What could be better at prizing your little ones away from the iPad and getting them playing with good old-fashioned toys than a train set? There’s something inescapably Christmassy about watching a child chuffing their way around a wooden track and building different shapes. Give a pre-schooler enough wooden track to concoct dangerous routes around the living room and they’ll be happy for hours on end.

Each of the sets featured here have wooden tracks and connect universally – so you could buy all of them and make them stretch all the way down your street.

1. Deluxe Railway Set: £199.99, Brio 

Brio is still the best-recognised and most enduring brand for wooden train sets. It has a lot of expectations to live up to (not least because it is expensive) but happily my resident pre-school tester and I were extremely chuffed. The Deluxe is luxurious in the sense that it covers nearly all bases for transport obsessives: trains, cars, buses, trucks and boats. The complex kit comprises 87 pieces including three bridges, two tunnels, cargo cranes, stations and little plastic people. The toys are all plastic but the track is wooden with connectors cut from the main piece — making them unlikely to break. The urban design is a pleasingly modern move from a brand that was once known for its simplicity. Highly recommended.

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2. Lillabo 20-piece basic train set: £8, Ikea 

It seems quite extraordinary that Ikea can make a product this good and sell it for so little. Like one of the early Brio sets in design terms, you could buy two of these and add a few extra bits and pieces to make a really long, exciting train set. With one you can make a figure of eight or oval shape. It comes with a bridge that is nice and solid and a black train with three trucks. The only problem we foresee with it is that the track connectors are plastic so might fall out with heavy use. Basic, yes, but brilliant value and with all the ethical and child-friendly manufacturing credentials that come with the Swedish brand.

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3. Tidlo Train Set: £59.99, Amazon

No toddler would turn their nose up at a Tidlo. This 100-piece set is excellent quality, colourful and comes with lots of extras (houses, trees, cows, traffic lights, road signs and people) as well as good major infrastructure (two bridges, a road crossing, buildings). There is so much track that you can construct a myriad of complicated shapes and designs. And, bust my buffers, it even comes with a siding and a stop so your trains don’t go off the rails.

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4. Dinosaur Train Set: £44.99, Bigjigs Toys

This is one of the most popular train sets Bigjigs makes and with its whimsical mixture of dinosaurs and trains you can see why it’s a toddler’s dream toy. The cheerfully painted set has loads of character and we particularly like the monster faces of the main engines and the way you can give your dinos a ride on the back. The multi-coloured stegosauruses and even the T-Rex look comical and inviting rather than scary. The multiple-level bridge is probably the most elaborate we’ve seen but is sturdy thanks to the fact that it doubles as a volcano oozing lava.

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5. Adventure Train Set: £32.50, Early Learning Centre 

With 100 pieces and for around £30 this train set is seriously good value and comes with plenty of one-off features. You can make a bridge that goes around a corner (a bit wobbly, but still good) and there’s a nifty magnetic crane to help you load up your cargo. The best thing according to the tiny tester we consulted was the helicopter but the police station and bright yellow taxi were a hit too. The blocky, brightly coloured design is friendly and classic. Parents will appreciate its robustness as, like the Brio, it looks like it’ll last several generations (depending on the level of boisterousness applied).

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6. Chad Valley 60-piece train set: £9.95, Argos 

Another classic design, this comes with buildings, trees, stop signs, car and some inexplicably over-large traffic cones. The blue bridge is an attractive shape and pretty easy to put together. You’re not really buying the track here as much as the extras so you could definitely buy a compatible basic set of wooden track to accompany it and have yourself some serious fun.

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7. Thomas & Friends Wooden Railway Starter Set: £19.99, Argos

If you have a Thomas the Tank Engine enthusiast living in your midst then this is a great affordable starter set. You’ll get a nice smiley model of the Number 1 engine himself as well as the Fat Controller, a coach and signals. There isn’t much track but again you’re investing in the extras rather than the scale – and it is also compatible with most other wooden tracks on the market so it’ll be easy to get Thomas chuffing from Sodor to Misty Island before you know it.

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8. George Home Wooden Train Set and Table: £75, Asda 

This is one of the most imaginative train sets on the market and comes with so many different pieces that unpacking it felt like several Christmasses rolled into one. Oh, and it just so happens to come with a giant play table as a bonus meaning the whole lot arrives in a box large enough to hide Santa. You do need a lot of room to set it up but boy is it good fun. With diggers, cranes, loads and characterful animals it is a tiny person’s fantasy. This is another one that looks like it’ll last for the duration of several childhoods – and frankly we want to play with it too.

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9. Fisher-Price Thomas Wood Coal Hopper Figure of 8 Track Set: £36.99, Argos 

This is another good starter set for Thomas fans and you can teach them about fossil fuels (well, sort of) as this comes with a special feature that allows you to load the little blue engine up with coal. You simply push Thomas under the coal hopper and press down on the top of it. A bit fiddly for younger kids but lots of fun. The figure of eight track is crying out for extensions and bridges but it is a decent standalone set nevertheless.

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10. Wooden Figure of 9 Train and Track Set: £25, Hamleys 

This modest but stylish set is striking for its colours and the fact that the car it comes with can whizz around the track as effectively as the trains and carriages. We rather like the workman dressed in purple and neon blue and you definitely won’t get these distinctive toys confused with another make. There is an unfortunate lack of bridges or connecting roadways but it’s a very nice small set that might suit little ones with a fondness for pastels.

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