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10 of the best toy train sets

We've selected the top railway and train sets for children aged 18 months to 6 years (and more), from simple wooden sets to clever track-switching techy tracks. Full (pretend) steam ahead!

10 of the best toy train sets

A toy train set is the ultimate classic children’s toy – whether they’re teeny, tiny or 10. Perfect for letting their chug-chug-chug-woo-oh-hoo imaginations run wild, practising hand eye co-ordination, and enjoying building the track piece by piece.

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Over the years, some train sets have gone all techy with motorisation and electronic features, or incorporated well-loved characters such as Thomas The Tank Engine but there are still plenty of old-school wooden train sets to choose from, too.

We’ve been testing lots of train sets – both in the MadeForMums office and with our little army of child testers at home – and we’ve found some great ones for all ages in a range of prices.

Here’s our pick of the best train sets for children aged 18 months and up…

1. Hape Railway Bucket Builder Set, £44.99

– Great for a wooden starter set

Age suitability: 3+ | Best for age:  3+ | Batteries: None
Awards: Gold, MadeforMums Toy Awards 2021

What it is: A 50-piece wooden railway set with a storage box that doubles up as (the hilly) part of the track. Comes with a free-wheeling locomotive, 2 carriages, 1 magnetic crane, 2 S-rails, 8 curved rails, 4 straight rails, 2 irregular rails, 1 mountain-shaped rail, plus trees, signs and other accessories.

Why we love it: It’s a good starter train set (and compatible with most other wooden sets) but it’s the way the storage box and lid become part of the track that’s so clever. We really like the crane, too, and the little chute it can drop the cargo down. Emmie, mum of Rishi, 3, said: “From a parent’s perspective, I can’t believe that it is a toy and storage in one. I love that we can have a train set up that is so quick but interesting and it’s so portable, too. My little boy’s favourite bit was, well, “Everything! But especially the crane and the hills!”

Available at: Amazon, The Baby Farm and The Toy Street

2. Thomas & Friends Trains & Cranes Super Tower, £104.99

– Great for serious wow factor

Age suitability: 3+ | Best for age: 3+ | Batteries: 2 x AAA (not included)
Awards: Gold, MadeForMums Toy Awards 2021

What it is: An 87cm x 82cm x 65cm multi-level Thomas & Friends train set with a motorised Thomas engine, non-motorised Percy train, Harold the helicopter and 4 cargo cars for loading and unloading. Also includes a spinning turntable and cranes. Compatible with other Thomas & Friends track sets (excluding wooden versions). Some assembly required.

Why we love it: This HUGE train set certainly has the wow factor once built – you need to stand up to play with it. Our testers loved all the interactive elements like the spinning turntable, switches at the stop points and the exciting Cranky the Crane who moves the bridge. Kaiden, 3, was a big fan of the motorised Thomas engine and said, “I like watching Thomas go chugga chugga choo choo up the track!” Though Kaiden’s mum, Pooja, did note it’s a bit of a battery guzzler, so make sure to have some spare.

Available at: Very, Argos and Smyths Toys

3. My First Scalextric, £44.99

– Great for whizzy electronic action

Age suitability: 3+ | Best for age: 3 | Batteries: None
Awards: Silver, MadeForMums Toy Awards 2021

What it is: A mains-powered car-racing toy with 18 pieces and 2 bridge supports that create a figure-of-8 108cm x 61cm track. Comes with 2 speed-limiting hand controllers and 2 magnetic cars.

Why we love it: This preschooler entry-level Scalextric track is nice and compact and the controllers are well-sized and shaped for little hands. The cars go nice and fast and our child testers were entranced. Laura, mum to our child tester Isla, 3, said, “My little girl was super excited to play with this toy, as was my very nostalgic husband!”. Isla adds, “I like the car racing and can race really fast against Daddy. I like changing the tracks too – it’s fun. Sometimes my car goes so fast, it falls off!” The track itself is super-easy to set up but obviously you will need to be near a plug socket as it runs off a mains power supply.

Available at: Scalextric, Amazon and John Lewis

4. Hornby Playtrains ‘Flash’ The Local Express Remote-Controlled Battery Train Set, £54.99

– Great for an electric-train starter set

Age suitability: 3+ | Best for age: 3+  | Batteries: 2 x AAA and 4 x AA (not included)
Awards: Bronze, MadeForMums Toy Awards 2021

What it is: A remote-control train with working lights, sounds and 3 speeds in forward and reverse. The kit contains a remote control, clip-together oval track, a TrakMat to set it up on, cardboard tunnel and station, and stickers to customise the train.

Why we love it: Everything is designed for little hands, from the track pieces that slide together easily to the simple remote control. But the best bit is definitely the train itself which whizzes about with great lights and sounds – including a high-speed horn and platform noises. The cardboard tunnel and station are simple to put together but not super-sturdy, so they’ll need looking after carefully. Our 3-year-old child tester Archer’s verdict was: “It’s so fast and cool, I love it!”

Available at: Argos and Hornby

5.  LEGO City 60198 RC Cargo Train, £179.99

– Great for a construction challenge

Age suitability: 6+ | Best for age: 6+ | Batteries: 10 x AAA (not included)

What it is: A 1226-piece mega that features a motorised engine with a 10-speed Bluetooth remote control, a working crane, 32 track pieces, railroad switch lever and control centre with signal lights. Comes with 6 LEGO minifigures, as well as loads of accessories, including pallets, logs and a snow scooter.

Why we love it: It’s expensive but seriously good fun (and a good build, too). We love the crane with its rotating, extending arm, the armoured truck (for your gold bars, of course) and the railroad switch that sends the train on a different track. It’s a bit of a battery-eating monster, though; if you connect it to the LEGO app and use your phone instead of the remote control handset, it helps – and you get some extra sound effects.

Available at: LEGO, Argos and Smyths Toys

6. Brio World Travel Switching Train Set, £84.99

– Great for quality

Brio World Travel Switching Train Set

Age suitability: 3+ | Best for age: 3+ | Batteries: None

What it is: A lovely wooden track that has a train station with two levels and a special lift to move between the two. There’s also a blue and a red train, plus passengers so that little station masters can have lots of fun choosing where the passengers can travel.

Why we love it: Brio train sets are renowned for their quality, attention to detail and longevity. This set is not exactly cheap (Brio sets rarely are) but it’s beautifully designed with features such as the lift to thrill a small train lover.

Available at: John Lewis

7. Ikea Lillabo 20-piece basic train set, £8

– Great for value

ikea train set

Age suitability: 3+ | Best for age: 3+ | Batteries: None

What it is: A 20-piece set that includes 3 differently coloured trains and a little bridge.

Why we love it: It’s a simple, basic wooden track – at an amazingly good price. You can add on lots more bits and pieces from the same Lillabo range (there’s a very cool turntable, for example) and they’re all compatible with pieces from the more expensive Brio and Bigjigs sets, too.

Available at: Ikea

8. BRIO World Smart Tech Sound Action Tunnel Travel Set, £149.99

– Great for interactive features

Age suitability: 3+ | Best for age: 3+ | Batteries: 2 x AAA (not included)

What it is: A 37-piece interactive wood and plastic train set that includes a train and 2 carriages that connect magnetically, several passengers and their luggage, wooden track, bridges, ‘smart’ action tunnels, stations and 2 sets of points.

Why we love it: The best bit about this train set is the red button on the train that you press to record your own train sounds or voice announcements – to be played when the train goes through 1 of the ‘smart’ tunnels. (There’s an associated SmartTech Sound app, too, you can download to create more sounds.) The other tunnels each change your train’s progress, stalling it, restarting it or changing its direction. Fun!

Available at: Amazon and John Lewis

9. Lego Duplo Number Train, £12.99

– Great for toddlers

Lego Duplo Number Train

Age suitability: 18 months+ | Best for age: 18 months+ | Batteries: None

What it is: A brightly coloured 23-piece train (but no track) with 3 carriages and bricks, numbered 0 to 9 to stack on top. Comes with 2 figures and a cat.

Why we love it: It’s bright, chunky, cheerful: the perfect first train for a toddler. The counting theme is a nicely incorporated – and the cat is a lovely, toddler-pleasing touch.

Available at: Argos and  Very

10. Green Toys Train, £29.95

– Great for eco-friendly fun

Green Toys train

Age suitability: 2+ | Best for age: 2+| Batteries: None

What it is: A sturdy, eco-friendly blue and red steam engine with 2 linking carriages, all made from recycled plastic milk bottles. Contains no BPA, PVC, phthalates or external coatings. Comes with 2 ‘conductor bear’ figures.

Why we love it: It’s not just green; it’s well made and beautifully chunkily toddler-sized. The wheels roll easily on both carpet and a wooden floor, and the roof of the covered carriage lifts off. Oh, and you can put it all in the dishwasher for a quick clean!

Available at: Green Nipper and Amazon

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About the author

Helen is Deputy Editor of MadeForMums, the author of Parenting for Dummies (Wiley, £17.99) and the Head Tester for our MadeForMums Toy Awards. She has written about parenting for Mumsnet, Pregnancy & Birth, Prima Baby, Boots Parenting Club and She Magazine and she’s also been Consumer Editor of Mother & Baby. She has 3 boys and a heavy-duty washing machine.

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