There’s something undeniably wonderful about travelling by train. Hopping onto a train, peeping out the window to follow the lines of green lush fields and to watch sprawling landscapes gradually form into towns and cities. There’s no rush, you take your time, and of course, you’re helping your carbon footprint. Slow and steady wins the race after all! And if you’re looking to see more of the UK, London city breaks are always an exciting option.
In the UK, there is some beautiful scenery just outside your train window. From the sprawling Yorkshire hills to pristine green spaces in the Peak District, you can see a lot just from your train seat. So sit back, relax and enjoy your journey.
Along with its beauty, Edinburgh is blessed by its size: this is a wonderfully compact city, perfect for walking. The centre has two distinct parts: the unrelentingly medieval Old Town, with its tortuous alleys and tightly packed closes, and the dignified, neoclassical New Town. Set on the hill that rolls down from the fairytale Edinburgh Castle to the royal Palace of Holyroodhouse, the Old Town preserves all the key landmarks from its time as a historic capital augmented by Holyrood Road and the area around Market and New Streets just off the Royal Mile. If you’re a Harry Potter fan, head to The Elephant House coffee shop, where JK Rowling often sat and wrote the books.
York is one of the North’s most compelling cities and is home to some fascinating history. The minster is the obvious place to start, and you won’t want to miss a walk around the old city walls. Standout historic buildings include the Minister's Treasurer’s House, Georgian Fairfax House, the Merchant Adventurers’ Hall, and the stark remnants of York Castle. The medieval city is at its most evocative around the streets known as Stonegate and the Shambles.
In deepest, darkest Wiltshire, between Salisbury and Bath, the countryside was once home to a thriving Neolithic civilization, the greatest legacy of which is the mysterious stone circle of Stonehenge. Built in several distinct stages and adapted to the needs of successive cultures, the first stones were raised about 3000 BC, and during the next six hundred years the incomplete blue-stone circle was transformed into the familiar formation observed today. The way in which the sun’s rays penetrate the enclosure at dawn on Midsummer’s Day has led to speculation about Stonehenge’s role as either an astronomical observatory or a place of sun worship.
Glasgow has some of the most interesting and most imaginative museums and galleries in Britain, think Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, and nearly all of them are free. Glasgow’s architecture is some of the most striking in the UK, from the restored warehouses of the Merchant City to the hulking Victorian prosperity of George Square. Most distinctive of all is the work of local luminary Charles Rennie Mackintosh, whose elegant Art Nouveau designs appear all over the city.
London is where the country’s pace of life is fast and there’s always something new and exciting happening. If you’re travelling on a budget, you can admire the capital’s iconic landmarks just by walking around, think grand Westminster Abbey and the soaring Tower of London. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to enter plenty of (mostly free) world-class museums and galleries, such as the British Museum and the National Gallery. And be sure to visit at least a couple of the outdoor spaces such as Kyoto Garden. London is one of the world’s greenest cities, with many parks, cemeteries and canals to explore, think Hyde Park, Highgate Cemetery and Little Venice. London’s famous department stores such as Harrod’s and offbeat weekend markets in Notting Hill offer limitless shopping, while its cultural scene caters for all tastes and budgets, churning out everything from epic theatre productions in the West End to experimental live music in Camden. London’s multicultural society means that there is an unparalleled variety of cuisine, from Texan to Taiwanese, so take your pick, the world is your oyster.
Trains from around the country terminate at Kings Cross, Paddington, Euston, Waterloo, Liverpool Street and more
When visitors think of Oxford, they almost always imagine its university, revered as one of the world’s great academic institutions, inhabiting honey-coloured stone buildings set around ivy-clad quadrangles. This image of Oxford is accurate enough! The city should be high on anyone’s itinerary. The colleges include some of England’s finest architecture, and the city also has some excellent museums such as the Museum of Oxford and a good range of bars and food spots like Kazbar’s Restaurant, which serves Spanish/Moroccan tapas. For green-fingered travellers head to Florence Park for a peaceful stroll and watch boats float by on River Cherwell. Spot some scenes from the Harry Potter films too. The Duke Humfrey’s Library is home to the Hogwarts library. The city is one of a number of cheap train destinations from London.
Manchester has one of the country’s most vibrant social and cultural scenes, enlivened by the student population of its two major universities, its vibrant Curry Mile and its buzzing, bohemian Northern Quarter. The latter is particularly great for bars and live music. In many ways, Manchester is the flagship for multifaceted Britishness: it shot to prominence courtesy of its Industrial Revolution riches, later becoming a powerhouse of music and football. If you’re a footy fan (Man United to be exact!), head to the Old Trafford stadium for an insightful tour of the grounds. If you’re more interested in literature, explore the John Ryland’s Library which opened in 1900. Manchester is definitely one of the most exciting places to visit in England by train.
The site of England’s highest peak, Scafell Pike, and the country’s biggest concentration of lakes, the glacier-carved Lake District National Park is the nation’s most popular walking area. Weather here in Cumbria changes quickly, but the sudden shifts of light on the bracken-bedaubed moorland and buildings, are part of the area’s appeal. The region is informally divided into the South Lakes, including Windermere and Ambleside, and the North Lakes, which include Keswick. Castlerigg Stone Circle is a magnificent spot to see with striking stones thrusting through the air. Orrest Head is also a favourite spot. Walk up to the top of the hill which offers sweeping views of the Lake District in front of you. This is one of the most rewarding places to visit in the UK by train from London.
Across the peninsula from Penzance, the fishing village of St Ives is the quintessential Cornish resort, featuring a tangle of narrow streets lined with whitewashed cottages, fringed by three wide sandy beaches. Make the most of the village's creative side and wander through the art galleries or even take part in a ceramic workshop.
While you're there:
Don’t miss the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Garden on Barnoon Hill which preserves the sculptor’s studio. You can also view some of her more striking abstract works in the beautiful garden.
One of Britain’s most entertaining seaside resorts, Brighton has an incredible nightlife scene with plenty of energetic bars and buzzing clubs. Have hours of fun on the rides and arcade games on the iconic Brighton Palace Pier, or pick up some fish and chips and take in the sounds of the sea. This is one of the best places to go by train from London for sure.
Bath is surely one of the prettiest small cities in Britain, with its sandstone buildings and picturesque abbey. Soak in some incredible ancient history at the Roman baths, one of Britain’s top sights.The large student population in Bath makes it a vibrant place in the evening, too. There are plenty of fun bars at your fingertips.
Bristol is home to a major university, a thriving music scene that produced some of the most significant artists of the 1990s (Portishead, Tricky, Massive Attack), and Banksy – whose street art adorns neglected city walls across the globe. In addition to a thriving art and music scene, Bristol has some beautiful green spaces. In August, the city hosts Europe’s largest hot-air balloon fiesta, the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta - a spectacular sight.
The town of Pembroke (Penfro), accessible by train from Cardiff, is a handy jumping-off point from which to explore the southern part of Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, which covers 240 square miles of wooded estuaries and rocky cliffs. Head to the medieval Pembroke Castle for a taste of history. For family adventure, head to Oakwood Theme Park for some thrilling roller coaster rides.
Though once shackled to the fortunes of the coal-mining industry, Wales’ capital city, Cardiff (Caerdydd), has been revitalised, not least due to the arrival of the Welsh Assembly. The city’s narrow Victorian arcades are interspersed with new shopping centres and wide pedestrian precincts.
Lying between Manchester and Sheffield, the wild, cavern-packed Peak District is Britain’s oldest and most easily accessed national park by public transport. The main centres are Buxton, just outside the park boundaries, Castleton to the northeast and Bakewell in the southeast. The sedate Victorian spa town of Buxton should be your first stop. The town is centred around nineteenth-century pleasure gardens complete with a pavilion theatre and the impressive St Ann’s Well, where the famous mineral water is sourced.