Britain by train: Five great one-week UK rail trip routes

Britain by train: Five great one-week rail trip routes

I love a good train trip and have travelled by rail across Europe and beyond. But there are plenty of fantastic rail adventures close to home in the UK too, from scenic seaside trains to journeys through the Scottish highlands. So I’ve teamed up with Skyscanner to share five great itineraries for exploring Britain by train, all of which you can do in a week. Whether you’re looking for history and culture, coast and countryside scenery or the UK’s coolest cities, there’s the perfect rail trip for you. And there’s a discount code to save you money on UK train tickets too.

Read more: Europe by train: Five great one-week rail trip routes

Five itineraries for exploring Britain by train

St Pancras station, London

London’s St Pancras station

Historic England

London > Salisbury > Bath Spa > Oxford > Stratford-upon-Avon > York

This rail trip takes you across the country and back through time, featuring some of England’s historic castles, cathedrals and colleges. Start off in London and spend your first day exploring the city – it’s packed with museums and historic buildings so choose a few places to visit, like the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, Windsor Castle, Globe Theatre or the royal parks and palaces. Then catch a morning train to Salisbury (1.5 hours) to visit its 13th-century cathedral – take a tour of the tower and see one of the surviving copies of the Magna Carta.

Salisbury cathedral

Salisbury cathedral

Next take the train on to Bath Spa (1 hour). The city is best known for its Roman history, so don’t miss the Roman Baths – and soak yourself in the modern Thermae Bath Spa. Bath also has some beautiful Georgian architecture around the Royal Crescent, and whole festival dedicated to Jane Austen. Then take the train on to Oxford (1 hour 15 mins), one of the UK’s most famous university cities. Take a tour of the college quads – Christ Church is the star attraction (not least for being a Harry Potter film location) but All Souls and Hertford are my favourites.

Call in to Oxford’s quirky Pitt Rivers Museum with artifacts from around the world before catching the train to Shakespeare’s home town – Stratford-upon-Avon (1.5 hours). You can visit his birthplace and the houses his wife and daughter lived in, and see a play at the RSC theatre. Then finish off your trip in York (3 hours 45 mins). Walk the Roman city walls, visit the Minster, explore the cobbled lanes of the Shambles and have tea at Betty’s before heading home.

English history one-week rail trip route

Historic England coast rail trip itinerary

Scenic Scotland

Edinburgh > Glasgow > Fort William > Mallaig > Kyle of Lochalsh > Inverness

This Scottish rail itinerary takes you from the lowlands to the highlands via rugged coastlines, lakes, moors and castle ruins. Start off in Edinburgh and spend the day discovering the city’s highlights, from the Castle and the Royal Mile to the views from Arthur’s Seat and hidden gems like the underground street of Mary King’s Close. Then catch the train on to Glasgow (1 hour 15 mins), where the focus is on art, design and culture – from street art trails to the eye-catching modern Riverside transport museum along the redeveloped waterside.

Edinburgh on a budget

Edinburgh from Calton Hill

Next head north into the highlands to Fort William (3 hours 45 mins), a lochside town that’s a hub for adventure sports in the nearby Nevis Range. It’s also the starting point for the famous West Highland Way train route. Catch the train across the Glenfinnan Viaduct to Mallaig (1.5 hours). Or between April and October you can ride the Jacobite steam train, made famous in the Harry Potter films. Then leave the train behind and cross over to the Isle of Skye by ferry. Explore the island by bus before crossing the bridge to Kyle of Lochalsh.

Catch the train from Kyle of Lochalsh to Inverness (2 hours 40 mins), the capital of the highlands. The Kyle Line is another of the UK’s top scenic train routes, passing lochs, mountains and herds of deer. Explore Inverness’ castle and cathedral, or take a trip monster-spotting on Loch Ness or to the historic Culloden battlefield. Finally you can catch the train back to Edinburgh (3.5 hours) – or if you’re heading to London there’s a nightly sleeper train (11 hours).

Scotland one-week rail trip route

Scenic Scotland rail trip itinerary

The Cornish coast

London > St Ives > Falmouth > Newquay > Looe > Plymouth > Exeter

This UK train trip takes you down to the far south-west of England, along some of Cornwall’s most beautiful coastal and countryside railways. Start your trip in London where you catch the overnight sleeper train down to Cornwall (8 hours). Arrive into St Erth early next morning and change onto the St Ives Bay Line for the 15-minute journey along the coast past the golden sands of Carbis Bay to St Ives. This arty seaside town is home to the Tate gallery and Barbara Hepworth sculpture museum and has some beautiful beaches and coastal walks.

Train views in Cornwall, England

Views from the St Ives Bay Line

Next leave St Ives behind and head to Falmouth (1.5 hours), changing in Truro onto the Maritime Line which runs through unspoilt countryside to the coast. Visit Falmouth’s castle and maritime museum before catching the train back to Truro and out along the Atlantic Coast Line to Newquay (3 hours). Join the surfers off Fistral Beach and check out the town’s seven miles of beaches. Then carry on to the pretty fishing port of Looe (2.5 hours). The Looe Valley Line scenic line connects Liskeard and Looe, running along an estuary that’s full of birdlife.

Make sure to try some of Looe’s fresh seafood before heading on to Plymouth (1 hour). Take a walk along the city’s waterfront, visit the aquarium and climb Smeaton’s Tower lighthouse. Then finally catch the train from Plymouth to Paington (1 hour) where you’ve got time for an ice cream before carrying on to Exeter (45 minutes) along the Riviera Line. Running right along the shore, it’s been rated as one of the UK’s most spectacular train journeys.

Devon and Cornwall one-week rail trip route

Cornish coast rail trip itinerary

City hotspots

London > Brighton > Bristol > Manchester > Liverpool > Leeds > Glasgow

This city-centric route takes you to some of the UK’s coolest cities, with plenty of coffee shops, vintage shops, street art and quirky bars along the way. Start off in London and head to the East End’s most hipster neighbourhood – Shoreditch. Visit Brick Lane market, take a graffiti tour and try food from around the world in the Box Park shipping containers. Then catch the train south of London to Brighton (1 hour 15 mins). Shop the narrow streets of the Lanes and play the arcades on the pier before a walk along the seafront to neighbouring Hove.

A weekend in Glasgow: A 48-hour itinerary

Glasgow waterfront

Next take the train across the country to Bristol (3.5 hours). The city’s a centre for independent food, art and craft businesses – try tasty food at St Nicholas Market and Wapping Wharf or go Banksy spotting in Stokes Croft. Next head north to Manchester (4 hours). The north-west’s city of music is a great place to catch a gig or shop for vinyl before a night in the Northern Quarter’s bars and clubs. Or visit the museums and media hubs of Salford Quays.

From Manchester it’s only 45 minutes by train to Liverpool. Check out design icons at RIBA North and Tate Liverpool or go classic with a Beatles tour and the ferry across the Mersey. Then head north-east to Leeds (1.5 hours). Visit the Corn Exchange for indie shops in a stunning setting, sunbathe in Roundhay Park and take a craft brewery tour. Finally take the train to Glasgow (4 hours) to finish your trip in Scotland’s city of culture. Explore its museums and galleries, and eat your way around some of the city’s best restaurants in Finneston.

Cool UK cities one-week rail trip route

City hotspots rail trip itinerary

Wales and the borders

Cardiff > Shrewsbury > Aberystwyth > Harlech > Llandudno > Chester > Cardiff

This rail journey takes you across Wales from the capital to the coast and mountains, through the unspoilt countryside of the Welsh Marches. Start off in Cardiff and spend the afternoon exploring its old side at the castle and its new in Cardiff Bay. Then catch the train north to Shrewsbury (2 hours), a traditional market town across the border in England that was the home of Charles Darwin. Visit its castle and shop for local gifts and produce at the Market Hall.

Portmeirion in North Wales

Italian-style Portmeirion

Then head back into Wales and the coastal town of Aberystwyth (2 hours). It’s been a seaside holiday favourite for generations, with a sandy beach, Victorian promenade and Wales’ oldest pier. Next catch the scenic Cambrian Coast Line which runs north through Snowdonia National Park to Harlech (3 hours). Watch out for the stunning views as you cross the estuary at Barmouth along the way. Explore Harlech’s hilltop castle or take a trip to the Italian-style village of Portmeirion (the closest station is at Minffordd, 15 mins from Harlech).

Next head to Porthmadog (25 mins) where you can change onto the Ffestiniog Railway’s historic steam trains to travel to Blaenau Ffestionig in vintage style (1 hour 15 mins). Then rejoin the 21st century and journey on to Llandudno (1 hour 15 mins), another of Wales’ Victorian seaside resorts. From there travel across the border to Chester (1 hour). Explore the city’s Roman ruins, walk its walls and shop the medieval black and white Rows. Then finish the trip by heading back to Cardiff (3 hours), passing the spectacular Pontcysyllte Aqueduct along the way.

Wales one-week rail trip route

Welsh borders rail trip itinerary

Booking UK train tickets

Flight booking favourites Skyscanner are now also offering train tickets through their app. You can book tickets for train journeys around the UK, with the cheapest and quickest fares highlighted to make it easy. There are no sneaky booking or payment fees, and free 24/7 customer service is included.

Read more train travel posts

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  • Reply
    October 25, 2018 at 8:50 am

    These look fabulous. I especially like the first one and think I might do it!!

    • Reply
      October 25, 2018 at 11:55 am

      Brilliant! Hope you enjoy it, I’ve got a few more ideas I want to try out too from doing the research for this.

  • Reply
    Dan, Prague
    October 25, 2018 at 11:38 am

    You have fantastic photos, may I ask you what camera/lens do you use? Great tips anyway, bookmarked for our next UK vacation 🙂

    • Reply
      October 25, 2018 at 11:54 am

      Thanks, hope it comes in handy! I use a Fuji XT1 with a couple of lenses (a 10-24mm wide angle and a standard 18-55mm), though the top pic isn’t mine as I’ve not been there yet – booked for next year though so I can take my own!

  • Reply
    Tanja/The Red Phone Box travels
    October 25, 2018 at 12:06 pm

    I have’t done any train travel in a long time and love trains! your ideas are amazing!

    • Reply
      October 25, 2018 at 12:13 pm

      Thank you! It’s definitely my favourite way to travel, and it’s been great to get out and see some more of the UK by train.

  • Reply
    Sara @ Travel Continuum
    October 25, 2018 at 2:47 pm

    Having recently hopped onto a train for the first time in ages I too have rediscovered the romance of the railways! I love all of your suggestions but willl admit my mind is also wandering towards some other themed ideas too!

    • Reply
      November 4, 2018 at 5:40 pm

      Ooh sounds intriguing! I’m spending so much time on trains at the moment commuting up to Scotland but it’s so much more relaxing than any other method of transport.

  • Reply
    Kathryn @TravelWithKat
    October 26, 2018 at 11:05 am

    Great post, Lucy! I’ve done the Cornwall one to Falmouth but would love to do them all (and that one in its entirety!) I didn’t know about Skyscanner so will check that out.

    • Reply
      November 4, 2018 at 5:45 pm

      Thanks Kathryn, I’m a big fan of Skyscanner’s flight search so it’s great to see they’re doing trains now too.

  • Reply
    Suzanne Jones
    October 27, 2018 at 3:01 pm

    There are so many of these trips I’d like to take. I didn’t realise Skyscanner did train travel too so I’ll have to check out their site. Always good to have a discount too!

    • Reply
      November 4, 2018 at 5:46 pm

      Can’t beat a discount! It’s been really handy as I’m doing so many train trips at the moment.

  • Reply
    February 3, 2019 at 6:51 am

    I’m planning on travelling late May to June this year and thinking of traveling around Scotland by train therefore would you recommend booking in advance or can I arrive and book train tickets/accommodation as I go?

    • Reply
      February 3, 2019 at 8:16 pm

      May is starting to get into busy season so I’d advise booking in advance if you can, especially in the smaller places where there isn’t so much choice – it might also be worth looking at a Scotland Rail card.

  • Reply
    Christine Nicolacopoulos
    February 3, 2019 at 11:22 pm

    Thanks Lucy, what advice would you suggest for a solo female traveler in Scotland?

    • Reply
      February 5, 2019 at 8:53 am

      Hi Christine, Scotland is a great place for solo travellers and you should have no problems as a woman – people are very friendly, there’s good infrastructure and mix of accommodation. There’s Uber in Glasgow and Edinburgh if you’re getting around at night and I’d recommend not staying on Grassmarket in Edinburgh as there’s a lot of pubs and bars so it can be a bit noisy.

  • Reply
    Jyoti Vohra
    April 4, 2019 at 6:47 pm

    Hi Lucy
    We are planning at come to UK end of April for 2 weeks. Inspired by your article, We have taken rail passes (8 days consecutive travel) and planning to do the 2 routes suggested by you in the article, ie – Scenic Scotland (for 5 days and then back to London) and Wales and the borders (for 5 days and then back to London)
    Just wanted your inputs on which towns or places we should make as a base for booking (modest) hotel accommodations for the Scenic Scotland route and Wales and the borders route.

    • Reply
      April 15, 2019 at 8:48 pm

      Hi, that’s great! It’s probably easiest to stay at different places along the way on each rail route. If you did want to stay in one or two places and do trips out I’d suggest Fort William and Inverness as bases in Scotland and Harlech and Chester in Wales. If you’re looking for budget hotels the Ibis Styles/Premier Inn chains are usually quite reasonable – or a traditional B&B is a good option too.

  • Reply
    B. Thomson
    July 26, 2019 at 1:13 am

    I need information for bookiing a ticket for 2 seniors. I am interested in the Cornish coast, leaving from Londo. It would be in mid April.I was iweing britain by train, especially the Cornish coast. i need information along the way for hotels to extend the trip.
    Mrs. B. Thomson

  • Reply
    August 9, 2019 at 5:21 pm

    Hi lucy I need an information how buy the brittrain and when is the best time to buy because we are traveling to london ans scotland in december. And what is the best pass to travel to europe for France and amsterdam. Thanks

    • Reply
      August 13, 2019 at 8:44 pm

      Hi if you are travelling to France and Amsterdam the InterRail/Eurail global pass would be the best option – there are several different ones depending on how much time you are travelling for.

  • Reply
    August 26, 2019 at 5:43 pm

    Lucy, these look wonderful. My sister and I will be touring England next May. A rail tour sounds great! Just wondering if its is a real pain to get from stations to and from hotels. We would have luggage, etc, so not sure if it would be too much trouble. Would car rental be better?

    • Reply
      September 2, 2019 at 2:17 am

      Thank you! Often there are hotels next to or near to stations (some like the St Pancras Grand in London are worth visiting in their own right!) so you could find somewhere nearby, or there are usually taxi ranks at stations too. Having a hire car does let you get a bit more off the beaten track but I love train travel and soaking up the views.

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