National Railway Museum, York

The National Railway Museum provided us with one of our best afternoons last summer. Garden Girl and Garden Boy were wowed by the large exhibits, thrilling in the opportunity to get so close to the trains, peer through the windows and in some cases climb on board. Garden Boy didn’t know where to look first. He stood pointing at all the trains, saying Choo Choo with a huge grin on his face. He had no understanding of the historic value of the trains but was content to run from one train to another, looking at the wheels and funnels. Garden Girl had a better understanding that some of the trains were very old and therefore very special. She was also very impressed with the idea of a train that could travel through a tunnel built under water, when we climbed onboard a Eurostar train.

An unexpected highlight for both of them was the walk underneath a train. We were effectively walking through a tunnel where the roof was the underside of a train and they both walked through with heads tilted upwards, looking at all the workings. I had no idea what we were looking at, so I pointed out the obvious bits like the wheels and explained how complicated it was to build a train and we tried to guess how many nuts and bolts were used to put it together. Does anyone know? The wonder of walking underneath a train certainly captured the interest of Garden Girl, so that when Uncle H joined us at the museum after work she insisted on walking him through this exhibit.

Garden Girl had the opportunity to dress up in Victorian clothes and climb on board a Victorian train. She loved the little dress and the chance to sit in a really really old train cabin, although she wasn’t very impressed when the lady at the museum suggested she temporarily swap Garden Cow for a Victorian Teddy. There were no outfits small enough for Garden Boy but he wriggles and squirms a lot when he gets dressed so it was probably for the best.

We rounded the day off with a trip on the mini railway. Garden Girl and Garden Boy both thought this was brilliant. Garden Mum and Garden Dad were a little disappointed that it was not a round trip. Instead the train went in a straight line to a small platform where we all stoof up and turned around so we were facing forward for the return trip and to give the impression to all those waiting for their turn that the train takes a circular route. Our Little Museums Visitors did not mind though and at only 50p per person we shouldn’t really complain. The only thing to bear in mind with the mini railway is that it only runs for a few hours in the afternoon and if you do not buy your ticket early enough you could miss out, because once the queue got quite long they seemed to shut down the ticket machine.

The only disappointment we experienced was that the model railway wasn’t running which both Garden Boy and Garden Girl would have loved to see. However, with so much else to see and do, this in no means spoiled our day and is something to look forward to next time we visit, which we most definitely will again. We spent an afternoon at the museum but could easily have spent the whole day and best of all museum entry is free for everyone.

Practicalities

  • It is easy to push a pushchair around the museum without blocking exhibits or walkways, although it wasn’t possible to take them on board the trains, so you must be willing to leave them on the platforms while you look inside.
  • There are steps to climb if you want to peer through the windows of some of the older trains and you must go down steps in order to view the underside of the train which makes a number of the exhibits inaccessible to wheelchair users.
  • There is lots of space for toddlers to run about and explore but you must stay very close as there are open platform edges and uneven surfaces.
  • Although queuing for the mini railway can take a long time the museum have provided toys in the form of big, soft building blocks, outdoor connect four and hoop throwing to entertain the family while one of you holds your place in the queue.
  • There are toilets at various locations in the museum so you are never too far away for a toddler who only tells you they need to go when they are desperate. There are disabled toilets and baby changing facilities at all the toilet locations and within the museum there are two rooms for feeding young babies.
  • The museum is a long walk from York town centre, especially for toddlers as some of it is uphill, however there is a Road Train which runs between York Minster and the museum. We were not aware of this until we arrived at the museum and we missed the last train back afterwards as we did not want to leave the museum that early. There is a charge for this service and it does not run all year round so it is worth contacting the museum before your visit if you intend to use this service.
  • There is a car park beside the museum although charges apply. We used the city park and ride which does have a stop beside the museum which we could have used had we not been visiting the town centre as well. Alternatively if you are arriving by train the museum is very close to the railway station.
  • The museum does have a programme of events, activities and exhibitions which we just ran out of time to see. There are sometimes charges for these.
  • Museum entry is FREE to all visitors
  • To find out more or to check for updated information such as opening times and special events, have a look at the National Railway Museum website.