Travelling through the United Kingdom by rail and experiencing the curves and bends throughout the countryside turns any journey into a substantial part of the adventure. It also gives you an insight into the land and the UK’s rich history. If you’re weary of your carbon footprint, travelling by train is also a good way to cut back on emissions with the added benefit of connecting better with nature.

From the rolling mountains of Wales to the splendid beaches in Cornwall, the UK has its generous share of picturesque landscapes and breathtaking scenery that will turn your train rides into a fantastical journey through nature and history. Whether you’re gearing up for a cross-country tour or heading out with the kids for a weekend, an exciting rail journey should be on your bucket list.

15 Most Magical Train Journeys In The UK

The United Kingdom has some of the most beautiful landscapes in Europe, and experiencing it by rail is the way to go. If you’re considering taking a relaxing ride by train through the UK countryside, you’re going to want to take a look at our list. Here are 15 of the most magical train routes in the UK.

1. The Jacobite Steam Train

Jacobite Steam Train
“Jacobite Steam Train”, by Daniel Kraft, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

From May to October, the Jacobite Steam train chugs through a majestic landscape from Fort William to Mallaig. The steam train takes the West Highline Line, passing through West Highland Way, Bridge of Orchy, and Rannoch Moor. Fans of the Harry Potter film series might recognize this route as the Jacobite is what the Hogwarts Express is based on. It even passes through the beautiful Glenfinnan Viaduct, an iconic architectural wonder any Potterhead would love to see. The trip boasts rugged terrain and scenic overviews of the Scottish landscape, including mountain passes, valleys, fields, and forests.

The Jacobite steamer is itself an attraction. Only riding from May to October, the tickets for this train voyage are almost always sold out, so it’s a good idea to book in advance. The steam engine charms works wonderfully with the picturesque landscape. Even muggles can experience a magical journey thanks to this traditional steamer and the breathtaking natural scenery.

2. Snowdonia Mountain Railway

Snowdonia Mountain Railway
“Snowdonia Mountain Railway”, by Mark Chambers, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

If you’re looking for an adventurous trail up a mountain, the Snowdonia Mountain railway should be at the top of your list. Swerving his way up Mount Snowdon, the Snowdon Mountain railway has been the go-to choice for people who want to take in the pleasures of nature with none of the hassle. Established in 1896, the train ride takes adventurers through a mesmerising journey through forests, rock valleys, and canyons.

The ride takes passengers through two viaducts, runs parallel to the Afon Hwch River, and passes by Ceunant Mawr Falls before traversing Rocky Valley and the open countryside. Finally, it reaches the summit at Hafod Eryri, the highest visitor centre in the UK, giving viewers a panoramic view of Wales.

3. North Norfolk Poppy Line

North Norfolk Poppy Line
“North Norfolk Poppy Line”, by John5199, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

North Norfolk is a hidden gem in terms of great scenery. The North Norfolk Poppy Line boasts a traditional steam engine that barrels along a delightful coastline, passing through seaside villages and wide open fields, giving the line a charm like no other. However, the heritage steamer only runs a short distance from Sheringham and Holt. You have the option to continue further, but it’s undeniable that the Poppy Line brings out a certain nostalgia and serenity that would surely be a highlight of your trip.

4. The Flying Scotsman

The Flying Scotsman
“The Flying Scotsman”, by Mjirlam, licensed under CC0 1.0

Though the old Flying Scotsman still takes short journeys in the UK, this steamer is the spiritual successor. It still takes the same journey from Scotland to England and is a great choice for history buffs on vacation. You can experience a piece of history on this London to Edinburgh run and take a profound peep into the country’s history.

Considered by many as the most famous locomotive, the original Flying Scotsman first blew its steam in February 1923 and celebrated a hundred years of service in 2023. After World War 2, the Flying Scotsman became revered for its service during the war. It was also brought to Australia in 1989, making it the first steam locomotive to circumnavigate the globe.

5. St. Ives Bay Line

St. Ives Bay Line
“St. Ives Bay Line”, by Malc McDonald, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

If you’re in Cornwall for the weekend and want to experience a quick run through its sunny coastline, the St. Ives Bay Line might be worth your time. Though only stretching a little under four and a half miles long and the journey taking around ten minutes, this line passes through the whole stretch of Cornwall’s coast. The St. Ives Bay Line has been a favourite for the enticing sea views and warm salty air. Many tourists take the route several times a day! It seems they cannot get enough of this short but exciting ride.

The St. Ives Bay Line works as a great way to start your trip as well as a decent finisher after a weekend-long vacation. The ride may be short, but it’s as relaxing as it is serene. The sunny skies paired with salty air and the sea breeze make this trip unique.

6. Ffestiniog Railway

Ffestiniog Railway
“Ffestiniog Railway”, by SchmalspurDVZO, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

If you want to experience a taste of history, you can sign up for a ride on the Ffestiniog Railway, the oldest independent railway in the world. Located in the heart of Wales, this little train runs through Snowdonia National Park, from Porthmadog to Blaenau Ffestiniog. The line swerves and cuts through the Welsh countryside, boasting lots of rugged terrain and natural formations. For three hours, passengers are treated to a train ride with a steam engine with lots of charm and personality.

7. North Yorkshire Moors Railway

North Yorkshire Moors Railway
“North Yorkshire Moors Railway”, by Mattbuck, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

The two-and-a-half hour journey from Whitby to Pickering takes passengers through a sight-seeing tour through the North York National Park. From vast fields of green to rugged rolling hills and lush forests, the North Yorkshire Moors Railway sets the mood for its destination, North Yorkshire, home to the National Railway Museum. For anybody with even the slightest interest in locomotives and railways, the museum is a must-see. If you’re on a journey to experience the history of trains and railways, this line would be a great start.

8. Settle to Carlisle

“Settle”, by Andrew Riley, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Since its first departure in 1876, the Settle to Carlisle line quickly became a must-ride for train enthusiasts in the UK and all over the world. The hour-long 70-mile train ride tracks through some of the most remote, rugged, and gorgeous scenery in the country. Train enthusiasts, tourists, and adventurers are taken through green fields, mountains, and the stunning Ribblehead Viaduct, one of the trip’s highlights.

The views on this line are some of the most spectacular on any train ride, hence, many consider the Settle to Carlisle line as a requirement, almost a pilgrimage, for train enthusiasts. But even if you have little interest in locomotives, the journey is still a sight to behold.

9. Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh

“Inverness”, by Richard Webb, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The Inverness to Kyle Line includes traversing several small lochs, rivers, and mountain passes. The three-hour ride takes passengers through some of the best sights in Britain, and its relatively costlier ticket prices are considered a bargain by many, thanks to the views. The train passes through Strathcarron, Plockton, and Stromeferry before ending at the Isle of Skye. This journey includes sights of the Achnashellach forest, the Torridon Peaks, and the lone mountain Ben Wyvis. After the exciting journey, you can immediately hop off and choose from dozens of hiking trails to continue your adventure.

10. Londonderry to Coleraine

“Londonderry”, by Richard Webb, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Considered by many to be the most beautiful train lines in the world, the trip between Londonderry and Coleraine has almost two hundred years of history and passes through a narrow sliver of land nestled between the coast and a high cliff, called the Causeway Coast. The causeway is defined by a combination of rugged cliffs and a stretch of coast spanning almost the whole line. The line passes parallel to the River Foyle and goes through Ireland’s longest tunnel.

As one of Northern Island’s most famous trip highlights, the Londonderry to Coleraine line offers breathtaking views of the ocean and massive majestic cliffs. After the train ride, you can also go on several hikes. One worthy consideration is a trip to the Giant’s Causeway, an otherworldly natural formation of giant hexagonal stones near the coast.

11. The Caledonian Sleeper

Caledonian Sleeper
“Caledonian Sleeper”, by Alan Mitchell, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The Caledonian Sleeper got its name thanks to the lengthy 13-hour journey that requires some shut-eye. The trip stands as one of the UK’s longest direct trips and is a favourite for Londoners wanting to get out of the city for a quick adventure. Though some sleep might be favoured, we recommend waking up early to experience the magnificent sights the trip has to offer. The West Highland Line has some of the best views of any train ride.

Most who take the Caledonian Sleeper prefer taking an evening departure to better take advantage of the early morning sights after a night’s rest. The final stop also guarantees a good selection of hikes to embark on. Several stops along the trips also offer lots of opportunities to get intimate with the people and the land.

12. The Cambrian Coast Line

Cambrian Coast Line
“Cambrian Coast Line”, by Talsarnau Times, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

The beautiful Welsh West Coast takes centre stage along the 120-mile Cambrian Railway line. Gwynedd coast, several market towns, mountains, and the Snowdonia National Park are some of the highlights of this trip. At the end of your journey, you’ll also be treated to several trails ranging from simple beginner-friendly walks to day-long excursions. Though mostly passing through rural areas, this line still boasts a wide range of mountainous backdrops and several bodies of water to keep your eyes busy.

13. The Far North Line

Far North Line
“Far North Line”, by Les Chatfield, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The Far North Line connects from the West Highland Line and is a favourite for many travellers who prefer a quieter ride. This line runs from Inverness to Wick, following the North Sea past rivers and coasts, heading to the northern tips of Britain. The sights include beautiful castles and forests as well. Whisky enthusiasts would find this line rather tantalising as it also passes through several distillery districts.

Many consider this trip to be a hidden gem as most stop at the end of the West Highland Line, but the Far North Line continues the adventure, offering a different experience that is just exciting. The trip also presents a side of Britain that isn’t as well-known to many, perfect for those who who want an adventure that’s quieter and a bit more intimate.

14. Strathspey Steam Railway

Strathspey Steam Railway
“Strathspey Steam Railway”, by Ann Harrison, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The Strathspey Steam railway line runs through the Scottish Highlands and takes passengers through mountains, forests, moorlands, and rivers; some examples include the River Spey and the mountains in Cairgorn National Park. Though relatively short at ten miles, the trip still lasts two hours and is still considered a must-try among tourists and adventurers looking for a short but memorable experience.

15. Bluebell Railway

Bluebell Railway
“Bluebell Railway”, by BWard 1997, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Another heritage steam railway comes in the form of the charming Bluebell Railway from Sussex. It first opened in 1882 but stopped seventy years later. Fortunately, it was reopened and restored recently. The Bluebell now runs and has managed to preserve its original design, looking more like a time capsule than a locomotive. The short hour-long journey goes through open fields and a few forested areas. Though there are still several good sights to see, the main highlight of the trip is the locomotive itself. Restoration of the Bluebell has given enthusiasts a chance to be part of history.

Final Thoughts

Whether you’re looking for a short and quick trip for the weekend, or if you’re backpacking across the country, the UK train lines have some of the best sceneries. From its deep and rich history to the diverse views of forests, cliffs, mountains, and fields, train rides across the UK are a bucket list item you’re going to want to cross off as soon as possible. With dozens of interesting train rides that’ll take you to any point in the UK, you’ll surely find one that will fit your preferred adventure.

Featured Image: “Londonderry”, by Richard Webb, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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