This system sells tickets for all routes & all train operators.

It sells at the official price with no added booking fees or credit card fees.

Overseas visitors welcome.  Buy train tickets here & collect them at any main station free, or have them sent overseas for 7.50 fee.

You're buying direct from train operator Virgin Trains.  You can also buy from www.thetrainline.com or www.raileasy.com, same prices but booking & card fees added. Train operators such as Virgin charge no fees, which is why I use them here.

Bookings open 10-12 weeks ahead.

Can't find cheap fares?  Best fare finder...

You collect your tickets at any main station from machines like these (the colour & design varies by train company).  Click 'collect tickets' on the touch screen then insert credit card and out come your tickets, it's that simple!  Should work fine with non-chip-&-PIN overseas cards.  Remember that you must bring the original credit card in order to collect tickets at the station.  Alternatively, tickets or they can be sent to any address worldwide for a small fee.

Train ticket machines at a Virgin Trains station

 
 

Since 1995, Britain's rail network has been run by over 20 different private train companies.  However, the government makes sure they work together as National Rail, with co-ordinated fares, ticketing & information.  You can find train times & fares for all train operators all on one website, and you can buy a train ticket between any two stations, with tickets normally valid on any operator's trains.  This page is a simple guide to train travel in the UK.

About UK train travel...

 

On other pages...

  How to check train times & fares

  How to buy cheap train tickets online

  Quick guide to British train fares

  How to find the cheapest tickets

  Get 1.5% cashback on train tickets

  Which operators & routes can I use?

  Save money with a railcard

  Are the trains running on time?

  Maps of the UK train network

  London bus & Underground info

  Nationwide bus & taxi information

  Ferry information

  BritRail passes & Rail Rovers

  Taking bikes on trains in the UK

  Hotels & accommodation in Britain

 

  London to Scotland by sleeper

  London to Cornwall by sleeper

  London to Jersey & Guernsey

  London to the Isle of Man

  London to Belfast for 52

  London to Dublin & Ireland for 38

  London to Paris & Brussels from 39

  London to Amsterdam from 45

  Train travel to anywhere in Europe

  Tickets to connect with Eurostar

  Britain's scenic West Highland Line

  The Royal Scotsman cruise train  

On board a typical British inter-city train...

Standard class seats on a Virgin Trains Pendolino from London to Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool, the Lake District and Glasgow    A 125mph Virgin Trains 'Pendolino'

This is a 125 mph Pendolino train linking London Euston with Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Lake District, Carlisle & Glasgow, with air-conditioning, WiFi (free in 1st class, charged in 2nd class), and a shop selling newspapers, drinks & snacks.  First class fares on this route include drinks & food.

How to check train times & fares...   Click for UK train network map

How to buy train tickets online...

How to buy train tickets online, if you live outside the UK...

How to find the cheapest train tickets...

Train fares have a reputation for being complicated, but the Quick guide to the 3 types of train ticket on this page will make it simple.  If you book a cheap 'no refunds, limited changes' ticket in advance you can find some great fares, for example:

 Cheap train fares...

 

  Cheapest available one-way Advance fares:

  Journey:

Fare starts at:

  London - Edinburgh

25.80

  London - Glasgow

15

  London - Newcastle

16.85

  London - Leeds

14.60

  London - York

10.90

  London - Sheffield

9

  London - Manchester

12.50

  London - Liverpool

12.50

  London - Oxenholme (Lake District)

16.50

How to find these cheap train tickets...

1.  Book in advance, the earlier you book the  more likely you are to find a cheap fare.  You can buy these tickets online using the booking form on this page, or by phone or at a station, but buying online is easiest.

2.  You can buy Advance fares a maximum of 12 weeks ahead, though it's sometimes less than this, perhaps 9 weeks in some cases.  If reservations aren't yet open for your date of travel, sign up for an automatic 'ticket alert' from TheTrainline.com and they'll email you the moment bookings open.  Be warned, if you look at a date beyond the period when reservations are open, some websites will then only show the more expensive flexible tickets (which don't require a reservation), you need to wait till reservations open & the cheap tickets will appear.

3.  Like budget airline fares, Advance fares vary in price from train to train & day to day, so hunt around for the cheapest train.  Obviously, Wednesday lunchtime is usually cheaper than Friday or Sunday afternoon... 

4. If you can't find any cheap Advance fares on the date & time you want, use the 'Best Fare Finder' at www.thetrainline.com to track down the dates & times of day with the cheapest fares...

5.  Advance fares are only valid on the train you've booked, no refunds, only limited changes to travel plans allowed...  If you want flexibility, you'll need an Off-Peak fare or Anytime fare instead.

6.  Bookings for Advance fares theoretically close at 18:59 the day before travel.  But in practice they remove any remaining Advance fares at 23:59 on many routes, so it's worth trying even if you've just missed the deadline!

Other ways to make your journey cheaper:  Railcards, Megatrain & split-ticketing...


Get 1.5% cashback on train tickets...


Railcards:  How to save money if you're under 26, over 60, travel as a family, or have a disability...


General train travel information:  www.nationalrail.co.uk

As well as online train times and fares, www.nationalrail.co.uk has:


Are the trains running on time?  Are there any delays or engineering works?


  Buy in UK...

  Buy in USA...

Maps of the UK rail network...

Train company websites...


First or Standard class?

Most leisure travellers go standard class, with first class used by businessmen.  But if you pre-book you can find some great first class deals.  First class fares on intercity trains run by Virgin Trains, East Coast and East Midlands Trains now include meals and drinks, at least on Mondays-Fridays.

First class seats on a Virgin Trains 'pendolino'   Standard class seats on a Virgin Trains 'pendolino'

This is 1st class (above left) and standard class (above right) on a Virgin Trains Pendolino from London to Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, the Lake District, Carlisle and Glasgow.  As you can see, in standard class there 2+2 seats across the width of the car, in first class it's 2+1, so there's more elbow room, more legroom, and there's tables for two (below left).  Below right, a full English breakfast with cereal, toast, tea or coffee and juice is served on Virgin Trains inter-city services leaving before 10:00 on weekdays. East Coast & East Midlands Trains offer a similar service.  Another good reason for taking a morning train not plane from Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester, Newcastle to London!

First class table for two on a Virgin Trains 'pendolino'   First class full english breakfast on a Virgin Trains 'pendolino'

London Underground & Bus information...


Need a taxi at the other end?


Need a bus at the other end?


Need a ferry at the other end?

For ferries to France, Spain, Belgium, Denmark, Norway & Sweden, see the relevant country page.


Taking your bike?

Most trains carry bicycles, sometimes for free, sometimes for a small fee with advance reservation required.  


BritRail passes (unlimited train travel for overseas visitors)...

BritRail train passes for overseas visitorsIf you  live overseas and plan to visit the UK, you can buy a 'BritRail' pass which gives unlimited train travel on all 20+ British train operators for various periods.

Is it worth buying a BritRail pass?  A pass is only worth it if you're going to make a number of long-distance train trips around Britain, so don't bother with a BritRail pass if all you're going to do is make one long-distance trip, or a number of relatively short trips.  For longer distances, a BritRail pass typically works out about the same as a normal 'Off-Peak' flexible ticket bought on the day of travel, it's more expensive than the cheaper 'Advance' tickets, but is far cheaper than the 'Anytime' tickets needed to travel in the Monday-Friday business peaks, see the 30-second guide to UK rail fares.  So if you want to make early starts on Monday-Fridays and have complete all-day flexibility, a BritRail pass is a great idea, but if you're prepared to avoid the Monday-Friday morning & afternoon business peaks, and especially if you book cheap tickets in advance at www.virgintrains.co.uk (no fee!) or www.thetrainline.com (small fee) on a no-refunds, no-changes-to-travel-plans basis, ordinary point-to-point tickets will be the same or cheaper than a pass.  Before investing in a BritRail pass, check that normal tickets wouldn't be cheaper for what you plan to do, using www.virgintrains.co.uk or www.nationalrail.co.uk.

If you need hotel accommodation, click here.  For budget backpacker hostels across the UK, see www.hostelbookers.com.  BritRail passes are not available to UK residents.


Rail Rovers (unlimited train travel for UK citizens)...

If you're a UK resident, Rail Rovers give unlimited travel over all or selected parts of the British rail network, see www.nationalrail.co.uk/times_fares/rangers_and_rovers.aspx.  There are rail rovers covering the whole network or just certain areas.  The All-Line Rail Rover gives unlimited travel over the whole British national rail network, cost as follows:

How to buy a rail rover:  You can check current prices & buy online at http://tickets.firstgreatwestern.co.uk/gw/en/journeyplanning/roversandrangers.Alternatively, you can buy Rail Rovers from any railway station or train operator telesales line.  You can only buy one from stations within 3 days of the date you want them to start.  If you have any trouble buying a rail rover, ask them to look in section G of their fares manual.   

Travel restrictions:  The All-Line rover used to be valid on all national rail trains without restrictions but some time restrictions were introduced in 2011 to stop business travellers using it on certain key business routes.  No restrictions apply on Saturdays, Sundays and Bank Holidays, but on Mondays to Fridays the All-Line Rail Rover is not valid for boarding or alighting train services operated by Virgin Trains, East Coast, East Midlands Trains or Arriva CrossCountry at the following stations before 10:00:

  • London Euston

  • London Kings Cross

  • London St Pancras International

  • Birmingham New Street

  • Bedford

  • Luton

  • Luton Airport Parkway

  • Milton Keynes Central

  • Stevenage

  • Watford Junction

There are no restrictions on these companies' trains at other stations or on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays, or on other companies' trains at any station on any day.  So it's no problem using a First Great Western train getting in to London before 10:00, or a ScotRail sleeper arriving at London Euston before 10:00.

How to get around these new restrictions from Edinburgh, Newcastle, York, Leeds etc:  You cannot use your Rail Rover on a weekday from (say) Edinburgh or Newcastle to London if it arrives in London before 10:00, but you can use it on the same train as far as Peterborough where no alighting restrictions apply, then use a suburban train run by First Capital Connect for the rest of the journey to London, even if this arrives in London before 10:00.

All-Line Rail Rovers are also valid on the Ffestiniog Railway, and on Caledonian sleepers (seated cars free, sleepers if you pay the berth supplement).  They are not valid on Eurostar, Heathrow Express, Heathrow Connect, London Underground or Docklands, heritage railways (except Ffestiniog Railways) or shipping services.  For information on rail rovers covering other areas call National Rail Enquiries on 08457 48 49 50.


London tours & sightseeing...


 

To Europe by train...

See the Europe page for information on how to travel from the UK to destinations all over Europe by train.

Taking a UK train to connect with Eurostar?

See the Buying train tickets to Europe page for advice on Eurostar through tickets from many UK towns and cities, or the special connecting train tickets from most British stations to 'London International'.

The Man in Seat Sixty-One book...

An essential handbook for train or ferry travel from the UK into Europe, based on this website and written by yours truly.  Published in paperback by Transworld, click to buy at Amazon.co.uk.


London to Scotland by sleeper...

For times, fares & information, see the Caledonian Sleeper page

It's the most civilised, romantic and time-effective way from central London to the heart of Scotland. Every night except Saturday night, two Caledonian Sleeper trains leave London's Euston station, one around 21:15 for Dundee, Stirling, Perth, Gleneagles, Aviemore, Aberdeen, Inverness and Fort William, the other around 23:50 for Edinburgh and Glasgow.  These sleeper trains are miniature hotels on rails, with 1- & 2-berth sleeping compartments with proper beds and washbasin, fully-air-conditioned, plus a lounge car with steward service of wine, beer, spirits, soft drinks and snacks.  There are also economy reclining seats.  The Caledonian Sleepers are run by ScotRail, the Scottish train company, and are crewed by Scottish staff - a little bit of Scotland that visits London six nights a week.  Book sleepers online at www.thetrainline.com (small booking fee applies) or at www.scotrail.co.uk, or call ScotRail on 08457 55 00 33.

The Caledonian Sleeper train from London to Scotland...   Caledonian Sleeper train from London to Scotland: 1st class 1-berth sleeper   Caledonian sleeper train from London to Scotland:  Standard class 2-berth

The Caledonian Sleeper waits to leave London Euston on its 500 mile journey to the Highlands of Scotland.

 

1-berth sleeper

(= First class).

 

2-berth sleeper

(= Standard class).

The most wonderful train in Britain?

The London - Fort William 'Caledonian Sleeper' on Rannoch Moor...Easily the most amazing train ride in Britain is the overnight Caledonian Sleeper from London to Fort William, sometimes known as 'The Deerstalker'...

Why?  Imagine the convenience of a train that leaves rainy central London after work at 21:00 and arrives at Fort William in the glorious Scottish West Highlands at the foot of Ben Nevis (the highest mountain in Britain) at 09:43 next morning.  Imagine a trip where you go to bed as the train speeds through familiar London suburbs at 80mph, then wake up in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by mountains, streams and woods, sunlight streaming through the window, deer bounding away from the train, a diesel locomotive struggling to haul the two sleeping-cars and lounge car up the gradients and around the sharp curves of the scenic West Highland Line at 40 mph.  Imagine a train that has almost 'cruise train' facilities - private sleeping compartments and a plush lounge - yet on which you can travel for little over 60.

Fares start at 68 each way including a light breakfast sharing a 2-berth room or 169 with a room to yourself.  Passengers travelling alone can book a berth in a 2-berth room and share with another passenger of the same sex, if they don't want to pay the 1st class single berth fare.  You can also get special online 'Bargain Berth' fares for just 19/29/39/49 one-way, although these cheap deals are few and far between on this particular train.

Anyone who lives in the South of England but who loves the Scottish Highlands should know about this train.  If you fancy a weekend away in the heart of the Highlands, this train makes it possible!  Book online on the Caledonian Sleeper page or call ScotRail on 08457 55 00 33.

To complete the experience, take the connecting train from Fort William to the end of the line at Mallaig, a small fishing port and ferry terminal for Skye.  This is one of the most scenic sections of line anywhere in the UK.  Or you could climb Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Britain - the main track up 'the Ben' starts just 15 minutes walk from Fort William station.

See the West Highland Line page for more information...


London to the Channel Islands

For train & ferry travel to Jersey & Guernsey, see the Channel Islands page...

Condor Ferries operate fast catamarans from Weymouth & Poole to Jersey & Guernsey, and a conventional ship from Portsmouth to Jersey & Guernsey.  Special combined train & ferry fares are available from any station in the UK to Guernsey or Jersey.  See the Channel Islands page for more information, or visit www.condorferries.co.uk.


London to the Isle of Man

See the Isle of Man page.

There are special train & ferry fares from any station in Britain to Douglas, see the Isle of Man page for prices & how to buy tickets.


Quick guide to British train fares

Long-distance train fares...

They say train fares are complicated.  But for all practical purposes, there are now just 3 types of fare making it as simple as 1, 2 3.  All the train companies now use the same 3 names for the same 3 types of ticket.  Always confirm the exact restrictions and conditions when you buy your ticket.  If you're buying a ticket to connect with a Eurostar to Paris or Brussels, see this page. Railcard info.

1. Anytime. 

Fully-flexible. 

Any train, any time.

Anytime fares are a simple concept:  Valid any time, any day, any train, any operator

Aimed at business travellers, Anytime fares are fully-flexible but expensive, for example London-Manchester over 160 one-way, 321 return.  Valid by any permitted route unless a specific route is shown on the ticket.  You can break your journey in either direction.  Valid 1 month.  No advance booking is necessary, you can turn up and get on any train on which your ticket is valid without a reservation.  Refundable less an admin fee if unused.  One-way fares normally half the cost of a return.  They were called 'Open' fares before September 2008.

 

2. Off-peak. 

Semi-flexible,

any train with time restrictions.   

Off-Peak fares are valid on any train, any day, any time except during the Monday-Friday business travel peaks

The exact time restriction varies by route, so you'll have to ask.  But they're generally  valid any time at weekends, and (it's fairly safe to assume) after 10:30 on Monday-Fridays.  They are usually not valid on trains leaving London (or Reading, Watford, Luton or Stevenage) between 15:00-19:00 Mondays-Fridays.  However, many Off-Peak tickets have more generous restrictions than this.

Off-peak tickets are more affordable, for example London-Manchester 78 one-way, 79 return.  Off-Peak fares were called 'Saver' fares before September 2008.

You must make the outward journey on the date shown on the ticket, but can return any day within 1 month.  but the exact time restriction varies by route and destination, so you'll have to ask. 

No advance booking is necessary, you can simply turn up and buy an Off-Peak ticket on the day and get on any train on which your ticket is valid without a reservation.  You can take any train operator's train, travel via any permitted route, unless a specific operator or route is shown on the ticket.  You can break your journey on the return leg, but not the outward leg.  Refundable less an admin fee (usually 20) if unused.

One-way off-peak fares for long-distance journeys are usually at only 1 less than the return, so don't buy a one-way unless you're sure you won't need to come back.

A few train companies also have more expensive but less restrictive versions. 

 

3. Advance. 

Cheap, inflexible,

specific train only.

Advance fares are also simple concept to grasp.  They're airline-style cheap tickets, only valid on the train you've booked, no refunds, limited or no change of travel plans allowed.

They must be booked by 18:00 the day before travel (in reality available until 23:59 in many cases).  No break of journey allowed, so you cannot join the train at a station en route, or get off at a station before the one you're booked to.  Limited numbers of seats are available at each price level, so book early to get the cheapest fare.  Use www.nationalrail.co.uk to check availability.   They are now normally priced as one-way fares, so you can combine the cheapest fare for your outward journey with the cheapest fare for your return leg.  Example:  London-Manchester from 12.50 each way.

 

Short distance fares & fares in the London & South East area...

The same three types apply to short distances too, though obviously you won't find Advance tickets for very short journeys.  And for shorter journeys, and journeys within the London & Southeast area, Anytime & Off-Peak tickets tend to be valid for just one day, not a month.

1. Anytime.  For peak travel.

Fully-flexible fares, but for shorter journeys valid only for 1 day, not a month.  Valid at any time, on any train, by any train operator, by any permitted route (unless a specific route is shown on the ticket).  You can break your journey in either direction.  Refundable less an admin fee (usually 20).  Priced for commuters.

 

2. Off-peak.  For off-peak travel.

Off-Peak day returns:  Short-distance Off-Peak fares are valid 1 day only, on any train at weekends, and after the morning rush hour (about 09:30) on Mondays-Fridays*.  After the Monday-Friday morning peak*, they are valid on any train, by any train operator, by any permitted route (unless a specific route is shown on the ticket).  You can break your journey in either direction.  Refundable less an admin fee (usually 20) if unused.  Priced for a day out!

* on routes from Paddington, Liverpool Street, Kings Cross, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow, etc. there is an evening peak hour restriction out of London.

Super Off-Peak day returns:  A few train companies offer a second, cheaper type of off-peak ticket with tighter time restrictions, for example leaving after 1pm.  Restrictions vary by route, so you'll have to ask.

Off-peak period returns:  On medium distances, there may also be a period Off-Peak return valid for 1 month, on any train at weekends, after the morning peak hour on Mondays-Fridays) or in some cases valid any time at weekends, after 09:30 on Mondays-Fridays, outward travel on the date on the ticket, return travel within 5 days.

 

Sponsored links...

Which train operators & routes can I use with my ticket?

People get hung up on there being 20+ different train operators, but it's actually pretty simple.  The government requires train operators to work together as a network, so:

Why are there several 'Anytime' & 'Off-Peak' tickets for my journey, all with different prices?  Unfortunately, online ticket systems don't usually show the ticket routing.  So you might see two 'Anytime' fares from (say) London to Hull, one apparently valid on all the trains, the other only valid on a handful of trains and cheaper than the first one.  The reason is simple, in this case the first one is the 'route any permitted' anytime fare, the other is a cheaper 'route Hull Trains only' anytime fare only valid on Hull Trains' own services.  Similarly, you may find two Anytime or Off-Peak tickets between London & (say) Birmingham, one valid on all trains, the other only on some of the trains.  In this case it's because there are two sets of fares to Birmingham, one set being the 'route any permitted' fares valid on all routes & operators, the second being cheaper 'route High Wycombe' fares valid on all operators but only on the slower route via High Wycombe.  This would be obvious, rather than confusing, if the online systems stated the ticket routing for each fare they showed, but they don't.  The choice between (on the one hand) slower but cheaper and (on the other hand) faster, more frequent but more expensive, is up to you.

Breaking your journey ('stopovers'):  With an Off-Peak ticket you can take an interesting or scenic route and change trains as much as you like without leaving the station, as long as you stay within the time restrictions which apply to your ticket and stick to one of the permitted routes (see below).  However, you can only break your journey (i.e. stop off and leave the station) on the return leg of an Off-Peak return, not on the outward leg of an Off-Peak return, and not at all on an Off-Peak one-way ticket.  With an Anytime one-way or return ticket, there are no time restrictions and you can break your journey anywhere you like along any of the permitted routes.

How are fares set?  Here comes the science bit...  Behind the scenes, fare setting works like this:  Every origin-destination pair (known as a 'flow') is allocated to a particular train operator who has the right and the obligation to set the fares.  This operator is known as the 'Lead Operator' for that flow.  Once the Lead Operator has set the fares, every other operator serving any part of that flow (known as the 'Secondary Operators') are legally obliged to accept those fares for travel on their trains.  As I've said, Advance fares are by definition only valid on one train operator's trains, and both Lead Operators and Secondary Operators are allowed to set Advance fares for their own trains.  In addition Secondary Operators are allowed to set other (more flexible) fare types for their own trains, although only a few choose to do so.  For example, you'll see 'anytime' & 'off-peak' fares from London to Hull routed 'Hull Trains only' set by Secondary Operator Hull Trains, in addition to the main London to Hull 'route any permitted' anytime & off-peak fares set by Lead Operator National Express East Coast.  However, Lead Operators are not permitted to set fares which are only valid on their own trains, other than Advance fares, temporary fares & first class fares.  Revenue from the fares set by Lead Operators is shared between all operators serving that route, based on a computer system called ORCATS which models the proportion of passenger miles travelled on each operator.

What are the permitted routes?

The 'permitted routes' for a given origin & destination are set out in a document called the National Routeing Guide.  Don't worry about getting hold of a copy, even ticket clerks can't understand it half the time, just accept that it exists, and its contents have been incorporated into the various journey planning systems such as those used on nationalrail.co.uk, thetrainline.com & raileasy.com.  To give you a flavour of how flexible the permitted routes are:

London Terminals, London R1256, London zone U1...?


Hotels & accommodation

Find hotels all over Britain...

You can book hotels almost anywhere in Britain through www.hotelscombined.com, just use the search box below.

 

◄◄ Hotel search & price comparison.

www.hotelscombined.com checks all the main hotel booking sites at once to find the widest choice of hotels & the cheapest seller.  It was named as the World's Leading Hotel Comparison Site at the World Travel Awards 2013 and I highly recommend it, both to find hotels in even the smallest places and to check that another retailer isn't selling your hotel for less!

www.booking.com is my favourite booking site.  It's really clear and you can usually book with free cancellation and so confirm your accommodation at no risk months before train booking opens.

Other hotel sites worth trying...

For something special...

www.mrandmrssmith.com (no relation!) is the place to start if you want something special for an anniversary, honeymoon, romantic break or other special occasion.  www.mrandmrssmith.com lists hand-picked boutique hotels in London, Edinburgh, Bath, York, in fact all over the UK.


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