9 of the most stunning journeys by rail and water in Northern England

Ullswater Steamers

Northern England’s waterways and railways give you a different perspective on this beautiful, historic region. Journey along Britain’s first canal and its last railway constructed completely by hand. Spot scenes from your favourite films and books, get up close to seabirds and seals, and travel on a floating piece of art.

These journeys take you through timeless scenery in a style that harks back to more glamorous times.

1. Sail to the puffins and seals on the Farne Islands

Puffins on the Farne Island

The only way to reach these wild islands just off England’s northeast coast is by boat. And it’s well worth making the effort. They’re probably the country’s most exciting seabird colony. Around 150,000 breeding pairs of seabirds. including 37,000 pairs of puffins, make the Farne Islands their summer home. And in autumn, around 1,000 seal pups are born here, part of England’s largest breeding colony of grey or Atlantic seals. Be warned – the birds make a lot of noise, and terns with young chicks will dive at visitor’s heads. Arm yourself with a hat or umbrella!

Find out more about Farne Islands

2. Glide through the waterways of unspoilt Cheshire

Step aboard a colourful canal boat and take in Cheshire’s idyllic waterways from the Cheshire Ring, a 97-mile (156km) circular canal route with no fewer than 92 locks. You’ll see quaint villages, welcoming country pubs, majestic industrial heritage sites and even castles. Watch out for the historic Anderton Boat Lift. In fact, you can’t miss it – it’s an incredible structure, like a giant three-storey iron spider, built by civil engineer Edwin Clark in 1875 to lift cargo boats 15 metres (50 feet) from the River Weaver up to the Trent & Mersey Canal.

Find out more about Cheshire's waterways

3. Revel in the romance of steam on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway

You’ll enter another era as you journey the world’s most popular heritage railway line, spotting film locations and amazing moorland scenery on the way. The celebrated steam railway puffs for 24 miles (38 km) between inland Pickering and Whitby on England’s northeast coast. Rail-trail walks, quaint villages and traditional station tearooms are all part of the trip. Picture wizards in cloaks at Goathland (‘Hogsmeade’ station in the Harry Potter films), ride up front, settle back in the beautifully restored wood-panelled carriages, or sup in the Pullman dining car.

Find out more about North Yorkshire Moors Railway

4. Steam across the Lakes on a historic boat

Lake Cruises

Lake Cruises have been plying the beautiful waters of the Lake District National Park for over 100 years. Many of the boats are historic and steam powered, adding to the nostalgia and sense of adventure. Choose from one of four Lake Cruises: Windermere is the longest and best known of the lakes. Ullswater bends and twists through mountain scenery and a gently curving shoreline of green fields and woodlands. Coniston Water’s Peel Island featured in Arthur Ransome's famous children’s book, Swallows and Amazons. Wide Derwentwater is bordered by picturesque walking trails.

Find out more about Lake Cruises

5. Travel like a Victorian on the East Lancashire Railway

With its scenic blend of rolling countryside, quaint villages, historic towns and post-industrial landscapes, this 12-mile heritage steam railway gives you a taste of train travel in Victorian England. The original track opened in 1846 at the peak of England’s ‘railway mania’ and is today preserved by more than 600 volunteers. It has access to the mainline, allowing for a constant turnover of celebrated steam and diesel engines. The railway packs an impressive events programme including wartime weekends, afternoon teas, Halloween Ghost Trains, ‘Santa Specials’ and Rail Ale trails into its beautifully restored carriages too.

Find out more about East Lancashire Railway

6. Discover Manchester’s industrial heritage from Britain’s first canal

Manchester Ship Canal

Manchester is surrounded by miles of canals and waterways built during England’s Industrial Revolution. Jump on board a City Centre Cruise and glide past Manchester, Trafford Park and Salford. Your boat will navigate the locks and docks of the Manchester Ship Canal, the River Irwell and Bridgewater Canal – Britain’s first canal. You’ll see MediaCityUK, the Imperial War Museum North and Old Trafford, home to Manchester United Football Club.

Find out more about Manchester’s industrial heritage 

7. Puff across a viaduct on the Settle to Carlisle railway

Ribblehead viaduct

The 72-mile (120-km) Settle to Carlisle railway is one of the world's great railway journeys, famous for its Victorian architecture including the impressive 400 metre (1,300 ft) long Ribblehead viaduct with its stunning backdrop of the Yorkshire Three Peaks. Started in 1869, this was the last mainline railway in England to be constructed almost entirely by hand, by around 6,000 men. Take an unforgettable ride over 20 viaducts and through 14 tunnels, interspersed with the stunning scenery of the Yorkshire Dales and Cumbrian Fells.

Find out more about the Settle to Carlisle railway

8. Sail across the Mersey on an iconic ferry

A ferry crossing the Liverpool Waterfront

Hop aboard one of Liverpool’s famous ferries to take in the city skyline from the water and gain a sense of its rich history. You’ll get spectacular views of the UNESCO World Heritage Liverpool Waterfront, a fascinating sail through Liverpool's past, and a chance to hear the legendary 1960s Gerry and the Pacemakers song Ferry ‘Cross the Mersey. Try to get on the Mersey Ferries that recently had a special makeover by Sir Peter Blake, the artist behind The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover. He 'dazzled' the ferry with a stunning psychedelic design.

Find out more about Mersey ferry

9. Take Britain’s oldest water-balancing cliff lift to the beach

Saltburn-by-the-Sea, on northeast England’s coast, is home to Britain’s oldest operating water-balanced cliff lift – a funicular powered by water.  You can ride up and down between town and beach, taking in the same stunning views of curving, golden sands and rugged sea cliffs as the Victorian holidaymakers did when it was built in the late 19th century. The funicular isn’t the only landmark bequeathed to Saltburn by the Victorians: admire the magnificent 183 metre (600 feet) long Victorian Pier, stroll along the seafront to Valley Gardens, and take a ride on the miniature railway.

Find out more about Saltburn-by-the-Sea

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