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Britain’s best transport museums

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Britain has always had a love affair with trains. The story really got started when the first steam engine was invented, connecting people to the cities and driving the Industrial Revolution which transformed Britain forever.

Our train and transport museums do a fantastic job of keeping our memories alive, preserving historic models and telling the colourful story of the evolution of Britain’s railway and the social change it brought.

Whether you’re new to train travel or a long-time lover of trains, read on for some of the country’s very best train museums.

Why do we love trains? For some, it’s the promise of a new destination. Others are nostalgic for a bygone era where steam trains chugged along and travelling was more glamorous. Then there are fans of the train models themselves, people who have fallen in love with the design and engineering expertise that goes into our trains and railway lines. Or the die-hard trainspotters who keep detailed records of the trains riding up and down the rails.

Modern travellers are falling in love with trains all over again and leaving their cars at home because mobile technology lets them play or do work while travelling.

If you have an interest in Britain’s transport past and future, get yourself to one of these great train museums…

The London Transport Museum

This massive museum, found in Covent Garden in a former Victorian flower market, charts the history of British transport in the context of wider social and economic change, with an emphasis on London’s transport development. This mammoth space houses not just old trains, but historic buses, trams and motor vehicles to wow transport buffs.

And although here at redspottedhanky we love nothing more than hopping on train for a new adventure, we also appreciate the fantastic service the London Underground provides – especially since 2013 marks its 150th anniversary. To celebrate, they’ve picked out 150 of the 3,000 posters from their archive which have graced the underground’s walls over the years for their Poster Art 150 exhibition.

Trains buffs will love: From Saturday 25 – Monday 27 May, you can experience the golden age of steam engines when the newly restored Metropolitan Steam Locomotive No. 1 to the Metropolitan line makes its grand return.

The National Railway Museum at Shildon and York

• York

The bigger of the two and included in Visit Britain’s’ list of Britain’s best transport museums, the York museum attracts close to one million visitors every year.

What brings them here? Station Hall epitomises the glamour associated with train travel back when steam engines were first introduced, helping connect people and goods to the cities for the first time. The museum contains a treasure trove of memorabilia and objects which tell the story of Britain’s love affair with trains, from archive footage to stylist posters, train-inspired art and train fixtures and fittings.

A recent addition to its collection is the iconic Flying Scotsman, which is being worked on in the studios here after being saved in 2004 following a heartfelt campaign. If you can’t wait until it’s up and running, you can even watch it being restored in the workshop here. Its collection of historic locomotives is unrivalled: the Evening Star and the No.4468 Mallard are just some of the beauties here.

• Shildon

Shildon was the home of the first steam hauled passenger rail journey and attracts die-hard railway fans in their droves. Feel like a kid again looking at the collection of miniature railway models from across the North East and admire the curves of the LMS Princess Coronation Class 6229 Duchess of Hamilton.

The Buckinghamshire Railway Centre, Quantain

This is a working steam museum which boasts one of the largest locomotive, rolling stock and railway memorabilia collections in the UK. A visit here is like stepping right into the 1890s in the heyday of rail travel: they’ve recreated an old railway station and even a cattle dock with a restored cattle wagon and cow.

History fans will appreciate seeing the very carriage where coach used by Winston Churchill and Dwight D. Eisenhower had their secret strategy meetings during the war.

Thomas the Tank Engine has made countless children fall in love with trains, and the wee ones will get a kick out of having a ride on a replica Thomas while big and small kids will love the romantic miniature railway. A perfect Easter weekend day out, we say!

Trains buffs will love: Take a peek at the Beattie Well tank from 1874, the Metropolitan Railway tank from1898 and the London & North Western Rly kitchen diner from1901, which has some of the most impressive surviving interiors from that era.

Why do you love train travel? What’s your favourite train or transport museum?

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