16 Festive Train Rides You Can Take For the Holidays
Taking a train ride with Santa and his helpers or scoping out magnificent winter scenery can make for a festive way to celebrate the holiday season.
Whether you're a family looking for a playful way to provide children with holiday memories they won’t forget, or adults in search of magnificent ice adventures and mesmerizing views coupled with Christmas-themed meals and drinks, there’s a winter train ride to fit the bill.
We’ve put together a list of 16 train rides to take for the holidays. Some of the trains are inspired by Chris Van Allsburg's famed book “The Polar Express,” while others include schnapps-spiked hot chocolate, views of the Northern Lights, and getting to cut your own Christmas tree to take home.
The trains included in this list still currently have tickets for the 2018 season, but you’ll want to act fast as tickets tend to sell out early for these popular rides.
The Chicago Transit Authority's (CTA) Holiday Train: Chicago, Illinois
Every year, starting after Thanksgiving until right before Christmas Day, the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) runs its holiday-themed trains.
The main star, the Holiday Train, runs on the eight rail lines the CTA operates on with six passenger trail cars and a flat car where Santa, his sleigh and his reindeer can be found. The train cars are adorned in festive lights, Christmas trees sprinkled with ornaments, and candy cane stripes on the handrails.
The train, which delivers food baskets to charities around the CTA’s serviced areas, operates on select weekdays and on Saturdays, with regular CTA rates applying.
Nostalgia Train: New York City, New York
Take a train ride back in time on Sundays between Thanksgiving and Christmas on New York City’s annual nostalgia trains.
Each year, the New York Transit Museum and Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) roll out the vintage trains dating between the 1930s and 1970s for passengers to enjoy.
The trains, which include original features like rattan chairs, incandescent bulb lighting, drop-sash style windows and vintage advertisements, have been ridden by famed jazz composers like Billy Strayhorn.
Today, they are enjoyed by locals and travelers who often dress in period costumes for the occasion. The cost to ride the trains is the same a subway ticket.
Napa Valley Wine Train's Santa Train: Napa County, California
The 1.5-hour-journey travels through the rolling scenery of the Napa Valley while passengers enjoy games, sing-alongs and goodies like hot chocolate and freshly baked cookies onboard.
Santa conducts the train alongside a variety of holiday characters that will be onboard to collect letters from youngsters before reaching “Santa’s Workshop” in the “North Pole”. There will also be a Secret Santa Toy Drive at the station for passengers who want to donate toys.
The train operates from Nov. 19 through Dec. 28. with prices starting at $39 for Napa and Sonoma locals and at $49 for passengers outside the area.
The Christmas Tree Train From the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad: Colorado
A ride on the Christmas Tree Train gives passengers the change to cut their very own Christmas tree from the wilderness, all while enjoying spectacular scenery along the way.
The Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad has partnered with the San Juan National Forest Columbine Ranger District and the San Juan Mountains Association to create the memorable experience, allowing passengers to cut a white fir trees in the area to assist in reducing wildfire risks.
Passengers will be given saws with volunteers on hand to assist in selecting and cutting trees, which riders will do after taking a journey from downtown Durango and the Animus Valley into Cascade Canyon in the San Juan National Forest.
Once in Cascade canyon, guests can enjoy a cozy fireplace and hot beverage or a romantic stroll along the Animus River footbridge. Prices start at $69 for adults and at $42 for children ages four to 11.
The Train of Lights: Devon, England
The Train of Lights whisks passengers away on a kaleidoscopic journey into the forest. Created by the Dartmouth Steam Railway and River Boat Company, the train takes off from Queen’s Park Station in the town of Paignton and travels through lit tunnels and forest displays in Devon, England.
Passengers will board the vintage carriages to thousands of lights adorning the train inside and out, before the light show starts with a trip through a multi-colored tunnel that leads into the forest.
Various light displays will be sprinkled throughout the forest, with passengers getting to see the displays from both sides once the train makes its way back. Tickets start at about $24 for adults.
The Artic Explorer: Russia and Norway
Enjoy a luxurious ride onboard the Arctic Explorer, with seasonal touches onboard including live Christmas trees and decorations.
The 12-day-journey takes passengers through Moscow and St. Petersburg, where they can tour the cities’ elaborate metro stations, take horse-drawn sleigh rides near ancient castles and enjoy traditional holiday meals.
The train travels into the Arctic Circle to provide passengers with views of the Northern Lights, with optional excursions that include snowshoe walking tours, snowmobile northern lights viewing tours and stays at Norway’s Ice Hotel.
Adventures range from an onboard New Year’s Eve party complete with complimentary champagne, drinks and entertainment, to snowmobile rides across Norway’s frozen fjords where passengers will catch their own Arctic king crabs. Tickets start at $11,995 for double occupancy.
The Grand Canyon Railway and Hotel's Polar Express: Arizona
The Grand Canyon Railway and Hotel started its Polar Express ride before the famed movie came out.
Since 2000, the train ride takes passengers on a nighttime ride through the wilderness of Williams, Arizona, with steam billowing out of the train as it makes its way to the North Pole.
Pajama-clad youngsters and adults alike are served hot chocolate and freshly baked cookies while hearing the cherished Christmas tale before they come out of the darkness to witness a brightly lit holiday world where Santa and his reindeer can be seen greeting guests.
Santa boards the train to hand every child a sleigh bell before families return from the 90-minute journey, after which they can extend the holiday fun at the hotel. The hotel is completely decorated for the occasion, with opportunities to enjoy story time with Mrs. Claus and photos with Santa. Tickets start at $43 for adults and $33 for children ages two to 15.
The Brightline Polar Express: Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Brightline is partnering with the Museum of Discovery and Science for the occasion, bringing in programming like a dedicated letter house at the Fort Lauderdale Train Station where children can write letters to Santa himself.
Once on the train, passengers will be treated to hot chocolate and cookies served by dancing chefs, caroling alongside characters from the film and a keepsake sleigh bell on the one-hour journey. The train and station will be decked out in holiday decor from gifts to garlands. Tickets are $55 for adults and $50 for kids.
The Holiday Express 1880 Train: South Dakota
The Holiday Express 1880 Train combines Christmas and history in one, as passengers take a one-hour ride onboard the world’s longest operating standard gage excursion train.
Started back in 1957, the train weaves from Hill City through the Black Hills National Forest with views of historic mining encampments and rock huts along the way.
Passengers can enjoy hot chocolate and sugar cookies and spot reindeer, turkeys and marmots. The train heads to the “North Pole,” where Santa will board and greet each of the guests, with every train car decorated with themes that range from a winter wonderland to Candyland and a Victorian Christmas.
For the adult version, passengers can book the Holiday Express—Spiked, where hot chocolate comes spiked with either peppermint or butterscotch schnapps. Tickets start at $35 for adults and $16 for children for the Holiday Express, and $45 for adults on the Holiday Express—Spiked train.
Canadian Rockies Winter Adventure: Canada
For those looking to explore Canada while in the holiday spirit, the eight-day Canadian Rockies adventure from Vacations by Rail is the ticket.
The candy-cane adorned train, which travels from Vancouver to Calgary and cuts through both Jasper and Banff National Park, includes holiday activities that range from making gingerbread houses to visiting ice festivals and taking horse-drawn sleigh rides and mountaintop gondola rides.
Holiday-themed festivities onboard start on Dec. 19 and include meals on both Christmas and New Years with dishes like roast ham and plum pudding with rum sauce. Along the way, passengers will also be stopping into towns filled with holiday themed events and decor and enjoying outdoor experiences like ice walks and guided wilderness safaris at Jasper National Park.
European Christmas Markets Train: Germany and Austria
During the holidays, Europe is brimming with Christmas markets that sell handmade ornaments, specialty local treats, mulled wine and crafts.
One of the ways to explore some of its most famed markets is on a train journey, with Vacations by Rail offering a 10-day journey to explore the holiday markets of Germany and Austria.
The trip, which also includes eight overnight stays, takes passengers to the holiday markets of Nuremberg and Munich in Germany, and to Salzburg in Austria. The trip also stops in Vienna, where more than 20 different Christmas markets are dispersed throughout the city.
Not only will passengers be able to take home a memorable souvenir, but they’ll be able to do it while dinning on goodies that range from soft-baked breads and melted cheese to crunch apple strudels and gingerbread cookies.
The Alaska Railroad's Aurora Train: Alaska
Those traveling on Alaska Railroad’s Aurora Train can take in the state’s natural beauty while creating their own customized holiday itinerary.
The train offers the 12-hour journey from Anchorage to Fairbanks with stops in Wasilla, Talkeetna and others from mid-September to mid-May. Winter conditions can make traveling around the state tricky, with trains often being the best (if not only) way to get to the various festive events taking place throughout.
With the Talkeetna pie making package, passengers can ride the train and stop in Talkeetna to learn how to make the pies that the Talkeetna Roadhouse is famous for. In Fairbanks, passengers can witness the Northern Lights, while the Santa Clause House is home to the world’s largest Santa (at 50 feet in height), fudge making and a jolly collection of toys.
Kids on the train can write letters to give to Santa once they arrive to the Santa Clause House, all while enjoying views of the reindeer and moose that can graze the train’s path.
Santa Clause Express Night Train: Finland
Follow the same route Santa would have taken onboard the Santa Clause Express, which travels in the night from Helsinki to Finland’s northernmost region of Lapland.
The double-decker train travels through Finland’s spectacular winter scenery, providing views of its snow-lined peaks throughout the 14-hour journey. Passengers will stop at Rovaniemi, known as the “official residence of Santa Claus” and home to his personal post office where children can drop off signed letters and receive a gift from Santa himself.
Rovaniemi is also home to holiday-themed activities that include a visit to an elf school, gingerbread cookie tastings, reindeer rides and snowmobile safaris, while its large abundance of Christmas trees and native reindeer will make visitors feel as though they’ve stepped into a real life winter wonderland.
By purchasing a Eurail Pass, passengers can book journeys on this train among several others as the passes allows a rider to pay solely for a seat reservation, as opposed to a full fare ticket. Eurail has several passes to choose from, including the Scandinavia Pass, which also allowing passengers to explore Denmark, Sweden and Norway on train as part of the journey.
Nightcap With St. Nick: Tennessee
For a 21 and over train ride filled with boozy treats, passengers can take the Nightcap with St. Nick through the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum.
Passengers board the first-class, round-end observation car for a 75-minute-ride to the North Pole at the Grand Junction Station.
Along the way, they’ll be treated to drink choices that range from peppermint schnapps hot chocolate to Chattanooga whiskey eggnog and Bailey’s Irish Cream coffee. Drinks also come with a dessert plate that includes whiskey pecan bread pudding, port wine and fig truffles, a flourless chocolate cake, a spicy cheddar biscuit and assorted nuts.
St. Nick will be serving passengers their drinks, while costumed characters tell the story of “Twas the Night Before Christmas.”
Country Christmas Train: Denton, North Carolina
Marvel at hundreds of holiday light displays and see the story of the nativity unfold with live scenes on the Country Christmas Train at Denton FarmPark.
After the train ride, visitors can also take part in visits to a gingerbread house to enjoy fresh homemade gingerbread cookies and hot chocolate, stop by the church to sing along to Christmas carols and visit a petting zoo.
Tickets are only $13 for adults and $5 for children ages five to 11, making the visit an affordable holiday excursion.
The After Christmas Train by the Grapevine Vintage Railroad: Grapevine, Texas
Those looking to keep the Christmas cheer going after the holiday season is done can ride onboard the Grapevine Vintage Railroad’s After Christmas Trains.
The trains are adorned in holiday decor that ranges from candy canes and stockings to green and red bows, toys and gifts galore. Passengers take the trip from Grapevine to the Fort Worth Stockyards, where they’ll have about an hour to enjoy lunch or explore the area’s shops before retuning back to Grapevine.
The railroad also operates several other holiday-themed trains that include its famed North Pole Express train, complete with cotton candy flavored snow, frosty chocolate snow milk, Christmas cookies, gifts from Mrs. Clause and a visit to Santa’s workshop.
Tickets for the North Pole Express go on sale in July and sell out fast, so interested travelers will want to book their tickets in the summer to take the ride.