Taking One of Most Beautiful Train Rides in the World, Worth the $31

My dad and I took ScotRail’s West Highland Line on a scenic one-day journey along Scotland’s west coast.

selfie of Aefa Mulholland and her dad


Our trip began in Glasgow and ended in Oban, a fishing and ferry port.

Aefa Mulholland


ScotRail’s West Highland Line has two routes departing from Glasgow: The 3 1/2-hour one goes to Oban, and the 5 1/2-hour one goes to Mallaig, stopping at Fort William about four hours into the journey.

Both routes run north through Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, passing mountains, glens, and lochs before forking at a village called Crianlarich. The line is known as one of the most scenic train journeys in the world.

My dad and I opted for the short route to Oban, a stunning fishing and ferry port, and bought tickets through Trainline. Day returns were only £25 each way, or about $31 per person, and they probably would’ve cost even less if I’d bought them in advance.

Here’s what our trip was like.

Our day began at Glasgow Queen Street, one of the city’s main transportation hubs.

Glasgow Queen Street Station exterior


The station was busy, as always, with people commuting into the city center for work.

Aefa Mulholland


Glasgow Queen Street is in the center of the city, surrounded by a subway station, bus station, and a civic plaza.

When we stepped inside the station, we passed carts selling coffee, tea, and pastries. We decided not to stock up for the trip since most Scottish trains have tea trolleys on board.

I didn’t have to worry about buying tickets at the station since I’d already purchased them online. Thankfully, I was able to choose our seats, select whether we wanted to be in a quiet or regular car, and decide if we wanted spots with outlets.

Only half of the train was going to Oban, so we made sure we were in the right seats.

reserved seat on west highlands train


Our reserved seats had a paper with our departure and arrival destinations.

Aefa Mulholland


When we boarded the train, we found our reserved seats, which were labeled with our departure station, Glasgow Queen Street, and our final stop, Oban.

There was plenty of room on the train, and we were happy with our spots.

During the booking process, I picked two seats facing the direction of travel with a table in front of them. The two seats across from ours were empty.

The train departed from Glasgow, my hometown, and traveled along the River Clyde.

view of glasgow with bridge in front


Glasgow has a slew of parks, green spaces, and lovely river walks.

Aefa Mulholland


The train followed the River Clyde, which runs through Glasgow, after it left the station. It stopped to pick up passengers at Dalmuir, a station in West Dunbartonshire, before leaving the city behind.

Next, we passed Dumbarton, a town that was the capital of an ancient kingdom called Strathclyde.

Dumbarton Rock, a volcanic plug that looms over the town, was visible on the left side of the train. We could also clearly see Dumbarton Castle, a former fortress and royal residence, on top of the rock.

About 45 minutes into the journey, we passed Helensburgh, where the River Clyde opens up to the Gare Loch.

Gare Loch from train window, mountain the back in scotland


The best views of the Gare Loch were from the left side of the train.

Aefa Mulholland


Less than an hour after leaving Glasgow, we reached Helensburgh, an elegant coastal town on the Gare Loch known for its interesting architecture.

The train traced the northern banks of the Gare Loch, and my dad and I watched it glitter out the window. The railway banks were thick with ferns, ivy, and rhododendrons.

We hoped to catch a glimpse of a gray seal, porpoise, or bottlenose whale, even though our trip didn’t technically fall during whale-watching season, which is June through September.

Waterfalls splashed down the mountains as the train slid past Loch Long.

view out of train window in scotland, water in foreground and mountains in the back


Arrochar and Tarbet is a railway station located in the middle of the two villages.

Aefa Mulholland


Arrochar and Tarbet are only 1 1/2 miles apart, but the two villages sit on different lochs. Arrochar is on Loch Long, and Tarbet is on Loch Lomond.

We continued on the banks of Loch Lomond. I’ve always loved this loch, as it starts 14 miles north of the place I grew up. My family and I swam and picnicked there often. The views on our way to Ardlui, a hamlet at the head of Loch Lomond, were some of the most scenic of the trip.

The train trudged ahead to the north and passed Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, Scotland’s first national park.

When we reached Crianlarich, the train’s front half went a different route than its back half.

Crianlarich Junction station sign with mountains in the background


The front half went to Oban, and the back half went to Mallaig.

Aefa Mulholland


When we reached Crianlarich, a bustling village popular with hikers and climbers, some people got off.

The building between the north and south train tracks is a lovely tearoom serving hearty breakfasts, bacon rolls, strong cups of tea, and Tunnock’s teacakes, a Scottish biscuit with marshmallows and chocolate.

It was also time for the front of the train to continue to Oban and the back of the train to head toward Fort William and Mallaig.

The longer route goes north to Mallaig over the Glenfinnan Viaduct, a bridge famous for its appearances in the Harry Potter films. It also crosses the Great Moor of Rannoch and moves through Glencoe.

I visited Tyndrum as a child, so it was a treat to pass by it on our way to Oban.

Tyndrum station en route of scottrail train


The tiny village of Tyndrum has two train stations.

Aefa Mulholland


From Crianlarich, the front of the train trundled northwest to Tyndrum through Strath Fillan, a valley with dramatic mountains that sweep up from the glen floor.

I spent a lot of my childhood in the tiny village of Tyndrum, so my dad and I were glued to the windows, pointing out each familiar meander of the river and bend of the West Highland Way, a hiking trail that runs 96 miles from Milngavie, a suburb of Glasgow, to Fort William.

As the train left Tyndrum, we saw Ben Lui, a distinctive, bowl-topped mountain, to the left.

Dalmally is the most interesting station on the line, in my opinion, as it’s also a quaint inn.

Dalmally train station in scotland


The Victorian-era train station is now a fantastic, quirky guesthouse.

Aefa Mulholland


Dalmally is a functioning train station with a proper platform, but it’s also an inn.

The Victorian-era structure has guest rooms — which used to be animal pens, waiting rooms, and mail rooms — right on the train platform.

Oban has beautiful bays, coves, and beaches.

View of Oban from train window, buildings perched on a hill


Oban is on the coast, and it’s famous for its delicious seafood.

Aefa Mulholland


Oban is lovely, compact, and walkable. Between roaming the pier, passing the Oban Distillery, and devouring fish and chips, we saw a lot in the three hours between our trains.

We stocked up on tea and snacks for the return trip and went back to the station 25 minutes before we were due to depart.

The train doors opened 20 minutes before our departure, but we experienced a 30-minute delay.

exterior of ScotRail train, painted green and blue


ScotRail trains are often decorated with Scottish designs or scenery.

Aefa Mulholland


The train had a slight delay, as it had to wait 30 minutes for a northbound train to clear a section of the single track.

Luckily, the train had a tea trolley this time, and I got a cup of tea every time it trundled by our seats. We sat on the left side of the train again so we could see the landscapes we missed on the way up.

It got dark during the last hour of our journey back. My dad snoozed, and I flipped through a magazine.

We were back in Glasgow just 10 hours after we left.

View of Glasgow at night, street with lit up buildings


My dad and I were delighted to be home.

Aefa Mulholland


We’d definitely take this trip again. It was so much easier than battling traffic up the side of Loch Lomond, and it didn’t take much longer than it would’ve in a car.

On our future trips, we’ll get off and explore some stations en route, or we’ll stay overnight in Dalmally. And just in case the trolley person doesn’t show up again, we’ll bring our own tea.

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