Endless lochs, rugged mountains, rolling green hills, crumbling castles, whisky distilleries—what’s not to love about gorgeously scenic Scotland? Best of all, Scotland’s super easy to explore by train. Our seven-day guide to the best train routes through Scotland takes you through magnificent vistas that will leave a lasting impression.
Day 1: London to Edinburgh
Once you reach Edinburgh, you’ll want to explore its history and hilly scenery. Stroll along the cobblestoned Royal Mile to Edinburgh Castle on one end and the Palace of Holyroodhouse, former home of Mary Queen of Scots, on the other.
If you’re a history, science or design buff, the National Museum of Scotland is worth a look. For more exercise, take a short hike up Arthur’s Seat, located in Holyrood Park, to catch perhaps the best view in town.
Day 2: Edinburgh to Glasgow
In the morning, take an hour-long ScotRail or Avanti West Coast train over to Scotland’s second city, Glasgow. Spend your day exploring all the things to see and do in Glasgow. The Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum is a good place to start; peruse its 22 art galleries with objects ranging from Scottish wildlife to Glasgow Style Art Nouveau from famed Scottish architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh, including stunning tearoom interiors.
Then step back in time at the 12th-century Glasgow Cathedral, with its lovely Post-War stained-glass windows. Stroll along the rejuvenated River Clyde to the interactive Riverside Museum of Transport and Travel, designed by Zaha Hadid, before capping off your day with a visit to The Clydeside Distillery, the first Single Malt Scotch Whisky producer to open in Glasgow in a century.
Day 3: Glasgow to Fort William
Today’s all about the journey, as you head from the Lowlands to the Highlands on what some call the most scenic train journey in the world: the West Highland Line. The nearly four-hour ScotRail train passes by stupendous scenery as it travels north along Scotland’s west coast. You’ll first head through Loch Lomond, Great Britain’s largest lake, containing more than 30 islands and surrounded by hills. Loch Lomond sits within The Trossachs National Park, a lovely place to stop for a hike or boat ride; take a waterbus or rent your own boat.
Continue on the train to Crianlarich, where the line splits into two sections—one to Oban and one to Fort William. Stay on the Fort William line to pass through Corrour, the highest railway station in the U.K., before traveling into Rannoch Moor, an otherworldly land of bogs and rivers that’s one of Europe’s last existing wilderness areas. You’ll cross this moorland by train for 23 miles before heading west to the banks of Loch Leven.
There you’ll veer north to Fort William, home to some of the loveliest scenery of the trip: the peak of Ben Nevis, the U.K.’s highest mountain (called a “Munro” in Scotland, for any mountain more than 3,000 ft tall). The Ben Nevis Distillery, to the north of Fort William, makes a fine stop for a tipple.
Day 4: Fort William to Mallaig
If you’re in Scotland between April and October, you’ll be lucky enough to experience the romantic steam-powered Jacobite Steam Train, better known as the Harry Potter Train, since Hogwarts Express traveled parts of this route in the Harry Potter movies. (ScotRail’s West Highland Line train also plies the same route). The Jacobite Steam Train follows the Road to the Isles, with stupendous views of mountains, lochs and beaches.
Your train first crosses Glenfinnan Viaduct, with its 21 arches, offering wonderful outlooks on Loch Shiel and the mossy green hills. From there, continue west to Arisaig, a coastal village with charming white sand beaches known as the Silver Sands of Morar set alongside Loch Morar, the deepest freshwater lake in the British Isles. Be sure to gaze upon the islands in the distance with evocative names—Eigg, Muck and Rùm.
From Arisaig, it’s another 20-minute train ride north to Mallaig, on Scotland’s northwest coast. After disembarking in this bustling fishing port, treat yourself to a tasty fish and chips dinner.
Day 5: Mallaig to Armadale (Isle of Skye)
Catch the 45-minute ferry from Mallaig to Armadale on the Isle of Skye, a picturesque island known for its castles, waterfalls and dramatic coastline. Once you arrive, take a bus to Portree, the island’s largest town. From there, you can catch buses to sights around the island: the jagged landscapes of the Quiraing; the wonderful views from the steep, rocky hill called The Storr; the blue and green waterfalls of the Fairy Pools; and imposing Dunvegan Castle, occupied by the same family for 800 years.
Either spend the night in Portree or take the bus to Kyle of Lochalsh, a village on Loch Alsh.
Day 6: Kyle of Lochalsh to Inverness/Inverness to Thurso and Wick
Hop on the Kyle Line, a ScotRail train that travels about two hours and 40 minutes east to Inverness. Soon after you start your journey, you’ll get a glimpse of the dramatic Torridon Peaks. All along the route, you’ll spy lovely lochs and moors. Once you reach Inverness, wander its old town, stopping in 19th-century Inverness Cathedral and Inverness Castle.
If you’re feeling adventurous, catch The Far North Line to the very northern tip of Scotland—from Inverness to the towns of Thurso and Wick. The ScotRail train covers 160 miles over about four hours to Thurso and four-and-a-half hours to Wick; you’ll meander past vast stretches of remote land and rivers along the way. Once in Wick, take a short bus ride to see the unspoiled scenery of John o’Groats.
Day 7: Inverness to Edinburgh or London
To return to Edinburgh by train, take the three-and-a-half-hour ScotRail option through picturesque Cairngorms National Park, the U.K.’s largest national park. Or if you’re headed directly back to London by train, opt for the Caledonian Sleeper, one of Europe’s most scenic and amenity-rich routes, which drops you off at London Euston just in time for a morning cuppa.