27 May 2023

Royal Scotsman luxury train - fab food, whiskey, Highland scenery

Luxurious twin cabin on Royal Scotsman.

The meat, seafood and whiskey are the highlights of this train trip, none of which I touch, so I cannot write my own report. So welcome to the Royal Scotsman by Jeremy Seal. It runs an extensive range of luxury tours from Ap-Oct, when the days are long. The train trip was as leisurely as it was luxurious; the twin cabins have two fixed lower-berth single beds, dressing table, wardrobe, heating, fans, opening windows, shower, washbasin and toilet.

Restaurant on Royal Scotsman.

The dining was as rich in the best Scottish produce, the culinary mir­acles executive chef Marc Tamburrini and his team conjured from their tiny galley: Isle of Gigha halibut, Pentland lamb, Uist crab and Shetland lobster. So it was that Royal Scotsman, with its 10 el­eg­antly refitted 1960s Pullman carriages, travels in the day, pas­sing the night in quiet sidings at towns and cities like Keith or Dundee.

We joined our fellow guests at Edinburgh’s Balmoral Hotel where the iconic tower clock still ensures pass­en­g­ers don’t miss their trains at the adjacent Waverley Station. A short walk to platform 2 was where Royal Scotsman, in handsome maroon livery with gold lettering, awaited us. A piper in full Highland kit: bagpipes, kilt, plaid cloak, bonnet and sporran, drew a crowd as he plays us aboard.

Guests were piped aboard the Royal Scotsman in Edinburgh.

The Observation Car was decked out with sofas, tartan throws and side tables topped with chessboards and lamps, like an elegant drawing room. Travellers enjoyed views of lochs and rivers, and moors clad in yellow gorse beneath the snow-capped peaks of the Cairngorms range. Host Mark Nash introduced himself over Champagne and strawberries from nearby Arbroath. Then canapes.

As the train left Edinburgh, we chatted, window-watched or went to the open Observat­ion Car for fresh air. We crossed the iconic Forth Bridge, once the world’s longest single-span bridge, be­fore fields of yellow rape and golf links stretched to the east coast’s golden beaches. Villages of grey granite clustered atop rocky outcrops.

North of Aberdeen, in light fading, we made for the dining cars where the guests, mostly from Europe and the US, continued their mixing over Scottish salmon served with a Salt River sauvignon blanc from South Africa followed by Gressingham duck. It was a terrific dinner, followed by a rousing set from a visiting folk duo who played music in the Ob­servation Car. There were accompanying whisky drinks at Keith from the Strathisla Distillery, home of Chivas Regal.

It was no accident that Royal Scotsman’s crew included a ded­ic­at­ed whisky ambassador who introduced us to the ext­en­s­ive selection of blends and single malts. The whiskey hostess made it her business to bring a sample bottle from whatever dist­illery we were passing.

romantic Ballin­dalloch Cast­le
Historic Houses

No surprise that there should be takers for the pre-breakfast walk each morning eg a walk around Keith or over the bridge at Kyle of Lochalsh to Skye on the west coast.

Excursions punctuated the tour, giving insights into Scottish High­lands life. There was a guided walk along the Gar­ve River banks, and an C18th droving route with High­land historian Andrew McKenzie in per­iod droving dress. There were visits to romantic Ballin­dalloch Cast­le, and to Glamis, with its strong connections to the British monar­chy. At the Rothiemurchus Estate we did fly fish­ing and clay pigeon shooting. At Pitlochry’s Blair Athol distill­ery, people loved the taste of a 23-year single malt. And at the lovely gardens at At­tadale on Loch Carr­on, Joanna Macpherson showed off the fernery, Japanese gard­en, stands of subtropical rhododend­ron and lichen-clad birch woods. The Scottish Highlands can be tree­less and bleak, or green and verd­ant, a reminder of this country’s magnificently varied scenery.

Great views

Then it was back on-board to Dundee where some had booked massages in Royal Scotsman’s Dior Spa treatment rooms. The last evening was a gala dinner, and many of us entered into the occasion, with women in kilted skirts, men in full Highland dress. After feasting, Mark announced there were some traditional Scottish dance moves to learn. He showed us, to the accompaniment of accordion and fiddle. Guests and staff joined in, performing the Flying Scotsman and the Virginia Reel. A late-night ceilidh broke out on Dundee Station’s platform 4, a rousing finale to what had proved an exceptional experience.

Belmond’s Royal Scotsman offers tours ranging from 2-7 nights. New for 2023 are themed options, including A Taste of Scotland with Mich­elin-starred Edinburgh chef Tom Kitchin. The four-night Scotland’s Classic Splendours journey is expensive - check the 2023 prices.

A warm thank you to Jeremy Seal. 


roentare said...

This is a very extravagant and classic package. The decor and the characters are so surreal to experience.

Pipistrello said...

Ah, Mr P also read this article (to me, I might add) hoping to do a sell and then got to the end and we burst out laughing at the cost. It does sound a lovely experience for when our lottery win vests :)

Parnassus said...

Hello Hels, True, the photos and descriptions are beautiful and make this all seem a luxurious fantasy. However, vacations involving trains, or boats never appeal to me, as I tend to feel ill on moving vehicles. Also, I like to wander about, and I think that I would feel trapped if I confined myself to a longish voyage. Still, I do understand the nostalgia for these luxury trains. At Whitehall, Henry Flagler's residence in Palm Beach, Florida, his private railroad car stands nearby, giving an idea of what at least one of these palatial railroad cars looked like originally.

jabblog said...

A step back to the past - it must feel like living in a film set.

Train Man said...

I have visited the grand hotels, castles and bridges you mentioned, but driving myself was lonely and boring. This train looks much more sociable.

Hels said...


very classical indeed. I assumed young people weren't on my tour because students etc couldn't afford to sleep in anything but caravans. But one look at the elegant facilities and decorations might feel more suited to middle aged travellers.

Hels said...


oops it must have been my mistake, putting a pound sign instead of a dollar sign. Pick your beloved off the floor and apologise from me.

A complete tour is not cheap in any case, but by the time we add up the costs of all meals, all sleeping accommodation, entry into important tourist sites, guides and bus connections, the correct cost seems more reasonable.

Andrew said...

How wonderful and it is rare for me to me want to be rich, but this is one such time. I initially wondered why no train YouTuber has taken the trip. I now know why. Thanks to Jeremy Seal.

Hels said...


I know all about queazy stomachs on moving transport... from my own beloved :( But not being trapped inside a very long train or ship. A train has far more choices to sleep, read, eat, walk, do exercises or watch tv/computer than you do at home; and a ship has a pool and a gym as well.

If you visit Flagler's Palm Beach residence, send me a photo of his private palatial railroad car if you could. I would love to compare an old train with Royal Scotsman.

Hels said...


Yes, I feel exactly that way on visiting Victorian homes with all their original furniture and decor either intact.. or carefully copied.

Presumably when the Royal Scotsman was designed from 1985 on, the designers looked very carefully at the earliest luxury trains, taking the best core materials, textiles, beds and chairs, cutlery and crockery etc.

Hels said...

Train Man

I too have been to overseas conferences alone, but I have never on a casual tourist trip overseas alone. So you are right! The most pleasurable part of Royal Scotsman tour, whilst on board the train, is to meet other people who share your interest in Scotland, eating together, sharing the lounge room etc.

Hels said...


I was only on a public servant's salary for the last 30 years of career, but a holiday every June-July was essential to our health and marital happiness. So in those years I would have said that wealth per se wasn't important.

Until I retired when Covid lockdowns started. Now it is clear that money IS important *sigh*. Not equally across all luxury trains, I suppose. India offers some of the most expensive train trips while the U.S trains seem less expensive.

My name is Erika. said...

This looks like a lovely trip, but maybe a bit out my pocketbook. It might be a little too much of meat, seafood and drink too for me. But it looks like it would a spectacular ride though. Thanks for sharing. I learn so many new things stopping by. (A that's a good thing too!)

Hels said...


In the post Covid years, travel of all sorts has been badly affected and the companies have either reduced their prices or downsized their businesses. The Royal Scotsman's tours, limited to six summer months each year, are so gorgeous that closing them down would be unthinkable.

Total meat and seafood taboos in my family were one thing, but I overstated my separation from whiskey *blush*. The distillery tours were very popular when I was in Scotland and the whisky ambassador who offered an ext­en­s­ive selection of whiskeys on board was equally popular. She poured from a sample bottle from whatever dist­illery the train passed.

diane b said...

That sounds like a dream holiday. We love trains but that one is a bit expensive.

Hels said...


You are quite correct. As I said to Erika, I hope the prices come down this year so that ordinary working families can enjoy this blissful tour.

Haddock said...

Like the idea of the observation car.

Hels said...


me too. Travellers from hot countries love to breathe the fresh Scottish summer air. I took my magazines and coffee outside, watching the stunning countryside rush past.

Luiz Gomes said...

Boa tarde e bom início de semana. Obrigado pela visita e carinho.
Adoraria fazer uma viagem dessa também.
Luiz Gomes

hels said...

yes! A plane trip is quick and convenient but you see nothing and learn even less. The joy of a train tour is that every moment is part of the pleasure and the learning.

DUTA said...

I like trains, but can't see myself in a luxury train of that kind. I just wish to reach my destination smoothly, in a train equipped with basic satisfactory amenities, including basic food and bed.

hels said...

understood.. we have enough trouble finding the time and money for holidays we DO love.

I saw passionate travellers going up Mt Kosciusko with their guides, filled with pleasure at achieving their life goal. And I knew I would never ever ever do that myself.

Fun60 said...

What a beautiful, luxurious trip. Interspersed with walkabouts and other activities it sounds like the perfect train trip. Flying gets me from A to B quickly but it is so boring

Hels said...


You can check the tours and the lectures of all the trips on offer, the more the better for cultural and historical packages. There is so much to learn, even for people who are familiar with the area they are going to. But there is nothing to learn from a aeroplane trip :(

My next luxury train trip was going to have been the Maharajas' Express, an amazing week-long heritage of tour of Mumbai, Udaipur, Jodhpur, Jaipur, Agra and Delhi. Covid and retirement have delayed those plans for a while :(