Trainspotting locations

Your ticket to the best places to train spot in the UK

Full Steam Ahead! 9 of the best places for a family trainspotting adventure

When you’re next on a train, whether commuting to work or heading away for a family weekend, cast your mind back to the early 19th century. On the 21st February 1804, the world’s first railway journey took place as Robert Trevithick’s ‘Puffing Devil’ steam locomotive hauled a train along the tramway from the Pen-y-darren ironworks near Merthyr Tydfil in South Wales. Since that momentous day, Britain has developed a great love for trains – with young and old alike marvelling at the feats of engineering, the iconic looks and the unmistakable sight and sound of a steam train making its way along the tracks.

In fact, we’ve become so fascinated with trains as a nation that an entire movement of people has been born. Known as ‘trainspotters’, these locomotive hobbyists are dedicated to watching and logging the trains they have seen. With the return of The Flying Scotsman (possibly the most iconic train of its time), we’re all falling in love with trains and the age of steam all over again. Now, a trainspotting adventure is a popular choice for a weekend away in the British countryside and is even hailed as being good for your health.

To get you started, we’ve picked out some of the best places in the UK for the whole family to enjoy steam trains in all their glory, and you’ll always find a warm welcome from Premier Inn nearby. From our friendly, award-winning service to our seriously tasty food and slumber-inducing, kingsize Hypnos beds, you’re guaranteed to drift off into the soundest sleep after your trainspotting adventures.

Leeds

In the residential suburb of Middleton is the world’s oldest working railway. Founded in 1758 and now run entirely by volunteers, the station operates train services at weekends and on public holidays, along a charming 1 mile of track that runs through the Yorkshire countryside. Leeds is also home to the Royal Armouries – the British national collection of historic arms and armour, as well as the lovely Roundhay Park, which is perfect for a family picnic.

Where to stay

Any of our six Leeds hotels are perfect to get to Middleton, located in the south of the city. 


York

York is definitely one of the most popular destinations for a family trainspotting adventure – and for good reason. Not only is it the home of the Flying Scotsman, but York station itself is right in the centre of the stunning Roman town. With the National Railway Museum nearby, it’s great for spotting a range of trains from steam to charter. York is also famed for its Viking history, so it’s well worth checking out the Jorvik Viking Centre’s vivid reconstruction of Viking age streets. York is also home to York Minster, the largest Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe. 

The Bluebell Railway

Without a doubt, The Bluebell Railway is one of the most famous heritage steam railway attractions in the country and has been transporting nostalgia-seeking passengers since the 60’s. With 30 steam trains (the largest collection outside the National Railway Museum) and special events put on throughout the year, this is a must see - especially for the little ones. West Sussex itself boasts acres of beautiful countryside, as well as the stunning Arundel Castle and Gardens – one of the great treasure houses of Britain and famed for its priceless works of art.

Buckfastleigh

The South Devon Railway is a seven mile stretch of track that runs along the stunning valley of the River Dart. Located between Buckfastleigh and Totnes, South Devon steam trains run whatever the weather, all year round, making it the perfect attraction for all ages. While staying in Buckfastleigh, why not visit Buckfast Butterfly Farm? The whole family can learn about tropical butterflies and watch their life cycle unfold. There’s also The Valiant Soldier – a pub that suddenly closed in the 1960’s, creating a unique time capsule that’s now a fascinating museum for all ages.

Where to stay

Choose one of our York hotels. Our York Blossom Street hotel is a 5 minute walk from the train station and National Railway Museum.

Where to stay

A short 15 minute drive from the Bluebell Railway is our Burgess Hill Hotel

Where to stay

Our Newton Abbot Hotel is conveniently located a short drive from Buckfastleigh 


Bury

Another wonderful rural railway line, the East Lancashire Railway has been in use since 1846, saved by the East Lancashire Preservation Society in the 1970’s so that passengers can continue to enjoy a blast of nostalgia. The famous ‘Rail Ale Trail’ guides you to some of the great watering holes in the area, and there’s also Bury Market, a retail mecca that’s been voted ‘Best Market in Britain’ and welcomes thousands of happy shoppers every week.

Where to stay

Our Manchester Bury Hotel is only a mile from the East Lancs Steam Railway Line.


Bo’ness

The Bo’ness and Kinneil Railway lies close to Edinburgh and Glasgow and welcomes over 60,000 visitors a year aboard its nostalgic steam and heritage diesel trains. The Bo’ness to Kinneil line is simply stunning - curving its way along the attractive shoreline. Whilst there, you can also make a family trip to Scotland’s largest railway museum, where you can all experience operating railway signals and points.  While you’re near Edinburgh, why not visit Arthur’s Seat too? One of the seven hills of the city, it’s the best way to get a birds eye view, with clear views of Edinburgh Castle, Old Town and New Town. 

Welsh Highland Railway

If you’re looking for dramatic scenery and a myriad of steam trains to sample, then the Welsh Highland Railway is just the ticket. Re-opened in 2011 after 15 years of painstaking work to restore it to its former glory, a journey on this line is one of the most scenic ways for all of you to  experience the beautiful Welsh landscape. Whilst here, you can even ride the most powerful two-foot-gauge steam locomotive in the world, acquired from South African Railways. Nearby Caernarfon Castle is a world heritage site and one of the area’s biggest attractions, as well as Snowdonia Riding Stables where the whole family can take a ride through the beautiful mountain scenery. 

Alresford

The gorgeous Watercress Line from Alresford to Alton was once used to transport locally grown watercress to markets in London. Today, you can relive the golden age of steam glamour on the Watercress Belle. Chugging through the Hampshire countryside, you’ll be served a four course silver service meal in former First Class dining coaches from premier services running between London and Southampton, serving ocean liners such as the Queen Mary.  Alresford also has the calming Alre Valley Trail - the most scenic way to see the River Alre and the surrounding area. Nearby Winchester is also home to the magnificent Winchester Cathedral, a medieval church dating back as far as 1079.

Where to stay

Why not stay at one of our lovely Edinburgh hotels? You’ll be able to soak up the delights of Scotland’s capital as well as sample this charming vintage railway line. 

Where to stay

Stay in Caernarfon, a 30 minute drive from Porthmadog, where your journey begins.

Where to stay

Our Winchester hotel is within easy distance of Alresford and the Watercress Line.


New Romney

For trainspotting with a bit of a difference, head to New Romney to see the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway. The world’s smallest public railway, you’ll travel on a superb fleet of one-third full size steam trains that run for just over 13 miles - from near the Channel Tunnel to the atmospheric fishermen’s cottages and lighthouses at Dungeness. Romney Marsh is also worth a day trip, with its historic churches, wealth of wildlife and sandy beaches which are lovely for long walks. 

Where to stay

Stay at our Ashford Central hotel, within easy reach of this unique railway line.


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.