Travelling in Scotland by rail advice

Robert Kidd, founder of our leading partner for Scotland railway holidays, McKinlay Kidd, shares his top advice for anyone holidaying here by train:

Packing advice

“Pack light, because you are regularly getting on and off trains and carrying your own luggage. We meet guests at each station, of course, but you do need to be able to get your bag off a train and onto the platform. Two huge suitcases can become stressful and take away from your enjoyment of the trip. Trips are usually only a week long, so you don’t need lots anyway. Some people do this as part of a longer UK trip, and then they store their extra luggage in Edinburgh or somewhere.”

On board food tips

“Sadly the food and drink on the trains are not great, so it is always good to bring your own snacks. Especially if you like fruit and healthy snacks. You can usually get tea, coffee and water, but bringing extra snacks in your bag is a good idea.”

Train culture

“One of the reasons I really like the train is that you are not in your own cocoon of a car, and so you do get to meet the local people. It is a much more social thing and you meet all sorts of characters on a train, sometimes even ones you might not necessarily want to spend time with! Of course, our guests love the views, the skies, Ben Nevis and all those sorts of things, but more than most, like all good travel, they remember meeting the people.”

Transport connections

“Trains connect with ferries, so you can now get to a lot of Scotland via public transport, and this infrastructure is getting better all the time. There are more bikes available at railway stations; in some places these were designed for commuters, but they are now becoming an important part of tourism. So you can turn up at the station for Loch Lomond or Aviemore, and there are bikes to hire to get around the national park. There are still connectivity issues however, although they are improving. So, for example, when a train arrives at a ferry port, sometimes people only have ten minutes to get from the train to the ferry terminal. This happens because the transport companies don’t really think about the users properly. So there is still some joined up thinking that needs to be done with regards to these issues.”

Supporting Scottish conservation

Catherine Mack, Responsible Travel’s travel writer and railway holiday fan:
“You will see some spectacular scenery and wildlife on your railway holiday in Scotland. It is breathtaking. However, there are a lot of organisations working round the clock to protect them. I am a huge admirer of the world renowned John Muir Trust, one of the greatest lobbyists for the protection of wild spaces, as well as being owners of the summit of Ben Nevis. They run various campaigns and are always keen to receive donations, so please support them not only with money if you can spare it, but also social media interaction and sharing.”
John Hutchison, Chairman of the John Muir Trust:

Scottish culture tips

“Take time to consider the link between people, the land and the place names. There is little awareness about this at the moment, but so many of the place names have a historical significance and a story behind them. It helps you understand the place and brings it alive.”

Staying safe

“Take precautions if you are hiking on the hills during the stalking season. Your routes can be disrupted from August through to January, so tourists need to be aware of this, and find out what is happening in the area where you are choosing to walk that day. Phone the numbers given on the Heading for the Scottish Hills website if you are thinking of going up this hill tomorrow and want to know if there is stalking taking place. Quite often the estates leave recorded messages on these numbers asking you to avoid this area, when necessary.”
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Scotland railway or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help.

Holiday reviews from our travellers

At Responsible Travel we think the best people to advise our travellers are often... other travellers. They always return from our tours with packing tips, weather reports, ideas about what to do - and opinions about what not to.

We have selected some of the most useful Scotland rail holiday advice that our guests have provided over the years to help you make the very most of your holiday – and the space inside your suitcase.
Travel with elasticated waistbands, the food is plentiful and very good.
– Anne Feeley
“Be patient with the weather. It truly changes moment by moment…our holiday was exceptional, we enjoyed every aspect of the trip and the effortless planning was most enjoyable… all the accommodations were in natural settings. We often ate farm to table. Using rail travel is more eco friendly than renting a car and driving.” – Judith Innamorato

“Travelling around by train is a great way to go. You're free to take in the scenery without concentrating on your driving, and you get to meet local people on the trains” – Donald Ross

“Travel lightly and keep your eyes open… and our most memorable moment? It's very hard to choose but probably the steam journey to Fort William and the final day’s journey over Rannoch Moor. The whole holiday lived up to our expectations.” – Derrick Horne

“It was actually freeing to not have to worry about renting a car, finding our way in a foreign land, etc. The trains were comfortable and a great way to travel about. As all trips, we would've like more time in each of the locations – but especially in Edinburgh and Pitlochry.” – Doris Burke

“Be prepared to be delightfully surprised.” – Carol Evans

“Be guided by the trip plans on offer, as well as the knowledgeable staff members, but don't be afraid to ask for exactly what you want because the holiday providers staff are so helpful, flexible and obliging.” – Dimity Lawrence
Be patient with the weather. It truly changes moment by moment.
– Judith Innamorato
Written by Catherine Mack
Photo credits: [Page banner: 96tommy] [Robert Kidd advice: Natasha Chub-Afanasyeva] [John Hutchison advice: Tom Wheatley] [Anne Feeley quote: Daniel Fader] [Judith Innamorato quote: Nuno Antunes]