The Most Picturesque Steam Railways in Wales
As a key manufacturer of railway tracks throughout the Industrial Revolution and the site of the world’s first steam train test, Wales is well known for its history with the steam railway. Combined with its beautiful and varied scenery, including woodlands, mountains and lakes, it’s no surprise that there are plenty of stunning trips you can take by train here. Read on to discover the most picturesque steam railways in Wales.
Snowdon Mountain Railway, Llanberis
Mount Snowdon is a striking, must-see destination on any trip to Wales, but not everyone is cut out for mountaineering. Rather than hiking your way up the mountain, why not take a more relaxing route?
A railway to the top of Snowdon was first proposed in 1869 by Sir Richard Moon, Chairman of the London & North Western Railway. Since then more than 12 million travellers have made this scenic voyage by steam train in Snowdonia.
The Snowdon Mountain Railway offers two heritage carriages, pushed by an original Swiss steam locomotive dating back to 1896. Both the Snowdon Lily and the Snowdon Mountain Goat are accurate reconstructions of the Snowdon Mountain Tramroad & Hotels Co Ltd observation carriages, built on the original chassis and bogies from the carriages of 1896. This means that anyone making this trip is taking part in the same experience as those long passed.
Due to the current situation, as of April 2021 the steam train stops at Clogwyn instead of reaching the summit of Mount Snowdon. The Clogwyn Railway Stop overlooks both the beautiful Llanberis Pass and the popular climbing spot, the Clogwyn Du’r Arddu cliffs.
Vale of Rheidol Railway, Aberystwyth
Running for just under twelve miles between Aberystwyth and Devil’s Bridge in Ceredigion, this railway, first built in 1902, has much to offer. The Vale of Rheidol Railway has many restored steam trains, with the aim of recreating the ‘Edwardian spirit of adventure’. At its highest point, the narrow gauge steam locomotive climbs up to 700ft.
The journey takes you through woodland and mountain scenery, all the way to the beautiful waterfalls at Devil’s Bridge, described by William Wordsworth as a ‘torrent’. Anyone looking for a scenic walk is in luck, as there are a number of amazing options at every stop on this route.
The final stop on this voyage, Devil’s Bridge station is not only home to some glorious waterfalls, but it also has a little folklore attached. The story goes that a woman wanted to cross some dangerous waters to fetch her cow, but she couldn’t swim across them. The Devil sprang up and offered to build her a bridge in return for the first living being to cross it. The next day he built the bridge, but the woman outsmarted the Devil by sending her dog across first. And so the bridge still stands.
Brecon Mountain Railway Steam Train
Pulled by a vintage locomotive, this steam railway goes along the length of the Pontsticill Reservoir from Pant, near Merthyr Tydfil, to Torpantau in the Brecon Beacons. The railway was built on part of the abandoned Brecon & Merthyr Railway, which was originally built in 1859. As it stands, the Brecon Mountain Railway has been running for almost half a century as a steam railway using trains and locomotives from around the world.
Merthyr Tydfil’s location at the southern edge of the magnificent Brecon Beacons National Park is just one thing that makes it a perfect place for a picturesque steam railway. It also has a long steam railway history, going back to the trial run of the world’s first steam railway locomotive in 1804. At one time the greatest iron making town in the world, many early railways used rails rolled in Merthyr Mills.
Take a trip on a scaled-down steam engine with multiple enclosed passenger carriages. With several trains a day, you can plan a full day of taking in the lush views. At the main station in Pant, there are Licensed Tearooms for refreshments, with gifts and souvenirs available from the shop. For real train enthusiasts, you can also visit the Workshop where the Steam Locomotives and Carriages are repaired.
Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railway
Established in 1832, the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railway is the oldest still-running independent railway company in the world, as recognised by the Guinness Book of World Records. One of the famous ‘Great Little Trains of Wales’, this volunteer-manned, narrow gauge steam train runs through the thirteen and a half miles of verdant meadow and woodland between the harbour in Porthmadog and the town of Blaenau Ffestiniog.
The historic trains, pulled by narrow gauge steam locomotives, climb 700 feet from sea level into the mountains, taking a trip through forests and pastures, past lakes and waterfalls. Not only does this voyage offer great mountain views, at one point it takes you through a mountain itself! You’ll stop at Beddgelert in the heart of the National Park and travel through the Aberglaslyn Pass, which the National Trust voted the most beautiful spot in the UK, before reaching Portmadog.
Gwili Steam Railway
Just outside Carmarthen in South Wales, Gwili Railway is one of the UK’s most picturesque, preserved lines, going on a steady uphill journey through farmland and wooded hillsides. A five mile round trip, travelling along the River Gwili through open fields, hills and woodland, this steam train takes you from Bronwydd Arms Station to the end of the line at Danycoed Halt, and then back again. The journey is only an hour long, and one ticket lasts for a full day so you can return any time you’d like.
The railway maintenance and services are all run by dedicated volunteers. Proud of their work in bringing the ‘age of steam’ back to life, they have lots of knowledge to impart about Gwili and its historic locomotives. The station yard offers the Gwili Tea Room, with snacks and drinks for all the family.
With a nostalgic feel, like a steam train taken straight from the fifties, this mid-century feeling railway is a spot not to miss. Steam train services run every day of the school holidays, and on selected days throughout the remainder of the year. In December, they offer a Christmas Experience, with lots of fun activities for kids and the chance to meet Santa!
Planning a trip to one of Wales’ most spectacular holiday spots? From a breakdown of the best campsites in Snowdonia to a list of things to do in the Brecon Beacons for families, we have you covered.