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10 UK Train Journeys Through Seaside Towns, National Parks, and Mountain Peaks

United Kingdom Train Travel
by Hannah D. Cooper Morgane Croissant Jun 5, 2023

Despite its humble size, the United Kingdom is filled with spectacular natural landscapes, villages, and historic towns that are best enjoyed from a comfy train carriage. And there are plenty of UK trains to take you there.

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.

What is the train in the UK called?

The UK’s rail network, British Rail, was privatized in 1993; therefore, today, there is not one sole national railway company that runs the entire network, but dozens of private companies competing for business throughout the country, often specializing in one particular region. All the train operators in the UK are listed on the National Rail website and include Scots Rail, London North Eastern Railway (LNER), Great Western Railways (GWR), and many more.

What is the most famous steam train in the UK?

There are two incredibly famous steam trains in the UK: The Flying Scotsman and The Jacobite.

  • The Flying Scotsman, which came into service 100 years ago, on February 24, 1923, used to run between London and Edinburgh. Its last scheduled run was on January 14, 1963, but it remains a much-loved piece of train history. Today, the Flying Scotsman makes very occasional trips but its home is the National Railway Museum in York.
  • The Jacobite, also known as the Harry Potter Steam Train for its role as The Hogwarts Express in the movie franchise, is a tourist train that runs between April and October between the Scottish towns of Fort William and Mallaig. Learn more about how to ride The Jacobite in the “the best train journeys in the UK” section below.

What is the most scenic train from London to Scotland?

While there are high-speed trains that run between London and Edinburgh, the Caledonian Sleeper, the sleeper train that runs between London and Edinburgh, Glasgow, Fort William, Inverness, and Aberdeen six nights per week, is a longer (between 7.5 and 13 hours, depending on the destination), more comfortable, and more scenic option.

Where to purchase UK train tickets?

Using the following online platforms will help you find all the info you need and book your UK train tickets:

Are there any sleeper trains in the UK?

There are two sleeper trains in the UK:

  • The Caledonian Sleeper that runs from London to Scotland (Edinburgh, Glasgow, Fort William, Inverness, and Aberdeen) six nights per week.
  • The Great Western Railway Night Riviera Sleeper that runs from London to Penzance several times weekly.

Map of the UK railway network

The railway network in the UK is vast, and with so many operators, it can be confusing to navigate. Luckily, National Rail has put together detailed maps of the network, the various operators and their routes, all the train stations in the UK, and more. Consult them before you plan your UK train trip.

What are the best train journeys in the UK?

Get inspired with these 10 UK train journeys that will whisk you past rugged coastlines, remote highlands, traditional seaside towns, and through the heart of national parks.

Glasgow to Mallaig + The Jacobite Steam Train

The Jacobite Steam Train going from Fort William to Mallaig is one of the most spectacular UK trains.

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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 over five hours. You can book tickets online at ScotRail. During summer, usually April until late October, you can opt to ride the daily Jacobite steam train between Fort William and Mallaig. The 84-mile return train ride is bookable via West Coast Railways, and the twice-daily journeys sell out fast.

Snowdon Mountain Railway: Llanberis to Mount Snowdon

Best UK trains: the steam train run by Snowdon Mountain Railway

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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 during a 30-minute stop. If your journey makes it to the summit (3,560 feet above sea level) 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 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.

Bluebell Railway: Sheffield Park to East Grinstead

UK trains: Bluebell Railways

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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 between Sheffield Park and East Grinstead, a 11-mile journey during which the train stops in Horsted Keynes and Kingscote (the most tranquil and photographic stop on the route). In East Grinstead, you can connect to the mainline network and easily continue your way to London or Brighton.

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 morning breakfast, among other offerings.

You can book a ticket online on the Bluebell Railway website. It takes around 40 minutes to complete the 11-mile journey.

York to Edinburgh + The Flying Scotsman

Uk Trains: train crossing Berwick-Upon-Tweed rail bridge

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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 1998 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 between 2.5 and three hours and trains depart frequently throughout the day. You can book tickets online with London North Eastern Railway (LNER).

The original Flying Scotsman still makes sporadic trips which should be booked well in advance.

London Paddington to Penzance

UK trains: London Paddington to Penzance

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This train ride flutters you away from the streets of London to the Cornish port town of Penzance, via tranquil countryside and quaint seaside towns. You can choose to ride the scenic day option or the overnight option: The Night Riviera Sleeper.

The train goes 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 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. Consult the schedule, prices, and book your seat online at Great Western Railways (GWR).

Derry to Coleraine

UK trains: Derry to Coleraine in Northern Ireland

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This short but sweet train ride in Northern Ireland navigates a scenic strip of the northern coast between Derry 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 Derry to Coleraine takes around 40 minutes, and you can reserve tickets online in advance at Translink.

St Erth to St. Ives

UK trains: St Erth to St. Ives

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Another snippy route that proves that you don’t need to 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 aforementioned Night Riviera Sleeper down to Penzance.

You can book tickets online at Great Western Railways (GWR).

Exeter to Paignton

UK trains: English Riviera Line from Exeter to Paignton

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The English Riviera Line connects the historic 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.

The complete train journey from Exeter Central to Paignton takes around one hour. You can book tickets online at Great Western Railways (GWR).

Keighley & Worth Valley Railway: Keighley to Oxenhope

Uk trains: Keighley & Worth Valley Railway

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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. The duration of the journey from Keighley to Oxenhope is about 30 minutes. You can book tickets and check the current schedule online via the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway website.

Leeds to Carlise

UK trains: Leeds to Carlise

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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 around three houts. This is another route that is part of the mainline rail network, so you can book tickets online with Northern Railway.

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