Touring Scotland by train is a great way to explore the country. From the dramatic landscapes of the Highlands and Aberdeen’s cobbled streets to historic castles and dramatic coastlines, there’s a train journey for everyone. With Scotland being a country that is fairly small, it’s hard to go wrong with a train trip. You can use the below steps to help you plan your trip of a lifetime
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Planning your train itinerary
There’s a certain pleasure in just bumming around without having really planned ahead. Some of the best trips are those at least a little planned.
Not planning brings its own rewards, but as you’ll quickly understand, touring Scotland by train without planning can be trouble.
Even if money is not an object, it’s still a good idea to plan in advance and book in advance. Missing a train in Edinburgh isn’t a big deal, but missing one when you’re in Kyle of Lochalsh is very frustrating and troublesome.
How much you plan and prepare for your Scottish adventure depends on how much your budget is, the complexity of the route and how open you are to surprises.
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9 steps to perfect train trip planning
Prepare a budget
Plan for each expense (i.e. accommodation, insurance, food), in addition to extras like seat reservations or travel supplements – these are essential when planning to tour Scotland by train.
Then allow a bit more of a budget for incidentals, e.g., unexpected expenses you might have whilst abroad.
Adapt your expectations to your budget
If you’re on a budget, consider accommodations with the option of cooking your own meals at home. Swap paid attractions for free attractions and walk the city.
Stay away from expensive downtown restaurants and opt for the ones in the suburbs instead. They’re usually cheaper and with quality food and service. Book your train tickets in advance.
Determine your accommodation type and costs
Accommodation prices vary depending on the property – it’s worth looking around to get a good price. In Scottish cities, accommodation is more expensive.
High-end places like Skye or Islay often have a minimum 2-night stay requirement.
When you’re planning out your itinerary, always take this into account! Know what type of accommodation you want to stay in. There are various types of accommodation available in Scotland, depending on how much time you have and what type of experience you want.
You can stay in a hotel or B&B, rent a house or apartment, or camp out in the wilds
Beware of the packed itinerary
The biggest mistake made by first-timers when they visit Scotland is to not try to plan ahead too much.
There are so many places to explore so it’s all too easy for your mind to wander. As a matter of fact, planning your itinerary in advance can help you have a much better time in Scotland!
Know your itinerary: You can either choose a set route for your train trip like Great Scenic Rail Journeys or you can decide on the destinations and create your own itinerary.
A two night stop is hugely rewarding than one night in a new place. Three nights is even better.
Stay two or three nights at each destination – space your travel days with the chance to explore the local area. Our train itineraries provide plenty of tips for walks or local excursions that don’t need you to drive.
If you opt for a 14 day of one night stay in Scotland, changing the pace every day or night, then Scotland will collapse in a mishmash of blurred memories.
Careful planning will help make touring Scotland by train much more enjoyable.
Urban or rural
What kind of Scotland would you like to explore? Would you prefer to focus on cities or would you like to explore some rural Scotland, too?
Combining these different parts of the country will give you an amazing journey. Exploring Scotland by train is a great way to do some slow travel!
There are plenty of scenic routes and the views from the window are always spectacular. You should really take the time to enjoy all that touring Scotland by train can offer.
We do not yet have high-speed trains like Germany and France, so you will be able to savour those journeys.
Take on board that in some places in Scotland you can pay only by card or only by cash.
Having said that, it seems more and more contactless cards are being rolled out by retailers across Scotland, but in some remote places, it is likely you’ll have to pay by cash.
There is a £100 spending limit for contactless cards. Remember that £50 notes are not common in use and shops can refuse to accept the notes.
Check beforehand with your accommodation provider, especially small B&B, what method of payment they accept.
Think about luggage
Always keep your luggage light if possible. Heavy luggage & touring Scotland by train is not easy to deal with. Your itinerary usually decides how much you need to take with you when you travel.
Consider the seasons before packing clothes too-Winter clothes would be dumb to take in the Summer, for example. Always plan for potentially unpleasant climates before packing anything extra
A small amount of luggage, never more than you can comfortably carry without assistance, can be a wonderful asset. More just become a terrible burden.
Space is limited aboard trains for storage of baggage and few stations offer porterage so make sure you can carry your own luggage on and off the trains and for short distances.
How much luggage can I take on board a train?
For the most part, you can take up to three items of luggage on trains in Scotland. You can usually fit 2 suitcases and one smaller item like a purse or laptop bag.
If you want to bring something else with you, it’s subject to space availability. For peace of mind, it’s best to contact the train company ahead to make sure you can travel with these extra items
Can I leave my luggage at the station?
Yes. In some major train stations in Scotland like Edinburgh Waverley or Glasgow Central there may be places where you can store your luggage.
While some smaller stations don’t have this facility, to find out which stations have luggage storage facilities click here.
Scotland is generally a safe place, but it’s good to have insurance. Accidents happen and sometimes you regret not having it.
This depends on the time of the year, particularly the winter. Also the region you travel to. On some occasions, storms and strong winds can disrupt the journey. So bear it in the mind.