BeautifulChurchesby train

Centuries of glorious art and architecture are on show in these churches and cathedrals, all reachable by rail. They are spread around the UK and listed very roughly in chronological order. From tiny ancient chapels to grand Victorian halls, decorated with murals, mosaics, carvings and stained glass, these buildings and hundreds more like them are worth a pilgrimage. Look out for more churches later in the year – next time in more rural places that you can only reach by bus or on foot.

  • County: by train
  • Great for: architecture | art | cathedrals | chapels | churches | history | music |
  • Refreshments: pubs, cafes and more
  • Please note: researched/updated in November 2023. If anything’s changed or you have more tips to share, do get in touch:
  1. 4. York Minster

    Built on top of a Roman fortress with every kind of Gothic architecture represented in its towering majesty, York Minster is one of Britain’s most spectacular churches. The present cathedral was built from 1080, has more medieval glass than any other English church and a beautiful octagonal chapter house full of intricate stone carving.

    • Open Monday to Saturday 9am to 4.30pm; Sun 12.30pm – 3.00pm. Tickets are valid for 12 months and local residents get in free.
    • Don’t miss: The magnificent Great East window dates from 1405 and is the world’s largest expanse of medieval glass. The tall lancet arches of the Five Sisters window have greyish glass in abstract patterns and are mentioned in Dickens’ novel Nicholas Nickleby.
    • Nearest station: York. Follow Good Journey’s directions.
    • And the walk there is a pretty fifteen-minute stroll over Lendal Bridge and along Museum Street
    • You can also get some great views of York Minster from the nearby walls, a three-mile walkway around the city.
    • Nearby: York is packed with beautiful churches. The nearby candlelit Holy Trinity church on Goodramgate has a rainbow-bordered plaque commemorating the unofficial marriage of Anne Lister (aka Gentleman Jack) to Anne Walker in 1834. For more car-free adventures in the area, see our guide to York.
  1. 5. Norwich Cathedral

    England’s largest cathedral close, a skyline-dominating spire, huge cloisters with hundreds of intricate, painted ceiling bosses, elegant Norman arches, exquisite medieval fan vaulting, dozens of carved misericords under the choir seats, and a brand new refectory with a great café – Norwich cathedral is a visitor destination worth the journey.

    • Open Daily 7.30am-6pm, free
    • Don’t miss the shiny copper font, which came from an old Norwich chocolate factory. The Treasury, up a stone stairway in the reliquary chapel, is full of gold and silver communion vessels and has some beautiful medieval wall paintings.
    • Nearest station: Norwich. Follow Good Journey’ directions.
    • The quickest way to walk there is through the centre of town. But you can also follow the map below for a pretty riverside route that is largely traffic-free.
    • Nearby: Look out for our car-free guide to Norwich and the surrounding area.
  1. 6. Glasgow Cathedral

    Glasgow’s 12th century stone cathedral is full of surprises, from the vaulted crypt to the modern stained glass windows. The oldest cathedral in mainland Scotland and Glasgow’s oldest building, it’s recently become a bit of film star, appearing in the TV series Outlander as a French hospital and in the Robert the Bruce biopic, Outlaw King, where it doubles as Greyfriar’s and the Lord’s Hall.

    • Open Monday to Saturday, 10am – 3.30pm (Sunday 1-3.30pm), free.
    • Don’t miss: The colourful carved stone bosses on the ceiling of the Blackadder aisle.
    • Nearest station: High Street (Glasgow) on a commuter line from Edinburgh; the cathedral’s also within walking distance of larger city centre stations
    • And the walk there is a ten-minute stroll down the High Street from the nearest station, passing near the castle-like St Mungo Museum of Religious Life, which is worth a visit.
    • Nearby: Don’t miss the atmospheric necropolis nearby. This and other adventures are explored in our guide to car-free Glasgow.
  1. 7. St Mary’s University Church, Oxford

    At the heart of Oxford university for centuries, this city landmark is inevitably steeped in history. The tower dates back to the 1270s with the decorated spire added in the 14th century, when the building also served as a library. In 1355, there was a battle here between townspeople and some students who had complained about the beer in a local pub. The church was often at the centre of ongoing religious debates and John Wesley preached there three times until he was banned after attacking the University’s spiritual apathy; John Newman founded the Oxford movement and encouraged arts like stained glass to decorate churches again. In 1942 the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief, which later became OXFAM, had its first meeting here.

    • Open Monday – Saturday 9.30am-5pm; Sunday 12-5pm, free (pay to climb the tower)
    • Don’t miss climbing the tower for fabulous views over the city and a chance to get up close to some incredible gargoyles and grotesques.
    • Nearest station: Oxford
    • Walking from the station takes just 15 minutes. Turn left out of the station and fork right up Park End Street and New Road, passing the grassy mound of Oxford Castle. Continue through shops along Queen’s Street and keep straight into the High Street, past several Oxford landmarks, like Carfax Tower at the crossroads with Cornmarket.
    • Nearby: For more adventures in the area, see our car-free guide to Oxford.
  1. 8. Hagia Sophia, Bayswater, London

    The Hagia Sophia (“Holy Wisdom”) Green Orthodox cathedral was consecrated 1882 to serve the area’s expanding Greek community; it still has regular services, a polyphonic choir and Byzantine music. During World War II, it became the Greek National cathedral, while the Greek government were in exile. The inside is beautifully decorated with Byzantine inspired mosaics.

    • Open Mondays 2-4pm; Tuesdays and Thursdays 10am-12.30pm and other times as detailed in an online schedule.
    • Don’t miss: The 1920s mosaics by Russian emigre artist, Boris Anrep, who also created the floors in the foyer of the National Gallery.
    • Nearest station: Bayswater tube station
    • And the walk there is a three-minute stroll along Moscow Road, passing various Greek shops and cafes.
    • Nearby: Walk through Kensington Gardens to reach the South Kensington museums, always worth a visit and open every day for free. Just next to the Victoria and Albert Museum is Brompton Oratory, a huge neoclassical Catholic church, with a striking baroque interior.
  1. 9. St Jude on the Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London

    This striking church, consecrated in 1911, was designed by Edward Lutyens to be the centre of Hampstead Garden Suburb. St Judes faces another monumental church across a large space of green lawns and flower beds with a monument to the suburb’s founder, Henrietta Barnett.

    1. Open by appointment
    2. Don’t miss the series of murals by Walter Starmer
    3. Nearest station: Golders Green tube station is about ten minutes walk away.
    4. The quickest way to walk is to turn right under the railway bridge, right into Rotherwick Road and right once more at the T-junction. Turn left along Hampstead Way, right into Meadway and left up Heathgate with the church ahead.
    5. Nearby: St Judes is very close to the Dollis Valley Greenwalk, a ten-mile path along a stream through some surprisingly rural corners of North London. To pick up the well-signed Greenwalk from St Jude’s, follow Southway past the school and turn left on Bigwood Road. Near Woodside Park tube, there is a Belarusian church on Holden, the first wooden church built in the city since fire of London. The Greenwalk also passes close to St Andrews church, not far from Totteridge and Whetstone tube, where the curving churchyard reflects the line of an ancient moat and a 1000-year-old yew tree stands in the churchyard.
  1. 10. Chelmsford Cathedral, Essex

    This handsome 15th century church only became a cathedral in 1914. The airy interior of Chelmsford cathedral, with its limestone floor, is a fine setting for stained glass, patchwork, tapestry and Mark Cazalet’s Tree of Life painting in the north transept.

    • Open Monday – Saturday 7.45am-6pm; Sunday 7.30am-5pm
    • Don’t miss Beryl Dean’s colourful patchwork hanging on the east wall
    • Nearest station: Chelmsford
    • It’s a very short walk from the station. Three minutes along Duke Street past the big Grand Central bar and over Victoria Road. Half an hour to wait for a train or bus should be time enough to have a quick look inside the cathedral.
    • Nearby: For more adventures in the area, see our car-free guide to Chelmsford. Essex has a wealth of lovely churches. Look out for two more of them, including the remote St Peter’s chapel at Bradwell on Sea, in our guide to more rural churches later in the year.