Ever since The Polar Express movie made its debut, children (and adults) everywhere know that nothing says “festive” like a trip aboard one of these Christmas train rides.
We’re including the sweetest train adventures in Georgia, and our favorites across the Southeast. Do you have a favorite train tradition that we missed?
Blue Ridge Scenic Railway
Blue Ridge is my favorite mountain town in Georgia, and the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway is a can’t-miss attraction for those visiting. We’ve whizzed through the mountains on this nostalgic vintage train in Spring and Fall…but Winter brings an entirely different experience.
Whether you (like us) celebrate the arrival of St. Nick – or you are simply looking for some cold-weather excitement – you need to hop aboard one of their three winter rides, repeatedly named among the best in the country.
Take a Christmas-themed ride aboard the BRSR by booking the 1-hour Holiday Express Ride. Once aboard this train of lights, you’ll listen to holiday music, hear the story “The Night Before Christmas,” and enjoy delicious hot chocolate or other snacks available for sale inside the concession car. Every child will get a traditional bell, a candy cane, and an activity packet on this fun ride.
The Holiday Pavilion Ride takes you on a magical train ride to the sister towns of McCaysville, GA and Copperhill, TN to visit Santa and Mrs. Claus at the Santa Pavilion! The Holiday Pavilion Ride is 4 hours round-trip, which includes the 2-hour layover in McCaysville and Copperhill.
Finally, the 4-hour Winter Ride offers you the chance to skip Santa, but still bundle up and sip on a cup of hot chocolate as the train calmly rolls along the Toccoa River and through the scenic Appalachian foothills.
2021 NOTE: Masks are required and you’ll have to fill out a COVID questionnaire before riding.
Atlanta Botanical Garden Holiday Ride-on Train
Young kids will love taking a short ride around the Atlanta Botanical Gardens on the Holiday Ride-on Train! The Botanical Express takes your kids for a trip around the Great Lawn. $5 per passenger, $3 for members.
Saturdays – Sundays, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., Nov. 14 – Jan. 3. Garden Admission required.
And if you’re looking for more train fun at the gardens, kids of all ages will dig the holiday model trains, running day and night on the Alston Overlook from Nov. 13, 2021-Jan. 15, 2022.
Stone Mountain Park Sing-Along Train
The train at Stone Mountain Park is fun during every season — but during their Stone Mountain Christmas festivities, it becomes a fun, sing-along experience at night.
Riding the train at night during the holiday season is one of my son’s favorite things to do during Stone Mountain Park Christmas. We like to sit on the left side of the train, so we have the best view of the lights along the way. And just a note — sometimes this open-air train can get chilly, so make sure you’ve got your jacket and hat ready.
Discount Tickets: Save up to 42% off single day tickets to Stone Mountain Christmas.
SAM Shortline Excursion Train
With three great holiday-themed train rides to choose from, a ride on the SAM Shortline Train in central Georgia is a fun, must-do.
Enjoy the popular Candy Cane Express excursion, where you’ll travel from Georgia Veterans State Park over Lake Blackshear and through the rolling farm lands of southern Georgia to President Jimmy Carter’s hometown of Plains, Georgia. You can explore the town of Plains before riding back. And you better watch out — Santa will also be riding along checking his list! December 3-4, 2021
Or, hop on the train and enjoy a relaxing ride to Plains for the annual Christmas Lighting ceremony. You will have time to explore the shops and sample the peanut butter ice cream. A special guest will also be on board this train ride checking his list. November 27, 2021
And finally, the Cordele Holiday Train is guaranteed to be a grand time for everyone! Hop on this 1-hour holiday train for kids of all ages. Santa will be onboard giving out a gift for each passenger. Enjoy holiday music with you hot chocolate and cookies. December 11, 17, and 18, 2021
Pine Mountain Gold Museum Winter Wonderland Train
See thousands of Christmas lights on the Winter Wonderland Train at Pine Mountain Gold Museum in historic Villa Rica, and meet characters, see lights, and enjoy music along the way.
The Winter Wonderland Train will leave the station Wednesday-Saturday nights, December 1-23, 2021. Children ages 2 and under ride FREE.
Southeastern Railway Museum
Santa loves the Southeastern Railway Museum in Duluth!
Your ticket into the museum includes a train ride with Santa, photos of the kids and the Jolly Old Elf using your own camera, and a letter-writing opportunity. Santa will be back in 2021, but details are still being worked out. Check their Facebook page for updates.
St. Mary’s Railroad Santa Special
Did you know the coastal town of St. Mary’s, GA had a fun Santa Train?! It does!
Hop aboard the Santa Special and travel in the Open Air railcar to Santa Land in this magical celebration of Christmas. Santa and his elves come aboard so get ready with your cameras and make some memories!
This holiday ride has a whole story to go along with it! You’ll help Mason and Molly in this interactive, family- friendly, adventure to save Christmas from being ruined by pesky (yet loveable) mice as they cause mischief aboard the Santa Special.
Make sure you dress in your very best warm pajamas and get ready for special guests to help the duo save Christmas, and don’t forget to bring your letter for Santa! This will be an adventure for the whole family to enjoy. Santa will be making special appearances aboard the Santa Express as well as some special guests — like the Snow Queen and King, Elves, Snow people, mail stewards, and more! Select dates Nov. 26-Dec. 30, 2021
Georgia State Railroad Museum
Located at the old Central of Georgia Railway Savannah Shops and Terminal Facilities, the Georgia State Railroad Museum is a stunning National Historic Landmark that is part of a National Historic Landmark District.
They usually host Santa rides every holiday season, but no details have yet been released for 2021. (They canceled them in 2020 due to COVID.)
Macy’s Pink Pig
The Pink Pig has closed permanently. We’re going to miss this one!
The Southern Museum
The Southern Museum in Kennesaw usually hosts Christmas festivities during December, but there’s no word yet on if they’ll be doing that in 2021. (They canceled them in 2020 due to COVID.)
Check their website for updates.
A Short Drive From Home
The Polar Express on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad (Bryson City, NC)
The Polar Express on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad in genuinely one of the best Christmas train rides in the Southeast! The 1+ hour round-trip excursion comes to life as the train departs the Bryson City Depot for a journey through the quiet wilderness for a special visit at the North Pole.
Set to the sounds of the motion picture soundtrack, guests on board will enjoy hot chocolate and a treat while listening and reading along with the magical story. Children’s faces show the magic of the season when the train take a journey to the North Pole to find Santa Claus waiting. Santa will board the train cars, greeting each kiddo and presenting them with a special gift as in the story, their own silver sleigh bell. Christmas carols are sung as you return back to the Bryson City Depot.
It’s a great way to enjoy the holiday season! Select dates beginning November 12, 2021.
The North Pole Limited on the TVR (Chattanooga, TN)
Another of our favorites is the North Pole Limited Christmas Train with the Tennessee Valley Railroad in Chattanooga!
During the magical holiday season, trains take riders on an imaginary journey to the North Pole. Along the way, you’ll be treated to refreshments and storytelling while you write your own personal letter to Santa. As the North Pole Limited train gently rolls down the rails, a number of lighted displays can be seen outside.
Once the train pulls into the “North Pole,” Santa will greet the train and the car hosts will deliver your personal messages to Santa himself. Before leaving the Elves will deliver their famous North Pole hot chocolate for your journey back to Grand Junction. Select dates November 20-December 23, 2021
2021 NOTE: Santa will not be on the train. He will, however, be visible to passengers at the North Pole.
Looking for a more romantic Christmas train experience? Try the Christmas Dinner Train. The trip includes a four-course dining experience on board a restored 1924 dining car. The excursion trains will depart from Chattanooga’s Grand Junction Station, traveling at a leisurely pace through portions of urban East Chattanooga before reversing direction and returning to Grand Junction. The travel time is just right for the complete meal on a vintage dining car. Select dates Nov. 19-Dec. 27, 2021
Hiwassee Holiday Train (Delano, TN)
The Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum is also hosting a Hiwassee Holiday Train ride in 2021, that departs from Delano, TN.
Santa’s Hiwassee Holiday Train is a round-trip one hour and 15 minute ride along the beautiful Hiwassee River Gorge. Features of the ride include: writing a letter to Santa, a fresh-baked cookie, and Mrs. Claus’s favorite hot chocolate. Santa will not be on the train — but you will get to see him!
A keepsake boarding pass and holiday bell will be given to every passenger. Masks are required while on the train.
They’ve got two ticket options (tickets for ages 2 and up). The Mistletoe option is $24, and the Holly option is $40.
Christmas at the Station and the North Pole Express at the Heart of Dixie Railroad Museum (Calera, AL)
Christmas at the Station is a newly reimagined daytime holiday event at the Heart of Dixie Railroad Museum each Saturday before Christmas in December.
Your Christmas Experience ticket includes so much! Ride on the seasonally decorated Calera & Shelby train; visit Santa for a festive photo opportunity; travel the tracks of the narrow gauge steam train on the Shelby & Southern railroad; and discover what’s hiding around the corners of the Merry Maze – all included only with your Christmas Experience ticket!
For even more festive fun in the sun, be sure to wear your favorite Christmas sweater, pajamas or costume!
Or, take a ride on the North Pole Express! Through the dark night, the North Pole Express makes its way by starlight to the top of the world. On the way, you’ll listen to a whimsical Christmas story, sing your favorite holiday carols, and watch out the windows for the bright lights of the North Pole to appear.
Upon arrival at the brilliantly decorated home of the Toymaker himself, the elves, Santa, and Mrs. Claus will all board the train to visit your family and to take photos with every child.
After your special visit with the Christmas couple, passengers ages two and up will be served chocolate drinks and a yummy treat – delivered by the North Pole Express chefs. You can dance with the elves, receive a lovely Christmas keepsake, and relax for the music-filled ride back to the Depot. Select dates beginning November 19, 2021
The Polar Express on the Branson Scenic Railway (Branson, MO)
This is a ride to the North Pole to pick up Santa Claus!
During the trip the book “The Polar Express” is read aloud, and hot chocolate and cookies are served by the Chefs. Santa joins the ride at the North Pole and visits each car and gives each passenger a special gift. Christmas Carolers and the Hobo are also on board the train ride, which lasts about 1.25 hours.
Children (and adults!) are encouraged to wear their pajamas! Select dates beginning November 5, 2021
Santa Train at North Alabama Railroad Museum (Chase, AL)
The North Alabama Railroad Museum offers two holiday -themed rides!
On the North Star Limited ride, Santa will visit each child.
The medium length ride lasts approximately 45 minutes, allowing each child to tell Santa everything he or she wants for Christmas. All children on board the North Star Limited will receive a gift from Santa, and every passenger on board, both adults and children, will have a snack waiting for them when they arrive. Children are encouraged to wear their pajamas, too. Select dates beginning Dec. 3, 2021
During the Santa Train ride, you and your kids can talk and visit with Santa on the train and take pictures with him. All the good youngsters will get a special treat from Santa before the day is done. These shorter, leisurely Santa Train rides last approximately 40 minutes. Select dates beginning Dec. 4, 2021
New Hope Valley Railway (Bonsol, NC)
Take a train ride through the woods of New Hill on Santa’s Reindeer Roundup Express in Bonsol, NC.
Santa Claus will once again be in the rail yard to take photos with families (using your own camera) and young railfans can search for Santa’s nine missing reindeer (including Rudolph) during the 50-minute ride. Children will also receive one individually wrapped candy cane. December weekends before Christmas.
NOTE: These train rides sell out fast, so make sure to get your ASAP.
North Pole Express on the Tennessee Central Railway Museum (Nashville, TN)
Come ride on a restored classic streamlined stainless steel passenger train with Santa and his Elves on the North Pole Express Santa Excursion Train! Make sure to bring your cameras for some great photo opportunities.
They’ve got 2-hour morning and afternoon rides, and one 6.5-hour all day ride available in December. Snacks are available for purchase on the train for trips that do not have a layover. Select dates in December
Country Christmas Train at Denton FarmPark (Denton, NC)
When you arrive to the Denton FarmPark for the Country Christmas Train, you get to walk down the lighted candy cane path to the train station where Santa will be for families to take pictures. You can then get on the Handy Dandy Railroad and take a ride around the mile-and-a-half track to see some Christmas lights and see a short movie about the True meaning of Christmas.
Along the ride you will also see a live nativity scene, dedication to the military, and even elves for the children. When you finish the train ride, stop by the Gingerbread house for some baked goods and gingerbread cookies.
You’ll also see a grist mill, a petting zoo, horse-drawn carriage rides, and much more. Select dates beginning Nov. 26, 2021
North Carolina Transportation Museum (Spencer, NC)
“Well, are you coming?” Inspired by the hit movie, this holiday favorite comes to life as you and your family take a magical trip on THE POLAR EXPRESS Train Ride!
Set to the sounds of the motion picture soundtrack, families are sure to enjoy their trip to the North Pole, complete with hot chocolate and cookies served on board the train.
Passengers are entertained by a reading of Chris Van Allsburg’s classic, The Polar Express. Upon arrival at the North Pole, passengers deboard to watch Santa present the first gift of Christmas. Before exiting the train at Candy Cane Lane, all passengers who BELIEVE will receive their own sleigh bell.
Experience the joy of caroling and holiday entertainment that will surely become an annual family tradition. Children of all ages are encouraged to wear their pajamas for the ride and join in on the magic of Christmas! Select dates beginning November 12, 2021
Tweetsie Christmas on the Tweetsie Railroad (Blowing Rock, NC)
Celebrate the holiday season as Tweetsie Railroad transforms into a winter wonderland for Tweetsie Christmas! Enjoy a nighttime train ride among thousands of dazzling lights and towering Christmas trees, as you ride in an open-air train car pulled by an historic narrow-gauge steam locomotive.
In the village, meet Santa Claus in his own (Gingerbread) house – filled with candied furnishings. Spin through the night on four classic amusement rides – the Little Drummer Boy, (a Tweetsie Christmas exclusive) Bikes & Buggies, F-80s, and the Himalaya. Then make some great memories with your friends and family while roast s’mores over an outdoor fire pit.
Make sure you catch the Live Christmas Show! Audiences of all ages will enjoy the heartwarming, toe-tapping, live Christmas Show in the Tweetsie Palace. Select Dates beginning Nov. 19, 2021
Holidays in the Park at the Museum of Life + Science (Durham, NC)
Holidays in the Park at the Museum of Life + Science in Durham, NC is an awesome way to welcome the holidays.
Enjoy a memorable stroll with your loved ones through some of the outdoor and indoor spaces on evenings in December. Follow shimmering pathways and glowing trees through the garden, Farmyard, and Dinosaur Trail. Enjoy the tropical temperatures inside the Magic Wings Butterfly House or stop by Sprout Café for a night-time snack. Take an illuminating train ride on the Ellerbe Creek Railway (additional cost), passing colorful light displays along the way!
Note: No information has yet been released about their 2021 plans. Please check their website for updates.
South Carolina Railroad Museum (Winnsboro, SC)
Ride the train with our favorite visitor from the North Pole at the South Carolina Railroad Museum in Winnsboro, SC.
Enjoy the scenery as Santa walks the length of the train talking to families and posing for pictures. The train does not return until Santa has talked to everyone on the train. Trains are usually scheduled for the first 3 Saturdays in December, but their 2021 dates have not yet been released. Please check their website for updates!
Three Rivers Rambler (Knoxville, TN)
Climb onboard the Christmas Lantern Express and be a part of a beloved Knoxville tradition.
Enjoy festive decorations, holiday treats, storytime with celebrity readers and a special visit with Santa. These fun trips last approximately 2 hours. Select dates beginning Nov. 26