The Highlands, lochs and epic landscapes: Scotland’s best train routes to take it all in

Experiencing Scotland via train could lead you to discover some hidden gems.
Experiencing Scotland via train could lead you to discover some hidden gems.   -   Copyright  Byway
By Rosie Frost

Despite what we’ve all grown up believing, a fulfilling travel experience doesn’t have to involve flying.

In fact, travelling by train has lots of benefits, including the opportunity to make your journey part of your holiday. Taking your time to arrive at your final destination allows you to discover hidden gems along the way.

That’s what slow travel experts Byway are hoping to provide with their new rail routes through Scotland.

Train travel is about ‘the joyful experience of journeying’

“Slow travel is not just about avoiding flying - it’s about the joyful experience of journeying through and savouring small moments,” says the company’s founder and CEO Cat Jones.

“If you’ve ever taken the train out of Edinburgh you’ll know how quickly the landscape turns from city into stunning wilderness.”

The travel agency has partnered with VisitScotland and train operator London North Eastern Railway to offer a series of new flight-free trips to the Cairngorms and East Scotland. Chief executive of VisitScotland, Malcolm Roughhead says the country has a lot to offer year-round.

Byway
Scotland's stunning scenery can be seen from your train window.Byway

“There is so much to explore and discover but only by slowing down can you fully immerse yourself in our stunning scenery, landscapes, heritage and culture.”

“By taking your time you can consider the impact of your trip, make more sustainable choices, reducing your environmental impact and contributing to the quality of life of Scotland’s precious communities,” he adds.

What is the carbon footprint of a flight from London to Edinburgh?

According to Byway, if environmental impact is your concern, you could get the train from London to Edinburgh and back five times and your carbon would still be lower than if you flew.

All of Byway’s trips can be personalised for your own needs but here are a few examples of how you could experience Scotland the slow way.

River Spey: Slow travel from London to Aberdeen

Starting in London, take a scenic train ride to Edinburgh through the countryside. The journey offers beautiful landscapes with glimpses of Scotland’s castles and coastlines.

Stay overnight in the capital to see its stunning architecture or take a boat tour along the waters of the Forth river. Then cross this waterway over the Forth Bridge to head out via Perth, through the Grampian Mountains to reach Kingussie.

From here you can take the short bus ride to Loch Insh for some wild swimming or paddleboarding. After you’ve taken in all this friendly town has to offer, an hour on the train will land you in Inverness where the River Ness and Moray Firth Meet.

Byway
Take a bus to Loch Insh for paddle boarding or wild swimming.Byway

There are plenty of cultural and culinary experiences to be had here. Walk up to Inverness Castle, perched on a hill above the river or take a cruise down the Caledonian Canal to the famous Loch Ness.

The final stop on this slow travel itinerary is Aberdeen. Just under two and a half hours by train from Inverness, this city has a lot of old school pubs and lively nightlife.

Cruise back to London overnight on the Caledonian Sleeper with your own bed in your own cabin.

The Highlands: Walks and whiskey aplenty

If stunning scenery and whisky tours are more your thing, then instead of heading for Edinburgh board the train from London directly to Inverness. Known as the Highland Chieftan line, this route will take you through some of Scotland's most beautiful mountain and sea views.

From Inverness, you can take the bus for an hour's journey to Granton-on-Spey on the edge of the Cairngorms National Park. It makes a great base for slow travel through Strathspey.

Byway
Follow a whiskey trail to taste one of the region's most famous products.Byway

Walk between distilleries on a whisky trail to experience one of the region’s most famous products. If you travel during winter, there is a range of pistes to explore in the Cairngorm or Lecht ski areas.

Or you can simply explore the panoramic views the national park has to offer by hiking some of its trails.

When you’re done, take the bus back to Inverness then catch the train back to London’s King’s Cross Station.