From adventurous cross-country journeys to luxurious rides in the world’s most beautiful destinations, there’s something truly romantic about train travel. It transports passengers to a simpler time, highlighting the joys of slow travel and, of course, showcasing beautiful views along the way. By Luke Abrahams
Luckily, exciting train rides exist around the world, including the UK, which is home to some of the best, grandest, and most scenic railways. So, if you’re seeking a memorable getaway with stunning countryside, seaside town, and city vistas, check out one of these amazing train trips in the UK.
These are the most scenic train rides in the UK
British Pullman, A Belmond Train, London
Perhaps the most indulgent way to explore England’s quaint countryside, Belmond’s British Pullman transports passengers back to the Roaring ’20s in its storied art deco carriages. A round-trip day trip, the train loops from London Victoria to the historic Chatsworth House, Highclere Castle (of Downton Abbey fame), and Belmond’s Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons. The food is delicious, and includes seasonal meats, vegetables, and indulgent desserts. For design fans, the Wes Anderson carriage blends art nouveau style, symmetrical lines, and pastel and jewel tones.
Coleraine to Londonderry
If you’re pressed for time, the route from Coleraine to Londonderry (or vice versa) takes just 40 minutes. A bog-standard commuter line, the train — once dubbed “one of the most beautiful rail journeys in the world” by avid train lover Michael Palin — passes through some of Northern Ireland’s loveliest spots. On one side, idyllic pastures and the deep blue sea fill nature’s canvas, and on the other, the River Bann roars as far as the eye can see alongside emerald mountains. Tunnels are aplenty, as are period homes, a long stretch of churches, and seaside towns. Castlerock is well worth exploring for its pretty village, and if it isn’t too windy, a picnic on the beach. As for what to do in Coleraine, the town itself is steeped in history — the Mountsandel Fort is home to Ireland’s most ancient human settlement — but we recommend hopping on a bus and continuing on to Causeway Coast, a UNESCO World Heritage site with wonders like the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge and Game of Thrones-famous Giant’s Causeway.
Royal Scotsman, A Belmond Train, Scotland
Say hello to Scotland’s luxury sleeper train. With space for only 24 passengers, the vibe on board feels intimate and luxurious. En suite cabins, tasty food (expect lots of Scottish salmon), spa treatments with some of the UK’s chicest independent brands, and an observation car with a veranda are just a few standout features. Passengers will see landmarks like the Kyle of Lochalsh and the beautiful Cairngorms National Park, a favourite of Queen Elizabeth II. Daydreaming on board once the afternoon tea service hits is mandatory as you snake through Fort William, with spellbinding panoramas of Ben Nevis (the UK’s highest mountain) and Arisaig coastline. Luxury amenities aside, there are plenty of opportunities for adventure, too: hiking the gorges of Aviemore, enjoying windy walks on the Isle of Bute, canoeing on the famous Loch Ness; and clay pigeon shooting at the Rothiemurchus estate.
Jacobite Steam Train
It should come as no surprise that this now-iconic Scottish train is an Instagram favourite — the ride from Fort William to Mallaig showcases an otherworldly mix of breathtaking UK views (think: craggy mountains, giant lakes, and the photogenic, 21-arch Glenfinnan Viaduct, famous for its starring role in the Harry Potter films). What you see depends on the time of year. Come summer, expect fields of green and the most luminous of sunsets, while winter brings frozen rivers and giant trees glistening with dagger-like icicles. Tip: Book a seat in advance as they can sell out fast.
Often overlooked among other train rides in the UK, the Settle-Carlisle Railway runs through 73 miles (117 km) of glorious countryside, showcasing ruggedly beautiful and remote spots along the way. The highlights come courtesy of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, home to fragrant heather, wildflowers, dry stone walls, and rolling hills. The stations here are just as beautiful (imagine charming pit stops flecked with hanging, posy-stuffed baskets), and the surroundings include green fields dotted with sheep. Another reason to hop aboard? This route, which launched in 1876, is one of England’s last great Victorian journeys.
St. Ives Bay Line
This one might only last 10 minutes, but it’s still worth it, and you can ride it back and forth as many times as you’d like to make a day of it. Opened in 1877, this stretch of track zooms along the beauteous Cornish coast, a treasure trove of coves, azure seas, white-sand beaches, and beautiful coastal towns once adored by the likes of novelist Virginia Woolf, the odd celebrity, and more. Tip: Sit on the right side of the train for the best views, including a glimpse of the wispy sand dunes that eventually blend into the sparkly waters.
Snowdon Mountain Railway
Although it’s more a tourist attraction and necessity for hikers in need of a little help scaling the beautiful Snowdon mountain, this Victorian narrow-gauge railway is still worth a ride, if just for the breezy views. The train departs every 30 minutes from Llanberis station, and it takes roughly one hour to reach the summit. Along the way, have your cameras ready to capture centuries-old farmhouses, ancient walls, the odd goat, and the towering Ceunant Mawr waterfall, which plunges more than 100 feet into a cavernous gorge. As it’s pretty old, part of the way is blocked off, so the train currently only runs as far as Clogwyn. There, you’ll be able to jump off and walk the rest of the way to Hafod Eryri to take in the panoramic vistas. If you’re lucky, a clear day will allow you to see all the way to the coast of Ireland.
Believe it or not, this is one of only two sleeper train services left in the UK, connecting London to Edinburgh via the scenic Lowlander and Highlander routes that weave through Scotland. But this is no ordinary ride. Thanks to a 2019 makeover, this train is more like a hotel on rails: There are cabins with snuggly double beds, swish en suite bathrooms, and for a dose of extra atmosphere, dimmable lights. A rather fancy dining cart ensures bellies are fed for the 500-mile (804 km), eight-hour journey. Choose from all the usual contenders, plus Scottish delicacies such as haggis and tatties (potatoes) served with a whiskey cream sauce. It’s also worth waking up early to catch dawn breaking over the Northumbria countryside.
This story first appeared on www.travelandleisure.com
(Main and Feature Image Credit: Miroslav_1/Getty Images)