London to Cardiff by train

How to take the rail journey from London to Cardiff

How to buy tickets, what's on board the trains, how to use the stations, plus tips for making the journey

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Routes

From London Paddington to Cardiff Central

Travel Information

Final Destination: Cardiff or Swansea (or Carmarthen)

All trains also call at: Newport

On Board Summary:

This service has recently been transformed by the introduction of the new Intercity Express trains to this London to Cardiff route.

More information is available by clicking the train details, but the key features of these trains are:
(1) enhanced Wi-fi connectivity
(2) a power socket at every seat
(3) typically more seats per departure
(4) more space for luggage
(5) dedicated bike storage spaces

First Class passengers will (usually) have complimentary food and drink served at their seats

The Pullman Dining restaurant service is USUALLY only available on the 10:45 departure from London - the Welsh Breakfast is served on this train.

Monday - Friday = 2 x trains per hour
Saturdays = 18 x trains (minimum of 1 x train per hour, but two departures per hour are available 17:00 - 20:00)
Sunday = 15 x trains (minimum of 1 x train per hour, but two departures per hour are available 14:00 - 15:00)

Tickets

Book Early And Save: Yes

Online Bookings Open: Usually 12 weeks ahead, but this period can be longer if Great Western Railway is running a promotion

If you want to travel at the cheapest possible price, book an 'Advance' ticket, though be aware that this type of ticket can't (usually) be refunded if you subsequently change your travel plans.
(Though the T&Cs of using Advance tickets have been made more flexible for journeys taken before March 31st).
If the booking period has been extended beyond 12 weeks, it seems as though 'Advance' tickets will be the only type of ticket available if you book more than 12 weeks ahead.

Also worth knowing is that on this route, Advance tickets will only be available until 18:00 (6pm) on the day before travel.

Though partially due to the frequency of the train service, you shouldn't have to book months in advance to obtain the cheapest possible price for a London to Cardiff train journey, particularly if you won't be travelling at business hours.

If you would like the flexibility to be able to obtain a refund if you subsequently change your travel plans, it's best to book 'Off-Peak' tickets, though this type of ticket lives up to its name, and may not be available on the most popular departures.

'Advance Tickets;' and 'Off-Peak' tickets are specific to the departure you select when making a booking, but they can be transferred to an alternative departure, though you will incur an 'admin fee' if you have booked an 'Advance' ticket.

Travelling on Saturday-Sunday

Maintenance work on the railway is periodically undertaken at weekends and if it is scheduled on your travel date, it can affect when tickets will be released for sale.

If you're looking up a journey less than around 10 - 12 weeks ahead and the cheaper 'Advance' tickets aren't available, it can be a good indication that works will be impacting on your travel date.
It can be worth checking this on the National Rail website - select 'Great Western Railway' as the operator.

Making an end-to-end journey will still be possible, though you MAY ultimately have to take a substitution bus service for part of the trip.
It's the confirmation of these alternative travel arrangements which can hold up the release of the tickets for sale.

Choosing a departure

There can be significant differences in prices between departures on your travel date, it's often possible to save more than £20 by taking an earlier or later train - the trains which depart London in the middle of the day tend to be cheaper.

Reservations (pre-pandemic):

When you book an Advance ticket for a London to Cardiff train journey online, you will automatically be assigned a seat(s) - because a guaranteed seat reservation is a benefit of using a website to purchase the ticket(s).
If you book an Anytime or Off-Peak ticket ahead of your travel date, you can request a reservation - more info about this.

However, if you buy an Anytime or Off-Peak ticket at the station just prior to boarding, a seat reservation WON'T be automatically included with your booking.
That's because reservations at stations need to be booked by the end of the previous day for morning departures and 3 - 4 hours ahead for afternoon/evening departures - so keep that in mind if you will be using a rail pass, including a Britrail or Eurail pass.

On this route ShowMeTheJourney particularly recommends making reservations when travelling at these times
(1) Between 16:00 and 19:30 on Mon-Friday as this route is particularly popular with commuters.
(2) Any journey after 14:00 on Fridays and 16:-00 on Sundays.

Receiving Your Ticket(s)

The four options for receiving and using your ticket(s) if you book on the Great Western Railway (GWR) website are:

(1) Using e-tickets:
You can opt to have an e-ticket attached to your confirmation email, which you can then download to your mobile device.
Then when boarding you can access your ticket(s) on your phone and use it to open the ticket gates.
Though if you opt to use this service, GWR will prompt you to make a test download prior to completing your booking, so that you can be sure that your mobile device is compatible with using this service.

(2) Opt to 'self-print', you will need then need to print off the ticket attached to your confirmation email.

(3) Collecting from the 'Fast-Track' ticket machines at the station.
You will receive a booking reference number on your order confirmation email and you can use this reference number to collect ticket(s) from a 'Fast-Track' ticket machine.
You will need to enter your reference number into the machine, so make sure you'll have easy access to it when you are using the machine.
You will also need to insert the specific credit or debit card you used when making the booking, so have that with you too.

Showing the email you will have received to staff at the ticket gates won't get you on to the train, nor will this be valid if you can only show the email to the conductor when you are on the train.

If you forget to bring your ticket(s) with you to the station, but do have the card with you that you used when booking, you can use the machines to collect your ticket(s).
Take your time and take care that you have picked up all your ticket(s) and seat reservations.

(4) Opt to pay an additional charge to have your tickets posted to you (not an option if you book tickets from outside the UK).

Where to book
Ticket Provider Approximate Cost
Great Western Railway from £19

Great Western Railway Guide

National Rail from £19

National Rail Guide

In Great Britain each Train Operating Company provides its own booking service for journeys by its trains, but many of their websites also sell tickets for nationwide journeys, regardless of which company operates the trains on the routes you wish to travel by.

The National Rail website is plugged into all of the train operator's booking services, so when more than one of these companies offers tickets for a route, it in effect offers a price comparison service.
It isn't a ticket agent, so you will be connected to the website of your choice in order to make a booking.

RailEurope from £19

On this journey

Good to Know

If you board without a reservation and can't find an unoccupied seat, a seats(s) should become available at the first station call of Reading, around 27 minutes into the journey.

At business hours, the trains which leave London between 16:00 and 19:00, can be (used to be) particularly busy, this route is popular with commuters.

Even though it was opened in 1841 the Great Western Main Line route taken by the these trains was designed for speed - between the five or six station calls the train will frequently travel at 125 mph/200 km/h

It's a pleasant journey through the countryside, but its not exceptionally scenic.

Something you can't miss is when the train travels through the Severn Tunnel - which is the longest railway tunnel on the British rail network.
When the train emerges from the tunnel you will be in Wales.

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