Great Britain by train: An ideal international family vacation

Great Britain has long been a popular destination for Americans, but now families are discovering it and the joys of train travel too. Photo: London's Tower Bridge at dusk Photo: BTA

LONDONAugust 17, 2013 – International family travel is growing as grandparents are joining grandchildren in journeys that are both memorable and educational.

When it comes to international family travel, there may be no better starting point than Great Britain and there is no more convenient way to go than by train.  

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British Rail train in the country

A journey through the UK by rail is time travel by train. It is a beguiling destination for Americans that beckons us to savor its spirit.

Much of the appeal of the British Isles has to do with heritage and tradition, for this is a land of “once upon a time.” It is a place where the procession of history thrives within its own timelessness.

Consider literary characters and personalities, imagined and real, that pass through our minds as voices personified in a panoramic parade of poetry and prose: Macbeth and Lear and Hamlet; Tom Jones and Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle; Oliver Twist and Ebenezer Scrooge and Phileas Phogg.

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The great Sherlock Holmes

There is an aura of mystery and suspense as well. Stonehenge, the Tower of London and the Loch Ness Monster; Sherlock Holmes, Jack the Ripper and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde appear out of the mists.

Kings and queens have their own special allure in this land with its stories of King Arthurs’s knights, Henry VIII, Victoria and Elizabeth and today’s royal family.

Truly this is a land for all seasons, enveloped by the richness of its history — and trains are the ideal links to those legacies. British rails connect us to a cavalcade of culture familiar to us all.

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Notorious King Henry VIII

In many ways, the roots of our American spirit can be traced to the glories of the British past, and trains are pathways that lead us through the tunnels of time to new moments of discovery.

They take us to the birthplace of golf past neat fields, through a sea of vivid green tumbling landscapes that one writer said creates a sense of being at the “midpoint of creation.”

Trains pass by, and travel to, walled towns and haunting ruins. There is a medieval quality to it all; an ancientness enhanced by a kaleidoscope of colors amid heather carpeted hills and echoes of untamed vistas.

Typical British countryside castle

They reveal castles, estates and stately mansions, which are monuments to the works of man and are as engrossing in their own way as works of nature.

British trains come to rest where the Romans once bathed in natural spring waters. Where cobblestone streets are squeezed into narrow alleyways beneath half-timbered houses. Where distant pastures can be seen through empty archways or as British journalist and writer H.V. Morton noted, “Where every meadow has a valet.”

For families, this is the way they wish it to be, and this is the way it is when they travel by train.

Devonshire cream and scones

Taste the traditions with a full English breakfast. Have tea with Devonshire cream and scones. Try fresh fish chips or perhaps enjoy a pint of ale with locals in a country pub.

Meander through the countryside where sheepdogs bark in the distance and hedgerows and rock walls give order to things.

In Scotland and Wales a panorama unfolds as the landscape rises and falls past muscled peaks, fertile fields and dense forests before giving way to deep Scottish lochs or the embraces of the Irish Sea .

Diversity creates the character of Great Britain, and it is this variety that refutes the concept that “there are no more unknown places.” You see, every place is unknown until you experience it yourself.

Medieval half-timbered York

Britain’s compact size offers concentrated travel experiences unlike any other, and the rail system makes it convenient to use one city as a base for individual day trips that seem like mini-holidays within themselves.

From London, for example, head north to the walled city of York. Journey to the Roman ruins at Bath. Spend a quiet afternoon in the gentle surroundings of the Cotswolds. Explore Shakespeare’s Stratford and visit Trinity Church where he is buried. Or stroll among the historic “rows” of Chester.

All are within easy reach, yet still close enough to have you back in London in time for the theater.

Prices for point to point tickets and passes vary according to distance, time of day, level of service and, even, a traveler’s age. Rail Europe ( is the complete one-stop shop for answering all of your individual questions and providing the best options for your particular itinerary.

For visitor information about the United Kingdom go to

Majestic rugged Scottish loch

British trains do, indeed, tell tales of “once upon a time.” As someone once wrote, “the past is no ghost at this banquet, rather it sits at the head of the table.”

For American family travelers, our links to Great Britain are powerful reminders of our own heritage which is no more characterized than by sharing a common language.

Listen to the rails of Great Britain, for here legends do linger and the rails are the “ties that bind.”

About the Author: Peabod is Bob Taylor a veteran travel writer for more than three decades. He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club ( and his goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.

Read more of Travels with Peabod and Bob Taylor at The Washington Times Communities

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Bob Taylor

Bob Taylor has been travel writer for more than three decades. Following a career as an award winning sports producer/anchor, Taylor’s media production business produced marketing presentations for Switzerland Tourism, Rail Europe, the Finnish Tourist Board, Japan Railways Group, the Swedish Travel & Tourism Council and the Swiss Travel System among others. He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club ( and his goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.


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