Edinburgh provides the perfect base from which to explore the stunning Scottish Highlands. Travel by train, car, or via an expertly organised coach tour. Either way, you’re in for a spectacular ride. Here’s all you need to know.
Why visit the Scottish Highlands?
The Scottish Highlands sit patiently on plenty of bucket lists. But when you consider all this dramatic region has to offer, you’ll soon realise why the time is now to explore Scotland’s awe-inspiring North.
It features incredible natural landscapes and white-sand beaches to discover, as well as an abundance of history and quaint towns to explore. Also, you’ll find more delicious food than you can shake a Michelin Guide at. Think succulent langoustines, fresh mussels, plump scallops, and platters of silky oysters.
The Scottish Highlands are a nature-lover’s paradise. From the UK’s highest peak with the giant, craggy shoulders of Ben Navis to the sprawling, natural beauty of the Highlands’ many lochs. Ancient monuments await eager eyes, too, including the Glenfinnan Viaduct.
Then there are the whiskey distilleries, the whitewashed lochside villages, epic waterfalls, rare wildlife spots, incredible wild camping opportunities and so much more. If you’re travelling from Edinburgh to the Highlands, you best get booking your train tickets, as one of the world’s most impressive corners awaits.
The best way to visit the Scottish Highlands
Those who can drive might choose to navigate the glorious peaks and troughs of this mountainous landscape by car. Or, you might prefer to travel to the Highlands from Edinburgh by train.
On the other hand, if you prefer the sightseeing certainty that comes with an operated tour, you’ll be happy to know there’s no shortage of reputable companies offering single and multi-day trips up to the Highlands from Edinburgh.
Day trips from Edinburgh to the Highlands
After shopping around Edinburgh, all that's left to do is choose exactly which type of adventure you’d like to embark on.
Perhaps you’ll opt for an exploration of stunning wooded lochs, with the hopes of catching a glimpse of Nessie. Or maybe you’d rather be swept away on a magical tour of Harry Potter locations. Liquor lovers might choose, instead, to indulge in a day of whiskey and waterfalls.
In short – there’s a day tour for pretty much everything. So the region really is your oyster.
Highland Explorer Tours
It’s well worth checking out Highland Explorer Tours. This reputable tour operator offers a wide range of both single-day and multi-day trips to the Highlands from Edinburgh, allowing you to get the absolute most out of your visit.
Head to Edinburgh on an Avanti train, then be whisked away on a coach, deep into the epic Highlands.
Visit Loch Ness
If you’re after sights of Nessie, you can find your way to Loch Ness via Inverness. However, there’s more than just Nessie sightings to enjoy here, as across the loch is the stunning Urquhart Castle ruins, as well as plenty of boat and fishing tours to enjoy.
If you’re set of seeing Nessie, you’ll need to travel the closest station to Loch Ness, which is Inverness. You’ll find that trains from Edinburgh take anywhere between three and a half hours to four hours to arrive. This depends on whether you go direct or stop off at Perth on your way.
Scale Ben Nevis
The highest mountain in the British isles, Ben Nevis is a towering mountain that boasts both natural beauty and history. Located close to Fort William, Ben Nevis has a Visitor Centre that’s only a short drive away from its train station and town centre.
The closest train station to Ben Nevis is Fort William. From Edinburgh, you’ll find yourself on a journey that can take approximately five hours, whether you’re travelling directly or via Glasgow Queen Street.
Explore Cairngorms National Park
Few could consider a day trip to the Highlands without thinking about Cairngorms National Park. The natural beauty of Cairngorms is hard to capture, complete with stunning lochs and beautiful forests. From outdoor activities to mountain climbing, a trip to Cairngorms National Park is worth making the day trip.
Getting to the national park from Edinburgh requires a bit of travelling, with the closest train station being Aviemore. From Edinburgh, you can expect approximately three hours on the train, which may see you going direct or stopping off at Perth.
Getting to Edinburgh by train
It’s easy enough to get to Edinburgh by train from most parts of the UK. Here’s a quick breakdown of some of our most popular routes.
London to Edinburgh
Trains from London to Edinburgh vary in duration, ranging from journeys that take approximately four and a half hours to just over five hours. This depends on which station you travel from, with most requiring a stop at London Kings Cross. When travelling from here, you’ll find that journeys will often be quicker.
Birmingham New Street to Edinburgh
When travelling from Birmingham New Street to Edinburgh, you’ll either be able to go direct or will need to stop off at Preston or Darlington along the way. When going direct, you’ll often find journeys take approximately five hours, while journeys with a change can range from four and a half hours to five hours long.
Carlisle to Edinburgh
Travelling from Carlisle to Edinburgh offers relatively quick routes, with many frequent direct trains taking just under an hour and a half.
Preston to Edinburgh
Avanti have many direct journeys from Preston to Edinburgh, with the route taking approximately two and a half hours.
Lancaster to Edinburgh
Lancaster to Edinburgh routes are fairly frequent, often offering direct journeys from between the two. On average, travellers can expect journeys to take approximately two hours and 10 minutes.
Travelling from Edinburgh to Highlands
If you choose to travel solo rather than opt for a guided tour, it’s possible to get to the Highlands by train or car from Edinburgh.
Edinburgh to the Highlands by train
Hop on a train at Edinburgh to one of the below destinations to kick off your tour of the Highlands. Please note, that most direct routes are operated by ScotRail.
Edinburgh to Inverness
Inverness is the cultural capital of the Highlands and can be reached by train from Edinburgh in about three and a half hours give or take 15 minutes or so, depending on which train you get. Inverness is a great base for:
- Heading to Loch Ness (Inverness is the closest train station)
- Exploring beautiful Inverness – don’t miss the famous Inverness Castle, and be sure to try some delicious Scottish salmon, caught in the River Ness
- Heading out on amazing hiking trails in the greater Highlands
Edinburgh to Fort William
Edinburgh to Fort William is definitely the most scenic Highlands train route. There’s also plenty of time to take in the breath-taking views, as the journey comes in at just over five hours.
Drink in the spectacular vistas of the Scottish Highlands as you wind your way through part of the route taken by the famous Caledonian Sleeper. Plus, enjoy the same scenery as those aboard the fictional Hogwarts Express, and glide past one of Scotland’s shortest rivers, the River Morar.
Hop off at Fort William or stay on board for another hour and a half to get to Mallaig, a small fishing port with lots of lovely cafes, shops and bars, as well as ferries over to Skye.
Edinburgh to Highlands by car
To get to the Highlands from Edinburgh by car, take the A90 from Edinburgh, then head to the M9 via the A904. You’ll reach Highland territory in about an hour or so on a normal day, traffic-wise.
Travel from Edinburgh to the Highlands with Avanti
Now that you know how to get to both Edinburgh and the Highlands, it’s time to book your tickets. You can book in advance and get the cheapest train tickets possible and, if you’re travelling with young people or with children, you can get up to 50% off your tickets with the right Railcard or a family ticket.
You can also make your journey that much easier with the Avanti West Coast app. Search for train times, find the best fare, and save your railcards and tickets all in one place.