Trains to the Highlands and Islands
This is the Scotland of the picture books: soaring mountains, endless moors, rare wildlife and spectacular coastlines.
Getting the train to the Highlands is where the adventure begins: leave the city behind and gaze out of the window for miles of stunning landscapes. And when you arrive – whether in the Cairngorms, Easter Ross, the far north or Kyle of Lochalsh – you’re in for brilliant outdoor activities, local food, whisky, and traditional Highland hospitality.
Head to Fort William, the outdoor capital of Scotland, or to Mallaig for the ferry to Skye: it’s an incredible introduction to the Highlands. Over to the north east you’ll find the Cairngorms (stop at Pitlochry, Aviemore or Newtonmore), Scotland’s biggest national park and one of the few places you can find true wilderness. Further north lies Speyside, the whisky country. And beyond Inverness? Huge salmon rivers, wild coastlines, and the wind-blown beauty of Caithness.
And with no car to park, no traffic to negotiate, you can sit back and enjoy the ride on the train.
Getting to and from the Highlands by train
- Edinburgh to Aviemore – approx 2 hours 40 minutes
- Glasgow to Fort William – approx 3 hours 50 minutes
- Glasgow to Mallaig – approx 5 hours 30 minutes
- Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh – approx 2 hours 40 minutes
One or two days in Fort William, Mallaig and Skye
Climb Ben Nevis
Fort William is the starting point for climbing the UK’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis. It’s a long slog – plan for about eight hours on the mountain, but on a clear day the views are spectacular. Take the proper equipment with you: it’s a serious mountain.
As one of Britain’s most popular climbs, you can follow the path (and the other walkers) to the top. Prefer to go off piste? Book a mountain guide and go climbing, scrambling, and traversing through the more difficult sections of the mountain.
Hit the trails, the slopes, or the rivers
Ben Nevis isn’t just for walkers: you can ski in winter, and mountain bike in summer. You’ll struggle to find better trails (the mountain bike world cup is held here), and you can hire all the kit you need from Fort William.
If you prefer to hit the water, then book any number of trips from the leisurely cruise to high-adrenaline white water activities.
Enjoy seafood in Mallaig, and go over the sea to Skye
Continue on the train north from Fort William to Mallaig and the route really does get scenic. You’ll travel over the Glenfinnan Viaduct, and wind your way along one of Scotland’s most beautiful coastlines. In Mallaig you’ll find some of the freshest seafood available in Scotland, and from there you can catch the short ferry over to Skye – with its Munros, wildlife, and Michelin star restaurant.
One or two days in the Cairngorms
Get the train north to Aviemore and you can easily fill a few days with outdoor activities. Catch the bus to Cairngorm Mountain, and the funicular railway to the top to see this vast national park stretch away into the distance. Take your pick of the Munros to bag, or string a few together to really push yourself. There’s no shortage of mountain biking here either: head to Mike’s Bikes in Aviemore for advice, hire, and route maps.
Head up to Loch Morlich for windsurfing, kayaking, sailing and a proper sandy beach – there’s also a beach café where you can refuel after a few hours on the water.
For a more sedate adventure, take the Strathspey Railway by steam train. It’s an atmospheric way to enjoy the national park – and you can book an afternoon tea with your ticket, to really make a day of it.
Find out more
There are three Great Scenic Rail Journeys in the Highlands.
- West Highland Line – travel up from Glasgow for what is often voted the best rail journey in the world, stopping off at Fort William, or continuing up to Mallaig and the ferry to Skye
- Kyle Line – from Kyle of Lochalsh you can cross the country to the Highland capital, Inverness
- Far North Line – from Inverness, the Far North Line takes you deep into Flow Country on the way to Wick and Thurso
Ways to save...
- Spirit of Scotland travel pass: 1-2 weeks of train, ferry and coach travel covering the whole country
- Highland Rover: explore the North and West Highlands over a week by train, ferry and coach
- Rail & Sail: combine train and ferry travel into one ticket for more convenience and better value
- Kids for a Quid: travel off-peak and for every paying adult, up to four children aged 5-15 can travel for £1 each
- Railcards: see if you could save with a national or regional Railcard