Holidays in England by train

If you want to see England at its best, try looking out of a train window. From atop the embankment you can see the quilted countryside spreading to the horizon, distinctive in its small hedgerow-bound fields. This humble scenery – perhaps completed by a white chalk horse on a hillside – isn’t always dramatic, but it is often pretty. It’s also very compact: next thing you know you’ll be pulling onto the platform, right in the centre of a city.
A car-free rail holiday isn’t just possible, it’s pleasurable in England. Sit back, relax and enjoy whistling between town and countryside.
It’s not just the journeys that are attractive: the UK railway system is the oldest in the world and some stations are historic landmarks in their own right, beautiful examples of Victorian engineering with birdcage-like wrought iron frames. Others are just steps away from UNESCO-listed towns and cities, like Liverpool, with its maritime and musical history, and Bath, a Georgian gem built around a Roman spa.
Most of England’s areas of natural beauty can be reached by train. For the Lake District, alight at Penrith on the line from Lancaster and Manchester. For Hadrian’s Wall, get off at Haydon Bridge. To get to the Scilly Isles, you need to add a short flight between Land’s End in Cornwall and St Mary’s airport – but the little islands, where people tend to use golf carts rather than cars, is a great place to be vehicle free. “It fits really well into a car free holiday,” agrees Emma Greer, from our England rail expert McKinlay Kidd. “It’s a real break from the everyday.”

Book your England rail holiday through a responsible tour operator and they’ll look after you beyond the end of the line, arranging transfers to beauty spots and bed and breakfasts, and ensuring you’re safely ensconced in cosy accommodation before the kettle’s boiled.

What route should I take?

Going around England

You can pretty much get to any major city in England from London in a matter of hours. York is two hours away, as is Liverpool; Bath, an hour and a half. Once you leave London, it’s easy to see a ring of England’s nicest sights in a clockwise or anticlockwise direction.

A popular route is to start in York, then head up to Northumberland to see Hadrian’s Wall, cross west to the Lake District, then journey down south towards Chester and Bath via the Cotswolds.

Going west

Alternatively, you could head west. Not many people travel through the West Country by train, but the direct train from London Paddington to Penzance is a breeze, especially on the scenic coastal stretch after Exeter. Emma Greer, from our England rail expert McKinlay Kidd is a fan: “What we like about it so much is you start the trip in London, you leave London behind and then you travel all the way down and find yourself in an entirely different environment.”
The route can be done in the day, but there’s also a sleeper train. “It’s called the Night Riviera,” says Emma. “You can fall asleep in the city and wake up in the countryside.” The sleeper – one of only three in the UK – runs all the way from Paddington to Penzance and was updated in 2018.

Our top England Holiday

Cornwall and Isles of Scilly holiday

Cornwall and Isles of Scilly holiday

Admire England's south-western corner car-free

From £1790 to £1950 8 days ex flights
Tailor made:
This trip can be tailor made throughout the year to suit your requirements
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about England or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help.

Bath

Bath’s time under the Romans – when it was known as Aqua Sulis and famous for its religious spa – would give you more than enough reason to visit, but then the Georgians came along and gilded the lily by building a beautiful town on top, adding another layer of sights, including the Royal Crescent and the Pump Room. Today, Bath remains uniquely unspoilt and one of the prettiest places to visit in England.

Chester

When the Romans got their hands on Britain 2,000 years ago, they set about turning Chester into an important fort. This included building the city’s amazing walls, parts of which date back to 70AD, which can still be circumnavigated on foot for those who want to channel their inner sentry. There’s also an amphitheatre, a fine Victorian Park, and a medieval cathedral resplendent with carvings.

Cornwall

Land of sandy beaches, scoops of clotted cream ice cream – and smugglers. The independently-minded Cornish have more in common with the Bretons over the Channel than they do with Londoners – yet Londoners pile into cars and decamp in their droves to Cornwall’s charming but packed coastline in summer. Exploring by train and ferry is the perfect excuse to enjoy a rebellious pint of Cornish ale over lunch.

The Lake District

The crowning jewel of the county of Cumbria, the Lake District was immortalised by the poetry of William Wordsworth and today attracts walkers and adventure sports enthusiasts in numbers that are not always sustainable. Beautiful, but busy, it’s best to go by train and reduce traffic in the area – the lakeside villages are real pinch points in the summer months.

Liverpool

It’s an exciting time to visit Liverpool, a city whose energy is hard to pin to one specific point. Pilgrims of all types cross paths here – football fans, Beatles devotees and art-lovers all mix in a northern city whose maritime history and recent decline is being countered by lively new business, start-ups and street art.

York

One of the most beautiful examples of a medieval centre in a British city, York’s cobbles, its cathedral and its charm all conspire to make you want to stay longer than you planned. Add the draw of Yorkshire in general, a region of wild moors and great coastline, and you’ll be hooked – whether Wuthering Heights is your cup of tea or not.

What do England by rail
holidays entail?

There are no long train journeys in England, so expect to spend most of your time seeing sights. Trips around England are generally tailor made and can be adapted to your requirements – whether that’s adjusting where you start or adding a particular stop to the route. Book a tailor made holiday and a responsible holiday company will organise all your tickets, transfers and hotels for you before you go. You can access your itinerary digitally at every point in your holiday using an app, and a team are a phone call away if there are any missed connections or delays – there’s usually a quick solution.

Don’t over-pack for your trip, as it’s best to be able to carry your own luggage on and off the train yourself. A waterproof coat is essential, as is good footwear (never one to follow the latest trends of city planning, cobbled streets are still very much in fashion in English cities). Don’t expect great things from the buffet car, but do look out for family-run bed and breakfasts, elegant city restaurants and, of course, pubs with the local ale on tap.

When is the best time to go?

England has the longest days and its best, warmest weather in the summer months – though you should never travel without waterproofs or an umbrella. The north and west of England tend to get the most rain, even in warmer months. Cornwall is incredibly busy in the summer holidays with visiting holidaymakers, so it may be best to visit outside July and August. Spring and early autumn can be wonderful in the country, and England’s cities have something going on at all times of year; Liverpool is always lively at the weekends, and Bath has a famous Christmas market.
Written by Eloise Barker
Photo credits: [Page banner: Phil Richards] [Train window Dawlish: James Petts] [Train window - boats: James Petts] [Lake District: Matthew Daniels] [Bath: Kirsten Drew] [Train Cornwall: Sykes Cottages]
Convert currencies