The Great Scottish Rail Journey: From London Sleeper Train to the Hogwarts Express

Scotland really did commit to the idea of taking the scenic route
Scotland really did commit to the idea of taking the scenic route | Connor Mollison / Unsplash
Gethin Morgan

Content and CRM Executive

The London to Edinburgh overnight sleeper train is as popular as ever. It’s also the gateway to Scotland’s incredible countryside, best explored via the joys of a scenic rail journey.

There aren’t many landscapes more perfectly designed to be cut through by winding train tracks. Jagged cliff edges tower over abundant green forests, interrupted only by the emergence of the occasional reflective loch, painting its own image of the dramatic natural skyline above. Now imagine that as the companion to your journey deep into the Scottish Highlands. Forget downloading eight episodes of reality TV, there’s no need even for a book. Simply lose yourself in the awe-inspiring beauty of rural Scotland, passing apace from the comfort of your cosy carriage.

Fortunately, this is no fantasy. Taking a tour of Scotland by train is as easy as it is achingly romantic. In fact, it can begin all the way down in London Euston Station, thanks to the Caledonian Sleeper train. Variations of the London to Scotland overnight train date back all the way to 1873, even becoming immortalised in Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps (1935), based on the John Buchan novel. It’s a romantic thought, the idea of dozing off somewhere in England and waking up to the ruggedly handsome backdrop of rural Scotland. Strolling down from your compartment to the breakfast carriage and tucking into a hearty full Highland Breakfast with a view.

The Caledonian has had a full 21st-century makeover, too, albeit maintaining its classical feel. Rooms are as comfy as ever, the wifi is excellent for a train and the club car carriage, where food is served, is as stylish as ever. Destinations range from Edinburgh and Glasgow to Aberdeen, Inverness and Fort William, so you can start your Scottish adventure however you wish. Once across the border, regional train networks ensure you’re well connected despite Scotland’s vast and challenging terrain. The West Highland Line and the Borders Railway are particular highlights from an aesthetic point of view.

Then, perhaps most famously of all, there’s the Jacobite steam train. This old-fashioned locomotive follows one of the most scenic rail routes on the planet, gently carving through the Scottish Highlands from Fort William to the charming port town of Mallaig. The most famous sight en route is Glenfinnan Viaduct, a gorgeous stone structure that the steam train chugs across, as seen in the Harry Potter films. In fact, the Jacobite itself is the visual reference point and physical embodiment of the Hogwarts Express itself, making this train ride a pilgrimage for Potter fans.

Here at Culture Trip we are totally in love with the concept of slow travel, and are thrilled by the return of trains as a fashionable, sustainable alternative to flying. It aligns with our core principles, is efficient and comfortable, but it’s also the most experiential way to travel. That’s why we created our Rail Trips – authentic, immersive small-group trips centred around the world’s most scenic routes.

Who doesn’t love a good scenic train trip?

Our most beloved serving so far has, without doubt, been our Edinburgh and the Scottish Highlands by Train itinerary. It starts in London, with an overnight trip on the Caledonian to Fort William. After breakfast onboard and a welcome lunch at our first hotel, you’ll have some time to relax and stretch your legs before an evening tasting session at a gorgeous riverside whisky distillery.

The next day is jam-packed, starting with a trip on the Jacobite steam train, over Glenfinnan Viaduct and into Mallaig. From there it’s a ferry across the glassy waters of Loch Nevis and onto the Isle of Skye. We’ll meet a local family, who’ll show us the area’s jaw-dropping beauty on a boat trip and brief hike to Loch Coruisk – keeping an eye out for dolphins along the way. En route to our next hotel we’ll stop off at Eilean Donan, one of Scotland’s most famous castles, as well as one of its most atmospheric.

We’ll cross the Highlands by train once more from Plockton to Inverness, where you’ll have a guided tour of the Highlands collection in Inverness Museum and Art Gallery. The rest of your day will be spent at your leisure, perhaps checking out the castle, strolling along the River Ness, or simply chatting to the patrons of a traditional Scottish pub.

Next stop is Cairngorms National Park, famous for its ancient woodland and serene mountain lochs, which you’ll get to explore on a guided hike. Having spent half a day exploring this stunning stretch of countryside, it’s time to hop onboard a train to our final destination, the Scottish capital.

Our final full day is dedicated to Edinburgh, with a guided tour from our Local Insider, featuring the Royal Mile and Edinburgh Castle, one of Europe’s oldest and most besieged fortresses, which still stands strong above the city today. You’ll have plenty of time to further explore the city at your own pace, before reconvening with the group for a farewell dinner at a local restaurant – the perfect setting to reminisce on an epic rail adventure over a wee dram of whisky.

Does the sound of our Scotland Rail Trip get your wanderlust tingling? Check out the full itinerary and book your spot on the rail adventure of a lifetime with Culture Trip.

Culture Trips launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes places and communities so special.

Our immersive trips, led by Local Insiders, are once-in-a-lifetime experiences and an invitation to travel the world with like-minded explorers. Our Travel Experts are on hand to help you make perfect memories. All our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.?>

All our travel guides are curated by the Culture Trip team working in tandem with local experts. From unique experiences to essential tips on how to make the most of your future travels, we’ve got you covered.

Culture Trip Spring Sale

Save up to $1,100 on our unique small-group trips! Limited spots.

Edit article