For generations of Scots - not to mention legions of Harry Potter fans - it is already recognised as our most scenic rail journey, showcasing some of the country's most stunning scenery.

However, it seems the rest of the world has caught on to the romance and beauty of the West Highland Line.

The 164-mile route, which links the fishing port of Mallaig on the west coast to Glasgow, has been voted the world's top rail journey, beating off 400 others, including the route of Machu Picchu in Peru and the Trans-Siberian express.

The line was the clear winner with readers of travel bible Wanderlust magazine in its annual awards, which this year featured train journeys for the first time.

In second and third place were two Peruvian rail journeys, the Cuzco to Puno line and the Cuzco to Machu Picchu line. The Trans-Siberian came in fourth just beating Eurostar into fifth place.

Passenger services on the West Highland Line are operated by First ScotRail, but the Jacobite steam train, which was transformed into the Hogwarts Express for the Harry Potter films, operates between Fort William and Mallaig in the summer.

The journey was recognised for its breathtaking and varied scenery, skirting lochs and fields filled with Highland cattle, and crossing the 21-arch viaduct at Glenfinnan - a sight familiar to Potter fans around the world.

The spectacular route also takes in Ben Nevis, Britain's highest mountain; Arisaig, Britain's most westerly mainland railway station; and Loch Morar, which provided the beach shots in the much-loved Scottish film Local Hero. On a clear day, passengers are also treated to unrivalled views of the isles of Eigg, Muck and Rum.

A spokeswoman for VisitScotland said she was "delighted" that the line had proved so popular with travellers across the world.

She added: "It is fantastic to hear that the West Highland Line has beaten 400 other rail journeys worldwide to come out on top, reiterating the appeal of Scotland. Offering the opportunity to appreciate our countryside and indeed our natural surroundings, it is a route which proves very popular time and time again.

"I hope this news encourages more people to get out and about and appreciate the scenery. With Homecoming Scotland 2009 taking place up and down the country, there has never been a better time for both visitors and locals to explore."

Steve Montgomery, acting managing director of ScotRail, said: "We are delighted that Wanderlust readers, who are so passionate about travel, have chosen the West Highland Line.

"It is a testament to our staff, our services and the line itself - now the world's top rail journey. We look forward to welcoming more visitors to savour the line's delights."

Wanderlust Magazine editor-in-chief Lyn Hughes added: "We had a terrific response to our new train journey category and it is obvious that the appetite for rail travel is ever increasing.

"Having a Scottish winner for this award is particularly exciting, and shows you don't have to travel far for truly world-beating scenery."

The route also includes Corrour, Britain's second-highest mainline railway summit and a station - featured in the film Trainspotting - that has no road access but a sleeper service to London.

The first sod of earth on the route was cut with a silver spade in October 1889. In August 1894, the line between Glasgow and Fort William was opened to passengers, the greatest mileage of railway ever opened in one day in Britain. And in April 1901, the line to Mallaig was opened, finally completing one of the great Victorian engineering projects.

In other awards, Edinburgh slipped out of the top 10 cities to visit this year after finishing in 10th place last year.

It attracted almost 3000 readers' votes in total.

The annual Wanderlust Travel Awards were voted for by more than 4000 of the magazine's readers.

Meanwhile, the Best UK Airport category featured three Scottish entrants in the top 10 - Inverness at number two, Edinburgh at five, and Aberdeen at number nine. Glasgow was not placed.

The VisitScotland spokeswoman added: "Airports are crucial for our tourism industry and with the increase in direct air links from international destinations over recent years, there are many opportunities to be had."

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