Given the short distances involved, flying is rarely the cheapest or most convenient option for domestic travel within the UK with the possible exception of between southern England and Scotland, or where a sea crossing would otherwise be involved, such as between Britain and Northern Ireland or travel to and from many Scottish islands. The main domestic hubs are London, Belfast, Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow and Edinburgh. There are plenty of low budget airlines operating flights between the major cities in the UK such as easyjet and ryanair.
Travelling by train will expand your destination options, without the need for early check-ins and faffing with luggage weight allowances. Under 5s travel for free, but you may decide to book a child seat for the additional space; these tickets are around 50% of an adult fare. On-board you’ll find just basic facilities – there’s baby changing and you can request hot water for warming bottles. You won’t find baby food in the buffet car, so make sure you bring this with you – squeezy pouches are best for eliminating mess. Some trains have specific seating areas for families and you can book your seats in advance (avoid the ‘Quiet Carriages’). You may find it helpful to sit near the storage compartment.
Be prepared for the short stop at your departure station. You won’t have long (approximately 15 seconds!) to grab your baby, luggage and buggy, so get yourself prepared in advance of your stop.
In Great Britain, the National Rail network covers some 34,000km (21,000 miles) covering most of England, Scotland and Wales, from Penzance in Cornwall to Thurso in the far north of Scotland and including over 2,600 stations. Train travel is very popular in Britain, with many services busy and passenger numbers rising steadily every year, with the UK having one of the safest railways in the World. The trains are generally modern and comfortable with baby changing facilities located in some of the washrooms. In Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Railways (NIR) operates, which is separate from National Rail and uses a different track gauge (the Irish gauge).
National Rail is a state-owned brand that brings together all the British railway companies. Tickets can be bought from any one station to any other in Great Britain, no matter how far away, how many train companies or changes of train are needed to get there. Using the National Rail website, you can find tickets from and to any UK destination – the website will redirect you to the relevant company for the actual purchase. Similarly, “The Train Line” is a private company which offers a similar online service, but that directly sells you tickets along with discounted tickets. Be warned The Train Line charges a card handling fee and an additional fee to collect your tickets from a station or to have them posted to you. Tickets tend to be cheaper the further in advance you book. Most trains have a walk-up buffet, or a trolley service of drinks and refreshments moving through the train, air conditioning (not commuter or local services), at least one carriage with a fully disabled-accessible toilet and baby changing facilities, on inter-city services, a wireless internet service (a charge may apply).
There are six scheduled overnight sleeper trains that operate every night of the week except Saturday:
- The Lowland Sleeper, which leaves from London Euston as one train, but divides to Glasgow, Edinburgh
- The Highland Sleeper, which leaves from London Euston as one train, but divides to Aberdeen, Fort William and Inverness.
- The Night Riviera, which travels from London Paddington to Plymouth and Penzance
Reservations are compulsory on sleeper trains, and a supplement may be payable on top of day-train ticket prices to reserve a berth. Advance-purchase tickets called Bargain Berths are available on London-Scotland sleepers from £19 to £49. They are only available from the ScotRail website. All sleeper trains offer:
- Reclining seated accommodation (comparable to daytime first class but no at-seat service)
- Standard Class (a cabin with two berths; solo travellers will often need to share with a stranger of the same sex)
- First Class (a identical cabin but with a single berth and more generous breakfast, toiletry pack and access to departure and arrival lounges at larger stations)
Steam trains and preserved railways
Toddlers will love the old steam trains which are still running in some areas. These are enjoyed for their own sake at least as much as they are used as a means of transport. Most areas will boast a volunteer-run railway using steam traction especially during the summer months. Famous full-gauge railways include the Bluebell Line in Sussex, the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway in Yorkshire, while the Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway in Cumbria and Talyllyn Railway in central Wales are examples of narrow-gauge railways now primarily used for tourism.
A car journey is the best way to see everything you want to and allows you the flexibility to stop when you or your baby or toddler needs to. The destination options are endless, your luggage and essentials are close at hand. Unlike toddlers or older kids, boredom isn’t an issue for babies. Most love to sleep in the car, so you can work your journey around feeding and nap times or even consider driving at night (as long as you’re well-rested). Ensure that your car seat is secure and fit sun screens to the windows if you’re travelling in the summer.Also activate the child locks and make sure you have a good map or sat nav system in the car.
Differing from most of Europe, the UK drives on the left. Most cars in the UK are manual (“stick-shift”) transmission, and car rental companies will allocate you a manual transmission car unless you specifically ask for an automatic when you make a reservation. Petrol (gasoline) is heavily taxed and therefore expensive and like most countries, petrol is sold by the litre.
The UK uses the imperial system which includes road signage though many height and width signage is now in metric as well and all weight signage is in tonnes (or Metric Tons in American English), plus all motorways/freeways now have locator indicators in kilometres situated at intervals of 500m but these display no unit size and are used for emergency vehicles rather than drivers.
Parking is a problem in large cities and can be very expensive. Many cities operate a “Park and Ride” scheme, with car parks on the edge of the city and cheap buses into the city centre, and you should consider using them.
It is an offence to use your mobile phone whilst driving, although provision is made for the use of hands-free kits which are exempt from the law. Police will stop you for using your mobile phone and a £100 penalty will be issued on the spot. This fine will be accompanied with 3 points endorsed on your licence.
It is a legal requirement that all persons in a vehicle to be wearing their seat-belt. Children under 1.4 metres (4 ft 7 inches) are also legally required to use a child booster seat for safety reasons. For more information on car seat laws click here.
By Bus – Local bus services cover the entire country, but are of variable quality and cost. Services range from deep-rural village services operating once a week or less, to intensive urban routes operating every few minutes. For further information on local bus services, see our regional sections.
Coach – Coach travel tends to be slower than train travel, as well as less frequent, although they are still comfortable and are, for the most part, substantially cheaper. Coaches, like trains, will also generally take you right to the centre of town. The largest coach companies include the National Express, Megabus and CityLink which services destinations in Scotland.
Taxis – There are two types of taxis in the United Kingdom:- Metered (black) cabs that can be hailed in the street and are mostly found in larger towns and cities; and minicabs (private hire taxis) which must be ordered by telephone. Taxis are exempt from the need to use a car seat however, it is always safer to use one and you can rent taxis in most towns and cities with a car seat if you are not bringing your own. See our regional information sections for details on taxi companies offering car seat services.
By Boat – Ferries link the mainland to the many offshore islands including the Isles of Scilly from Penzance; the Isle of Wight from Southampton and Portsmouth; the Isle of Man from Liverpool and Ireland and the Orkneys and Shetland Islands from Aberdeen and the far north of Scotland. There are also regular ferry services between Northern Ireland and Scotland and these depart Larne, Belfast, Troon, Stranraer and Cairnryan. There are also routes from Northern Ireland to Birkenhead and Fleetwood (both near Liverpool in England).