Full Steam Ahead: Top 10 steam rides and railways in the UK
From Thomas The Tank Engine-mad toddlers, to train enthusiasts, families of all ages are sure to be charmed by a day out at a classic steam railway. Taking you on a journey through beautiful countryside, restored stations and even some film locations too, make tracks to one near you, as we reveal our top 10 steam train rides and steam railways in the UK.
Plus, with special seasonal events including magical steam rides with Santa this Christmas, there’s even more reason to visit.
North Yorkshire Moors Railway, North YorkshireThis popular heritage railway ticks all the boxes for a great day out, with stunning scenery, grand steam trains and even some Harry Potter magic on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway too. Running through the beautiful North York Moors National Park both ways between Pickering and Whitby, the whole family will love stopping at beautifully restored stations along the way, including Goathland, better known as Hogsmead Station from the first Harry Potter film!
Length: Up to 24 miles
Open: April to October, plus selected dates from December to March
Seasonal events: Halloween train and special Santa steam train rides
Great Central Railway, LeicestershirePay a visit to the UK’s only Main Line Heritage railway and twin track line, or in other words, the only place where you can see full-size steam engines passing each other just like they used to! Board the Great Central Railway at Loughborough Central Station, before pulling off toward Leicester North, with stunning views and plenty of exciting things to spot on route.
Length: 8 miles
Open: Weekends from January to December, plus selected weekdays and special events throughout the year
Special events: Halloween Steam & Scream, Bonfire Night and fireworks plus Santa Steam Trains
South Devon Railway, DevonGet 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? There’s the museum at Buckfastleigh, or you’ll find the popular Totnes Rare Breeds Farm right next to the station.
Length: 7 miles
Open: April to October, plus selected dates from November to March
Special events: Carols down the Line and Santa by Steam train rides
Churnet Valley Railway, StaffordshireHop aboard the Churnet Valley Railway for a delightful journey through Staffordshire’s hidden valley, experiencing what the classic days of railway travel were really like. Visit picturesque stations, travel through stunning countryside and make sure you visit the award-winning traditional tea room at Kingsley & Froghall, all in addition to enjoying a ride on one of the UK’s classic steam train rides – perfect for the whole family.
Length: 11-mile round trip, or add another 9-mile round trip with the Cauldon Lowe branch
Open: Weekends from April to September, and selected other dates. Closed in November
Special events: Easter egg hunts, Halloween family fun and Santa & Steam train rides
Lappa Valley Steam Railway, CornwallWhat better way to see the Cornish countryside than from aboard a beautiful steam train thanks to 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 and more. It’s even home to the largest selection of 'Thomas the Tank Engine' stock in all of Cornwall, so make sure you have some pocket money!
Length: 3 miles
Open: Daily, with trains running every 40 minutes from 10.30am
Special events: Halloweek events for Halloween and Santa Trains
East Lancashire Railway, Greater ManchesterSit back and relax as you enjoy your journey aboard this historical steam train, taking in some of the sights of the North West. The East Lancashire Railway takes you from Rawtenstall to Heywood, with Bury, Ramsbottom and Burrs Country Park some of the stops along the way. Don’t miss the range of events too, including seasonal specials.
Length: 12.5 miles
Open: Wednesday to Sunday from April to September, all weekends from October to March, plus selected other dates
Special events: Halloween Ghost Trains and train rides with Santa
The Jacobite Steam Train, Scottish HighlandsFrom the highest mountain in Britain, to the most westerly station, travelling past Britain’s deepest freshwater loch and the shortest river, The Jacobite Steam Train surely comes out on top for the most interesting route. It gets better too, as the tracks also cross all 21 arches of the Glenfinnan viaduct, which you might just recognise as being the route to Hogwarts in the Harry Potter films. Often described as the greatest railway journey in the world, it’s an epic adventure the whole family will love.
Length: A whopping 84-mile round trip
Open: Generally weekdays from April – October and weekends from June to October, though dates do vary. We recommend checking and booking in advance
Special events: Santa trains and festive specials
Mid Hants Railway Watercress Line, HampshireNicknamed the Watercress Line due to its connection with transporting watercress from Alresford to London, Mid Hants Railway features a fleet of steam locomotives running to Alton, which shares its station with the mainline running to Waterloo. Experience the golden age of steam in this charming day out, and with some familiar faces making an appearance at special events, it’s a day out the kids will love.
Length: 10 miles
Open: Weekends from March to October, plus most school holidays. See a full list of dates here
Special events: Wizard weekends, plus special Santa steam trains
Kent & East Sussex Railway, KentStarting at Tenterden Town Station, the Kent & East Sussex Railway is the ideal way to step back in time. With 4 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 short walk from the final station step, it’s all change for a great day out.
Length: 21-mile round trip
Open: Selected dates from April to October, plus some special events
Special events: Halloween High Jinx, Fright Night Express and steam train trips with Santa
The Vale of Rheidol Railway, CeredigionThis Welsh wonder lets you make tracks through some breath-taking scenery, including wide open fields and rugged mountain scenery, from Aberystwyth to Devil’s Bridge. With the option to do a single or return trip, or even just do part of the route, The Vale of Rheidol Railway is a great way to experience a taste of steam train life. Don’t forget to keep an eye out for birds soaring high above the valley, including Red Kites and Buzzards!
Length: 23.5-mile round trip
Open: April to October, plus selected dates from November to March. Closed for the whole of January.
Special events: Halloween Ghost Trains and Santa Trains
Looking for a Day Out With Thomas? These popular train events for fans of the famous blue engine take place at lots of railways across the UK, including Mid Hants Railway Watercress Line, Kent & East Sussex Railway, East Lancashire Railway and South Devon Railway from this list! For a little insight into what it involves, don’t miss Stephanie’s review of a Day Out With Thomas, or find other railway and transport attractions near you!