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The Belmond Royal Scotsman's observation car.  Crossing the famous Forth Bridge on this open-air viewing platform is an amazing experience...

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Introducing Belmond's Royal Scotsman cruise train...

The Royal Scotsman is Scotland's very own luxury cruise train, offering 2, 3, 4, 5 or 7 night tours of the Scottish Highlands.  Run by Belmond, the new name for the Orient-Express Group who also run the famous Venice Simplon-Orient-Express and equally luxurious Eastern & Oriental Express, the Belmond Royal Scotsman sets the same top-end standards of service, accommodation & cuisine.  They aim to create the atmosphere of a Scottish 5-star country house hotel, and they succeed.  The 9-coach train carries a maximum of only 36 passengers with a passenger to staff ratio of just 3:1, so it does indeed feel very exclusive.  Having experienced the Royal Scotsman, I have to say that it's a pretty unbeatable combination of superb scenery on Britain's most amazing train routes, country-house all-inclusive luxury with great food, wine & service plus some extremely well-chosen off-train excursions.  A trip on the Royal Scotsman doesn't come cheap, but if it's a special occasion or a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see a lot of Scotland in a very short time, you really won't be disappointed.  This page will give you the low-down on the whole Belmond Royal Scotsman experience...

Boarding the Belmond Royal Scotsman in Edinburgh...

A piper leads the way to the Royal Scotsman train at Edinburgh   Boarding the Royal Scotsman train...

Follow the piper!  You check in at the Edinburgh Waverley station first class lounge for tea or coffee.  When the train is ready for boarding, follow the piper to the platform where the train is waiting.

 

The red carpet treatment...  The Drum Major pipes you aboard, and there's time to settle into your compartment before finding an armchair in the lounge-observation car for departure...

The lounge-observation car...

This is the social hub of the train, located either at the rear or (for some parts of the trip) immediately behind the locomotive.  The lounge has armchairs, sofas, coffee tables, a bar serving tea & coffee, alcoholic & non-alcoholic drinks (all included in the price, just ask), and best of all there's an open-air observation platform, great for photography.  The day's activities, timetable & menus are posted in the carriage vestibule.  The bar carries some 30 different types of Scottish whisky, from the stronger west coast whiskies like Lagavulin, Talisker or Oban to the smoother eastern malts like Dalwhinnie.  You might not get through all 30, but with some suitable suggestions and guidance from the train manager and you may well find yourself doing some... er... interesting research...

Royal Scotsman's lounge-observation car   The Royal Scotsman's open air-viewing platform

Just about to leave Edinburgh, and the champagne is already starting to flow...  This is the lounge car, looking towards the open-air viewing platform.

 

The observation car, in a siding at Keith between Inverness & Aberdeen.  Guest rejoin the train here after visiting Johnston's woollen mill in Elgin.

Your private stateroom...

Your wood-panelled stateroom includes two single beds (there are a few single rooms with one bed) and all the facilities of a good (though compact) hotel room:  Small en suite shower & toilet, desk, table, wardrobe, tissues, mineral water, bathrobe & slippers, writing paper, soap, fluffy towels, shampoo & shower gel.  The train is always stabled in a siding or quiet platform for the night, so you don't have to sleep on the move.  The cars were specially rebuilt as 'hotel cars' for the Belmond Royal Scotsman from 1960s Pullman seating cars.  You can find more information about the history of the Belmond Royal Scotsman train here.

A twin-bed stateroom on the Royal Scotsman train   Another view of the same Royal Scotsman stateroom

Twin room, looking towards the small en suite...

 

The same room, seen from the en suite...

The dining experience...

The Belmond Royal Scotsman has two dining cars, Raven with a long central table & 16 seats, and Victory with conventional restaurant car tables offering 20 seats.  Victory dates from 1945 making it the oldest car on the train.  The meals and well-chosen wines are all included in the price.  The food is cooked on board in the train's tiny kitchen, and it's excellent.  At least one dinner on each tour is 'formal', so remember to bring your dinner jacket!

Inside the Royal Scotsman's Dining Car No.2 'Victory'   Kippers for breakfast!

The restaurant car, with tables for 2 or 4.  Places are not allocated, you can sit where you like...

 

A personal favourite - fresh Scottish kippers for breakfast...

Off-train excursions...

Each Belmond Royal Scotsman tour includes several well-chosen off-train excursions, which vary depending on which tour you choose.  Be warned, the clay pigeon shooting is addictive...  Tea & coffee followed afterwards at the big house, where you may even get to meet the Laird.  In the evening over after-dinner drinks in the lounge car, you may be privileged to listen to Highlander Ray Owens talk about 17th century Highland Life, which he can bring alive like no-one else.

Clay pigeon shooting during an off-train excursion near Aviemore   Dalwhinnie whisky distillery   Johnston's woollen mill, Elgin.

Clay pigeon shooting...

 

A whisky distillery tour...

 

A visit to a Scottish woollen mill...

The scenery...

If you drive around the Highlands, the winding single-track roads of childhood memory have sadly been replaced across much of the countryside by wide straight 60mph concrete highways blasted thoughtlessly through the landscape.  The good news is that you can still see unspoilt Highland countryside from Scotland's railways, and the train takes you through some of the best scenery in Scotland (or indeed, in Britain).  The most scenic route of all is probably the West Highland Line from Glasgow to Fort William & Mallaig, so for sheer remote Highland beauty take the Belmond's Royal Scotsman 3-night Western Tour.  But the Highland Line is also beautiful as the photos below try to show, and the 2-night Highland tour & 4-night Classic tour also take you across the famous Tay & Forth Bridges between Dundee & Edinburgh.

River next to the Highland Line   Passing Druimuachdar Summit on the Highland Line

On this 2-night Highland tour the Belmond Royal Scotsman left Edinburgh, crossed the famous Forth Bridge, passed Perth and headed up the Highland Line for a visit to Dalwhinnie whisky distillery...

 

The Highland Line...  Wild & remote highland scenery on the Perth to Inverness 'Highland Line'.  This is the line's summit at the Druimuachdar Pass.  At 1,484 feet (452m) it's the highest point on the whole British rail network.

The Royal Scotsmn train passes another scenic stretch of river on the Highland Line   Crossng a wide green valley on the Highland Line south of Inverness

Mountains, rivers & valleys.  The open air viewing platform really is a big plus for photographers.  After the distillery visit guests rejoined the train at Boat of Garten on the heritage Strathspey Railway where the train stabled overnight for dinner and a good night's sleep...

 

Next morning a road coach transferred guests to a country estate for clay pigeon shooting or country walking, returning to the train for lunch.  Here, the train crosses the Findhorn Viaduct near Tomatin on the Highland Line.  Just south of Inverness it crosses the viaduct across Culloden moor, where Bonnie Prince Charlie was finally defeated.

Gorse on the Inveness-Aberdeen line, seen from the rear of the Royal Scotsman train   Dining on the move between Inverness & Aberdeen aboard the Royal Scotsman train

Aperitifs & canapés before formal dinner...  Dalwhinnie 15 year old Single Malt in hand, time to step out onto the open-air viewing platform in the evening sun. On the line between Inverness & Aberdeen, the gorse is in full flower...

 

Fine dining on the move whilst passing Scottish scenery is wonderful.  This is farmland between Inverness & Aberdeen.  Passing Aberdeen, the train stabled overnight in a quiet platform at Dundee.  Next day, it crossed the famous Tay & Forth Bridges back to Edinburgh...

The Tay & Forth Bridges...

The Belmond's Royal Scotsman 2-night Highland & 4-night Highland Classic tours take you over the famous Tay Bridge & Forth Bridge between Dundee & Edinburgh, and these deserve a special mention.  Once the longest & largest bridges in the world, it's a real privilege to cross them standing on the Belmond Royal Scotsman's open-air viewing platform, as you get views and a photo opportunity that you simply don't get from any regular sealed-in train.  As you can see in the photo below, the stumps of the piers from the first (1878) Tay Bridge remain visible in the water next to the current (1887) Tay Bridge, a macabre reminder of the first Tay Bridge which collapsed under a train in a storm in 1879 with the loss of all 72 passengers on board.  The Tay Bridge Disaster was immortalised in a poem by William McGonagall, arguably Scotland's worst poet.  The train was found on the sea bed, still encased in the bridge girders.  The locomotive was found relatively undamaged and was raised and returned to service.  Nicknamed 'The Diver' (it sank twice whilst being salvaged and brought ashore) it was only scrapped in 1937, but for years no driver would dare take it over the Tay Bridge...

The Royal Scotsman train crossing the Tay Bridge, once the longest bridge in the world   The incomparable Forth Bridge, seen from the viewing platform at the rear of the Royal Scotsman cruise train

The Tay Bridge, once the world's longest bridge.

 
The Royal Scotsman crossing the Tay Bridge  

Crossing the Tay Bridge.  The stumps are all that remain of the first Tay Bridge, which collapsed in a gale in the Tay Bridge Disaster of 1879.

 

The Forth Bridge, opened in 1887 as the largest bridge in the world, now a symbol of Scotland, seen from the Belmond Royal Scotsman's observation car.

Which tour should you choose?

The West Highland line (see the West Highland Line page) is arguably the most scenic route in the whole of Britain, so if it's wild, remote Highland scenery you're after, choose the Royal Scotsman's 3-night Western Tour.  If you can only spare 2 nights (3 days), then take the 2-night Highland Tour, as the Highland Line from Edinburgh via Perth to Inverness is also beautiful, if not quite a wild or remote, and you'll get to cross the famous Tay & Forth bridge on your return to Edinburgh.  However, their most popular tour is the 4-night Highland Classic, similar to the Highland tour but with a journey along another candidate for most scenic route in Britain, the line from Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh, just across the water from the Isle of Skye.  If you can't decide and just want to see everything, you can combine the Western with either the Highland or Highland Classic tours to make a 5 or 7 night trip.

How to buy tickets for the Belmond Royal Scotsman...

Hotels in Edinburgh...

Consider these two historic rival hotels before or after your Royal Scotsman tour, both luxurious hotels in prime locations, both originally built by railway companies:

Travel to Edinburgh by train...

London to Edinburgh takes only 4½ hours by train, city centre to city centre stress-free, trains run every hour or better and cost from just £16.50 one-way if you book in advance.  The journey takes you via York, so why not stop in York for a day on the way?  To check train times, fares and to buy tickets online from London or anywhere in Britain to Edinburgh, see the Beginner's Guide to Train Travel in Britain.

The Royal Scotsman train stabled for the night at Boat of Garten on the private Strathspey Railway   Remember your dinner jacket!

If you can afford it, The Belmond Royal Scotsman is a great way to see a lot of Scotland, in luxury, in a very short time.  This is the Royal Scotsman train stabled for the night at Boat of Garten on the Strathspey Railway.

 

Cheers!  On the open-air observation platform before dinner...

A bit of background to the Royal Scotsman train...

The Belmond Royal Scotsman has been running since 1985, when it was started by two entrepreneurs using an assortment of leased coaches.  It was a success, and this enabled a new purpose built (or rather, purpose rebuilt) set of Royal Scotsman carriages to be introduced in 1990.  Six of the nine coaches including most of the sleeping-cars, dining-car 'Raven' and the lounge-observation car, were rebuilt from Pullman seating cars originally built by Metro-Cammell in Birmingham in 1960 and used on prestige trains on the East Coast route between London Kings Cross, Leeds, York, Newcastle & Edinburgh.  The coaches' interiors are radically different form their original 1960 interiors, with new Edwardian-style interior wood panelling provided by a specialist firm in Bournemouth.  Dining-car number 2 'Victory' was built in 1945 as an LNER (London & North Eastern Railway) first class carriage, used for much of its life as a inspection saloon for railway officials.  The last two vehicles (one service & generator car, one crew/sleeper) were built in the early 1980s as British Rail Mark 3 sleeping-cars.  The Royal Scotsman was acquired by Orient Express Trains Ltd in 2005, and it's now part of their portfolio of world-class luxury trains.  More details about the Royal Scotsman carriages.  The locomotive that hauls the Royal Scotsman train is contracted from the West Coast Railway Co. Ltd, and it's usually a ex-British Rail class 47.  Dating from the 50s & 60s, class 47s were once the most common mainline diesel in Britain but are now a rarity.

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