Connecticut River Museum & The Annual Holiday Train Show

It’s always about the trains in this house. And after we discovered the train display at The Time Machine Toy & Hobby store in Manchester, my child has been especially all about the model trains.  So naturally, when you become a train mom, you have a new ability to locate every model train display in a 100-mile radius. 

While building my holiday guide I had discovered the Holiday Train Show at the Connecticut River Museum in Essex.    Everyone in the house was on vacation right after the holidays, so we decided it was it was a good time to do some exploring! 

Now as you may know, Essex is where we normally go for our Day Out with Thomas. And my husband made the mistake of telling our child we were going to Essex that day.  So for the entire car ride, I heard “We going to see Thomas?” “Will Thomas be there?” “Is this Thomas Day?” ….it was a long hour. 

Essex is at least an easy town to drive to – even when you live up on the Massachusetts border like we do.  It was basically a straight shot down 91 and Rte 9. And of course, the Connecticut River Museum is located on, the Connecticut River. 

Our visit was on a very rainy day.  We had a chance to quickly observe the charming town that Essex is but we did not get to experience it. Instead we drove right to the Connecticut River Museum.  

I can imagine the view from here is amazing- but the dreariness of the rain didn’t give us much of a chance to admire! 

The parking lot to the side of the Connecticut River Museum was small but we had no problem finding a spot close to the door. We were able to make a mad dash in the pouring rain to the front door! 

The Connecticut River Museum is open during the summer seven days a week (Memorial Day to Labor Day). During the rest of the year, they are closed on Mondays.  Their hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., every day. 

Admission for adults is $10, $8 for seniors, $7 for students and $6 for kids. Children under age 6 are free.  You can get a discount with AAA, and if you do a little research, you can find museum passes at some of the area libraries.  They also have run Groupon deals in the past. 

When the Holiday Train show is running, it is included in admission! 

Right when you walk in the door, you’ll spot the welcome center. Stop here first to pay for your tickets. You can also pick up information regarding the Connecticut River Museum , ask questions about where to go first, and grab a scavenger hunt game for yourself and the kids (they have easy and hard ones). 

Right by the front door, you’ll also find the ladies room and family bathroom. The men’s bathroom is located just down the hall. 

We also utilized the coat rack they had set in the backroom just past the gift shop and men’s bathroom. 

To the right of the welcome center, you’ll find the beginning of the Connecticut River Museum.  The first floor will educate you on early exploration of the Great River (the Connecticut River). For older kids, this is a great time to learn some history about their state. For younger ones like mine, this is a great place to run around and not listen to mommy.  I wish I could offer more intelligent insight on what I learned but that just didn’t happen. 

Instead we looked at the pictures & displays, and moved quickly from one thing to the next. 

He was intrigued by this submarine, the Turtle.  Can you imagine going underwater in this? He had a great time pretending to be in the water in this submarine.  That’s the thing with a four year old – you need to engage them with things they can interact with and touch. Some things, of course, were hands off; but the nice things about this museum is they had a lot of interactive exhibits for even the littlest visitors. 

He does have a one track mind (literally); so we moved quickly towards the stairs in search of those trains. 

To move from floor to floor, you the option of the elevator (which is great with strollers), or the stairs.

They have two stairwells. I recommend going up one and down the other, because you will learn something going either way! 

The stairs to the left of the welcome center have aerial shots of the Connecticut River, which was really amazing to see. 

The stairs to the right of the welcome center have a painting of the Connecticut River- starting at the Long Island Sound and working all the way to the where the river begins in New Hampshire (I never knew that it stretched that far!). We had fun pointing out our hometown on the river!

The second floor was home to a number of small ship replicas which this little boy was very excited to check out. Granted, they weren’t trains, but boats move and we like all things that go in this house. 

The second floor of the museum had a number of exhibits and paintings which I bypassed completely in search of trains.  I did spot a small area in the center of this floor with a short film on screen and some seating. 

The steering wheel (helm) definitely intrigued my child!  Interactive is good, like I mentioned above. 

Rather than put off his excitement any longer, we headed up to the third floor. 

The 25th Annual Holiday Train Show is a model train display presented by Steve Cryan, a train enthusiast who started on his train adventure at a young age. Mr. Cryan is also an artist and you can see many of his watercolor paintings and photography on display on the third floor along with his amazing train model. Every year he is featured in the Connecticut River Museum, and what’s crazy is that he sets up this display EVERY YEAR. It takes him 30 days onsite to set things up all by himself.  There is a lot of love and detail in this train display! 

There are two layouts in this room. A smaller, toddler size model display sits to the right of the entrance. This is a fun pint-size track for your little ones to experience close up. It has a couple of buttons they can press so they can make things move on the track. The train itself is a steam engine – with actual steam! It’s the perfect height for the 5 and under crowd. 

Of course, this 26-foot model train layout was the focal point of our visit! This display had so much detail – too much to really take in just one visit. I would discover some new detail every time I moved from one end of the room to the other. It was very amazing! 

Like I said, the detail was insane! You’ll catch little tributes to the designer himself on the buildings (Cryan’s Bar & Grill). The little people, the cars, even tiny sleeping cats – it is all painstakingly detailed. You cannot help but be impressed (and amazed) at the effort put into this display. 

A neat feature on the larger layout was the train traveling around the track with a video camera. If you were lucky, you could see yourself on the big screen! 

If you recall from the beginning of my post, I mentioned a scavenger hunt. The I-SPY scavenger hunt involved finding the tiny little details throughout the train display. Even the easy hunt had its fair share of challenging finds! The whole family enjoyed this game and we saw many other visitors trying to find things on the list (it took us the whole visit to find that King Kong)! 

Of course, most of our hour long stay on the third floor involved this: a very happy, very intrigued little boy. 

And he especially loved that he could stand on the foot stool to get a good view of the whole thing. They actually had two footstools, which came in handy when there were several kids in the room. My husband and I definitely appreciated these. Otherwise, the height of the table would have left us with sore backs (because it would have been a long hour of “pick me up”)! 

It took a lot of effort to finally pull this boy away from the trains. If he had his way, we would still be there. Our last thing to do before going was to check out the gift shop on the first floor of the Connecticut River Museum; and while he enjoyed reading the train books they had for sale, he was not happy that we had to go home. While daddy dealt with that, I peeked around the little gift shop at some of their cute Essex merchandise and interesting books.  You will want to find time to peruse their gift shop before you go! 

We went into this adventure with trains on the brain, but we discovered a pretty cool piece of Connecticut history and culture. As a relatively new “nutmegger”, most of this history is new to me so it was fun to learn some different facts. The Connecticut River Museum is a quaint little place (which fits perfectly with the rest of Essex) but it also offers a great learning experience. While I’d never think to bring my four year old there on its own, it was definitely fun to check out the whole place instead of just focusing on the trains. I’d probably recommend this museum for a slightly older age group, but younger siblings will definitely be entertained if they tagged along with their big sister or brother.  

I also highly recommend heading down to check out the Holiday Train Show! This was incredible for all ages – especially if you have a train enthusiast. I am also developing a fascination with trains too (I suppose that was bound to happen eventually)! Even if you are not that much into trains, you will definitely appreciate the detail and intricacy put into the display.  The show will run until February 19, 2019 so you have a few more weeks to catch the train

This about sums it up…

67 Main Street- Essex, Connecticut



Winter Hours: (Columbus Day – Memorial Day)
Closed Mondays
Tuesday – Sunday: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Summer Hours (Memorial Day – Columbus Day)
Open 7 Days a Week: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.


Members – FREE
Adults – $10.00
Seniors – $8.00
Students – $7.00
Children(6-12) – $6.00
Under age 6 – Free
Military & Immediate Family – $8.00


Many local town libraries offer reduced admission with their museum pass. Make sure to check with your town library to see if this is offered! It definitely saves!  You can also find discounts with AAA, and occasionally on Groupon. 


  • Free Parking!
  • Stroller Friendly (although it will be really tight in the train display area)
  • Handicapped-accessible
  • Bathrooms and Changing Station
  • Gift Shop 
  • Coat Rack 
  • Great Views of the Connecticut River
  • Special events throughout the year – check their website for details
  • Holiday Train Show from November 16, 2018 to February 19, 2019 – Free with museum admission


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