Related Content
Ideas & Inspiration How To Explore Wales by Train
How to see Wales by train

How To Explore Wales by Train

All that's good to know about seeing the best of beautiful Wales by train, including how kids aged 15 and under can travel for free!

| Last Updated: 3 months ago

Why you should do this

Wales is blessed with a fantastic landscape and dramatic coastline and very few areas of the principality are flat and unmemorable, hence the plethora of scenic rail journeys, including:
Welshpool ↔ Aberystwyth
Machynlleth ↔ Pwlhelli
Rhyl ↔ Holyhead
Swansea ↔ Carmarthen
Llanelli ↔ Craven Arms.
Llandudno Junction ↔ Blaenau Ffestiniog

The Welsh railway network is much sparser than it had been in its heyday, but most of the longer-distance routes have endured and virtually all of them are wonderfully beautiful!
So exploring lovely Wales by train is a fabulous means of accessing the best of this country, while appreciating some fantastic scenery.

The gaps in the rail network are filled by bus routes, so a car is most definitely not an essential requirement for seeing the best of Wales, whether you want to travel around the country by train, or take multiple day trips from one holiday location.

Multiple scenic journeys by steam trains

Plus there is an aspect to enjoying Wales by train that is wonderfully unique and wholly delightful.
When I was a small child my grandmother gave my mum a holiday souvenir of a tea towel (a dish towel) emblazoned with images of the Great Little Trains Of Wales, with their utterly charming steam engines.
Few objects that came into the family home fired up my imagination as much as this did and thankfully, not only are all of those railways still waiting to be explored, there has also been the thrilling more recent addition of the Welsh Highland Railway.

And by happy accident, the majority of these steam railways can still be accessed by main line trains.
The opportunity to travel along these charming railways of yesteryear hugely enhances a holiday in north-west Wales, which is where the gorgeous Snowdonia national park also happens to be located!

Train Travel Options

See the best of Wales by train

There are two great options of exploring the best of Wales by train:

(1) Travelling around the country by using an Explore Wales pass.
As can be seen below, the pass tends to be better value for money compared to tickets for this travel idea.

(2) Using one location as a base for taking multiple fabulous day trips by train (and bus)
As will be seen below, booking tickets tends to be better value than the pass when using one base location, even when taking multiple day trips.

The two plus points of taking this day trip approach are;

  • avoiding having to make multiple transfers to overnight accommodation, and
  • the freedom to react to the weather.

Rainy days and beautiful train journeys is a set of circumstances best avoided and Welsh weather is unpredictable.

But if you use a base location, you’ll be unfortunate for every day of your stay to be washed out, so you can then target the finer days for making the particularly scenic journeys.

Good to know

The Welsh Rail Network Explained

Some of those miniature steam railways also plug gaps in the network of the remaining mainline railways, so they make it easier to travel around Wales by train.

The existing Welsh rail network is reminiscent of a reversed letter E.
The north and south of Wales are linked by a railway to the east, which mainly runs through England, and from it there are THREE main routes which head west into Wales:

(1) Along the North Wales Coast Line to Holyhead via Bangor.
(2) Across mid-Wales to Aberystwyth and Pwhelli by the Cambrian Coast Railway with its fantastic sea views.

(3) Through the south of Wales to Pembrokeshire; take a train west of Swansea and you’ll experience a lovely journey.

Though at the western extremities of those routes, there isn’t a railway line which traverses the west of Wales to connect them, but there are easy alternatives available to taking main line trains.

Travel between South Wales and The Cambrian Coast

The end of the Cambrian Coast Line is connected to the railways of South Wales, by the T1 bus line/route.
It still provides a regular link between along the route of the long-closed railway between Aberystwyth and Carmarthen.

Travel between The Cambrian Coast and North Wales Coast

There are three options for travelling between the North Wales Coast Line and the Cambrian Coast Line:

(1) Taking a mainline train between Llandudno or Llandudno Junction station and Blaenau Ffestiniog, then connecting there a ride to or from Porthmadog on the beautiful Ffestiniog Railway

Making a connection at beautiful Minffordd station Making a connection at beautiful Minffordd station

There is also a junction station at Minffordd, which avoids the need to walk across Porthmadog town centre between its two stations.
Though single (one-way) journey tickets for the journey on the Ffestiniog Railway cannot be booked online, but can be arranged by calling the Booking Office; 01766 516024.
Some trains can also sell out in advance, so booking ahead is highly recommended!

(2) Taking the frequent 5C bus route/line between Bangor (which has a station on the North Wales coast line) and Caernarfon and then travelling between Caernarfon and Porthmadog on the West Highland Railway.

(3) Taking the T2 bus route direct between Bangor and Porthmadog.

With dogs and bikes

Pear enjoyed her ride on the Ffestiniog Railway Pear enjoyed her ride on the Ffestiniog Railway

An adult can take up to two dogs with them on any conventional mainline train in Wales and they don't need tickets.
They can also ride on many of the Great Little Trains Of Wales but when travelling on these they will likely need special tickets - so don't assume you can hop on board with a dog.

Some of those steam railways, including the Ffestiniog, the Vale Of Rheidol and the Welsh Highland also enable bicycles to be conveyed in vans on the train.
Those spaces cannot be reserved in advance, so are allocated on a first-come, first-served basis.

This policy of bikes being taken on the trains if space is still available, also typically applies to the mainline trains operated by Transport For Wales.
Though on some busy services Transport For Wales requests that bike spaces be reserved in advance - though it doesn't stipulate what these departures and routes are, so it best to call 0333 3211 202 to check what you need to do.
If they are available, reservations are free of charge.

Tickets or Rail Passes

An Explore Wales pass costs £104 for adults and £52 for children (aged 5 to 15) - and there is a discounted price of £68.60 for those who will be travelling with these railcards: 16-25, Two Together, Disabled Persons or Senior.
Note that these railcards can cost less than the discounted price, so a combination of pass + railcard is the way to go if you meet the railcard criteria.

The core benefit of the Explore Wales is that it allows the freedom to hop on and off any train operated by Transport For Wales, on any 4 days during an 8 day period – so you won’t have to take the train on every day of your holiday.

The pass can also be used on the railway route through England via Shrewsbury and Hereford, which connects North Wales to South Wales
It can also be used to hop and off most buses in Wales, including many of the services which plug the gaps in the Welsh rail network.
If you follow either of the suggested around Wales itineraries, the Explore Wales Pass will be a money saver against the costs of buying train tickets at the standard prices.

Using a pass on the suggested itineraries

On the suggested looping itinerary you’ll likely save just under £40 compared to the total non-discounted train ticket costs on the four days that you’ll be using the pass.
While you’ll save at least £15 against the cost of the standard train tickets on the suggested circular itinerary - and you’ll also be able to use the pass on the buses between Caernarfon and Bangor and between Aberystwyth and Carmarthen.

The typical pricing policy used by Transport For Wales contributes to the Explore Wales pass being cheaper than standard train tickets for the suggested around Wales itineraries.
Because on the TFW (Transport For Wales) trains, single journey tickets are comparatively expensive, as it doesn’t offer discounted Advance tickets for single journeys solely within Wales - though Day Return tickets tend to be only a few £s more expensive than Single tickets.

Even though there is no need to book online to save money, it is an option, and enables travel with tickets downloaded to a phone.
Though if you won't be buying online it's a very good idea to look up train times and plan a journey before heading to the station.

Child tickets

Transport For Wales offers better ticketing terms when travelling with children in comparison to most of the other train operating companies in Britain.
Because at Off-Peak times (see below), when accompanied by a fare paying adult (aged 16 and over) those aged 15 and under can travel for free!
Those aged 10 and under can travel for free at any time!
The usual 'rule' in Britain is that only those aged four and under can travel at no charge.

The core term for this offer is that a maximum of two 'children' can accompany each fare paying 'adult'.
Those aged 5 to 15 will need a ticket(s) but there will be no charge for them, they can be obtained from staffed ticket offices, or from the conductors on the trains

The 'peak' travel times when the offer doesn't apply to those aged 11 to 15 are on Monday to Friday only before 09:30 and between the hours of 16:00 and 18:30.
So the offer applies at any time on weekends; and on national holidays when 'peak' travel times aren't applied.

The offer does not apply when travelling by Avanti West Coast trains on the north Wales route, or on GWR trains in south Wales.

The price of the Explore Wales pass for those aged 5 to 15 is discounted by 50%.

When making multiple day trips

For day trips on Transport For Wales trains, the Day Return tickets tickets can be comparatively good value, because they won’t cost much more than the price of single tickets.
As a result the rail passes won’t be such good value when multiple taking day trips by train from the suggested locations.

The price of an Explore North and Mid-Wales pass is £69, but for example, even when making the four longest suggested journeys from Machynlleth - 2 x trips to Porthmadog and the trips to Barmouth and Aberystwyth, the total costs of the four Day Return tickets will be approximately £50.

This Explore North and Mid-Wales pass also won’t be value for money for the suggested day trips from Bangor and from Llandudno.
Though a contributory factor is that only certain bus companies accept the rail passes and among those on which it’s not valid, are the operators of the bus routes to and from Llanberis and of the T2 route between Caernarfon and Porthmadog.

Though when making the suggested return journeys between Bangor and Porthmadog, or between Llandudno and Caernarfon, it’s worth to checking to see whether a North Wales Rover/Ranger ticket will be a money saver.
This rover/ranger ticket uses a zone system, the more zones you travel through the higher the price, and if you use an all zone North Wales Rover/Ranger ticket, you can obtain a 20% discount on the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railways.

The Ffestiniog Round Robin ticket

OR if what appeals to you most is a combination of:
1 - a journey from England on the North Wales line to Llandudno Junction,
2 - heading to Blaenau Ffestiniog on the Conwy Valley Railway,
3 - a journey on the Ffestiniog Railway to Porthmadog,
4 - taking the Cambrian Line back to England,

then it’s worth considering whether a Ffestiniog Round Robin ticket would suit you better.

To Wales by train

Direct trains from England travel along the three main east<>west routes across Wales, not all station calls have been included in the summaries below:

1: to the North Wales Coast

Chester station is the rail gateway to North Wales and it is served by trains from and to:

  • Leeds, on a route which also calls at; Bradford, Manchester Victoria and Warrington Bank Quay - where connections are available with trains to and from Preston, Lancaster, Oxenholme-The Lake District, Penrith North Lakes, Carlisle, Edinburgh and Glasgow
  • Manchester Piccadilly via Stockport
  • Liverpool (from all city centre stations)
  • London Euston via Stafford and Crewe - with up up to 5 x trains per day continuing beyond Chester to and from Holyhead, with station calls in Flint, Prestatyn, Rhyl, Colwyn Bay, Llandudno Junction and Bangor.

There are also trains at least every other hour on these two routes:

  • Manchester Airport - Manchester Piccadilly - Warrington Bank Quay - Chester ↔ Flint - Prestatyn - Rhyl - Abergele + Pensarn - Colwyn Bay - Llandudno Junction - Degany - Llandudno (not Sundays)
  • Birmingham Airport - Birmingham New Street - Wolverhampton - Shrewsbury - Wrexham - Chester ↔ Flint - Prestatyn - Rhyl - Abergele + Pensarn - Colwyn Bay - Llandudno Junction - Conwy - Penmaenmawr - Llanfairfechan - Bangor and all stations to Holyhead.

Also on Monday to Friday there is 1 x daily train which takes a Manchester Airport - Manchester Piccadilly (09:44) - Warrington Bank Quay - Chester ↔ Prestatyn - Rhyl - Colwyn Bay - Llandudno Junction - Bangor - Holyhead route.

2: to the Cambrian Coast

Every other hour daily there are trains which take a Birmingham Airport - Birmingham New Street - Wolverhampton - Shrewsbury ↔ Welshpool - Machynlleth route.
At Machynlleth the train is divided or joined, with one part travelling on to/from Aberystwyth - and the other travelling to and from Pwllheli with calls in Aberdovey, Tywyn, Fairbourne, Barmouth, Harlech, Minffordd, Porthmadog and Criccieth.

There are also additional trains which travel between Shrewsbury and Aberystwyth and between Machynlleth and Pwllheli

Shrewsbury has hourly direct trains from Manchester

3: to Pembrokeshire

Swansea is the gateway to Pembrokeshire by train, with services which cross the county on routes to/from Fishguard and Milford Haven via Haverfordwest; and to/from Pembroke Dock via Tenby
These trains all also call in Carmarthen and Llanelli - and both of these towns also have direct trains, which travel beyond Swansea on two routes, to and from:

  • London Paddington via Reading, Swindon, Bristol Parkway and Cardiff
  • Manchester via Crewe, Shrewsbury and Hereford
    Both of these services also call in Cardiff and Swansea.

There are also additional trains which take a Cardiff ↔ Llanelli and Carmarthen route.
Cardiff is also served by trains which travel to and from Bath, Birmingham, Bristol, Cheltenham, Exeter, Gloucester, Plymouth, Portsmouth, Southampton and stations in Cornwall.

There are also up to four x trains per day in each direction on the Heart of Wales Line which links Shrewsbury with Llandrindod Wells, Llanelli and Swansea.

Please support ShowMeTheJourney

This second version of ShowMeTheJourney is exciting and new, so we are genuinely thrilled that you are here and reading this, but we also need your help.
We’re striving not to let anything get in the way of providing the most useful service possible, hence a facility has been set up with DonorBox which can be used to support the running costs and make improvements.

Instead of advertising or paywalls, your financial support will make a positive difference to delivering an enhanced service, as there’s a lot of ideas which we want to make happen.

So if you have found the info provided here to be useful, please go here to say thank you.


Simon Harper

I wanted to share my passion for train travel and explain how anyone can take the fantastic journeys I have taken.


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.


Please support ShowMeTheJourney

Help keep us advertising and paywall free!


This second version of ShowMeTheJourney is exciting and new, so we are genuinely thrilled that you are here and reading this, but we also need your help.

We’re striving not to let anything get in the way of providing the most useful service possible, hence a facility has been set up with DonorBox which can be used to support the running costs and make improvements.

Instead of advertising or paywalls, your financial support will make a positive difference to delivering an enhanced service, as there’s a lot of ideas which we want to make happen.

So if you have found the info provided here to be useful, please consider saying thank you.