London is the hub of the British rail network. Rail fares to London can vary from cheap to expensive – try to book advance tickets for a particular train time, don’t travel into the city on Friday afternoons and Sundays, and avoid buying tickets on the day of travel. There are three basic types of ticket, which are summarised below.
Note that if you only intend to use trains within the Greater London boundary, then the Oyster Card is by far the easiest and cheapest option to use.
- ANYTIME - travel on any train, any operator at any time, returning within one month with few restrictions. Very expensive.
- OFF-PEAK - travel on certain trains within a specific time-frame; again returning within one month. Typically this excludes anything that arrives into London during the morning rush hour (before 10:00 typically), or any train which departs during evening rush hour (16:30-18:30). Weekends generally carry no restrictions on the use of Off-Peak tickets. There are however, a number of exceptions for which Off-Peak tickets are and aren’t valid. If you are in any doubt at all about the validity of an Off-Peak ticket, ask a guard at the station or a ticket office BEFORE getting on a train – as on-train conductors can be notoriously unforgiving.
- ADVANCE - travel on a specific day and train time, booked up to 12 weeks in advance either in person at a railway station, over the telephone, or online. Two Advance single tickets for the outward and return legs of the journey are generally cheaper than the Off-Peak return ticket. Better deals can often be had by going directly to the train operator’s website. The earlier you book, the more you save.
Seats can be reserved for free on all long-distance trains to London – the reservation is always issued automatically with an Advance ticket, and with most Off-Peak and Anytime tickets bought on-line. First Class is available on all long distance services to London. You get a wider, more comfortable seat, free tea/coffee for the duration of the journey, and complimentary catering service.
If you are the holder of a Britrail pass, things are simpler – but remember you still have to make a seat reservation for the train you intend to travel on – otherwise you run the risk of standing for the journey! If you intend to use the overnight Sleeper trains to London, you will have to pay a berth supplement for every member of your party – provided there is berth availability on the train.
London has one international high speed rail route (operated by Eurostar 0870 518 6186 ) from Paris (2h 15min) and Brussels (1h 50 min) diving under the sea for 35 km (22 mi) via the Channel Tunnel to come out in England. It terminates at St. Pancras International Station. For domestic train services, there are no fewer than 12 main line National Rail terminals.
With the exception of Fenchurch St (tube: Tower Hill) these are on the London Underground. Most are on the circle line. Clockwise starting at Paddington, major National Rail stations are:
- London Paddington, serves South West England and Wales including Slough, Maidenhead, Reading, Oxford, Bath, Bristol, Taunton, Exeter, Plymouthand Cardiff and Swansea. Also the downtown terminus of the Heathrow Airport Express (see above) and serves some suburban stations such as Acton Main Line and Ealing Broadway.
- London Marylebone, serves some north western suburban stations such as Amersham, Harrow on the Hill and Wembley Stadium. Also serves Aylesbury, High Wycombe, Banbury, Stratford-upon-Avon and the city of Birmingham. It is much cheaper but slightly slower to take a train from Marylebone to Birmingham instead of a train from London Euston.
- London Euston, serves the Midlands, north-west England and west Scotland: Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Chester, Oxenholme Lake District,Carlisle, Glasgow, and Holyhead for connecting ferries to/from both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Sleeper trains to Scotland leave from Euston.
- St Pancras International, serves Paris, Brussels, Lille, as well as Luton Airport, Bedford, Brighton, Gatwick Airport, Catford several destinations in Kentand the East Midlands: Leicester, Nottingham, Derby and Sheffield.
- London King’s Cross, serves East Anglia, north-east England and east Scotland: Cambridge, Doncaster, Leeds, York, Kingston upon Hull, Newcastle upon Tyne, Edinburgh and Aberdeen. Platform 9 3/4 from the Harry Potter books is marked with a special sign, although platform 9 itself is actually in the fairly unpleasant metallic extension used by Cambridge trains.
- London Moorgate, serves some northern suburbs.
- London Liverpool Street, serves East Anglia: Ipswich and Norwich. Also the downtown terminus of the Stansted Airport Express.
- London Fenchurch Street, serves commuter towns north of the Thames estuary to Southend.
- London Bridge, London Cannon Street, London Waterloo East and London Charing Cross, serve south and south east London and England:Brighton, Dover, Eastbourne, Hastings and Ramsgate.
- London Blackfriars, serves Gatwick Airport and Brighton.
- London Waterloo, serves south west London and England: Portsmouth, Winchester, Southampton, Bournemouth, Weymouth, Salisbury and Exeter.
- London Victoria, serves south east London and England: Brighton, Dover, Eastbourne, Hastings and Ramsgate. Also the downtown terminus of the Gatwick Airport Express.