Wales has its share of great tourist attractions, but some of the country's most appealing scenery is found the quiet, in-between places that you pass on a journey from one place to another. So avoid the temptation to rubberneck at the gorgeous views when driving by and let the train take the strain instead. Here is our selection of some of the most-beautiful train journeys in Wales...
Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railway
There are a healthy number of restored steam trains operating around the UK these days, but while many have impressive engines and rolling stock, few can compete with this pair of North Wales railways when it comes to scenery. Both rail lines terminate at Porthmadog, a bustling seaside town on the edge of the Lleyn Peninsula. The Ffestiniog Railway sets off along "The Cob" - a Victorian stone causeway across the mouth of the River Glaslyn which offers stunning views of the mountains and sea within moments of departure.
It then climbs along a pleasant valley and through woodland with a suggested stop for a pleasant walk at Tan-y-Bwlch before continuing through the mountains to the world-famous slate-mining town of Blaneau Ffestiniog. Here it's possible to visit the Llechwedd Slate Caverns and learn about the history of the industry. Heading the other way out of Porthmadog on the Welsh Highland Railway offers a longer journey (25 miles in fact) which takes in some of the finest mountain scenery the UK has to offer. It goes through Tremadog and on to the popular village of Beddgelert before passing through the shadow of Snowdon itself and then down to Caernarfon.
Conwy Valley Line
Still in North Wales, there's a similarly scenic option on normal rail services in the form of the Conwy Valley Line. Setting off from Llandudno Junction, it heads straight into the hills as it follows the course of the River Conwy past the impressive 12th century Dolwyddelan Castle and through a series of charming villages with traditional stone-built stations. The high peaks of Snowdonia National Park are visible to one side, with more rolling hills to the other. The line terminates high up at Blaneau Ffestiniog, where real loco fans can pick up the Ffestiniog Railway mentioned above to Porthmadog.
The Heart of Wales Line
Running roughly north-south through from Shrewsbury to Swansea, the sweetly titled Heart of Wales Line is one of the UK's loveliest railway journeys. It's worth making an exception to the title of this feature and picking up the train across the border in Shrewsbury – because the lines gives spectacular scenery from the outset as it winds its way south through Church Stretton and the idyllic Shropshire Hills. It's not long before the line crosses into Mid Wales though, where it passes through rolling green hills and charming towns such as Knighton, Llandrindod Wells and Llanwrtyd. Impressive viaducts are crossed at Cynghordy and Knucklas before the quiet rural landscape of Mid Wales gives way to the – erm – quiet rural landscape of South Wales. The steel and tinplate town of Llanelli is the last main stop before the city of Swansea.
And it's back to Shrewsbury for the next route on our list, but this time heading westward across to Machynlleth and then onward south west to Aberystwyth or north up the stunning Cambrian coast to Pwllheli on the Lleyn Peninsula. Beginning from Shrewsbury again, the journey heads straight into the Welsh borders and through Welshpool and Newtown before the hills start to get bigger and the scenery more dramatic as the route passes through Caersws and into the Cambrian Mountains. At Machynlleth the train splits and passengers either proceed to the handsome Victorian seaside town of Aberystwyth or on up the coast with the sea to one side and Snowdonia National Park to the other. A problem with a bridge means the line is currently interrupted at Harlech – home of the famous castle - with a bus convoy service linking up for onward travel to Pwllheli.