Scotland by day trip train from Edinburgh?
September 8, 2013 1:19 PM   Subscribe

I'll be spending a week in Edinburgh in late October. I absolutely love train travel and I'd like to take as may day trips by train as possible over the week. The only requirement is that the trips have me back by 8 or 9pm every evening. Are there week or day train passes I can buy that will let me hop on and off? Any routes that you suggest? For instance there seem to be a number of rail lines to get from Edinburgh to Glasgow, is that right? Are there some rail lines/trips that are better for tourists than others? Also, what is the best way to keep track of the routes and timetables?
posted by tigeri to Travel & Transportation around Edinburgh, Scotland (11 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Scotrail have a pdf of their routes. They run most, but not all train services in Scotland, and their timetables include services on those routes run by other companies.

The trains between Edinburgh and Glasgow are good for getting between the two cities, but I wouldn't describe them as particularly touristy/aesthetically pleasing. Go to Glasgow for Glasgow, not for the journey there! I think you can see the Falkirk Wheel from the train, but that's about it. And if you get one of the few trains that does Edinburgh to Glasgow Central (most come into Queen Street) you go right past the national high-security mental hospital at Carstairs...

Routes that are pretty for the journey:
- Edinburgh-Inverness. North of Pitlochry you get some beautiful Highland scenery. I've seen golden eagles from the train on that route. Three and half hours to get there, so not much time in Inverness, but that's fine as there isn't much to do in Inverness itself anyway.
- Glasgow-Oban or Fort William. This you would have to be careful on the timings of to be able to get back in time, and you'd basically be spending all day on the train, just stretching your legs at the other end. But it's a lovely route (though it is a long time since I've made the journey)
- Edinburgh-Newcastle/Durham: stunning coastal scenery, and you can see Lindisfarne from the train. Trains on this route are faster (two hours to Durham), which leaves you with more time in the city you end up in.

There are definitely passes you can get if you're not from the UK, but since I am from the UK I don't know how you get them!
posted by Coobeastie at 1:46 PM on September 8, 2013

Although some train journeys in Scotland are very scenic, others consist of drab countryside and even drabber housing estates and rush hour can be somewhat spartan and crowded. The Edinburgh-Glasgow train is grim in my view

Trains can take multiple routes or have different numbers of stops between 2 locations ("stopping" and "non-stopping"). Once upon a time, Britain had a single train operator and a simple fare structure. Now, due to the breaking up of Britain's rail system into separate train operators, tickets can be eligible for some trains but not others between the same 2 end points. Getting on the wrong train can render you liable for the full price of another ticket between your two stations.

There seem to be 2 types of go-as-you-please rail pass from each of 2 operators, Scotrail and BritRail, one is valid for any 4 days in an 8 day period, the other for any 8 in 15.

Study both offerings and check typical train times. Memail me if you want specific information, I live in Edinburgh.
posted by epo at 1:53 PM on September 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Generally, I'd recommend the Edinburgh Waverley to Glasgow Queen St line (via Falkirk), as the other route (to Glasgow Central, via Shotts) is slow and a bit dull. On the Falkirk line, Falkirk (esp. The Falkirk Wheel) and Linlithgow (Linlithgow Palace) both have their high points. In Linlithgow, that can aslo include a meat pie from Oliphant's Bakery on the high street (om nom nom).

You can't miss New Lanark, though it's a rather fiddly journey via Carluke, then a bus from Lanark. Points east from Edinburgh include St Andrews (via Leuchars, then a bus) and Dunfermline, including a trip over the epic Forth Bridge.
posted by scruss at 2:04 PM on September 8, 2013

in between Edinburgh and Glasgow are Stirling and Falkirk, and in Stirling you can certainly occupy yourself with the Old Town and the Stirling Castle and the Wallace Monument for a daytrip.

Within that general region of Scotland, other places for daytrips would probably be Dundee, and with that St Andrews. There's also Perth, if you're interested.

Oban is good for a Highlands daytrip, right up to the Isle of Seil if you can manage. Further north than that would probably ask for a night, though you can stop at Inverness to get on a tour to the Loch Ness. Nearer down is the Loch Lomond and Trossachs area, that's generally good for an outdoorsy day trip. For these and Inverness I feel it's quicker from Glasgow, but if you're coming from Edinburgh, add roughly another hour to your travelling.

You can definitely use the Scotrail 'book tickets' to estimate your travelling. Google Maps has incorporated the rail service as well, so you can definitely use that to plan. If you have a data plan (though Scotrail has free wifi in their stations and coaches), I've found my Scotrail mobile app to be pretty indispensable in planning trips.
posted by cendawanita at 2:06 PM on September 8, 2013

I'm no expert on trains, and mostly do things in Glasgow my home city now. I agree with the previous poster that the Edinburgh-Glasgow train isn't especially scenic, but it's a short trip and there's plenty to see in Glasgow to make a day trip worthwhile. For example the Riverside Transport Museum or St Mungo's Museum Of Religious Life, both of which are stops on the sightseeing bus that goes round the city. I know open-top buses are a big tourist cliché and more expensive than regular public transport, but your time is valuable on holiday and this one is very convenient and hassle-free, and the audio guide you get headphones for will tell you a lot about Glasgow.

Stirling has a bit of charm about it too, then again I would say that as I chose to go there for University :) But if you like a longer journey and seeing the view from a train I have heard Oban is lovely, and if you have only a short time there and like fresh seafood the Seafood Hut there get's very good reviews (I don't know if it's only open part of the year though, Tripadvisor would probably say). Or if you have a little longer Oban has a whiskey distillery too.
posted by AuroraSky at 2:08 PM on September 8, 2013

If you are in the US you can get a 30 day pass that goes all over Great Britain before you leave on your trip.
posted by brujita at 2:13 PM on September 8, 2013

From Glasgow you can catch the train to Balloch - it's less than an hour and takes you straight to the bonny, bonny banks of Loch Lomond.

The nicest train journey I've been on in Scotland was an early, early morning ride from Glasgow to Aberdeen. It was January and I watched the sunrise over frozen fields dotted with the occasional shepherd and a dog. The view on the East Coast was breathtaking. But I think the loveliness was especially lovely because I did not expect it.

However, try googling "daytrips Edinburgh" because plenty of tour companies do one-day bus trips that will take you to Highlands or on the Whiskey trail. I was a bit dubious about these trips when I heard about them, but overseas friends actually rave about them. I know you were asking for train journeys, but do not rule out the odd bus trip!
posted by kariebookish at 3:24 PM on September 8, 2013

Not really an answer to your question, but just in case this is your first time to Edinburgh, know that once you're there you may not feel like spending your whole week on day trips -- it's a gorgeous city and there's tons to see and do.

Also (somewhat contradicting this), train tickets in the UK can be very significantly cheaper if bought well in advance, so whatever routes you choose, you might want to buy your tickets soon.
posted by zeri at 5:29 PM on September 8, 2013

Any train north from Edinburgh (Stirling, Aberdeen, Pitlochry) goes across the breathless Firth of Forth bridge. Don't miss it!

Any train out of the Edinburgh-Glasgow range will provide some thrills. The higher the better. But daytrip-wise, Pitlochrie is about as far as you can reasonably go and also spend some time at your destination. The train to Oban is lovely, but maybe a bit out of daytrip range.

Don't neglect the lowlands, though. Trains to Berwick or on to Newcastle could be lovely, and if you're going through Glasgow, you could continue on to Ayr on the train as well.
posted by Catchfire at 10:32 PM on September 8, 2013

If you can break the day trip rule and the getting back at 8/9pm rule, the one to take is the Jacobite. It is very picturesque and is the train journey depicted in the Harry Potter movies. It goes from Fort William to Mallaig and back. It is memorable. Wanderlust magazine voted the Glasgow to Mallaig trip on the West Highland Line as the most world's best train journey in 2009. It is rugged scenery, full of lochs and moors.

However, The outbound Jacobite leaves Fort William at 10.20am, which means you need to be in Fort William the night before. Getting there takes 5 or so hours from Edinburgh, but you could break the trip in Glasgow or head up early and see Fort William. You don't have to take the specific Jacobite tourist train to get to Mallaig. There is a normal train too. It is a 6.5 hour each way trip from Edinburgh, going via Glasgow. The first train leaves Edinburgh at 7.45am. Similarly, the normal 16.05 from Mallaig gets you back into Edinburgh at 22.22.

If you did the Jacobite both ways, you'd probably get the 2pm train back, which would get you into Fort William at 4pm. This would put you on the 17.37 back to Edinburgh, getting you back into Edinburgh at 22.22, so later than you've suggested.

A good resource is The Man in Seat Sixty One.

Buy a pass, or book in advance. Unless you like burning cash for fun, do not book long journeys with less than 7 days' notice or you will pay a very hefty premium.
posted by MuffinMan at 3:06 AM on September 9, 2013

We just got back from a trip to Edinburgh, and brujita is correct. Buy a rail pass before you leave. They are based on days, so if you want to hop on and off you will save a great deal of money. You may even get a deal if you order soon. We ordered our BritRail Passes well in advance and received a free day.

The only downside to the passes is that your seats aren't reserved. It wasn't a huge deal, but as we were traveling as a group of 3, and had our bags, we had to hunt to find seats together, and be sure not to sit in someone else's seat. This was only a problem on the journey from London to Edinburgh, and less so on the other legs of our trip.

Edinburgh is an amazing city. We stayed a week, and had a blast. Can't wait to return.
posted by terrapin at 5:42 AM on September 9, 2013

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