If you want to see the best of Scotland by train, there are several good reasons for using its largest city as a base.
Top of this list is the multitude of destinations and routes to choose from.
Glasgow is a magnet for Scottish rail journeys, with the majority of towns and attractions across the country accessible by direct trains.
The city’s two main stations, Central and Queen Street, also have ultra-convenient city centre locations, which offer a wide choice of accommodation options, no matter what your budget.
Glasgow really has the edge over Edinburgh as base for exploring the best of scenic Scotland by train. It’s closer than the capital to the west coast islands and it’s the starting point for the incredible West Highland Line.
Travel for less than 90 minutes by train from Glasgow and you can experience multiple great destinations:
Loch Lomond - by taking a train to Balloch, which depart every 30 mins from Charing Cross, Queen Street and High Street stations.
New Lanark – by taking the trains to Lanark, which depart every 30 mins from Central station and connecting to bus line/route 135 at Lanark station.*
The Falkirk Wheel*- take bus route/line 6 from Falkirk Grahamston station, which is served by 2 x trains per hour from Glasgow Queen Street - avoid the trains to Falkirk High station.
(Both the castle and the Wheel can be easily be combined on one day trip, there are frequent trains between Falkirk and Stirling).
*These three destinations can all be accessed by using a Central Scotland Rover.
It’s also straightforward to experience all of the delights of Edinburgh while staying in Glasgow.
For most of the day two trains per hour operate over the fastest route between the two cities, with a journey time of under 45 minutes; and the final train of the day back to Glasgow leaves Edinburgh just after 23:00.
If you want to combine beautiful destinations and stunning scenery on easy longer adventures from Glasgow, here are six fabulous ideas for day trips by train, which tick every box.
If you want to head off to Arran or Bute, you’ll be taking a combination of train and ferry, but you don’t have to book in advance to save money – just make sure you leave Glasgow after 9:30 and book combined Rail + Sail tickets.
You also don’t have to book ahead to make a saving if you want to head to St Andrews, you can book Day Return tickets to Leuchars (the connecting station for St Andrews) after 09:30 at Queen Street station
Advance Tickets, which are discounted, are available if you book ahead online for the journeys to Mallaig (for The Jacobite), Oban, or to Aviemore for The Strathspey Railway.
Or if you want to head off on at least four of these suggested longer excursions and want the freedom to choose your departures on your travel date, a Spirit of Scotland rail pass enables spontaneity and should also save you money.
The Jacobite steam train makes majestic journeys between Mallaig and Fort William from late May to late October.
Despite the distance from Glasgow, it’s surprisingly feasible to take this steam train when making a day trip from the city as long as you don't head off from the city on a Sunday.
For those adverse to rising too early, what’s good know is that the required train to Mallaig via Fort William usually departs from Glasgow Queen Street station, on Monday to Saturday only, at 08:22; and a little over five breath-taking hours later, you’ll arrive at your destination.
You’ll have sufficient time for an excellent fish and chip supper, from the café right by Mallaig station, before the steam train departs for Fort William at 14:10.
The Jacobite will arrive back in Fort William with time to spare before the evening train leaves for Glasgow (it usually departs at 17:37).
This means you’ll be back in the city before 21:30, well in time for a nightcap.
...includes the stunning journey on the West Highland Line
If the weather is fine, try and take your seats on the left-hand side of the train when boarding in Glasgow, as you’ll get the best views of the journey as far as Fort William on that side of the train.
Within 20 minutes of departure, you’ll be travelling along the north shore of the River Clyde.
Then, between Helensburgh and Tarbet, on your left, there are lovely views over Loch Gare and Loch Long.
When you depart from Tarbet, Loch Lomond will be over to the right, although, for most of the journey, it can only be glimpsed through the trees.
If you’re travelling during the long summer days, it make sense to take in those views from the opposite side of the train when heading south from Fort William.
After your departure from Crianlarich, where the train heading to Mallaig separates from the train to Oban, there will be fewer trees getting in the way of these majestic views.
After the train has crossed Rannoch Moor and called at Corrour station, another highlight, on the left, is the view of Loch Treig. Also on the left − between Tulloch and Spean Bridge stations − the railway shares a beautiful valley with the River Spean.
Then, as the train nears Fort William, you’ll also see the spectacular peak of Ben Nevis.
On arrival at Fort William station it’s worth moving over to occupy seats on the other side of the train.
The train will travel in the reverse direction upon departure, but the best of the views between Fort William and Mallaig are also on the left.
From Fort William the train will travel along the shores of Loch Eil and with some wonderful sea views after the departure from Lochailort (when heading to Mallaig, between Glenfinnan and Lochailort stations, the beautiful Loch Eilt is on your right).
If you want to capture an image of the train crossing the amazing Glenfinnan Viaduct when you’re heading back to Fort William, find a window on the right-hand side of the train when it arrives at Glenfinnan station.
You don’t have to travel so far, or leave so early in the morning to experience a stunning journey from Glasgow on the West Highland Line.
On Monday to Saturday at 10:33/10:34 a train will usually depart from Queen Street station for Oban.
The charming coastal town is pretty much the perfect location for a late lunch.
On Mondays to Saturdays the train from Glasgow will arrive there at 13:43 and the trains back to Glasgow should be departing at 16:11 and 18:11.
As far as Crianlarich, you will experience the same stunning route described above, taken by the train to Mallaig.
At the next station Tyndrum, for the first part of the journey from there to Oban, the best of the views are again on the left.
From that side of the train there will be views over Lochan na Bi and then after Dalmeny the railway is by the shore of Loch Awe.
This lovely island in the Firth Of Clyde used to attract thousands of Glaswegian day-trippers, thanks mainly to its easy access by train and ferry, and it’s still straightforward to follow in their footsteps today.
Every hour, a train from Glasgow Central journeys to Wemyss Bay railway station, and this truly magical station occupies pride of place on the cover of Simon Jenkins’ book ‘Britain’s 100 Best Railway Stations’.
There will be time to take in its beauty before the ferry departs for Rothesay (in the summer, the boats connect with every train arrival).
This delightful ferry crossing takes around 35 minutes and, on arrival, you can see the best of Bute touring the island on an open-topped bus.
Trains from Glasgow Central station take less than 45 minutes to make the journey to Ardrossan Harbour station, where an easy transfer is available to the ferries that travel over to Brodick, the main town on the island of Arran
It’s possible to depart Glasgow after 11:00 and see the best of the island on a straightforward day trip, but you should check the timetable and the ferry status; sadly high winds were disrupting the timetable on the day that SMTJ planned to take our trip.
Though much of the train journey isn’t especially exceptional, it’s the ferry crossing and the bus trips around the island that offer the stunning views.
Due to the variety seen in its majestic landscape, Arran has been described as ‘Scotland in miniature’ and a network of local bus routes link the ferry terminal in Brodick to beauty spots across the island.
Though the buses are timed to connect with the ferry arrivals, so it’s best to take time out to explore the charms of Brodick when arriving back in the village; before awaiting the ferry back to the mainland.
The Mondays to Saturday only schedule which SMTJ had intended to follow is:
During the summer, the final ferry of the day usually departs from Brodick at 19:20.
The beautiful Strathspey Railway is one of Britain’s most delightfully preserved steam railways, and it has easy access from Glasgow, as it shares the station in Aviemore with the mainline trains (although optimum connections aren’t available on Sundays).
An early start from Glasgow is required if you want to make the most of the day.
You’ll need to take a train to Stirling, which leaves from Glasgow Queen Street station at 08:41, then on arrival in Stirling there will be a generously timed connection on to Aviemore.
Make that early start from Glasgow and you’ll have the opportunity to make two return trips up and down the line, having the optional tea on your second journey of the day, you’ll also have time to explore the charming Boat Of Garten station between trains!
Or if you just want to have afternoon tea whilst making the one return journey on the line, you can take a direct train to Aviemore from Glasgow at 10:07 or 10:10 depending on the day of the week.
The end-to-end journey between Glasgow and Aviemore takes around 2hrs 45mins, but the scenery is fabulous, particularly north of Perth.
Having enjoyed your steam railway adventure there is typically a direct train back to Glasgow which departs Aviemore at 18:08.
(The Strathspey Railway from Edinburgh)
Those trains on from Perth will have commenced their journeys in Edinburgh, so enjoying the Strathspey Railway makes for an easy day trip from the capital - the direct trains to Aviemore are usually scheduled to depart from Waverley station at 08:33 and 10:36.
At least once an hour, express trains depart Glasgow Queen Street for Dundee, and this lovely journey takes under 90 minutes.
If you want to take the time out to explore Dundee, the wonderful V & A Museum, which celebrates the best of Scottish design, is just across the street from the station.
In Dundee, you’ll connect into trains heading to Leuchars, the next station to the south.
The journey to Leuchars from Dundee takes only 15 minutes, but few train journeys between adjacent stations are as spectacular as this. That’s because, for around three of those minutes, the train travels over the incredible Tay Bridge.
Frequent buses meet the trains at Leuchars station and the transfer into the centre of lovely St Andrews takes around 10 minutes.
Having explored the town, when you return to Leuchars station, you can either travel back to Glasgow via Dundee, or board a train heading towards Edinburgh. If you choose the latter option, take a seat on the left where you can marvel at the Fife coast scenery as you travel over the iconic Forth Railway Bridge.
Leave the train at Haymarket station and you can connect into one of four trains per hour from there, which will transport you back to Glasgow Queen Street.
Off-Peak Day Return tickets will be money savers when travelling from Glasgow to multiple destinations including the island of Arran; Bute; Balloch for Loch Lomond; Dundee, Edinburgh, North Berwick, Perth and Stirling Castle.
Those tickets won't be any more expensive if you buy them at the station right before your journey.
And some great news is that ScotRail has embarked on a trial until June 28th, of abandoning peak travel periods - meaning that the cheaper Off-Peak prices are available on any train, on these routes and more. all day!
This is terrific, because when using Off-Peak Day Return tickets to make day trips, they can be under £2 more expensive than booking single tickets.
When travelling from Glasgow on the suggested longer trips, to Aviemore, Fort William, Mallaig and Oban, the Advance type of tickets which are discounted if you book ahead of the travel date, are available.
These Advance tickets also include seat reservations.
Though to save money by using these tickets you have to commit to taking a specific train on your travel day - so if the weather happens to be poor at the time you will making your trip, you won’t then be able to choose a different train or destination; without paying a £10 admin fee and the price difference with your original booking
Though something out of the ordinary, which is very much worth being aware of, is that ScotRail doesn't release Advance tickets for sale until 8 weeks ahead of the travel date.
However, on the routes on which Advance tickets are available, the more expensive Anytime tickets will be placed on sale up to 3 months ahead.
So if you look up a long-distance journey ticket on the ScotRail website more than 8 weeks ahead, you will only see the Anytime tickets.
ScotRail takes Advance tickets off sale at 18:00 (6pm) on the day prior to a travel date.
ScotRail also offers deals for when adults travel with children – which can impact on whether using the Spirit of Scotland Pass as a family will be a money saver.
Up to four children aged 15 and under can travel off-peak for just £1 return each with an adult (aged 16 and over ) ticket holder - and until June 28th all ScotRail journeys are Off-Peak!
The 'Kids For A Quid' offer also applies when booking Advance tickets on the long-distance routes.
There's no need to book the offer ahead of travel, so if an Adult buys an Advance ticket ahead of the travel date, to save money - the ticket can then be presented at a station ticket office just before boarding, or shown to a conductor on the train, and the offer can then be purchased.
And at many attractions in Scotland, including Edinburgh Zoo, the RSS Discovery and Deep Sea World, one child travelling with the Kids For A Quid offer, can gain free entry!
As you’ll be taking trains from both of the main stations in the city, Central and Queen Street, a logical option is to stay somewhere between them in the heart of the city (as both stations have easy to access locations).
Otherwise, a less obvious idea is to choose a location with easy access to a station on the Glasgow Subway though keep in mind that the subway closes after 18:15 on Sundays and the access to/from the trains isn't step-free at any of the subway stations.
Buchanan Street subway station is linked to Glasgow Queen Street and St Enoch subway station is a five-minute walk from the side entrance at Glasgow Central.
The majority of Glasgow’s most popular attractions, for the days on which you don’t want to make a longer train journey, are outside the city centre, but have easy access by the subway.
Kelvinhall is the closest station to the Kelvingrove gallery and museum, while Hillhead is the nearest station to the Rennie Mackintosh Museum.
Govan station is a five-minute walk from a pier where a free ferry will shuttle you across the River Clyde to the splendid Riverside Museum of Transport.
Though the ferry was suspended during the pandemic and has apparently yet to resume.
Another easy route from the city centre to the museum is to take bus route / line 100 from a stop from George Square.
I wanted to share my passion for train travel and explain how anyone can take the fantastic journeys I have taken.
This is one of more than 100 train travel guides available on ShowMeTheJourney, which will make it easier to take the train journeys you want or need to make. As always, all images were captured on trips taken by ShowMeTheJourney.
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