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Best train sets for kids: great toy trains for toddlers and up

There are some classic toys which never go out of fashion, and a high-quality train set has to be up there with the best. Here are the best train sets you can buy today, as recommended by Mumsnet parents.

By Lucy Cotterill | Last updated Mar 7, 2023

Best Train Sets

A timeless toy for children of all ages, the best train sets can not only provide your child with hours of fun but also offers educational benefits such as improved hand-to-eye coordination, enhanced creativity and communication, bringing their imagination to life as they play the role of the driver and passengers heading off on a journey.

One of the best toys for 3-year-olds and up, a train set will take pride of place in your child's toy collection - right up there with their best dolls and favourite figurines. Train sets with a variety of track pieces can also help enhance your child’s problem-solving skills as they learn to piece the tracks together with bridges, train stations and figures of eight. 

Whether it’s a traditional wooden train set, a first train set for toddlers or even an interactive train set, we’ve researched the best train sets you can buy to provide hours of fun and creative play for your children. 

Here are the best train sets for kids in 2023.

1. Best overall train set: Brio World Railway Starter Train Set

Brio World Railway Starter Train Set

RRP: £33.99 | Buy now from Amazon

Key specs: Age suitability: 3 years+ | Batteries: ‎No

What we love:

  • A figure of eight track with tunnel and bridge
  • Includes two engines, one carriage and three characters 
  • Made from high-quality FSC-approved wood 

What to know:

What Mumsnet users say:

“I would buy the Brio starter set and add to it with cheaper sets. Let family members know you are buying the set and maybe they could buy bridges, level crossings and tunnels etc as their presents giving them the option to go Brio or Brio compatible depending on their budgets.”  (Tried and tested by Mumsnet user SeasonFinale)

“In my opinion Brio is worth the price, we had lots, got loads of use out of it and then it has resale value when finished.” (Recommended by Mumsnet user rrhuth

Our verdict 

Brio train sets come highly praised amongst Mumsnet users and online reviewers thanks to their traditional designs, chunky pieces and high-quality FSC-certified wood. 

This 26-piece Brio Railway Starter Set is great for beginners, featuring a classic figure-of-eight track layout with a mountain tunnel and bridge. It’s fully compatible with other BRIO world sets and trains, meaning you can expand and grow the set once your child grows in confidence.

This push-along magnetic train set includes two engines and one carriage, three characters and a sign that can be switched between green and red for go and stop. Children will love positioning the driver and passengers, before opening up the carriage and popping the little luggage case inside. 

2. Best budget train set: IKEA LILLABO Basic Train Set

IKEA LILLABO Basic Train Set

RRP: £12 | Buy now from Ikea

Key specs: Age suitability: 3 years+ | Batteries required: No

What we love:

  • Budget-friendly price point 
  • Pieces compatible with most other train sets 

What to know:

  • Track pieces come apart quite easily
  • No accessories or additional play pieces included (expansion packs and characters sold separately) 

What Mumsnet users say:

“IKEA do wooden track sets that are also interchangeable with Brio and are very good value.”  (Tried and tested by Mumsnet user RestingStitchFace)

We have the IKEA train set. Very sturdy and affordable keep on adding to it. For the children of course” (Recommended by Mumsnet user AndhowcouldIeverrefuse

Our verdict 

Whilst a relatively simple set with no extra accessories or characters, they don’t come much more affordable than the LILLABO IKEA train set. It’s also compatible with most other train sets on the market, making it an easy way to expand your child’s track collection without breaking the bank. 

With 20 pieces including three magnetised hand-painted carriages, this chunky wooden train set is easy to piece together to create a figure-of-8 track with a hump-backed bridge at the centre. The LILLABO range also includes a range of expansion packs and accessories such as a battery-operated train, turn table and bridge set. 

The LILLABO is an affordable and good quality wooden train set, however, some did find the pieces came apart quite easily, meaning the trains sometimes came to a stop unexpectedly. 

3. Best wooden train set: Bigjigs Rail 80pc Rural Road and Rail Wooden Train Set

Bigjigs Rail 80pc Rural Road and Rail Wooden Train Set

RRP: £69.99 | Buy now from Debenhams

Key specs: Age Suitability: 3 years+ | Batteries required: No

What we love:

  • Made from safe and sustainable chunky wooden pieces 
  • Expansive set including 80 pieces of road and rail track and accessories 

What to know:

  • Big investment in terms of cost

What Mumsnet users say:

“I like the Bigjigs stuff as brio has a lot of plastic.”  (Tried and tested by Mumsnet user MotherOfCrocodiles)

“Bigjigs fit with Brio and Thomas trains but you get a lot more for your money.” (Recommended by Mumsnet user Clymene

Our verdict 

Whilst it certainly doesn’t come cheap, the Bigjigs Rural Road and Rail Wooden Train Set certainly offers excellent value for money, with 80 pieces included in this set made from high-quality, responsibly sourced wood. 

This clever set combines a road track and railway with a level crossing and bridge that encourage imaginative and creative role-play and is great for siblings to share.

We love the large, chunky cars and train carriages with magnetic couplings, as well as houses, trees, people and even farmyard animals that help set the scene and bring your child’s playtime to life. This set is suitable for children aged three and above, but younger children are likely to need some initial assistance in setting up the interlocking track. 

4. Best first train set: BRIO My First Railway Beginner Train Set

BRIO My First Railway Beginner Train Set

RRP: £35.50 | Buy now from Amazon 

Key specs: Age suitability: 18 months plus | Batteries required: No

What we love:

  • High quality durable FSC-certified wood 
  • Expansion packs available 

What to know:

What Mumsnet users say:

We have BRIO, it goes with anything. We have a ton of it now. They do some lovely start sets,”  (Tried and tested by Mumsnet user thedaytodayyesterday)

We have BRIO here we bought it for my firstborn 1st birthday, just a small set and we’ve added to it since, Bigjigs and an Amazon generic set all fit nicely” (Recommended by Mumsnet user emmaluggs

Our verdict 

Most wooden train sets contain small parts and are therefore recommended for children three years or over, however, this starter set from BRIO is made specifically for children aged 18 months and above and makes a great beginner's track for toddlers or preschoolers. 

With a colourful and engaging design, this 18-piece train set can be laid out in several different formations and includes a bridge, but you’ll need to buy some additional pieces of the track if you want to create a full figure-of-8. 

We love the spinning rattle carriage that will stimulate their senses, combined with magnetic connections and guiding ramp tracks for fun, push-along play. 

5. Best train set for toddlers: LEGO 10874 DUPLO Town Steam Train

LEGO 10874 DUPLO Town Steam Train

RRP: £59.99 | Buy now from Amazon

Key specs: Age suitability: 2-5 years | Batteries required: Yes, 4 AAA batteries required (not included) 

What we love:

  • Fun and interactive battery-operated train 
  • Easy to build and bring to life
  • Introduces basic coding techniques and an understanding of cause and effect 

What to know:

  • Batteries are not included 
  • Some parents may prefer a more neutral colour or a traditional wooden train set

What Mumsnet users say:

“We have both a Brio one and a DUPLO one and both get played with. But the DUPLO one feels like my son can be more imaginative with it, and it combines well with the DUPLO bricks he has, so we can build stations and towers and tunnels and things.”  (Tried and tested by Mumsnet user piratehugs)

“We have the DUPLO train set. It is also really good, and much faster than wooden train sets, which my son really loves” (Recommended by Mumsnet user user68634

Our verdict 

Aimed at children aged 2-5 years, this battery-operated Push & Go train set is great fun to build and bring to life, thanks to the familiar and brightly coloured LEGO DUPLO pieces which are chunky and easy to hold. The set includes 16 pieces of track, along with fun accessories such as a train station and coal tipper and 2 DUPLO characters. 

A fun yet educational choice, the DUPLO Town Steam train can introduce children to some basic coding techniques, using five action bricks along the track that will determine the train's behaviour including stopping or changing direction. 

To extend the gameplay, you can even download the compatible app for your child’s tablet or iPad, allowing them to control the train remotely. 

6. Best quality train set: John Lewis Wooden Train Set

John Lewis Wooden Train Set

RRP: £65 | Buy now from John Lewis

Key specs: Age suitability: 3 years plus | Batteries required: No

What we love:

  • High-quality FSC-certified wood 
  • A large set with 120 pieces offers excellent value for money 
  • Includes fun accessories and turntable for open-ended play 

What to know:

  • Investment piece due to price tag

What Mumsnet users say:

“I really would recommend the John Lewis sets”  (Tried and tested by Mumsnet user Ditalini)

Our verdict 

With 120 pieces, you certainly get your money's worth with this high-quality, FSC-certified wooden train set from John Lewis

With endless play opportunities, the set includes a large number of accessories including a wooden station, trees, animals and people, as well as freestanding signs and controls that allow your child to really bring their imagination to life.

With plenty of track included that allows them to build a variety of different circuits, siblings will love having a magnetic train each as they push over a bridge and turntable. A classic and traditional toy which is sure to have them creating an entire town in no time. 

7. Best eco-friendly train set: Hape Busy City Train Rail Set

Hape Busy City Train Rail Set

RRP: £62.20 | Buy now from Amazon

Key specs: Age suitability: 3 to 12 years |  Batteries Required: No

What we love:

  • Climate Pledge Friendly product for sustainably sourced materials
  • Large-sized city track with various circuit possibilities 

What to know:

  • Whilst ethically sourced, the set does include some plastic
  • Costly

Our verdict 

Bearing the Climate Pledge Friendly badge, this Hape wooden train set is made from sustainably sourced materials and water-based non-toxic paints, ideal for those looking for a more eco-friendly train set. Whilst it does contain some plastic, the majority of the Hape Busy City Train Rail Set is made from high-quality wooden pieces, which are chunky and easy to hold, even for small hands. 

A larger-sized train set, with plenty of track pieces to piece together, it also includes a station, bridge and tunnel, as well as fun accessories to bring your child’s imagination to life such as safety signs, automatic gates and a crane with magnetic hoist for moving precious cargo.

8. Best Hornby train set: Hornby Valley Drifter Train Set

Hornby Valley Drifter Train Set

RRP: £98.99 | Buy now from John Lewis

Key specs: Age suitability: 14 years plus | Batteries required: No (mains powered)

What we love:

  • Authentic locomotive design 
  • Moving pistons and rods for realistic movement 
  • Great for shared experiences between train fanatics and parents 

What to know:

  • Only suitable for older children due to small parts and powered track
  • Costly for what is a fairly simple track 

Our verdict 

If you prefer your train set to look a little more realistic or are buying for an older child or train enthusiast, Hornby offers a wide range of authentic train sets that can easily be passed down through the generations. 

The ideal starter set for those being introduced to Hornby for the first time, this set includes a freight and passenger carriage attached to a ‘Hogwarts Express’ style locomotive. Controlled via remote control, older children will love watching the motion of the pistons and rods as this train glides around the circuit. 

9. Best Thomas train set: Fisher-Price Thomas & Friends Talking Thomas & Percy Train Set

Fisher-Price Thomas & Friends Talking Thomas & Percy Train Set

RRP: £51.99 | Buy now from Amazon

Key specs: Age suitability: 5 years plus | Batteries required: 2 AAA batteries required (included)

What we love:

  • Familiar Thomas the Tank Engine characters and Sodor locations
  • Motorised train set 
  • Can be combined with other sets to expand as your child grows

What to know:

  • Plastic design won’t be to everyone’s taste

What Mumsnet users say:

“Thomas trains were such a hit in this house”  (Tried and tested by Mumsnet user Autumnpumpkin)

Our verdict 

If you’re buying for a preschooler or young child and aren’t put off by the plastic, these Thomas the Tank Engine train sets offer an engaging and familiar first train set, featuring characters they know and love. 

With 35 pieces, the set can be configured in one of three different circuits, each including a bridge, tunnel and a relatively steep recline, allowing trains to gather up some speed on their descent. 

There are two motorised engines included (Thomas and Percy) who will talk as they pass each other on the track. Children will love controlling the direction of travel and changing tracks using simple switches, before stopping at the docks to collect cargo when Bulstrode arrives. 

10. Best interactive train set: LEGO City Cargo Train

LEGO City Cargo Train

RRP: £136.99 | Buy now from Amazon

Key specs: Age Suitability: 6 years plus | Batteries required: ‎10 AAA batteries required (not included) 

What we love:

  • Combination of LEGO building and interactive play 
  • Interactive motorised movements and sound effects 

What to know:

  • Costly
  • Consumes significant battery power 

What Mumsnet users say:

“I think it's worth it. My Lego fan got his age 10 I think. Other family members got him extra track, station etc. It doesn't half go through batteries though...”  (Tried and tested by Mumsnet user CelticPromise)

“My train-and-Lego-obsessed 12-year-old has it and plays with it constantly; unlike some Lego sets it functions well as an interactive toy so it’s not just about the build. Other posters are right though; you also need shares in Duracell!” (Recommended by Mumsnet user AmeliaEarhart

Our verdict 

Ok, there’s no getting away from the eye-watering price tag of the LEGO City Cargo Train. That said, if you’re buying for an older LEGO fan who is train-obsessed, Mumsnet users felt it was certainly worth the investment, largely due to the interactive elements and the variety of pieces to build.

The motorised train engine can be controlled via the Bluetooth remote or the LEGO City app and can travel at ten different speeds, racing past the control centre, through signal lights and whizzing past train worker mini figures. Be warned, however, this train is a little thirsty on battery power, so you’ll want to stock up on the AAA's to avoid disappointment.

Not only will children love physically building the sets, but thanks to the wide range of play pieces, they can bring their imaginations to life with the mini figures using the control tower, cargo crane and even the cheeky train robber attempting to steal the cargo. 

What to look for in a train set for kids

  • Age suitability - How old is your child? Many train sets are only suitable for children 3 years or above due to having small parts, so ensure that you read the age recommendation before you buy. Other train sets have more intricate or complicated circuits, which may mean your child is less able to build independently. If you’re happy to supervise or build the track for your child before play, your child may be able to grow into more complex sets.
  • High-quality materials - Do you have a preference for materials? For a more traditional train set, you may want to opt for FSC-certified wood, which is not only more sustainable and eco-friendly but tends to be durable and hard-wearing too. Some other train sets are made from plastic, which whilst less appealing to us parents can sometimes offer increased variety in terms of play pieces, accessories and motion. 
  • Expansion options - can you make the set bigger by adding more pieces as your child gets older? Consider how many pieces come in the original set and how quickly your child may outgrow them. 
  • Compatibility with other brands - the good news is that these days, most wooden train sets are compatible with other brands. If you’re on a budget, you may want to consider buying smaller non branded pieces to complement or expand existing, more premium sets. 
  • Range of circuits - Does the train set offer a variety of track formations or is it limited to a simple circle track of figure-of-8? Does the train set include a bridge and tunnel or are these optional extras?
  • Ease of assembly - How easy is the train set to put together and can your child do this independently? Are there any elements that require building before your child can play and if so, are they old enough to do this without assistance? 
  • Accessories included - Does the train set come with accessories included or do you need to buy these separately? Children love using their imagination, so train sets that come with additional characters and accessories such as signs, trees or stations can allow them to act out little scenes and bring their new city to life. 
  • Push-along or motorised - Is the train a manual push-along train, or does it is battery-powered? Younger children may prefer the speed and excitement of a motorised train, whilst there is something quite calming and sensory about the gentle push movements required with a more traditional set.
  • Batteries required - If the train set does require batteries, are these included or do you need to buy them? You may want to consider how many batteries the set needs, as motorised trains can drain the batteries fairly quickly during extended play. 

What age is best for a first train set?

Whilst many train sets (particularly wooden train sets) are suitable for children aged 3 and above, there is a small selection of train sets such as the BRIO My First Railway that is suitable for children from around 18 months of age. 

What kinds of train sets are available?

There are two main types of train sets available, the traditional wooden train sets or more modern (usually motorised or battery-powered) plastic designs. 

Wooden train sets tend to be higher quality, more likely to last the test of time and are obviously the more sustainable choice. 

Plastic sets however can often be more familiar in terms of brands and characters and may include more interactive elements such as motorised motion lights and sounds. 

What’s the best train set to buy?

BRIO came incredibly well recommended amongst the Mumsnet forums, and with thousands of positive reviews on retailer sites, it’s clear to see this is a trusted brand for children’s wooden train sets. The BRIO World Start Train Set offers high-quality, sustainable materials, an adjustable track and fun accessories, with the ability to expand the set with more BRIO (or compatible brands) as your child grows. 

How we chose our recommendations

Recommendations from real Mumsnet users 

First, we headed to the hive mind of Mumsnet users, to seek their thoughts on the best on train sets for children, as well as the train sets that their children rate, recommend and play with regularly in their own homes.

We also looked out for any negative reviews, where Mumsetters highlighted products that they felt were poor quality, overpriced or failed to hold their child’s attention. 

Authentic consumer reviews

Finally, to bring you our definitive list of the best train sets on the market, we thoroughly investigated genuine, in-depth customer reviews on retailer sites such as Amazon, Argos and John Lewis to get a broader consumer experience of the products on our shortlist. 

Why you should trust us

We work hard to provide honest and independent advice you can trust and we spend hours scouring the Mumsnet forums and online bestseller lists to find products that real parents rate.

Transparency is really important to us and that's why we're always upfront about where we find our recommendations. We write about products that we feel offer the best value to most parents – the ones that our users would recommend to their own friends and family.