A Magical Train Ride from Glasgow to Mallaig in Scotland

By Dian Emery / 26 August 2016

A Magical Train Ride from Glasgow to Mallaig in Scotland

By Dian Emery

For the most magnificent day trip from Glasgow, hop on a West Highland Line train and go north to Mallaig, Scotland. Recognized as one of the world’s best train journeys, the train ride from Glasgow to Mallaig is a trip of a lifetime and a great way to see Scotland’s extreme wild side.

Before Your Mallaig Day Trip from Glasgow

You may find online booking for this train trip confusing with the many departure times and the option of a separate Jacobite leg from Fort Williams to Mallaig. The solution is to book through a travel agency or simply visit the train station in Glasgow for the best booking information. The earliest train departure for the direct journey from Glasgow straight through to Mallaig is at 8:20 a.m. leaving from the Queen Street Station in Glasgow.

To make things easy for an early morning journey be sure to stay at a Glasgow hotel within easy access to the station. We recommend a stay at the very stylish and urban Citizen M Hotel, located a short ten-minute walk from the Queen Street train station.

Citizen M Hotel in Glasgow, Scotland
Photo credit: MSeses under Creative Commons CC 4.0

The Citizen M Hotel is perfect for any urban traveler. It is close to both of Glasgow’s train hubs and pedestrian shopping districts and is a popular choice for a night or two in the city. A big plus is the automated self check-in and check-out as well as Citizen M’s 24-hour kitchen. This upscale cafeteria/kitchen, located on the second floor of the hotel, is very convenient when you have an early morning train departure! Order a latte and a generous helping of their delicious granola for a perfect start to a day of scenic adventures.

West Highland Train from Glasgow to Mallaig

In a little over five hours, this train journey takes you from urban Glasgow into the Western Highlands through some of Scotland’s most spectacular scenery, with much of it miles away from any road, town, or people.  The train slowly makes it way north, skirting the edges of large lochs with ancient castles nestled on the shores, soaring mountains, and miles of empty moody moors. It is so beautiful that it’s hard to put your camera away for any length of time.  You will be sharing the journey with hikers, cyclists, tourists, and locals making their way to the Highlands. If you’re lucky you may hear a mother reading a pretty Gallic fairytale story to her wee bairns or you might spy out your window a stag standing at the edge of a misty loch, making this special trip simply magical.

Not to Miss On Your Train Journey to Mallaig

The Jacobit Train from the Harry Potter movies in Scotland
Photo credit: Calflier under Creative Commons CC 2.0

Horseshoe Curve – There are a few can’t miss moments on this train ride through the Scottish countryside. Try to make sure you have the seat next to the window when the train is north of Tyndrum. On this section of the journey the train follows a sweeping east/west curved line along the foot of Ben Doran. This is a railroad fan’s dream postcard photo. The train suddenly seems tiny and insignificant as it winds its way around the enormous looming mountain and through the valley along Horseshoe Curve.

Rannoch Moor – After the Bridge of Orchy the roads slowly disappear from view as you approach Rannoch Moor, one of Britain’s largest peat bogs. There is something otherworldly about the long traverse of peat, heather, mountains, and nothingness. The sheer emptiness of the land is compelling and makes one wonder how travelers in the past found their way out of this massive area of lonely but beautiful sameness.

A Harry Potter Moment – Between Locheilside and Glenfinnan station the train makes its way over a beautiful grey concrete viaduct and Scotland’s longest bridge. The bridge appears on Scotland’s currency as well as being featured in four of the Harry Potter films as part of the train journey to Hogwarts. You can easily imagine yourself on a magical journey as you sit on the train in the middle of the Scottish wilds crossing the majestic curved bridge high over the River Finnan.

Then finally, four stations later, you reach the end of your journey in the fishing village of Mallaig. Yes you can actually do this trip in a day! Once in Mallaig you can stroll the very tiny village for two and a half hours, have lunch, and then hop on the train back to Glasgow arriving in the city around half past nine in the evening. To make the most of your travel though, you should opt for a day or two visiting the Isle of Skye which is just across the way from Mallaig,

Extend Your Day Trip from Glasgow: Isle of Skye

Quinaing in Scotland
Photo credit: Johan Wieland under Creative Commons CC 2.0
Skye Island in Scotland

The Isle of Skye is easily accessible from Mallaig, the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry offers daily trips to the port of Armadale on an hourly basis during the summer. The ferry crossing, even though short, will definitely allow you to experience the rough seas of northern Scotland. The fun, but choppy ride also provides plenty of beautiful views, on the left, the ferry passes the small but stunning isles of Eigg, Muck, and Rum, and as you approach Skye, the rough Cuillin Mountain range towers over the Sleat peninsula. Be sure to keep a sharp eye out for dolphins while on the ferry. They come quite close to the boat and are lovely to watch as they dance along the wake of the ferry.

You can rent a car on Skye but you must make arrangements before you arrive. Armadale is tiny and the car hire has to be delivered from another town to meet the ferry. The Stagecoach bus also connects with the ferry crossing and travels to the larger towns of Broadford and Portree several times a day during the summer season. It also offers a limited winter service.

You can bike on the island but remember it is Scotland and the north of Scotland, the weather will be wet, wild, and windy even during the summer, and the inclement climate will limit your daily distance. The island is large and mountainous; it is an experience most suitable for serious cyclists.

Mallaig Harbour, Scotland
Photo credit: Rebecca Siegel under Creative Commons CC 2.0

If you do decide to extend your day trip from Glasgow with a visit to Skye we recommend you stay on the island instead of Mallaig. There are numerous pretty little Bed and Breakfasts and hotels on the island and the island offers tons of scenic attractions to fill your days and your facebook feed.

To make most of your Skye visit we recommend taking a half day tour with Skye Tours. This will allow you to get a great overview of what Skye has to offer without having to worry about driving along tiny single track roads or trying find remote attractions.

The Isle of Skye is simply stunning, the geography and tiny villages of the isle will enchant even the coldest and wettest island visitor. Yes, you will be wet during much of your visit but the wild views from Kilt Mountains, the towering Old Man of Storr, and the tranquil green beauty of Quiraing will more than make up for a little mist and the periodic daily downpours. The sun does make an appearance on occasion, and if it does, head over for a swim or walk along the path to experience the waterfalls and clear blue pools of Skye’s Fairy Pools, located on the road to Glenbrittle.

Other must-see attractions in Skye includes the pretty and colorful fishing village of Portree.

Night view of Portree village on Skye Island in Scotland
Photo credit: P. Butke under Creative Commons CC 2.0

With many quaint pubs and boutique craft stores it makes for a great afternoon out. Also, be sure to also make a short stop to the mystical Fairy Glen, located near Uig. A word of warning, there are no road signs to this lovely spot where the fairies live, so it can be hard to find on your own, but it is included on the Skye Tour itinerary. We didn’t spot any fairies during our magical, ethereal stroll up and down the soft green Fairy Cones, perhaps you will have more luck on your visit to this special spot on the Isle of Skye.

Hop on the West Highland train for your special day trip from Glasgow! Plan your rail journey of a lifetime now to experience the wild beauty of Scotland’s northwestern coast.

Cover photo credit: UltraView under Creative Commons CC 2.0

The comments and contributions expressed are assumed only by the author. The recommendations, intentions or opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Transat AT Inc. or its affiliates. See terms of use of the Air Transat website.

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