The Most Beautiful Train Journeys in Scotland
Take the Hogwarts Express, explore the Highlands, and fly from capital to capital on the UK’s most iconic route.
There’s something a bit magical about train journeys in Scotland. Yes, you might spend more time commuting on crowded carriages than you’d like, but travelling for pleasure through this wild, untamed landscape is a whole different ride. Snag yourself a first class ticket, something tasty from the dining car, and prepare to appreciate the scenery you’d never be able to admire if you were driving. And of course, the cherry on top of any amazing journey is an amazing destination – which we’ve taken care of for you, by scouting out some truly gorgeous Plum Guide homes conveniently close to the most spectacular train journeys in Scotland. Tickets, please!
You don’t have to be the kind of train-spotter who stands on station platforms noting names and numbers to recognise the Flying Scotsman. The original steam engine has been named as the most famous locomotive in the world (we can’t imagine who the competition was – Thomas the Tank Engine?) but today you’re more likely to find it in the National Railway Museum than on the tracks – it is almost a hundred years old, after all. However, the London-to-Edinburgh route it travelled (also named the Flying Scotsman) is still very much in operation, taking passengers on a truly beautiful trip through some of the UK’s most stunning scenery. It’s undoubtedly one of the best train journeys in Scotland, even taking into account that half the route is in England – we’ll overlook the border just this once.
West Highland Line
If the names Dobby, Hedwig and Hagrid mean anything to you, you'll already be familiar with the West Highland Line. This line has been immortalised in the Harry Potter films as the route taking young witches and wizards to Hogwarts. In real life, the line travels from Glasgow to, you guessed it, the West Highlands but even without a magical school as the destination it’s a pretty enchanting ride. The most notable section of the route, and the bit that will have Potter fans reaching for their cameras, is when the train crosses the Glenfinnan Viaduct, but the entire route is worth experiencing – admire Scotland’s craggy mountain landscape and heather-covered hills from the window as you tuck into a teacake from the dining cart. It’s considered by many to be one of the most scenic train journeys in the world, not just Scotland, and the perfect way to add a bit of magic to any holiday.
Far North Line
Inverness is where you’ll find the start of the Far North Line, and the end of the modern world. As you venture further into the Highlands you’ll struggle to believe you’re in the 21st century – this rugged landscape has remained unchanged and unspoilt for hundreds of years, with red deer roaming moorlands, majestic mountain peaks disappearing into clouds, and lochs hiding all manner of sea monsters. (Maybe.) The Far North Line stretches all the way up the coastline to Wick, which is a stone’s throw from John O’Groats if you’re thinking of eloping. If you’re not, simply take a seat on the right hand side of the train and admire the stunning coastal scenery. As well as being the base for one of the most beautiful train journeys in Scotland, Inverness is well worth a visit in its own right – explore the Victorian Market with its quaint shopping stalls, play pretend in the ruins of Urquhart Castle, and go Nessie-hunting. If you’re brave enough, that is.
West Coast Route
Though the Highlands is the place that most commonly captures tourist’s imaginations, you can’t come here and miss out on exploring the lower regions of Scotland. The West Coast Route is the perfect way to do so – forget about navigating those old maps from the glove box and the inevitable call to AA when you break down in the middle of nowhere. Just sit back in first class and watch the view as you travel from Glasgow to the heart of Ayr, seeing a side of Scotland that many visitors miss. On the way, you can stop at the Isle of Arran, visit some spectacular castles (it is Scotland, after all), and see the work of some of Scotland’s most famous sons – the architecture of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, which can be found throughout Glasgow, and the birthplace museum of national poet Robert Burns in Ayrshire.
We can’t very well discuss train journeys in Scotland without giving an honourable mention to the Forth Rail Bridge – though it’s technically just a small part of the various East Coast routes, over 200 trains cross the bridge every day and it’s a tourist attraction in its own right. A cantilever bridge spanning the Firth of Forth estuary opened in 1890, it was at the time an incredible feat of engineering and has been awarded status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Not everyone was a fan, though – textile designer William Morris called it “the supremest specimen of all ugliness” which we think is a bit harsh. And whatever you may think of the architecture, you have to admit that speeding high above the river makes for a pretty scenic journey. It’s also an easy one – from the central Edinburgh Waverley Station, it takes just under half an hour to get to North Queensferry on the other side of the bridge, making it the perfect day trip if you’re staying with friends near the capital.