One of the best ways to see the UK is from the train tracks, so why not plan a holiday by rail?
From seaside spectaculars to soaring viaducts, we’ve made a list of the country’s most memorable train journeys.
We’ve got plenty to travel recommendations, from where to stay to what sights to see, and we’ll even tell you which side to sit.
Londonderry & Coleraine Railway
Lauded by Michael Palin, this Northern Irish single-track affair packs plenty into its 45 minutes.
Heading north-east from Londonderry (about three hours by train from Belfast), it first curves northwards to afford vistas of the Foyle Estuary’s birds and gold-sand bays.
The station at seaside resort Castlerock is accessed via Ireland’s two longest railway tunnels. Back in daylight, you next follow the River Bann towards Coleraine.
There you can board buses bound for Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge and the Giant’s Causeway.
Sit on: The right side is sea-facing.
Stay overnight: Londonderry’s elegant Bishop’s Gate hotel is five minutes from the riverfront (from £129 B&B)
Exeter to Penzance
First come the Exe and Teign estuaries, a sprawling, yacht-dotted pair that sandwich Dawlish and a section where the train line and sea are mere inches apart.
The track then loops north for a wilder stretch, fringing Dartmoor. After pausing in Plymouth, you’ll cross Brunel’s Royal Albert Bridge and enter Cornwall.
A series of spectacular branch lines tempt here, including Liskeard’s river-hugging Looe Valley service and the beach-tastic connection from St Erth to St Ives.
Stay still, however, and St Michael’s Mount will soon captivate as the train follows a promenade into Penzance.
Sit on: The left, for those sea views.
Stay overnight: Excellent breakfasts and sharp design await at Penzance’s Camilla House (from £120 B&B).
The Far North Line
While other Scottish stunners, most notably the West Highland Line, deservedly enjoy fanfare, this four-hour adventure from Inverness to Thurso is agreeably unsung — and wild.
Venturing north, you’ll board among trekkers and anglers, many of them bound for the sort of heathery peaks or salmon rivers you’re about to see repeatedly.
From small harbours to seal-spotting around Brora, the highlights are many, but two things especially stand out: the half-timbered halt at Dunrobin Castle, and Caithness’s empty Flow Country, a hinterland of lochs, pine groves, deserted crofts and peat bogs.
Sit on: Coastal views are on the right.
Stay overnight: Lots of tweed sets an appropriate tone at Inverness’s stylish Glenmoriston Town House (from £72 B&B)
Encompassing 21 viaducts, this wonder was built under awful conditions in the 1870s by 6,000 navvies — one of whose camps’ remains can still be glimpsed.
That’s near soaring Ribblehead, close to where the greatest viaduct of them all takes you high across a chasm.
Another standout is Ais Gill’s 1,198ft summit but, in truth, all 72 miles are really one long, continuous highlight: a testament to both Victorian engineering and northern England’s grand, bumpy scenery.
You’ll start in the rolling, winsome Yorkshire Dales and finish by traversing the lonelier North Pennines.
Sit on: Either side amazes.
Stay overnight: Settle’s Golden Lion Inn delivers big dinners and bigger rooms (from £110 B&B).
York to Berwick
This is the East Coast Main Line’s best section, with each portion eclipsing the last. Sheep-dotted pastures follow York’s elegant station before Durham’s castle and cathedral eventually materialise.
After a dramatic crossing of the Tyne in Newcastle, look out for the postcard-pretty estuary town of Alnmouth on your right, and then the fortress on Holy Island (aka Lindisfarne).
Now chugging alongside the coast, you’ll soon twist into Berwick. Just ahead of the station, which borders Berwick’s ruined castle, elegant bridges span the Scotland-bound River Tweed. Next stop? Elegant Edinburgh.
Sit on: Nothing beats the right side’s Holy Island vistas but scoot about if you can.
Stay overnight: York’s gaslit Guy Fawkes Inn has four-poster beds and a position by the Minster (from £120 B&B).
The Cambrian Line
Its cobbled streets and cool shops huddled above a hook of the River Severn, Shrewsbury is delightful in its own right.
A train journey west continues the theme. First is a taste of rural Shropshire, including the county’s green hills. Long Mountain’s circular hill fort announces the Welsh border, soon after which you cross the Severn twice more. Beyond Caersws, villages shrink, valleys lengthen and Snowdonia appears.
Having trailed the Dyfi River to Dovey Junction — a long platform out in the boondocks — you can then continue along its snaking estuary south to Aberystwyth via RSPB Ynys-Hir’s mudflats, or head north along Cardigan Bay on to the Llyn Peninsula.
Sit on: The right is better for the Dyfi Estuary.
Stay overnight: Shrewsbury’s Lion + Pheasant is an indulgent base (from £150 B&B).
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