Travelling by train all over the UK was on my husband’s bucket list so off we went in September 2022 after several years of Covid lockdown, his open-heart surgery and resulting lengthy recovery. It was great to get on the road again or should I say “rails”! We flew into London and then we were off to Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool, Bath and then the Eurostar from London to Paris and finally several trips in Italy-all by train. Hopefully, I can help prepare you for your train travels. Remember, enjoy the journey!
UK TRAIN TRAVEL
We love travelling slow and looking out at bucolic grassy slopes of cow and sheep grazing on the green grass without the worry of driving in a foreign country. With good wifi, you can also get some work done (me) and catch on social media (my husband) along with the perks of a convenient café car and bathrooms. We sometimes bring along our own food and beverages and grab a table seat on the trains. In the UK, Pret and M & S Food are our go-to spots for readymade sandwiches, pastries, fruit and salads that make up an excellent train picnic! You’ll find these chain shops either in the train stations or nearby.
After a few days to enjoy London, we boarded our train to Edinburgh, a city I had been longing to see for awhile. I recommend you sit on the righthand side of the train for this trip to enjoy some coastal views along the way. Edinburgh was magical-see my blog on our visit there: Edinburgh – Travels with Melinda
As with any kind of travel, it’s best to be prepared for anything to happen. On our one hour scheduled trip from Edinburgh to Glasgow, we experienced having to exit two trains due to flooding on the tracks ahead on a very rainy (even for the UK) day. Finally, with no alternative, we quickly downloaded a local taxi app, booked a car and had them drive us the final 20 miles to Glasgow for $25GP rather than be stranded at the local train outpost standing outside during a thunderstorm. We were fortunate to be able to afford to do that but many of the fellow passengers were going to be forced to wait for another train or for the train company to get them a bus to transport them to their final destination, turning a one-hour ride into an all-day nightmare. So, while there are great pluses to train travel, stuff can happen. Be prepared. Technology is your friend. Use it.
Glasgow to Liverpool was a four-hour train trip. We saw mile after mile of sheep laying in the fields! Wind turbines are everywhere. With an energy crisis due to the Russian dependency, the UK will have to put up even more turbines to support their needs. At one stop, our driver must have exceeded his work shift, so we had to wait for his replacement to show up-about a 20-minute delay. Unlike airplanes, trains cannot make up time if they get delayed. You will just show up past the arrival time scheduled. Build in some time on your agenda for possible delays if you are making any connections.
Booking tickets can be confusing but take it one step at a time. Research going from Point A to Point B on a travel app like RometoRio, which is my favorite transportation app. There are many different train companies within a country. For our UK train travels, we used Linr (London Northeast Rail), ScotRail and GWR. When you book using their online platforms, the tickets will be accessible in your app and it’s a barcode or QR code. You scan this code on the machine to get into the platform. When you get to the train station (most don’t have a lot of seating so don’t go too early-30 minutes prior to departure is about right), go to the board listing all the train rides and, about 20 minutes prior to departure, your trip details will post with the platform #. As soon as the platform # is assigned, you can go to the entry, scan your ticket and board the train. Most of our rides had assigned seats. In the car, you’ll see red or green lights to indicate whether a seat has been booked in advance. If you want to change your seat, you can go to any seat that is green. Luggage is stored overhead (carry-on) or there are luggage racks in each car. We only travel with carry-on (even for a month-long trip!) so we keep ours in the overhead where we sit. I have heard of luggage being stolen so keep an eye on your possessions! Helpful UK links:
Trainline : Search, Compare & Buy Cheap Train Tickets (thetrainline.com)
LNER | London North Eastern Railway
- Senior Railcard: Railcards online (lner.co.uk)
Train Tickets | Times & Timetables | Fares in Scotland | ScotRail
Buy Cheap Train Tickets | Great Western Railway | First Great Western (gwr.com)
EUROSTAR TRAIN FROM LONDON TO PARIS
I always thought that taking the Eurostar would be totally cool and I was right! It’s fast and much more fun than flying from London to Paris. Hints on taking Eurostar from London to Paris:
You will leave from St. Pancras international terminal in London and travel 150 miles per hour (224km) for 2 hours and 17 minutes arriving at Paris Gare du Nord station. There is free WiFi on the train and outlets by seats (UK or EU adapters) to recharge your devices. There is a club car with food and beverages to purchase. Everyone has assigned seats-book here: Book Europe Train Tickets and Holidays | Eurostar.com
Plan to arrive two hours before your departure. We had standard tickets but, in retrospect, we wish we had paid the extra and booked business class to skip the long lines and wait in the comfort of the business class lounges. Next time! Lots of restaurants and shops to check out at St. Pancras while you wait or buy food there and bring it with you on the train. No restrictions for bringing food and beverages on the train.
- 90 minutes before your departure time, you are able to queue and start to proceed to scan your ticket to enter the platform. Note: you can scan earlier if you want though the signs say otherwise but there is limited room to sit once you go through so best to just be in queue when they tell you.
- After scanning ticket to go through the gate, you then go through security. Everything goes in the trays. No need to take off shoes or separate liquids Just backpack/purse/anything in your pockets in one tray and luggage in another. You will have to take off coat or jacket and put in try as well. Saw someone put their coffee cup in a tray as well.
- After security, then you go through passport control stations. First show passport (no need to show ticket) to UK control and then you have to show passport to EU control. Then, put away your passport. You won’t need to show again when you arrive in Paris.
- Try to find a seat to wait. Good luck-seats are limited! Your platform # will be announced 20 minutes prior to departure and the masses will all move to a moving sidewalk that goes up to the platform. Watch for people holding signs for where you go based on your seat.
For really in depth Eurostar details, check out this site: https://www.seat61.com/trains-and-routes/london-to-paris-by-eurostar.htm#check-in-london
ITALY TRAIN TRAVEL
Within Italy, we took the train from Florence to Venice for a weekend and also day trip to Lucca and finally train to Rome to end our trip. Please don’t think about driving in Italy. The roads are as narrow as the drivers are crazy. Just being a passenger in a car in Italy is stressful!
Arriving in Rome, the Roma Termini is a massive transportation hub. From there, you can use the metro system, buses and trams to get around the city or, even better, walk!
Pay a little more and get the Executive Club seats on the train. On our train from Florence to Rome, they even had private salons that had sliding doors to close for privacy. Great for families that need 4 seats. Make sure you know where the bathrooms are and don’t book a seat by them. Trust me. You do not want the toliet traffic or smell.
Also with Executive Club, you get to wait in the lounge. In Florence, this is really important because there is no place to sit for anyone and only pay public toliets. Now in Venice, the station has adequate seating especially in the upper food court Florence needs to add a second floor! The lounge has a coffee machine and packages snacks and a nice water closet aka WC. Helpful Italy train links:
High speed train (we took from Florence to Rome): Italy high speed train tickets| Italotreno.it – Official website
Can non-Italian residents get the Senior discount?
CartaFRECCIA (senior discount) member-If you do not have a domicile in ITALY you can ask for a CartaFRECCIA by sending an email to the e-mail address email@example.com indicating name, surname, date of birth, place of birth (in case of birth in a foreign country indicate which) , an e-mail address and a telephone number and attaching a legible PDF copy of your valid passport.
Within 30 days you will receive your personal code, a password to access the dedicated online services and the CartaFRECCIA, immediately active, which will have to print and take you on your journeys when using trains operated by Trenitalia. Shipment of the CartaFRECCIA plastic card is not possible under any circumstances.