Five UK Cities that are ideal for day trips by train

A perception that has been broken down in recent years, is that the mass closures inflicted on the railways of England, Scotland and Wales more than fifty years ago, meant that there was little point in taking a British train unless you had to get to work, or travel for some other reason to a large city.

Yes it would be rather wonderful if some of those long-long lost rail routes in scenic areas were still available, but the majority of Britain’s many outstanding areas of natural beauty can still be accessed by train.
Even more thrillingly steam trains now make their way along a multitude of once closed lines in many stunning locations.
So it’s straightforward to combine the best aspects of a city break, with days spent traveling across beautiful landscapes to a multitude of charming destinations, where it’s possible to relax away from the demands of everday life.

And despite the complications of British train ticketing, for pretty much every journey suggested on this guide, off-peak Day Return tickets, will be money savers even when booking at the station just prior to boarding.

 

EXPLORING BRITAIN BY TRAIN FROM...

Leeds or Machynlleth or Penzance

Reading or Manchester or Stirling

DAY TRIPS BY TRAIN FROM GLASGOW
Taking day trips by train from Glasgow

Glasgow has the edge over Edinburgh as base for exploring the best of Scotland by train, but you don’t have to miss out on experiencing the wonders of Scotland’s capital.
Four new trains per hour operate over the fastest route between the two cities and the journey takes less than 45 minutes – plus the final train of the day back to Glasgow doesn’t usually depart from Edinburgh until after 23:00.

Easy access to stunning highland scenery

What makes Glasgow a great base for exploring by train is that it’s closer than Edinburgh to the beautiful islands off the West Coast, which have easy rail access, plus the city is also the starting point of the incredible West Highland Line.
 

The Jacobite steam train makes it majestic journeys over the spectacular part of the railway between Mallaig and Fort William from late May to late October and taking a ride on it is possible on a magnificent day trip from Glasgow.
Despite the distance you won’t have to rise before dawn, because the train to Mallaig will usually be scheduled to depart from Glasgow Queen Street station at 08:23.
You will arrive in Mallaig before the steam train departs for Fort William at 14:10 and with an easily timed connection, you’ll be back in Glasgow in good time for a night cap.

Or if heading to the end of the line in Mallaig does seem a tad daunting, then an alternative is to experience the journey on the West Highland line by taking a trip to the coastal town of
Oban, pretty much the perfect location for a late lunch.
On Mondays to Saturdays the 10:33 train from Glasgow will arrive there at 13:43.


Experience the beautiful islands in the Firth Of Clyde

Heading off from Oban to explore the islands of the Inner Hebrides isn’t possible on a day trip from Glasgow, but simple as can be connections between trains and ferries make it easy to experience two of the beautiful islands in the Firth of Clyde.

Head to the isle of Bute on a combination of a train from Central station to Wemyss Bay and the
ferry to Rothesay.
The delightful ferry crossing takes 35 minutes and then on arrival you can see the best of Bute by
touring the island on an open-topped bus.
Holiday in Glasgow and set off on day trips by train

And or head off to the island of Arran, from Glasgow Central by connecting to the ferry at Ardrossan Harbour station.
It’s possible to depart Glasgow at 09:15 and step off the ferry in Arran at noon –
though check the timetable.
Due to the variety amidst its stunning landscape, Arran has been described as Scotland in miniature and a network of local bus routes link the ferry terminal to beauty spots across the island.
In summer the final ferry of the day back to Ardrossan usually departs from Brodick at 19:20.

 

Take tea on a steam train

For steam train fans The Jacobite isn’t the only journey into the past that can be easily accessed from Glasgow.
A gorgeous idea is to have an afternoon tea on the beautiful
Strathspey Railway which shares the station in Aviemore with the mainline trains.
You won’t usually have to depart Glasgow Queen Street station until 10:39, though the optimum connections aren’t available on Sundays.
Having the tea isn’t compulsory, you can just sit back and enjoy the ride on a steam train.

The journey between Glasgow and Aviemore will take around 2hr 45mins, but the scenery on most of the train ride is fabulous, particularly north of Perth.

Within 90 minutes of Glasgow by train

Or if you don’t want to travel so far, there are a multitude of other fabulous destinations which can be easily accessed from the newly enhanced Queen Street station.

Every hour express trains depart for Dundee where the wonderful V & A Museum in Dundee is across the street from the station.
Whether you do or don’t want to take the time out to explore Dundee, you can travel on to St.Andrews, with the next stage of the journey taking you over the incredible
Tay Bridge.
Frequent buses meet the trains at Leuchars station and the transfer into the centre of lovely
St Andrews takes around 10 minutes.
Or head off to Balloch on the shore of Loch Lomond, visit Stirling Castle or experience The Falkirk Wheel (take bus route/line 6 from Falkirk Grahamston station)

Booking tickets


If you want to head off on the longer suggested journeys to Aviemore (for the Strathspey Railway; Mallaig (for the Jacobite) or to Oban, you likely will save money and have assigned seats on the trains if you book Advance tickets - in effect you'll be booking two single tickets for each direction of travel.

Though when booking, also check the price of Day Return tickets.
You should also be offered these because you will have entered the same date for the outward and return journeys.

Then compare this Day Return price with the Advance tickets, once you have selected journeys for both directions of travel.
You'll particularly want to compare the total costs of travelling each way with 2 x Advance tickets (these tickets are one-way tickets) with the Day Return price.

Also keep in mind that if you book Advance tickets ahead of your trip, you will then be commited to travellling by the trains you chose when booking, so will lose out finacially if you then were to change your plans once you're in Glasgow.

If you head to Rothesay on Bute, or Brodick on Arran, book Rail+Sea tickets which include both the train and ferry.
You should be automatically offered these when telling the booking agent at the ticket office that you're final destination will be Rothesay or Brodick, or if you select these locations as destinations when using a ticket machine.

Scotland By Train    l      Day Trips from Stirling

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DAY TRIPS BY TRAIN FROM LEEDS
Day trips by train from Leeds

The main station in Leeds is the busiest in northern England, because of the high number of routes taken by the trains which use it.
Those multiple routes mean that there are a swathe of picturesque destinations that can be accessed from Leeds on simple day trips by train including Knaresborough (easily combined with a visit to Harrogate) and Ikley, or Hebden Bridge.

Plus there are also other must see cities that are less than an hour from Leeds by train including Manchester and York – where the National Railway Museum is a five minute walk from the station.
 

Take England’s Most Stunning Railway Journey
Ride the Settle and Carlisle line on a day trip from Leeds

However, what makes Leeds a particularly splendid location for railway exploration is that the trains which travel the length of England’s most beautiful railway, commence their journeys at Leeds station.

Appleby is a charming market town, but that isn’t why it’s being suggested as a location to head to on a day trip from Leeds by train.
It’s because the trains to Appleby from Leeds travel traverse the Settle and Carlisle line, which is without doubt England’s most scenic long-distance train journey.
It takes 80 minutes for trains to travel over the most dramatic section of the route between the stations in Skipton and Appleby – longer than many of Europe’s most acclaimed railway journeys, such as the route through the Rhine Gorge, or a ride or Norway’s Flamsbana.

So heading to Appleby from Leeds by train isn’t a particularly eccentric idea, considering that most people who take a journey on the Flamsbana do so because of the views that can be appreciated from the train windows, and not because Flam is a must visit destination.

If you want to make multiple stops along the Settle and Carlisle Line, in order to talk a walk from Dent, England’s highest station, or to see more of the Ribblehead Viaduct, or to have tea in Settle, then it can be worth purchasing a Day Ranger ticket.

On the return to Leeds an idea is to make a straightforward connection in Skipton to take a train to Saltaire, the station which serves the fascinating village with U.N.E.S.C.O. heritage status.
Steps away from the station is the majestic Salts Mill which houses art works by David Hockney
Or an option is to head to Saltaire from Leeds on a separate day trip by train, the station is served by a minimum of two trains per hour and the journey takes less than 15 minutes.
Holiday in Leeds and explore by train
Ride a steam train or two

For those with a penchant for a ride on a steam train, another location along this Settle And Carlisle line, which makes for a fabulous day out is Keighley, because its station is shared with the wonderful Keighley and Worth Valley Railway.
If it’s available on the day on which you pay a visit, riding on the vintage open top bus across the Yorkshire Moors from Oxenhope to Haworth station is highly recommended.
And as the railway also calls at Haworth station, which is the village in which the Bronte sisters resided, combining a ride on the steam train with a visit to the Bronte Parsonage, is a grand day out.
And for those with a special affection for the cinematic wonder that is The Railway Children, lingering at Oakworth station is a nostalgia-fest.

Another steam railway that can be accessed from Leeds is the glorious North Yorkshire Moors Railway.
Though a visit needs to be planned with care as a journey from Leeds involves heading to Maldon station by train, from where Coastliner buses on the 840 route can take you on to Pickering where the stream trains can be boarded.
The bus stop in Maldon is right by the train station and in Pickering it will be a 10 minute walk to the railway.

Show your bus ticket at Pickering station to obtain a 20% discount for the gorgeous ride on the trains which will transport you to the charming fishing port of Whitby.
There will be time to have a fish and chip supper by the harbour side before heading back to Leeds on the return journey.

But before heading off from Leeds, check the railway timetable so that you can plan your optimum connections.

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DAY TRIPS BY TRAIN FROM MACHYNLLETH
Day trips by train from Machynlleth

For those seeking easy access to beautiful Welsh countryside and beaches without having to use a car, then the charming small town of Machynlleth is a great holiday destination.
It’s packed with attractions for the days when you won’t want to head off and explore, but it’s also ideal for those who enjoy a day by the seaside.

The charming resort towns of Aberystwyth and Aberdovey/Aberdyfi with their lovely beaches can be accessed by train in under 30 mins, while a journey of not much than an hour takes you to picturesque Barmouth.
If the weather is fine, an idea is to leave the train at Morfa Mawddach, the station before Barmouth, so that you can enter the town by using the footpath, beside the railway over the stunning Barmouth Bridge.

Beautiful journeys by steam trains

 

Machynlleth is also a particularly great location for those who want to experience the utterly wonderful Great Little Trains Of Wales.
In Aberystwyth there is an easy connection to the beautiful Vale of Rheidol Railway and in Talyllyn, which is around 30 mins away by train, there is a very easy connection to the Talyllyn Railway.
Holiday in Machynlleth and see the best of Wales by train
Machynlleth also has direct trains to Porthmadog for the the Ffestiniog Railway and the West Highland Railway.
Though if you want to travel the full length of both of those lines, you’ll need to make two day trips from Machynlleth to Porthmadog to make separate journeys by each of the railways.
However, doing so will involve another yet more opportunities to experience the glorious coastal scenery that can be seen from this Cambrian Line.
When heading northwards along Cardigan Bay, take a seat on the left when boarding the trains in Machynlleth.
 

Or other towns, which are also  great bases for day trips, are the possibilities to explore Snowdonia and beyond by train (and bus) from Bangor or to see the best of North Wales on day trips from Llandudno.

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DAY TRIPS BY TRAIN FROM READING
Day trips by train from Reading

On the list of the UK’s most visited towns and cities, most of the inclusions are predictable, Manchester, Edinburgh, Liverpool etc, but Reading was an unexpected entry.
The town isn’t exceptionally beautiful, it’s not particularly historical it and isn’t the home of any noteworthy museums and galleries.
But what Reading does have is a fabulous location, as it lies on the busy rail route between London and numerous other must-see destinations to the west of the capital.

A gateway to the best of the west

The town’s one outstanding architectural statement is its newly enhanced railway station.
Reading possesses one of the UK’s largest stations because it’s the gateway to the best of the west of England.
Many of the towns and cities that are on that most visited list, including Bath, Bristol and Oxford are within easy reach of Reading on journeys which take less than 60 minutes, by trains which depart at least twice an hour during the day.

Super easy access to London

If you visited those cities from London, your journey in each direction would be 25-30 minutes longer, but because those fast trains and many more, all call at Reading when making their journeys to and from the capital, London is within exceptionally easy reach.
There are at least four or more non-stop trains to Paddington station from Reading in every hour and the journey to Paddington station takes less than 30 minutes, so day trip, or two, or more, to the capital is an easy option.
Holiday in Reading and explore by train
Lazy days in riverside towns

The River Thames flows through Reading, but nearby towns along the river bank within easy reach by train, are more charming locations in which to have a lunch or tea by the waterside.
A simple connection in Twyford, takes you to Henley-on-Thames, and/or you can change trains in Maidenhead in order to visit Marlow.

Reading also has direct trains to Richmond, where both the riverbank and its park, make for a splendid day out, but there is one town along the Thames which reigns above all others on the must-see list, and that is Windsor.
With a simple connection at Slough, the train journey from Reading to Windsor takes a little over 30 minutes.
Although it’s best to head off on Mondays to Saturdays, as St Georges’ Chapel, the location of the wedding of the Duke and Duchess Of Sussex, isn’t open to visitors to the castle on Sundays.

And locations for railway fans
 
For those who want to base a holiday around destinations with easy access by train, because of an enthusiasm for railways, there are also two attractions within easy reach of Reading that are a must for steam railway fans, namely the Didcot Railway Centre and the Steam Museum in Swindon.

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DAY TRIPS BY TRAIN FROM MANCHESTER
Day trips by train from Manchester

Manchester is a fabulous city, but ShowMeTheJourney’s decision to spend a holiday there raised a few eyebrows, despite the city's makeover from industrial grit and grime to the north of England’s version of New York.
What drew me to Manchester for pleasure rather than business was that its city centre is the only location in England outside of London, which is still ringed by magnificent stations.
So a place to stay in the heart of the city, by the tram routes that now link Piccadilly and Victoria stations, provides a fabulous location for an extended break.

Explore other fabulous towns and cities

That’s because trains from those stations provide easy access to other fabulous cities, head to Victoria station and brand new trains can transport you in under an hour to the centres of Leeds and Liverpool.
On arrival at Liverpool Lime Street station I hopped on a local train to Blundellsands & Crosby station in order to see Anthony Gormley’s Another Place – a long term fixture on the bucket list.
The local train then took me back to James Street station, close by Liverpool’s fabulous waterfront area.

 

Another wonderful city just over an hour from Manchester by train is Bradford, home of the National Science and Media Museum.
Those trains between Manchester Victoria station and Bradford also call in the charming towns of Halifax and Hebden Bridge so it’s possible to take in two or three of these must-see locations on a single day trip.


Or travel further on into Yorkshire
 

Or another option is to walk across Bradford city centre to Forster Square station, because from there, frequent trains head to Saltaire, the station which serves the fascinating village with U.N.E.S.C.O. heritage status.
Steps away from the station is the majestic Salts Mill.
Those trains to Saltaire continue on to Keighley where the station is shared with the fabulous Keighley and Worth Valley Railway.
(Both Saltaire and Keighley can also be reached on a different day thanks to an easy connection at Leeds station).
Holiday in Manchester to explore North West England by train

Easy Access by train to stunning scenery
 

What Manchester also offers is easy access by train to some of England’s most fabulous landscapes.
A marvellous steam railway with easier access to and from Manchester city centre is the East Lancashire Railway, it can be reached by taking the tram to Bury.

Or in under two hours from Piccadilly and Oxford Road stations, you can be enjoying a day out in the fabulous Lake District, by taking direct trains to Windemere.
For easy access to the beauty spots in the southern part of the Lake District national park,  from Windermere station there are buses on to Ambleside, Coniston and Grasmere and Keswick.
From Keswick there are frequent buses to Penrith North Lakes station, which has direct trains back to Manchester, so it can be worth looking up the bus and train timetables in order to make a glorious round trip to and from Keswick.

Another stunningly beautiful national park with easy access by train from Manchester is
the Peak District.
Trains from Piccadilly station can take you into the heart of the park at charming Edale, where multiple scenic walking trails begin and end, or take the train to wonderful
Buxton, it’s a beautiful town and buses on routes across the Peak District depart from a stop by the station.

 

Or for a different kind of thrill, follow in the footsteps of thousands of Mancunians by taking the train from Piccadilly and Oxford Road stations to the boisterous seaside resort of Blackpool, the journey will take less than 90 minutes!

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The 22 locations that are great bases for taking day trips by train:

Basel  l   Bellinzona   l   Bologna

Cologne
   
l   Erfurt   l   Frankfurt

Gent
   l   Glasgow   l   Innsbruck

Leeds
   l   Machynlleth   l   Manchester

Marseille  
l   Milan   l   Munich

Olten
   l   Offenburg   l   

Penzance (as featured in  the guide to taking a Cornish holiday by train)

Reading   l   Rotterdam   l   Stirling

Vicenza


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This is one of more than 100 train travel guides available on ShowMeTheJourney, which will make it easier to take the train journeys you want or need to make.

As always, all images were captured on trips taken by ShowMeTheJourney.
 

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Our other British Train Travel Guides:

Cornwall By Train

Scotland By Train
      l         Wales By Train

An Introduction to taking British trains

Ticketing Guide
      l          Reservation Info

Which TOCs operate on each route

The services provided by each TOC