Updated December 6, 2023
Train travel brings back the ideas of a simpler time. A train journey reminds us of the joy of traveling slowly, while also dishing up beautiful views along the way.
The first steam locomotives were developed in Great Britain at the dawn of the 19th century, beginning the golden age of train travel. If you’d like to see one of the original prototypes, take a trip to the National Railway Museum in York, a must visit for train lovers.
For those of us who prefer the rhythm of the rails, with beautiful vistas stretching out from the window and maybe indulging in a lovely lunch or high tea along the way, here are 8 of the prettiest scenic train rides to enjoy in the United Kingdom.
The British Pullman, A Belmond Train
Made up of restored Art Deco carriages, the Belmond British Pullman will make you believe you’ve stepped back into the Roaring ‘20s. The train runs a variety of itineraries, from steam-pulled excursions to Bath to trips through the countryside to destinations like Chatsworth House, Highclere Castle, and Belmond's Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons.
Surrounded by veneered panels, brass luggage racks, and splendid Belle Epoque decor, you'll enjoy fine dining experiences with produce sourced from local farms while enjoying the views out the windows. Journeys depart from and return to London Victoria station.
The Royal Scotsman, A Belmond Train
Scotland's most luxurious sleeper train, the Belmond Royal Scotsman is intimate and luxurious. Savor splendid four-course meals, and afterwards step out on the veranda of the observation car while savoring a cup of tea or scotch.
The journey begins in Edinburgh, where you'll be welcomed aboard the Royal Scotsman by a kilted bagpiper. Making your way to your compartment, you'll feel like you've been invited into a very long, very narrow Scottish country home complete with wood paneling, brass fixtures and tartan upholstery.
As you set off for Falkirk, make your way to the dining car for a lavish afternoon tea. Over the next seven nights you'll pass through Fort William, with views of Ben Nevis and the Glenfinnan viaduct, and see landmarks like the Kyle of Lochalsh and Caringorms National Park.
Enjoy day tours to Inverlochy Castle and the Isle of Bute, or indulge in a spa treatment while the Scottish countryside rolls by.
Jacobite Steam Train
It's been described as the greatest railway journey in the world, and the 84-mile round Scottish Highland route from Fort William to Mallaig is sure to impress. West Coast Railways Jacobite Steam Train follows the West Highland Line, known to many as the route that took Harry Potter to Hogwarts. One of the highlights is the 21-arch Glenfinnan Viaduct, made famous in the Harry Potter films.
Take in breathtaking views of Loch Shiel, Loch Eilt, and Ben Nevis along the way. You may want to take a picnic to enjoy while exploring Mallig Bay.
The Dalesman, Settle to Carlisle Railway
The Settle to Carlisle Rail Line runs through the ruggedly beautiful Yorkshire Dales National Park in the north of England. It's one of England's last Victorian rail journeys, first launched in 1876. One of the best ways to experience the route is on The Dalesman operated by West Coast Railways.
Enjoy moors full of heather and wildflowers, green fields dotted with sheep, and the vistas of the North Pennines as you wind through the Yorkshire countryside. During the 90-minute journey you'll cross 21 viaducts, including the 24-arch Ribblehead Viaduct, and traverse through 14 tunnels.
Snowdon Mountain Railway
Drink in the extraordinary landscape of Snowdonia National Park on a trip from the village of Llanberis to the top of Mount Snowdon on the Snowdon Mountain Railway.
From the top on a clear day you can see Ireland, England, Scotland and the Isle of Man.
Be on the lookout for native peregrine falcons, upland ravens and feral goats as you make your way up.
At the top, stop in at the Summit Visitor Center to learn about the legends surrounding Mount Snowdon, supposedly the burial place of the giant ogre Rhita who was conquered by King Arthur.
For a uniquely British experience, fall asleep on the Caledonian Sleeper as it departs London Euston and awake on your way to either Fort William, in the highlands of Scotland, or Edinburgh, depending on whether you choose the Highlander or Lowlander route.
The most scenic route is the Highlander to Fort William. You'll leave London Euston in the dark, and as you awake mid-way through the 13-hour journey you'll be welcomed with sunrise views over the Scottish Highlands.
Along the way you'll pass Loch Lomond, Loch Treig, Rannoch Moor and the Glenfinnan Viaduct.
You can choose to indulge in everything Scottish in the dining car, tucking in to smoked Scottish salmon, followed by haggis and neeps and tatties (turnips and potatoes) with whiskey-cream sauce. Choose from the many varieties of Scotch whiskey, then return to your compartment where you'll rest comfortably with a double bed and en-suite bathroom.
Running from Sheffield Park to East Grinstead through the Sussex countryside, the Bluebell Railway is the first preserved gauge passenger railway in the UK.
You can book seats on one of their special Afternoon Tea Trains, where you'll enjoy a full afternoon tea with delicious scones, sandwiches and cakes.
For a special occasion book a night out on the Golden Arrow Pullman Dining Train, recreating the glamorous age of the Golden Arrow that once connected London and Paris.
St Ives Bay Line
The shortest train ride on this list, at only 4.25 miles and taking a brief 10 minutes, the St Ives Bay Line stretches along the Cornish coast. Running between St Ives and St Erth. Look for birds hunting for their lunch in the pools of the Hayle estuary, and smell the salt air as you wind your way above Carbis Bay.
You can ride the line as many times as you'd like during the day, allowing you to take in the views in the changing light of morning and afternoon.
The Bottom Line: The UK by Train
Whether you're looking for a day trip from London, a multi-night trip through the Scottish Highlands, or an afternoon tea in a vintage rail carriage, exploring the UK by train is a wonderful journey that you'll remember for a lifetime.
Want more UK travel inspiration? Check out the prettiest towns and villages in England!