We take our children on the Ffestiniog Railway which runs through Snowdonia National Park
What is it?
The Ffestiniog Railway is a vintage railway which has been running for nearly 200 years through the beautiful Snowdonia National Park.
Where is it?
It runs between Porthmadog’s harbourside and the former slate mining town of Blaenau Ffestiniog – 13 and a half miles away.
What did we think?
This is one of the country’s best preserved vintage railways with wonderful scenery and child-friendly stops en route.
*The steam engine. Harry Potter fans can imagine they are on the Hogwarts Express as the train starts off. The noise, smell and sensation of a steam engine is unique for children.
*Its history. The Ffestiniog Railway is the world’s oldest narrow gauge railway. This line was originally built to take slate from Snowdonia’s quarries to the harbour at Porthmadog from where it was shipped around the world.
*The carriages are original but despite their age are fairly comfortable and reasonably spacious.
*Table service. Attentive staff regularly come round offering drinks, snacks or guide books. They serve homemade cakes and a selection of alcoholic and soft drinks.
*The views. The journey starts along the water at Porthmadog harbour before chugging up into the mountains. It is a narrow route with some houses right by the railway. As you climb, the railway goes past rocky walls and woodland but it barely goes a few minutes without a great view of Snowdonia’s mountains, streams and valleys.
*Tan-y-Blwch walk. Getting off at Tan-y-Blwch is the best option with children. You have over an hour before the train comes back for the return journey. That is enough time to walk the 1/4 mile down through woodland to Llyn Mair and wander around the lake, possibly with a picnic, before heading back to the station.
*Tan-y-Blwch station. The station has a small but fun playground, cafe and hut showing some of the railway’s history. There is also a bridge over the railway where you can get a good view of the steam trains arriving and departing.
Our top tips
*Sit on the right hand side of the train on the way out of Porthmadog and the left on the way back for the best views.
*The toilet is in the middle of the train so if you have little ones who might need to pay a visit, sit near that carriage.
*With younger children, consider riding to Tan-y-Bwlch rather than all the way to Blaenau Ffestiniog. The journey is 45 minutes each way instead of 1 hour 15 minutes. There is a playground and walk at Tan-y-Bwlch.
Ffestiniog Railway information
Food: Drinks and snacks menu served on-board. Cafes at Porthmadog and Tan-y-Blwch stations on the route serving cakes, ice creams and cooked meals.
Opening hours: For most of the season there are four trains per day. The first train leaves Porthmadog at 10.05am. Other departures are 11.25am, 1.35pm and 3.50pm with the last one getting back at 6.30pm. In the summer holidays there is also an 8.50am departure.
Cost: Adult all-day ticket £25.60, half way return to or from Tan-y-Blwch £16.50. One child free with every paying adult. All under-threes travel free.
Best for: Ages three upwards
Time needed: three hours
Access and restrictions: There are accessible toilets and baby changing facilities at all the main stations. The train itself has a toilet but it is small.
The National Railway Museum houses the world’s greatest collection of railway items. It includes dozens of famous trains from the last 200 years.
Where is it?
Near York Railway Station just outside the city walls, about a 15-minute walk from York Minster.
What did we think?
If your child loves trains you won’t go wrong here and there is enough hands-on history for the average visitor too. The pay-as-you-go rides aren’t the most thrilling though so choose carefully.
*Living history. Head for the Mallard – the fastest steam train ever which sits proudly in the Great Hall. There is also a replica of Stephenson’s Rocket, the first steam powered train, and dozens of other locomotives.
*Royal Carriages – peak inside Queen Victoria’s royal train and see what Kings and Queens over the centuries have travelled in. This is a fascinating glimpse into luxury rail travel.
Queen Victoria’s royal carriage
*The only Japanese bullet train outside of Japan is a chance to learn about what was the fastest train in the world. You can step on board and watch a video about life on the railways in the Far East. There are talks daily at the museum including one about this train.
*If the full-size trains are too big, then under-fives will enjoy the play area, tucked in a corner of the Great Hall.
Our top tips
*The biggest and most interesting room is the Great Hall housing famous trains like Mallard, Stephenson’s Rocket and the Japanese bullet train – go here first even though the natural route takes you to the Station Hall at the start.
*Entry is free but you can buy tickets for rides at the entrance hall – a miniature railway, short trip on a steam train, Mallard simulator and a road train which travels between the museum and York Minster. Each ride cost £3 or £4 per person. Some of the ticket machines at each ride only take cash and the queues are longer. Save yourself time by buying all the tickets you want at the start.
*Try and park at the museum if you can or take the road train from York Minster (£3 per person). It is an awkward and not especially pleasant walk from the city centre through a smelly underpass around the back of York Railway Station.
The National Railway Museum information
Food: You can eat in seats from a Victorian dining car in the Station Hall which serves hearty restaurant meals. There are snacks and cakes at the cafe in the Great Hall and an ice cream shop outside in the Courtyard.
Opening hours: Daily, 10am to 5pm in winter, 10am to 6pm in summer.
Cost: Entry is free but some rides are pay as you go (each one £3 or £4 per person).
Best for: Ages three to 10 and anyone who loves trains.
Time needed: two to three hours.
Access and restrictions: It is a flat site with lifts available for some areas if needed. Disabled toilets are available. Wheelchairs are available for use at the entrance and mobility scooters are for hire for £5. Assistance is available for visitors with visual and hearing impairments.
Address: National Railway Museum York, Leeman Rd, York, YO26 4XJ.