Is the Britrail pass—good for unlimited travel on the national rail network—worth it in the U.K.?
How does BritRail pass work?
A rail pass allows unlimited rides on all trains in the national rail network within the geographic area and time frame you choose.
There is the granddaddy Britrail pass covering England, Scotland and Wales, as well as single-country and regional ones.
There are two main flavors of rail pass:
- Consecutive pass: As much rail travel as you can handle for 3, 4, 8, 15, or 22 days or 1 month of consecutive travel.
- Flexipass: Rail travel for any 3, 4, or 8 days of travel within a 1 month period (or 15 days within a 2 month period); you pick the days as you go, jotting down the date on the pass itself.
There are different prices for adult, youth (16–26), child (5–15) and senior (60+)—kids under 5 travel free with an adult.
You can also get saver passes for three or more people traveling together, and with some passes, a child travels free with each paying adult.
Britrail pass options
|BritRail Pass options||Where can I travel?||Flexible & Consecutive?||London airport trains?|
|BritRail Pass||All of England, Scotland and Wales|
|BritRail England Pass||Only England|
|BritRail Freedom of Scotland Pass||Only Scotland||Only flexipass|
|BritRail Central Scotland Pass||Rough triangle formed by Glasgow, Edinburgh and Stirling||Only flexipass|
|BritRail London Plus Pass||Southeast England||Only flexipass|
|BritRail South West Pass||Southwest England and Wales||(Heathrow only)|
|BritRail Scottish Highlands Pass||Scottish Highlands||Only flexipass|
What is included on the Britail pass?
These, of course, vary from pass to pass (limited, obviously, to each pass's geographic region).,
However, to get an idea, the full-fledged Britail pass covers:
- Unlimited travel on the national rail networks of Great Britain (including Thames link trains)
- Two-for-one entry into a few dozen touristy sights (e.g.: Kew Gardens and Tower Bridge in London, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage and Halls Croft in Stratford, Warwick Castle)
- Caledonian Sleeper and Night Riviera Sleeper overnight trains (though you must book a sleeping berth seperately).
- Valid at all hours (no worrying about Peak and Off-Peak).
The two more expansive Scottish passes also cover:
- Ferry services (some free; some at a discount)
- Coach services (for where the trains don't go)
- Discounts on a loch cruise, steam railway, and various ciuty bus tours
Should you buy a Britrail pass?
If you plan to do a lot of train travel in the U.K., and want the ability to travel before about 9:30am weekdays (peak hours) and buy tickets at the last-minute, a Britrail pass can make a lot of sense.
However, if you are able to plan ahead and buy the cheapest Advance tickets, a Britrail pass won't really offer a savings.Tickets
- Nationalrail.co.uk - Covers all of the lines once operated by the (since-privitized) old British Rail, as well as info on all British rail stations, including maps and services. This includes most major British railways, but notably does not cover many urban area light rail systems (such as London, Glasgow, Manchester, Blackpool, Sheffield, and Midland Metro), nor does it cover the Eurostar, Heathrow Express, nor a handful of heritage or privately owned railways. Still, it's the closest thing to one-stop shopping for finding train connections across the mainland U.K. (though not Northern Ireland).
- BritRail passes - Book railpasses good for travel all over Great Britain—or just in parts of all of England or Scotland.Partner
- Eurostar.com - The super-fast train through the Channel Tunnel connecting London with Paris (2.5 hrs.), Brussels (2 hrs.) and—though those hubs—the rest of Europe. » more
- Europetrainsguide.com - General train info from a private site devoted to European rail travel.
- Seat61.com - General train info from a private site devoted to rail travel, including detailed, step-by-step instructions on how to get from London to just about any other country in Europe via rail.
- Traintaxi.co.uk - Search stations to find out whether they have taxi ranks/stands, and the phone numbers for pre-booking a cab. (Not being updated after April 2016, but still handy.)
- Sleeper.scot - overnight train
- Heritagerailways.com - An association of historic, heritage, and narrow guage railways—many operating steam trains on historic scenic routes. The site is pretty bare-bones, but if you click on a railway and then look for the link in the box below the map (not teh name on the map itself), you can get to the website for that heritage rail line, train museum, or tourist train
- Train map - A rail network map courtesy of Nationalrail.co.uk.
- Neck pillow - For the plane or long train rides. I prefer one that cinches at the front to provide all-around-the neck support (wear it backwards to keep your chin up); some rave about the the funky J-Pillow; other go for the Travel Halo with its built-in eye mask.
- Eye mask - Some love 'em; some don't. I find every bit of help sleeping helps.
- Tablet/E-reader - For long plane and train trips. If a tablet or e-Reader, load up on titles before you leave, or get one with WiFi (so you can download outside the U.S) or a Kindle with 3G (which connects for free in 100 countries).
- Noise-canceling headphones - The one silly travel gadget I actually use (it makes flying less stressful, even if you don't sleep; also: way easier to hear the movie). There are tons of models. I currently rock a JVC HANC250—les than half the price of Bose; nearly as good. Or go super low-tech with earplugs (sadly, I'm one of those people who cannot tolerate wearing them).
- Book - Just bring one or two. Some hotels have book trading shelves. Also, Britain has excellent book stores!