ScotlandHighland Games And A Fairytale Steam Train
A mystic country full of lore and legends, Scotland enchants every visitor with its fairytale-like cities, quaint villages, and vistas that seem to come straight out of a movie. Along this Scotland itinerary, you will be able to spot dolphins, watch the Highland Games, ride on the iconic Harry Potter steam train.
Visit white sand beaches, and go searching for the ever-elusive Loch Ness Monster. Whilst here, enjoy the Scottish banter, the famed whiskeys, and the welcoming warmth of the Scots, we know you’ll miss it when you’re back home.
Price Range: $$$
Recommended Days: 7-10 Days
Riding Hours: Approx. 13 hr
Distance: 360 miles
Transportation: Train, Bus, Ferry
Edinburgh: The Lively Capital Of Scotland
Edinburgh feels like a city right out of a fairytale, and despite in which fashion you arrived here, one of the first things you will see is the beautiful castle up on the hill. This landmark is a great way to orient yourself in this city and with Edinburgh being very walkable. You can see slivers of it from several locations throughout your itinerary. With plenty of history to learn, and sights to see the best way to start your trip is to drop your bags and get exploring!
Put on your sneakers to hike up to Arthur’s Seat for the greatest vantage point of the city. From here you can see where you will explore over the next couple of days, everything surrounding the castle. For those who are looking for something green, check out Princes Street Gardens, Inverleith Park, and Charlotte Square.
Want to get more familiar with Edinburgh’s past? Book a tour of Mary King’s Close, wander the Royal Mile, or look around Edinburgh Castle. If you stumble upon some haggis, black pudding, or neeps and tatties, you definitely need to try these Scottish delicacies. However, we highly recommend you to find a restaurant off of the Royal Mile as they drive their prices up for tourists, regardless, these foods are worth a try!
Entertainment is already not too difficult to find in Edinburgh throughout the year, especially during the Fringe Festival! In August the city turns into a haven of comedians where you are able to watch a show or several of the 1000s of other kinds of performances available. Laugh away at a show or hit a pop-up bar. There are plenty of places to grab a drink. Speaking of drinks, if you’re in the West End you will find Edinburgh Gin’s bar Heads & Tales. Here you can learn about gin, the company’s history, and even make and flavor your own gin!
If you’re looking for more of an alternative view of the city take a city with our buddy David. He runs a tour company called AlternativeEdinburgh where you will get to see things that other tour guides don’t tell you about. He offers tours to secret cocktail bars, fairytale spots of the city, hidden markets, and food trucks. And he also offers an Instagram e-bike tour.
Edinburgh Waverly → Glasgow Queen Street | Duration: 0:52 h – 1:30 h | Transfers: 0 | Train
A frequented route, this train journey makes it easy for commuters and tourists alike to travel between Scotland’s biggest cities. This train leaves every 15-30 minutes, and there are options for the express taking a little less than an hour or another train which takes around 1:30h with more stops along the way. You can find and book these tickets on OMIO.
Glasgow: The Port City
Although many tourists choose to explore the prettier, older sister city Edinburgh, Glasgow should not be skipped! It’s the quirkier of the two with a bunch of fun things to do and see. Originally a city built on ship making and industry, Glasgow has transformed from industrial to its charm to today.
Get your beautiful building fix in, by enjoying the architecture and grounds of Glasgow’s University, Pollok Country Park, Pollok House, and the Botanic Gardens. If you’re down for a stroll, snag a great deal on Buchanan Street where you find all kinds of places to shop as from high-end to vintage. Window-shop and admire the lovely buildings in this area.
Growing into quite the coffee and foodie city, you will find some of the best cups of joe and delicious meals in Glasgow. Check out Tinderbox, Kember and Jones, Bread Meats Bread, Paesano Pizza, Julie’s Kopitiam, and Mother India. If those places don’t satisfy your cravings make your way over to Ashton Lane for plenty more restaurants and bars too. Around on the weekend? Check out the Barras Market or hit up a gig at one of the many venues or performance halls. We’re sure you will find one that would interest you, as Glasgow has something for everyone.
Glasgow Queen Street → Fort William Station | Duration: 3:45 h | Transfers: 0 | Train
There are three direct connections throughout the day to Fort Williams. The first part of your journey will be flat, however hugging the River Clyde, Gare Loch, and Loch Long up until your entrance to the Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park. From this point on the low lands start turning into the notoriously named Highlands.
Fort William: Hillwalking Haven
Rich in natural beauty and nestled below Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Britain. Fort William offers a great launchpad for plenty of adventures, such as hillwalking, sailing, fishing, mountain biking, skiing, and much more. The Highlands are not only known for their adventurous nature but also being home to great whiskey distilleries and breweries. So it would truly be a shame if you missed a visit to one of Scotland’s oldest licensed distilleries, the Ben Nevis Distillery.
The West Highland Museum offers a perfect opportunity to delve deeper into the history of the region. If it’s a blue-sky day, which doesn’t happen too often, spend it outside biking part of the Great Glen Cycle Route. Walk around the Lochaber Geopark, chartering a boat to go up the Caledonian Canal, or touring the nearby lochs. We’re almost certain you can’t get bored here with these options.
The Highland Games may ring a bell to you, and what a perfect place to watch them than where they originated, up in the Highlands! It’s quite the festive atmosphere where traditional dancing, music, and of course games are celebrated. Some events of the games are the caber toss, hammer throw, a shinty match, and tug of war.
All Highland Games are celebrated from May to September, so if your trip is planned for the summertime you may have a chance to hit the Glenfinnan Games. Which typically fall in the 3rd week of August. There are other games able to be seen in the next destinations as well if this particular one doesn’t fit into your schedule.
Fort William → Mallaig | Duration: 1:21 h (ScotRail) to 2:10 h (Jacobite Steam Train) | Transfer: 0 | Train
There are two options for this journey from Fort William to Mallaig and we highly recommend visiting in summer to catch one of the greatest railway journeys in the world. Often referenced as “The Harry Potter Steam Train”, the Jacobite Steam Train operates exclusively in the summers from Fort William to Mallaig. It is well worth the trip where you will go over the iconic Glenfinnan Viaduct, hug beautiful lochs, chug through tunnels, ride over bridges, and pretend you’re a wizard (just kidding, you don’t need to do that unless you want to…). You will want to book these tickets (here) as soon as possible since they regularly sell out. Unfortunately, there are no one-way tickets available, but it is possible to take just the first leg of the journey at the return ticket price* from Fort William.
The other option for this journey is to travel with the regularly operating ScotRail trains if your itinerary does not fall within the summer months. This is also a scenic journey traveling along the same lochs and shares some of the same rail lines; however, just without the steam, the Glenfinnan Viaduct, and the feeling, you’re in a movie scene.
*Another option for extreme rail enthusiasts is to buy the return Jacobite train ticket and use the ticket to its full potential by taking the train to and from Mallaig. After returning back to Fort William, you will need to hop on the ScotRail train back toward Mallaig again to continue the route then onto Isle of Skye. It’s a lot of double backing but if you want to get the most out of the Harry Potter train, that’s the way to do it.
Mallaig: Road To The Isles
Mallaig is mostly known as the port city with access to several Scottish islands as well as the end of the Jacobite Steam Train. But it is also known for being a busy port bringing in fresh fish daily. Different than the previous stops, this quaint area located on Scotland’s Northwest Coast offers a unique fishing village atmosphere.
Take a wander down the pier and see the fishermen reeling in their day’s profit. Or take a wander through the marina where you will be able to see beautiful yachts that sail from all over to reach Mallaig. Whilst in the marina, pop on over the traditional boat-building yard where you might see some larger vessels being repaired or even built from scratch. Feeling a bit hungry? Support Jaffy’s, the local fishmonger (a dealer of fish), or stumble upon one of the many fish markets in Mallaig. Don’t worry you can’t go wrong with any of them.
The history of Mallaig is pretty interesting especially to us because it involves some trains. One of the biggest reasons the railway line was brought as far out to Mallaig in 1901 was for the local fishermen as well as fishermen from the Isles to transport their catches to the capital, Edinburgh. And to the rest of Great Britain and even to the rest of Europe!
Enjoy a visit to the Mallaig Heritage Centre to learn more about the history of this port city. With the perfect access to beautiful islands, hop on a boat tour that brings you to white sand beaches that will make you think you’re in the Caribbean. Or book a day cruise around the small islands of Muck, Rum, Canna, and Eigg.
As mentioned before, you still have some other options for attending the Highland Games Mallaig hosts their own, the Mallaig & Morar Games which falls in the first week of August. Arisaig, a 14-minute train journey south of Mallaig, hosts the Arisaig Highland Games on the last Wednesday of July. Plan accordingly and check the official website for official dates.
Mallaig Port → Porttree, Isle of Skye | Duration: 2:33 h – 4:25 h | Transfers: 1 | Ferry & Bus
From Mallaig, the journey to the nearest Skye port is a mere 25 minutes, where you will begin your Skye journey in Armadale Ferry Port and take the bus to Portree. Buses run twice a day from the ferry port to Portree. Make sure to pre-book your ferry trip (here), and take the morning journey to be able to catch the direct bus (total duration of 1:08 h) to Portree. If a later ferry is taken from Mallaig, there is an indirect bus (total duration 3:37 h) with a wait in Broadford where you can have dinner or enjoy the scenery before heading to Portree. Check bus times from StageCoach and CityLink and either buy your bus tickets ahead of time online or buy them when you get on the bus.
The Isle of Skye: West Coast Best Coast
Almost impossible to describe its beauty, Skye is truly an island that can put Scotland on the map. Skye has a beautiful coastline, various wildlife, rigorous hikes, hidden fairy pools, old castles, iconic rock formations, and truly so much more. It’s all up to you how long you would like to stay to soak it all in.
The island’s main city is Portree and is easily accessible from the Armadale ferry port. Portree is a great hub to see the rest of the island. However, there are plenty of other little villages as options to stay in as well. Regular ferries service the coastal towns and comprehensive tours get you around the whole island. Buses are also a great form of transport as they connect the island well but often tours get the job done more efficiently. Whilst you’re on the island of Skye you may come across otters, seals, whales, dolphins, and red deer.
For outdoor lovers, head to the Cuillin Range, the Quiraing, or the Trotternish Ridge for some of the island’s best hikes. Or hike up to the Old Mann Storr for one of the best views of the island. Make a visit to the Fairy Glen and the Fairy Pools. Sip on some Skye whisky, attend a music festival, listen to the Skye bagpipe band, or do some sea kayaking. But most importantly, try to have a great time!
Portree, Isle of Skye → Inverness | Duration: 4:38 h | Transfers: 1 | Bus & Train
There are five direct bus connections from Portree to Kyle of Lochalsh daily (0:59h), and there you can then transfer to a train which goes directly to Inverness four times a day (2:30h). Check bus times here (buy your bus tickets ahead of time, or buy them when you get on), and book your train ticket with OMIO.
Inverness: Discovery, Dolphins And Dancing
Known as the ‘Capital of the Highlands’, Inverness sits at the top of the country and is your final destination for this Scotland itinerary. Many people know Inverness for its vicinity to Loch Ness and its supposed monster. Go on a search for Nessie whilst taking a boat tour of the famous Loch Ness, and pass famous castles along the way like Urquhart Castle. Another castle worth a visit is the Inverness Castle in the heart of the city. Enjoy views from here and then meander to St. Andrews Cathedral, the Old High Church, and the Victorian Market.
To learn more about Inverness’s history, visit the free Inverness Museum and Art Gallery, which is entertaining and describes the uniqueness of the Highlands geography and how the Jacobites and Vikings affected this area.
Inverness is well connected by buses and you will easily be able to access some other worthwhile points of interest all under an hour away. Head to Cannich to walk or cycle along Glen Affric. Take a short trip to Nairn, a cute seaside town where you will be able to find remarkable beaches and quaint walks along the river. Wander through Fort George, one of the largest artillery fortifications housing a great museum, and keep your eyes peeled from the walls since wild dolphins can often be spotted from here. On your journey back to Inverness stop at the Culloden Moor, the site of the last major battle on British soil.
A short 25-minute walk away you will be able to find the Clava Cairns, a 4000-year-old Bronze Age burial site. Once back to Inverness, enjoy a drink and pub grub at Hootananny, which already sounds like a hoot. However, if the name doesn’t reel you in to begin with, go for the daily traditional music or go on Fridays and Saturdays for the ceilidhs (pronounced Kay-lee-s). A ceilidh is a social gathering involving traditional dancing and storytelling and in our opinion. It is the perfect way to end your Scottish adventure.
Whether you want to explore the area a bit more or head back south, there are several connections daily connecting Inverness with Glasgow, Edinburgh, and even London on the overnight train.
*Disclaimer: Due to the fluidity of transportation schedules, the information seen on RailwayHero may not be up to date at the time of readíng. Always double-check with the operator for the latest information.