The best wooden train sets are almost certainly an amalgamation of all the Brio, Bigjigs and other sets children have bought and added to their collection as they grow up. You’ve got to start somewhere, however. The Best Wooden Trains Sets Guide by Trains For Kids aims to give a brief intro to wooden trains before discussing the relative merits of top-selling sets from the major brands.
Wooden trains: getting started
There are some basic things to think about before starting out with a wooden train set.
At risk of being controversial from the start, first up is the question: are you sure you want wooden? It’s certainly been the direction our family has taken – with just one plastic set – but there are advantages. One of the main ones is that as plastic is more malleable, these train sets can often have more steep mountains for engines to climb and race down. Some of the Thomas The Tank Engine themed Trackmaster sets not only have exciting swing bridges to cross, avalanches to escape and so on, but they can be heavily themed around the films and books. The other key advantage is that the engines can be larger and thus more suitable to smaller hands.
Assuming I’ve not scared you off wood, the second consideration is how old is your child. Wooden train sets typically state the age recommendation as 3+ but there are some starter sets for 18m+ or 2+. Realistically, my sons have both played with wooden train sets not long after their first birthdays. We’ve removed a few of the smallest parts (from the sets, not the children) and been fortunate that neither were particularly prone to putting anything in their mouths.
The next advice I would suggest is to think about how much your little on is likely to be into trains and railways. If he or she has played a lot with wooden trains at nursery, other children’s house, in shop displays and the like it’s a good indicator that it might be worth going beyond a starter or smaller set to begin with.
Likewise, you need to consider how much room you have. If you have limited space you need to go for a small set or even a set with a table (see here for the Trains For Kids Train Table Guide). By contrast if you have a large area that could potentially be used to store and lay out tracks then you’ve got more options.
Next think about a theme. Does your child have other interests that you might want to look for in a train set – whether that be dinosaurs (if so, stop reading and read this review), construction or fairies? It’s also worth looking at the complexity of any accessories and bridges to gauge whether the set will hold your child’s interest. We have built up our set over time adding bits here and there. Would you do this or would you prefer to start with a larger set?
Finally, be prepared to shop around for bargains. Many retailers do regular discounts on the train sets themselves, others will also do free delivery or percentage discount on any higher purchases while Amazon and the Trains For Kids Store are great ways to find cheaper deals.
With those points in mind, lets get into the major brands – pretty much all of which would interconnect with one another.
Brio is often the wooden railway brand that comes to people’s mind first. The company was set up in the 1880s in Sweden, growing into a multinational toy and game supplier and is now owned by Ravensburger. It is known for its quality, wide range of wooden train sets. It tends to have a decent blend of plastic and wood components, trying to make the best out of both materials.
Brio: Starter Sets
Brio My First Railway Set
It seems only right to start with the first set that we ever bought. At that point we knew very little about wooden train sets as Zachary was only about 1. Similarly we didn’t know it would grow into one of his fascinations. The 15 piece My First Railway Set was perfect to test the waters. Not only did it become a hit, but it is still very much used today – especially the red and green ramps and the squishy tunnel. Sometimes available with £5 off the £24.99 recommended retail price, it is not the cheapest starter set but a quality one.
Buy at John Lewis (typically more expensive)
If you want something a little less basic for an 18 month old, then Brio has the My First Advanced Set. I have not direct experience of any of the pieces but the colourful train with a twisting cylinder inside the carriage and easy-to-build bridge look interesting for younger ones.
Brio Little Forest Train Starter Set
The second of Brio’s three main starter sets – the Little Forest Train Starter Set – perplexes me. Not only do the 18 pieces amount to a tiny amount of track, two trees and a engine with one carriage – about the amount down the back of our sofa! – but it is for 3 years and upwards when I feel most kids would have moved past this. At £17, or perhaps £14 on offer, it is a cheap introduction to Brio and given it has over 20 positive reviews on Amazon should not be discounted.
Brio Safari Starter Set
The Safari Starter Set is a nice one, especially if your child is into animals and might want to add more from Brio’s Safari Range. It comes with 17 pieces and at £23 is decent value, though I still lean towards My First Railway Set for pure railway fun.
Brio Travel Circle Train Set
Very basic circle set, the main appeal of the Brio Travel Circle Train Set is being able to take passengers in and out of the train. Sometime available for £17, it offers good value to get into Brio wooden trains.
Brio: Basic & Midrange Sets
Brio Rail Farm Railway Set
Of the simpler Brio sets on the market, one I’ve seen in action is the Brio Rail Farm Railway Set. It’s a little short on track for something costing £30-35 but the hay barn that has a crane to lift bales on and off the carriage is robust and easy to use.
Brio Travel Explorer Set
While we didn’t specifically buy the Brio Travel Explorer Set, we have all the components except the bridge/tunnel from this figure of 8 set. One thing Brio does really well is to have trains that children can put people into and this train has been a firm favourite for Jacob at 2.5 years old. The only caution I would have is that the doors and roofs of the train do come off easily and are hard to get back on (and find if they’re lost!). Look to pick up this set for £30.
Brio Figure 8 Mountain Set
A simpler figure of 8 train set, the Figure 8 Mountain Set doesn’t stand up to its near £30 price tag for me.
Brio Rail and Road Loading Set
Zachary was never really into joining cars and trains in play but had we been starting out with Jacob this might have been a route we’d gone as he loves his cranes, construction, cars, trucks, level crossings and bridges. By starting out with the Brio Rail and Road Loading Set, you can expand your collection in whichever direction your child chooses. As with a number of the sets, getting about 10% off the normal price of £45 can be possible.
Brio Rail and Road Crane
Also consider the £40 or so Rail and Road Crane set for kids that love construction and trains.
Brio Road and Rail Travel Set
The Brio Road and Rail Travel Set offers a similar combination, with the travel train that comes with the Brio Travel Explorer Set. Add some extra track and a bridge and you’d have a really nice mixed transport set up. It’s a touch more expensive at £49.99 RRP but offered at £46.00 ahead of Christmas 2015. We did have a similar piece to the bus station and managed to crush it underfoot but that’s not a reason to avoid.
Brio Steam Train Railway Set
If your child got into trains because of a love of steam engines from a parent, grandparent or trip to heritage railway, then this Brio Steam Train Railway Set might be a nice option. It’s not the accuracy of the Heritage Collection from Bigjigs or Flyings Scotsman from Brio, nor the recognisable Steam Team from Thomas, but will get little ones screaming chooo chooo, pufffff puffff nonetheless. And probably the adults too.
Brio Metro Railway Set
If you’re a city dweller and spend a lot of time on the Tube, for example, then this Brio Metro Railway Set set looks great. There are two passengers that can get in and out of the three-part bright red train at the station (which has sliding doors to get into it). There is limited track and even more so tunnels. You might find this for the mid-£30s if lucky rather than the £45 recommended retail price.
Brio Country Farm Set
Into the mid-range wooden train sets comes the Country Farm Set. I’d suggest that it would suit a child if they particularly like farms but there would be better options for £55 if they don’t.
Brio: Deluxe Sets
Brio City Train Set
As we have practically all the pieces for this set from various collections, I rate the Brio City Train Set pretty highly. It has a battery operated train – some kids get on with these better, some just want to push it themselves – that the people can sit in. There is a level crossing and small rail for fun on the railway. The suspension bridges from Brio are fantastic for when you want to get to more complex track layouts. The number of pieces is rather bumped up by a load of basic trees but at £60 the only reason not to go for it would be if you wanted a wooden train.
Brio Country Railway Set
In a similar vein, the Brio Country Railway Set has a decent amount of track and two plastic trains. Brio bridge supports are decent, which is always something to watch out for with cheaper sets. If you can get this set in the mid-£40s, then it represents decent value.
Brio Large Railway Set
The snappily titled Brio Large Railway Set is just that: a good-sized train set with a decent amount of track and accessories (75 pieces overall). I rate the explorer train that comes in this set as it’s one of Jacob’s favourites. But wait, there’s something extra. The station talks to the child as the train goes around. I haven’t witnessed this but can imagine it would be quite fun. It can be found for as little as £60.
Brio Safari Figure of 8 Set
At the lower end of the deluxe sets, the Brio Safari Figure of 8 gets good reviews on Amazon, though I would suggest in the mid-£60s this is a little overpriced for a 25 piece set. There is no doubting quality as we have several of the wooden bridges in this set and prefer them over similar sized plastic. While the train is simple, it is good for children to put the animals in and out of.
Brio Flying Scotsman Train Set
It appears that Brio is phasing out the Flying Scotsman Train Set. It was previously available around £60 and a decent number of pieces for that money. There was some disquiet about the quality of the buildings as they are plastic and propped up rather than being more substantial wood. The only one available at the time of writing was a second hand at £99, which you’d need to be a Flying Scotsman superfan to justify. Try Bigjigs’ Heritage Range instead.
Brio Deluxe Cargo Railway Set
At £90 to £100, the Deluxe Cargo Rail Set has some really nice components. For example, the gantry crane that can pick up (using a magnet) cargo off one train and load it onto another or the ground by the side of the track is a firm favourite in our house. There are plenty of bridge supports and the bridge too. Two engines- we have the red battery powered one and it is very robust – and three cargo trucks make this a good, top of the range set.
Brio Large Railway Freight Station Set
If you’re struggling to justify the price of the above Deluxe Cargo Rail Set then perhaps the Large Railway Freight Station Set at around £60 is a better option. You can always add the bridges and cranes at a later stage.
Brio Metro City Train Set
As if we didn’t have enough wooden railway, my wife is desperate to get the Brio Metro City Train Set for our toddler. The concept is very cool, with a station with a lift between two circular tracks that could easily be extended. The tunnel for the ‘underground’ part also looks great. This can be found for mid-£60s rather than the RRP of £80.
Brio Rail Travel Switching Set
The Brio Rail Travel Switching Set is a similar one to the above, largely just swapping the underground tunnel and engine for a bridge and another travel trains. A bit of extra track and points make for more variety for a similar price of £65.
Brio Rail Deluxe Railway Set
This one might have to be filed under In Your Dreams. Retailing at £200 officially but sometimes as low as £160, it is basically the best of Brio’s railway offering in a box. There are three bridges, two tunnels, three trains and a station as part of this 87 piece Rail Deluxe Railway Set. If you want to get going with a bang, this is certainly the way of doing so (a way that’s cheaper than building sets up over time). You even get your own box to store it all in.
Buy At Amazon (Just don’t tell my kids you did!)
Brio Railway World Deluxe Train and Road Track Set
The previous set is not the pinnacle of Brio’s range, which is reserved for the £300 RRP Railway World Deluxe Train and Road Track Set that combines the best of its railway and road toys. The emphasis is taken off the railway a little to bring in elements like an aeroplane and control tower, more waterborne elements and better cranes. Several of the parts are battery operated to make realistic sounds. This can often be found at £40 less than the RRP.
Wooden Train Set Guide continues below but you may also like to read Train Table Guide
Bigjigs has come a long way since its founders – two teachers who wanted to make better wooden educational tools – started in 1985. The wooden toys are now largely made in China rather than a shed in England but the family-run company’s HQ remains in Kent. Wooden railways remain at the heart of its 1,500-strong set of products. The company is known for quality, beautifully finished train sets that place emphasis on wood rather than plastic. Regular visitors will know Trains For Kids and Bigjigs have worked together on a number of competitions; below are my opinions alone.
Bigjigs: Starter Sets
Bigjigs My First Train Set
Costing less than £12, My First Train Set is a great way to introduce children to railway toys and the Bigjigs way. It’s a simple yet beautifully painted circular wooden train set. Bigjigs’ accessories are always characterful, making them stand out from cheaper sets.
Bigjigs Figure of Eight Train Sets
Bigjigs produces three types of figure of eight tracks. Each comes with 15 pieces of track that make up the loop, including a very strong bridge. The accessories are wooden and simple, with the carriages not taking people within them (a different approach from Brio). The first set is a 30 piece Bigjigs Basic Figure of Eight Train Set but this is out of stock on Amazon and the company’s own website. This leaves the Bigjigs Figure of Eight Train Set which is good value at £24.49 for a fully wooden set and comes in bold primary colours and the Bigjigs Fairy Figure of Eight Train Set which is clearly aimed towards girls with its pastel palette.
Bigjigs Village Train Set
After the very first starter sets, the Bigjigs range jumps to those at the £30 mark. The Bigjigs Village Train Set brings in a basic tunnel, level crossing, station and points. There are a few more accessories, including a pond. These take it some way beyond the figure of eight tracks, but not by a great degree given there are better tunnels and accessories available individually.
Bigjigs Farm Train Set
At this price range, I really rate the Bigjigs Farm Train Set. I was supplied one to review (read here) and was very impressed with the new addition for 2015. The apple tree bridge is a standout feature but the beautifully painted train is also great (and now referred to as the Cow Train in our household. The animals get to ride on the carriages too. As mentioned in the review, the main drawback I found was that only one of the hay bales fit on the carriage. Still a great set around the £30 mark.
Bigjigs Heritage Collection: Flying Scotsman, Mallard, Rocket & CN Rail
As I note for Brio, some kids get inspired by steam trains to play more with wooden train sets. The best known of those have been made into accurate wooden models in the Bigjigs Heritage Collection. Whether it is Mallard (pictured), Flying Scotsman or Rocket, they come with a good amount of track, a ticket booth and accessories for just over £30. A Canadian National Railways one is also available.
Buy At Amazon – link for all four
Brio: Basic & Midrange Sets
Bijigs Dinosaur Train Set
Launched in 2015, I was again given a chance to put the Bigjigs Dinosaur Train Set through its paces. I had initial reservations as you can read here but ended up concluding that not only was it one of the best fantasy wooden railway sets on the market, that the volcano bridge and tunnel combination possibly put it up there with any other. It’s stood the testament of time in our household, with the volcano bridge being at the centre of a layout that the boys made in the playroom as I write. By adding some extra track to ensure the trains don’t derail when coming down from the top, it more than justifies its £45 price tag in my view.
Bigjigs Town and Country Train Set
Bigjigs’ main mid-range wooden railway set is the Town and Country Train Set, which includes 101 pieces. While there is a decent amount of track, the number of pieces is a little inflated by trees and people which needs to be borne in mind if – like my kids – these might be cast aside. There is a nice little station, level crossing and bridge. The inclusion of points make this a versatile set.
Bigjigs Rural Rail and Road Set
I love the bridges that come with the Bigjigs Rural Rail and Road Set, which is the companies offering for children that want rail and road play combined. We’ve tended to mix wooden rail with metal cars though.
Bigjigs Fairy Town Train Set
Bigjigs stands out as catering specifically for girls better than any of the wooden railway producers and should be commended for that. While some parents of girls and girls themselves are very happy to play with regular train sets, the pastel fairy-themed ones give those that aren’t an option. The Fairy Town Train Set includes a bridge, two tunnels and an engine shed.
Brio: Deluxe Sets
Bigjigs Mountain Railway Set
The first of two sets pitched around the £80-mark – though one reviewer on Amazon claimed to have paid in the £50s (never seen that myself) – the Bigjigs Mountain Railway Set has 112 pieces. This means that right out of the box your child would have more than enough track to make any number of layouts. There are a number of sets of points and a small turntable. The mountain itself appears to be plastic, which looks fine but some may prefer a set with a wooden feature. There is only one train, with carriages that can be lifted off by the crane. The bridge supports are the wooden block ones, which I feel can be less stable for younger kids than the gripping type ones used on the Dinosaur Train Set above. Overall a good set if you want to get right into it.
Bigjigs Transportation Train Set
If your child is into any transport, then this is an amazing wooden railway set. The Transportation Train Set comes with an airport, heliport, petrol station, boat and a whole load of commercial vehicles. Unlike the previous set there are two trains which I’d expect when paying in the £80s. Moreover, there are three bridges and a load of bridge supports (albeit the wooden block ones I think can be wobbly). Once again, though there are 122 pieces, many are accessories and so it’s worth thinking whether they will get air time.
Bigjigs Construction Train Set
I desperately want Bigjigs to sell the bridge supports in the Construction Train Set separately. They are the gripping type and so are really sturdy and with several levels can create an amazing spiral. However, at over £100 you really would know that you want the crane to buy this construction-themed, 116 piece set.
Bigjigs Freight Train Set
In contrast with Brio’s top of the range set, I struggle to build up as much enthusiasm for this one from Bigjigs. One part of it is that if you’re going to have a roundhouse there are better ones out there and similar for the small blue bridge and tunnel. There is no shortage of track but there appears to be a disproportionate amount of straights to points and curves. The Bigjigs Freight Train Set has two trains and comes in a wooden box to keep it in.
Thomas & Friends Wooden Railway: Overview
There’s a reason that Thomas is still going after 70 years: children love how alive the characters with names and faces become. When it comes to wooden railways, the main reason to buy Thomas & Friends is not for those specific engines, which can after all be bought and put with any set, but the quality of the track. It’s embossed and I sort of want to frame it whenever I use it. Elsewhere, some of the official Thomas accessories are plastic and somehow just don’t feel quite up to par with a brand that is at the high end price-wise.
Thomas & Friends Wooden Railway: All Sets
Wooden Railway Starter Set
If your child is a Thomas fan and just starting out with wooden trains then this is the way to go – if it’s on offer. Being a basic oval, Thomas engine, three accessories and The Fat Controller, I just don’t see how the Wooden Railway Starter Set is worth £27. You’re better off buying an expansion pack of track, a Thomas engine and whatever you want with the change. At the time of writing, the set was closer to £18 with Amazon.
Wooden Railway Coal Hopper Figure 8 Set
The Wooden Railway Coal Hopper Figure 8 Set features a Thomas engine and coal truck along with the hopper to fill it. With the quality track from Thomas & Friends it gets close to being nice set. However, the bridge is plastic and – according to some reviewers not that stable – which means that being in the mid-£30s there are better options out there.
Wooden Railway Steaming Around Sodor Train Set
This is another set from Thomas & Friends that gets strong reviews on Amazon. Although relatively expensive with a RRP of £69.99, at least with this one I can see the point. The Steaming Around Sodor Train Set has a covered bridge and turning wheel and a nice set of signals. Thomas is the motorised version and there is one carriage in the set too (although not in the picture). A decent option for die-hard Thomas fans.
Wooden Railway Fossil Run Set
A combination of wooden railway and plastic, this Thomas & Friends Wooden Railway Fossil Run brings the excitement of the Trackmaster products. Thomas and Timothy are sure to have an exciting adventure with boulders flying everywhere.
IKEA: Overview & Train Set
If you want a truly cheap source of new wooden train track then you might want to consider Ikea. A 20 piece Lillabo figure of 8 train track with engine and carriage costs just £8. While the quality is acceptable and the track will fit OK with other brands, don’t expect other engines and carriages to fit under the bridge.
GLTC: Overview & Train Set
Great Little Trading Company (GLTC) is well know for high quality toys. While I’ve not seen their wooden railway set, it fits with other wooden railway track. Reviews on their site are positive. I believe the set comes with just track and the blue train for £35. For everything in the image, they do a bundle that is over £100.
Buy At GLTC – Wooden Train Track Set
Chad Valley: Overview & Train Set
Chad Valley is not renowned for its wooden toys. However, its Chad Valley 60 Piece Train Set is a decent budget end option. It comes with 21 pieces of track, a plastic bridge, basic engine and slightly strange amount of traffic signs and cones.
Melissa and Doug: Overview
Started in an American garage by Doug and his future wife Melissa, the company has grown up to have 2,000 products, an international reputation (though still better known in the US) and an emphasis on quality.
Melissa and Doug: All Sets
Figure 8 Train Set
If your kids aren’t fussed about accessories or you want a cost effective way of expanding the amount of track you’ve got, then the Figure 8 Train Set from Melissa and Doug is great. It comes with a bridge, a decent engine and a set of points for £15, or sometimes nearer £12 on offer.
Swivel Bridge Train Set
There’s a lot to like about this train set. Once again it’s deliberately light on accessories, which is great if you just want track. There is both the swivel bridge that gives the set its name and a solid wooden tunnel. The ramps that come in the Swivel Bridge Train Set are always useful. However, I’m not a fan of the wooden block bridge supports.
Mountain Tunnel Train Set
This set definitely has one of the more interesting mountain layouts of the major brands. Hard to judge the Mountain Tunnel Train Set without seeing it in action.
Deluxe Wooden Railway Set
This wooden railway set is amazing if you are looking for a large set that doesn’t have too many accessories. Most of the 130 plus piece are simply good quality track, bridges and engines. Melissa and Doug’s Deluxe Wooden Train Set is much cheaper than those from Bigjigs or Brio, and is the best I’ve found so far with a roundhouse included. All in all a good way to go if the focus is on a good value train set at £80 RRP but often in the £60s on sale.
Tidlo: Overview & Sets
Tidlo has emerged strongly in recent years, selling through Amazon. I’ve not had any experience of it, but with a basic and more complex sets – including a fantastic looking London one – I’ve ordered some to try it out.
Other Brands: All Sets
Kosee Wooden Railway Station 70 Pieces Train Set
Cheap set, especially when there’s £19 off the £49.99 usual price, which may be a decent way to see what your child focuses on given the variety of pieces.
Point-Kids 100, 75 and 49 piece sets
While I have no experience myself of Point-Kids, the company has three lower end wooden train sets on Amazon that get good reviews. At the time of writing, each of the three sets was selling at just over half of the RRP. The sets are somewhat bloated with extra basic accessories like a lot of trees. However, at £36 for 100 pieces, £31 for 75 pieces (pictured) and £25 for 49 pieces, Point-Kids appears to be the best budget range around.
There are many fantastic wooden railway sets out there and I hope this guide has helped you pin point the right one for your child. Our collection centres on Brio and Bigjigs and I find little reason to recommend you from taking a different path. The exception to that is around budget – and here Tidlo, Point-Kids and Melissa and Doug offer some great alternatives.
Don’t forget many of these wooden train sets and more can be found in the Trains For Kids Store.
Links above take you to Amazon.co.uk or other retailers should you wish to buy one of the products. I earn a small commission without any cost to you for my work if you use these links – which will be used to take two train-loving boys to Japan.
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Thanks for reading the Wooden Train Guide. You may also like the Train Table Guide.