Ten of the Best: Take a Santa Special at a heritage railway this Christmas

| 20 November 2013

Are you ready to get into the Christmas spirit? Here are ten of the best Santa Specials at UK heritage railways this Christmas

a photo of a steam train passing through signals as snow falls
Christmas on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway© John Hunt
The shops have started playing Christmas music, we’re half way through Strictly and there’s an Iceland advert on TV featuring a swish party furnished with affordable festive frozen food. Christmas is well and truly on its way.

But there’s another, more gracious staple of the modern Christmas that takes us away from these 21st century intrusions; the Santa Special.

This sedate side of the Christmas build-up takes place in heritage railways the length and breadth of Britain and, as well as offering the chance to take a chuff around the tracks, meet Santa, and enjoy a mince pie, the events help grease the wheels of many a classic steam and deisel engine.

Here's ten of the best to whet your appetite.

North Yorkshire Moors Railway, Whitby to Pickering, Yorkshire

One of our greatest heritage railways with several stations dotted around the beautiful Yorkshire countryside, the Santa Shuttle departs Pickering, Gosmont and Whitby Stations to the festive refrains of choirs and bell ringing, with a visit to Santa’s on-board grotto during the return journey.

When: Saturdays and Sundays from November 30 - December 22.

Price: £14.50 per adult/child includes a present for the children, hot drink or juice, mince pie and a free alcoholic drink for the grown-ups.

How to book: Online via nymr.co.uk/special-events/santa-specials or telephone 01751 472508 ext 242/244/252.

Dean Forest Railway, Norchard, nr Lydney, Gloucestershire

“Imagine the excitement - the sound of a steam train pulling you through the mysterious forest as Santa moves through your train to meet each child at your reserved seats...” The Dean Forest Railway knows how to sell itself, and why not? The Friendly Forest Line is one of the best settings for a heritage railway in the UK.

When: Leaving Norchard Station on Saturdays and Sundays, December 8-24.

Price: Tickets £13 per adult/child over two. Includes return journey, present for children, mince pie and a miniature for the adults. 

How to book: Online at dfr.vticket.co.uk/product.php/2/santa-specials or telephone 01594 845840.

East Anglian Railway Museum, Wakes Colne, nr Colchester, Essex

In Essex someone has come up with the ingenius idea of combining the Santa Special with another heritage railway phenomenon; Thomas the Tank Engine. Their Day out with Thomas and Santa offers unlimited rides together with stories from the Fat Controller, puppet shows, craft activities, storytelling and, of course, a visit to Santa’s Grotto.

When: Sundays from December 1-22.

Price: Adult £13, Children (2-15) £9. All activities and rides are free but there is an extra charge of £5 to receive a present from Santa.

How to book: Online at earm.co.uk/events/santa or call 01206 242524.

North Norfolk Railway, Sheringham, Norfolk

The North Norfolk Railway’s Santa Special takes a winter journey from Sheringham to Weybourne on the beautiful North Norfolk coast with a stop at Santa’s grotto - handily situated at the magically transformed Weybourne Station.

When: Saturdays and Sundays December 1-22, plus December 23 and 24.

Price: Adults and child £13.50-£17 (depending on dates and departure time). Infants (up to 1) £6. Price includes sherry and mince pie for the adults, juice and biscuit for the kids and a present from Santa.

How to book: Online at nnrailway.co.uk/page.php?pid=6 or telephone 01263 820800.

Leighton Buzzard Railway, Bedfordshire


This charming narrow gauge railway offers a friendly welcome to parents, grandparents and school parties in the run up to Christmas. Its 25-minute jaunt down the tracks on their festively decorated steam train might be just the ticket.  

When: Sundays December 1-22; Monday December 23; Wednesday December 4-18; Saturdays December 7-21.

Price: Adult/Senior £8; Child (2-12 years) £8.50; Child (under-2 years) £4. Children receive a present with each ticket.

How to book: Online at buzzrail.co.uk/static/christmas.html or telephone 01525 373888 (10am-12pm weekday mornings).

Bo’ness and Kinneil Railway, West Lothian

The beautiful Bo’ness and Kinneil Railway, situated on the Firth of Forth close to Edinburgh and Glasgow, is an idyllic setting for a chuff along the tracks. Santa meets all the children during the seven-mile round journey to Birkhill, giving each one a gift.

When: Saturdays and Sundays from November 30 - December 22.

Price: Adult £10.50; Child (18 months to 15 years inclusive) £10.50; Infants (17 months or under on date of travel) free. Includes present for children and festive drink and mince pie for adults.

How to book: Online via bkrailway.co.uk/your-visit/santa-trains/ or telephone 01506 822298 between 10am-12pm and 1pm-3pm.

Churnet Valley Railway, Staffordshire

Staffordshire’s Churnet Valley Railway offers a traditional Victorian Christmas with coaches garlanded with decorations and picturesque stations full of festive entertainments. The scenery isn’t bad either, with steamings through "Little Switzerland" - the beautiful Staffordshire countryside.

When: Saturdays and Sundays from December 1-22, plus Christmas eve.

Price: Adults £12; Children £8; under-twos £5.

How to book: Telephone 01538 758491.

Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railways Gwynedd

A Santa two-in-one with trains leaving both Porthmadog on the Ffestiniog Railway and Caernarfon on the Welsh Highland Railway. Both journeys promise lots of fun and laughter along the way, with Santa, elves and Victorian carol singers at the stations.

When: From Porthmadog on Saturdays and Sundays, December 14-22. From Caernarfon on Saturdays and Sundays, December 7-22.

Price: Ffestiniog Railway First Class: Adults and Children (2-15) £15.50 / Children (under 2) £3. Third Class: Adults & Children (2-15) £11 / Children (under 2) £3. Welsh Highland Railway First Class: Adults & Children (2-15) £16.50 / Children (under 2) £3; Third Class: Adults and Children (2-15) £11.50 / Children (under 2) £3. Includes a present for every child and a glass of sherry and a mince pie for the adults

How to book: Telephone 01766 516070.

Great Central Railway Loughborough, Leicestershire

The UK’s only double track, main line heritage railway loves a Santa Special – they even lay on a deluxe version with reduced numbers, extra chocolate and an on-board entertainer. Either way the journey from Loughborough to Leicester and back is a magical one.  

When: Saturdays and Sundays from November 30 - December 22, plus December 23 and 24.

Price: £10 rising to £22 dependent on time or service. Includes present, refreshments for all and Santa photo opportunities

How to book: Online booking service via gcrailway.co.uk/special-events/santa/ or telephone 01509 632323 (9am-5pm).

Isle of Wight Steam Railway

The Isle of Wight Steam Railway’s ten-mile steam around the beautiful winter landscape is followed by a visit to Santa in his grotto at Havenstreet Station, where a festive market, winter wonderland and magic shows will have you in the festive mood. A great family excursion.

When: December 7,8,14, 15; then December 20-24.

Price: Adult £15; Child (5-15) £11; Infant (under 5) £9. Includes tipple or a soft drink, plus mince pie for every adult, light refreshments and a present from Santa for the kids.

How to book: Online booking via iwsteamrailway.co.uk/events/santa-specials.aspx.

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