Is there anything better as a kid than waking up on Christmas morning, full of wonder and excitement for what Santa may have brought?
It’s hard to think of anything else that brings so much joy but even before the jubilation of Christmas morning, there is something that captures the imagination of countless children worldwide.
This is, of course, the Christmas model train set. This majestic set sits under the Christmas tree, going round and round, adding an element of fun to the festive atmosphere.
Where the idea of a train set being placed under a Christmas came from is a mystery to most. Thankfully, many loved the idea and it has become a very popular addition to Christmas decorations.
There are so many Christmas train sets out there for you to choose from. Many are detailed recreations from films such as The Polar Express or child-friendly toy trains your kids can actually play with.
If you haven’t jumped on this train set bandwagon just yet, you should start this year! With so many to choose from, it can be hard to narrow it down to just 5. Luckily, that is where we step in. We have delved through hundreds of options and chosen our top 5 picks of the best Christmas train sets so you don’t have to.
Our pros and cons lists, helpful buyer’s guide, and FAQs section to send you in the direction of the best train set for you.
All aboard! Time to check out our top picks!
Lionel The Polar Express Train Set
If it’s a classic train set you are looking for, you can’t go wrong with Lionel’s Polar Express train set. This stunning train set has incredible, intricate details that will leave you studying it for hours. Not only does it showcase the magic of Christmas with the iconic Polar Express being its basis, but it looks good enough to be used all year round.
You must ensure you have enough space for a train set under your tree so knowing the dimensions is vital. This oval train set measures 50-inches x 73.2-inches and is ready-to-play right away. It includes 24 pieces of curved rail track as well as 8 straight plastic track pieces. With fixed knuckle couplers, the tracks will stay sturdy and intact for a smooth ride on the Polar Express.
You, your family, and visitors will be thoroughly entertained by this train set. You can even take turns to control the train with buttons to allow the train to go backward and forwards.
Play the full part of a train driver by sounding the whistle, ringing the train’s bell, and play certain announcements. This isn’t just one of the best-looking train sets on our list but one of the most enjoyable to use as well.
- Ready-to-play track for you to use as soon as you set up
- Comes with a remote control to manually move the train in reverse or forward for hours of fun
- Intricate details and designs to take your breath away and send your imagination into another realm
- Plays sound clips from the Polar Express movie for added effects
- A very realistic train set with sound effects of train chugging while in motion and steam when stationary
- The train’s bell could be of better quality with a poor sound
Lionel Disney Mickey Mouse Express Battery-powered Model Train Set
Here is one for the kids to enjoy! The Lionel Disney Mickey Mouse Express Model train set is a beautiful, high-quality train set with wonderful details throughout. Although it is aimed at kids, its sheer quality could render it a collector’s piece so it’s up to you if you want your children to play with the set or not. You should keep toddlers away from the set though to prevent injury.
There are so many accessories with this set including Mickey and Minnie mouse figures, a general style locomotive with wood tender, a boxcar, an animated gondola, Eight curved O36 FasTrack track sections, two 10-inch straight FasTrack sections, and a very easy to use remote control.
The whole set runs on the O scale which is the industry standard size. This is great if you want to extend the set and add more tracks in the future.
This Mickey Mouse model train set is perfect for smaller houses or apartments where you want the train set to stand out underneath your Christmas tree. With its puffing smoke, warm lights, and chuffing train sounds, you and your kids will just love watching this go round and round the Christmas tree.
- This set is highly detailed with a beautiful seasonal design that would look at home under any Christmas tree
- Has a very sturdy design that should last many years
- The whole set runs on the industry standard-sized O scale so it will be easier to add accessories such as more tracks if required
- Ready-to-play for ages 4 and up with fun for the whole family to be had
- Includes an array of train sounds to give it an authentic feel
- Can take some time setting up with some reviewers reporting a complicated process
LEGO Creator Expert Winter Holiday Train Set
It’s Christmas time and there is LEGO under the tree. It doesn’t get much better than this for kids! Not only is there LEGO, but there is a LEGO train set! This Creator Expert Winter Holiday Train set is the best LEGO train set on the market today. There is no doubt the whole family will be entertained for hours on end.
If your children have other LEGO pieces, they can easily customize the train set. Let their imaginations run wild. You can even make your own gifts and place them in the freight carts attached to the train.
There are 5 mini-figures included in this set. These include a locomotive driver, a ticket collector, and a grandmother with her grandson and grand-daughter. The festive spirit is not forgotten with the addition of festive green wreaths and decorative lights as well.
The train diameter is a little smaller at 27-inches but it is still big enough to look gorgeous under your Christmas tree. We have a feeling this train set won’t just be out for the Christmas season!
- You can add extra LEGO pieces to this train set to customize and modify it into anything you want
- Includes 5 figures that help bring the set to life
- Includes festive green wreaths and decorative lights to add to the Christmas atmosphere including buildable micro toys for the mini-figures
- Option to motorize the train with a Power Functions motor (this needs to be purchased separately)
- Can be used all year round for hours of fun every day
- On the expensive side and you need to spend more to motorize the train
- Sometimes derails if motorized with too much power
Lionel Hogwarts Express Battery-powered Model Train Set
Step through and into Platform 9 ¾ and board the Hogwarts Express! If you’re a fan of Harry Potter, you will love the Lionel Hogwarts Express Battery-powered model train set. Discover the chamber of secrets this train possesses as it moves serenely around your Christmas tree.
If you’re familiar with famous lines in the Harry Potter franchise, you will recognize a whole range of phrases coming from this train set.
You’ll feel like you’re sitting with Harry, Ron, and Hermione as you hear “anything from the trolly, dear?” on the train’s journey around your tree. Alongside being taken away into the majesty of Harry Potter’s world, you will be impressed by the accessories included.
This set comes with a 37-piece track, a battery-powered train, a tender, and two passenger coach cars. All of these replicate the Hogwarts Express to perfection.
You may need a good amount of space to fit this 50-inches x 73-inches train set around your tree. However, there is no doubt it would look magnificent. If you miss a stop, simply use the wireless remote to reverse the train or move it forward. You will be in complete control of the Hogwarts Express and, who knows,maybe you will save Harry and all from the dementors!
- A wonderful recreation of the Hogwarts Express as seen in the movies
- Very high-quality design that should last many Christmasses
- Can be used all year round as well as Christmas for days or enjoyment by adults and children
- Includes famous sounds from the Harry Potter movies such as “We’ll take the lot”, and “You’re Harry Potter!” Perfect for Harry Potter fans
- Easy to set up and use with a simple wireless remote to control the train and soundbites
- Very large in diameter so it may not be suitable for smaller apartments or spaces
Lionel Union Pacific Flyer Electric O Gauge Model Train Set
This is a wonderful train set for those who may want to start a model train set hobby. The powerful 0-8-0 steam locomotive is awe-inspiring as it pulls the majestic Union Pacific train cars behind it. This ready-to-go train set has just about everything you need to get started on your train journey toward ruling the railways!
A fantastic feature of this train set is its Bluetooth function. You are able to control the set through a tablet or smartphone with absolute ease. These trains are not just high-quality but they are very fast, reliable, and superbly responsive.
Many model trains derail at some point but the Union Pacific will refuse to. You will love watching the beautifully detailed locomotive, speaker tender, and cargo cars as they proceed around your tree. Another wonderful feature is the liquid smoke that comes from the train’s chimneys for realistic effect.
Don’t worry, the smoke is unscented unlike some brands so your house won’t start smelling like a train’s chimney.
There are so many aspects to love about this train set and we’re sure you will agree. Delve into the train set’s app and you will find even more features that aren’t available on the remote. You will be in complete control of this train’s journey and there is no doubt you will spend many hours enjoying what it has to offer.
- Made with a Bluetooth function that can be operated from a smartphone or tablet which includes additional features
- Produces safe, unscented liquid smoke for realistic effect
- Incredibly detailed locomotive, speaker tender, and cargo carts to look stylish under your Christmas tree
- Doesn’t derail unlike many model railways with easy to put together plastic base tracks
- Certain pieces tend to lose connectivity over time and drop signal
- The train and cars don’t light up as many models do
As you can see above, Christmas train sets come in all shapes and sizes. There are numerous features that are unique to every model train set with some offering Bluetooth technologies while others are more traditional with the use of remote controls.
There are various factors you need to consider before buying a Christmas train set, as these can determine the quality and durability of the set over time. Below are a few of the important features to look out for in Christmas train sets.
The size of the train
There are various scales of train sets and each is based on the size relative to a real railroad. These scales are N, HO, O, and G. Christmas train sets typically use the O scale as these are made primarily for running trains without a layout around the tracks. Measuring around 4-inches in height, you will need a larger layout for these sets but they often include much greater detail.
G scale train sets are another option. These are the tallest and largest-sized trains measuring around 6-inches to 8-inches tall. You need to ensure you have enough clearance so the train doesn’t come in contact with your tree.
Most Christmas train sets come with batteries that may need to be purchased separately. While these batteries are typically powerful, they can run out of juice quite quickly if the train is on the go constantly every day. It’s always a good idea to have a backup supply of batteries just in case.
If your train set comes with a transformer, this is usually only strong enough to power the locomotive alone and maybe a few attached cars. There are more powerful transformers available such as the DC power, DCC, and AC power models. These are typically only needed for larger train sets, however.
Many train sets use different devices to control the train. One may have a controller that connects directly to the power supply and needs to be fixed to the set while another may use a remote for you to control it anywhere.
The controller usually just switches the train on and off as well as controls the speed. Remotes tend to offer more features such as different sounds, steam, and certain directions the train can go depending on the track’s set up.
As we have mentioned, train sets vary in size depending on their scale. This is why you need to make sure you have enough space under your tree for your desired train set.
The last thing you want is to unwrap your set only to find you have nowhere to put it. It is recommended you read the dimensions of the railway set as well as the floor around your tree.
If you want to go full out and make your train set as realistic as possible, you can opt for additional accessories. These can help make your railway more realistic and come magically to life.
There are numerous accessories on the market such as different characters (train conductors, police officers, and passengers) and different cars (locomotives, boxcars, and passenger cars). You could even opt for some wintry scenery behind the train set to add that extra holiday atmosphere.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why are trains associated with the Christmas season?
There isn’t a definitive answer to this question but one reason could be the sense that the train represents families returning home to see their loved ones at Christmas.
Trains were the most common type of transport when toy trains began to become popular so many understood how long train journeys felt.
This feeling eventually translated into toy trains and train sets. Also, Thomas and Friends, the Hogwarts Express, and the Polar Express have romanticized the ideas of trains and helped them become ever more popular amongst children and adults.
Why are trains set up to go around a Christmas tree?
Yet again, there is no definitive answer here. It is believed that it began at the dawn of the 20th century when Lionel first manufactured toy trains.
These soon became a very popular gift amongst children and families. Children understood trains more than automobiles at this point so assembling a simple circular track around the tree on Christmas morning became a popular activity and has become ever more popular over the years.