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Discover Britain via its heritage train travel

Britain’s iconic railways link thriving cities, picturesque villages and some of the country’s most striking and inaccessible autumn and winter scenery. With everything from modern locomotives to historic steam trains to choose from, a British steam-powered adventure can be as big as your imagination. So jump aboard as we journey through the country’s rich railway heritage, for a Great British train ride to remember.

All aboard the Jacobite

​​​​Jacobite steam train crossing Glenfinnan Viaduct, Inverness-shire, Scotland. Credit to VisitBritain/Colin Roberts

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 meanders between rolling snow-capped hills and deep lochs on its way to the quaint fishing town of Mallaig. From there it crosses 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. Imagine absorbing the views over Loch Nevis, Europe’s deepest seawater loch, before warming up by sampling the latest catch at one of Mallaig’s fish and chip shops.

Those dreaming of the Scottish capital should plan to 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.

Steam through Snowdonia

Woman on a day trip on the Welsh Highland Railway, Gwynedd, Wales, looking trough a window. Credit to VisitBritain/Ben Selway

Plan 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. You can 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 frosty foothills of Mount Snowdon on a winter wander. See the wonders of the Aberglasyn 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 while passing glorious coastal sights, ancient woodlands and the rolling fields of the Welsh countryside.

Sleep all the way to the South West

Dream of waking up to sprawling beaches, roaring surf and the 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 train offers comfortable one and two-bed compartments and a multitude of other facilities.

Venture across the viaduct

The sunset, the sun on the horizon in a stormy sky, over the historic viaduct on the Settle - Carlisle Railway line. Credit to VisitBritain/Colin Barker

For a journey through the outdoor delights of the Yorkshire Dales and North Pennines, plan a trip 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, the train passes 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.

Travel in unrivalled style

 Aerial view of historic buildings in Bath, Somerset, England. Credit to VisitBritain

Those yearning for stress-free, luxurious travel can embark on a lavish adventure through the British countryside aboard a Belmond British Pullman, whose restored carriages embody the golden age of 1920s and 1930s train travel. With routes to vibrant cities, ancient castles and grand estates, travel in style on the way to discovering the UNESCO World Heritage City of Bath or the story behind William Churchill’s birthplace at Blenheim Palace.

There are a number of iconic railway hotels to discover in London, including a landmark of Victorian splendour, the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel. Overlooking St Pancras Station, it dates back to 1873 and 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 accommodation 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.

Get behind the wheel

As one of Britain’s first preserved heritage railway lines, the Bluebell Railway includes a fine collection of vintage steam locomotives, which run along an 11-mile stretch of track in the beautiful Sussex countryside - railway lovers can experience the recreated trains, hailing from the 1880s through to the 1960s.

Bask in breathtaking beauty

Surrounded by spectacular views of the Cotswolds, the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway criss-crosses its way past sleepy hamlets and fields sparkling with autumn frost. You can venture from Cheltenham Racecourse to Broadway as steam fills the air, whizzing past chocolate-box cottages and winding country lanes in the process. Breathtaking vistas of the Malvern Hills, Wales and the Vale of Evesham await.

Chug through history

Want to uncover 300 years of railway history? Plan to climb aboard restored locomotives and browse some of the one million train-related artefacts at the National Railway Museum in York. Prepare to see awe-inspiring engines from the golden age of steam travel and find out how present day locomotives are driving a speed revolution, on this journey through innovation that reveals how Britain gave the world the train.

Countryside and castles

Swanage Railway train on tracks, going past Corfe Castle in Dorset.

Dream of following a historic route from Victorian times along England’s south coast from Wareham to Swanage, a trip that originally cost travellers 11 old pence! The Swanage Railway stretches for nearly 10 miles and travels through Dorset’s Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in vintage style, past rolling hills, atmospheric winter woodland and even William the Conqueror’s Corfe Castle. With its roots hailing back to 1885, the numerous vintage steam-hauled locomotives take you on a journey through the ages, arriving at (or departing from) the Victorian resort of Swanage.

If you’re dreaming of waking up to stunning sea views, you can book a stay at the luxurious Pines Hotel, Swanage. Offering a serene setting in which to switch off, many of the rooms feature stunning sea-facing balconies.

Island heritage by rail

Both a vintage steam train museum and functioning train line, the award-winning Isle of Wight Steam Railway is a dream-worthy day out if you want to experience more than 150 years of transport history.  The 10-mile line allows you to travel in vintage carriages and wagons, pulled by impressive steam locomotives, with a number of historic station stops along the way. A highlight stop is the restored 1940s Havenstreet station, which houses a train discovery centre, fascinating museum and wagon workshops.

History buffs can look forward to staying in the Grade-II listed Arreton Manor, a private house that has been owned by no less than eight monarchs. It’s now open to overnight guests and the annexed Nook has its own take on modern yet rustic décor, offering a cosy space with traditional timber beams and a majestic king-sized bed.

Travel through Yorkshire’s past

A steam train on North Yorkshire Moors Railway billowing clouds of smoke, Yorkshire, England. Credit to VisitBritain/©Graham Staples

A dazzling example of a heritage railway, if you’re longing for a dose of ‘slow travel’ why not dream of absorbing the stunning Yorkshire countryside aboard the North Yorkshire Moors Railway. Stops along the 24-mile route include the chance to travel back to the 1930s at the restored Pickering station, the 1912-themed Levisham station, and Grosmont station – which film enthusiasts might recognise as the filming location for Hogsmeade in the Harry Potter films. This line takes you to one of Yorkshire’s historic gems, the coastal town of Whitby, where you can plan to see ancient ruins, walk the famous 100 steps and enjoy a traditional portion of fish and chips, a hearty traditional treat for the cooler months!

Those wanting to add a touch of modern luxury to their heritage adventure can book a stay at Horngarth, nestled in the heart of Whitby. Alternatively, if you’re seeking a relaxing night in more traditional surroundings, you can plan a stay at Whitby’s 16th century Bagdale Hall Hotel. Complete with beamed ceilings, stone mullion windows and grand four-poster beds, you’ll feel as if you’re waking up in Britain’s Tudor past!

Through hills and coast

Winding through the foothills of England’s highest mountains, the seven-mile open-air Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway passes some of the most dramatic landscapes in Britain. Dating back to 1875, the route begins at Ravenglass, the Lake District National Park’s only coastal town. It passes a number of stops along the way, including Muncaster Mill and Beckfoot before arriving at Dalegarth station in Eskdale – all great spots for hikes through the UNESCO World Heritage listed Lake District, which promises a sea of autumn colour and memorable winter rambles. If you fancy a touch of opulence, you can dream of boarding the first class observation carriage for the best views of the stunning scenery passing by. 

Why not plan to end a day of Lake District discovery in the four-star 16th century Sella Park Country House Hotel, in a setting that includes peaceful gardens that sweep down to the River Calder. 

A seaside trip in vintage style

Plan a tranquil trip through decades of heritage by booking a journey along the 10-mile North Norfolk Railway. Each of their stations offer a steam-adorned trip through Britain’s glorious by-gone eras, taking in the enamouring countryside of North Norfolk along a route featuring epic woodlands to the south and the tranquil coastline to the north.

The last station stop is Sheringham, a traditional seaside town wonderfully located for scenic winter walks. Those wanting to spend a restful night here can stay at the nearby Dales Country House.

07 Sep 2022(last updated)

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