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A Train-tastic Museum in York
National Railway Museum (York)
Member Name: jillycat
National Railway Museum (York)
Advantages: Very family friendly lots to see interactive museum train trips
Disadvantages: The queueing to get in
Living in York one of the places we visit often with our son is the National Railway Museum. My train mad 3 year old loves going and seeing the trains and the various changing exhibits over the year.
Where is it
Located in the centre of York the National Railway museum is easily accessible by public transport. A bus stop is near by and if you have travelled by train it is actually to the rear of York station and is a short walk across a concourse and over a road a walk in total from the station of about 5 minutes. If you are coming by car it is well signposted with brown signs and is on the inner ring road off Leeman road. The museum has its own car park which will cost £5 for the day. However if you are visiting on a weekend I would suggest using the train stations commuter car park which is next to the museum and cost £2.50 for the day. There is plenty of parking here and again is a 5 minute walk to the museum. However don't use this car park during the week when the fares make it much higher than the Museums own car park.
What's there and our experience
There are two main sections to the museum the Great Hall which is on one side of Leeman road and the South yard and Station Hall which is on the other. The two are linked by an under road path there are some steep steps here so you do have to be careful with young children. There are also lifts which makes it easy for pushchairs and the disabled to get between both sites. In the underground walk way there is also some lockers situated so you can store some small items. There are also about 6 large lockers that would fit a pushchair of a large suitcase if you so choose and are worth bearing in mind if you are checking in and out of hotels before a trip home by rail. The fees for these are quite small £1 for a small one and £2 for a large one.
The Great Hall
Included in the Great Hall is the turntable so you can watch at regular intervals the trains being moved around. The Mallard train and the Japanese Bullet train are also located in this section. Some of the trains you can only admire from the ground and feel dwarfed by their size but other you can go on walkways to see inside the engines or in the case of the Japanese Bullet sit in one of the carriages.
One of my son's favourite bits in this section is the model railway which is behind some Perspex screens. Several model trains on a 0 gauge go round this track that is laid out well, with trees, tunnels, animals, stations and everything a little boy would love to see on their own railway set. The railway is set out in a very child friendly way with ramps so that younger ones can watch the trains go round without having to be lifted up to see. My son has been able to see under aided since he was 2 years old.
There are several interactive sections in the great hall, inducing a section on mail/post going by rail here you can record a message to be relayed or post letters through slots to see how quickly they can go and do various other push button questions and watch some films. The letter posting is always a firm favourite with my son and other children so occasionally you may have to wait your turn.
Close to this there is the elevated section called The Works about the Flying Scotsman and some of aspects about railways. The elevated section is accessible either by stairs straight from the Great Hall or by a lift that is hidden in the warehouse section. From this elevated section you can look down into the works to see them working on restoring not only the Flying Scotsman both other projects to. Around the walkways are various displays telling you about the Flying Scotsman and some interactive displays to either build an engine or a touch screen telling you about various points in the history of the Scotsman. As you walk further around here there are other displays mainly regarding signalling and how they control trains on each section of the railway. The next highlight for my son is the viewing platform here where you can watch trains arriving and leaving York station. There is a handy timetable on the wall that updates regularly to let you know when the next trains are arriving so you can pop back in a few minutes if one is not due when you go. My son often loves watching these go back and forward and waving to passengers even though I am sure they can't see him.
The other area off the Great Hall we have discover recently is the Search Engine this is a library about all things train related, however it is worth noting for younger visitors that might want a bit of quite time that there are also children's books here to look at and my son and I had a quick read of some Peter's train books on our last visit.
South yard and Station Hall
The Station Hall has changed over this year prior to this it used to have a large exhibit of the royal trains and other private carriages for you to see. Since July this year that has changed and is still in the process of redevelopment. They are trying to re create a huge railway station atmosphere with lot of carts, luggage, freight carriages for you to see. I have to admit to having some mixed feelings about this as my son misses seeing the posh carriages close up as he used to and we would play games to see if we could see the mannequins move. The empty space still seems a bit vast and under used but as it is planned to be finished into 2012 it is still early days and a large section of the hall was corned off on our visit for the Santa experience so what will sit in that space I am unsure. What was nice though was the story telling here as it had a nice open space for all the children to sit and watch the story unfold.
The Station hall is also where the main restaurant and indoor picnic area is and this does take up a degree of space.
Situated next to it is the art gallery which is a new feature that will display changing exhibits of paintings and other art work inspired by the railways and if you are interested in this it is probably worth while checking the website for details of the current exhibit.
The South Yard as well as being where the adventure play ground is and the miniature railway has some outdoor seating for picnics and a signal box. It is also the place where if they are running short steam trip you can catch the train from. There is also a works shed which was closed the last time we visited but generally houses some more modern trains and carriages to look at.
Outdoor Miniature railway
At a cost of 50 pence a person for a ride this small miniature railway is popular place to visit with our son. Situated next to the outdoor children's play area with swings he is happy to be amused there with the various activities till we can have a turn on the train. Tickets are purchased from a machine that takes both coins and notes so you don't need to stock up change before a visit. The train trip is very short but goes past a small pond with fish and a tunnel made of willow so provide a little bit of interest to look at but for our son it is just often enough to sit close to the engine and watch it chug along the track.
The museum has regular events on especially for families during school holidays. During the weekdays and most weekends there are story time for the children and my son generally enjoys these as most are interactive getting the children to respond to things by shouting and waving flags for instance.
There are often some special events on through out the year most recently a Santa experience my son and I did last Saturday which my son enjoyed and we got a nice gift of a wooden connect four for him included in the price for him. Some of the events do cost so it is always worth checking the web-page for the museum for the individual details.
For the grown ups there are often talks scheduled during the day and regular announcements let you know when they are on. There is also the regular Railfest each year that includes often the change to go into more of the trains than normal and steam train journeys between York and the Shildon museum site.
Restaurant and picnic area
There is the main restaurant in the Station Hall this servers not only drinks but hot meals, sandwiches and snacks. Whilst it isn't cheap the food is very well cooked and presented and the few times we have eaten there as a treat we haven't been disappointed. They also serve child's potions and a children's snack box. The restaurant is self service which can at times seem to run a bit slow. The tables we find are always nice and clean and you can have tap water without any charge. There are plenty of highchairs to use and there is the facility to heat baby food if you need to.
The smaller signal box café in the Great Hall is mainly for drinks sandwiches and cakes. This again is well presented and does seem to be a bit better value for an afternoon treat rather than lunch.
There is an indoor picnic area in the Station Hall that has several large picnic benches for you to sit on these easily accommodate several adults and children. There is also some very handily situated bins near by for rubbish. These are ideal for families and something we use on most trips to the museum.
The museum is very family friendly with lots of activities for the children such as story telling, to events where they can make things. There are plenty of toilets situated though out the museum that have baby changing in them. The ladies toilets in the Station hall area also have some larger cubicles to allow you to take a pushchair in them which is very handy. The restaurants are also very family friendly with the inclusion of a good amount of highchairs. There are the usual pester power points of gifts shops by the entrance and a few Thomas rides that take 50 pence around the museum as well. The playground is a great way at times in the better weather we find to break up the looking at trains and for burning off some excess energy.
There does appear to be a good disabled access through out with very few of the exhibits being inaccessible to the disabled. Most areas have either lifts or ramps to get a wheelchair around them. There are also available larger print maps if you would like one. You can also have a wheelchair to use if you need one, there is no mention if you need to book these on the website but it maybe worth a ring to reserve one. There is also free disabled parking to the front of the museum.
The railway museum is a great tourist attraction in York with lots to see and do. We frequently attend throughout the year and my 3 year old never seems to get bored of visiting there. The family friendlessness of the museum makes a pleasant place to visit as a family and it is good cheap option for a day out.
Entrance fees and opening hours
The entrance to the museum is free however I have noticed that there is a bit more of a push to ask you to make a donation recently. However if you refuse politely as I have done the staff don't give you any horrid looks. The entrance to the museum I find a little annoying as they ask you to queue up and go to the till to say how many are in your party which when its free seems pointless bar them trying to get a donation from you or to encourage you to buy a programme. The queue at times can stretch outside and be a bit cold which again is a bit frustrating
It is open Daily 10.00 - 18.00 but Closed on the 24, 25, 26 December
National Railway Museum, Leeman Road,
York, YO26 4XJ
telephone: 08448 153139 (Mon - Fri, 9am - 5pm)
fax: 01904 686228
Summary: A great train museum in York with lots to see and do
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