Beautiful Train Journeys in the UK

All aboard the trend for train travel. We’re swapping car trips and flights for slow-paced journeys on the UK’s most beautiful rail routes

It's time to ditch flying. Or at least, ditch it where it's not needed. Cars, too. This year, we're making the most of our railcards and braving the strike chaos to explore our backyard by rail. We're not alone. Some estimated 359 million rail journeys were made around the UK in the last quarter of 2022 (not all, we promise, commutes).

There are few better ways to journey to your destination: take out two-hour pre-arrival times, grumpy border guards and the dangerous allure of testing perfumes in Duty Free (guilty), do away with motorway services and traffic tailbacks, and suddenly that old cliché about the journey being as important as the destination rings true. There's a nostalgic romance in jumping on a train, and a timeless elegance in watching the landscapes roll by. Make your next trip about both the journey and the destination with these seven beautiful train rides in the UK.

Seven of the most beautiful UK train journeys

Dartmoor Line, UK
Photo credit: Peter Titmuss /

The Dartmoor Line


Expect to shimmy past backpack-shelled hikers squeezed into aisles and compass-yoked explorers, their noses tucked into vast maps, as you find your seat on this West Country rail trip. Reopened last year, the Dartmoor Line connects Exeter to Okehampton, providing easy access to the northern reaches of Dartmoor National Park. The 150-year-old-plus route takes passengers into the patchwork wilderness of the storied moors in just 40 minutes, from where they can set off on hikes straight from the station, exploring sculpted hills and wind-pestered flats. For a challenge, try a romp up to Yes Tor, the highest point in southern England. Spend a day orienteering, then board one of the hourly trains in the evening golden hour to watch the moorlands sink into purple darkness as you cruise back towards the city.

East Coast Main Line, Northumberland, UK

East Coast Main Line


Swooping along Northumberland's coast, most passengers on the high-speed East Coast Main Line barely raise their headphone-crowned heads to look out the window. They're missing out: this journey along rugged Northumberland's eastern extremes ventures into the lesser-known locations of England's wildest county. Streaking along dramatic cliffs above the furious North Sea, and bending into the curves of the coastline, you'll want a right-hand window seat to spy the sun-haloed Holy Island of Lindisfarne adrift beyond the shore. In Edinburgh, book a room at the dashingly dressed Gleneagles Townhouse. Opened last year, the former bank has been transformed into an opulent city bolthole, complete with moss-coloured, velvet-fringed armchairs and lipstick-pink scalloping on bed canopies.

Coleraine-Londonderry Train, Northern Ireland

Londonderry & Coleraine Railway

Coleraine to Londonderry

Passing between emerald pastures and the expansive, salt-sprayed beaches of Northern Ireland, this 40-minute train journey is a bog-standard commuter route that travels through anything-but-ordinary surroundings. There are no graffiti-tagged underpasses in sight; instead, the line trundles through tidy fields, running parallel to the lazy waters of the River Bann, before diving into cliff-cut tunnels towards Northern Ireland's dazzling northern coast. Edging along ivory sands, the train regularly stops at diminutive harbour towns. For a pre- or post-trip lunch, try Lost & Found in Coleraine's historic town centre.

Royal Scotsman, Scotland
Photo credit: Martin Scott Powell

Belmond Royal Scotsman


Looking to keep it traditional? Jump aboard the Royal Scotsman for a tartan-clad, seven-night adventure. This luxurious rail trip is a masterclass in nostalgia: rolling out of Edinburgh's Waverley Station with a bagpipe serenade, the traditionally styled sleeper train switches city turrets for the russet and moss-green topography of Perthshire and the Cairngorms National Park, skimming glittering lochs and crossing a soaring aqueduct along the way, before swinging back towards Edinburgh on rails that hug the country's rugged Eastern shoreline. Cocooned in private, wood-panelled compartments, travellers can enjoy distillery stops, visits to ancient estates and, come evening, onboard ceilidhs to accompany seasonal fine-dining menus in the dining car. The whisky pours are generous, too.

Settle-Carlisle Rail, England

Settle-Carlisle Railway

Settle to Carlisle

Running some 118km, the Settle-Carlisle Railway is a journey into northern England's rugged interior - a slow meander through the heather-purple moorlands, dry stone wall-edged meadows and windswept hills of the Yorkshire Dales and Cumbrian fells. First opened in 1876, the route is one of the last remaining Victorian rail journeys (and it only survived a threatened closure in the 1980s thanks to a campaign run by local residents and Rebook Club C 85-wearing, of-the-era Francis Bourgeois types). Jump aboard at Settle to whizz your way through England's northern heartlands. The accomplishments of Victorian engineering - enabling the train to squeeze through majestic hill cuts and fly across mind-dizzyingly high bridges - are almost as impressive as the Brontë-esque natural landscapes outside the window.

Ffestiniog Railway, Wales

Ffestiniog Railway

Blaenau Ffestiniog-Porthmadog

Award-winning, record-breaking and jaw-dropping: three things we never thought we'd say about a dinky Welsh train trip. But all three accolades apply to the Ffestiniog Railway. The world's oldest narrow-gauge railway (no, us neither) descends in coil-tight bends and belly-dropping curves from Blaenau Ffestiniog's old slate quarries towards the harbour town of Porthmadog on a 22km journey. Ensconced in lacquered-up retro carriages, passengers peer out at snow-dusted mountains, dramatically scooped-out valleys and bluebell-cloaked pastures - views that have - together with its industrial history - earned the area a Unesco World Heritage badge to add to its trophy cabinet. It's the story behind this former industrial rail route as much as the scenic vistas rolling past the windows that has us racing to book a seat, though. Transformed from a slate-mining transport line into a scenic rail route by volunteers, the steam trains continue to be run by the same group of enthusiasts today. The cherry-red locomotives are as much a symbol of community pride as they are a cheery local attraction.

St Ives Bay Line, UK

St Ives Bay Line

St Erth-St Ives

Our advice if you're jumping aboard this 10-minute rail trip between St Erth and St Ives? Bag a seat on the right-hand side of the train to guarantee views across the paradisiacal crescent sands of Carbis Bay as the train winds along Hayle estuary's secluded mud flats towards Cornwall's most picturesque seaside town. After enjoying one of the shortest railway trips in Britain (and probably Europe, too), you'll want to make a beeline for St Ives' Moomaid of Zennor to continue the bucket-and-spade nostalgia. The ice-cream shop makes all its scoops in a family-run dairy nearby. Fancy an overnighter? Check in at The Harbour House Hotel for painterly panoramas across Porthmeor Beach from your room.

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