Britain’s iconic railways link thriving cities, picturesque villages and some of the country’s most striking and inaccessible scenery. With everything from modern locomotives to historic steam trains to choose from, you’ll be spoilt for choice. So, jump aboard and delve into the country’s rich railway heritage on these special itineraries and experiences, for a Great British train journey to remember.
Made famous as the Hogwarts Express in the Harry Potter films, the Jacobite Steam Train weaves its way through some of Scotland’s most scenic terrain. Setting off from Fort William in the shadows of Britain’s tallest mountain, Ben Nevis, the line wends between rolling hills and deep lochs on its way to the quaint fishing town of Mallaig. Cross the spectacular 21-arched Glenfinnan Viaduct en route, taking in breathtaking views of Loch Shiel and the surrounding mountains, before stopping off at the Glenfinnan Station Museum to uncover the region’s rich rail heritage. Gaze out over Loch Nevis, Europe’s deepest seawater loch, before sampling the latest catch at one of Mallaig’s fish and chip shops.
If you’re flying into the Scottish capital, book a stay at the Waldorf Astoria Edinburgh – The Caledonian, a British grand railway hotel with oodles of history. Dating back to 1903 and set within walking distance of the majority of Edinburgh’s attractions in the heart of Princes Street, many of its rooms offer striking views of Edinburgh Castle and the surrounding city.
Embark on a journey through the magical mountain landscapes of Snowdonia aboard the Welsh Highland Railway, a lovingly restored narrow gauge heritage line linking Porthmadog and Caernarfon. Climb the towers of the imposing fortress at Caernarfon, one of four UNESCO World Heritage listed castles in the region, and marvel at the picturesque village of Beddgelert as you pass through the foothills of Mount Snowdon. Stop off to explore the wonders of the Aberglaslyn Pass and clamber aboard the award-winning Ffestiniog Railway – the world’s oldest narrow gauge railway that dates back 200 years – to discover the golden age of train travel in Britain. With three original locomotives and lavish carriages, sit back and relax in luxury as you pass glorious coastal sights, ancient woodlands and the emerald fields of the Welsh countryside.
Discover the golden beaches, turquoise surf and winding coastal paths of the south west following a trip on Great Western Railway’s Night Riviera Sleeper. Linking London Paddington with a host of towns, cities and holiday resorts in Cornwall, the overnight sleeper service runs six nights a week(except Saturdays) offering comfortable one and two-bed compartments and a host of other facilities.
For a journey through the outdoor delights of the Yorkshire Dales and North Pennines, grab a seat on the Settle-Carlisle Railway. Dating back to the mid-19th century, the 73-mile stretch features notable tunnels and viaducts, and was the last mainline railway to be constructed almost entirely by hand. Following the natural landscape of the region, you’ll pass over the iconic Ribblehead Viaduct and through an array of lush moorlands on this railway adventure. Daily diesel train services run on the mainline, while specialist operators also run classic steam locomotives on selected days of the year.
If you find yourself in the north of England and wish to delve deeper into Britain’s rail heritage, book in for a stay at the Midland Hotel, Manchester. Initially built to serve rail travellers from London in 1903, the Grade II-listed building retains many of its features, alongside contemporary restaurant, spa and events facilities.
Embark on a luxurious adventure through the British countryside aboard a Belmond British Pullman, which embody the golden age of 1920s and 1930s train travel. Add extra glamour with a lavish afternoon tea or champagne reception before settling down to enjoy the restored vintage carriages. With routes to vibrant cities, ancient castles and major sporting events, you can travel in style on the way to discovering the UNESCO World Heritage City of Bath, the story behind Winston Churchill’s birthplace at Blenheim Palace or showpiece occasions like the Chelsea Flower Show.
When you’re in London, there are a number of iconic railway hotels where you can rest your head. Overlooking St Pancras Station, the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel dates back to 1873 and its past is inseparably linked to the railways. Having taken over much of the premises of the Midland Grand Hotel, designed by George Gilbert Scott, the luxurious five-star hotel has a rich and eclectic history. Its centrepiece is a stunning Victorian Gothic staircase, lovingly restored to its 1901 glory. Alternatively, opt for a stay in the ‘world’s first grand railway hotel’, right in the heart of Kings Cross St Pancras. The lavish Great Northern Hotel opened its doors in 1854 and has been welcoming travellers ever since.
As one of Britain’s first preserved heritage railway lines, the Bluebell Railway includes a fine collection of vintage steam locomotives, many of which came straight out of service. Experience recreated train services from the 1880s through to the 1960s on an 11-mile stretch of track in the beautiful Sussex countryside. Numerous special services run throughout the year, offering everything from murder mystery evenings to seasonal events – and even the chance to drive one of the fleet’s impressive locomotives for yourself!
Uncover 300 years of railway history as you climb aboard restored locomotives and browse some of the one million train-related artefacts at the National Railway Museum in York. You’ll see awe-inspiring engines from the golden age of steam travel and find out how present day locomotives are driving a speed revelation, on this journey through innovation.
Keen to discover new cities and explore scenic countryside by train? A BritRail pass could be the most cost-effective way.