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Family Train Trips: Our guide to taking the kids on the train

Family train trips can be as daunting as they are exciting. Here's our guide to having a stress-free adventure with the kids.
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Taking kids on the train can be as daunting as it is thrilling. Will you be able to sit together? Where are the toilets? What if it’s busy? Here’s our guide to family train trips and how to be prepared for an exciting rail adventure.

How can I prepare for family train trips?

Family train trips are exciting stuff! But you want to make sure that you have everything you need before you go. You’ll also want to make sure that everything is well-planned and that you’re getting the best value for money.

Ticket types

When you’re planning family train trips, it’s important to consider how long the journey is going to be and how you’d like to treat it. Are you happy to stay on the train all the way to your destination, or would you prefer to have the option to jump off and have an explore and leg stretch on the way?

If you’re happy to stay on board the whole way, then cheaper Advance train tickets are the way to go. If you’d prefer to be able to hop on and off, then Anytime, Off-Peak and Super-Off-Peak are the best options. Simply click the ticket names to find out more about them!

We’ve also produced a list of some cheap train tickets that you might not have realised exist!

What to bring

When you’re planning family train trips, there are a few things you’ll want to bring. You could be able to travel light if it’s a day trip, but certain things are always a must:

  • Snacks/picnic depending on whether you want to buy food on board
  • Power bank to charge devices in an emergency
  • Lightweight blanket for napping on long journeys
  • Change of clothes, especially for your little ones!
  • Sickness tablets if you think they might get queasy on the trip
  • Devices to keep the little ones and not-so-little ones amused!
  • Games or activities. Take a look at the collection we’ve put together below!

Just remember: It’s important to pack light where you can, too! Some trains have limited luggage space, and you’ll need to be able to manage the little that you bring without any assistance.

How much will it cost for family train trips?

When you’re planning family train trips, you’ll want to know that it’s affordable. If you’re travelling more than a couple of times a year (or even just once!) then a Family & Friends Railcard is likely to be the best option. On this Railcard, you’ll have two nominated adults (a cardholder and another lead passenger).

So long as at least one of the nominated travellers is part of the group, up to four adults and four children can receive the discount. You’ll also need to be travelling with at least one child at all times.

Adults will get 1/3 off while children will receive a 60% discount. The adults don’t need to be related, and there’s no need for the same passengers to travel every time, so long as one of the named cardholders is part of the group.

Don’t forget that children under five travel free, though it’s usually cheaper to use a Railcard and purchase discounted tickets for both of you if there’s one or more adults per child.

You can find more about Railcards with our handy guide or on the Family and Friends Railcard website.

Can we sit together?

When you’re on family train trips, it’s natural to want to be sat together! Especially when travelling with younger children. The vast majority of trains have a number of seats laid out in groups, either with or without a table. When you book with Railsmartr, you have the option to select ‘table’ as one of your preferences. If we aren’t able to get a table, we’ll get you all sat as close together as possible.

If you’re booking at late notice on busy trains, this may not be possible. In these cases, most trains have ‘unreserved’ seating, which means that passengers without a reservation (or requiring a more suitable seat) can sit there.

Trains to avoid if you’d like a table

On the following trains, there are fewer tables/group seats than usual, so it may be more difficult to reserve these seats:

  • CrossCountry ‘Voyager’ trains (running between Edinburgh, Newcastle, Birmingham and Plymouth, as well as Manchester, Birmingham and Bournemouth) usually have only two tables per carriage in Standard Class. You’ll find the greatest number of tables in Coach B, if it’s available (four).
  • Lumo services have only two tables per carriage
Where to aim for

Travelling with Avanti West Coast on a Super Voyager train? These trains run between Holyhead/Chester and London, as well as selected trains between London and Birmingham/Edinburgh. Coach D (and K, if it’s a 10-coach train) has all seats laid out around tables.

If you’re travelling with c2c on trains between Shoeburyness, Southend and London Fenchurch Street, you’ll find table seats at the far ends of the train behind the driver’s cab. Just be aware that some of this seating may be designated as a ‘Quiet Zone’.

When travelling on Thameslink, aim for First Class at the rear of every train. This compartment is always available to passengers with Standard Class tickets and has large tables.

I’m travelling with a pram, what do I do?

If you’re bringing a buggy with you, it needs to be capable of folding. While they aren’t required to be folded, they aren’t allowed to block any doors or aisles. They also can’t occupy any wheelchair spaces required by another passenger.

Need some assistance on your family train trip? Just ask a member of staff. While you’re expected to be able to manage any luggage (including a buggy) without staff help (as per the National Rail Conditions of Travel), they’ll be more than happy to help. At busier stations, they can also help you to board safely when it might become crowded.

We’ve also gone out on the trains ourselves and rated some of the most common train types based on how easy it is to store luggage. You can read it here.

If you (or someone else you’re travelling with) is elderly, disabled or has an invisible disability, then you can pre-book assistance

Is there any other assistance available?

If you’re travelling from London Paddington, then there is some extra help available and you don’t need to have any access requirements to use it. Great Western Railway is running a priority boarding trial at the moment for any passengers who just need a little extra help. Whether that’s with your luggage, with getting the kids onto the train or something else, you can just book online.

It’s available on most departures to Bristol Temple Meads, Plymouth and Penzance between 9am and 7pm. Click here to find out more.

Where are the toilets?

If you’re travelling with kids, especially little ones, you’ll want to know that there’s a toilet nearby on family train trips. While most trains have more than one toilet, they all have to have at least one ‘universal’ toilet. These toilets are designed to be accessible to those with disabilities and also come with baby-changing facilities. They’re also a bit less of a squeeze if there are a couple of little ones that need to spend a penny at the same time!

Here’s where you can find them on long-distance trains:

Train Universal Toilet location
Avanti West Coast (Pendolino) Coaches B, D & J
Avanti West Coast (Super Voyager) Coaches A, B, C & E (G, H, J & L on 10 coach trains)
CrossCountry (North-South routes) Coaches A, B, C & F (not all trains have Coach B)
CrossCountry (East-West routes) Coach C
East Midlands Railway (London routes) Coaches A & G
Grand Central Coach F
Great Western Railway (London routes) Coaches A & E on 5 coach trains (plus G & L on 10 coach trains) and Coaches A & L on 9 coach trains
Hull Trains Coaches A & E on 5 coach trains (plus G & L on 10 coach trains)
LNER (Azuma Trains) Coaches A & E on 5 coach trains (plus F & M on 10 coach trains) and Coaches A & M on 9 coach trains
LNER (‘Electric’ Trains) Coaches F & L
Lumo Coaches A & E
TransPennine Express (Nova Trains) Coaches A & E (Nova 1), Coach E (Nova 2 & 3)
TransPennine Express (Class 185 trains)** Coach C

**Class 185 trains operate the following long-distance routes: Cleethorpes/Hull/Saltburn-Manchester. All information provided in this table is subject to change and is provided without liability. Railsmartr is not responsible for any inconvenience, discomfort or loss incurred as a result of following the information provided. This list is not exhaustive.

How do I keep the kids entertained on family train trips?

Family train trips can be fun, but if you’re on a long journey, then keeping the kids occupied can be a challenge. In the days of modern technology, it could be as simple as watching something on a device, but some rail operators have got you covered with more traditional activities. Follow the links below for a selection of activities to try on family train trips:

You could also try coming up with your own scavenger hunt for longer trips. Come up with a list of things that your little ones might see along the way, and they can tick them off as they go.

If it’s a really long trip, you might all need a rest, too. So you could bring a lightweight blanket (or let a big coat double up as one during the colder months!)

Keeping devices charged

If you want to keep the kids entertained on family train trips (or adults, too!) with a mobile device or tablet, then you’ll want to make sure that it has enough power. Nearly all long-distance trains have power outlets, so you can keep them charged on the go. Here’s a quick guide to which trains have the ability to charge devices in Standard Class:

Train 3-pin plug? USB port?
Avanti West Coast (Pendolino) Yes* Yes*
Avanti West Coast (Super Voyager) One per seat pair only No
c2c No No
Chiltern Railways On Birmingham-London route No
CrossCountry (North-South routes)* One per seat pair only No
CrossCountry (East-West routes) No No
East Midlands Railway (London routes) One per seat pair only No
East Midlands Railway (Regional & Connect) Varies by route No
Grand Central One per seat pair only One per seat pair only
Great Western Railway (London routes) Yes No
Great Western Railway (Local) Yes Varies by route
Greater Anglia Yes Yes
Hull Trains Yes Yes
LNER (Azuma Trains) Yes No
LNER (‘Electric’ Trains) One per seat pair only** No
Lumo Yes Yes
Northern Varies by route Most trains
ScotRail Most trains inc. all long-distance Varies by route
Southeastern No No
Southern Varies by route Varies by route
South Western Railway Most trains inc. all long-distance Varies by route
Thameslink In declassified First Class at rear No
TransPennine Express Yes Yes
Transport for Wales Yes Yes
West Midlands Trains Varies by route Varies by route

*Avanti West Coast are currently refurbishing their Pendolino trains so that every seat has power access. All 11-car trains now have power sockets at every seat.

**Power sockets are not available in Coach H.

All information provided in this table is subject to change and is provided without liability. Railsmartr is not responsible for any inconvenience, discomfort or loss incurred as a result of following the information provided. This list is not exhaustive.

Family Lounges

Travelling from London Kings Cross? You’ll find a brand-new family waiting area. It contains a custom-made model train set and provides a safe and fun place to wait for your train.

Will there be something to eat and drink?

On most long-distance trains, you can order food and drink. This is either available from a designated carriage, from a trolley or it can be delivered straight to your seat. Here’s our guide to what trains usually offer in Standard Class:

Operator Food and Drinks Offer
Avanti West Coast On-board shop
CrossCountry Trolley service on most services during the day. At busier times, the trolley might operate as a ‘static’ service from Coach A or F.
East Midlands Railway A buffet car is available on trains between Sheffield/Nottingham and London.
Grand Central A buffet car is available on all services.
Great Western Railway A trolley service is available on most long-distance services.
Greater Anglia Buffet car provided on most trains from Norwich to London.
LNER Buffet cars are available on all trains, as well as at-seat service by scanning a QR code at your seat.
Lumo Pre-order on the Lumo website. A trolley service is also available.
Northern Trolley service operates on certain services between Leeds and Carlisle only.
ScotRail On most long-distance services, a trolley service is available.
Transport for Wales A trolley service is available on some long-distance trains.
TransPennine Express You’ll find a trolley service between 0700 and 1900 Monday to Friday on trains between Manchester Piccadilly and York, and Manchester Piccadilly and Doncaster. All trains between Manchester Airport and Glasgow/Edinburgh have a trolley service at all times.

All information provided in this table is subject to change and is provided without liability and all catering is subject to availability. Railsmartr is not responsible for any inconvenience, discomfort or loss incurred as a result of following the information provided. This list is not exhaustive.

Of course, we’d always recommend bringing along some snacks for the trip. Many stations will have supermarkets or cafes that you can stock up at before you travel, too. Just be aware that it usually isn’t possible to warm up baby food and milk on board. This is because on-train microwaves work at much higher temperatures than we’re used to having in our microwaves at home!

Do you have more questions about travelling by train? Take a look at our guide on travelling for the first time by train in Great Britain. If you’re travelling with family, you might want to keep the tricky changes between trains to a minimum. We have a handy guide to changing trains, too!

Author Richard

Hi, I'm Richard and I've been working for Railsmartr since 2022. I make sure that everything we communicate with customers is top-notch and write exciting and informative content for the website. When I'm not at work, you'll still find me on the rails - though often in the far corners of Europe!