Best UK City Breaks by Train

written by Zara Sekhavati
updated 8/5/2021
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Slow travel is becoming one of the most valuable ways to travel. One of the best ways to do this is by enjoying UK city breaks by train. Hopping aboard a carriage, seeing the countryside fly past you and soaking up your surroundings without rushing. It’s a great way to meet other travellers, too. With the size of the UK, train travel is generally on the whole very accessible. One day could see you in historic Oxford, the next you could be by the water in Swansea. Find the perfect place to stay for your UK city break.

1 - Oxford: Just over one hour from London

Wonders in the Oxford University Museum of Natural History © Great Pics - Ben Heine/Shutterstock

Oxford isn’t just its university. Think dreamy skylines of elegant buildings, and pretty cobbled pathways. Oxford is certainly one of the most historic places in the country. Bodleian Library, for example, is one of Europe’s oldest libraries and can be found on the university campus, while the Ashmolean Museum is home to some outstanding collections of artwork.

For more museums you can’t miss the Oxford University Museum of Natural History filled with millions of modern and historical specimens which cover the natural world. After all that, make sure to enjoy a spot of punting in the city. Sit back and relax while you enjoy gliding through the water on a gondola-style boat and look out to leafy surroundings. Oxford really is one of the best city breaks by train in the south of the country. See the best places to stay in Oxford.

2 - Leeds: Just under one hour from Manchester

Leeds busy city centre © Pawel Sokolowski/Shutterstock

Mighty Leeds is one northern city to watch and is one of the most enjoyable city breaks by train. The destination is packed to the brim with plenty of attractions. Head to the Royal Armouries Museum which is home to a wide collection of arms and armour, or head to Armley Mills, which was the world’s biggest woollen mill once upon a time. It’s a fantastic place to learn more about the area’s industrial heritage.

For arty folk, head to Leeds Art Gallery which showcases pieces by the landscape painter John Sell Cotman. The space also includes the Henry Moore Institute. Or head to Clarence Dock for a stroll by the water and spy some colourful boats. Many visitors come to Leeds for one thing though – and that’s shopping. The Corn Exchange has a fantastic selection of independent shops. Think endless vinyls, unique pieces of jewellery and vintage clothing. Head inside for a real treat of a shopping experience. Find out more about booking a city break in Leeds.

3 - Edinburgh: One hour and 20 minutes from Newcastle

The historic Royal Mile in Edinburgh © f11photo/Shutterstock

Zipping up north into the Scottish capital Edinburgh is one of the most rewarding city breaks in the UK. Green-fingered travellers will enjoy visiting the Royal Botanic Gardens, which features ten glasshouses and makes for a wonderful stroll. Keen hikers will delight in Arthur’s Seat, a peak which offers panoramic views of the city.

History buffs will like all the top Edinburgh highlights such as Edinburgh Castle and the National Museum of Scotland. End your evening at the Royal Mile, which is packed with plenty of places to eat and drink. If you’re a whisky drinker, why not book onto a Scottish Whisky Experience tour and enjoy a whisky tutoring session? Find out where to stay in Edinburgh and start planning your break.

4 - Canterbury: Just under one hour from London

Canterbury Cathedral overlooking a historic street © Gordon Bell/Shutterstock

Canterbury was once a pilgrimage site in the Middle Ages. To this day, it’s still coated in history. Think timber-framed houses and pleasant cobbled streets. The main highlight of the city is Canterbury Cathedral which was founded in 597 AD. It stands as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Look at its intricate stone carvings and watch light bounce through the pretty stained-glass windows.

Head to St Augustine’s Abbey, which was a Benedictine monastery and founded in 598 for more history. There is a museum here, too. After your history fix, head to the Westgate. It’s a medieval gatehouse, which stands at 60 feet high. It’s the biggest surviving city gate in the country. What’s more, you can take a boat tour and see the sights as you float through water. Find out everything you need to know about planning a trip to Canterbury.

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5 - Exeter: Two hours and 15 minutes from London

Aerial view of Exeter © Alexey Fedorenko/Shutterstock

Exeter is one of the most popular places in the West Country. Exeter Cathedral is an excellent example of Gothic architecture while the Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery is an essential stop on any Exeter itinerary. Inside you will find collections covering fine art, zoology, geology and archaeology.

For an alternative attraction, head to the Underground Passages and explore the medieval subterranean passageways under the city. After head to the Quayside and look inside some lovely shops, enjoy a coffee and trundle past down the riverside. For more nature goodness, head to Devon Wildlife Trust, where you can find a nature reserve and wetland. Discover where to stay in Exeter.

6 - Swansea: Two hours and 40 minutes from London

Picturesque Three Cliffs Bay in Swansea © Charlesy/Shutterstock

Head to the south coast of Wales for some outdoor goodness. The National Waterfront Museum is a must-see. It’s a renovated warehouse with coal-industry artefacts inside and it showcases the history of the Welsh industrial revolution. For more museums head to the Swansea Museum which showcases a collection of maritime artwork. Literary fans will enjoy visiting the Dylan Thomas Centre, which celebrates the iconic writer.

Other top things to visit in Swansea include Swansea Market, perfect for mooching and finding local produce, a visit to Oystermouth Castle, and, of course, a wonderful walk on Swansea Bay which is home to a glorious beachfront. The Three Cliffs Bay makes a picturesque stroll, too. If you’re looking to travel further around Wales by train read our guide to ten of the greatest journeys by train across the UK. Plan your Swansea getaway.

Inspired to see more of the UK? See the UK's best city breaks for 2021.

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written by Zara Sekhavati
updated 8/5/2021
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