So you’ve ticked off the museums, explored the forests, galavanted around the gardens and pottered around North Yorkshire’s towns and cities. What’s left? The North Yorkshire Moors Railway, that’s what! Nestled in one of the prettiest corners of the county, the NYMR is one of the world’s greatest railway experiences and one of the most unique ways to spend the day with your family. To celebrate the opening of the 2022 season, we were invited on board the Seaside Special from Pickering to Whitby and we had a wonderful day out. Here’s why we recommend it as a family day trip that’s unlike any other in Yorkshire.
1. You get to ride on an actual steam train!
Our trip back in time began as we arrived at the beautiful 1930s themed Pickering Station after an easy drive from York (around 35 minutes down an unusually quiet A64). Leaving our 21st-century vehicle safely parked in the car park (there’s a small station car park and a large overflow car park; from £5 for the day), we followed the signs ‘To the trains’. And when we say trains, we mean actual steam trains with vintage carriages complete with compartments! There’s a selection of steam and heritage diesel trains on the line, and we were lucky to have a steam train pulling the carriages both ways.
There’s nothing quite like the smell of a steam locomotive to transport you back to another time, and the sight of it slowly chugging into the station was straight out of the movies. Whether it’s thanks to The Railway Children, Thomas the Tank Engine or even Harry Potter, there’s something about steam trains – and heritage travel in general – that appeals across the generations. Our two girls (9 and 7) were very excited to set off, and even our hard-to-please 12 year-old was eager to climb on board, but not before we’d had a little look around at the beautiful station and popped into the lovely cafe for something to eat and drink. Coffees and hot chocolates in hand, the friendly staff members showed us where our compartment was and we settled ourselves down for the journey. The children loved that we had the privacy of our own compartment and it was refreshing not to have to worry too much about how loud they were – although even they can’t rival the volume of an old engine. A compartment is a treat, but we took a few strolls through the carriages and they all looked very appealing; there’s no need to upgrade to have a good experience.
2. It’s an adventure through the stunning North Yorkshire Moors
As our logical son quickly worked out, travelling 24 miles in just under two hours is definitely not the fastest way to travel to the coast. It is, however, much more enjoyable than sitting in the car. After some careful parental calculations involving the total travel time and the length of our children’s attention spans, I’d packed a variety of games, books and comics to keep them occupied. As it turned out, I ended up lugging them around Whitby for no reason as they were perfectly happy looking out of the window, doing charades and making up games all the way (the eldest did keep his headphones in, of course).
The views really are spectacular and there’s plenty to spot along the route, from stunning stations to rolling hills, moody moorland and a host of wildlife, including lambs, hens, hares, birds of prey and loads of pheasants. There was more than enough to keep us interested, punctuated with a trip to the buffet for more refreshments (take cash!). As far as your demanding companions will let you, just sit back and enjoy the ride. Having said that, younger children who can’t sit still for long are likely to want to explore the carriages with you – we were on waving terms with a few toddlers who wobbled past our compartment a few times.
3. You can combine it with a trip to the seaside
The pretty seaside town of Whitby is one of our favourite spots on the Yorkshire coast, but it can be a pain to find a decent parking space. Roll into the station by steam train, however, and the problem’s solved! We arrived into Whitby just before lunchtime, giving us around two and a half hours to explore before hopping on the train back to York.
As the station is right in the heart of the town, we could dive straight into doing the things that we always do on our visits to Whitby: visit the rock shop, go to the arcades, take a blustery walk along the pier, have some fish and chips (and try to stop the seagulls from nicking them), pop into some of the lovely independent shops, look at the fishing boats, watch people crabbing, marvel at Whitby Abbey and have an argument about why you can’t have a stick of rock AND an ice cream, one after the other. It was just the right amount of time to get a fix of sea air and do some exploring before the sugar crash hit.
4. It’s perfect for Harry Potter fans
It was magical to see that some of our fellow passengers had donned their cloaks for the journey, ready to follow in the footsteps of Harry Potter and friends. Goathland Station is better known to Potterheads as Hogsmeade from the first film, so it’s an ideal place for fans of the books and films to visit. The station has a shop and tea room, in a 1922-style good shed, if you want to stay a bit longer. We just passed through this time but we’re planning to stop off next time.
5. There are lots of different ways to explore the line
If you’re considering a trip on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, it’s worth spending some time on their website to work out which service will be best for you. We took the Seaside Special directly from Pickering to Whitby, but you can hop on and off the trains to explore the stations along the line; something that we’d like to do next time. There are itineraries on the website that have some inspiration for ways to do the journey, including a Rail Trail Walk with a 3.5-mile walk down the old railway line which would be fun with older children. You can even visit the 70-foot high Mallyan Spout waterfall, and who doesn’t love a waterfall?
Feel like staying a bit longer and making a holiday of it? The North Yorkshire Moors Railway has a variety of accommodation available for rent, from cosy camping coaches at Levisham and Goathland to the fantastic Grosmont Station House. They all make a great base for a family break, and you even get free travel on the railway when you book – find out more about the accommodation here. There’s no shortage of things to do in the North York Moors for families – take a look at our guide to the best family days out in the North York Moors here.
Top tips and good to know
- – Book your tickets in advance to avoid queues at the station and to secure your seats
- – Refreshments are available at the stations and on board the trains (it was cash only on board when we went, so factor in a trip to an ATM if you think you’ll want a cuppa)
- – The stations are worth exploring in their own right, so factor in a few extra minutes to have a good look around
- – Every train has an adapted carriage that means access is easy for people with mobility problems. Each converted carriage as an area that’s fully accessible for wheelchair users, including an accessible toilet.