Stuck for Ideas this Half Term?

Yesterday my family and I were invited to the National Railway Museum in York to experience the start of the October Half Term. The museum in York is currently having a Toy Trains event, and wanted to show us everything they had to offer!



In all honesty, I was surprised at the amount of things to do at this place - it was huge. I had kind of thought that we'd spend a half day there, then do a bit of shopping in York City Centre which is only a 10 minute walk away, or the Museum has a shuttle train that takes you to the Minster for a £2 fare, but you can easily spend a whole day at the museum and not get bored! I didn't realise that it is actually the world's largest railway museum, and so I felt quite proud that it is located in Yorkshire where I live!

We started off in the Great Hall which is the old converted steam engine shed. It is completely modernised now though- having a light glass roof to make it pleasant to be in - not like the dark, cramped place it would have been tears ago when it was a working locomotive shed. Now it is a display area where the steam engines of trains from history are displayed around a central turntable. It really is a step back in time, as you see the brightly coloured painted engine bodies with the wheels as large as a person. They are so completely different from what we are used to seeing on our railways these days.



There are painted cast iron signs hung on the walls to show the names of trains that they adorned years ago, and we had just arrived in time for the turntable demonstration, where the staff gave us a talk about how the turntable was historically used to turn a steam train engine around on the track in the days before trains had a working cab at each end and could run on a track 'backwards' as easily as it could 'forwards'.



Whilst milling round the Great Hall we saw the special features that had been laid on for the day. I think the museum must change the displays from time to time as when I arrived I was given a 'Daily Diary' to show me what's on today. So we could see the Meccano displays,Chuggington, Thomas the Tank Engine display going round the track and a kiddies play area with toy trains, but these aren't necessarily always there. The website will give you more information about what's on to help you plan your trip, so I'd recommend looking at that first to check the additonal features.

Something that is always there however is the simulator ride, and we went on this. It is an optional 'extra' - it costs £3 per person to ride, and you can choose from several experiences like a space shuttle mission or riding the steam train to London, set in the olden days! We went for the time travel experience which meant we could look at the dinosaurs- essential viewing for my 4 YO son who loves T-Rex!

There are two main parts to this museum, and they are adjoined by a tunnel, so we went through the tunnel to the Station Hall which is where the restaurant is housed. There is a cafe in the Great Hall too, but we wanted something more filling than a soup and sandwich, so we headed for the Station Hall restaurant. It was lovely- just like dining on the platform at St Pancras! This might not sound very lovely and it probably isn't these days, but the Station Hall had quite a romantic feel. I think that there is something very enchanting about steam trains and their platforms, but I was brought up on Narnia books and have a secret desire to travel on the Orient Express one day, so this whole area of the museum was lovely to wander round. There were Royal train carriages on display where you could see proper iron bedsteads and quilted covers in the sleeping carriages alongside carriages that looked like 'smoking rooms' with leather wing back chairs and even a living room carriage complete with a writing desk! Royalty from history obviously travelled in style! The restaurant was amongst these displays, so you could eat and observe at the same time.

We had a lovely quiche and salad, and some fishcake and wedges, and the kids had sausage chips and beans so it was filling and tasted nice, but the best thing about the restaurant was how helpful the staff was. Whilst my husband was getting the kids their food, I was struggling to carry two trays, so one chap who worked there helped me to my table with it. I felt that the food and drinks were a little expensive at about £8 for a main meal and some drinks in bottles were about £2.50 to £3, but if you are having a day out there the entry to the museum is free, so the costs weigh themselves out. You can also take a packed lunch if you are on a budget - there are plenty of places to sit and eat, but on balance the restaurant prices are worth it for a nice day out and the experience of sitting in the Station Hall restaurant which really was lovely.

Whilst we were at the Station Hall side of the museum, we went out into the South Yard which was an outdoor area with a playground, an outdoor minature railway (which we went on!) and a big steam engine that you can ride on too. I wanted to go on this but we didn't realise it was in the South Yard until we'd walked away and we were getting tired towards the end of the day and didn't want to walk all the way back to the South Yard when our car was parked next to the Great Hall. The museum really is big, which is fab for a whole fun filled day out but bad for my feet! I tend to flag a bit late afternoon and need a coffee and cake type pick me up. I could have done this- there was a cafe serving this kind of thing but the kids wanted to do their craft activity and so I helped them instead.



After the craft stall, we had a last look around the Great Hall before we left. We went into a Japanese Bullet Train, saw the workings of a Chinese Steam Train (which was huge!) and watched a Eurostar movie in the back of a segment of Eurostar train which was positioned inside a tunnel so we could see how large these tunnels are. With all this and model railways to look at, there is something to see at every turn, and if you want to learn more in depth, there is a library area on a mezzanine level where you can go and search the archives.

My husband told me that he wasn't expecting to see that much from the museum, he had an idea in his head about what the day would be like but the actual experience surpassed it. If you are looking for a fun filled day out in Yorkshire, I'd definitely recommend giving the National Railway Museum a try!

The 'Big Fun With Little Trains' event is for Half Term only and is on from 22-30 October 2011.

Disclosure: Our car parking, lunch and rides on the simulator and minature railways were paid for by the museum as a special Blogger's Day Out. However it's worth noting that entry to the museum is free of charge for everyone.

Thanks for visiting! You are looking hot today! x

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