The allure of train travel is that you spend fewer hours up in the air and more time immersing yourself in the scenery. Despite its humble size, the United Kingdom is filled with spectacular natural landscapes and historic towns that are best enjoyed from a comfy train carriage.
Traveling by train in the UK frees you up from valuable time chewed up by airports. There’s no need to worry about clearing security or checking and collecting your luggage when you take the train. Nor do you need to splash out on costly airport transfers, which means you have more dollars to spend on cream teas and fish and chips. Besides offering a far juicier experience, this form of slow travel is also far kinder to the environment than flying or renting a car.
Get inspired with these 10 scenic train journeys in the United Kingdom that will whisk you past rugged coastlines, remote highlands, traditional seaside towns, and through the heart of national parks.
1. Brontë County: Keighley to Oxenhope via steam train
Operating for over 150 years, the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway (KWVR) spans five miles of preserved standard gauge railway line and is served by both steam and diesel locomotives. The service was established to link the local mill trades, and nowadays it’s a tourist attraction in Yorkshire, loved by local residents and tourists alike.
Starting at Keighley and concluding at Oxenhope, the route connects six beautiful towns and villages. Peer out of the window and you’ll see bucolic scenes of rolling hills, woodland, and sandstone mill towns. The most notable station is Haworth, the birthplace of the Brontë sisters and the jumping-off point for exploring the moors that inspired their novels.
You can book a single or return ticket from Keighley, which links conveniently to the mainline. There is the option to purchase a Rover Ticket that allows unlimited train journeys for the entire day, as well as entry to the Museum of Rail Travel and whatever temporary exhibition is taking place. The duration of the journey from Keighley to Oxenhope is 30 minutes. You can book tickets and check the current schedule online via the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway website.
2. North East Coast: York to Edinburgh
Following the route of the legendary Flying Scotsman, the York to Edinburgh line is rich with coastal panoramas, crumbling castles, and urban skylines that fuse old with new. This scenic train ride is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it kind of journey, so it’s worth booking a window seat and keeping your camera poised for the landmarks.
Your journey starts in the history-rich city of York. Thundering northwards through the farmland of North Yorkshire, you’ll soon reach the picturesque university town of Durham and catch a glimpse of the cathedral and castle as the train soars across the viaduct.
Departing Durham and approaching Newcastle, keep alert for a sighting of the Angel of the North. At a height of 65 feet, Antony Gormley’s 1988 steel sculpture is the largest statue in the United Kingdom. You’ll traverse the River Tyne in Newcastle via the High Level Bridge, which offers a panoramic view of the city and its six other iconic bridges and eponymous castle. Departing Newcastle, the scenery opens up as you fly through the Northumberland coastline, whizzing past the likes of Lindisfarne Castle and the dreamy seaside town of Berwick-upon-Tweed. As you cross the border you might catch sight of the English and Scottish flags rippling beside the track.
Originating from London Kings Cross Station, the leg from York to Edinburgh Waverley takes 2.5 hours and trains depart frequently throughout the day. Off-peak tickets, journeys that commence after 9.30 AM, are the cheapest and you will make a saving if you book in advance. You can book tickets online with London North Eastern Railway (LNER) or The Trainline.
The original Flying Scotsman still makes sporadic trips and you can track the latest news on the Railway Museum website.
3. West Highland Line: Glasgow to Mallaig
The remote route from Glasgow to Mallaig is right out of the Harry Potter movies, which hints at the magic of the landscapes you’ll pass on this train journey. Connecting one of the largest cities in the nation with the tiny fishing port of Mallaig and navigating some of the most remote regions in the country, this train ride is spectacular. For certain stretches of the route, there are no roads whatsoever, so the train is the sole means of witnessing these landscapes.
The route skirts past Scottish lakes including Loch Lomond, as well as one of the smallest villages in the United Kingdom, Tyndrum, and the highest altitude train station in the nation, Corrour. One dramatic stretch comes shortly after leaving Corrour: the Horseshoe Curve. Pulling into the town of Fort William, crane your head to the right for a chance to get an eyeful of Ben Nevis, the tallest peak in the country at 4,413 feet.
As you approach the town of Glenfinnan, you will cross over the viaduct that was immortalized in the Harry Potter franchise. Book a seat on the left-hand side of the train for the most rewarding views out over the water of Loch Shiel. Once in Mallaig, you will be greeted by a view of the Isle of Skye, which is accessible via a boat from this fishing village.
The complete route from Glasgow to Mallaig takes 5.5 hours. You can book tickets online at ScotRail or The Trainline. During summer, usually April until late October, you can opt to ride the daily Jacobite steam train between Fort William and Mallaig. This is bookable via West Coast Railways, and the twice-daily journeys sell out fast.
4. English Riviera: Exeter to Paignton
Traversing the Devon coastline, the evocatively named English Riviera Line connects the ancient city of Exeter with the sandy beaches and pastel-hued buildings of Paignton.
Bidding farewell to Exeter, the train races along the banks of the River Exe towards the romantically named village of Starcross. Keep your eyes peeled for seals and sea otters as you skim the water’s edge. From Starcross, the track hugs the coast as it weaves through the seaside resorts and fishing ports of Dawlish Warren, Dawlish, and Teignmouth. This section of the route is especially scenic, and you want to sit on the left-hand side of the carriage for the best ocean views. The town of Torquay is a top contender if you want to break up the short journey and catch a few waves or explore the gardens and art galleries.
5. Above the Clouds: Llanberis to Mount Snowdon
Jump aboard the traditional locomotive at Llanberis Station and absolutely do look down as the carriage jostles along a sheer volcanic ridge on this nail-biting journey up Mount Snowdon, the highest peak in Wales and England.
Subject to the current conditions of the track and the season, the Snowdon Mountain Railway will either take you to the summit of Snowdon or to the three-quarter marker, Clogwyn. The train passes through four other stations, with your first landmark being the Ceunant Mawr waterfall, which cascades down the ravine below. Passing through Hebron Station you will see the abandoned farm of Helfa. This may have been a sheep station or perhaps a hunting lodge in the past, but either way, its tousled state adds to the drama of the landscape. Pushed by an original Swiss steam locomotive from 1896, you will stop at Halfway while the staff top up the water tanks before commencing past the Rocky Valley, a near-vertical cliff scattered with black volcanic rocks.
Once at Clogwyn, you will have time to savor the view from 3,560 feet above sea level. If your journey makes it to the summit, you may be able to see as far as Ireland on a clear day.
You can book a ticket that covers transport up and down the mountain (45 minutes each way) and includes a 30-minute stop-over at Clogwyn. Alternatively, you can buy a single ticket and walk back down the mountain. You can check the current schedule and book your tickets online at Snowdon Mountain Railway. Seats on the service are limited and it is extremely popular so it’s best to book ahead.
6. Celtic Cliffs: Londonderry to Coleraine
This short but sweet train ride in Northern Ireland navigates a devastatingly scenic strip of the northern coast between Londonderry and Coleraine.
One of the major highlights of the journey is the view afforded of the lava-formed Binevenagh Mountain, which you might recognize from Game of Thrones. Standing with arms outstretched atop the cliffs is a sculpture of the Celtic God of the Sea, Manannán Mac Lír. If visibility is on your side, you might catch a glimpse of the icon as you pass through Magilligan Station.
On approach to Coleraine, the track skims the Benone Strand, which is a fabulous place for swimming, sunbathing, and watersports during summer. As you approach the seaside town of Castlerock, peer up at the top of the coastal cliffs for a view of Mussenden Temple before you plunge into the longest tunnel in Ireland.
The journey from Londonderry to Coleraine takes around 40 minutes, and you can reserve tickets online in advance at Translink.
7. Night Riviera Sleeper: London Paddington to Penzance
For this train ride, you can take either the scenic day option or the glamorous overnight option. The Night Riviera Sleeper flutters you away from the streets of London to the westernmost tip of England, the Cornish port town of Penzance, via tranquil countryside and quaint seaside towns.
The train glides through the North Wessex Downs, which comprises bucolic views of farmland and lush green hills. From Exeter, you will breeze past the River Exe in the route mentioned previously before the track creeps inland and along the edge of the Dartmoor National Park. Peer out of the window at the historic market town of Newton Abbot which served as the home of the South Devon Railway locomotive works during the Victorian era. The final leg of the track weaves through the desolate Bodmin Moor, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty strewn with heather, granite, moorland, and grazing wild ponies.
The route from London Paddington to Penzance takes around five hours during the day or eight hours when you opt for the sleeper. The overnight option generally departs at 11:45 PM, but boarding opens at 10:30 PM. Choose between a seat or a private cabin, which also permits access to the bar and lounge. Consult the schedule, prices, and book your seat online at Great Western Railways (GWR) or The Trainline.
8. By the Seaside: St Erth to St. Ives
Another snippy route that proves that you needn’t book the longest train journey to experience some of the most sensational scenery in the United Kingdom. The line between St. Erth and St. Ives in Cornwall is a mere 10 minutes, and the whole course grants views of the cliffs, islands, and coves that form the Cornish coast.
Choose to break up your short journey with a stop at Carbis Bay where you can sink your toes in the golden sand and cool down in the turquoise water. Once in St. Ives, you can potter around art galleries or hop aboard a boat for a cruise around the headland. This is a perfect side trip if you took the Night Riviera Sleeper down to Penzance.
9. God’s Own Country: Leeds to Carlise
This route takes you from the capital of West Yorkshire and concludes in the most northwestern county in England, Cumbria. Weaving through national parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the backdrop to this route is some of the wildest scenery in the United Kingdom.
Around one-third of the track twists its way through the rolling hills and swathes of moorland in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, including the Yorkshire Three Peaks. You’ll spot the 24 arches of the Ribblehead Viaduct soon after departing Ribblehead Station, the most impressive of the 21 viaducts that you’ll pass on this journey. Leaving the pretty village of Dent, which sits on the western slopes of the Pennines, the line is absorbed by Cumbria, with the Eden Valley to your right and the Lake District National Park on the left.
The journey from Leeds to Carlisle takes one hour and 45 minutes. This is another route that is part of the mainline rail network, so you can book tickets online with Northern Railway or The Trainline.
10. Quintessential English Countryside: Bluebell Railway
Discover the charm of the Sussex countryside in southeastern England as you traverse the edge of the Ashdown Forest on a beautifully preserved steam locomotive.
Bluebell Railway operates two services, The Pioneer (weekends) and The Sussex Cricketer (weekdays). Besides the regular scenic services, you can also book a special dining experience with options ranging from classic English afternoon tea to a fish and chips supper special and even a gin tasting.
The route starts at Sheffield Park, which has been restored in the style of the 1880s station while the next calling point, Horsted Keynes, is a throwback to the roaring ‘20s. Evoking the spirit of the 1950s, Kingscote is the most tranquil and photographic stop on the route. Concluding in East Grinstead, you can connect to the mainline network and easily continue your way to London or Brighton.
You can book a ticket online on the Bluebell Railway website. Fares increase if you wish to book a food service or reserve an entire compartment for your group. It takes around 40 minutes to complete the 11-mile journey.