Getting away from London can be a challenge – there’s so much to see and do there to take up days and days – but if you do you’ll see how diverse and unique England’s travel opportunities are. One aspect of England relatively undiscovered are the scenic railway lines – trains used to criss-cross Great Britain in massive numbers, and while those are dwindling, you’ll still find some great train experiences.
No matter whether you choose to add on a rail trip to your existing itinerary or plan on taking advantage of the many escorted rail holidays in England, you’ve got plenty to choose from. Here are some of my favorite scenic railway destinations in England.
(For reference, you might want to use the National Rail Network Map as a reference.)
Some day the view of the coastline near Dawlish, just as you exit a railway tunnel, is one of the best views of the entire English rail network. Dawlish is on the south coast of Devon, just past Exeter, so it’s a couple of hours out from London. The establishment of a rail line here in 1847 made way for this town to run into a popular seaside resort. This is one of the most expensive pieces of rail line, as the rail companies have a harsh battle with sea erosion to protect the rails.
Many people hop on the National Express one of the UK’s best trains, to be whisked away for the 5 hour journey up to Edinburgh, the Scottish capital. Most note the large cathedral as the train pulls into Durham City, but don’t take second thought. Durham City is one of my favorite towns in England, with the incredible cathedral, the tea shops, hidden alleyways, and the countryside as you approach Durham is stunning.
Called the most scenic railway in England, the Settle-Carlisle line passes though an area of rich history and scenery, via the Yorkshire Dales and Eden Valley, passing through many wonderful villages and towns. There are some steam trains and other special experiences on thsi line, but you can still enjoy theh view by booking a ticket from Leeds to Carlisle – two great cities also worth of your attention!
North Yorkshire Moors Railway
A magnificent part of England, you can enjoy the scenic Yorkshire Moors from the comfort of a vintage steam train by taking the NYMR line, which dips under gorgeous bridges and scenic hills for the one hour journey from Pickering to Grosmont. Along the way you can take advantage of tea and scones by booking in for lunch! The schedules rotate throughout the year for special events; advance booking recommended.
Historic Bath is one of the prettiest towns in the English Countryside, and one of the most popular daytrips from England. You have lots of options for getting here, from the regular mainline service to traveling in the luxurious surrounds of the Orient Express. Regardless, as you’ll start to spot lots of Georgian architecture in the distance long before you pull into Bath station.
Esk Valley Railway
Another wonderful North Yorkshire Moors railway, the gorgeous Esk Valley Railway connects Middlesbrough to the seaside town of Whitby via one of the prettiest valleys in the area. The train makes some wonderful stops in towns like Lealholm, worth getting off to explore, as well as the salty air boardwalk in Whitby. This line is the sea extension of the Northern rail mainline network.
Lewes to Hastings Railway
Once its own railway company and part of several train companies operating in the area, the Lewes and Hastings Railway is one of several scenic stretches of train that travelers see heading out to the famous boardwalk and attractions of Brighton. It’s a shame few stop on the way – towns like Hastings are quieter and have a atmosphere and charm of their own. For an added railway treat, take the Hastings Cliff Railway for some great view along one of the steepest sets of track in England.
The Severn Beach Line
Another line often said to be one of the most scenic in Europe, the Severn Beach Line whisks you along nine villages from Bistol down to Severn Beach. You’ll see the beautiful Avon Gorge and Avon Valley, as well great views of the Severn Estuary as you pull into the station. A must if you’re visiting Bristol.
The Bittern Line
Running from Norwich to Cromer and Sheringham, this 30 miles of track is wonderfully picturesque and a great way to relax and enjoy a bit of the English countryside. The wide open countryside in this part of the country – with sweeping views that go on for miles – is popular with hikers and birders, the latter being the reason for the name of the line, a bird called the Bittern. Hop off the train at any stop for great scenery, fresh seafood, and other joys of Eastern England.
Cotswolds & Malverns Line
Last but not least is the Cotswolds & Malverns Line which gives you access to many of the world-famous attractions in the Cotswolds. Hiking paths, old world architecture, and other untouched countryside await in towns like Oxford, Worcester, or Hereford.
Photos by mattbuck4950, Andrew Hayes, hisgett, A Travelling Bum, WikiCommons, whatwhenwhere, mattbuck4950, P.A. King, oliverm5