With the tallest mountains in the United Kingdom and home to the legendary Loch Ness, the Scottish Highlands have good reason to make someone’s travel bucket list.
The hit reality television show “The Traitors” has made the stunning area even more popular among travelers. Since the show’s premiere in 2022, train bookings to Inverness – the largest city and cultural capital of the Scottish Highlands – went up 25% between Jan. 2022 to 2023, according to rail and coach travel platform Trainline.
The best way to see the Scottish Highlands is by train, where you can take in the rolling hills and mystical lochs from the comfort of your seat, no GPS required. “It’s one of the most picturesque rail lines in the UK and travelling by train means you can concentrate on the views not the road,” Trainline’s CEO Jody Ford said in a statement to USA TODAY. Travelers don’t need to worry about parking, traffic, or unfamiliar roads, and arrive right in the city center.
It’s no wonder the train from London to Edinburgh is one of Trainline’s top three bestselling routes for American travelers.
Travelers who go by train can also feel better about their choice because trains emit up to 75% fewer carbon emissions than airplanes.
Learn more: Best travel insurance
Here are the most popular routes to exploring the Scottish Highlands by train, all starting in Edinburgh:
Forget the plane:10 train routes in Europe that are faster than flying
Loch Ness: 3 hours, 18 minutes by train
For those seeking out the fabled Loch Ness monster, Inverness is the closest train station to the famous loch. From the station, travelers can take a bus or taxi to Fort Augustus and board a boat tour or fishing charter to try to spot the creature. Even if she isn’t found, Loch Ness is still a sight for the eyes, with a historic pier and trails through the forests and past waterfalls. As Scotland’s second-largest loch and holding more water than any other lake in the U.K., Loch Ness is a great place to fish or kayak.
Fort William and Mallaig: over 5 hours by train
Although a long train ride, the trip from Edinburgh to Mallaig, a charming fishing village, is worth it. This route offers some of the best scenery in the world – in fact, riders might recognize the train and its route, which goes over the Glenfinnan Viaduct, as Harry Potter’s Hogwarts Express. Travelers can board the 19th-century-inspired Jacobite Steam Train and wind past enchanting villages, the Morar River and beaches. If it’s a clear day, the “Small Isles,” an archipelago of islands off the west coast of Scotland, are visible in the distance. (Travelers can board a ferry service to visit these isles too.)
Ben Nevis: over 5 hours by train
At an altitude of over 4,412 feet, Ben Nevis is an ancient volcano that exploded and collapsed on itself to become the tallest mountain in the British Isles. Travelers can take the train to Fort William, a town offering castles, distilleries, rugged coastlines along the West Highlands Peninsula and dramatic mountains at the Glencoe National Nature Reserve. The town is also dubbed as the “Outdoor Capital” of Scotland, so thrillseekers can go skiing and hiking to their heart’s desire. If hiking Ben Nevis doesn’t sound appealing, there’s also a gondola that provides stunning views without the exercise.
Oban by train: 4 hours, 8 minutes by train
With colorful row houses and medieval castles, the coastal town of Oban has the history and charm many travelers seek. It’s often regarded as a gateway to the Highlands and Scottish isles – and Scotland’s seafood capital. The thing to do here is definitely island hopping, where travelers can hop on a ferry to Kerrera, Lismore, Mull, or the other pristine isles to bike, dive, hike, or kayak. During the summer, travelers may spot passing whales on whale-watching tours.
Cairngorms National Park: 2 hours, 54 minutes by train
The town of Aviemore is where travelers should take the train if they want to visit Cairngorms National Park, the U.K.’s largest national park and an ideal place to stargaze or catch the Northern Lights. During the summer, watersports reign, but snowsports take over once it’s the winter. The park is also home to the world’s only sled dog center. For adrenaline junkies, the U.K.’s first permanent bridge-based bungee jump is located here, where the brave can jump 132 feet down. There are also gentler trails and historic castles for the less adventurous.
Kathleen Wong is a travel reporter for USA TODAY based in Hawaii. You can reach her at [email protected].