Trains can be an excellent way to travel around Britain, with a large network and frequent service. Although the different fares and ticket types can seem incredibly complex, once you understand the options it can be a simple and affordable way to travel.
- Travelling around Britain: Everything you need to know
- How to explore Britain by bus
- Driving in Britain: Road trips and tips
- Popular ferry routes around the UK
- Travelling around Britain by plane: Is it worth it?
- How to get from London to Edinburgh
Britain’s railways have benefited from a huge level of investment during the last two decades – there are more trains and they run faster than ever. But there are also more passengers, so popular routes can be very busy. Also, services are split up between more than 20 train operating companies, so there’s an element of Balkanisation.
Service is comprehensive in the southeast of England (which includes London), the Midlands (Manchester, Birmingham etc) and southern Scotland (Glasgow and Edinburgh). However, in less-populated areas, train service can be spotty or non-existent.
6 tips for travelling in Britain by train
Which train ticket should I buy?
Sorting through British train fares can be overwhelming. However, just like planes and buses, the earlier you buy your fare, the cheaper it will be. This is especially true for long-distance travel where a ticket bought the day of travel can cost several times more than the cheapest advance-purchase fare. Longer-distance British trains have both 1st and standard (2nd) class (as well as a cafe area).
Train passes and ticket types
On short-distance trains (eg within a city or region), the fares are usually fixed. The main types of fares for longer journeys (eg intercity and across regions) are:
- The most expensive tickets
- Can be used on any train along the routing of the ticket
- Can be bought right up to departure
- Much cheaper than Anytime tickets
- Cannot be used during busy periods such as weekday mornings and evenings
- Can be bought up until the train departs
- Can be used on any train outside of the blackout times
- The cheapest tickets
- Just like airline tickets: buy early for the best fares (they’re usually released around 12 weeks before departure)
- Many different restrictions, some are non-refundable and/or only good on a specific train
- Various schemes that offer discounts even on Anytime tickets
- Look out for Off-Peak return fares that are only £1 more than one-way
- Britain’s version of the Eurail Pass
- Buy it before your reach Britain
- Comes in myriad variations based on duration, class, coverage area and more
- An adult standard-class pass good for 8 days of travel in 1 month costs €221
- Dozens of passes that offer travel in various British regions
- May only be good for trains on one operating company
London has a dozen mainline stations, which serve different regions of Britain, such as Waterloo, Victoria, Paddington, St Pancras and King’s Cross. They are all linked by the Tube.
How do I buy train tickets?
Tickets can be purchased at most stations during business hours either via a kiosk ticket window or a ticket machine. If you prefer to book online, Rome2rio partners with National Rail to provide train tickets throughout Britain.
If you book online, you’ll either receive a PDF e-ticket or you’ll need to collect your ticket from a self-service ticket machine at the station. You’ll need your 8-character code, received in your confirmation email, and the payment card that was used for purchase. It’s recommended that you allow 20 minutes to collect your tickets before departure.
Get an excellent overview map of the British rail network here.
National Rail: Comprehensive official website and app filled with all manner of information and schedules.
Transport for London: An alternate journey planner source for the dense network of services in and around London.
The man in seat 61: Great independent advice on train travel in the UK and across Europe
Wherever you need to get to in the UK, you can find all your travel and booking options on Rome2rio
Popular train routes:
London to Manchester
London to Gatwick Airport
Birmingham to Leeds
York to Manchester
London to Edinburgh
London to Newquay
Liverpool to Cardiff
Oxford to Cambridge
Edinburgh to Dundee
Southampton to London
Plymouth to Bristol
Leeds to Newcastle
Bath to Bristol
Brighton to London