Along with the BBC and the NHS, the UK’s railways are among the country’s most prized institutions – even though people do complain about them regularly. For both residents and visitors, train travel around the UK is surprisingly easy, with an extensive network that reaches from the south-western corner of Cornwall all the way up to the lofty Highlands of Scotland.
Buying train tickets, however, can be confusing and often leaves a big hole in your bank account. But buying tickets online in advance can save you a packet. So where’s the best place to buy UK train tickets online?
Buying UK train tickets
One of the biggest train ticket websites in the UK is The Trainline. One of the pioneers of online railway ticketing, The Trainline offers internet users a fast and convenient way to book train tickets at lower prices than you might get at the station. The site claims to help travellers save up to 43% on tickets, though that won’t always be the extent of the saving delivered. If the journey you intend to make is over 12 weeks in the future, discounted tickets – called “advance tickets” – may not yet be available but you can sign up to The Trainline’s Ticket Alert system to receive an email when they are.
There’s one big drawback, however: all Trainline users are charged a booking fee of £1.50 (£1 if you use their mobile app). Conversely, if you book tickets with East Coast, no booking fee is charged at all so many travellers prefer to buy tickets on this site. East Coast is the name of the train service that runs between London in the south and Aberdeen/Inverness in the north, stopping at major termini like York, Newcastle and Edinburgh on the way. Nevertheless, you can buy tickets for all UK train journeys on their easy-to-use website. Customers can also collect Rewards points, which can then be redeemed as e-vouchers to spend on future train tickets.
Looking for more options? One up-and-coming train ticket website to note is Red Spotted Hanky, who also run a loyalty scheme. And if you’re really having trouble finding cheap train tickets, Rail Easy could be a last-minute saviour.
Tips on global train travel
Since the opening of the Channel Tunnel in 1994, rail travel holidays have become much more attractive to travellers in Britain. Train journeys from London to Paris and Brussels can be booked on Eurostar.com and journey times are short at two hours or less.
But if you’re travelling beyond Northern Europe, The Man in Seat Sixty-One offers the ultimate online guide to global train travel. This passionate railwayman set up his website as a hobby in 2001, but today it’s grown into one of the world’s most cherished train travel resources. Find out more about the best ways to travel the world on train, from classic journeys like the Trans-Siberian Railway and the route of the Orient Express to the hidden mountain passes of Austria. The site even has a handy portal with links to international train ticket and rail pass websites, so you can buy tickets for railway journeys abroad in advance.