Traveling through Scotland by Train is fun, affordable, and easy!
Watching the scenery from the comfort of your Scotrail coach is HIGHLY preferable to watching the road. Once you arrive in town bus services are available within a few yards of the Rail Station. Larger cities offer trams, Uber/Lyft/GETT or taxi services. And many of us chose to walk.
There are some places (islands) such as Skye where rail service is not available. For those wanting to include an island visit in their itinerary they will need to plan a secondary form of transportation. Personally, we hired a private guide for Skye (http://www.thehebrideanexplorer.com) his knowledge of the area and the history as well as his ability to negotiate the one lane roads of Skye while I hung out the window and snapped pictures was lovely.
Most of the Scotrail trains have WiFi. This is great for those last minute questions that always seem to pop up when you are in route to a new town. Most of the trains also have outlets for charging your phones or laptops and many have USB ports.
You can even download books and other entertainment from the Scotrail app which is free, just create an account. You will have to sign in to the Scotrail WiFi every time if you do not down load the app. It is very easy and will ask you to agree not to do any major file sharing and bog down the WiFi for everyone.
If you are traveling any distance such as Glasgow to Stirling or Edinburgh your train will probably have a tea lady cart offering tea, coffee and assorted snacks. Nothing big but definitely welcome if you are feeling peckish.
For those of you who want MORE…. most trains are BYOB. We enjoyed ales on several of our journeys. Please be responsible for your consumption and disposing of your beverage containers. All Scotrail stations have recycling at the platforms. There are few exceptions to the BYOB policy. They are well noted. You will NOT be caught off guard. The one T Train (as in t-totaler) that we encountered was a late night rural train.
For those of you who want MORE to EAT…. All trains have tables at the majority of the seats. Many people brought crisps or other snacks and one Hen party passed around plates of sandwiches and sausages. Again, please be responsible for clearing up after yourself. Few trains had rubbish cans but ALL stations have recycling and trash containers.
Restroom facilities are available on most trains. If you don’t see one in your car try the next car down.
Buying Your Tickets:
There are several ways to buy your tickets:
1. You can purchase them at the station immediately before boarding the train from the customer service agents or the automatic vending machines. This is more expensive that buying them in advance but only by a few pounds.
2. You can purchase them ON the train. Board the train at the station and when the conductor asks to see your ticket tell them you need to purchase the ticket. You will have to have cash for this option. This is the most expensive way to buy a ticket but again it is with in a few pounds of the advance purchase price. If you are very free spirited in your travel or about to miss your train this will save you lots of stress and pressure. We saw at least one person chose this option on every train we boarded in Scotland!
3. By your ticket in advance on www.thetrainline.com or www.buytickets.scotrail.co.uk We used both and they were both easy. One may be easier for you. Either way you pay by card and are sent a confirmation code. When you get to the station you print them out at the automatic ticket machine. You will need the card you paid for the tickets with in order to print them. Insert the card, it will be validated and NOT charged. Type in the confirmation code. Tell it to print your tickets. We paid for multiple journeys ahead of time and printed everything we needed in a particular city when we arrived (day trips, tickets to the next city etc.) This saved time later and was a manageable number of tickets to keep up with.
At the Stations:
From Larger Stations:
Arrive 15 minutes early for your train. this will give you time to look at the boards and determine which platform your train is leaving from. If you get there significantly early your train may not show on the boards. The customer service agents will be unable to direct you to the correct platform until the train appears on the boards.
How to read the boards:
The Boards show the Time of the Train, The Departing Platform, Final destination and the stops it will make on the way. If you see 4 boards from 7 am – 7:30 am and you showed up for a 7:45 train just wait and your train and platform will eventually be displayed on the boards.
From the small Rural Stations you will generally need to know which way (north or South, east or west) you are traveling. Chose the appropriate platform.
Small rural stations have minimal services. Larger stations (Inverness, Aberdeen, etc.) have coffee stands, restaurants and sometimes grocery or convenience stores. If you purchase food or beverages at the station there may not be any recycling or rubbish containers until you reach the train platform. We were endlessly entertained watching people look for the rubbish bin in the Edinburgh Waverley Station Pret a Manger…….
Entering and exiting the turn stiles: If you are in a larger station you will have to go through the turnstile to get to the train. Feed your ticket into the slot in the front side of the turnstile. It will be returned to you on the top of the turnstile. Take it but keep it handy as you WILL have to show it to the conductor. When you exit the station you will again feed the ticket into the slot on the front side of the turnstile. It will NOT be returned to you if you have reached your final destination on your ticket.
More cool things about ScotRail:
1. On most trains we were able to make seat reservations. Just take your ticket to the Customer Service window at least 2 hours prior to the train (or the day before or earlier in the week when you arrive…) and ask to make seat reservations. You are generally given a choice of front facing and with or without a table. You will be given a second ticket that shows your seat reservation. KEEP YOUR ORIGINAL TICKET WITH IT. You will have to have both to travel. Reserved seats are clearly marked with a white card at the shoulder. Look for your car and seat numbers. If you have any questions people are always willing to help and Conductors will guide you to your seats. ****Reserved seats saved us from a long standing train ride from Inverness to Glasgow. There are many times seats are so available you won’t need this service but it is worth the 3 minutes it takes to make the reservations on a crowded train.
We did have one train that they told us was a “local.” No reserved seats were available on that train.
2. You might can change your train – We had flexible tickets. Again they cost a tiny bit more but they allowed us to take any train for that route that day. (This was an option on the trainline.com) This allowed us to sleep in when we were beat and to take earlier trains when our walk to the station took less time than planned.
3. You CAN stop and get off and continue your journey later. We never did this but we were told it is possible particularly if you are disembarking at a station with left luggage services. The ScotRail website will tell you whether these services are available. We used them in Inverness- select a locker and store your bags, go to the machine, put the locker number in and follow directions. You can pay with cash or card. You will be given a receipt. When you return you scan the receipt and the locker pops open. There is someone to help if you need it.
Anytime Day tickets were our preferred method. They cost £1 more than the off peak ticket. Off peak tickets were the cheapest. After 9:15 am and on weekends trains are off peak. There may be some restrictions in the evening. First class tickets are also available on some trains. They cost about £1 more than the Anytime Day tickets. We never used this service so I can not advise you on it.
Always read carefully and be sure of which tickets you are purchasing.