Journey by train is among the easiest and more pleasant ways to explore the UK. As a rule, it’s more affordable than renting a vehicle. And because Britain is so compact, you can usually get from one end to the other in a day.
You’ll be able to drink in the scenery without worrying whether you’re on the wrong side of the road, and you’ll arrive at your destination ready to go.
Most British trains are modern and comfortable, and with more than 2,500 rail stations, there’s train service to virtually every place you would want to visit. The busiest routes have several departures a day. Typically, rail stations tend to be centrally located, so you generally arrive in the heart associated with the town. The stations are also transportation hubs, so if you need to catch a bus or a taxi, there will likely be one right out front.
There are more than 20 private rail companies in Britain, but National Rail serves as a clearinghouse that coordinates fares, schedules, and ticketing. Their web site has fares and schedules for all the rail lines.
On most trains, two classes of service are available — standard and first-class. Seating in standard class is like you’d find on an airline, with a table in between the seats. First-class is a little roomier and more comfortable, and refreshments are often included in the fare. But since most trips are relatively short, there’s little reason to pay for First Class.
You don’t need to make reservations in advance, though it’s a good idea during peak travel times or if you want a sleeper car. You can buy food onboard — at the restaurant car on intercity trains, in the buffet car, or from the food trolley on shorter journeys.
There’s space for your luggage above and between the seats and at the ends of the individual cars. And since porters are a thing of the past, you’ll probably have to handle it yourself. So don’t carry more than you can manage. Although there are some overnight trains in Britain since the distances covered are not great, it makes more sense to travel during daylight hours.
Rail fares vary quite a bit and can be affordable or expensive depending on when you book and when you travel. Most online ticket brokers charge the same fare, so where you buy your ticket isn’t as important as when. Like airlines, trains now offer nonrefundable fares that are less expensive. And mid-day travel usually costs less than trains during peak travel times.
Special Deals from Rail Europe
Three types of fares are most common: Advance, Anytime, and Off-Peak. Advance fares can save you as much as 75%, but they’re very restrictive.
Eurail Saver Pass
If you’re taking more than a couple of trips by train, a Rail Pass can be a real money saver. There are several kinds available.
Britrail Passes can save you time and money.
With a Britrail England Flexi Pass, you have unlimited travel on any scheduled train in England for four, eight, or twelve days during a one- or two-month period. The Britrail GB Flexi Pass adds trains in Scotland and Wales to the equation.
As the name implies, the Britrail England Consecutive Pass lets you travel on four, eight, fifteen, or twenty-two consecutive days during a one-month period. The GB Consecutive Pass adds Scotland and Wales.
The Britrail England Consecutive Pass allows you access to England’s railways over a selected number of consecutive days. The England Consecutive Pass is available for 4-, 8-, 15-, 22-day and 1-month periods.
Youth, Senior, Family, and Party passes are available. And you’ll need to buy your Britrail Pass before you leave home. They’re not sold in Britain. You can activate it at any rail station. Make reservations in advance or just show up when you want to travel. Scotland and Wales also offer country-specific passes.