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One-week UK cities by train itinerary

 One-week UK cities by train itinerary

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, interesting museums, live music and street food. 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 and do along the way.

Read more: Five great one-week rail trip route ideas for Europe and Britain

One-week UK cities by train itinerary

 One-week UK cities by train itinerary map

UK cities by train map

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 city’s most hipster neighbourhood – 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 on Hanbury Street 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 pop-up market. Or visit the Boxpark, a pop-up shopping mall made from converted shipping containers with a mix of food stalls, bars and independent shops, which hosts film screenings and DJ nights on its outdoor terraces.

Street art in Shoreditch, London

Shoreditch street art

Escape the city streets at the Queen Elizabeth Park, where the 2012 Olympic Park has been transformed into parkland, and channel your inner big kid on the ArcelorMittal Orbit – the world’s longest tunnel slide. If you’re in London on a Sunday, don’t miss the colourful Columbia Road flower market. And check out some of 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 Qbic London City is close to Aldgate East Tube station, a 15-minute walk from Shoreditch. This Dutch brand’s pod-style rooms come with colourful artworks and mood lighting, and it has 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

Brick Lane food in the East End of London

Eating Brick Lane

Day 2: Brighton

The following morning, take the train south from London to Brighton for the day. Multiple trains run between the two cities every hour, departing from London Bridge, Blackfriars and Victoria stations and taking around 1 hour and 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 wall paintings. Or head upwards on board the British Airways i360, the world’s tallest moving observation platform which travels up to 138 metres for views over the city and along the Sussex coast.

The Royal Pavillion, Brighton

The Royal Pavillion

For the full English seaside experience, visit Brighton Pier and play the slot machines, ride the dodgems and eat sticky candyfloss before braving the pebbles for a paddle in the sea and fish and chips on the beach. Take a stroll along the seafront to neighbouring Hove or wander through the narrow streets of the Lanes, where historic fisherman’s cottages have been turned into cafés, bars and antique shops. Then catch the train back to London for the night.

Brighton beach and pier

Brighton’s pier and pebbles

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 (but make sure you don’t get off in Bristol Parkway station which is outside the city). Spend the rest of the day exploring this historic harbourside city, 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, and you can take a self-guided walking tour around the area or try it out yourself with a graffiti workshop. Or discover Bristol’s maritime history on board Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s steamship the SS Great Britain – and take a walk across his impressive Clifton Suspension Bridge over the Avon Gorge for great views at sunset.

Clifton Suspension Bridge, Bristol

The Clifton Suspension Bridge

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 dumplings to Moroccan tagines. Or eat and shop in converted shipping containers at Cargo in Wapping Wharf, close to 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 rooftop. They vary in size from 16–20 foot long but all sleep two and come with en-suite shower rooms, seating areas, flatscreen TVs and views over Bristol’s skyline.

Read more: A day trip to Bristol with National Express

Cargo at Wapping Wharf, Bristol

Cargo at Wapping Wharf

Day 4: Bristol > Manchester

The next day, take the train north from Bristol to Manchester. The journey takes just under 4 hours, departing Bristol Temple Meads at 09.34, changing in Gloucester and Birmingham New Street, and arriving into Manchester Piccadilly at 13.24. Then you have the afternoon and evening to explore Manchester, famous for its football, music scene and nightlife.

Learn about Manchester life at the People’s History Museum, or its industrial heritage at the MOSI (Museum of Science and Industry) – both of which are free to visit. Football fans can get their fix at the National Football Museum or on a stadium tour at either Manchester United or their rivals Manchester City. Or take a walk along the canals of Castlefield and stop off for a drink at Cloud 23 on the 23rd floor of the Beetham Tower for a bird’s eye view of the city.

MediaCityUK in Salford Quays

MediaCityUK in Salford Quays

Check out the modern architecture and museums in Salford Quays. This former dockyard turned media hub is home to the Lowry arts centre, Imperial War Museum North and the BBC TV studios where you can take a studio tour. Then head to the trendy Northern Quarter to shop your way around vintage and indie stalls at Affleck’s Palace before checking out the area’s bars and restaurants, from arcade gaming at NQ64 to Prohibition-style Dusk Til Pawn.

Where to stay in Manchester: An old textile mill transformed into a 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 extras like free Netflix, milk and cookies before bed, and nightly free prosecco and antipasti.

Manchester bees street art in the Northern Quarter

Manchester bees in the Northern Quarter

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 there’s a longstanding rivalry between them.

Explore the red brick warehouses of the UNESCO World Heritage listed Royal Albert Dock. It’s 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. It’s also home to the Beatles Story, 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.

The Liver Building and Cunard Building Liverpool

The Liver Building and Cunard Building

Catch the ferry across the Mersey, or take a longer 50-minute cruise up and down the river to see some of the city’s landmark building, 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 – which sleep from 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.

Buildings reflected in the Royal Albert Docks Liverpool

Reflections in the docks

Day 6: Liverpool > Leeds

Finally, finish your UK cities by train trip by travelling north-east to Leeds. The journey takes around 1.5 hours, departing from Liverpool Lime Street station at 09.54 and arriving into 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 along the Leeds Welcome Art Trail, or see the best of 20th-century British art at the Leeds Art Gallery, sculptures at the Henry Moore Institute and contemporary art in a former brewery at The Tetley. Catch a show at one of the city’s theatres – Leeds is the only UK city outside London with its own opera and ballet companies.

Drury Dame statue in Leeds, Yorkshire

Drury Dame statue in Leeds

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, which has a mix of permanent eateries and street food vans that change every eight weeks. Then finish the night drinking cocktails on Call Lane, checking out new bands at the Brudenell Social Club or exploring the city’s craft beer scene on a Leeds Brewery Tour.

Where to stay in Leeds: Five minutes’ walk from 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, along with plenty more right on its doorstep. 

Leeds Corn Exchange building

Leeds Corn Exchange

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, one of the world’s largest city parks. Or catch the 33/33A bus just outside the city to Kirkstall Abbey. 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, connected by the 757 bus which takes around 35 minutes.

Kirkstall Abbey ruins near Leeds, Yorkshire

Kirkstall Abbey

More time?

If you have more time to spare, 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 to Glasgow (4 hours) – Scotland’s city of culture. Take a boat trip on the Clyde, check out the artworks on the City Centre Mural Trail and eat your way around Finneston’s restaurants.

Sunset on the River Clyde Glasgow

Sunset on the River Clyde

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.

Individual tickets

Ticket prices depend on how early you book and whether you are booking a specific train or want to be flexible. There are three main fare categories: Advance, Off-Peak or Anytime. Advance are the 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.

Deckchairs on Brighton beach

Brighton beach

Using the cheapest Advance fares, the total cost of trains on this route starts at £96 per person:

  • London > Brighton (day return): from £12.90
  • London > Bristol: from £21.90
  • Bristol > Manchester: from £46.10
  • Manchester > Liverpool: from £3.10
  • Liverpool > Leeds: from £11.80

You can also save a third on all rail fares with a Railcard. These cost £30 and there are 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 which covers up to four adults and four children. Both UK and overseas residents are eligible.

The Royal Albert Docks Liverpool

Liverpool’s Royal Albert Docks

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 (InterRail is for European residents and Eurail is for non-European residents) or BritRail pass. They all work in a similar way and cover either a set period of time 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 for youths aged 12–27 or €217 for seniors over 60). Or the best BritRail option is the England Pass for 8 Consecutive Days (€238 adults, €150 for youths aged 16–25 or €202 for seniors over 60).

The Lowry Centre in Manchester's Salford Quays

The Lowry Centre in Manchester

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.

There are also Rover tickets available – these give you unlimited train travel either all across the UK or in a designated region, and both UK and overseas residents are eligible. For this itinerary you would need an All-Line Rover for 7 Days, but at £540 adults/£270 children it’s pretty expensive so you’re likely to be better off booking individual tickets.

London red bus

London bus

How to book

There are a variety of websites where you can book UK train journeys, but most charge a booking fee. To avoid the fee you can either book direct with one of the train operating companies or with Rail Europe – you can use international credit cards and either use a mobile ticket on your phone or collect them from a ticket machine or counter at the station.

Read more train travel posts

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UK cities by train: A one-week rail itinerary from London to Brighton, Bristol, Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds, featuring colourful street art, quirky nightlife, indie shops, interesting museums, live music and street food | UK by train | UK rail itinerary | UK cities | Cool cities in the UKA one-week UK cities by train itinerary from London to Brighton, Bristol, Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds, , with what trains to take, how much they cost, how to book and what to see along the way | UK by train | UK rail itinerary | UK cities | Cool cities in the UK

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6 Comments

  • Reply
    Mark
    August 30, 2020 at 10:25 pm

    Brill. I’m pretty sure you can get a through train from Bristol to Manchester without the changes, though!

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      September 28, 2020 at 4:37 pm

      Thanks – best I could find in the morning was one change but it was longer than the two changes (may be a corona related timetable issues though…)

  • Reply
    Becky
    September 5, 2020 at 5:16 pm

    I always love seeing other bloggers mention my home town (Bristol). It’s such an underrated place to explore when everyone normally just goes straight for Bath or London. I haven’t been to Leeds or Liverpool yet but I’d really like to

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      September 28, 2020 at 4:35 pm

      I love Bristol! Should get there more often as it’s only an hour away as there’s lots of places I’d still like to explore.

  • Reply
    Gannon Zayn
    November 8, 2020 at 1:06 pm

    Hey Lucy!
    Thanks for sharing this post. You have actually mentioned some of the best cities that can be traveled around.

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