Great British railway journeys are, for want of a better word, great. From a day-trip on the Belmond British Pullman and Northern Belle to a cross-country adventure on the Caledonian Sleeper, here are our top picks of the best Great British railway journeys.
1. North Yorkshire Moors Railway
The North Yorkshire Moors Railway (or NYMR as it’s known), is one of Britain’s most scenic railway journeys. The route covers 24 miles through some of North Yorkshire’s most incredible scenery, with guests travelling behind heritage steam locomotives in historic carriages. Everything about this trip evokes nostalgia, from the grandeur of the its Pullman carriages and thrill of being pulled by a steam locomotive, to the quaint station shops and afternoon teas served on board.
The route runs from the ancient market town of Pickering to Whitby on the Yorkshire coast (famous for its delicious seafood), with the whole journey takes around 1 hour, 50mins. Fun fact, the charming village station of Goathland comes next (famous for playing Hogsmeade Station in Harry Potter) is one of the train’s stops. Prices start from £35.
2. Welsh Highland Line
The Welsh Highland Railway runs for 26 miles through Snowdonia National Park and is Britain’s longest heritage railway line. The train departs from Caernarfon, a charming royal town in Gwynedd, Wales, and journeys through Snowdonia climbing from sea level to over 650ft. Passing the foothills of Snowdon, the train then zig-zags down to reach the stunning locations of Beddgelert and the dramatic Aberglaslyn Pass. Allowing for maximum exploration, the train operates a hop-on-hop-off system, with a return ticket valid all day (and for as many rides as you like).
Passengers ride in comfortable carriages and there are even first-class luxury Pullman coaches on the line serving freshly cooked food to your seat. As far as great British railway journeys go, this is pretty spectacular. Prices start at just £10.25.
3. Belmond British Pullman
The Belmond British Pullman is Golden Age of Train travel personified – a luxurious nostalgic journey in lavish Pullman train carriages. Operated by luxury hotel and leisure group Belmond, the train runs daytrips from London around the UK – the perfect way to celebrate a birthday, anniversary or mother’s day. Routes include trips to country houses, cities, castles and sporting events, but the real fun is had on board. Guests can indulge on classic afternoon tea or a signature Golden Age of Travel lunch. There’s even an indulgent dressed-up dinner with a renowned celebrity chef. Fancy yourself as an amateur sleuth? Then don’t miss the train’s exciting Murder Mystery trip. Prices start at £297 per person.
4. Caledonian Sleeper
While we love spending our time simply enjoying a train journey, it’s even better when we can enjoy a train journey and arrive somewhere really useful. This is the Caledonian Sleeper, a premium sleeper train connecting the Scottish Highlands and Edinburgh with London. Board this train at night and enjoy a traditional Scottish dinner (whisky and haggis anyone?) before returning to a modern sleeper compartment with en-suite bathroom (two and four berth options available). Awaken in Edinburgh (or many Scottish destinations) with just enough time to spare for a hot breakfast. This is hands-down the most civilised way to travel between England and Scotland.
5. Night Riviera
Cornwall is one of the prettiest places in Britain, with white sandy beaches, quaint villages, great surf stops and delicious ice cream and pasty eateries. However, it can be tricky to reach for more of the UK. This is where the Night Riviera sleeper train steps in, linking London’s Paddington with Penzance in the Penwith district. The train covers 305 miles overnight with a journey time of eight hours, running every night apart from Saturdays. Operated by Great Western Rail (GWR), the train underwent a refurbishment in 2018 and now boasts premium new sleeper carriages and a stylish lounge car serving good quality food and drink. Prices start at £49.
6. Avon Valley Railway
The Avon Valley Railway is a very popular three-mile long heritage railway in South Gloucestershire in England. The original line was built back in 1869, but was closed in the 1960s. However, it has since been reopened by a team of railway enthusiasts who amazingly re-laid the tracks and restored some vintage locomotives and carriages so passengers can enjoy a steam train ride along the picturesque Avon Valley. Travellers can choose from taking a day trip on the train or enjoying a two or three course Sunday lunch on traditional railway car, the Pines Express. Other special events held on the train include the Teddy Bear’s Picnic and 1940s weekend and murder mysteries, while rain lovers can book driver experience courses for the opportunity to take the controls on the six-mile trip. Prices start at just £9.
7. Northern Belle
Previously part of the Venice Simplon-Orient Express group, the Northern Belle offers a luxurious train experience around the English, Scottish and Welsh Countryside. Aboard the train, guests can travel to popular events like the Chelsea Flower Show or Royal Ascot, all while enjoying a great dining experience on board. Gaze onto rolling green fields from 1930s carriages, lovingly restored with woodwork and murals. Popular Northern Belle trips include the Classic Afternoon Tea and Murder Mystery lunch trips, giving you the chance to dress up and transport back in time. Tickets start at £210.
8. Bure Valley Railway
The Bure Valley Railway is the best way to explore the pretty market towns of Aylsham and Wroxham, in England’s Norfolk Broads. A popular heritage railway route, the route runs using steam and diesel trains and the whole vibe is friendly and family oriented. Join the train for a one-way journey of an 18-mile round-trip passing by the historic Broadland villages of Brampton, Buxton and Coltishall. You can hop on and off at any time and there are even themed trips throughout the year.
9. Bluebell Railway
The Bluebell Railway is a gorgeous heritage rail route through the luscious Sussex countryside – and one of our favourite train trips in the UK. The train runs every weekend and makes for an amazing day out or way to celebrate a birthday or special occasion. As you chug along by steam train from Sheffield Park to East Grinstead you’ll see lovely villages, fields of bluebells (seasonal) and a bounty of streams and meadows. You can even indulge on afternoon tea, luncheon or a fancy dinner on board.
10. Jacobite Steam Train
Look familiar? That’s because the Jacobite Steam Train had a starring role in Harry Potter as the Hogwarts Express. This famous train rides the Road to the Isles route, a remote and rugged route across the Scottish Highlands. The 84-mile journey is often describes at the greatest railway journey in the world, running from Fort William to Mallaig and back. Ride this train for spectacular views of Ben Nevis, mountain passes and chocolate box villages.
11. Belmond Royal Scotsman
The Belmond Royal Scotsman is one of those once-in-a-lifetime train trips of ultra luxury and priceless memories. The train is a five-star hotel on wheels, and guests are serenaded by Scottish bagpipes as they board in Edinburg bound for the Scottish Highlands. Guests can spend 2-7 nights on board enjoying fine dining, spa treatments, and just watching the stunning Scottish scenery from their large private suite’s picture windows. This journey is truly spectacular.