UK Transportation Guide

UK is moderately large in area by European country standards and public transportation can help one reach even some of the most remote areas. Driving is a great option too, as long as you remember to “Keep Left” (right hand drive, different from mainland Europe & US). The downside of UK transportation is that it’s more expensive to travel within UK than it is to do so in mainland Europe or even from UK to Europe. We’ll attempt to fill this guide with as much cost savings information as possible.

When to Buy Tickets: Book transportation tickets as far in advance as possible. For train, try to buy tickets 30 days in advance.

Where to Buy Tickets: Online for Train Tickets, Flights & National Express Buses. Major railways stations for Railcards & onboard for local buses.

Transport Rankings
1. Train (Many towns don’t have airports but have good rail connections)
2. Flight (Fewer choices, higher fares, great & cheap for Scotland-London)
3. Bus (Not many options & slower but cheap & extensive rural connections)

1. Trains

  • The British railway system is decentralized & run by a number of private companies that run trains to different parts of the country (no national rail system like many mainland European countries).
  • The cheapest tickets are “Advance Tickets” which may be available upto a few hours before departure. Again “Book as early as possible” for the cheapest fares. These tickets are non-refundable & non-cancellable but exchangeable for a fee.
  • Cheap-ish flexible tickets are call Off-Peak/Super Off-Peak which include trains running outside the hours of 7-9:30 AM & 3-5:50 PM M-F & all day on the weekend.
  • Railcards:
    • Get a railcard for £30 before booking a single ticket, if eligible. You can buy it online if you live in the UK or at major station ticket offices. You need passport photos to make a railcard.
    • A railcard gives you a 1/3rd discount on “almost” every train ticket for a year.
    • Once you obtain your railcard, make sure it’s with you at all times while travelling in the UK & also use it for bookings.
  • Trainline:      
    • Trainline is a fantastic app/website for finding out the best fares, fixed or flexible. Use it to search for the best fares for your journey.
    • Don’t buy tickets on the app outside of same day travel to save on booking fees. Instead find the relevant train company & book through their website.
    • Same day travel tickets bought on Trainline have no booking fee.
    • A positive of using the Trainline app is that you don’t need to print tickets.
  • Print your tickets at the machines found on main stations. You’ll need your booking card & Ref number. We tend to print all our tickets a few days before departure.
  • Finally, if you are a UK resident, some train companies have a tie-in with Nectar that give you points on train tickets that can be redeemed for a slew of things.
  • 2 UK train journeys are among the best in the world & a must do
    • The West Highland Line: Glasgow to Mallaig. Includes Glenfinnan Viaduct aka Harry Potter’s route to Hogwarts.
    • The Kyle Line: Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh. Captivating scenery throughout, stay on the right side of the train for the last 30 minutes, terminates at the doorstep of the Isle of Skye.
  • British Train Co Map can be found in my detailed UK trains writeup coming up

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    Scenes from the Edinburgh Waverly Train Station

2. Flights

  • As mentioned above, flying is the best way to reach 1 of 5 London airports. See map of London airport locations below.69136-640x360-airportstansted640
  • Outside of London City airport, all the others are quite far from the city centre. They have high speed trains to the city centre. These trains are cheaper if the tickets are bought in advance (1 month).
  • The cheapest option to go from most airports to the city are using National Express (£5+) or Easy Bus (£2+). However these are slower than catching the trains.
  • Excluding London reduces available airlines to Flybe & British Airways.
  • Airline Breakdown:
    • RyanAir (Scotland – London Stansted)
      • £12.99 One Way fares are common between EDI-STN
      • Stansted Express to London Liverpool Street (£10 adv/£19 single), takes 50 minutes
    • EasyJet (Scotland – London Gatwick/Stansted)
      • Slightly expensive fares (£35.99 EDI-LGW) than RyanAir & more flights a day
      • Gatwick Express to London Victoria, 30 minutes non stop but expensive (£17 no railcard)
      • Instead look at Southern Railway to find the usual advance and/or Railcard fares (£12 no railcard fares common)
    • Flybe
      • Extensive UK domestic network
      • Unreliable in my experience
      • Cheaper than Anytime train tickets so it’s worth a look
    • British Airways
      • Smaller UK domestic network than Flybe but larger than RyanAir/EasyJet.
      • Go to airline for flying to Heathrow and connecting internationally.
      • From LHR, the fastest (15 min) train to Central London (Paddington) is the Heathrow Express (£8.8 adv weekend/£14.30 adv weekday/£22).
      • Taking the Piccadilly line tube to Central London is cheaper & way more specific stops but slower (1 hour to Kings Cross).

3. Buses

  • National Express runs most of the long distance routes in the UK. Compared to Greyhound US, buses are more comfortable & plentiful. However, they are quite slower than trains.
  • Booking online tickets on National Express provides some really big savings.
  • Buses are the primary mode of transport to go anywhere rural. Similar to trains, a number of companies run buses locally, the most prominent being StageCoach & First.
  • Outside of National Express, Megabus is the other major company. They also run sleeper buses that are quite comfy between London & Scotland under the name Megabus Gold.
  • Use Google Maps to find which buses you’ll need to take to get to your destination. Or ask me in the comments below & I’ll be happy to look it up.

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