The United Kingdom is home to some of the best railway journeys in the world, with beautiful scenic trips that take you through some of the country’s wildest landscapes.
It’s also the most historic place in the world to travel by train, because the UK was the first country to build a public railway line when the famous English engineer George Stephenson designed and built the Stockton and Darlington railway, which although it was only in use from 1825 to 1863, set a precedent for the future of locomotive transport in the UK, a legacy that continues to this day.
From comfortable classic overnight rail journeys on the Caledonian Sleeper journeying from London to Scotland, to restored steam engines taking you through incredible mountain passes in the Highlands, here are 17 of the best train journeys in the UK that everyone should try.
- 1 The Caledonian Sleeper
- 2 The Flying Scotsman
- 3 West Highland Line
- 4 The Snowdon Mountain Railway
- 5 The Welsh Highland Railway
- 6 The Cotswold Line
- 7 The Night Riviera Sleeper Train
- 8 St Ives Bay Line
- 9 The Dawlish Coast
- 10 Crewe to Holyhead on the North Wales Coast Line
- 11 The Settle-Carlisle Railway
- 12 Newcastle to Edinburgh
- 13 The Whitby and Pickering Railway
- 14 Inverness to Wick
- 15 Dingwall to Kyle of Lochalsh
- 16 The Royal Scotsman
- 17 The London Underground
The Caledonian Sleeper
With faster trains and small distances to cover in the UK, sleeper trains these days are few and far between. A classic overnight journey that you can still take today though is the Caledonian Sleeper from London to Scotland.
This train ride sees you leaving London in the evening, and you’ll wake up the following morning far up north in Scotland, with the possibility of alighting the carriage at most major cities, including Edinburgh and Glasgow.
There are comfortable sleeper cabins, including premium first class suites, or much cheaper sleeper chairs. Although you won’t see much in the dark, you’ll get a good night’s sleep and be fresh and ready to explore in the morning.
The Flying Scotsman
The Flying Scotsman is perhaps the most well-known and historic rail service in the United Kingdom. This fast service whisks passengers between London and Edinburgh in a journey time of just over four hours.
The Flying Scotsman began life far back in 1862 as a steam locomotive, and back then it took over 10 hours to make the journey – still an enormous improvement on other modes of transport in the Victorian era. Today, you’ll find a modern passenger train, but one that tries to live up to its history and reputation for speed.
West Highland Line
The Scottish Highlands are one of the most spectacular locations in England, and they are still as wild and untamed as they have always been. A great way to explore the western highlands and the rugged coastline of Scotland is on the West Highland Line.
The line connects Glasgow in the south, with the ports of Oban and Mallaig, and plenty of rural stops in the Highlands in between. While there are countless opportunities to explore this part of Scotland, the best portion of the line to ride is the Glenfinnan Viaduct, a marvellous feat of engineering that gives you incredible views over the surrounding areas from the carriage.
The viaduct was most famously featured in the Harry Potter movies, and in the summer you can even take The Jacobite, a classic steam-powered engine complete with antique carriages, for a unique experience.
The Snowdon Mountain Railway
Not to be outdone by the Scots, the Welsh also have their own classic, scenic railway line, one that since 1896 has been making the journey to the summit of Mount Snowdon much, much easier.
The Snowdon Mountain Railway takes thousands of tourists up this iconic mountain each year, but given the harsh weather conditions of Snowdonia, it doesn’t operate in winter. Locomotives – some of them still steam powered – power single carriages up a five-mile track, offering incredible panoramic views on the way.
The Welsh Highland Railway
Another spectacular train ride to try in Wales is the Welsh Highland Railway. This is one for the tourists, as the line uses a restored rail track that links the two coastal towns of Caernarfon and Porthmadog using a heritage steam engine.
The route is just 25 miles long, but it will take you through spectacular Welsh scenery, including the Aberglaslyn Pass, and many tunnels hewn from the rock. Caernarfon is home to an iconic medieval castle built by the English to subdue the Welsh, while Porthmadog has wonderful coastal scenery to enjoy.
The Cotswold Line
The Cotswolds is one of southern England’s most charming areas, comprising the beautiful rural surrounds of Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire and other nearby counties. It’s a place of quaint, scenic villages, idyllic country pastures, rolling hills and sandstone rocks.
The Cotswold Line connects Hereford to Oxford and passes through much of the spectacular landscapes on its 86-and-a-half mile journey. You can stop off in towns and villages, or enjoy the sights of historic locations such as Worcester and eventually Oxford, or simply sit back and enjoy views over the River Severn and the Malvern Hills as you ride on through.
The Night Riviera Sleeper Train
The Night Riviera is the second of the United Kingdom’s two remaining sleeper services – the other being the Caledonian Sleeper of course – and this modern train takes passengers from London all the way to Penzance in Cornwall.
Great Western Railway recently gave this classic overnighter a massive makeover, and today its carriages truly live up to its fancy title. The journey takes around eight hours if you are travelling all the way from London Paddington to Penzance (or vice versa of course), but you’ll be travelling in new carriages and in incredibly comfortable surroundings.
There are large seats in economy class with plenty of space and room to recline, but the real highlights are the sleeping cabins, which even give you access to the on-board lounge, where you can eat and drink the night away or rise early for a gourmet breakfast before your arrival.
St Ives Bay Line
Although it’s short, at just four miles in length and lasting for just 15 minutes of total travel time, the St Ives Bay Line is one of the most spectacular short distance rail lines in the United Kingdom.
This rail route takes you from the charming coastal village of St Erth to the larger seaside town of St Ives, both found along the beautiful shores of Western Cornwall.
You’ll pass right along the coast with magnificent views out over the St Ives Bay and the white-sand beaches the area is known for. Make sure to get a window seat facing out towards the coast for the best chance to enjoy the scenery. To truly appreciate the seaside lifestyle of Cornwall, you’re best travelling along the St Ives Bay Line in summer, so you can enjoy the sunny Cornish weather and the beaches.
The Dawlish Coast
Part of the so-called Riviera Line that stretches from London to Cornwall along England’s beautiful southern coastline, the Dawlish Coast is one of the most impressive parts of the rail network in this part of the country.
Here you will find classic seaside towns such as Torquay and Dartmouth, which in summer have beaches that are heaving with holidaymakers and covered in colourful parasols – a strange sight to see anywhere in England! You can ride the trains between scenic coastal towns and villages, stopping off all along the Dawlish Coast to experience the best of the English Riviera.
You can continue onwards to the city of Exeter, or cross the narrow strait that connects Dawlish to Exmouth by boat to visit another historic English city.
Crewe to Holyhead on the North Wales Coast Line
Holyhead is found at the end of the North Wales Coast Line, situated on the Isle of Anglesey overlooking the Irish Sea. Your journey will start in Crewe, the beginning of one of the oldest lines in the United Kingdom, which dates back to 1840 and connects England to North Wales.
Along the route, you’ll follow the coast, crossing over spectacular gorges and rivers spanned by Victorian feats of engineering like no other, including the Britannia Bridge. This huge structure connects the Isle of Anglesey to mainland Wales, across the Menai Strait, and was conceived by none other than Robert Stephenson, the same engineer who opened Britain’s first public railway line.
The Settle-Carlisle Railway
Found in England’s North West, the Settle-Carlisle Railway takes you through some of the most stunning scenery in the country. The line takes you from Settle, in Yorkshire, across the Yorkshire Dales and through the Pennines, on a 73-mile journey across beautiful landscapes and past many iconic sights.
You can stop off in small towns and rural idylls in the Yorkshire Dales, cross the daunting Ribblehead Viaduct, and then explore the scenery of the Pennines on your way through to Carlisle. You can do it all in one trip – they even have heritage steam engines running the route periodically – or you can turn the trip into a multi-day excursion through God’s Own Country.
Newcastle to Edinburgh
Travel between England and Scotland on the classic East Coast Mainline, and journey from the city of Newcastle to the Scottish capital of Edinburgh, while enjoying blissful views along the way. The whole East Coast Mainline actually connects Edinburgh all the way south to London, but the portion from Newcastle to Edinburgh is perhaps the best section of the route.
You’ll be taken along the dramatic coastline of Northumbria, before crossing the border to Scotland at Berwick-upon-Tweed, one of the most historic places in the United Kingdom, and a place that changed hands between the warring Scots and English many a time in the medieval era. You’ll even get to see Lindisfarne from the window, the infamous isle that was raided by the Vikings, which marked the start of the Norse ravaging of Europe.
The Whitby and Pickering Railway
The Whitby and Pickering Railway was built in 1836 and is recognised as one of the first railways to be constructed in Yorkshire. It closed when it fell into disuse, but its unique heritage was preserved when it was reopened again as a tourist attraction in the late 2000s, allowing travellers to ride the line on historic carriages pulled by steam engines.
The railway takes you through spectacular scenery, from Pickering, near the city of York, through moors and dales, until you reach the famous coastal town of Whitby, purported home of English Fish and Chips. Enjoy the sea breezes, eat some deep fried fish, and explore a town famous for being the home of the navigator, Captain Cook.
Inverness to Wick
This four-hour train ride will take you along the United Kingdom’s most northerly line, as you travel from the Scottish city of Inverness to the small, coastal town of Wick, which looks out over the North Sea.
The journey takes you past rugged coastline, and from Wick you can travel a little further north by road to reach John O’Groats, the last piece of land on the British mainland.
Dingwall to Kyle of Lochalsh
Also found in the north of Scotland, this route takes you from Dingwall, just north of Inverness, to the Kyle of Lochalsh, which is located on the far western coast.
The train line is impressive, taking you through the real heart of the Scottish Highlands, past incredible mountain scenery and overdramatic passes, until you reach the equally compelling coastline.
The Royal Scotsman
A journey on The Royal Scotsman is a rail journey like no other in the UK. Making use of vintage, heritage carriages that have been redesigned and modernised, The Royal Scotsman takes passengers in luxury through the Scottish Highlands on multi-day trips that offer fine dining and even spa facilities while on board.
The London Underground
Although not exactly an overground train ride through spectacular scenery, the London Underground is nevertheless an integral part of the British Rail Network. When you’re in the capital, riding the Underground is unavoidable, but make the most of it by learning a little of its history and by visiting classic stations.
This is the oldest underground rail system in the world, and there are plenty of heritage-listed tube stations, such as Baker Street or Aldwych.
To find out more about our unique tours, both in London and around the UK, contact Premium Tours today.