If you haven’t traveled by train in the past, there is a gaping hole in your adventuring experience that you need to fix immediately. Though it is slower than traveling by air, there is a zen peace that comes from the drone of train cars rolling over the tracks, and an opportunity to sit back and watch as the world passes by your window. By surrendering your responsibility to navigate to your destination by GPS instructions and not having to worry about driving, you have the freedom to read a book, have great conversations, and enjoy the trip fully. And one of the most fun places to travel by train is in the UK, where it is easy to circumnavigate the entire country in a matter of days.
In the UK, traveling by train is a fantastic experience. The whole of Britain/Scotland/Wales from top to bottom is approximately the length of California, so getting from one place to another in the span of a day is quite easy. By using a Britrail Pass (available to anyone who lives outside of the UK), you can do this incredibly easily.
How do you do it?
The passes are sold through a handful of different vendors you can choose from here. You can purchase passes for either consecutive days (3, 4, 8, 15, 22 days or one month) or you can have a more flexible pass that gives you days that you can travel for several days over a month or two period. You can also buy first or second class tickets, though not all trains have first class seating available. Those trains with first class seating occasionally will have wifi.
What does it cover?
The pass covers all trains that are run on the national network. While we recommend getting the full Britrail pass, it is possible to get passes for smaller areas of the UK if you only plan to travel around certain areas. It won’t cover metro, underground subway systems and cannot be used if you are interested in a sleeper car (there are only a couple of opportunities for overnight sleeper trains so this won’t really be a problem).
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So I can just walk onto any train?
Basically? yes. It is encouraged to take steps to reserve your seat (and it’s a good idea to do so), but unless the train is at capacity, it is not necessary. As long as you have your paperwork and ID with you, the agent will check it and allow you on.
Are there dining cars on the trains?
Dining cars are not as common as they once were (though they appear to be making a comeback) , and it is a good idea to bring snacks for the trip. You will quickly discover that most train rides are short enough that you won’t need a full meal while on the train, but dining in a dining car can be quite fun
For many, traveling by train is one of the more satisfying ways to see the world, but train travel in the US is rarely the best option for those on a budget – why travel somewhere by train in the US when it is just as expensive as traveling by air? But if you plan your family trip to the UK well, you can see so much more of the country than you would if you rented a car or traveled by plane, and all with much more ease.