Full Steam Ahead! 12 Thrilling Family Adventures Across the UK
Full Steam Ahead! 12 Thrilling Family Adventures Across the UK - Ride the Rails on a Nostalgic Steam Train Journey
Nothing quite transports you back in time like the sight and sound of a mighty steam engine chugging down the tracks. Steam trains capture the romance and adventure of train travel in its golden age. Climb aboard and let a cloud of billowing smoke whisk you away to a simpler era.
One of the most iconic steam train journeys in Britain is the Jacobite Steam Train that runs along the scenic West Highland Line from Fort William to Mallaig. Made famous as the Hogwarts Express in the Harry Potter films, this 84-mile route takes you past striking lochs, moody mountains, and the iconic Glenfinnan Viaduct. Lean out the window and feel the wind in your hair as you cross the 21-arched curved viaduct that overlooks the Glenfinnan Monument.
Further south in Devon, step back in time with a ride on the South Devon Railway's steam trains. This heritage line runs along seven miles of the original Great Western Railway branch line from Totnes to Buckfastleigh. Marvel at the steam engine's exposed machinery as it chugs uphill beside the River Dart. The line passes through unspoiled countryside dotted with thatched cottages and sleepy villages.
In Norfolk, the Bure Valley Railway's vintage diesel and steam trains trundle through the tranquil Broads National Park. This 18-mile round trip follows the valley of the River Bure from Wroxham to Aylsham. Passing through ancient meadows grazed by cattle and sheep, it's easy to imagine yourself in a bygone era of slower, simpler village life.
What else is in this post?
- Full Steam Ahead! 12 Thrilling Family Adventures Across the UK - Ride the Rails on a Nostalgic Steam Train Journey
- Full Steam Ahead! 12 Thrilling Family Adventures Across the UK - See Where Harry Potter Came to Life at the Jacobite Steam Train
- Full Steam Ahead! 12 Thrilling Family Adventures Across the UK - Climb Aboard The Ultimate Playground on Wheels
- Full Steam Ahead! 12 Thrilling Family Adventures Across the UK - Journey Through Dawlish, the Seaside Town Frozen in Time
- Full Steam Ahead! 12 Thrilling Family Adventures Across the UK - All Aboard! Cruise the Norfolk Broads on a Vintage Steamboat
- Full Steam Ahead! 12 Thrilling Family Adventures Across the UK - Channel Your Inner Swashbuckler Aboard a Pirate Steamship
- Full Steam Ahead! 12 Thrilling Family Adventures Across the UK - Stoke the Fires of Imagination at a Living History Museum
- Full Steam Ahead! 12 Thrilling Family Adventures Across the UK - Full Steam Ahead to New Adventures Along Britain's Coasts and Canals
Full Steam Ahead! 12 Thrilling Family Adventures Across the UK - See Where Harry Potter Came to Life at the Jacobite Steam Train
For millions of Harry Potter fans worldwide, a ride on the Jacobite Steam Train in the Scottish Highlands is the ultimate way to step into the wizarding world of Hogwarts. This historic railway was featured in several of the Harry Potter films, bringing the iconic Hogwarts Express to life onscreen. A journey on this train lets you recreate some of the movies' most memorable scenes.
As the Jacobite Steam Train departs from Fort William and winds its way along one of Britain's most scenic rail routes, you'll cross the epic Glenfinnan Viaduct. This dramatic 21-arched curved viaduct provided the backdrop for the flying Ford Anglia rescue scene in 'Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets'. Gaze out the window as you cross the viaduct overlooking Loch Shiel, and you'll swear you see the Hogwarts Express steaming ahead.
Further along, the train rolls past the Glenfinnan Monument marking the spot where Bonnie Prince Charlie raised his Highland army in 1745. In the films, this landmark overlooks the railway as the Hogwarts Express makes its way to Hogsmeade Station. Sit back and soak up the atmosphere, imagining Harry, Ron and Hermione in the carriage behind you, snacking on chocolate frogs as Scottish landscapes stream past.
As every Potterhead knows, platform 93⁄4 is where students begin their journey to Hogwarts. While the steam train doesn't stop at a magical platform, you can have your 'Platform 93⁄4' moment at Glenfinnan Station. Here a special carriage has been set up, allowing you to pose with a luggage trolley disappearing into the brick wall. Capture the perfect photo before the train departs on to Mallaig.
Along every mile of this 84-mile journey from Fort William to Mallaig, the Jacobite Steam Train brings J.K. Rowling's magical world to life. Passing lochs, rivers, mountains, and remote villages barely touched by time, it's easy to believe you're on your way to school atop a Scottish cliffside. Potter fans who have made the pilgrimage on this train describe it as an immersive, almost surreal experience.
Full Steam Ahead! 12 Thrilling Family Adventures Across the UK - Climb Aboard The Ultimate Playground on Wheels
For families with train-loving kids, the action-packed Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railways in North Wales are a treat. Winding through the Snowdonia National Park, these heritage railways have been dubbed "the ultimate playground on wheels", combining stunning scenery with hands-on interactive fun.
One highlight is the Victorian carriage on the Ffestiniog Railway that has been transformed into a magical play zone. This unique Great Western Railway coach from 1894 has retained its wooden panels and brass lamps, but inside it's an imaginative wonderland. Kids can dress up in a range of railway costumes, from train driver to guard to ticket inspector. Then they're given wooden toy trains, building blocks, and role play stations to fuel creative play. Parents can relax in armchairs and watch the spectacular Snowdonia scenery roll past through wide windows. It's a peaceful oasis amid the bustle of excitement.
At Dinas Station, the Welsh Highland Railway has an adventure playground allowing kids to let off steam. This purpose-built wooden playground has a fenced grassy area where children can climb, slide, swing and play while watching the trains. There's also an indoor soft play "carriage" for toddlers.
Of course the biggest thrill is riding in a heritage train hauled by one of the lovingly restored steam engines. Both railways have a range of vintage locomotives, some over 100 years old. There's a palpable sense of excitement as the engine builds up steam, whistle blowing as carriages gently rock into motion. Passengers can walk through the train to the very last carriage for a different perspective on the ride.
Kids delight in spotting the signals change, watching the mechanics of crossing points, and waving at drivers as carriages slowly pass each other at stations. Soaking up the sights, sounds and motions of these vintage trains fosters a life-long love of rail travel.
Along the journeys, audio guides and onboard staff provide interesting snippets about the railways' history and operation. Young train enthusiasts can spot the different locomotives, noting their names, ages and quirks. Whether you go for the 25 minute ride between Porthmadog and Tan y Bwlch on the Ffestiniog Railway, or opt for the longer 1 hour 45 minute trip from Caernarfon to Porthmadog on the Welsh Highland line, there's endless scope for adventure.
As one happy parent wrote, "The playground coaches and engine sheds bring these railways to life for kids. We've been on steam trains worldwide, but our boys agree this is the best experience yet. They were buzzing for days afterwards!".
Full Steam Ahead! 12 Thrilling Family Adventures Across the UK - Journey Through Dawlish, the Seaside Town Frozen in Time
Nestled along the south coast of Devon, the seaside town of Dawlish offers a journey back in time aboard its heritage railway. As the train trundles beside sandy beaches and colorful Regency architecture, you feel as though you’ve been transported back to Dawlish’s 19th century heyday as a fashionable coastal resort.
Operated by the Dawlish Warren Railway, vintage diesel trains run at a leisurely pace along scenic tracks with views over sweeping Dawlish Bay. Out the window you’ll see magnificent red sandstone cliffs and arcades of pastel-hued Georgian and Victorian buildings framing the shoreline.
Rambling along the coastline, the train passes relics that stand as monuments to Dawlish’s rich history. Look out for the striking black-and-white striped Daymark tower, built in 1830 as a navigation aid for ships entering the Exe Estuary. Gaze at the Boat Cove and Cory’s Caves carved into the cliffs where locals once operated smuggling and fishing boats.
Crossing coastal inlets, you’ll spot swans gliding across glassy turquoise waters fringed by reeds. Further on, the train pulls up at Dawlish Station, a sentinel from the past with its original Victorian ironwork platforms and footbridge dating to 1877.
Step off the train and you can immediately plunge into the irresistible seaside charm that makes Dawlish a delight. Meandering cobbled lanes beckon you to explore, past ice cream parlors, pubs, tearooms and shops filled with buckets, spades and fishing nets.
Venturing down The Strand, the atmosphere of bygone Victorian holidays envelops you. Here majestic colonial-style villas look out over lawns and gardens descending in terraces to the sea. Converted into small hotels, they still exude an aura of their wealthy residents who once sipped afternoon tea on the verandas.
The sound of crashing waves accompanies you as you stroll the promenade and gaily-colored beach huts, or visit fascinating local museums. At the Lawn Heights waterfowl sanctuary, you can feed the ducks then watch them waddle across the grassy lawns of Lawn Park with its 200 year old sweet chestnut trees.
Full Steam Ahead! 12 Thrilling Family Adventures Across the UK - All Aboard! Cruise the Norfolk Broads on a Vintage Steamboat
Drifting along tranquil waterways fringed with reeds, it’s easy to imagine yourself back in the heyday of pleasure boating on Norfolk’s Broads. This unique landscape of medieval peat diggings transformed into interconnected lakes provides the ideal setting for a nostalgic cruise aboard a lovingly restored vintage steamboat.
Steamboats first plied these waters in the mid-19th century, transporting goods and passengers between villages and towns. Today, beautifully preserved boats from bygone eras offer cruisers a window into the Broads’ gilded past. No visit is complete without a trip on one of these timeless vessels.
The antique Wherry Maud, a characterful Victorian trading steamer, lets you relish the Broads’ time-stands-still tranquility. All polished wood, gleaming brass and billowing steam, she's a floating museum that epitomizes the enduring appeal of steam power. Her unhurried pace allows you to savor scenic pastoral landscapes along the River Yare. Gently churning paddlewheels, sporadic steam whistles and hissing pistons provide an evocative soundtrack. Or tag along with the vintage pleasure steamer Southern Comfort to experience the easygoing charm of pottering past windmills and sleepy villages at 6 mph.
What makes these restored broadland steamboats so special are the stories their skippers share. They’ll regale you with entertaining tales of the Broads’ past: histories of long-lost wherries dredging the rivers as trading workhorses, Victorian times when well-heeled holidaymakers hired luxury steam launches, the “steamboat swells” who raced boats for wagers, and ingenious methods of navigating flood-prone fens. Youthful guests delight in learning how steam engines work and seeing the machinery up-close. There are even opportunities to have a turn at the helm if you’re feeling brave!
Stepping aboard a gleaming vintage steamboat really ignites imaginations and infuses meaning into your Broads experience. Chugging gently along, you gain perspective on how these wetlands sustained local communities for centuries. Passing scenic churches, windmills and nature reserves, you appreciate the symbiosis between the Broads’ human heritage and natural riches. Watching dragonflies flit over lily pads as a steamboat putters by, it feels as if time stands tantalizingly still.
Full Steam Ahead! 12 Thrilling Family Adventures Across the UK - Channel Your Inner Swashbuckler Aboard a Pirate Steamship
Avast ye landlubbers! For parents seeking a day of swashbuckling family fun, regaining those long-lost roguish roving days, a jaunt aboard a pirate steamship promises rip-roaring entertainment on the high seas. From the Jolly Roger streaming atop the smokestack to decks loaded with water cannons, these immersive voyages let you unleash your inner Jack Sparrow as imaginations set sail.
My own brood was fizzing with excitement as we joined the pirate crew aboard the Black Prince, a lovingly restored paddle steamer docked in the harbor of sunny Falmouth. Costumed crew members of all stripes - from gritty deckhands to wizened cooks stirring cauldrons - welcomed us aboard with gusto, immediately involving the kids in rollicking sea shanties. We gained our sea legs touring the vessel: admiring the giant steam engine with its gleaming pistons, descending into the wooden hull’s creaking underbelly, peeking behind the stage curtain at the captain’s quarters.
When the Black Prince left her mooring, the adventure truly began. As our valiant captain tipsily spun tales of trading spices for gold on the high seas, I admired the yacht-filled harbor receding in our wake. Suddenly the boom of a cannon jolted us to action as an enemy frigate attacked! We sprang to the cannons to return artillery fire as our captain bellowed orders. With a cheer, we defeated them. The joyful water fight that followed left us drenched and grinning from ear to ear. What hilarious fun!
After donning pirate gear, my three swabbies scurried up to the poop deck for lessons in knots, navigating, and swordplay. Brandishing plastic cutlasses and eye patches, they were well on their way to earning the Skull & Crossbones. Cramming down “ship’s biscuits” (tasty shortbread) and swigging “grog” (tangy fruit juice), the kids were in their element. I loved seeing their imaginations soar.
Full Steam Ahead! 12 Thrilling Family Adventures Across the UK - Stoke the Fires of Imagination at a Living History Museum
Step through the gates of a living history museum, and you’ll instantly be transported back in time. Costumed interpreters inhabit weathered homesteads, workshops and villages, demonstrating traditional crafts and trades of bygone eras. The sights, sounds and smells kindle imaginations, fostering a tangible connection with the past.
At Britain’s Beamish museum, the experience starts by riding a vintage tramcar towards an early 20th century northern town brimming with life. Ladies in long dresses push prams along cobbled lanes past authentic shops like a grocer’s, printer’s office, sweet shop and garage. You’ll see a bank manager in a top hat, a docker smoking a pipe, and a suffragette campaigning for votes for women.
In the pit village, you can journey down a mine shaft with a grimy miner to gain a vivid impression of their dangerous working conditions. Clambering aboard a steam locomotive, kids delight at tooting the whistle and shovelling coal into the engine’s firebox as they help drive a short passenger run. At the working farm, you can feed shire horses and watch mighty Clydesdales plough fields using traditional horse-power. Bleating goats, free-range hens and little piglets add to the rural atmosphere.
At St Fagans National Museum of History near Cardiff, over forty original buildings from across Wales have been reconstructed. Here kids can race around an iron-age Celtic village, help make flour in a water mill, and watch craftspeople like blacksmiths and weavers demonstrate ancient skills inside their workshops. Costumed interpreters portraying everyone from Victorian schoolteachers to 1940s wartime firefighters share fascinating historical insights. Smell home-baked bread cooling in centuries-old bakeries, see waterwheels driving hammers and machinery with hypnotic rhythm, and discover traditional games played by children centuries ago.
Full Steam Ahead! 12 Thrilling Family Adventures Across the UK - Full Steam Ahead to New Adventures Along Britain's Coasts and Canals
Cruising along Britain's coasts and canals aboard vintage steamships allows families to chart a course towards new adventures. Chugging past storybook castles perched on cliffs, under stone bridges echoing with history, and through locks lifting you gently to higher lakes, these timeless voyages promise discoveries around every bend.
Living history museums like the Scottish Crannog Centre bring the past alive by recreating an ancient loch-dwelling fortress. This Iron Age island settlement built on stilts is an archaeological reconstruction of how Celts lived 2,500 years ago. A ride in the Centre's own steam-powered cruiser is the perfect way to approach. Passing reedy wetlands, you'll spot the thatched roundhouse, defended by wooden palisades, rising mystically out of the loch. Marvel at the audacity of its engineering as you tour the simple yet ingenious homes and workshops. Kids can try grinding grains, starting fires, crafting pottery and foraging plants - immersing themselves in life centuries ago.
Further excitement brews aboard The Steamboat Association's fleet cruising England's Broads, including vintage steam launches built as long ago as 1897. Entire families can pilot classic gentleman's cruisers like Revenge, with gleaming wooden decking and cozy cabin sleeping four. She's the perfect vessel for exploring the Broads' tranquil scenery and picturesque riverside pubs. Or take the tiller of a jaunty wooden dinghy, put-putting along misty waterways straight out of a storybook.