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 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.
Visit Santa and Mrs. Claus and take a Christmas-themed ride aboard the BRSR by booking the Santa Express Ride. Every kid will get a traditional bell and candy cane. The Santa 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!
Finally, the 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.
2020 NOTE: Due to COVID, Santa and Mrs. Claus will not be on the train this year. However, they will be open for visits and photos in their Christmas caboose at the Depot. Children will not be allowed to sit with or hug Santa and Mrs. Claus.
Atlanta Botanical Garden Holiday Ride-on Train
Young kids will love taking a short ride around the Botanical Gardens on the Holiday Ride-on Train, starting at $3 per ride during the Garden Nights, Holiday Lights celebration. Kids of all ages will dig the model train; both are still running in 2020.
Stone Mountain Park Sing-along Train
You want to sit on the left side of the train, so you have the best view of the lights and the show at Stone Mountain. The only bad part of going on the last train is that it’s dark out. Great for the lights displayed along the way, but there are a lot of sections without lights that you can’t see, and it can be cold so pull out that extra scarf. My son loved the sing-a-long portion the best. A fun holiday themed video gets you started and gives you all the words to the songs so you can sing along.
Discount Tickets: Save up to 42% off single day tickets to Stone Mountain Christmas.
SAM Shortline Excursion Train
Enjoy the popular Candy Cane Express excursion with layover in Plains, GA (Jimmy Carter’s home.) The town will be all dressed in its Christmas wrapping and ready for your visit. Free candy canes for every passenger. Santa will be aboard for the ride!
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 Santa and Mrs. Claus every Friday and Saturday night. The Winter Wonderland Train will leave the station every Wednesday-Saturday.
Southeastern Railway Museum
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.
St. Mary’s Railroad Santa Special
This year St Mary’s is offering two special train adventures. Grab a ticket on the traditional open air cars where you and your family will find the spirit of Christmas as told through the holiday hijinks of a cast of characters you know and love, with a visit from Santa of course.
Or, new this year, begin at Theatre by the Trax with a delightful stage retelling of the beloved holiday classic, The Nutcracker. The magical story continues once on board the beautifully restored and decorated vintage climate-controlled passenger cars where you and your family will travel through the Nutcracker Kingdom. Special guests like the sugarplum fairy, shy mice, toy soldiers and of course Santa himself will fill your journey with music & dance.
Georgia State Railroad Museum
Santa rides have been cancelled for 2020.
Macy’s Pink Pig
Pink Pig rides have been cancelled for 2020.
The Southern Museum
Christmas festivities have been cancelled for 2020.
A Short Drive From Home
The Polar Express on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad (Bryson City, NC)
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.
The North Pole Limited on the TVR (Chattanooga, TN)
Another of our favorites! 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.
Looking for a 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.
2020 NOTE: Santa will NOT board the train due to COVID-19
Christmas at the Station at the Heart of Dixie Railroad Museum (Calera, AL)
Your Christmas Experience ticket includes a ride on the Calera & Shelby train, a ride on the Shelby & Southern train, access to the Merry Maze train of Lights, and the ability to safely take your annual family photos with Santa Claus!
Enjoy an evening of family games and activities, drink some hot chocolate, visit a food truck, and be sure to write (and deliver!) your letter of Christmas wishes to jolly old St. Nick!
Need a romantic escape? Make the experience a special date with your sweetheart with tickets in the Couple’s Caboose! Travel down the tracks in this car for two (plus a brakeman doing his work on the train and ensuring your safety). Tickets are very limited.
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.
North Alabama Railroad Museum (Chase, AL)
On the North Star Limited ride, Santa will visit each child at his seat, offering a gift. All riders will receive a drink and cookie, riders in Coach 2006 will receive a hot drink, warm cookie, and souvenir mug. There is also an adult-only train car.
New Hope Valley Railway (Bonsol, NC)
Take a train ride through the woods of New Hill with Santa with Santa’s reindeer. The train ride lasts for about an hour and you may bring food and drinks on the train with you.
2020 NOTE: All 2020 train rides have already sold out
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! Bring your cameras for some great photo opportunities!
Each child will get to visit with Santa, The Night Before Christmas story will be read during the excursion, Santa’s elves will visit with the children, and additional dining options will be available for the excursions that have a layover. Snacks are available for purchase on the train for trips that do not have a layover.
Country Christmas Train at Denton FarmPark (Denton, NC)
New for 2020, instead of people walking through historic buildings and riding the Handy Dandy Railroad to witness the live nativity, the park staff came up with a drive-thru event for the holidays.
Guests cannot get out of their cars, except at the craft barn where there will be vendors with handmade crafts for sale. Also, Hunt’s Concession will be there with food, but it will be outside this year, not inside. There will be tables set up in case people want to eat outside instead of in their cars.
North Carolina Transportation Museum (Spencer, NC)
The N.C. Transportation Museum offers a fun and festive holiday-themed train ride and activities. The train ride will be decorated for the season and each rider will be given a large candy cane.
Following the train ride, visitors can enjoy hot chocolate and prepackaged cookies in the 1905 Back Shop. This area will be decorated for the season with music, a touch-less model train operated by waving your hand and more. A special Christmas edition of their I SPY kids map will be available. Guests can also enjoy a great model train layout from the Central Carolina N-Scalers and Christmas movie viewing in Storehouse No. 3. Kids can bring their letter to Santa to drop off in our North Pole mailbox. Postcards will also be available for kids to mail from home.
Hot chocolate and cookies and all activities are included with your admission ticket on Candy Cane Train event days.
They will host a holiday light show, N.C. Transportation Museum In Lights: A Drive Thru Experience. This first-ever museum offering will allow visitors to enjoy this historic site, illuminated by thousands of holiday lights, all from the comfort of their car.
The museum’s historic structures and antique railroading equipment will be part of the scenery, shining like never before.
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.
Holidays in the Park at the Museum of Life + Science (Durham, NC)
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!
South Carolina Railroad Museum (Winnsboro, SC)
The train and museum have been cancelled/closed for 2020.
Three Rivers Rambler (Knoxville, TN)
All train trips have been cancelled for 2020.