When it comes to the Cité du train at Mulhouse, you don’t to be a train buff or train spotter, an anorak or a ferroequinologist (someone who studies trains) to get steamed up about a visit. This incredible museum is a fabulous place on so many levels. History, engineering, social history but overall – it’s just enormous fun, whatever age you are. And when I say enormous, I really mean it. There are some monumental exhibits on show in the 60,000 m₂ of space.
A train museum that makes you smile
It’s hard to say what I loved best about the Mulhouse Train Museum. For a start there’s the unfailing enthusiasm and friendliness of the people who work and volunteer here. As I took over the controls to drive a 1950’s diesel train on the museum’s private track (yes seriously!) I asked the train driver “How long have you been driving trains?” He squinted and replied, “I’m not sure, it’s hard to keep track”. Oh that dry French wit!
I highly recommend you find your bearings in this enormous museum by hopping on the Lego-like “petite train” ride which is hilarious fun. Afterwards you can retrace your steps (wear comfy (platform) shoes (yes I can pun too) because it really is very big. Ordinarily I wouldn’t be interested in a miniature railway exhibit but I spotted it from the little train and knew I’d have to go back and look. It’s the biggest miniature railway set I’ve ever seen – huge, with flashing lights and dozens of tiny trains. And its very different. Look closely and you may spot nude dudes sunbathing and even teeny tiny photographers taking a photo of a teeny tiny couple enjoying themselves in the sand dunes!
One of the biggest collection of trains in the world
There’s a vast collection of trains, the average exhibit is around 25m long and weighs a whopping 80 tons. Trains on display date from 1844, the start of rail travel in France, to the introduction of TGV – high speed trains.
Most of the pieces are the property of SNCF and, says director of the museum, it’s probably the most important rolling stock collection in Europe. Be wowed by Napoleon III’s original, elegantly decorated coach. Look through the windows of the swanky Orient Express carriages complete with mannequins of Hercule Poirot and possible murderers of course. It’s an innovative display with videography enhancing the atmosphere. There are loads of exhibits you can climb in and out of, sit on trains with old wooden seats, get up close to the engines and controls. I loved the animated steam train which revealed how the wheels are driven with ashow every 30 minutes.
Blow off steam
Head outside to take a ride on an open mini train rail around the grounds. Outside, there are yet more exhibits and a working railway turntable. Climb into the drivers cab of a 1950’s diesel train for a ride on the museum’s private tracks. Kids will get a “driver’s certificate” afterwards.