Uncover Britain's hidden gems by train
Escape the crowds, make new memories and discover new places this autumn with a family day out by rail. We've included some suggestions below of places you may not have been and lesser-known railway routes that are just as delightful as some of the more popular routes.
Let us know if you've travelled along any of these routes and what was your favourite – you can connect with us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and TikTok. And don't forget to sign up to our newsletter for more days out ideas direct to your inbox every month.
Head up to the far north of Scotland as you journey along the stunning and aptly name Far North Line. The route travels north from Inverness, following the North Sea coast, passing famous golf courses to Thurso and to the fishing port of Wick. From here families can catch the ferry to explore the beautiful Orkney Islands.
Yorkshire & North East
Esk Valley Railway
Leave the urban surrounds of Middlesborough and watch the scenery transform into the rolling green landscapes of the North York Moors National Park as you make your way to the picturesque seaside town of Whitby. Here you can explore the cobbled streets while the older kids learn more about the area's spooky Dracula legend before you climb the 199 steps to the imposing ruins of Whitby Abbey rewarding you with panoramic views over the North Sea.
Uncover the world-class architecture hidden away in the hills of the Peak District as you take the train from Manchester Piccadilly to Buxton. Families can find plenty to do – follow the sculpture trail through Grin Low Woods, explore the charming town with a self-guided family treasure hunt trail, get crafty with workshops at the Buxton Museum & Art Gallery or burn off some energy around the Pavilion Gardens. Don't forget to fill up your reusable bottle with the famous Buxton water, fresh straight from St Ann's Well. Visit Buxton have more great ideas for things to see and do in the area, visit their website here.
This picturesque route leaves Preston and travels through lush countryside before reaching the Lancashire seaside resorts of Lytham, St-Annes-On-Sea and Blackpool South. The kids will love exploring along the quieter stretch of coastline south of Blackpool and don't forget to pop into St Annes Victorian Pier with plenty of amusements to keep the family entertained as well as amazing views from the end of the pier. For those adrenaline junkies in the family, you can get straight into the heart of the action as you leave the train at Blackpool Pleasure Beach Station, only a 5 minute walk and you're inside the Pleasure Beach.
Did you know you Lincolnshire is home to the world's only intact 8-sailed windmill? And not only can you catch a glimpse of Heckington Windmill from the train, it's located right next to the station so makes it perfect for a green family day out! Take the train from Skegness or Bolton and travel along the attractive Poacher Line before leaving the train at Heckington. Families can enjoy exploring the windmill and visitor centre before grabbing a bite to eat at the onsite café and browsing for that perfect souvenir in the gift shop. Once a month children aged 7-11 can join the Mini Millers group with themed seasonal activities including baking bread, pumpkin biscuits and Christmas gingerbread.
Experience a day out with a difference as you take the Robin Hood Line to Creswell Station. From here enjoy the 'Rail Discovery Trail' that leads you on a fascinating journey back in time as you walk from the station to Creswell Crags, the unique archaeological park. This self-guided trail introduces the history and artefacts of the Crags to children through the collection of rubbings created from actual objects found along the way. Upon production of a completed booklet and valid train ticket, at Creswell Crags you will be given a certificate and a voucher entitling you to free entry to the museum and 15% discount to spend in the café.
Journey along impressive viaducts and see panoramic views of cities, towns and villages along the Chester to Shrewsbury Line as your train meanders the Welsh and English border. Along the way, look out for the World Heritage site at Pontcysyllte, this stunning aqueduct known as the stream in the sky can be seen from the train window.
Heart of Wales
Marvel at the lush Welsh landscapes as you travel part of the 121 miles of railway cutting through the Heart of Wales from Swansea to Shrewsbury. Don't just explore the route from the train, stretch your legs and give the Heart of Wales Line Trail a go too. This long-distance walking route weaves between stations along the line taking in Shropshire, Powys, Carmarthenshire, Brecon Beacons National Park and Swansea and even if you pick a shorter route, it's ideal for letting the kids let off some energy.
Want more inspiration on greener journeys across Wales & Borders? Take a look at the brilliant Wales on Rails website here.
Go off the beaten track and explore the charming chocolate box villages along the Rhee Valley Line between London and Cambridge. Nature lovers will enjoy getting some fresh air and exploring the Rhee Valley Nature Trail incorporating Foxton, Shepreth and Meldreth villages. Families interested in more exotic animals will love visiting Shepreth Wildlife Park where a Red Panda and Sumatran Tiger call home. Best of all the park is located next door to the railway station!
Travel from England's smallest town at Manningtree to the historic maritime town of Harwich along the Mayflower Line. Uncover the rich heritage of Harwich as you explore the origins of the Mayflower ship and it's crew, over 400 years ago. Step forward a few hundred years and learn more about sea rescue at the Lifeboat Museum.
Sitting on the same railway line as Gatwick Airport, the beautiful town of Arundel often gets overlooked by holidaymakers destined for the airport. However, this charming town has lots to offer families, especially if you're interested in history. Head to the magnificent Arundel Castle or the fascinating Arundel Museum. The castle sits high above the Sussex countryside, can be seen from the train and boasts over 1,000 years of history and the nearby museum invites you to step back in time and experience life through the ages. Explore the Arun Valley Line.
Uncover one of Kent's lesser-known beaches as you travel along the scenic Swale Line to reach Sheerness Beach. Just under a 15 minute walk from Sheerness-on-Sea railway station, this beautiful shingle beach is great for spotting sea creatures in the exposed pools during low tide and boasts views out towards the Essex coastline. The beach is a winner of the prestigious Blue Flag and Seaside Awards for 2021 so feel free to bring your swimsuit, just double check tide times before visiting.
Explore the beautiful landscapes of Wiltshire by train as you journey along the TransWilts Line. At the start of the line you can explore the rich history of the Great Western Railway and hear about the extraordinary things achieved by ordinary men and women at the Steam Museum. Once you join the train, get the kids to look out for the iconic White Horse on the hillside, you can just catch a glimpse of it from the window.
Head off the beaten track as you discover one of Devon's lesser-known scenic railway routes along the Tarka Line. This picturesque line links the ancient town of Barnstaple where families can enjoy the Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon, the ruins of an ancient castle and even a prehistoric elephant with the great cathedral city of Exeter. Exeter boasts unique experiences such as the Underground Passages and free Red Coat Guided Tours and families will love exploring the magnificent Cathedral, imposing Roman wall and beautiful Quayside. Exeter is also home to the award-winning Royal Albert Memorial Museum where visitors can explore the city's 2,000-year history under one roof.
Scenic Rail Britain is the tourism initiative from Community Rail Network, the umbrella organisation for the community rail movement. Community rail is a grassroots movement spanning Britain that is made up of community rail partnerships, which work along railway lines or across regions, and volunteer station 'friends' groups, to connect communities with their railways. There are over 75 community rail partnerships and 1,200 station friends volunteer groups across Britain. Find out more: www.communityrail.org.uk
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