Europe

Touring the U.K. with Rail Europe

written by | Posted on May 1st, 2011

There’s just something about train travel in the U.K. The bustle of the activity in the busy stations, the sleek, modern trains gliding into the stations as graceful as swans and sitting back in the wide, comfortable seats watching the rich, green, bucolic countryside slide by as you rumble across Wales and into Northern England.

On a recent trip to the U.K. with Rail Europe—from London to Cardiff in Wales, then on to Liverpool in Northern England and then back to merry old London Town again—there was plenty of time to savor the joys of that oh so classic mode of transportation that is so lacking in the U.S. It’s really an intimate way to travel at an unhurried pace, markedly different from the joyless drudgery of short-term, cattle car air travel.

There was also plenty of time to contemplate the benefits of Rail Europe’s Point-to-Point travel plan in the U.K., an economical way for North American travelers to visit their favorite places in Great Britain on a 2-week sojourn to the country without having to put out the full fare for a 30-day Britrail pass.

Samina Sabir, public relations manager, Rail Europe, says that while the Britrail Pass that offers three days of rail travel over 30 days for $259 for first class and $179 for second class is a good deal for travelers spending that amount of time in the U.K., many of Rail Europe’s customers don’t, making the Point-to-Point travel fare the best way to go.

Indeed, on this short visit to the U.K., train travel starts shortly after passing through customs at Heathrow, with a relatively short walk down to the rail facilities. First stop—the Heathrow Express, billing itself as the fastest way to central London and indeed it is. Within 20 minutes, it glides into Paddington Station and you join the multitudes flowing out into the streets, queuing up in proper British form as a tide of black cabs flow through the taxi area.

During our trip we overnighted at Umi Hotel in London’s Leinster Square in the charming Bayswater neighborhood. A stroll around the area finds a variety of shops, tiny ethnic grocery stores where conversation is as much a part of the inventory as the food stuffs and an assortment of ethnic restaurants ranging from Middle Eastern to Asian, Greek, Italian and then some—a kind of culinary U.N. complex that makes it so very London.

For the point-to-point train ride to Cardiff, clients head to Paddington Station for a ride on the First Great Western Rail, which passes through heart-stopping gorgeous countryside with gently rolling hills with fluffy white patches of sheep grazing in the distance. En-route, a cart swings through the cars offering coffee, tea and snacks on a regular basis as we make a half-dozen quick stops at small rail stations along the way.

cardiff to liverpool

Upon arrival in Cardiff, it’s just a short walk from Cardiff Central Station to the Radisson Blu Hotel, another positive for point-to-point travel to keep in mind—you’re going from city-center to city-center, so book your hotel in the city-center whenever possible. Which brings up another point: when traveling by train anywhere in Europe, keep the luggage minimal. It’ll save a lot of energy and frustration.

The Radisson Blu Hotel is a 21-floor beauty with a minimalist design. After a quick check-in, it’s off to a jr. suite room on the 20th floor with fantastic views across the whole of Cardiff from the floor-to-ceiling windows. Functional modern-style furnishings in the sitting room area with flat-screen TV and Internet connections on the spacious desk make it comfortable and homey with a queen-sized bed beckoning guests for a quick nap. The bath is spacious with both a tub and walk-in shower.

Cardiff itself—the capital of Wales since 1995—has a long history dating back to Roman times and you can still view part of the original Roman fort because it forms the front wall of Cardiff Castle, which dates back to 1091 when it was built within the walls of the old Roman fort that had been abandoned in the fifth century. The castle was renovated in 1778 and then again during the Victorian period and today, it serves as one of the city’s primary attractions, housing a museum that highlights centuries of Cardiff’s history. Inside the compound, the centuries-old Norman Keep still stands proudly atop a hill overlooking what was once a parade ground.