Getting around Britain

Travelling around Britain by train

Travelling by train is a scenic and relaxing way to discover Britain, adding a real sense of adventure to your trip. The rail network covers the whole country, serving more than 2,500 stations and the system is efficient and reliable: you can leave London and be in Scotland in as little as 4 hours.

Train travel in Scotland's Highlands
Train travelling across the Highlands in Scotland

Journeys across the country may involve changes since most lines radiate from London, which has 7 major terminals - here are some example journeys:

London Euston – Birmingham (1hr 20mins), Chester (2hrs), Manchester (2hrs 5mins), Liverpool (2hrs 15mins), Llandudno Junction, North Wales (2hrs 50mins).
London King’s Cross – Cambridge (50 mins), York (1hr 50mins), Lincoln (2hrs 20mins), Newcastle (2hrs 50mins), Durham (2hrs 55mins), Edinburgh, Scotland (4hrs 20mins).
London Liverpool Street – Cambridge (1hr 10mins), Norwich (1hr 40mins).
London Marylebone – Bicester Village (50mins), Warwick (1hr 25mins), Stratford-Upon-Avon (2hrs), Oxford (1hr 10mins).
London Paddington – Oxford (55mins), Windsor (55 mins), Bath (1hr 25mins), Bristol (1hr 40mins), Cardiff (2hrs).
London St Pancras – Brighton (1hr 30mins), Paris with Eurostar (2hrs 25mins).
London Victoria – Brighton (55mins). 
London Waterloo – Salisbury for Stonehenge (1hr 20mins),  Bournemouth (1hr 55mins).

There is also a fast rail link with continental Europe on Eurostar, from St Pancras International station in London. The BritRail train ticket is worth buying as it is exclusive for tourists, providing unlimited journeys and discounts, and gives you the freedom to go at your own pace.

Find out more about BritRail passes.

How to buy train tickets

Travelling by train in Britain

You can buy your train tickets from large travel agents and all railway stations across the UK. First-class tickets cost about one third more than standard fares, and buying a return fare is sometimes cheaper than buying 2 singles.

Allow plenty of time to buy your ticket, and always ask about any special offers or reduced fares. An advance ticket is usually cheaper than one bought on the day, but often has restrictions on your ability to change or cancel your journey.

You can buy tickets online from National Rail, The Trainline, or directly from the train companies.

Ticket offices in rural areas may have limited opening hours, in which case you can buy your ticket from the conductor on board the train.

Travelling around Britain with a rail pass

Tourists from outside Britain can get discounted and flexible travel with a BritRail Pass, from the VisitBritain Shop (it can also be purchased from agents such as ACP Rail, Rail Europe and International Rail).

Keep a passport-sized photograph handy for buying passes. If you have a pass, you will need to show it when you buy a ticket.

Train travel tips and hints

Travelling by train in Britain
Ribblehead Viaduct on the Settle-Carlise train route in Northwest England. Image credit: Colin Barker

Britain’s fastest and most comfortable trains are those on the mainline routes. It is always advisable to reserve your seat in advance, especially if you want to travel at peak times, such as Friday evenings. Mainline trains have dining cars and air-conditioning, and they are fast – for example travelling from London to Scotland's capital city Edinburgh takes just 4 hours and 20 minutes direct, or from London Paddington to Wales's capital city Cardiff it's just 2 hours direct.

If you are disabled and need assistance you can call National Rail Enquiries (at least 24 hours ahead of your journey) to book Passenger Assistance.

A yellow line above a train window indicates a first-class compartment. Note that even if the train is full, you cannot sit in the first-class area without paying the full fare.

Stations are usually well signposted to town centres and key sights, and buses usually stop outside. Trains on Sundays and public holidays can be slower and less frequent than normal.

Be inspired for your next train journey

Train travel in Britain
Train travelling along the Cumbrian coast

From the Scottish Highlands to beautiful Southwest England, we’ve picked some of the best places in the UK to discover by train. Check out our guided itineraries for inspiration on what to see and do when you get there.