Is Wales by train an achievable travel goal? I’ll be honest, When I think about travelling through Wales, the two words that wouldn’t immediately spring to mind are ‘public’ and ‘transport’.
Wales is full of windy roads, lakes, rolling hills and scenic mountains. Surely travelling across Wales by train would be a logistical nightmare?
Especially given that the UK is not exactly known for its stellar train service. However, a little research revealed that Wales by train is entirely possible. You can travel from Cardiff to Holyhead by train, aboard the ‘Gerald of Wales’ train. It’s one of the most scenic train journeys in Wales.
Wales by train: South to North Wales by Rail
The Gerald of Wales train history
In December 2008, a premier train service began operating between Holyhead and Cardiff Central. This Wales train service was originally named Y Gerallt Gymro (Gerald of Wales) and was funded by the Welsh Government as a faster service to connect north and south Wales.
Wales & Borders franchise holder Arriva Trains Wales operated the service originally. However, in October 2018, the operation of the Service passed from the Wales & Borders franchise to Transport for Wales. The journey time, from end to end, is 30 minutes faster than the ‘local’ train on the same route.
Today, the Premier Service departs Holyhead at 05:34 and returning from Cardiff Central at 17:16. The train features first-class accommodation and a full dining car with a travelling chef.
It’s a little unclear from what I can see if the service is still officially called the ‘Gerald of Wales’, however, many people still call the service by this name.
Transport for Wales train tickets
Normal standard-class fares are valid on the train whilst first-class attracts a supplement and includes a meal. This is the only Transport for Wales service to offer first-class accommodation.
The journey time of this route is just under 4 hours. It’s half an hour faster than other standard services operating on the same route.
You can purchase a First Class Single or Return ticket with TFW much like you would a Standard ticket. Buy your ticket on the TFW app and website, at station ticket offices, or at station self-service ticket machines.
Fares typically range from £10-£80, depending on the route you take. All meals are complimentary with a first-class ticket and standard-ticket holders can also upgrade to the first-class ticket
Business-class train service Wales
This train service runs the length of Wales, making the occasional crossing into England. It also comes complete with an onboard chef aboard its dining car.
When you purchase first-class tickets for this train service, you’ll find larger seats and complimentary soft drinks. On selected routes, there’s a premier catering service offering either a cooked breakfast or a delicious 3-course meal.
Their-board chefs use fresh produce in the on-board meals with much of it sourced in Wales. There’s also a range of wines, champagne and spirits available to buy.
Gerald of Wales Route
The morning Gerald of Wales service from Holyhead stops at Bangor, Llandudno Junction, Colwyn Bay, Rhyl, Chester, Wrexham, Ruabon, Chirk, Gobowen, Shrewsbury, Newport and Cardiff.
Then evening service from Cardiff stops at Newport, Abergavenny, Hereford, Shrewsbury, Gobowen, Ruabon, Wrexham, Chester, Rhyl, Colwyn Bay, Llandudno Junction, Bangor and Holyhead.
Both services offer a spectacular view of the Welsh countryside as well as coastal views and city stops. Travelling Wales by train is definitely a pleasant experience, especially if you’re travelling on a first-class ticket. No standing room only in this carriage darlings.
Gerald of Wales evening Business class service
I travelled on train service from South Wales to North Wales in the evening Business class service. I got the train from Cardiff Central at 17:16 pm and got off at Bangor at 21:11 pm.
After my initial delight at the prospect of posh train travel, panic set in. What on earth will I wear on a business service?
Would it be full of actual adults with their briefcases and important job titles? Good god, what if one of them speaks to me? After having a wine and a little calm down, I decided that the best course of action would be to dress ‘smart casual’ to fit in with the grown-ups.
Business Class train service Cardiff to Holyhead
As I boarded the train service at Cardiff, I was warmly greeted by the staff and seated in a comfy window seat, complete with a table and power socket.
My original plan was to do some writing work abord this comfortable service. However, once I was asked if I would like to see the wine list, I knew it was game over for doing any sort of work.
It never ceases to amaze me how quickly all my good intentions go out the window at the mere mention of the word ‘wine’.
Gerald of Wales Dining Service
Predictably, I ordered a glass of white, the Pier 42, Pinot Grigio from the drinks menu. I then stared dreamily out of the window, watching the lovely Welsh scenery whiz by.
Every business class ticket holder receives a complimentary, cooked-to-order meal. The menu on this train service is on a five-week cycle. The food on Gerald of Wales also features locally sourced Welsh produce.
There’s a hot breakfast on the morning service and a three-course meal served on the northbound service in the evening.
Gerald of Wales train three-course meal
For dinner, I ordered the chicken liver parfait with cracked pepper butter and caramelised red onion toast to start. This was followed by Chicken and mushroom pot pie and chocolate fudge cake to finish.
I was curious as to the quality of food that is cooked aboard a train, I had no frame of reference? There aren’t many train dining carriages in the UK? I was really surprised at how tasty the food was, not to mention the portion sizes. The chicken pot pie was the size of my head!
After only managing around two-thirds of the gigantic pot pie, I was presented with coffee and a large slab of chocolate cake. It was warm and oozing with chocolate loveliness, how on earth was I supposed to fit this in? Someone, I managed it. Not all heroes wear capes to be fair.
Why you must discover Wales by train
Full of food and wine, I sat back and watched the ever-changing Welsh and English landscape. We passed through rolling hills, farmlands and the various towns of Abergavenny, Hereford, Shrewsbury and Wrexham.
You forget just how beautiful Wales is when you travel a lot. As a travel writer, you become accustomed to beautiful scenery and it’s all too easy to forget the captivating landscapes back home.
With the correct camera settings, you can also get some really great travel photography on this gorgeous Welsh rail route.
The most scenic train ride in Wales
As you get closer to North Wales the tracks follow the coast, providing you with breathtaking seaside views as you whizz past shorelines, houses and Conway Castle.
The sun was starting to slowly sink into the horizon as we rolled through the pretty seaside towns of Rhyl, Colwyn Bay and Llandudno Junction. Here’s where the window view became even more glorious.
I was treated to stunning sunset views just as the train rolled past the sea. It’s one of the best train journeys with sea views in the UK in my opinion. It’s these kinds of picture-perfect scenes that make train travel through Wales a worthwhile travel option.
It would perhaps be all too easy to miss whilst driving, train travel allows for appreciation, for reflection and most importantly, lush Instagram shots. I got off the train in Bangor, where I would be staying for a few days and exploring the area for another travel article.
Wales by train journey planner
Before I knew it I was in Bangor, it felt as if the last few hours had flown by, with the help of lovely scenery and one or two, perhaps three wines?
I used public transport to get around North Wales and got a lot of information from the Traveline Cymru journey planner to navigate public transport whilst I was in the area.
Public transport in North Wales is serviced by train routes and local bus services. You can also check for train stations in Wales map on the Transport for Wales website.
Britain’s most scenic rail journey
It’s honestly not often that I can claim to enjoy long train journeys in the UK. This particular British rail route was utterly delightful. It has sparked a new interest in train travel and slow travel for me.
Ok, so clearly not all UK rail routes are going to be quite so impressive as this premier service granted. I’m now, however, quite inspired to seek out scenic UK rail routes. Preferably ones with sauvignon blanc on board.
I would definitely recommend experiencing Wales by train if you are looking for a stress-free way to explore Wales.
Recommended travel resources
Flights: To search for flight deals check out sites such as Skyscanner, Kayak and Travel Supermarket to compare the costs of flights. My top tip to save money is to fly mid-week and take just hand luggage if possible.
Accommodation: I love a nice boutique hotel on my travel and I regularly use Booking.com as they have fantastic flexibility and cancellation. I also recommend Trip Advisor and hotels combined for hotel browsing. Additionally, I use Airbnb and TrustedHousesitters for homestays.
Travel Insurance: I highly recommend you always get travel insurance for your trips. Check out my Travel Insurance Page to see out why. I recommend World Nomads or Post Office travel Insurance.
Group Tours: I love booking group tours as a cost-effective and convenient way of discovering destinations. I recommend booking a small group tour with G Adventures.
Travel Guides: My favourite travel guide books are Bradt Guides, Lonely Planet and Rough Guides.
For more travel tools, head to my bumper travel resources page now!