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The Best Christmas Train Trips for the Whole Family: 13 Routes Around the US and the World

From train rides inspired by the Polar Express to rides full of hot chocolate and schnapps with mesmerizing views of the Northern Lights, these holiday rail tours around the world will add excitement to your winter getaway. Travel Leisure.

Photo: IStock

Riding a train with Santa Claus and his helpers or admiring the magnificent winter scenery from the train window can be a great way to spend the holiday season. Whether you're traveling with kids or just want to treat yourself, a winter train ride is for everyone.

Chicago Transportation Authority (CTA) Holiday Train: Chicago, Illinois

Every year, from Thanksgiving to Christmas, the Chicago Transportation Authority runs holiday-themed trains. The star of the season, the Holiday Train, runs on eight CTA rail lines as well as the Loop flyover. Passengers ride in carriages decorated with cheerful holiday pictures, along with Santa on an open platform with his sleigh and reindeer. Train cars are often decorated with holiday lights, Christmas trees, and candy canes on the rails.

On the subject: Seven Wonders of the World to See in the USA

The CTA holiday train not only makes its passengers happy, it delivers food baskets to charities in CTA-served areas. In previous years, 600 food baskets were delivered during the season.

Schedule posted on CTA website, and apply the usual rates CTA.

Santa's Cookie Car Napa Valley Wine Train: Napa County, California

In addition to their favorite alcohol tasting tours, the Napa Valley Wine Train offers children and adults a festive on-board event. Santa's Cookie Car. The journey begins with Christmas carols at the train station as passengers board a charming train carriage decked out in holiday decor. The train travels through the rolling hills of the Napa Valley to Yountville and back in an hour and a half. All the while, passengers enjoy songs, hot chocolate and freshly baked cookies with the star of the show: Santa.

Children have the opportunity to take pictures with Santa and leave him postcards at the Merry Mailing Center. In December 2022, the Santa Cookie Train will run every Thursday, Friday and Saturday, ending the program the day before Christmas. Tickets are $95 for adults and $75 for children.

Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Polar Express: Durango, Colorado

Trip to Polar Express Durango & Silverton will provide families with an unforgettable experience worthy of Chris Van Allsburg. Streams of hot chocolate and other sweets are served as the announcer reads the legendary holiday story. The train is full of Christmas mood and general fun.

After a half-hour ride, passengers are entertained with a light show accompanied by music, and then on the way back to Durango, Santa himself distributes gifts. The entire trip on and Polar Express takes about two hours, and passengers are advised to wear pajamas, as in the book. Trains run every day from November 18 to January 1, except for Christmas and a few weekdays. Tickets start at $29 for children and $39 for adults, but first class seats can cost up to $93.

Train of Lights: Devon, England

train of lights takes passengers on a kaleidoscopic journey into the forest. Created by the Dartmouth Steam Railway and River Boat Company, the train departs from Queen's Park station in Paignton and travels through Devon.

Passengers will board vintage steam locomotive carriages and travel through a tunnel of light along the Dart River, which reflects the train's lighting, creating a mesmerizing spectacle. The train goes to Kingsvir and back. In total, the entire trip takes one hour. The train runs from November 25 to December 30 every day except Monday and from Monday to Thursday before Christmas. Tickets are $20 for children and $30 for adults.

Grand Canyon Railroad and Polar Express: Grand Canyon, Arizona

The Grand Canyon Railroad and Hotel started their trips on Polar Express even before the famous movie came out. Since 2001, the train has been making night trips through the Williams Desert, Arizona, to the North Pole.

Kids and adults in pajamas are served hot chocolate and chocolate chip cookies as they listen to a treasured Christmas story before being glimpsed onto a brightly lit platform with Santa and his reindeer.

At the North Pole, Santa gives every child a keepsake before families return home from their 90-minute journey. You can extend your stay by staying at the hotel. Polar Express departs twice a day almost every night from 11 November to 30 December. Tickets start at $57 for adults and $38 for children.

Polar Express Brightline: Miami, Florida

You can find train rides in style Polar Express across the country during the holiday season, including on the nation's first private high-speed Brightline train.

An hour round trip from Miami Central Station will take you through downtown. During the journey, dancing chefs keep the flow of hot chocolate and Walkers shortbread biscuits flowing. Passengers enjoy caroling along with the characters in the film and even get a ceremonial hole in their holiday golden ticket. You will leave with a charge of festive mood and a memorable sleigh bell, which Santa Claus himself will give you as a memory of the trip. Tickets start at $50 for adults and $45 for children.

Holiday Express 1880 train: Hill City, South Dakota

Train Holiday Express 1880 combines Christmas and history: passengers take an hour-long trip aboard the world's longest standard gauge sightseeing train.

The train winds its way from Hill City through the Black Hills National Forest. Along the way, you'll have views of historic mining camps and stone huts. Passengers can enjoy hot chocolate and sugar cookies and even see real reindeer (actually elk), turkeys and marmots during their journey. The train heads to the North Pole, where Santa boards the train and greets each guest.

Adults 21 and older can order the Holiday Express Spiked, which adds schnapps to hot chocolate. Trains run every day from 25 November to 28 December. Ticket prices start at $42 for adults and $21 for children. Holiday Express Spiked costs $55.

Winter in the Rocky Mountains: Vancouver to Banff, Canada

For those looking for an authentic polar experience - eight-day tour of the Great White North "Winter in the Rocky Mountains" from "Railway Vacation" is just the thing. This train travels from Vancouver, Canada to the true winter wonderland of Banff, crossing Jasper National Park and the legendary Lake Louise. Along the way, passengers can disembark to go ice skating on Lake Beauvert or ride a horse-drawn sleigh through the frozen landscape.

There are over a dozen flights between Nov. 3 and Dec. 29, and prices start at $2087 per person.

Alaska Railroad Aurora Train: Anchorage to Fairbanks, Alaska

Those who travel by train Aurora Train Alaska Railroad companies can enjoy the state's natural beauty by creating their own custom itinerary. This 12-hour journey from Anchorage to Fairbanks (or vice versa; the train also runs southbound) includes stops at Wasilla, Talkeetna, and other cities on weekends from mid-September to mid-May. Winter conditions can make traveling across the state difficult, and trains are often the best (if not the only) way to get around.

In Fairbanks, passengers can go in search of the Northern Lights or go to a nearby santa claus house, home to the world's largest Santa Claus, who makes fudge and collects a fun collection of toys. The kids on the train can write letters to give to Santa as soon as they arrive at Santa's house. And all this time you will enjoy the view of real reindeer and elk grazing along the train track.

The Aurora Train runs north on Saturdays and south on Sundays from 24 September to 7 May. Tickets cost $234 for an adult and $117 for a child.

Santa Claus Express: From Helsinki to Rovaniemi, Finland

Follow in Santa's footsteps on board "Santa Claus Express" which travels overnight from Helsinki to Lapland, Finland's northernmost region.

The double-decker train travels through Finland's breathtaking winter scenery, taking in views of its snow-capped peaks over a 14-hour journey. Passengers will stop at Rovaniemi, known as "Santa's official residence", home to his personal post office, where children can leave signed letters for Santa himself.

There are plenty of holiday activities to do in Rovaniemi, such as visiting an elf school, reindeer riding or snowmobile safaris, and the city's abundance of Christmas trees and local reindeer will make visitors feel like they've stepped into a real snow globe.

By purchasing a travel card Eurail Pass, passengers can book trips on this and some other trains. The Santa Claus Express uses regular trains 265/273 and 266/274 which depart daily from Helsinki. Tickets start at $10 per seat and $40 per bed.

North Pole Limited Christmas Train: Chattanooga, Tennessee

Traditional since 1999, Christmas train North Pole Limited travels southeast Tennessee, overlooking the beautiful foothills of the Appalachians and putting on several festive light shows along the way. Like any Polar Express-themed tour, this one has cookies, hot chocolate, and storytelling. Passengers also get to write letters to Santa, who of course appears when the train arrives at the North Pole.

The whole round trip, starting and ending in Chattanooga, takes an hour. It runs from Friday to Sunday from November 18 to December 23 in 2022, with some additional dates being offered the week before Christmas. Ticket prices start at $29 for day trips and $39 for night trips. Passengers can take home a memento boarding pass, a decoration and a bell.

Country Christmas Train: Denton, North Carolina.

Admire hundreds of holiday light shows and watch the story of Christmas unfold with live scenes on Country Christmas Train at Denton FarmPark, a family-run historic park that captures the essence of vintage North Carolina.

The journey begins with a walk along an illuminated candy path. You can take photos with Santa at the train station. The train follows the 3 km Handy Dandy Railroad, making a short trip during which you can see the elves from the window. On the train, passengers watch a short film about the meaning of Christmas.

After the train ride, guests can visit the Gingerbread House for fresh homemade gingerbread, carriage rides and a visit to the petting zoo.

Trains run from Friday to Sunday from November 25 to December 11, and then every day until Christmas and a couple of days after it. Tickets are $20 for adults and $6 for children aged 5 to 11. Children under 4 ride for free.

The After Christmas Train on the Grapevine Vintage Railroad: Grapevine, Texas

Those who want to keep the Christmas spirit after the festive season is over can take a ride on The After Christmas Train Grapevine Vintage Railroad.

The most unique feature of this ride is perhaps the Great Train Robbery. This is a game played by all the passengers to help the special agent catch the notorious imaginary robber.

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After about two hours of play and sightseeing, passengers arrive at the Fort Worth stockyards, where they will have about an hour to dine or browse local shops before returning back to the Grapevine. The entire journey takes approximately six hours. Trains run from December 26 to 30, ticket prices start at $18 for all passengers over 13 months old.

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