By train through the Scottish Highlands

6-day train journey from Edinburgh to Belfast

The highlands, the sea, the whisky, Harry Potter… there are many reasons to travel to Scotland and there’s no better way to cross the rugged highlands than by train. The West Highland Line is considered one of the most beautiful stretches in the world and the train even takes you to places that are inaccessible by car.

Start: Edinburgh
End point: Glasgow (or Belfast)
Stations en route: Inverness, Fort William, Glenfinnan (Harry Potter viaduct), Oban, Corrour, Glasgow, (Stranraer and Belfast)
Number of days: at least six

With an Interrail Pass we traveled in one day from the Netherlands, via London, to Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland and an ideal starting point for this trip.

Edinburgh

Capital of Scotland and ideal starting point for a train journey through the Highlands.

Loch Ness

Mysterious with (or without) the monster, with many magical places tucked away.

Fort William

Britain’s outdoor capital, idyllically situated on the shores of Loch Linnhe and at the foot of Ben Nevis.

Glenfinnan

Harry Potter paradise – this is where the Hogwarts Express was filmed chugging along the famous one hundred metre high railroad viaduct.

Corrour

The highest station in Britain, only accessible by train.

Oban

Attractive harbour town on a beautiful bay with sublime seafood restaurants.

Glasgow

Scotland’s largest city, full of culture, history and cozy pubs with whiskey and gin tonics in abundance.

Uitzicht vanuit je treinraampje, West Highlands, Schotland, Scotrail
Inspiring views right from your train window.
Start in Edinburgh

The charming Scottish capital is bursting with history, tradition and culture and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for good reason. For breathtaking views of the city and its surroundings, visit Edinburgh Castle, dramatically perched on an extinct volcano. Walking through the Old Town, you’ll feel as if you’ve been transported back to the Middle Ages. For some of Scotland’s best fish and chips, head back to the New Town to l’Alba D’Oro.

Forth Bridge & Loch Ness 

Our first train runs northbound from Edinburgh to Inverness, capital of the Scottish Highlands. Just after leaving Edinburgh you’ll flash over the red Forth Bridge, a fine example of 19th century railroad architecture. The bridge contains no less than 10 times as much steel as the Eiffel Tower and is considered ‘the largest structure of the 19th century’. UNESCO placed the bridge on its World Heritage List in 2015.

After three and a half hours of wonderful panoramas of central Scotland we arrive in Inverness. It’s a quiet city but for many the starting point for a trip to Loch Ness. With all the fuss around the monster you almost forget that this legendary lake is 37 kilometres long and up to 230 metres deep, with many secluded places no tourists can be found. One of the highlights is the 13th century ruins of the Urquhart Castle.

Urquhart castle, Loch Ness
View of Urquhart Castle.
West-Highland line: the most beautiful train journey in the world

We travel from Urquhart Castle by bus to Fort William, where we board the train towards Crianlarich. Kedeng kedeng … kedeng kedeng … the rhythm of the trains chugging along the single track of the West Highland Line have something meditative about them. The trains are simple. Free Wi-Fi? Forget it. No network in these remote areas. The landscapes that pass by make up for all this though, as do the friendly train staff. 

The West Highland Line, considered by many to be the most beautiful train journey in the world, is a side of Scotland you can only see from the train. A beautiful scenic train route along Scotland’s west coast, through Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park, and high above Rannoch Moor, where the line winds through a peat bog that extends to the mountains on both sides of the line.

Corrour: highest station in the UK

The literal highlight of the West Highland Line is Corrour, the highest and at the same time most remote railway station in the United Kingdom. Also known for scenes in the film Trainspotting. Here you can easily immerse yourself in the rugged countryside, as there are no buildings around and the nearest road is literally miles away. Here we see hikers getting out and entering the emptiness on their own. Unfortunately we have to move on, but not before Suzy, the smiling conductor, takes the time to take a photo of us. The highlands are a different world – the pace is relaxed here.

Station Corrour, West Highland Line, Scotrail
From Corrour station you can easily walk into ‘the great outdoors’.
Oban: end of the line

Oban is a quiet town, situated on a beautiful bay with stunning views of the islands of Kerrera, Lismore and Mull. For the best views, walk to McCaig’s Tower, a Colosseum-like structure on the hilltop above the city.

Want to learn more about the islands and coastal lighthouses? Then sail with Captain Jack McGregor of Argyll Sea Tours. He’s full of entertaining stories about the region and its inhabitants. For example, we get a tip to eat seafood in an old public toilet… We’re sceptical at first, but the Seafood Temple serves delicious fresh catch and the toilets turn out to have a sunset view over the bay.

The Sea Life Sanctuary is a sanctuary for seals and sea otters, with a nice café and boat trips to nearby seal colonies – ideal for children. For a high octane experience, you can visit the local distillery, which has been in operation since 1794. Bonnie, a lively Scottish local, will give you an extensive introduction to whisky production before you can taste some for yourself.

A sustainable choice for an overnight stay is the Perle Oban Hotel, located directly on the waterfront and overlooking the picturesque harbour and bay. The stately hotel was built for the first-class travelers of the West Highland Line, but it’s now an affordable luxury hotel that collaborates with local businesses as much as possible.

Glenfinnan: following in the footsteps of Harry Potter

In the UK, many places appeal to the imagination of Harry Potter fans – such as Kings Cross station in London, where you’ll find the entrance to the wizarding world on platform 9 3/4. At the top of the list, however, is the famous one hundred metre high viaduct with its 21 arches, near the village of Glenfinnan in the Scottish Highlands, along which the Hogwarts Express travels over in the films. During the summer season there are several steam trains for fans, but regional Scotrail trains run over the famous viaduct too – and on these trains our Interrail passes are valid. The viaduct is about 20 minutes walk from the station.

A steam train travels across the viaduct
Glenfinnan Station Museum 

The small, romantic station of Glenfinnan was once almost demolished, but is now well maintained and serves as the Glenfinnan Station Museum. In addition, there is an old train wagon from 1958 where you can spend the night at a bargain. In the wagon next to it there’s a small restaurant. In good weather you have a beautiful view of Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the British Isles, from the end of the platform.

Stranraer – ferry to Belfast

At Glasgow Central station we get on the regional train heading southwest to Stranraer, with wide views over the sea towards Ailsa Craig and the island of Arran. We also pass three three lochs – Castle Semple, Barr and Kilbirnie. We read that when the weather is clear you can catch a glimpse of Merrick, the highest mountain in southern Scotland, at the highest point near Chirmorie, but unfortunately we didn’t get to. We descend towards Stranraer, where the ferry to Belfast is waiting for us.

Travelling to Scotland


Most trains for the north leave from London Kings Cross, where you can take a direct train to Edinburgh every hour. The trip takes around 4,5 hours. Another option is the Caledonian Sleeper which runs six days a week, Sunday to Friday from London Euston directly to Inverness and Forth William. 
 
For non UK-residents, the best choice for this trip is an Interrail Global Pass of 7 days (valid within one month). This costs €335 (Jan 2021) and is valid from any station in continental Europe to Edinburg. You can use the pass for both the outward journey to Edinburgh and the return journey to your country of residence and for all train journeys in England and Scotland. For the Eurostar you need an extra reservation. 

Uitzicht vanuit je treinraampje, West Highlands, Schotland, Scotrail
Bart Giepmans
Bart Giepmans
Bart practically grew up on a train and has been discovering Europe by rail since his childhood. Stints at the Dutch and German Railways and at Interrail have turned him into an ardent ambassador for train travel. Bart has a passion for history and Alpine trails and is commuting regularly between Utrecht and Berlin.

Edited by: William Simpson. Photos by: Bart Giepmans.