Looking to make your child’s Christmas morning extra special? It can’t get better than a train trundling its way around your Christmas tree or as a present to open.
I opened my presents early to find the best train sets for a magical Christmas morning.
While Hornby dominates this roundup, it was actually Lionel who was the original indoor Christmas tree train set company, starting the tradition just after the First World War.
In an astute marketing move, they persuaded the big US department stores to incorporate their beautiful toy trains into the store tree displays and Christmas trees and trains have been an item ever since. The train sets listed here will look magical under any tree and make the perfect Christmas gift for any toy train fan.
Shortcuts to best train sets
Before getting into the top 5, grab a glass of mulled wine, take a seat and watch this Lionel train, complete with sounds and lights, work its festive magic around a Christmas tree to whet your appetite.
In no particular order, here are my top picks for the best trains to go under your yuletide display for the 2021 holiday.
And our favourite manufacturer has 2021 sorted with a beautiful Christmas Santa train and railway set.
There are loads of different Hornby train sets — including the Thomas and Friends train below — but for that magical Christmas morning moment, there’s really no competition to seeing this Hornby Santa Special trundling around and reflected in the baubles of your tree.
It’s just enchanting to watch this delightful little steam train, with a Christmas-themed livery and a wagon overflowing with beautifully decorated presents — all in small scale of course. It will light up the face of any child as they rush to see what awaits them on 25th December.
The track suppllied creates an oval of 92cm x 77cm which is enough to go around the trunk of a medium Christmas tree. As mentioned above, Hornby makes a large range of trains, tracks and accessories that are fully compatible with this and the Thomas and Coca Cola trains mentioned below if you want to expand this.
The train runs on normal mains electricity and comes with everything required to set up and run but could also form the basis for a much bigger train set that will give months, even years, of enjoyment during and after Christmas. As such, it makes a wonderful present for Children wanting a train set. See my quick guide to setting up a Hornby train set
This train set is the Hornby R1248M, and includes track, locomotive, wagons, power supply transformer for the UK and Hornby controller.
While the other train sets in this round-up run around the base of your Christmas Tree, this Christmas Workshop train offers something slightly different. It fits onto the trunk of the tree so it runs within the branches of your yule time tree.
It’s battery-powered and includes festive locomotion, 3 carriages featuring a coal liner filled with presents, and a reclining Santa. It also includes realistic steam engine sounds, as well as a light-up headlight that illuminates the track as the train rolls around the centre of your Christmas tree. The circular track plan is suitable for trees slightly wider than 89cm in diameter.
It’s battery powered so no fiddly wires to deal with and although assembly of the platform on which the train runs and which is secured to the tree trunk isn’t straightforward once it’s up, it’s a delight and sitting amongst the branches of the tree, it’s unusual and fun to watch.
A Word of Caution:
Some of the train sets featured here feature motorised with electrics so they can trundle around your tree on their own. Please make sure you turn them off and disconnect the power if leaving them alone for any period of time and make sure you can get to the power easily and quickly in an emergency. Christmas trees are very flammable and any electrical accidents could have catastrophic results for your Christmas.
As mentioned above, the UK’s biggest model railway company Hornby make a dedicated and delightful Christmas-themed set but they also do a Coca-Cola Christmas set.
The Hornby Coca-Cola set is less traditional than the other Hornby model featured here in that it features a diesel locomotive rather than a steam train but then it has the iconic Coco-Cola livery so you relive the “Christmas is Coming” adverts in your own home.
Like the other Hornby Christmas sets, it’s fully compatible with other the huge range of OO gauge trains, track, and accessories so it can be used as part of a bigger model railway and not just for Christmas.
It comes with an authentic-looking track — complete with sleepers and metal rails — and looks wonderful.
This is also part of the Hornby OO range of model trains — see above — so can be expanded with more track, buildings and trains to build up into a full model railway after Christmas.
Click here to order the delightful Thomas and Friends Hornby train set.
For low cost and most fun, there’s a clear winner.
The deAO set features a locomotive, coal car, passenger car, and Santa wagon which is pretty standard and similar to most sets here but what makes it sound out is that the loco has lights, sounds, and steam and for the lowest price of any set here (under £30 at the time of writing).
There’s enough track for either an 87cm oval or an elongated oval of 152 cm wide.
It’s a great train set which boys and girls alike will love and is sure to bring a lot of fun to Christmas morning.
Buy the deAO set on Amazon now.
I started this roundup with a trip down memory lane to the beginnings of Christmas trees and trains and a look at a Lionel so what better way to finish than with the modern version?
And Lionel’s latest model doesn’t just look good but sounds it too, with authentic sounds included.
Even better, it’s based on the train in the classic Tom Hanks Polar Express Christmas movie it’ll be instantly recognized and adds an extra magical touch to any yuletide tree.
This is much larger than the other trains featured here as it’s G gauge – 45mm wide track instead of the OO gauge (16.5mm wide track) used for the Hornby trains — so it’ll need a big tree and more room but it’s a glorious, luxury Christmas train set if you have space.
Personally, I prefer Hornby trains as I can use them on my layouts but for young children, the lights, sounds, Polar Express movie connection, and remote control of the Lionel train may be better.
Buy the Lionel Christmas Train set from Amazon.
(Note, this is not the train featured in the video above. This is a battery-powered model and doesn’t have the smoke feature)
Summary, the best Christmas tree train set…
- For the best Christmas morning experience, get the Lionel Polar Express.
- For a charming Christmas tree train and the perfect gift for a youngster wishing for a train set on Christmas morning, I recommend the Hornby Christmas train set, buy it now.
That’s it from me, but before I go I’ll leave you with some festive cheer.
What gauge is your Christmas tree train set?
HO HO HO gauge!
Footnote: This article has undergone review and fact-checking to ensure its accuracy. It has also been edited for clarity and to ensure the information is up to date and reviews the latest models as of November 2023. Your insights are crucial—should you spot any inaccuracies or have suggestions, please contact me. I welcome your questions, feedback, or personal stories. Please get in contact in a comment below or via my contact page
Andy is a lifelong modeler, writer, and founder of modelrailwayengineer.com. He has been building model railways, dioramas, and miniatures for over 20 years. His passion for model making and railways began when he was a child, building his first layout at the age of seven.
Andy’s particular passion is making scenery and structures in 4mm scale, which he sells commercially. He is particularly interested in modelling the railways of South West England during the late Victorian/early Edwardian era, although he also enjoys making sci-fi and fantasy figures and dioramas. His website has won several awards, and he is a member of MERG (Model Railway Electronics Group) and the 009 Society.
When not making models, Andy lives in Surrey with his wife and teenage son. Other interests include history, science fiction, photography, and programming. Read more about Andy.