Days Out For Kids Who Love Trains In Essex

Trains have been capturing imaginations ever since they were first invented some 220 years ago and they show no sign of losing their appeal just yet. The first time I took my three year old on the train I was dreading the hour-long journey from my little Essex branch line to Central London but, to my utter amazement, she was mesmerised by the passing scenery and the time flew by with ease. So whether you’ve got a little Thomas fan, a Hogwarts Express enthusiast or just want them to love trains as much as you do, here are the best places to visit in Essex for train lovers.

A diesel train in a station from Epping Ongar Railway in Essex
From full size trains to model railways there are plenty of train themed days out in Essex

The Best Days Out in Essex For Children Who Love Trains

1. Epping and Ongar Railway (EOR)

What to expect: Full-size steam and diesel trains hosting a number of themed events throughout the year.

If you’ve ever driven through Epping near Christmas you may have wondered why there were so many heritage buses driving past owned by the big man himself! This railway, the longest heritage line in Essex, puts on some incredible experiences throughout the year including their Christmas events, during which you will see ‘Santa Special’ labelled buses full of excited passengers making their way to the trains. 

Once you arrive at Ongar, they have either a steam or a diesel locomotive waiting as they run on different services throughout the year. When we visited, the volunteers that run it were happy for visitors to take their time walking up to the main engine to take photos at the end of the journey. 

There are lots of different events through out the year including: meet and greet events with popular characters such as Peppa Pig and George in attendance and dining service trains, which may appeal more to older children. We have visited for the Epping Ongar Lights Express and would recommend it for kids of any age as long as they’re ok with loud music and flashing lights, we even saw some teenagers dancing along with their parents! It was a welcome alternative to a Santa visit or a cold light trail and runs right through to the new year.

As it is run by volunteers Epping Ongar Railway is open only open to the public on weekends and holidays. Child tickets start from £1 (on non event days) and adult tickets from £18.

The main station is located in Ongar, which offers public car parks a short walk away, but another option is to get the Central Line Underground Train to Epping. Epping Ongar Railway run regular vintage buses from Epping Station to Ongar, included in the price.

Book here

2. Colne Valley Railway

What to expect: Full size country railway, a miniature railway and museum (including model railway), mainly open on weekends and school holidays.

While the line may be relatively short, the Colne Valley Railway offers more than just a train journey. It has both steam and diesel engines on different days and you can ride unlimited times for the price of entrance. It also boasts a miniature railway, a museum and a working signal box. There is a post office sorting carriage for some interactive fun sorting letters like a travelling postman, which I’m sure kids would love, an interactive model railway and even a woodland walk. Thankfully, with so much on offer, they also have a café for some well-earned refreshments. They offer different events throughout the year, including a Christmas visit to Santa.

Tickets start from £9 for children over 3 and from £25 for adults.

Colne Valley Railway is located in Castle Hedingham, 9 miles from Braintree and offers a free car park.

Book here

Percy the green engine from Thomas The Tank Engine
East Anglian Railway Museum has Days Out With Thomas Days Throughout The Year

3. East Anglian Railway Museum

What to expect: An open air museum, restoration shed and unlimited train rides set in a real working train station. Open on select days, March to December.

East Anglian Railway Museum is open throughout the year for the museum and various events days, but for children the best time to visit it is at their regular Days Out With Thomas event.  If you’ve got a little Thomas the Tank Engine fan this is the place to book, the East Anglian Railway Museum plays host to the famous train and his friends several times throughout the year. They can ride on the life-size character trains as well as watch shows and listen to stories with characters such as the Controller, Sir Topham Hatt, in attendance. They even have a Christmas event where children can visit Thomas and Santa on the same day.  Read about when we visited on a Day Out With Thomas Day here. 

On other event days the museum still has plenty to offer with unlimited steam or diesel train rides, the signal box, a ride in an open air wagon and a train themed children’s playground. On some days you can view a model railway and go on a short miniature train ride too. There is a café but picnics are also welcome with over 10 acres to enjoy them in. As the museum is set in a real station you can even arrive by train, giving train fans the ultimate day out.

Train day tickets start at £8.50 for children over 4 and £11.50 for adults.

Located at Chappel and Wakes Colne Station for National Rail services. The museum is eight miles outside of Colchester. There is a small amount of free parking for the museum, but on their main event days a field is used to provide additional car parking. 

Book here

A train themed adventure play area
As well as a miniature railway there is a train themed playground at Audley End Miniature Railway

4. Audley End Miniature Railway and Enchanted Fairy and Elf Walk

What to expect: A miniature railway with children’s play area situated in Saffron Walden. Open on select days between March and December.

Situated in a beautiful woodland setting in Saffron Walden (and across the road from Audley End House) is the Audley End Miniature Railway and Enchanted Fairy and Elf Walk. They host an array of events themed to the seasons throughout the year which are really popular.  Each event day includes a ride on an open air carriage pulled by either a steam or diesel miniature train, which weaves through the trees revealing a number of magical scenes for the children to find.  

On the themed days the train stops in the woodland for a short show and children receive a gift from the Easter Bunny, witches or, of course, Father Christmas, depending on the season. When the journey finishes, the day continues with the Fairy and Elf Walk, another show, a chance for refreshments and a visit to the children’s playground. On non-event days, children can still enjoy the train ride, walk and playground. From Easter to Christmas, the changing natural scenery alongside all the activities, makes this one many of my parent friends visit repeatedly. 

Non-event day tickets start at £5 for children and £10 for adults.

Located just outside Saffron Walden and offers free onsite parking to visitors.

Read our review and tips for visiting here.

Book here

5. Barnards Miniature Railway

What to expect: A miniature railway with gardens and a museum. Open on select dates April to December.

This miniature railways boasts the longest end to end  7 ¼” gauge line in the country and offers an impressive mile and a half long return journey. They offer a number of events throughout the year, including a National Gardens Scheme garden (separate charge) that opens on Thursdays, and Christmas events. They mostly use diesel engines but there is a possibility to see steam and electric at some events and there are a selection of sculptures on their walk, including Thomas Heatherwick’s Sitooterie sculpture for any young art lovers. There’s plenty of seating for picnics and a chance to buy light refreshments, as well as a runway if you happen to want to arrive by light aircraft!

Standard train tickets start at £7 for a return ticket. Tickets for the train can be booked on the day, but if visiting when the garden is open a separate garden ticket needs prebooking from the National Garden Scheme website.

Located in West Hordon, 4 miles outside of Brentwood and offers free parking.

More Details Here

6. Canvey Island Transport Museum

What to expect: a small museum with a large model railway and selection of vehicles. Open on select dates year round (mostly Sundays).

The museum originally opened in 1979 when local residents raised money to convert an old bus depot. If you have a little one that’s into all types of transport this is a nice place to bring them. They have a number of vintage buses to see, some of which you can board, motorcycles and even a canvas sailing boat. 

The large model railway is housed in a separate area and is chargeable while the rest of the museum is free. They put on a number of events throughout the year, including Easter and open days with tours. 

It’s currently undergoing refurbishment and is only partially open so what is on view may vary.

Free entry, model railway is chargeable to enter. Limited parking

Find out more here

Top Tip: While you’re in the area you could combine the museum with a visit to the Canvey Railway and Model Engineering Club, which is a ten minute drive away.

Volunteers sorting out the trains at North Weald & District Miniature Railway
Train loving volunteers run a number of miniature railways in Essex

7. North Weald & District Miniature Railway

What to expect: A small railway (the type you sit on) set outside a garden centre with regular running days and special events throughout the year.

If you enjoy a look around a garden centre on the weekend and want to make it more fun for the kids, head to Harlow Garden Centre where the North Weald & District Miniature Railway is situated. They operate both diesel and steam engines along the mile-long track and it is a bargain at just £2 per person to ride.  Easter, Halloween and Christmas events are very popular events and need prebooking, but on non-event days you can normally walk up and buy tickets. 

They have recently installed a small playground on site so there is something to entertain children while you wait. 

Free parking, non-event day rides start at £2 per person. 

Find out more here

Top Tip: Another garden centre with a miniature railway can be found at Poplar Nursery in Colchester.

8. Mangapps Railway and Museum

What to expect: A working railway and museum set on a farm in Burnham on Crouch. Open weekends, school and bank holidays on dates between February and October.

This museum is home to an impressive number of vehicles, including 18 steam and diesel locomotives and 80 carriages. Visitors are allowed to go inside many different restored carriages and engines as well as riding a short length of the track. The museum is well loved with a large selection of items related to trains, particularly from the Essex area, and the entry fee includes a lineside walk. There is also a Brio table for the children and gift shop.

Tickets for children over three are £7.50 and adult tickets are £15.

Located in Burnham on Crouch, offers free onsite parking.

9. Southend Pier Railway and Museum

What to expect: A train running 1.25 miles over the sea along Southend Pier.

What better way to reach the end of the world’s longest pleasure pier than by train? At an impressive 1.33 miles long, it can be a long, cold walk along the pier once the sea breeze hits you. The alternative of a ride on the train one or both ways to near the end makes a seaside day out even more exciting for children. Visit on a weekend or bank holiday and you’ll be able to visit the pier’s museum, which houses three original train carriages from c.1949 and a working signal box, as well as some working penny slot machines.

Prices are £4 return for children and £7.50 for an adult. Museum entry is free but donations are welcome.

Located in Southend-on-Sea. There is plenty of nearby on-street and car parks, but these are all chargeable.

Find out more here

10. The Flitch Way and The Booking Hall café

What to expect:  A public footpath set along an old railway route. Located between Braintree and Bishops Stortford.

And finally for something a bit different, The Flitch Way is a 15-mile long trail following the old railway line between Braintree and Bishops Stortford. It’s perfect for a summer day out with a railway twist and you can still see parts of the abandoned railway and station signs as you go along. It has over 70 access points so can be started at a place of your choosing and offers a relatively straight route perfect for bike riding or walks with a picnic. At one end you’ll find The Booking Hall Café, which is set in the original main building of Rayne station and offers a range of refreshments for before, after or to take on your journey. Seating is outdoor only on the station platform. It’s also home to a converted carriage with a small museum inside.

The Flitch Way is a free public footpath. The Booking Hall Café is in Rayne and offers free onsite parking.

Find out more here

Guest Post written by Lauren, a mum in Essex.

Days out in Essex for kids who love trains
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