Near the top of any list of things to do with children in York must surely be a trip to the National Railway Museum. Here's why.
Nothing quite beats the feeling of being able to run right up to big trains and pat them on the buffers. Or see what the inside of a steam engine looks like. Or toddle right into a Japanese bullet train. Or climb onto the railway bridge and look down on dozens of beautifully restored engines. In terms of inspiring a passion for learning, this has got to be one of the best museums going.
Even if the subject matter isn't necessarily something which holds much appeal personally, the NRM is set up as an absolute heaven for kids. There are indoor and outdoor play areas, model railways, stuff to ride on, special shows and shedloads of toys to pester for. But most importantly, the majority of the exhibits are very, very accessible. They can get stuck in without having to worry about breaking things, trains being fairly childproof, and that means it's both very laid back and interactive here.
The indoor play area is equipped with comfy bean bags for the adults and building blocks, train sets and dressing up costumes for the children (and trust me, if you've never seen a couple of toddlers dressed up as Chugginton trains tearing about, you've never lived). Outdoors is a very popular wooden train to climb on, along with the usual slides and climbing nets, all fenced off along with some picnic tables.
It can be a bit hit and miss as to what's actually running, but on our last visit there was a turntable demonstration, a miniature railway, a science show and an interactive storytelling session inside one of the train carriages all during the course of one morning. The latter in particular was great fun, as the children were encourage to provide the sound effects for a train journey from London to Glasgow. Passing through the countryside they were asked to suggest some animals we might be able to hear. "A lion!" shouted one little girl. Why not, indeed. So we all roared.
Entry is free, but it will set you back £9.00 to park in the car park (or £5.00 if you arrive after 4:00pm and they're feeling generous). The cafes are a bit on the pricey-but-underwhelming side, although we did think that a child's picnic bag including a sandwich, a cookie, some fruit, some juice and a packet of crisps wasn't bad value for £4.25. Speaking of picnics, there are indoor and outdoor picnic tables, and so the more organised visitor can save a bit of cash fairly easily. And while we're on the subject of money, bring £1 coins for the Thomas ride-ons. Lots of them.
Details of what's on, directions and other useful stuff can be found on the NRM website here.