. Highlights along the way include seals and dolphins in the North Sea, untamed glens teeming with wildlife, and the Flow Country, an incredible stretch of blanket bog. If you get off at Dunrobin Castle, show your ticket to obtain a discount on admission.
Leave the railway at Thurso and take the ferry to the Orkney Islands, where you may choose from our list of the best locations to stay. Alternatively, continue on to Wick and take a bus to John O’Groats. There are few options for lodging in this area, although there are some excellent, warm and hospitable B&Bs in Wick, such as Bank Guest House and the Clachan.
The West Highland Line is a railway line in Scotland.
The West Highland Line, which runs from Glasgow to Mallaig on Scotland’s west coast, has been voted the best railway journey in the world. The breathtaking environment includes the immense Rannoch Moor, some of the highest hills in the UK, and Morar’s silver beaches. Expect children, as well as adults, to shout, ‘This is Harry Potter bridge!’ The famed Hogwarts Express, which left Platform 9 3/4, appeared on parts of this route in multiple films, and the ‘bridge’ is the Glenfinnan Viaduct, which provides spectacular views of Loch Shiel and the Highlander’s memorial. Arisaig, the furthest west station on the UK mainland, is one of the final stations on the itinerary, with breathtaking views out to the islands of Muck, Eigg, and Rum. In the summer, the voyage between Fort William and Mallaig can be made even more romantic by using the steam engine, The Jacobite.
Take a sea-facing accommodation at the similarly quaint West Highland Hotel or The Chlachain Inn for great pub grub and stunning views across the harbour.