Free railway-themed days out for families

21 October 2022

A family day out by train doesn't have to be expensive when combined with Railcards, buying tickets in advance and taking advantage of seasonal ticket sales. However, we understand the price of tickets may still be out of some families' budgets, so we've come up with suggestions on how to have a delightful day out enjoying railway-themed activities without the need to buy a train ticket.

And don't forget to download our free family activity pack here.

Visit the station

Railway stations are often just passed through and overlooked however if you pause to look you may find that the station can be a worthy destination in itself. Below we've highlighted some of the most interesting things to see and do at railway stations across Britain.

Pitlochry Station Bookshop
Pitlochry Station Bookshop

Charming bookshops

What could be better than heading to the station and picking up a once-loved book? Pitlochry Station, located in the Scottish Highlands, is home to a charming second-hand bookshop that is getting worldwide appeal and was recently featured in an article in New Mexico. Wemyss Bay's beautiful and impressive station is worth a visit on its own but the station's bookshop is a hidden gem. The bookshop carries a wide selection of pre-loved books as well as new publications. The gallery attached displays fascinating photos of the station back in 1903 and serves as a resource centre for the area's history.

Ridgmont Station Heritage Centre Tea Rooms
Ridgmont Station Heritage Centre Tea Rooms

Time for cake

Enjoy a change of scenery and support local businesses with a trip to a station coffee shop. Ridgmont Station's Heritage Centre, is located inside the old Victorian station building and features a museum packed with railway memorabilia and a charming tea room serving delicious homemade cakes. Bat and Ball Station boasts an award-winning community café where you can enjoy traditional breakfast, sandwiches and afternoon tea served within the wonderful restored station building. The picturesque Great Malvern Station is home to Lady Foley's Tearoom, a vintage tea shop that has been serving passengers for 38 years.

Art spaces

Stations provide a great space for creativity, whether it's getting crafty in a workshop, admiring impressive murals or appreciating local artwork in exhibitions. Nuneaton Station is home to a fascinating arts space run by Escape Arts where families are invited to learn new skills in a variety of art workshops throughout the year. Most stations along the Severn Beach Line (from Bristol) have their own unique artworks. Families could happily spend a day exploring the various pieces of work at each station including the magnificent murals. Wigan North Western is home to an award-winning mural and is well worth a visit, highlighting the fascinating dialect of the area. The Old Parcels Office Artspace is an arts venue housed in a Grade II listed building at Scarborough Station. The space features artist studios, gallery and learning space.

Carnforth Heritage Centre
Carnforth Heritage Centre

Step back in time

Britain's railways are packed full of history and heritage, some of which can be uncovered at stations. The romantic setting of Carnforth Station is popular with film fans wanting to recreate 'Brief Encounter'. Step into the station's Heritage Centre to soak up the atmosphere of a bygone age, when this Victorian railway station once welcomed frequent steam trains. On the Cumbrian Coast, Workington's historical display depicts the area's industrial heritage and not too far away is Millom's Heritage and Arts Centre celebrates the rich and vibrant past from Bronze Age through industrial renaissance to when sailing ships crowded the nearby harbour.

Something a little different

Head to Birmingham International Station and catch the free Air-Rail Link that takes you straight to the airport. An exciting way to entertain the kids, especially if they love watching the planes arrive and take off.
Gloriously restored to the former glory of its grand Victorian days, the Tynemouth Station, on the Tyne and Wear Metro, welcomes visitors from far and wide to enjoy over 150 stalls spread across two platforms every Saturday and Sunday.

Our next suggestion isn't free, however we think it's definitely worth a mention. Take an exclusive, behind the scenes look at Glasgow Central Station as you are guided through the subterranean passageways beneath the city streets. On this special tour you'll also visit railway vaults that drove Glasgow's industrial expansion to become 'The Second City of The British Empire', hear tales of the famous and infamous who have travelled the tracks and stood on the platforms of Glasgow Central Station.

Lancashire Rail Ramblers
Lancashire Rail Ramblers

Walks from stations

Use the station as a starting point for a refreshing family walk or cycle ride. Many community rail partnerships and groups have produced handy maps covering routes across Britain. Some notable mentions include:

Essex & South Suffolk – a programme of interesting and enjoyable self-guided walks from railway stations across Essex & South Suffolk

The Bentham Line - a series of rail-to-trail self-guided walks through the surrounding Lancashire and Yorkshire countryside.

East Suffolk Line – explore 22 way-marked walks covering 160 miles across gentle rolling hills and valleys

Strathallan – a selection of scenic walks exploring the area

North Staffordshire Rail to Trail – a programme of short walks from stations in Staffordshire and Cheshire

Heart of Wales Line Trail – a long-distance walk weaving between stations along the line, can also be completed in smaller sections

Self-guided Lancashire walks – Community Rail Lancashire have some great walking routes from stations across Lancashire

Furness Line
Furness Line


Whether you live in the city or in a more rural location, there are many places to safely watch the trains go by. If the weather is fine, pack a picnic and make an afternoon of it. Don't forget your camera! Please do take care when out spotting and adhere to all railway signs – community rail works hard to help educate children on rail safety, take a look at some of the most recent initiatives here.

Free entry into the National Railway Museum & Locomotion

Explore the past, present and future of the railways at the National Railway Museum in York. Home to iconic locomotives and beautiful collections, families can wander through halls and explore the stories, places and engineering marvels behind the railways.

A little further north, you'll find a fun day out in the birthplace of the railways at Locomotion in Shildon (part of the National Railway Museum family). Here families can get up close and personal with a variety of locomotives before blowing off some steam in the outdoor play area and enjoying a bite to eat at the on-site café.

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Scenic Rail Britain is the tourism initiative from Community Rail Network, the umbrella organisation for the community rail movement. Community rail is a grassroots movement spanning Britain that is made up of community rail partnerships, which work along railway lines or across regions, and volunteer station 'friends' groups, to connect communities with their railways. There are over 75 community rail partnerships and 1,200 station friends volunteer groups across Britain. Find out more:

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