I love trains, especially steam locomotives so I was totally thrilled to find out that our New England road trip took us through Scranton, Pennsylvania home to the Steamtown National Historic Site which is full of old locomotives & rolling stock.
The museum tells the story of rail transport in Britain and its impact on society. It is the home of the national collection of historically significant railway vehicles such as Mallard, Stirling Single, Duchess of Hamilton and a Japanese bullet train.
I have always enjoyed all things mechanical, which is a little strange considering I spent all my working life in electrical and electronic engineering. Whilst I do like the engineering of cars, my real passions are aircraft and trains. So, when I get the chance I try never to miss the opportunity to visit an aircraft or train museum.
It seems very nerdy to get excited by a train, but I love them. I love taking journeys by train – they seem so much more romantic than driving or flying.
Whilst modern trains are functional, it is the old steam trains I find most fascinating. The National Railway Museum in York has my all-time favourite – the Mallard.
The National Railway Museum is a fantastic place. It is not just me that thinks so, as the year or so before the Covid-19 pandemic nearly 800,000 people visited – which is quite something for a museum outside of London! The museum tells the story of rail transport in Britain and its impact on society.
The Museum is located in a former stockyard and opened in 1975. It has over 6000 objects on display of which around 100 are locomotives or rolling stock which tell the stories for Britain’s railway innovation. The collection also includes fine jewellery worn by railway queens, models of planes, boats and hovercraft, and experimental technologies such as Louis Brennan’s Gyroscopic Mono-rail car. It is the home of the national collection of historically significant railway vehicles such as Mallard, Stirling Single, Duchess of Hamilton and a Japanese bullet train. In addition, the National Railway Museum holds a diverse collection of other objects, from a household recipe book used in George Stephenson’s house to a film showing a “never-stop railway” developed for the British Empire Exhibition.
GETTING TO AND AROUND THE NATIONAL RAILWAY MUSEUM
The museum is located very close to the city centre of York, whihc makes it really easy to get to. Driving is one option, but there is a lot of work going on in and around the museum so this might not be the best option. If you do drive then there is a large car park a few minutes walk from the museum, which will cost you £10 to park.
If you have come to York by train to visit the museum it is only a few minutes walk from the main station in York. It also only a 10-minute walk to get here from the centre of town.
Follow the link to find out more about travelling the National Railway Museum.
Once you get to the museum it is plain sailing. Entry is free but it is worth booking your tickets in advance online as this will speed you up getting inside. The main rolling stock exhibits are in two areas, the Station Hall and the Great Hall (see the map below). For a downloadable .pdf map click here.
THE STATION HALL
As the name suggests the Station Hall is laid out as a station, with platforms. The engines and rolling stock here are all vintage steam engines. In this hall your will find the Royal carriages from 19th century onwards. Sadly, you cannot go inside but only window shop – but looking in at the decor gives you a sense of how the other half lived. There are also presentations given by museum staff throughout the day from the platform that gives more of the history and intrigue surrounding these special carriages.
Of course, this would not be a proper station without a cafe. Luckily, there is a pleasant one on the platform to enjoy your morning coffee or afternoon tea with a cake or biscuit.
THE GRAND HALL
This is a larger area, and here you’ll find some examples of modern railway engines including a Japanese Bullet Train and the Eurostar. Most people come here though to see the classic engines. Without a doubt, my favourite is the Mallard – a massive blue beast of a train. Mallard is an A4 class locomotive designed by Sir Nigel Gresley. The A4s were built to power high-speed trains in the late 1930s, and their shape was honed in a wind tunnel to help them cut through the air as cleanly as possible—making speeds of 120mph and above possible. In 1938 it reached a speed of 126mph, a feat which has never been surpassed by a steam train. As well as the Mallard there are many other beautiful trains, including a reproduction (the original is in the Science Museum in London) of George Stephenson’s Rocket, which was built in 1829 and is often credited as the world’s first modern steam locomotive, built in 1829. There is also a steam engine that has had the outside of its boiler cut away so you can see the mechanics inside, which is fascinating.
The warehouse next to Grand Hall is also worth visiting. Inside you will find an amazing collection of memorabilia from the years of railway operations in the United Kingdom. It is one of those places that boggles the mind with the number of things on display.
The National Railway Museum is one of the best museums in the United Kingdom and is a great day out for families. It is easily accessible from the centre of the city of York.
Planning your visit to the National Railway Museum
Leeman Rd, York YO26 4XJ
Getting to York by train is both easy and great value for money. LNER and Grand Central will bring you to York in under two hours, while Edinburgh is only two and a half hours away. There are direct services from Birmingham and the South West and additionally, TransPennine Express runs direct train services from Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle.
On average, the bus takes approximately 5 hours and 10 minutes to get from London to York. The fastest journey by bus from London to York is 4 hours and 45 minutes, however, your journey time may vary depending on traffic conditions along the route.
Situated midway between Edinburgh and London, just 20 minutes from the M1/M62 motorway network, York is within comfortable driving times of most regions in the UK. To make your trip to York even more convenient, six Park & Ride sites currently operate in York. They allow you to travel to York by car, park for free in secure car parks and complete your journey into the city centre by bus.
Best time to visit York
York is a beautifully preserved historic city that has earned its place as one of the UK’s top tourist attractions. With sites like the National Railway Museum, York Minster – one of the largest cathedrals in northern Europe – and The Shambles, the most famous of York’s charming cobblestone streets, visiting this ancient city is almost like taking a trip back in time. The perfect destination for history lovers, the city also offers some great dining options and some interesting shopping in the cobbled streets of York city center.
But as a northern city, York gets four distinct seasons, and each has something different to offer. So when’s the best time to visit York? Well, that’s going to depend on what you want to do in the city. If you want the best weather possible, the hottest months of summer might be what you’re after. But if you prefer cultural activities in this historic city, you can skip the busy summer months and brave the cooler weather of fall or even winter.
Other things to do in York
1. YORK MINSTER
Since the 7th century, the Minster has been at the centre of Christianity in the north of England and today remains a thriving church rooted in the daily offering of worship and prayer. The Minster was built for the glory of God. Every aspect of this ancient building – from the exquisite, handcrafted stone through to the unrivalled collection of medieval stained glass – tells the story of Jesus Christ.
2. CASTLE MUSEUM
York Castle Museum was founded by Dr John Kirk, a doctor from Pickering, North Yorkshire, and houses his extraordinary collection of social history, reflecting everyday life in the county.
One of its renowned displays is the reconstructed street, Kirkgate, which has been hugely influential in museum displays worldwide. The York Castle Museum is housed in a former debtors’ prison and an adjoining former women’s prison, both of which are Grade I listed. The museum’s name comes from the fact it stands on the site of the former York Castle.
3. JORVIK VIKING CENTRE
At JORVIK Viking Centre you are standing on the site which revealed some of the most astounding discoveries in modern archaeology. Your first experience at JORVIK is an exploration of the Coppergate Dig, with a fully immersive display taking you back to the 1970s.
The Jorvik’s interactive ride takes you around 10th-century York city, experiencing what it was like living in the city. The sights, sounds and even the smells of the Viking Age are brought vividly back to life as you journey back 1,000 years. There is also an exhibit of rare Viking artefacts, from delicate earrings and socks to frying pans and padlocks and even a fossilised Viking poo!
4. TREASURER”S HOUSE
This house was the residence of the treasurers of York Minster from 1100 until the office was abolished by Henry VIII. It belonged to 3 post-Reformation Archbishops of York, the last of whom, Thomas Young, rebuilt it. Further alterations were made in the early 17th century; the building fell into decline during the 19th century by which time Young’s mansion had been split into at least five separate properties. The present garden front with its classical central entrance bay dates from c.1630. It now contains the furniture collection of the wealthy industrialist and aesthete Frank Green, who restored and remodelled the building after acquiring it in 1897. Inside, Green’s architect, Temple Moore, created a huge hall out of the 2-storey central block with a half-timbered gallery supported by classical columns. There is an early 18th-century staircase that has been attributed to the joiner-architect William Thornton, who worked at Beningbrough.
5. CLIFFORD’S TOWER
Clifford’s Tower is the largest remaining building of York Castle, northern England’s greatest medieval royal fortress. With a spectacular new update for 2022 including a dramatic roofdeck, internal walkways and soundscape interpretation – the fascinating story of Clifford’s Tower will finally be told
The tower offers unrivalled views over the ancient city whilst the new interpretation makes the tower’s history and interior more accessible than they’ve been for centuries, bringing its dramatic and sometimes tragic story to life as never before.
Standing as a proud symbol of the power of England’s medieval kings; the tower was originally built by William the Conqueror to subdue the rebels of the north, it was twice burned to the ground, before being rebuilt by Henry III in the 13th century.
Where to stay
1. YHA YORK HOSTEL
York YHA is a large hostel housed in a converted manor house in the Clifton area of York with spacious, leafy grounds. The hostel had a £2 million renovation in 2013.
It currently has 203 beds in 45 rooms and 32 rooms are en-suite. Private en-suite rooms can sleep between 4 and 6 people and are accessed by a key card.
There is a well stocked kitchen, a large lounge and games room plus an onsite restaurant and free WiFi on site.
York YHA is a friendly hostel but it is not a party hostel and attracts many groups and business people. It is a perfect choice for visiting York with kids as the hostel is adjacent to Homestead Park and playground.
The hostel offers free parking on site – a rarity in York – and a bike store.
2. THE JORVIK HOUSE
Dating back to the 1750s and overlooking the 11th-century church of St Olafs and the remains of St Mary’s Abbey, Jorvik House has a 24-hour front desk and a bar. Free WiFi is provided throughout the property.
All rooms have en-suite facilities with a bath and shower over or walk-in shower. Complimentary toiletries are provided. The rooms feature a flat-screen TV with Freeview, tea/coffee making facilities and Egyptian cotton sheets. A continental breakfast is available in the morning.
York Rail Station is 10 minutes’ walk from the Jorvik and York Museum Gardens is just over 5 minutes’ walk away.
3. GALTRES LODGE HOTEL
Overlooking the spectacular York Minster, this elegant Georgian residence is set in the heart of the historic city centre, just a short stroll away from medieval streets lined with modern boutiques.
Situated in the heart of York’s café quarter, within easy reach of the city’s many attractions, Galtres Lodge provides the perfect base for your stay with Wi-Fi internet, comfortable rooms and delicious brasserie-style meals.
The friendly and efficient staff aim to offer you the best personal service in order to ensure a memorable and enjoyable stay