Britain has a privatised rail network that covers the whole of the country, serving more than 2,500 stations - the system is efficient, reliable and taking the train will add a real sense of adventure to your trip. Journeys across the country may involve changes since most lines radiate from London, which has seven major terminals. There is also a fantastic rail link with continental Europe on Eurostar, from King’s Cross St Pancras station in London and Ebbsfleet and Ashford in Kent.
Travelling by train is one of the most scenic and relaxing ways to discover the real Britain. A fast and frequent rail network means you can escape London and be in Scotland in as little as 4 hours. And with a BritRail train ticket, it couldn’t be easier to explore: offering unlimited journeys and huge savings, this exclusive tourist pass gives you the freedom to go at your own pace.
How to purchase tickets
You can buy your train tickets from large travel agents and all railways stations. First-class tickets cost about one-third more than standard fares, and buying a return fare is sometimes cheaper than buying two 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.
Consumers can buy tickets directly from the rail provider, National Rail or a third-party website, such as the trainline. At Rail Easy, you may find discounted tickets in advance. Virgin Trains cover much of England, Scotland and Wales and there are no booking fees. Ticket offices in rural areas may close at weekends, so if you are unable to buy a ticket a conductor on board will sell you one.
Find out about rail passes
If you plan to do a lot of train travel around Britain, it's worth buying a BritRail pass. This can be purchased from many agents abroad, such as Rail Europe. National Rail's All Line Rail Rover gives adults unlimited travel throughout England, Scotland and Wales for 7 or 14 days. For many trips, a Family & Friends Railcard or Network Railcard saves one-third on adult and 60 per cent off kids’ (aged 5-15) fares. A Young Person’s Railcard offers discounts to 16- to 25-year-olds or full-time students attending a UK educational establishment. The Senior Rail Card entitles those over the age of 60 to a discount of one-third on most fares. There are special passes for London transport, too, and a pass that covers London, Oxford, Canterbury and Brighton. Children aged 5 to 15 pay half fare; those under the age of 5 travel free. Disabled travelers qualify for many discounts.
Keep a passport-sized photograph handy for buying passes. If you have a pass, make sure you always show it when you buy a ticket.
Some general tips and hints
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 – travelling to Edinburgh from London, for example, takes just over 4 hours!
If you are disabled and need help, call National Rail Enquiries to book Passenger Assistance at least 24 hours ahead of your journey. 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.
Some stations are a little way from town centres, but they are usually well signposted and mostly on a bus route. Trains on Sundays and public holidays can be slower and less frequent than normal.
From the Scottish Highlands to sunny 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