Whether you want to avoid sitting in traffic, be without the stress of finding a parking space, or if you just don’t drive, travelling by train is a fantastic option if you want to explore the country.
While rail travel has the unfortunate (although partly justified) reputation of being pricy, using railcards, travelling at off-peak times, and finding other offers can make it considerably more affordable than paying for fuel and parking.
So, if you’re looking for somewhere to have a fun weekend away or a relaxing week off, check out this list of the best UK city breaks by train.
Located at almost the halfway point between London and Edinburgh, York is easily accessible by train whichever end of the country you’re coming from.
There’s a reason why York is one of the most popular destinations for a weekend break in the UK: it’s small enough to be easily walkable while being big enough to have fun exploring, and the city centre is largely pedestrianised, making it a great place to discover what the city has to hold.
Travellers arriving in York by train are immediately welcomed by the sight of the old city walls, with the towers of York Minster rising up as you head down the road. There’s also the National Railway Museum just around the corner. With free entry, it’s absolutely worth a look in.
Busses and taxis are available if you need get from one side of the city to the other, but otherwise nearly everywhere is walkable. If you’re looking to stretch your legs, read our guide on the best walks in York.
Scotland might seem like a long way to travel if you’re coming from the south, but its capital is a must-see destination for anyone looking for a city break in the UK.
Even if the journey may seem long, Edinburgh is easily accessible from many other parts of the country. From London King Cross, it may take 4 or 5 hours but that’s without needing to change trains. Plus it’s much quicker than driving.
Edinburgh is a popular destination for many tourists and it’s very busy in the summer, especially if you’re going up during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe which is usually in August. If you want a quieter experience of the city, try visiting in autumn or spring.
You don’t have to be a fan of the Beatles to find something fun to do in Liverpool (although it does help!) – this city in the northwest of England has a vibrant culture that makes it like no other.
There’s a reason why Liverpool was named a European Capital of Culture in 2008. Its museums, from the Maritime Museum to the impressive new Museum of Liverpool, tell a rich story of local and national history. It also has a thriving music scene, not to mention being home to one of the biggest football clubs in the UK.
So, you can be sure there’s lots of things to do in Liverpool for couples, families, and solo travellers.
Liverpool Lime Street is the main station that most people would be arriving at. But, with 3 other stations, Liverpool is easily one of the best destinations for a UK city break if you’re travelling by train.
As one of the largest cities in the north of England, Manchester has a lot to offer for anyone visiting this bustling metropolitan hub.
There are four main train stations in Manchester, providing easy access by rail to different parts of the country. The principal station, Manchester Piccadilly, offers various straight routes around the country, including locations in the south such as London and even as far as Bournemouth.
You’ll find many fun activities in Manchester, no matter what you’re interested in:
- For shopaholics, the city centre is full of shops and you can spend a long time inside the large Arndale shopping centre.
- Avid historians will enjoy the many museums, with some such as the Peoples History Museum being free to enter.
- Manchester also has a thriving music scene, and you can see all the biggest acts perform at the AO Arena.
If you’re travelling to the city as part of a romantic getaway, make sure to read our blog about the most fun things to do in Manchester for couples to get even more ideas.
Situated in the heart of the Midlands, there are train lines to Birmingham from every direction of the compass – north, south, east, and west – making it one of the best UK city break destinations.
As the UK’s second-largest city, there are countless activities to fill a weekend break or a longer holiday. From Cadbury World and canal boat trips to shopping at the Bullring and numerous museums, there are options to keep anyone entertained.
6. St Albans
This small city in Hertfordshire may go under the radar when it comes to places to have a weekend away, but with only a 20-minute train journey away from London St Pancras it’s a fantastic choice.
From a wealth of Roman history to an abundance of food and drink options, there are plenty of things to do in St Albans for everyone.
If you need some inspiration, check out our guide on the best restaurants in St Albans. Or, whether you prefer a pint or a g&t, the city is also home to a range of fantastic pubs which are well worth a try.
Bath is a unique town in the west of England that’s easy to get to from London.
With the famous Roman baths, it’s a perfect place for history lovers, but the beautiful Georgian streets and relaxing thermal spas make this one of the best UK city breaks for couples.
From Bath, you can also use it at a base to explore the Cotswolds to the north or head south to discover the many fun things to do in Cheddar.
In the heart of northern England, Leeds is a busy metropolitan centre of activity, offering everything from intriguing museums to fantastic nightlife.
Because of its location, Leeds is one of the best UK city breaks by train. Other cities – such as York, Manchester, and Liverpool – are easy to travel from by rail, and you can get trains straight from London too.
Despite appearing relatively isolated in the east of England, Norwich is well-served by rail links and offers one of the best UK city breaks by train.
A cross-country service provides a straightforward route to Liverpool on the other side of the country, a direct train to London Liverpool Street takes you to the capital in under two hours, and other major train stations in Cambridge and Peterborough aren’t too far for those looking to travel from other parts of the country.
When in Norwich, you’ll find plenty of interesting ways to spend your time, from exploring the iconic castle to eating out in the picturesque Lanes.
With the many fun things to do in Norwich for couples, it’s also one of our top romantic city break destinations in the UK.
From the city, you can also catch a train to other parts of the surrounding countryside or coastline – we recommend exploring some of the many best beaches in Norfolk!
Head into Kent in the southwest of England and you’ll find Canterbury, one of the most underrated city break locations in the UK.
This charming city has everything you could want from a short getaway in the UK: historic old streets, independent shops, and the impressive Canterbury Catherdral.
Taking just under an hour to get to by train from London, it’s a great destination and easy to reach if you’re near the capital.
From Canterbury, it’s also easy to make trips out to explore the rest of the county. Read our blog for more ideas of things to do in Kent for couples.
UK city breaks by train FAQs
What are the most popular UK city breaks by train?
Other than London, some of the most popular UK city breaks by train include York and Manchester, with both cities receiving thousands of visitors each weekend, all through the year.
These are popular destinations for romantic getaways, stag and hen dos, and family breaks away.
What’s the best way to book a UK city break by train?
Using a popular booking app such as Trainline to buy your train tickets ahead of travelling, you’ll be able to get the cheapest deals, especially if you book well in advance.
Accommodation will need to be booked separately. You can either book direct, but big sites like booking.com offer the easiest way to see a range of accommodation that’s available in the city you’re planning on visiting.
What’s the best length of time for a UK city break by train?
A single weekend is often long enough to experience some of the best things that UK cities have to offer (with the exception of the largest, especially London).
Two or three nights away is the perfect amount of time, but you’ll need to factor in travel too. Some popular city breaks might require travelling for three hours or more each way, such as going from London to Manchester.
We’d recommend having three full days, such as Friday to Sunday. This way, you’ll be able to travel up in a morning and back in an afternoon while still having plenty of time to explore the city.