Scotland by rail map & highlights

The wonderful thing about railway holidays in Scotland is that these are often tailor made trips, and so you can head to the Highlands, Lowlands or islands, take as much time as you want and exactly what you want. Your tour operator will not only be an expert in rail travel but will also know the best pit stop in Pitlochry, the most heavenly hiking route in the Cairngorms, the most gregarious guides on the Isle of Skye and the finest Highland hotels. They may not know if the Loch Ness monster exists or not, but they will know a man who might…
Cairngorms National Park

1. Cairngorms National Park

If you are heading to Inverness from Edinburgh, think about fitting in a day or so in Cairngorms National Park, with Aviemore train station at its heart. Take the funicular railway up Cairngorm Mountain, or go for a more extensive hike up myriad Munros. For another rail experience, check out the Strathspey steam train journey, a two-hour round trip through the national park on a 19th century track.

2. Edinburgh

As well as having a beautifully located main station, Waverley, in between the medieval old town and the 18th century side, the capital is always a wonderful place to visit, as well as being the terminus or starting point for many a railway journey. Edinburgh is cool, boasts classy cuisine, a contemporary arts scene, elegant architecture and a castle bang in the middle. Plus it’s on the coast, for further exploration.
Far North Line

3. Far North Line

This route follows the fishing trail from Inverness to Thurso in the west and also branching off east to Wick. Either way, welcome to Scotland’s tip; passing rivers where salmon leap and then into the great fishing waters en route to Orkney and Shetland. The wild peat moors up in these parts also proffer the best whisky distilleries, as well as top bird habitats such as the twitchers’ paradise at Forsinard Flows.
Fort William

4. Fort William

The terminus for the Caledonian Sleeper train, there is nothing like waking up at the foot of Ben Nevis, the country’s highest mountain and a gateway to a world of wilderness adventures. Although the town itself isn’t the prettiest, it has gorgeousness all around, not least Loch Linnhe on the shores of which it is located. As well as the Mamores Mountains, which are less busy than Nevis for hiking.
Glenfinnan Viaduct

5. Glenfinnan Viaduct

Although fleeting, this is a highlight for many railway fans in Scotland. Victorian railway architecture at its finest, opened in 1901, its 21 arches cross a 300m span at a height of 30m. Because of its natural curve, you are able to see its magnificence in all its grandeur out the window, as you cross the River Finnan and see out across Loch Shiel as well as to the iconic, 18m-high Glenfinnan monument.
Inverness & Loch Ness

6. Inverness & Loch Ness

The capital of the Highlands and home to the world famous Loch Ness, where a boat trip out on to this iconic lake takes you past the 13th century ruins of Urquhart Castle, on Strone Point. There are stunning guesthouses and hotels on the shore, and Inverness itself is an elegant, historic city too. Walk the Ness Island Trail along the River Ness or head out to the Battle of Culloden site.
Isle of Skye

7. Isle of Skye

It’s a shame to go all the way to Mallaig or Kyle of Lochalsh by train and not hop across to the iconic Isle of Skye. Base yourself in Portree, and then explore by foot or hire car to visit the likes of the Old Man of Storr, swim in the famous faerie pool or visit Loch Coruisk, enveloped by the Cuillin Mountains. Local guides are excellent, so do make the most of them.

8. Pitlochry

A very pretty town in the Southern Highlands, ideal for a stay in a traditional Scottish country house and exploring nearby sites. These include the nearby Killiecrankie Gorge where the Highlands meet the Lowlands or Blair Castle packed with bonny and not so bonny stories. The Pitlochry dam and salmon ladder is quite a sight too, especially in autumn during migration season. Pitlochry Festival Theatre is also a hub of local culture.
Jacobite Steam Train

9. Jacobite Steam Train

An alternative way to travel between Mallaig and Fort William is on the Jacobite steam-hauled train, Monday to Friday from mid-May until early October. Travelling in 1950s carriages with traditional drop down windows, you won’t be able to keep your head inside to photograph the beauty all around, from Glenfinnan Viaduct or Ben Nevis to Arisaig on the shores of Loch nan Ceall. Travel one way or do 135km round trip.
The Great Glen

10. The Great Glen

Take a night in the pretty village of Spean Bridge in the heart of Scotland’s Great Glen, a valley that follows a massive geological fault that cuts the Highlands into the Grampian Mountains in the south and the Northwest Highlands in the north. You can really take in this gorgeous geology from the train as well. Ben Nevis is omnipresent here too.
The Kyle Line

11. The Kyle Line

Running coast to coast between Inverness in the east and Kyle of Lochalsh and the Isle of Skye in the west, this is one of the lesser known beauties when it comes to rail journeys in Scotland. Sit back and watch 120km worth of Highland heritage including the Torridon Peaks, as well as wild heathland where deer hover on the outskirts of remote ancient forests – particularly on the slopes down from Loch Luichart.
West Highland Line

12. West Highland Line

No matter which direction you take this in, picking it up in Mallaig and heading south, or starting in Glasgow and heading up the north coast, this is most definitely one of the most spectacular train journeys. Although only taking five hours, do hop on and hop off over a few days. Zipping through Rannoch Moor lifts anyone’s heart, same with Ben Nevis. This really is a journey into the wilds.
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.
Written by Catherine Mack
Photo credits: [Page banner: 96tommy] [Cairngorms National Park: Free-Photos] [Edinburgh: ant2506] [Far North Line: Phillyacct] [Fort William: © VisitScotland / Paul Tomkins] [Glenfinnan Viaduct: Bryan Walker] [Inverness & Loch Ness: Megan Sanford] [Isle of Skye: Simon Migaj] [Pitlochry: Gary Campbell-Hall] [Jacobite Steam Train: © VisitScotland / Ian Rutherford] [The Great Glen: Ursi Schmied] [The Kyle Line: Chmee2] [West Highland Line: Paul Hermans]