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.
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.
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meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
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Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip 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 — and this is still in our DNA today. 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 certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.