Day 1 – Edinburgh
There's simply no way to create a Scotland by train itinerary that doesn't include Edinburgh. So, we might as well put it right at the start. Not only is Scotland's capital city full of history and rich in cultural events, it's also the hub of Scotland's rail system. Edinburgh Waverley is the main station, located right in the heart of the city off Waverley Bridge. With the Royal Mile and Edinburgh Castle on one side, and Princes Street and the New Town on the other, Waverley station is the ideal place to start your journey through Scotland by train.
Don't forget to dedicate at least one full day to exploring Edinburgh. Visit the Scottish Parliament and Holyrood Palace, stroll the leafy banks of the Water of Leith in stylish Stockbridge, have coffee at a trendy cafe in rejuvenated and vibrant Leith, or catch a live comedy show in the Old Town.
Day 2 – Fife and St Andrews
Directly north over the impressive Firth of Forth bridge, the short rail journey (34m) from Edinburgh to Dunfermline is worth a trip in itself. This also gets you into the beautiful county of Fife, with Scotland's longest, sandiest beaches. It's home to the oldest and most famous golf courses in the world – St Andrews. The Old Course at St Andrews hosts the British Golf Museum and the British Open, making it a pilgrimage site for golf lovers, but it's not the only attraction in town.
St Andrews Castle and the University of St Andrews—founded in 1413 but perhaps better known as the place that William met Kate Middleton—are superb historical buildings. Leven, not far from the Glenrothes with Thornton station, has two fantastic beaches, aptly named East Beach and West Beach, as well as plenty of great places for lunch. You can also get the train to Leuchars for the popular beaches around St Andrews.
Days 3 and 4 – Pitlochry, Aviemore and the Cairngorms National Park
Next on our Scotland by train itinerary is the first taste of Scotland's wild and stunning landscapes. It's 1h 50m by train from Dunfermline to Pitlochry, at the edge of the Cairngorms National Park. This makes Pitlochry a great base for the night before exploring the Cairngorms the following day.
Characterised by tall mountains, sparkling lochs, and vast dense forests, the Cairngorms National Park's rugged landscapes are a paradise for walking, biking, and other outdoor activities. You can spend a whole day bouldering or taking gentle short walks along the water. Whatever you do in the Cairngorms, you’ll find plenty of photo ops all around you. Just through the other side of the national park is the gorgeous town of Aviemore.
If you'd rather stay on the train, the one-hour journey through the Cairngorms from Pitlochry to Aviemore offers a stunning scenic ride.
Day 5 – Inverness and Loch Ness
The ScotRail service from Aviemore to Inverness takes as little as 34m, leaving plenty of time for you to wander around and enjoy some sites in the “Gateway to the Highlands” before heading towards Loch Ness. The Loch Ness Visitor Centre in Drumnadrochit is a good place to start your visit. It has loads of information on the formation, geography, social and cultural history of Loch Ness as well as its famous monster. There are also interactive displays to keep kids entertained. This shouldn’t be the end of your visit to Drumnadrochit. Take one of the scenic boating or fishing tours out onto the loch, see the ruins of Urquhart Castle, or have a meal or drink at one of the several cosy pubs in town.
Days 6 to 8 – the Highlands and Islands
From Inverness, you'll want to allow yourself a good few days for the Highlands. Despite seeming like another world, this wild region can easily be explored by train and bus. Either travel by night on the Caledonian Express from Inverness to Fort William, or take a 2h National Express coach service, this place is the perfect base for exploring the Highlands. From here, it’s only 2km to the Ben Nevis Visitor Centre. You can scale the summit of Britain’s highest mountain in a matter of hours, then return to Fort William for a well-earned pint and a decent night’s sleep.
In the morning, take the famous Jacobite Steam Train from Fort William through incredible scenery to Mallaig on the west coast. This section of the West Highland Line has attracted rail enthusiasts and tourists from all over the world long before it appeared in the Harry Potter movies. Mallaig is a lively little fishing village and port town, worthy of spending a bit of time in. Or, pop on the half-hour ferry ride over to the Isle of Skye for a look around.
Day 9 – Loch Lomond and Glasgow
Finish your Scotland itinerary by hightailing it back on the train from Fort William to Edinburgh (5h 20m). If you’re still curious to see a bit more, we recommend a more scenic route to Glasgow, passing beautiful Loch Lomond. This lake is a national treasure, immortalised in the lyrics of Scotland’s most beloved folk song. You'll find the nearest station to Loch Lomond at Balloch. Glasgow is the most populous city in Scotland, and a pulsating art and culture hub. This eminent port city has produced more Turner Prize-winning artists in the past two decades than anywhere other than London.
Ready to start making plans? Head to our trains in Scotland page for all the information you'll need for a great trip!