All aboard! A trip aboard a pint-sized railway can be a thrill for all the family, and an inexpensive one, too.
Miniature railways were forced to close down in the spring, along with their larger cousins on the grown-up tracks. But since lockdown eased, quite a few of these family-friendly attractions have reopened.
Those that are operating again must comply with government safety advice. Trains may be running at reduced capacity to keep passengers apart. Carriages and other surfaces will be wiped down between rides. Some (but not all) railways need you to prebook, and wear a mask. It pays to check the railway website before setting out.
Here, we round up miniature railways in the London region that have reopened for summer.
The Big Ones
The following railways are open every day over summer, or offer a longer ride (or both).
Ruislip Lido Railway: One of the biggest and best model railways in the London area, the Ruislip miniature railway offers daily trips around the scenic lake (weekends only outside the school holidays). Carriages will be filled to 50% capacity, but extra trains will run where volunteer numbers allow. Tickets are £2.50 (adult) and £1.50 (kids) and can be purchased on the day. Fun fact: the railway also features both a level crossing and a request stop -- both rarities on the full-scale London railways.
Swanley New Barn Railway: Over to the extreme south-east of London, the Swanley railway offers relatively lengthy trips around Swanley Park. The railway is open every day until the end of the school holidays, and weekends thereafter.
Watford Miniature Railway: Close to Watford tube, this Cassiobury Park attraction runs on a looping track through woodland. It’s open every day of the school holidays at £2 per ride for both adults and children. Read our guide to Cassiobury Park.
The Even Bigger One
Epping-Ongar Railway: This well-established family favourite is a bit of a cheat -- it’s not a model railway, but a full-sized engine and carriages. It’s also a hugely popular and enjoyable experience we’d be remiss to leave out. The route follows the tracks of a closed part of the London Underground, out into leafy Essex -- where you're encouraged to leave the train and explore the local villages and countryside. Services run on Friday, Saturday and Sunday (and Bank Holiday Monday) through the summer holidays. Tickets are typically £5 for an adult, £2.50 for kids. Remember to book two singles if you want to come back, as open returns are not currently operating.
Small But Perfectly Formed
A few other, smaller railways that have reopened.
Brockwell Park: The much-loved Herne Hill park has its own railway (pictured above), for a turn around the lido. It’s open on Sundays until the end of October. All ages are welcome, and at just £1 a person (free for the under-2s), it’s among the cheapest out there. Unusually, it’s cash only, and you can pay on the day.
Lodge Farm Park: The Havering Miniature Railway Club is putting on occasional open days over the summer. Tickets are £6 for a two-seat coach or £12 for a four-seater. The next date (9 August) is almost sold out, but check back for updates.
London Transport Museum Acton Depot: The Depot runs occasional open days to show off its staggering collection of transport exhibits. It also runs its own model railway alongside, complete with fictional tube stations (Ealing End, Depot Approach and Harrison’s Crossing) that the geek in your family will adore. The depot will be open 19-23 August and 26-30 August with prebooked tickets.
Check the latest Government advice on coronavirus before planning any family experience.
Although originally from the Midlands, and trained as a biochemist, Matt has somehow found himself writing about London for a living. He's a former editor and long-time contributor to Londonist.com and has written several books about the capital. He's also the father of two preschoolers.