When it comes to things to do in York with kids, it can be hard to choo-choo-choose, but the National Railway Museum has long been one of our top recommendations. Not only is it home to an impressive collection of awe-inspiring engines, but in recent years they’ve added a variety of hands-on exhibits that encourage younger visitors to gain a deeper understanding of engineering and technology. This interactive element of the museum has just got better – and bigger – with the launch of Wonderlab: The Bramall Gallery. We’ve been along with our children to check out one of the most exciting developments in York for kids, and here’s what to expect.
What is Wonderlab?
Wonderlab is an innovative interactive gallery within the Railway Museum, designed to help children understand and investigate the how, what and why of the railways. It’s a fully hands-on experience aimed firmly at children aged seven to fourteen, with 18 challenges to get stuck into, as well as live shows throughout the day.
What’s it like?
Having visited the amazing Wonderlab at London’s Science Museum, we had high expectations of the York equivalent, and it didn’t disappoint. The space itself is beautiful: light, spacious and immediately appealing to children. After all, nothing says ‘you’re going to enjoy yourselves’ more than walking through a 12-metre-high spiky inflatable sculpture. Each of the activities has been thoughtfully placed so that there’s plenty of space for everyone: it never felt crowded and we didn’t need to queue for anything.
The challenges themselves are a clever mixture of high-tech and lo-fi, each relating in some way to engineering. In a refreshing change from the norm, our girls worked together to balance, build, shake, roll, topple, test and listen their way through the gallery. They were laser-focused on what they were doing without a screen in sight: a miracle. They most enjoyed constructing towers that might withstand an earthquake, standing in the wind tunnel, working out what engines are the most streamlined and playing with sand to see how a changing landscape affects how a train travels through it. They also loved constructing their own buildings with huge coloured blocks – an area that’s likely to be particularly popular with younger children.
Is Wonderlab worth paying for?
Absolutely. We spent over two hours at Wonderlab with our 8 and 11-year-olds and even then we didn’t manage to get around all of the challenges or catch a live show. Our 8-year-old in particular was really impressed with it and has been telling her friends about it and asking to go back. Our children always love a visit to the Railway Museum and are perfectly happy checking out the vintage trains, watching the model railway and – if they’re lucky and we’re feeling generous – having a ride on the land train into York. With the arrival of Wonderlab, there’s even more reason for us to go. For the quality of what’s on offer and the enjoyment that they’ll get from it, we think it’s worth the admission price for anyone with curious kids of the right age. Our kids love it so much that we’ve upgraded to an annual pass!
Do you need to book?
While it is part of the museum – you’ll find it in the Great Hall – admission is not included in your (free) general admission ticket. You’ll have the option to add Wonderlab tickets to your online booking, or you can buy tickets when you’re there (subject to availability).
What else is there to do at the museum?
Whether you decide to visit Wonderlab or not, there’s loads to do at the Railway Museum. Highlights include:
- – Coming face to face with world-changing engines like the Japanese Bullet Train and Mallard, the world’s fastest steam locomotive
- – Innovation Platform which showcases the latest and greatest ideas in rail innovation
- – Little indoor play area for under sixes
- – Watching the tiny trains travel across the landscape in the model railway
- – Flying Scotsman VR experience (additional charge applies)
Good to know
- – Tickets can be booked online in advance
- – The Railway Museum does have a car park but it’s not cheap. We would recommend taking the bus or train and walking (it’s a two-minute walk from York station)
- – Station Hall – one of the museum’s major galleries – is currently closed for refurbishment, so there’s not as much to see as usual
- – There are plenty of places to eat and drink, or you can take your own picnic
- – There are regular holiday activities, so keep an eye out for those