Train spot your way to a weekend break

Whether it’s a romantic weekend break or a fun family adventure, trainspotting’s a great way to enjoy the beautiful British countryside. See our handy guide to trainspotting the modern way.

It’s trainspotting, but not as you know it

This year, the iconic Flying Scotsman makes its long-awaited return home to York after a 10 year refurbishment, rekindling our love of steam and the bygone age. Britain has always been fascinated with trains – especially the unmistakable sight and sound of a steam train making its way through the beautiful rolling countryside. 

And before you dismiss the thought of trainspotting, it’s an activity that’s enjoying a resurgence as an entertaining and affordable family activity and a great way to appreciate the British countryside while absorbing a slice of history too. It's even hailed as being good for your health.

Whether you’re a family looking for a unique weekend away in the UK or a rail enthusiast who doesn’t know where to start, we’ve put together our top tips on how to create your own trainspotting adventure. 

Get the gear

The beauty of trainspotting is that there isn’t any expensive equipment needed to take part. As long as you have a way of noting down what you spot (a notebook or even your phone) then you’re ready to go! However, it’s worth  bearing in mind the surprising changeability of the great British weather. We  recommend you pick some practical clothing, like comfy shoes, warm layers and yes – an anorak, especially for the kids. 

Find your niche

There are loads of steam and vintage railways dotted across the country, such as The Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railway and the Bluebell Railway, as well as the National Railway Museum in York, which hosts the biggest railway collection in the world. Lots of  opportunities for the whole family to experience some great steam trains! These nostalgic beauties can often be a great place to begin, as you’re likely to find a certain make or style of train catches your interest.  

Decide on a style

Traditionally, trainspotting involved ticking off locomotives numbers (found on the front or side of the driver’s carriage) from a comprehensive data book. Get yourself  the Platform 5 book – they’re easy for everyone to understand and a great way to track your progress. Families, with young children more interested in the thrill of watching different types of trains go, by might want to take a lighter approach –  simply jot down the trains you see in a day.  

Brush up on your etiquette

Trainspotting itself is relatively straightforward, but as you’ll be near railway lines or at stations, there are a few rules and precautions. Keep out of  the way of railway staff and passengers and if you’re at a station, let the railway staff know and get  the relevant tickets (you can usually buy a platform ticket). Then just make sure you all stay safe, keeping a close eye on the kids. Network Rail has put together a handy guide that covers everything you need to know, including all the relevant laws and codes. 

Get involved in the community

There’s always been a strong sense of community in  trainspotting - tipping off your fellow trainspotter on where to  find a train is all part of the camaraderie. In the internet age, this is stronger than ever. Online forums such as RailUK are the modern way to swap fun spotting tips and a great place to track down the best trainspotting locations. Instagram is also a handy place to upload any photos you take during your day. You can use hashtags such as #trainspotter to tag your images and search through shots taken by trainspotters not just in the UK but around the world.