Explore some of England’s coolest cities on this one-week UK cities by train itinerary from London to Brighton, Bristol, Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds, featuring music, nightlife, street art and culture.
* This site contains affiliate links, where I get a small commission from purchases at no extra cost to you.
Travelling across the four corners of England – from London and Brighton in the southeast to Bristol in the southwest, Manchester and Liverpool in the northwest to Leeds in the northeast – this city-centric rail journey takes you to some of the UK’s coolest cities.
As you travel across the country you’ll find colourful street art, quirky nightlife, indie shops and live music. This one-week UK cities by train itinerary will show you which trains to take, how much they cost, how to book and what to see, do and where to stay along the way.
One-week UK cities by train itinerary
Day 1: London
Start your UK cities by train trip with a full day in London, swapping its big-name museums and historic landmarks for the quirkier streets of the East End.
Head to the hipster neighbourhood of Shoreditch for a street art tour*, which introduces you to the area’s history and graffiti culture as well as showing off urban artworks from over 40 different street artists, from ROA’s giant crane to Stik’s black and white stickmen.
Eat your way along Brick Lane, where you’ll find a string of curry houses as well as the Beigel Bake 24-hour bakery and a weekly street food market. Or visit the Boxpark, a pop-up shopping mall made from converted shipping containers with food stalls, bars and independent shops, which hosts film screenings and DJ nights on its outdoor terraces.
Escape the city streets at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, where the site of the 2012 London Olympics has been transformed into parkland, and channel your inner big kid on the ArcelorMittal Orbit – the world’s longest tunnel slide at 178 metres.
If you’re in London on a Sunday, don’t miss the Columbia Road flower market with its colourful blooms. And check out Shoreditch’s themed bars – play ping pong at Bounce, table football at Bar Kick or bury yourself in the ball pit at Ballie Ballerson.
Where to stay in London: The Corner London City* is close to Aldgate East Tube station, a 15-minute walk from Shoreditch. Their pod-style rooms come with colourful artworks, mood lighting and good eco-friendly credentials with water-efficient showers, solar panels, organic mattresses and toiletries, and free bikes for guests to borrow.
Read more: Alternative things to do in London
Day 2: Brighton
The following morning, head south of London on a day trip to Brighton. Multiple trains run between the two cities every hour, departing from London Bridge, Blackfriars and Victoria stations and taking around 1 hour 15 minutes. Brighton is full of character, mixing together a traditional seaside resort with a big LGBTQ and alternative population.
Explore Brighton’s most impressive building – the Royal Pavillion. It was built for George IV at the end of the 18th century, with a gloriously over-the-top mix of Indian and Chinese design, including lotus-shaped chandeliers, gilded statues and elaborate murals.
Or head upwards on board the British Airways i360*, the world’s tallest moving observation platform. Designed to be a ‘vertical pier’, it glides slowly up to 138 metres where it stops for views over the city and across to the South Downs and Sussex coast.
For the full English seaside experience, visit Brighton Pier and play the slot machines, ride the dodgems and eat candyfloss before braving the pebbles for a paddle in the sea and dodging the seagulls as you eat freshly cooked fish and chips on the beach.
Take a stroll along the seafront to neighbouring Hove or wander the narrow streets of the Lanes, where historic fisherman’s cottages have been turned into cafés, bars and antique shops. Stop off for dinner – Riddle and Finns does tasty seafood or there are good vegan restaurants in Brighton – then catch the train back to London for a second night.
Day 3: London > Bristol
Next travel west towards Bristol, taking around 1 hour 40 minutes. Catch the 09.02 direct train from London Paddington and you arrive into Bristol Temple Meads at 10.39 (make sure not to get off at Bristol Parkway station which is outside the city).
Spend the rest of the day exploring this historic harbourside city, which has been voted the best place to live in the UK. Bristol is the home of Banksy, and you can see his artworks around the city. Stokes Croft is the heart of the city’s street art scene – take a self-guided audio tour* of the area or give it a try yourself with a graffiti workshop.
Or discover Bristol’s maritime history in the harbour on board Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s steamship the SS Great Britain. Then take a walk over Brunel’s impressive Clifton Suspension Bridge across the Avon Gorge at sunset for great views over Bristol.
Bristol is justifiably proud of its independent food, art and craft stores. Eat your way around the world at St Nicholas Market, with food stalls selling everything from Japanese gyoza to Moroccan tagines. Or eat and shop in converted shipping containers at Cargo in Wapping Wharf, near the free M-Shed museum where you can learn about Bristol’s history.
Where to stay in Bristol: Spend the night in a retro-style Airstream caravan at Brooks Guesthouse*. As well as regular rooms, the hotel has three luxuriously converted Airstreams on its roof. They vary from 16–20 foot long but all sleep two and come with en-suite shower rooms, seating areas, flat-screen TVs and views of Bristol’s skyline.
Read more: A day trip to Bristol
Day 4: Bristol > Manchester
The next day, take the train north to Manchester. The journey takes 3 hours 45 minutes, departing from Bristol Temple Meads at 09.39, changing in Gloucester and Birmingham New Street, and arriving into Manchester Piccadilly station at 13.23.
Head out to explore Manchester, famous for its football, music and nightlife. Learn about Manchester life at the People’s History Museum, or its industrial heritage at the steampunk-style MOSI (Museum of Science and Industry) – both of which are free to visit.
Football fans can get their fix with a trip to the National Football Museum, or take a stadium tour at either Manchester United or rivals Manchester City*. Or if football’s not your thing, you can take a walk along the canals of Castlefield and stop for a drink at Cloud 23 on the 23rd floor of the Beetham Tower for a bird’s eye view of the city centre.
Check out the modern architecture and museums in Salford Quays, 15 minutes by tram from the city centre. This former dockyard turned media hub is now home to the Lowry arts centre, Imperial War Museum North and the BBC and ITV television studios.
Then head to the trendy Northern Quarter to shop the eclectic vintage and indie stalls at Affleck’s Palace indoor market before checking out the area’s bars and restaurants, which range from arcade gaming at NQ64 to the Prohibition-style Dusk Til Pawn.
Where to stay in Manchester: An old textile mill turned 16-room boutique hotel, the Cow Hollow Hotel* has the Northern Quarter on its doorstep. The décor mixes original industrial features with high-tech additions and a touch of Oriental style, and rooms come with free Netflix, milk and cookies before bed, and nightly free prosecco and antipasti.
Day 5: Manchester > Liverpool
From Manchester it’s only around 45 minutes by train to Liverpool, with frequent services from Manchester Piccadilly and Victoria stations to Liverpool Lime Street, so you can choose how early you want to start. Like Manchester, Liverpool’s a former industrial city known for its music, culture and football, so it’s no surprise they’re longstanding rivals.
Explore the red brick warehouses of the Royal Albert Dock. These former waterfront warehouses are where you’ll find some of the city’s top attractions, including the Tate Liverpool art gallery, Merseyside Maritime Museum and International Museum of Slavery.
The dock is also home to the Beatles Story, an exhibition dedicated to Liverpool’s most famous sons. Or you can take a Beatles-themed walk* (or should that be Magical Mystery Tour…) of their old haunts like the Cavern Club and Hessy’s music shop.
Catch the ferry across the Mersey, or a longer 50-minute cruise up and down the river to see some of the city’s landmark buildings, including the Liver Building and the modern waterside Liverpool Museum. Shop your way around Liverpool One, the UK’s largest open-air shopping centre, or catch live comedy or a gig at one of the city’s subterranean bars.
Where to stay in Liverpool: The quirky movie-themed Arthouse Hotel is located in Liverpool’s up-and-coming Ropewalks district. Its big rooms – sleeping 2 to 12 people – are colourfully decorated with gilt, velvet and giant film posters on the ceilings, and some have whirlpool baths. There’s also a buzzy bar and pizza restaurant open at weekends.
Day 6: Liverpool > Leeds
Finally, finish your UK cities by train trip by travelling north-east to Leeds. The journey takes 1.5 hours, departing Liverpool Lime Street station at 09.54 and arriving in Leeds at 11.40. Surrounded by the rolling hills of West Yorkshire, Leeds is vibrant, multicultural city with a big student population and some of the friendliest people around.
Spot murals, statues and pavement poems on the Leeds Welcome Art Trail, or see the best 19th- and 20th- century British art at the Leeds Art Gallery, sculptures at the Henry Moore Institute and contemporary art in an At Deco style former brewery at The Tetley.
Or catch a show at one of the city’s theatres – Leeds is the only UK city outside of London which has its own opera and ballet companies.
Shop your way around Leeds’ historic Victorian arcades with their stained glass and mosaics, or visit the Corn Exchange for indie shops in a spectacular setting.
Fill up on street food at Trinity Kitchen, with a mix of permanent eateries and street food vans that change every eight weeks. Then finish the night with cocktails on Call Lane, check out new bands at the Brudenell Social Club or take a tour* of the city’s craft beer scene.
Where to stay in Leeds: Near the train station, the Malmaison Leeds* is a Victorian office building done up in a glamourous Gothic-inspired style with lots of deep jewel colours, exposed brickwork and moody lighting. Its 100 rooms range from cosy doubles to suites, and it has a bar and restaurant, with plenty more right on its doorstep.
Day 7: Leeds
Spend your last morning seeing more of Leeds. If the sun’s shining, explore the gardens, lakes and woodland of 700-acre Roundhay Park, which is one of the world’s largest city parks. Or catch the 33/33A bus to Kirkstall Abbey just outside the city. This ruined Cistercian abbey dates back to 1152 and lies on the banks of the River Aire.
Then if you’re flying home, Leeds Bradford Airport is eight miles north of the city. You can reach the airport on the number 757 bus, which takes around 35 minutes. Or if you’re heading back to London its 2 hours 15 minutes from Leeds by direct train.
If you have more time, carry on travelling north where you’ll find more cool UK cities to explore. Head to Newcastle (1.5 hours) to visit the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, tour the Victoria Tunnel and experience the legendary Geordie nightlife.
Or travel over the border into Scotland and spend a few days in Glasgow (4 hours), Scotland’s city of culture. Take a boat trip on the Clyde, check out the artworks on the Mural Trail and eat your way around Finneston’s restaurants.
How much does it cost?
When you’re planning a UK rail trip, you can either book individual tickets or get a railpass, which can be a better deal if you’re under 28/over 60, want more flexibility or are booking late. Here’s how the prices break down for the two different options on this route.
Ticket prices depend on how early you book and if you’re booking a specific train or want to be flexible. There are three main fare categories: Advance, Off-Peak or Anytime. Advance are cheapest and can be booked 8–12 weeks in advance, but are non-transferable so you’re tied to a specific train. Off-Peak services are valid on any train outside weekday peak hours. And Anytime are the most expensive but can be bought on the day and used on any train.
Using the cheapest Advance fares, the cost of trains on this route starts at £108 per person:
- London > Brighton (day return): from £20.40
- London > Bristol: from £21.50
- Bristol > Manchester: from £52.30
- Manchester > Liverpool: from £2.90
- Liverpool > Leeds: from £11.00
You can also save a third on all rail fares with a Railcard*. These cost £30 with different versions for 16–25s, 25–30s, Seniors and Disabled People. You can also get a Two Together railcard for two named adults travelling together, or a Friends and Family Railcard for up to four adults and four children. Both UK and overseas residents are eligible.
The railpass option
There are various rail passes available, and which you’re eligible for depends on where you live. If you live outside the UK, you can can get a InterRail/Eurail pass (InterRail is for European residents and Eurail is for non-European residents) or BritRail pass. They work in a similar way and cover either a set time period or a certain number of travel days.
For the UK cities by train itinerary, the best InterRail/Eurail option is the One Country Great Britain pass for 5 travel days within 1 month (€241 adults, €209 youths aged 12–27, €217 seniors over 60). Or the best BritRail option is the England Pass for 8 Consecutive Days (€238 adults, €150 youths aged 16–25 or €202 seniors over 60).
Passholders are recommended to make seat reservations – though it’s probably only worth doing for long-distance services or at busy peak times so you’re guaranteed to get a seat – which you can do for free at any UK train station up to two hours before departure.
Rover tickets are also available, which give you unlimited train travel either all across the UK or in a certain region, and are available to both UK and overseas residents. For this itinerary you would need an All-Line Rover for 7 Days, but at £540 adults/£270 children it’s pretty pricey so you’re likely to be better off booking individual tickets.
How to book
There are a variety of websites where you can book UK train journeys, but some charge a booking fee. To avoid fees you can book with Transport for Wales* and either use a mobile ticket on your phone or collect them from a ticket machine or a counter at the station. Or if you have an international credit card you can book with The Trainline for a small fee.