Travelling around Britain by train

Riding the rails is one of the most scenic and relaxing ways to discover the real Britain. A fast and frequent rail network means that nearly all areas of Britain can be easily discovered by locomotive, as well as other methods of public transport.

Britain has a privatised rail network that covers the whole of the country, serving more than 2,500 stations – the system is efficient, reliable and affordable. Above all, taking the train will add a real sense of adventure to any trip – travellers will whizz past verdant landscapes, through valleys and national parks and into the country’s most buzzy cities. It is worth noting that cross-country journeys may involve changes since most lines originate from London, which has seven major terminals. There is also a fantastic rail link with continental Europe on the Eurostar, which can be picked up from King’s Cross St Pancras station in London, in addition to Ebbsfleet and Ashford in Kent.

Rail tickets and passes

Whilst travellers can buy their train tickets from railway stations, or from a website such as National Rail Enquiries or Trainline.com, if your clients plan to do a lot of train travel around Britain, and live outside of the UK, it’s worth them investing in a BritRail Pass. These can be purchased from the VisitBritain online shop.

BritRail Passes

BritRail Passes are exclusively available to overseas visitors and must be purchased in advance as they are not available once holidaymakers arrive in the UK. Whatever your clients’ plans and wherever they want to go, there’s a BritRail Pass to suit everyone.

For those who are making multiple journeys by rail and traveling long distance around Britain, a BritRail GB Pass offers great value for money and huge savings compared to normal ticket prices. The BritRail Consecutive Pass is perfect if your client has set days they want to travel, while the BritRail Flexi Pass does what it says on the tin, offering greater flexibility.

BritRail England M-Pass

For unlimited train travel around England for an unbeatable price look no further than the BritRail England M-Pass. This is a mobile pass that can be downloaded to a smartphone and gives your client access to any train station in England, at any time of the day. So they can travel to all corners of England and experience the beauty of the Lake District, the vibrancy of Manchester or the rugged splendour of Cornwall all on one pass.

BritRail for London and southern England

For visitors to London who want to travel outside the city but stay in the south east, the London Plus Pass really is a dream ticket. Travelling on two or four days in an eight-day period, or seven days out of 15, the pass offers travel to great cities and coastal towns such as Oxford, Brighton, Portsmouth, Bournemouth or even Shakespeare’s home town, Stratford-upon-Avon, all on a single ticket. The pass also includes return airport transfers for Gatwick, Heathrow and Stansted airports on the Express train services.

BritRail for Scotland

If Scotland is your clients’ destination of choice, BritRail offers passes specifically for use north of the border. The BritRail Scottish Freedom Pass not only includes access to rail travel across the whole of mainland Scotland, but also ferry travel to many of the northern islands. If travellers want to discover the rugged Scottish countryside, play the spectacular golf courses, search for the elusive Loch Ness monster and be astounded by the wildlife on Scotland’s untamed islands, the BritRail Scottish Freedom Pass is indispensable.

To see a more urban side of Scotland, the BritRail Central Scotland Pass offers ticket holders unlimited travel between the some of the biggest cities in Scotland and surrounding towns, including the capital city of Edinburgh, as well as Glasgow, North Berwick, Kirkcaldy, Dunblane and many stations in-between.

Other tickets / railcards which may be of interest to your clients

  • National Rail’s All Line Rail Rover – gives adults unlimited travel through­out England, Scotland and Wales for 7 or 14 days (time restrictions apply).
  • For many trips, a Family & Friends Railcard or Network Railcard saves a third on adult and 60% off kids’ (aged 5-15 years) fares.
  • A Young Person’s Railcard offers discounts to 16- to 25-year-olds or full-time students attending a UK educational establishment.
  • The Senior Rail Card entitles those over the age of 60 to a discount of a third on most fares.

Visitors should keep a passport-sized photograph handy for buying these passes.

Some general tips and hints

Britain’s fastest and most comfortable trains are those on the mainline routes. It is always advisable to reserve seats in advance, especially if your clients want to travel at peak times, such as Friday evenings or on weekends. Mainline trains have dining cars and air-conditioning, and they are typically faster – travelling to Edinburgh from London, for example, takes just over four hours!

If your clients are disabled and need help, call National Rail Enquiries to book Passenger Assistance at least 24 hours ahead of their journey. A yellow line above a train window indicates a First Class compartment. Note that even if the train is full, passengers cannot sit in the First Class area without a valid First Class ticket.

Some stations are a little outside of the town centres, but they are usually well signposted and largely on a bus route. Trains on Sundays and public holidays can be slower and less frequent than normal, so it is worth checking a timetable in advance when planning trips.

Travel Times

Journeys across the country may involve changes since most lines radiate from London, which has 7 major terminals. Here are some example journeys:

London Euston – Birmingham (1hr 20mins), Chester (2hrs), Manchester (2hrs 5mins), Liverpool (2hrs 15mins), Llandudno Junction, North Wales (2hrs 50mins).
London King’s Cross – York (1hr 50mins), Lincoln (2hrs 20mins), Newcastle (2hrs 50mins), Durham (2hrs 55mins), Edinburgh, Scotland (4hrs 20mins).
London Liverpool Street – Cambridge (1hr 10mins), Norwich (1hr 40mins).
London Marylebone – Bicester Village (50 mins), Warwick (1hr 25mins), Stratford-upon-Avon (2hrs), Oxford (1hr 10mins).
London Paddington – Oxford (55 mins), Windsor (55 mins), Bath (1hr 25mins), Bristol (1hr 40mins), Cardiff (2hrs).
London St Pancras – Brighton (1hr 30mins), Paris with Eurostar (2hrs 25mins).
London Victoria – Brighton (55 mins).
London Waterloo – Salisbury for Stonehenge (1hr 20mins), Bournemouth (1hr 55mins).

Be inspired

From the wilderness of Scottish Highlands to the sunny climes of Southwest England, we’ve picked some of the best places in the UK to discover by train. Check out our rail itineraries for inspiration on what to see and do there.