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**This post was updated in October, 2019.
Oh to be in England!
Or Scotland - both wonderful - my "favourite" places in the world. Part of my love for them is based on how easy it is to tool around without renting a car. I hate renting cars - it's expensive, difficult, and somewhat scary, especially in a foreign country...where they drive on the other side of the road.
I also don't like group tours - I like to see what I want to see, when I want to see it and I don't love paying a bunch to have those privileges taken away from me!
Luckily, England and Scotland are both easily accessible for tourists using public transit. So let's discuss how to explore England and Scotland by train, and the best places to visit in the UK without a car!
Train travel in England and Scotland
It is safe, easy, and (relatively) reasonably priced to see much of England and Scotland relying solely on public transit from the major cities, and continuing to rely on it to get around when you arrive in your destination.
Many first-time tourists overspend on private day tours or rent expensive rental cars, mistakenly believing that is the only way to see disparate sites through England and Scotland.
While private day tours may sound appealing, they allow for less freedom than you'd expect and, if you're anything like me, you may end up stuck with a guide providing more commentary than you'd actually enjoy.
The Tube in London is one of the greatest metros in the world. It can get you - quickly and easily - essentially anywhere a tourist wants to be in the capital. London, and large and small cities in England and Scotland, have efficient bus systems as well, to aid you beyond the train travel we're discussing.
Edinburgh is not large enough to require a metro/subway, but it does have a tram-on-tracks that tools around the city. We haven't ever taken advantage of it, as we're huge walkers and Edinburgh is a very walkable city, but it's an option, if you're interested!
Also, if the best part of a day trip is visiting the local pub (which it just clearly is), I'd rather do this without someone I don't know waiting in the car. Renting a car in foreign countries is also, of course, expensive, and driving with different rules of the road is complicated, to say the least.
And, finally, of course with no language barrier in the UK if you're coming from the US, you have the added public-safety-usage key fact of being able to ask for help if you get confused, understand the signs, etc., though I will say that it is all extremely straight forward, once you get started!
So, have a I sufficiently established that you can handle public transit in the U.K.? Then let's talk tips!
General Tips for Train Travel in England and Scotland
UK train travel: Money saving tip
It is often significantly cheaper to buy your train tickets in advance. Rail Europe is my usual choice. If you know when you'll be traveling, definitely look into locking down those tickets well before your trip.
Of course, that said, sometimes the convenience of being able to change your plans or a desire to take a spur-of-the-moment trip, makes the extra expense worth it! Be sure to check into ticket prices for your awareness, so you don't have an unpleasant price tag at the station.
UK train travel: Restrooms on the trains
I don't know about you, but one of my main questions about public transit is restrooms - is that silly?
There are not restrooms on the subway (the Tube), obviously, though sometimes there are in the Tube stations, especially if there are actual trains leaving from there as well (more on that later). While the train station restrooms are generally OK, I wouldn't rely on Tube station restrooms - they're hard to find, not widely used, and often in sort of remote locations. I'd just pop by a coffee shops/pub/etc. if you need the "loo" while traveling by Tube.
More importantly for those day trips, there are restrooms on essentially all light-rail trains that you'd be taking outside of the major cities, and they are the nicest of any I've been on in Europe. I've only been on one that had run out of paper (one - ever!!). The train stations upon arrival in your destination also generally have free restrooms, and more so recently in the large stations, though some of the more remote ones aren't monitored often, in smaller towns, etc.
UK train travel: Eating and drinking on trains
What will likely be surprising for my American friends is that you can drink on trains in the U.K. (after 10 AM - don't be ridiculous).
You can even bring your own booze onto the train.
They actually sell small, safely packaged booze in the train station shops, for this purpose. Additionally, many of the trains will have a bar and food sales area, or a cart that comes through, in case supplies run low (gasp!)
But why risk it - bring supplies on board with you, just to be safe! I'm all for one of those lovely canned gin and tonics and some salt and vinegar "crisps!"
UK train travel: Route planning
Since you're reading this article, I doubt you need to be told this, but the key to relying on public transit is to really dig into planning your *full* route in advance of your trip.
Make sure know you which trains/buses you will need, and write them down/type them into your phone in case you can't connect to WiFi.
Some locales will give you a discount for taking a car-free journey! Check out Good Journey and see if the places you'll be visiting participate!
Starting your trip off right with the Heathrow Express:
While we're discussing trains and public transit, we can't move on without discussing the Heathrow Express! When you start off your trip, don't forget that the Heathrow Express is undoubtedly the easiest way to get from Heathrow to central London. Buy your tickets, online, in advance (here), and hop on the direct train, which takes you straight to Paddington Station. From there, you can either hop on the tube, or just take a cab to your hotel.
You'll save yourself so much hassle and stress - it's worth every penny.
Top 10 Places to Visit
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