Iconic British & Irish Rail Journeys

By Rebecca Cox

2 months ago

Take the slow train.

The golden age of rail returns to the UK and Ireland as the slow travel movement gathers momentum (at a leisurely pace) and we seek to find the joy in the journey to make staycations that little bit sweeter. But which journeys can bring the most joy? Rebecca Cox rounds up seven of the best window-gazing rail routes on which to buy a ticket to ride. 


London to Penzance on The Night Riviera Sleeper

Distance: 255 miles

Journey time: 8 hours

This sleeper service takes three hours longer than the day train to Penzance from Paddington, but roughly the same time as making the journey by car if there’s even the slightest problem on the A30. Better, then, to tuck oneself up in a sleeping cabin and be rocked to sleep on this scenic journey down to the most westerly point of the English mainland. From there you can travel onwards by ferry to the Isles of Scilly, or immerse yourself in all Penzance has to offer, from the craggy cliffs of Land’s End to a summer swim in the iconic Jubilee Pool. gwr.com


The Settle-Carlisle Railway

Distance: 73 miles

Journey time: 2 hours

Built in 1876 by the Midland Railway company, the historic Victorian Settle-Carlisle Railway was a result of a dispute with the London and North Western Railway over access to Scotland. History buffs can spend the journey reading up on railway politics, while nature lovers can delight in the scenic views across the Yorkshire Dales and the North Pennines. settle-carlisle.co.uk


North Yorkshire Moors Railway

Distance: 24 miles

Journey time: 2 hours

Heading North for your next staycation? Enjoy the North York Moors National Park from aboard a steam or heritage diesel train by booking a journey on this legendary rail route. This 24-mile line includes stops at Pickering, Levisham, Grosmont, and ends in Whitby, all worth a potter. Speaking of, the journey also features a stop at Goathland, which Harry Potter fans will recognise as the setting for Hogsmeade Station in the Philosopher’s Stone film, and the Yorkshire Moors will have you feeling like you’re being whisked off to Hogwarts. Magic. nymr.co.uk


Howth to Greystones

Distance: 17 miles

Journey time: 1.5 hours

The picturesque train journey from Howth to Greystones is one of Ireland’s most scenic routes. This coastal adventure follows the Irish Sea, offering unparalleled views of Dublin and Wicklow, showcasing the beauty of both regions. Passengers can enjoy views of Dublin’s suburbs and Wicklow’s tranquil landscapes, passing through towns including Sandycove and Dalkey. Killiney is also along the route, with its stunning bay and starry residents, and the ride culminates in a spectacular finale during the 10-minute ride from Bray to Greystones. irishrail.ie


Tanfield Railway

Distance: 6 mile round trip

Journey time: 1 hour

Any railfan will be keen to check out the ‘World’s Oldest Railway’, which dates back to 1725. This heritage ride allows passengers to step back in time for a six-mile round steam train journey through the picturesque Causey Valley. The journey also takes in the Causey Arch, the world’s oldest railway bridge dating back to 1727. This is one for genuine train lovers, rather than those seeking to get from A to B in style, since ultimately, you’ll end up back at point A. tanfield-railway.co.uk


Royal Scotsman, A Belmond Train, Scotland

Royal Scotsman, A Belmond Train, Scotland

Royal Scotsman, A Belmond Train, Scotland

Distance: From 89 miles

Journey time: Trips from 2 days

Sometimes a few hours on a train looking out the window simply isn’t enough. For the true train fanatic, only moving onboard for the entire holiday will do. The genuinely iconic Royal Scotsman, a Belmond Train, offers an incredibly luxurious train escape in stunning Scottish scenery with themed trips ranging from 2 to 7 nights. Departing from Edinburgh, journeys traverse pine-clad mountains, mirror-clear lochs (drizzle dependent), and iconic Scottish landmarks. What’s inside the carriages is sure to delight in equal measure: sumptuous cabins, plush dining carts serving up superlative fine dining and a cool observation car to soak in the scenery. There’s old-world glamour and new-world comforts; the most luxurious of which is a Dior Spa (less choo-choo, more swit-swoo). Day trippers should also check out the range of first class journeys on the sister train The British Pullman, A Belmond Train, particularly the whistle-stop immersive murder mystery voyages, which are sure to be a hoot. belmond.com


Derry-Londonderry to Coleraine

Distance: 27 miles

Journey time: 40 minutes

There’s plenty to see and do in both Derry-Londonderry and Coleraine, the gateway to the Causeway Coast, and the journey between the two is spectacular. Follow the River Foyle out of the city and onwards to the golden sands of Benone Strand, the maritime cliffs at Downhill and the Binevenagh Mountain. Birdwatch for peregrine falcons before diving into the longest railway tunnels in Ireland on route from Castlerock to Coleraine. Apparently, Michael Palin describes this route as ‘one of the most beautiful rail journeys in the world’, so if you’re traversing the British Isles and Ireland by rail, this is a must. translink.co.uk

The only thing that can turn the sweetness of any of these train rides sour is a lengthy delay, so always check before you travel. (And perhaps plan an alternative route to weather the storm of cancellations, because unlike lightning, rail union workers always strike twice.)