Exciting Train Rides in the UK for a Fun Family Day Out

Emily Cooper

July 5, 2021

Steam trains and Train rides in the UK

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Do you have a toddler obsessed with Thomas The Tank Engine, a house full of train enthusiasts or maybe you are just looking for something to do with the family to let off steam! Don’t worry we have you covered with all you need to know about steam railways, miniature trains and other fun train rides in the UK.

Our whistle-stop tour will take you the length of the country from Scotland to Cornwall! We will be charming you with restored stations, inspiring you with beautiful British countryside, visiting top film locations and, most importantly, giving you the lowdown on everything to keep you on track to ensure your family day out isn’t a train wreck.

If the full-size versions aren’t your cup of tea, we have a great selection of miniature railway adventures too. So let’s get down to choo-choosing the best steam train and fun train rides in the UK.

Train Rides in the UK for a Great Day Out

The Vale of Rheidol Railway, Ceredigion

Treat your family to the stunning valleys of Rheidol at The Vale of Rheidol Railway. Hop aboard a train that your great grandparents may have even visited!

Running since 1902, this railway has been delighting families for over 100 years and has shown generation after generation the beauty of the Rheidol valleys. See parts of the valley only accessible by train, as this Welsh wonder lets you explore 24 miles of breathtaking scenery and rugged mountain terrain, from Aberystwyth to Devil’s Bridge. Don’t forget to bring your binoculars for a bit of bird-spotting too, with buzzards and red kites regular visitors above the train route.

With the option to do a single or return trip, or even just part of the route, the Rheidol Railway is a great way to experience a taste of steam train life and go on a day out that all ages will love.

Open from April to October, plus selected dates from November to March. Book early for the Halloween Ghost Trains and Santa Train experiences.

The Jacobite Steam Train, Scottish Highlands

The Jacobite Steam Train

Image © David & Ben Collier

Taking in a whopping 84 miles from the highest mountain (Ben Nevis) in Britain, to the most westerly station (Arisaig), The Jacobite Steam Train is often described as the greatest railway journey in the world. We certainly think that it is an epic adventure the whole family will love.

On your journey, you’ll pass Britain’s deepest freshwater loch (Loch Morar) and the shortest river the country has to offer (River Morar). You’ll also get to pass Loch Nevis, Fort William and venture into the fishing port of Mallaig, with a 90 minute stopover to take in a snapshot of what it has to offer.

Kids will especially enjoy crossing the 21 arches of the Glenfinnan viaduct, which most will recognise as the route to Hogwarts from the Harry Potter films. Just don’t forget your camera, as there will be plenty to capture.

Open weekdays from April to October, and weekends from June to October, though dates do vary. We recommend checking and booking in advance, particularly for Santa trains and special events.

East Lancashire Railway, Greater Manchester

Sit back and enjoy the 12.5 mile journey aboard the historical steam train at East Lancashire Railway. Start your travels from Rawtenstall where you will be transported through impressive viaducts, tunnels and uncover beautiful views all the way to Heywood.

The Railway is the perfect way to explore the hidden gems of the North West. If you (or, more likely, the snack monsters!) get peckish, you can either get a snack on board the railway carriage-turned-café, or tuck into the award-winning food at Buffer Stops Bar at the station.

After the journey you can go and explore the Bury Transport Museum to learn about the region’s rich transport history through interactive exhibits the kids will love. Don’t miss the fantastic range of special events too, including seasonal favourites such as train rides with Thomas and the Halloween Ghost Train.

Open Wednesday to Sunday from April to September, and weekends from October to March, plus selected dates throughout the year. Special events include Halloween Ghost Trains, Days Out with Thomas and train rides with Santa.

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Nene Valley Railway, Cambridgeshire

Discover the home of Thomas the Tank Engine at Nene Valley Railway. Nene Valley has a large collection of British and continental locomotives and carriages including Thomas The Tank Engine and a restored Southern Railway Travelling Post office carriage.

For history buffs, this is the only surviving coach from the Great Train Robbery of 1963.  Travelling between Wansford and Peterborough, the 7.5 miles of track will pass through the picturesque 500-acre Ferry Meadows Country Park. For souvenirs there is also a small museum and a second-hand railway bookshop housed in a railway carriage at Wansford station.

Open weekends from January to December, plus selected weekdays and events throughout the year. Special events include character days such as Paw Patrol, Thomas Weekends, Wizards Express, plus Santa Steam Trains.

Great Central Railway, Leicestershire

If steam is the dream, then why not pay a visit to the UK’s only Main Line Heritage railway and twin track line. Or if you are not fluent in train-speak, Great Central Railway is the only place where you can see full-size steam engines passing each other just like they used to!

Built in the late 19th century, this railway is a historic attraction your family simply must visit. Take a walk along the station platform like former passengers would have done over 100 years ago. Then climb aboard the Great Central Railway at Loughborough Central Station, before setting off under a cloud of steam toward Leicester North, with stunning views and plenty of exciting things to spot on route. There’s plenty to keep the family busy, including a museum, gift shop, and a train emporium.

Open weekends from January to December, plus selected weekdays and special events throughout the year, including character days such as PJ Masks, Halloween Steam & Scream, Bonfire Night and fireworks, plus Santa Steam Trains.

North Yorkshire Moors Railway, North Yorkshire

North yorkshire moors railway for train rides in the UK

Harry Potter fans, this one is for you! If you want to conjure up a magical family day out, the popular North Yorkshire Moors Railway ticks all the boxes for a spellbinding journey, with stunning scenery and impressive steam trains. And get ready to wave those wands as you pass through filming locations from Harry Potter.

The route takes you through the beautiful North York Moors National Park between Pickering and Whitby. The whole family will love stopping at the immaculately restored stations along the way. One of the most famous stops is Goathland, which was used in the first Harry Potter film and adults may also recognise it as the regular home to Heartbeat’s fictional train station, Aidensfield.

Open from April to October, plus selected dates from December to March. Early booking is advised for the Halloween train and special Santa steam train rides.

Churnet Valley Railway, Staffordshire

The Churnet Valley Railway takes you on a journey back to the classic days of railway travel on a lovely rural line that passes right through beautiful countryside known as Staffordshire’s “Little Switzerland”. From the moment you arrive at the picturesque station, you will feel as though you’ve travelled back in time. During your magical 11-mile journey through Staffordshire’s hidden valley, you will experience what the classic days of railway travel were really like.

If you are looking for something special for the summer holidays, the station puts on fantastic family events where your little ones can meet the drivers, station master and hear the fascinating story of the family who once lived there. To top it off, they can even experience what it is like to drive the train for themselves!

With something for kids and grown ups alike, make sure you visit the award-winning traditional tea room at Kingsley & Froghall.

Open weekends from April to September, and selected other dates for special events including Easter egg hunts, Halloween family fun and Santa steam train rides.

Don’t Miss…

From the infamous to the insane and quirky to cool, fun is guaranteed with these unusual places to visit in the UK – perfect for a memorable family day out!

Unusual places UK container

Mid Hants Railway Watercress Line, Hampshire

Nicknamed the Watercress Line due to its past use transporting watercress from Alresford to London, why not experience the golden age of steam on this charming day out. With some familiar faces making an appearance at special events, it’s always a day out that the kids will love.

Make sure to stop off at Alresford’s charming Georgian town centre with lots of great boutique shops, a picturesque riverside walk and local landmarks. Top tip: A trip to nearby National Trust property Hinton Ampner is an absolute must.

Walk in Harry Potter’s footsteps over the iron footbridge where he received his ticket for the Hogwarts Express, or visit the Loco Yard where you can take a sneaky peek behind the scenes in the impressive engineering workshops and get up close to the locomotives. A day out here is certain to have your mini-train enthusiasts jumping up and down with excitement!

Open weekends from March to October, plus most school holidays. Special events include Wizard weekends, walking the line, Days Out With Thomas, plus special Santa steam train rides.

South Devon Railway, Devon

Get ready to ride the longest established steam railway in the South West, with the South Devon Railway running along the stunning valley of the River Dart. Pay once and ride all day on the steam-hauled locomotives as you journey between Buckfastleigh and Totnes, taking in some pretty impressive views from your carriage.

Why not make a day of it? At the stops you’ll find a play area, museum, gardens, a picnic area, and a model and gift shop with a model railway. Dartmoor Otters, Buckfast Butterflies and Totnes Rare Breeds Farm can be found at Buckfastleigh station. You could also combine your train journey with a visit to see the local wildlife and educate your family on supporting the local conservation efforts.

Open April to October, plus selected dates from November to March. Special events include Carols down the Line and Santa by Steam train rides.

Lappa Valley Steam Railway, Cornwall

What better way to see the Cornish countryside than from aboard a beautiful steam train chugging down the Lappa Valley Steam Railway. Based in Newquay, this family favourite is a hit with visitors of all ages thanks to its trio of railways and a leisure park on site.

Jump on board the steam train for a short ride up to the leisure park, where you’ll find play areas, crazy golf, nature trails, two miniature railways and lots more. It’s even home to the largest selection of Thomas the Tank Engine stock in all of Cornwall!

Open daily with trains running every 40 minutes from 10.30am (last train returns at 5.25pm). Special events include Hallo-week events for Halloween and Santa Trains.

Kent & East Sussex Railway, Kent

Starting at Tenterden Town Station, the Kent & East Sussex Railway is the ideal way to step back in time as you hop on board a railway that’s been in use for over 100 years. This is a tried and tested day out that’s bound to keep the family happy with plenty of stops and attractions, including shops, parks and plenty to discover.

With four stops along the route, including the final station in Bodiam, you’ll be able to hop off at any that take your fancy, making it a great way to explore the so-called Garden of England. Plus, with Bodiam Castle just a short walk from the final station, it’s all change for a great day out.

Open selected dates from April to October, plus some special events including Halloween High Jinx, Fright Night Express and steam train rides with Santa.

Days Out with Thomas & Friends

Days out with thomas

Are you looking for a day out with Thomas? Whether you are 2 or 92, these popular train events for super fans of the famous blue engine and his friends take place at lots of railways across the UK.

Thomas and Sir Topham Hatt have travelled all the way from the Island of Sodor for some family fun! Meet the characters, take steam train rides and enjoy all the extra activities on offer. It is easy to keep the kids entertained during the short ride by either waving at passersby from the window, drawing in your free passport book, or spotting Emily, Percy or the Troublesome Trucks.

Once off the train, why not enjoy a spot of face-painting, a balloon magician or wooden train tables for the kids to play with whilst grabbing a spot of lunch.

Prices, dates and facilities may vary so check our round up of Days Out with Thomas & Friends to find your nearest station and details.

Miniature Railway Train Rides in the UK

If you are looking for a mini adventure with your mini people, then a ride on a miniature railway can be a great way to top off your day out. There are hundreds of fun miniature train rides in the UK!

As well as the miniature trains at Lappa Valley mentioned above, here are just a few more of our favourites.

Beckonscot Model Village

This 7.25″ gauge estate railway offers rides at the site of the world’s oldest model village. After viewing the model steam trains which pass through the village, why not enjoy a train ride with an interesting and convoluted out-and-back route with an inverted balloon loop, triangle junction, figure-of-8 and long spur to the terminus. The BLR carries over 70,000 paying passengers every year!

Grosvenor Park

This Chester attraction is one of many miniature railways that operate through the winter months, weather permitting of course! The Grosvenor Park Miniature Railway first opened in 1996, originally designed for just one season to commemorate the centenary of the Duke of Westminster’s railway at nearby Eaton Hall. The line runs for a quarter of a mile in a large circle, travelling around an ornamental lake, over a bridge and passing over two level crossings.

The Watford Miniature Railway

This historic railway opened in 1959 as a 300yd circuit in Cassiobury Park. The station is adjacent to the paddling pool and playground area, and has two platforms and a turntable.

Trains leave the station and cross a gated level crossing, before travelling around a track adjacent to the River Gade and returning to the station. The total journey is 1,020yd. At peak times operation can be very slick as one train can be travelling around the railway while a second is loading in the station.

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Published On: July 5th, 2021 / Categories: Travel / Last Updated: February 25th, 2023 / Tags: , , , /

About the Author: Emily Cooper

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Emily is a multi-tasking mum of two who swaps a morning aimlessly yelling words like "shoes!" and "teeth!", for the soothing sounds of the keyboard. Relishing her warm cup of tea and unaccompanied toilet trips, she has a passion strong business content, as well lifestyle and parenting blog posts.

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