I have a thing for trains. Maybe it’s in my blood, since my grandfather worked on the Union Pacific Railroad. So when I was planning my visit to the UK, the first thing I did was take a look at the BritRail options.
UK’s National Rail is a well-timed network of several different railway companies. They have sensibly created a central National Rail website where it’s easy to download maps and check which trains go where at what times. It’s also easy to price and purchase tickets on the site.
I used Rick Steves’ site to carefully weigh the options while building my itinerary. For a while, I entertained the idea of booking every train trip in advance, to get reserved seats. However, even planners like me can use some flexibility. Sometimes it’s great to be able to change plans on a whim. (Which I did, at least twice.)
After much consideration, I bought a Second Class 8 day/unlimited travel pass, and there must have been a special because they threw in an extra day for free.
The rail pass was very convenient because there was no need to rush for any certain departure. Just show up about 15 minutes before, wait for the train to show up, get on, find a seat, and it’s all good.
The only time this plan didn’t work well was for a Friday afternoon East Coast train from Edinburgh to London. The station was very crowded, and the train was so full I really didn’t know if I would find a seat. And just getting on board and stowing my luggage was an interesting exercise in remaining calm.
Two cars ahead was a very rowdy group who had started their weekend pub crawl long before boarding the train. It was an interesting start to the trip. After a while (to everyone’s relief), they did settle down for the 4+ hour journey.
I would definitely recommend the East Coast train between London and Edinburgh in either direction. The tracks follow the coast for a lengthy part of the trip, and the scenery is really beautiful.