Places to Go (Vacation) - The WORLD'S LARGEST (and coolest) MODEL RAILROAD (Northlandz in Flemington, NJ)


As you all probably know by now, I love to drag my children to off the beaten path attractions. But even I had doubts as I drove through the back roads of New Jersey to reach Northlandz, home of the world's longest model railroad. The traffic leaving NYC had been bumper to bumper and we were all pretty tired and cranky as a result, with all three kids complaining "where are we going now, can't we just go home?" Luckily, I stuck with the plan because Northlandz might just be the coolest place we've gone this summer.

Upon entering a large and rather nice looking building, we bought tickets for both the museum and the train outside. The owner instructed us to take the train first, as wait times are shortest in the early afternoon. On the upside, the train was decently large and comfortable, with huge open windows (unlike Cabin John where I immediately feel "big"). The ride through forests was nice enough, T was in heaven while F read her book and P seemed moderately amused. Enjoyable, but not necessarily worth trekking to NJ.

After the train ride we headed back to the museum, with my three kids already complaining "what is this place? can't we just go home." And THEN we started walking through the model train exhibits and everything changed. As soon as the first model train zoomed past us, P exclaimed "Mom, this place is amazing! Absolutely amazing. How did you ever find it?" And T started yelling "TRAIN!!" quite loudly every time a miniature locomotive lumbered past us. (Despite the fact that we saw HUNDREDS of trains, he continued to do this throughout the 50,000 feet of tracks). Pictures cannot possibly do Northlandz justice, as it's impossible to envision through photos just how all encompassing the place is. The displays usually span two stories, so if you look up there are wonderful bridges full of trains, if you look down, you'll encounter canyons and lakes. Similar to the best of Disney, it's like entering a whole other world.

Walkways continually incline up then down, allowing you to view most of the towns (is that the right word?) from different angles. Wonderful details - ghosts, an airplane crash, an amusement park, etc. keep everything from becoming monotonous. I especially loved the quirky little signs explaining the fictional world you're passing through.

Some side walls contain various artworks and curiosities donated from town members, giving the place a well-loved feel. For example, a town boy displayed his Star Wars models. Dollhouses and dolls are also for view along the hallways, a collection which seemed random and varied, but which P loved exploring. To add to the quirkiness, the middle of the museum contains a few HUGE and ornate organs in a dark room with a red chandelier. I was not sure what to make of them, but somehow they just added to the character of the place.

But back to the TRAINS. The 8 miles of wonderful train tracks with locomotives chugging along everywhere you look. To say this place made my day is an understatement, it made my summer. I think in the modern day we become so accustomed to factory-produced things, such as children's museums full of beautiful toys all "professionally" crafted by machines, that we can loose faith in the individual to create something beautiful and unique. While Northlandz did not appear amateur by any means, it still contained the look of something made by a person - one man's cohesive vision of homemade rivers and bridges and people. Which is what truly makes the place spectacular, especially with walking through with children - the idea that you can do this. It makes anything seem possible.

The tour is LONG (about a 1 mile walk), but (somewhat unbelievably) my kids loved every minute. After we came to the end, P wanted to begin again and see everything one more time. And T continued to yell "TRAIN!!" every time one chugged by us for the whole hour or so walk.

When we came to the end, the owner (and creator) of Northalndz asked how the kids liked it. "They loved it," I replied. And proceeded to tell him the story of how I'd discovered Northlandz on a blog and planned a roadtrip so the kids could see it. His eyes seemed to glaze over and I got the feeling that he had very little interest in what I was saying. For him, the most important part of our conversation had already occurred - the kids loved it. What else could possibly matter?

Northlandz is located in Flemington, New Jersey, only 1 hour from NYC (making it a great stop for the DC to NYC drive). Admission is pricey ($13.75 for adults and $9.75 for kids 2-12), but worth it. Also, the tour is LONG, it takes about 1-2 hours to walk through the model world and the only bathrooms are located at the exhibit's beginning/end, so plan accordingly. A small cafe is on site. Click here for more information.


No doll museum would be complete without a plush ET.

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