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Road-tripping in Scotland has long been a favoured holiday option for both staycationers and visitors from around the world. And while the open road is exhilarating, drivers can be all too frequently distracted by the head-turning landscapes. The solution is simple – let the train take the strain.
Given it’s the capital of Scotland, Edinburgh is very well connected when it comes to railways, opening up large swathes of wild and rugged countryside that would otherwise be inaccessible. Stepping onboard a train idling at Edinburgh Waverley station is the beginning of an adventure – one that can take mere minutes to spirit you away to the nearby coast, or hours penetrating through some of the most beguiling and remote landscapes in the world. Here are just some of the most epic railway journeys you can embark on from Edinburgh.
The recent rebirth of the Borders Railway has been something of a labour of love. Suffering the same fate as many of Britain’s rural railways in the 1960s, the original line between Edinburgh and Carlisle withered and died away after the infamous Beeching cuts. Within minutes of boarding at stately Waverley station, you’ll be awed as the train snakes its way through the glens and rolling verdant hillsides of the Borders, one of Scotland’s most overlooked regions. Perhaps unjustly bested by the dramatic landscapes of the Highlands, the subtle elegance of towns like Galashiels, its historic ruined abbeys and not to forget, of course, its own brand of beauty all played muse to Scotland’s greatest author, Sir Walter Scott.
An off-peak return ticket to the line’s terminus at Tweedbank costs £11.80. There are two services an hour mid-week. It is reduced to hourly services on Sundays.
When it officially opened, the Forth Bridge was the pinnacle of Victorian engineering and considered one of the industrial wonders of the age. Now approaching 130 years old, the rail bridge is as much a marvel today as it was then. Spanning the Firth of Forth, it remains the keystone of Edinburgh’s rail network, with some 200 trains between the Scottish capital and the north trundling across the red colossus every day. The experience of crossing this iconic landmark – its rivet-studded girders flashing by carriage windows amid the thunderous clickety-clack of wheels on railway joints – should be on every Scottish bucket list.
An off-peak return ticket to North Queensferry costs £5.80 and gives you the chance to enjoy two journeys across the bridge as well as the best vantage point to admire the whole bridge from the shoreline. Numerous services travelling north or around Fife and stopping in North Queensferry leave Waverley station every 20 minutes or so.
A former Victorian seaside resort may not be enough to entice you away from the sights of Edinburgh, but for city locals, a jaunt out to North Berwick on the train brings their childhood memories screeching back. The short hop to this postcard-worthy coastal town takes about 30 minutes, gliding past castle ruins, golf courses and farms along the way. As you get closer to the coast, the swaying fields of barley suddenly give rise to North Berwick Law, a tooth-shaped extinct volcano that looms over the town. This coastal hub is best known for its proximity to the Bass Rock, a beloved local landmark that is home to tens of thousands of gannets and guillemots.
An off-peak return ticket to North Berwick will set you back £7.20. On weekdays and Sundays, there are hourly services out to the coast from Waverley, with half-hourly services at peak times mid-week and on Saturdays.
The beauty of Scotland is that you are never far away from, well, natural beauty. While the Highlands may be a stretch for a day trip by rail, it is worth extending your trip by a few days so you can enjoy a quintessential Scottish experience. From Edinburgh, the train to Inverness takes three and a half hours and whisks you away north from urban sprawl in the capital through the dense forests of Perthshire, past mist-shrouded lochs and the snow-crested peaks of the Cairngorms. There are many stops on the way that would make an ideal extension to your trip, including the picturesque town of Pitlochry or the alpine-style resort of Aviemore. Keep your eyes peeled for the pagoda roofs of Dalwhinnie, Scotland’s highest whisky distillery.
There are six daily direct services to Inverness from Waverley. Off-peak return fares are priced at £55.20.
Perhaps due to its relative isolation, the west coast boasts some of Scotland’s most dramatic scenery. Getting there, though, is half the fun, especially when you take the train. Setting out from Edinburgh, head across the densely populated Central Belt until you see the tower blocks that dominate Glasgow’s skyline. After a quick change at Queen Street station, you’ll be wending your way northwards on the West Highland Line, considered one of the most scenic railways in the world. If you choose to go all the way to Mallaig, you’ll cross the expansive, ethereal wilderness of Rannoch Moor, reaching Fort William in the shadow of Ben Nevis – the UK’s highest peak – before trundling around the Glenfinnan Viaduct, made famous in the Harry Potter films.
There are just three trains a day from Glasgow to Mallaig. Return tickets from Edinburgh are priced at £93. With a journey time of over five hours, it is impractical as a day trip but is a delightful excuse to extend your Edinburgh trip.
Tickets can be bought at the station ticket office or from machines on the concourse at Edinburgh Waverley on the day of travel. However, booking at trainline.com can often make the fare cheaper. The National Rail Enquiries website has a handy itinerary planner, which you can also use to purchase your tickets.