I just returned from a trip that included a week in the UK, focused on train excursions. I based in Inverness, with out-and-back excursions to Kyle of Lochalsh and Thurso, plus round-trip travel from Edinburgh to Inverness. Here aresome conclusions:
- The line from Inverness is, as many guides suggest, extremely scenic. Much of it hugs a coastline — loch or sea — and much passes through green hills. The line up to the top of Scotland isn’t quite as dramatic, but it’s a good ride, too.
- For the relatively short trips I took, advance purchase individual tickets are a lot less than buying a railpass. I bought my tickets through the National Rail website, which automatically displays your best deals and which trains have the lowest fares. Edinburgh-Inverness advance purchase round-trip is as low as £20.10 (around $26); the out-and-back to Kyle is £20, and Inverness-Thurso is £18.80. These trips totaling about $77, would have required four railpass days, which would cost a minimum of $166 on the temporary promo rate; usually $207. The main advantage of a pass is that you don’t have to fix schedules until the last minute, while the advance-purchase fares are good for only the specified train service you buy.
- The DMU (Diesel multiple-unit) railcars ScotRail uses for these highlands trips are not the most comfortable: The seats are hard and unforgiving, and I wouldn’t want to do two all-day trips on successive days. But viewing is good. When I traveled, traffic was low and I did not need reservations to secure window seats, but in the peak summer you might want to reserve a seat — which you can easily do on the National Rail website.
- You can buy tickets with a US credit card. When the deal is complete, you get an email message with a code. You get actual tickets after you arrive in the UK by entering the email code and the credit card you used to buy the tickets into an automatic ticket machine. It’s very simple.
- If you arrive at and/or leave Edinburgh by air, as I did, you can connect with your rail trip at the Edinburgh Gateway station, which is a five-minute tram ride from the airport.
— Ed Perkins, editor
For more travel tips from Ed Perkins, see our companion site Ed on Travel