The North of England has a history, landscape and culture which are distinct from the rest of the country, and it is very proud of it. This is a land of great battles, ancient fortifications and majestic buildings, not least the walled city of York itself.
From that past, the industrial revolution leapt into life and the great metropolises of Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham grew up out of a century of technical innovation. Today they’re full of music, great food and top attractions.
Meanwhile, the great fells and lakes of the Lake District and the rolling green land of the Yorkshire Dales remain vast spaces of beauty and calm, rewarding visitors with country charm and awe-inspiring views.
Northern England is easily accessible by train from London.
London > Birmingham
After only 1h25 from London-Euston, you’ll be stepping off from the train in Birmingham, England’s second most populous city. This major international commercial hub is also a simmering hotpot of contemporary culture, art and performance and a bustling bar and club scene. Start with the IKON located on the Oozells Square, not far from the New Street railway station. The IKON is England’s seminal modern art space, where you’ll find the world’s largest collection of Pre-Raphaelite works.
Birmingham is not short of attractions for families and friends. The Thinktank with its Planetarium is ideal for children. The modern science museum has ten themed galleries of immense, inspiring and interactive fun. You’ll be able to investigate everything from full size locomotives and aircraft to intestines and taste buds.
At lunch time, the cosmopolitan nature of Birmingham, mirrored by the sheer variety and quality of its restaurants will offer you a myriad of choice. Try a cheese naan in one of the award winning Indian restaurants located in the Balti triangle and have a drink in one of the top bars of the city.
One original thing to do in Birmingham is to visit the BBC Birmingham’s Public Space at The Mailbox. You’ll be able to have a go at being a TV anchor, presenting the news and the weather forecast.After lunch, take a leisurely stroll through outdoors Birmingham. Did you know Sutton Park is one of Europe’s largest and most appealing urban parks? Or that the city has more trees than Paris? And more miles of canal than Venice? Beautiful Birmingham - you don’t know the half of it!
In the afternoon, you’re spoiled for choice with entertainment options; there’s theatre at the Birmingham Hippodrome, ballet at the Birmingham Royal Ballet, and the biggest names in contemporary music at the LG Arena.
Our tip: Take the train and stop at Bourneville (12 min trip) for a pilgrimage to the Cadbury World, where half a million chocolate lovers find their happiness every year.
A Blue Badge walking tour of the city is a great way to learn some of its most fascinating secrets, including its time as ‘Victorian workshop of the world’.
Birmingham > Manchester
The train will take you to your next stop – Manchester (1h28 trip). The city is a buzzing northern metropolis bristling with music, football fervour and soaring gothic and industrial architecture. State-of-the-art visitor attractions and the hip Northern Quarter offer unrivalled variety for visitors interested in music, fashion and history. Music lovers, be sure to see a gig at the Deaf Institute. Everyone should investigate the architectural wonders of John Ryland’s Library (it’s more like a cathedral). Then explore Castlefield Urban Heritage Park, a preserved portion of the north’s industrial past, and the first heritage park of its kind.
Did you know that the Manchester Liverpool Road is the world’s oldest railway station? You can visit the building which is now part of the Museum of Science and Industry.
Our tip: Manchester really, really loves football. Join the crowds at a game in the historic Old Trafford stadium commonly known as the Theatre of Dreams, home to the world most popular football team - Manchester United.
Manchester > Liverpool
On the 3rd day take the train to Liverpool (47 min trip), a city which effortlessly blends urban culture with maritime heritage and some of the warmest hospitality in England. Start exploring in the historic and lovingly preserved shipping quarter of Albert Dock, which in days gone by was the source of all Liverpool’s prosperity. Nowadays it buzzes with galleries, restaurants, museums and upbeat bars.
Our tip: One of the world’s most famous rock bands form a cornerstone of Liverpool’s heritage so visit The Beatles Story Museum and in the evening, stop by the restored Cavern Club, where the Beatles played their first gig. Football fans can also visit Anfield, the famous home stadium of Liverpool FC.
Liverpool > Penrith
Hop on the train to reach Penrith (1h47 trip), your station for the Lake District. It’s a historic market town and the one-time capital of Cumbria. Nestled on the edge of the Lake District, it offers excellent access to Keswick and the Western Lakes, one of the area’s scenic hotspots for walking. Catch the bus to Keswick as early as you can, then embark on a walk up Cat Bells, one of the closest fells. You’ll need to board the Launch first – a boat that will take you across Derwentwater to Hawes End. If walking’s not your thing, take a boat tour of Derwentwater before a spot of shopping and relaxing in the historic streets of Keswick.
Our tip: If you have another day to spare, take the bus from Penrith to Patterdale in the morning and visit nearby Ullswater, the second largest lake in the Lake District. All kinds of watersports take place on Ullswater, and the village of Patterdale is ideal for a traditional lunch and some gift shopping. Catch the bus back to Penrith at the end of the day, where you can board your train to Durham.
Penrith > Durham
Durham > York
The train will take you out of the Lake District’s majestic landscapes and into the historic city of Durham (2h32 trip). Centuries-old buildings and medieval lanes full of bustle lead up to the city’s magnificent cathedral. You’ll find all sorts of traditional shops and galleries to browse, then amble along to the wooded riverbanks of the Wear and eat lunch at one of the city’s excellent riverside restaurants. Durham also has an impressive castle, founded by William the Conqueror, which is today University College Durham, and the heart of the university.
In the afternoon, head to York (44min trip), a medieval settlement full of the character borne of a lengthy history. Its staggering Gothic cathedral, York Minster, is one of England’s most famous buildings. One of the city’s most popular attractions is The Shambles, a cobbled medieval street once populated by butchers. Nowadays The Shambles’ historic buildings are home to some of the best shopping in York. Come evening, take a York ghost tour and uncover some of the city’s darker secrets.
Our tip: York was once the capital of a Viking kingdom; something bound up in the character of the city. Learn more about life 1,000 years ago under the rule of the Vikings at Jorvik Viking Centre.
From York, the journey back to London King Cross station is just over 2 hours. From there, you can explore mainland Europe by taking the Eurostar from London St Pancras International, which is just a few meters away.