All Aboard! Holiday Train Rides to Take This Season

Read next

Holiday train outings, or rides on the “Polar Express” can be a magical and festive event for kids. Some of these train rides are directly inspired by the “Polar Express” book and movie, some are all about Santa and his little helpers and most have some form of refreshment, singing, performance, and even a little gift. But take note! These rides tend to sell out pretty early, so if you want to take a train trip to the North Pole this holiday season, you’ll need to start looking now. We’ve picked the best holiday train rides to take in 2021, and all are located less than two hours (give or take 10 minutes!) away from central Manhattan by car. Book now and enjoy the ride!

photo: NYBG

Holiday Train Shows

If you can't make it to an actual locomotive, you can still take in one (or more) of the magical model train shows happening this holiday season. 

The New York Botanical Garden Train Show
The New York Botanical Garden celebrates the 30th anniversary of its holiday train show in 2021. This magical display features more than 175 New York landmarks re-created with nuts, bark, leaves, and other plant parts as designed by Laura Busse Dolan and the creative team at Applied Imagination. 

Humming along between familiar sites such as the Statue of Liberty, Rockefeller Center, Macy’s and the original Penn Station, large-scale model trains cover almost a half-mile of track across rustic bridges and trestles, through tunnels and past cascading waterfalls. And don't forget to look up at the trains zooming overhead!

On select dates, you can also check out the garden's holiday light display, NYBG GLOW, which in addition to dazzling light creations, features music, dance, food and more. 

Nov. 20 - Jan. 23, 2022
Tickets: $32/adults;$30/student/senior; $18/kids two–12; free for children under two. Combo train show/GLOW:  $35/adults (13-64), $20/kids two 0 12.
Enid A. Haupt Conservatory
The New York Botanical Garden
2900 Southern Blvd.
Bronx
718-817-8700
Online:  nybg.org

Holiday Express: Toys and Trains from the Jerni Collection  at the New-York Historical Society

This year, this holiday train tradition goes to the amusement park! Joining a selection of toy trains, figurines, and miniature models from the renowned Jerni Collection, 2021's festive display includes never-before-seen toy rides. Visitors can marvel at a miniature Ferris wheel, carousel, blimp ride, and roller coaster. 

Aside from being fun for the kids, the Jerni Collection, which includes hand-crafted and hand-painted pieces dating from approximately 1850 to 1940, is considered one of the finest collections of antique trains and toys in the world.

Tickets: Adults/$22; Seniors/Educators/Active Military/$17; Students/$13; Kids (five–13 years old)/$6; Kids four and under/free
Admission is pay-as-you-wish from 6-8 p.m. on Fridays 

Nov. 19-March 13, 2022
170 Central Park West at 77th St.
Upper West Side
212-873-3400
Online: nyhistory.org

photo: Catskill Mountain Railroad

If you're still a little nervous about being in an enclosed space with strangers, check out the Catskill Mountain Railroad's Catskill Mountain Express! This version of a holiday train ride invites passengers onto open-air trains for a 60-minute journey to Santa's Workshop at the North Pole. Passengers get a cookie from the local bakery, and a wave from Santa as the train passes. Kids also get a small gift after the North Pole is reached. (Handwarmers are sold on-site, and you're welcome to bring blankets!)

Tickets: $29/adults; $23/kids 
Nov. 26-Dec. 23
55 Plaza Rd. 
Kingston, NY 
845-332-4854
Online: catskillmountainrailroad.com

Wayne Tristate Santa Train

Location: Wayne/Route 23 Transit Center, Wayne NJ (1hr from NYC) 

Date: Saturday, December 18

Price: TBD 

Online: tristaterail.org

Details are still being determined for this trip; "Like" Tristate Rail's Facebook page to get updates. This hour-long experience will give kids a chance to meet Santa, who will also be giving each child a present and a candy cane. The trip will also have a few special guest appearances by other characters, and children will receive a small toy and an activity book. The train is equipped with bathrooms and is wheelchair accessible. See Covid-19 protocol here.

Whippany NJ Polar Express

Location: 1 Railroad Plz, Whippany NJ (1hr 15m from NYC) 

Date: Select dates Nov. 1-Dec. 31

Price: $42-$80/depending on class and date

Online: whippanythepolarexpressride.com

A popular holiday train ride option, this Polar Express has been refreshed during its year off in 2020. Seating has also been adjusted to improve the visibility of the show for passengers. Choose from Coach Class or First Class for your two-hour journey (First Class is in a restored 1940s car). This spectacular train ride is themed around "The Polar Express" movie, and it sets the mood by playing the sweeping soundtrack during the ride. Passengers make their way to "the North Pole," where hot chocolate and cookies are served, "dancing chefs," perform, and there is a readalong of the children's book that the movie was based on. A small gift is included in the price—a silver sleigh bell (and a ceramic Polar Express mug if you're in First Class)—and throughout the ride, families can enjoy musical performances by characters from the movie. First Class passengers get the benefits of larger windows, plush seating, and plenty of space for legs and little ones.

See Covid-19 protocols here

Santa Express

Location: 242 E Main St, Thomaston CT ( 1hr 50m from NYC)

Date: Every weekend (Fri.-Sun.) between Thanksgiving and Christmas

Price: Santa Express - Coach: $29.50/person; First Class: $59.50/person; $1 for kids 2 and under

Online: rmne.org

This train ride lasts about an hour and 20 minutes and gives families a chance to interact with Santa and his elves. Each child will receive a small gift from Santa's toy bag while elves and other characters lead passengers in carols and singalongs. First class travelers will also be served hot cocoa and get more comfortable seating. Afternoon and evening rides are available, with evening rides being lit up with Christmas lights. Keep in mind that there are no restrooms on the trains.

Phillipsburg Polar Express

Location: 100 Elizabeth St, Phillipsburg NJ (1hr 50m from NYC)

Date: Nov. 26-Dec. 19, various times & dates 

Price: $42/adult, $32/child, $5/lap sitters (under 2)

Online: 877trainride.com

The Phillipsburg rendition of the Polar Express train ride includes music from the movie, a reading of the book, hot chocolate and cookies, a gift of a sleigh bell, and more. There will be performances and jugglers, as well as visits from Santa and other characters. Travelers are encouraged to wear their pajamas to this whimsical ride. Tickets for certain dates have already sold out, so if you're interested in this one, act fast to get your tickets! 

Essex Steam Holiday rides

Location: 1 Railroad Ave, Essex CT (2hr 10m from NYC)

Date: Nov. 19-Dec. 23, various dates & times 

Price: $45-$75 

Online: essexsteamtrain.com

[Editor's Note: Sadly, this train trip is already sold out for the 2021 season!] The North Pole Express is an hour and a half ride that turns each train car into an interactive musical performance of "The Night Before Christmas." Expect cookies and cocoa and visits from Mrs. and Mrs. Claus. First Class tickets for the North Pole Express are already sold out, so get your tickets soon to ensure a spot.

—Yuliya Geikhman

RELATED STORIES:

Chop Chop!: Cut-Your-Own Christmas Tree Farms near NYC

Act Fast! Get Tickets to These Popular Holiday Shows & Events NOW

Best Christmas Tree Delivery Services in NYC