11 enchanting places to visit in Britain by train
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Britain's railway network, the oldest in the world, has long been a source of great pride. From the early 19th century, when George Stephenson was busy fine-tuning his first iteration of the steam locomotive, the Industrial Revolution swept across Britain and the railways transformed people's lives.
Today, the rail network, which includes more than 2,500 stations, remains a (largely) fast, efficient and reliable way to travel. It's also a wonderful way to see behind the scenes of motorways as you speed through the countryside, avoiding traffic jams and the need to fiddle with pesky car parking apps.
Here, in a homage to our great railway network, we've handpicked some of our favourite destinations that you can get to by train for a hassle-free, more sustainable staycation.
Travelling by train: browse and book train fares across Britain with the trainline*.
1. Harrogate, North Yorkshire
The spa town of Harrogate is a deliciously historic destination well connected to the main rail network. You quickly appreciate the importance of the springs that put Harrogate on the wellness map over a century ago when you visit the Royal Pump Room Museum, which is housed in an ornate listed building originally constructed in 1842.
Tea and scones are the order of the day at the traditional tea room, Bettys while an afternoon at the Moorish-style Turkish Baths Harrogate is time well spent. Follow up with a wander past the 36 springs, Art Deco pavilion and carefully landscaped flower beds that make up the town's delightful Valley Gardens.
More outdoor wandering can be had at the manicured garden of RHS Harlow Carr*, while the eastern edge of Yorkshire Dales National Park is mere miles away.
2. Glasgow, Scotland
Gorgeous Glasgow promises the great big exciting city break you've been looking for. Scotland's largest city is bursting with things to see and do, not to mention it's well-placed for getting out and about in the surrounding countryside thanks to its reliable public transport links.
Did you know that Glasgow has more green spaces per capita than any other city in Europe? There are, in fact, over 90 parks of all shapes and sizes. But there are plenty of indoor pursuits as well: visit the award-winning, free-to-enter Riverside Museum that charts the city's engineering heritage through some 3,000 transport related objects.
Meanwhile, the much-loved Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum and Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA) offer thousands of pieces of art and culture via their extensive collections, which are also free to enter.
Outwith the city, a 50-minute train ride will take you to Balloch at the southern end of Loch Lomond. Take a boat trip, go hiking in the hills or simply sit back and enjoy the scenery.
3. Broadstairs, Kent
Soak in the very best of the Kent coast on a break to the seaside resort of Broadstairs, which has very much 'arrived' with a tempting array of stylish places to stay and indy joints in which to eat and drink.
It's also home to a super soft sandy beach, Viking Bay, that has all the holiday feels, especially in summer. Pack your walking boots to really get to know this stretch as you bay hop along the coast passing the chalky white cliffs of Stone Bay, Joss Bay and sea stacks of Botany Bay, among others.
There's plenty to do in neighbouring towns as well: take the six-minute train ride to Ramsgate and embark on a boat trip to see the seal colony of Pegwell Bay (from May to October) or dive into a guided tour through the fascinating Ramsgate Tunnels.
Alternatively, ride five minutes in the other direction to the Turner Contemporary and numerous inviting pubs in Margate. Canterbury is another excellent place to visit thanks to its collection of historic sites and ample shopping opportunities as is trendy Deal.
4. Cheltenham, Gloucestershire
Discover the elegance of Cheltenham, a former spa town renowned for its fine shops, Regency architecture and the ever-popular Cheltenham Festival, among other attractions.
Whatever the time of year, you won't be disappointed with a visit to Cheltenham's largest ornamental park, Pittville Park. Opened in 1825, it includes the listed Pittville Pump Room, which gives a nod to the town's former spa credentials, and a series of lakes.
Meanwhile, a walk through Imperial Gardens will have you admiring the sculpted flower beds and the long sweep of white-fronted Regency townhouses synonymous with Cheltenham.
Expect fine art aplenty at The Wilson Art Gallery while the Holst Victorian Museum pays tribute to the composer, Gustav Holst, in the house where he was born and raised.
Hire bikes and follow the Regency cycle trail or take a guided tour to discover more of the town's history before refuelling within the town's Brewery Quarter, where a wide range of eateries and pubs can be found.
5. Oxford, Oxfordshire
The ancient university city of Oxford is a box full of treats for visitors. Easy to get to by train, it's navigable on foot or, in true Oxford style, by (hired) bike.
Must-see attractions include the historic specimens on display at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, archaeological collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum and art and antiquities found in the Ashmolean Musem. For contemporary creations, look no further than Modern Art Oxford.
If the weather's on your side take a picnic to the expansive University Parks, weave between the flowers at the Oxford Botanic Gardens or rent a punt on the river.
The best way to experience Oxford, however, has to be by taking a guided tour. See behind the scenes of this fascinating city, whether winding through the streets, inside university colleges, the Bodleian Library or Oxford Castle and Prison.
Nip into Blackwell's Booksellers, which is home to record-breaking Norrington Room, the single largest room in the world selling books. Afterwards, take a load off with a coffee and restorative pastry in Oxford's famous Covered Market.
6. Alnmouth, Northumberland
The postcard-perfect seaside village of Alnmouth, so-called for its location right at the mouth of the River Aln, is a beautiful spot to base yourself. In fact, Alnmouth has big credentials, sitting within the Northumberland Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
The town is known for its colourful cottages, Victorian villas and numerous independent cafés and pubs. It's also where you'll find the soft sweeping sands of Alnmouth Beach, ripe for a seafront walk whatever the weather.
Walkers will want to tackle sections of the 62-mile-long Northumberland Coast Path, while cyclists should look for the Coast and Castles trail, which runs from Edinburgh to Newcastle through Northumberland taking in countless spectacular sights such as Bamburgh Castle and Dunstanburgh Castle.
Catch the bus inland to visit nearby Alnwick, where Alnwick Castle and the enchanting Alnwick Gardens await. Other easy-to-access destinations include Amble, where The Old Boathouse serves up fresh seafood right on the harbour.
Of course, Newcastle is also a short train ride away if you crave the bright lights of the city.
7. Dundee, Scotland
One of the best things about taking the train to Dundee is the approach into the city over the near-three-mile-long Tay Bridge that reaches across the River Tay from northeast Fife.
Resting on the northern bank of the Firth of Tay estuary, Dundee has had a cultural rebirth of sorts over the past few years, attracting countless visitors to its artistic and maritime attractions, many spanning its regenerated waterfront area.
Scotland's fourth city is no less than the UK's first UNESCO City of Design thanks to its contributions through the centuries to graphic design, digital innovation and medical research.
Naturally, there are plenty of museums and galleries including RRS Discovery, the Antarctic expedition ship of Captain Scott that was built in Dundee, the 19th-century warship HM Unicorn, the dazzling, relatively new, V&A Dundee and the Verdant Works, a restored mill, which tells the story of Dundee's jute industry.
Catching the train to other places in Scotland is also super simple when visiting Dundee. Pretty Perth, Aberdeen and Edinburgh are all achievable day trips, while the coastal villages of Fife, such as Aberdour and Inverkeithing are also well served by the railway.
8. Lincoln, Lincolnshire
Lincolnshire is not known for its hills yet, Lincoln itself appears to rear up from the low-lying countryside with its mega medieval cathedral looming high over the city below and visible from miles around..
Admire the detailed façade of Lincoln Cathedral, which dates in small parts from the 11th century, before venturing inside. Make the most of your visit with the Tower Tour that takes you up to the very top of the central tower, offering immense views of the county.
To get there, however, you'll need to traverse Steep Hill, which is no misnomer. A former winner of Britain's Best Street, Steep Hill is a photographer's dream with its winding cobbles, quaint cottages and indy boutiques.
Continue on two feet along the Medieval Wall Walk at Lincoln Castle before visiting the Arboretum, a listed 19th-century park with gardens, lakes, fountains and a period bandstand.
If you're hankering for a walk, head towards the International Bomber Command Centre just south of the city. The centre gives a detailed nod of appreciation and acknowledgement to RAF Bomber Command and its staff as well as to civilians on both sides who suffered during WWII and the following Cold War period.
9. Cardiff, Wales
The Welsh capital of Cardiff is a major hub on Britain's railway network. As well as offering links to many smaller towns, it's directly connected to cities such as Swansea and Manchester.
As a city break, Cardiff is crammed with enticing attractions and activities for all ages, be it inside museums or out in the fresh air. Think art galleries, parks, gardens, independent shops and fresh local produce found at the covered Cardiff Market in a former Victorian gaol.
A good starting point is the National Museum Cardiff, which combines art and natural history in one. Meanwhile, Cardiff Castle, a Roman fort-cum-Norman-motte-and-bailey structure with Victorian additions at the heart of the city, is another essential stop.
Much of the action can be found in the regenerated area of Cardiff Bay. Take your pick of things to do from a bracing walk along the embankment of Cardiff Bay Barrage and soaring 33-metres up on the Giant Wheel to quietly creeping along the boardwalk at Cardiff Bay Wetland Reserve or kicking back with a glass of wine in one of Mermaid Quay's various bars.
For an activity with a difference, look at Cardiff Distillery where you can create and bottle your very own gin to take home.
10. Portsmouth, Hampshire
The port city of Portsmouth has a long and illustrious history as England's leading naval base. As such, it is stuffed full of maritime intrigue with Portsmouth Historic Dockyard* the star of the show.
Among the many sights you can expect to see are the National Museum of the Royal Navy*, HMS Victory* of Nelson and Trafalgar fame, the Tudor-era Mary Rose* and the chance to take a harbour tour by boat.
If you prefer your attractions more land-based, Portsmouth offers some splendid shopping at Gunwharf Quays Designer Outlet, while the Spinnaker Tower guarantees a complete bird's eye view of the harbour below.
The majority of the city rests on Portsea Island, which is where you will find other points of interest and local histories such as The D-Day Landings Museum and one of Henry VIII's artillery forts, now known as Southsea Castle, which is free to enter from May to October.
11. London, Greater London
Whether you're a first-timer or a seasoned London city breaker, the nation's capital never disappoints. There is simply the largest variety of things to do, see and experience in this enthralling, sprawling city.
Although it has a reputation for being a costly destination (which it certainly can be!), there are many ways you can enjoy London for less than you might expect. If you don't fancy splashing out on a spin around the London Eye* or up The View from The Shard*, make for the Sky Garden, the city's highest public garden that's free to enter (but do book ahead).
If taking a boat trip seems a little flash, catch the public Thames Clipper for a fraction of the price from Westminster to Greenwich and you'll cruise along the city's iconic skyline.
Browse the collections for free at The British Museum, The National Gallery or Tate Modern. Tick off all the Royal Parks on the self-guided walk or hire an e-bike to get around in affordable style.
London is also great for bargain hunters at its many markets. Whether you're eating out or shopping for souvenirs to take home, there's a wealth of choice from Bricklane Market, Broadway Market and Borough Market to Southbank Book and Food Market and Camden Market, to name just a fraction.
Of course, the big-ticket attractions will always have their pull but there are ways to visit these for less too. Look for combined passes that offer reduced rates of entry for multiple sites or check out the likes of Red Letter Days* and Experience Days* that have plenty of deals on sightseeing in The Big Smoke.
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