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All Aboard for Old-Fashioned Fun: Local Holiday Trains Around Philly

Holiday train rides and model train displays to get your holiday spirit on track!

Blame it on Currier and Ives—or maybe The Polar Express—but there’s something about trains that make even the Scroogiest member of your family full of the holiday spirit. Local railroads make the most of it this time of year, offering more trips on special holiday trains, face time with Santa, and even a chance to fetch a fir tree while you’re out. So if you’re looking to make some memories this year, here are some prime places to get on board—and where to view some amazing and delightful model train displays this holiday season.

Colebrookdale Railroad

64 S. Washington Street, Boyertown (Thanks to Main Line Parent Community member Jessica O. for the tip!)

Get your ticket to a magical holiday adventure with Santa on a train ride through the beautiful Secret Valley. Holiday excursions on the Colebrookedale Railroad include Santa’s Polar Bear Express, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas (with a dinner option), and the Haunted Magical Yuletide Express. If you plan to go, then be sure to purchase your tickets in advance to save your seat. Train rides run multiple times on weekends from mid-November through early December, then daily the second weekend in December.

Delaware Railroad Excursions

38 Market St, Phillipsburg, NJ

Set to the sounds of the motion picture soundtrack, passengers will relive the magic of the classic story as they are whisked away on THE POLAR EXPRESS™ for a magical hour and a half trip to meet Santa. Once on board, your car hosts will work their way through the coach and punch your golden ticket before hot chocolate and delicious cookies are served by dancing chefs.

New Hope Railroad

32 W. Bridge Street, New Hope

New Hope Railroad offers a choice of holiday railroad adventures through the historic Bucks County countryside. Each experience is a 60-minute train ride with all the trimmings featuring Santa and Mrs. Claus, hot cocoa, cookies, caroling, and music. And to top it off, each child gets a special gift. Choose the North Pole Premium Train, which is an historic, #40 steam engine train or the North Pole Express Train, pulled by a vintage diesel locomotive. And new in 2022 is Santa’s North Pole Deluxe Train, featuring sleek, Mid Century stainless steel passenger railroad cars. And since you’ll be in New Hope, there are lots of fun things to do in the area before or after your train trip. The trains run multiple times on weekends in November and Early December, then daily in later December.

Strasburg Rail Road

301 Gap Road, Ronks

Chances are you’ve been here before if someone in your family likes trains (maybe it was you, as a kid?—Strasburg has been thrilling visitors since 1958). The 45-minute Santa’s Paradise Express Coach is the 60+ year tradition of the Strasburg Rail Road. Beautifully restored in authentic Victorian style, the coach is filled with sweet surprises, from live musicians and carolers to a photo opportunity with Santa himself and a special gift. Trains run multiple times every Saturday and Sunday from mid-November through Christmas.

These daytime trains run frequently, so there’s plenty of steam engine action for the kids to watch. And there’s enough to do here to keep everyone busy for several hours. If you want to make a full day out of it, the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania is across the street. Strasburg Rail Road also runs the Santa Claus Limited, Night Before Christmas trains, and Christmas Tree Trains. Check their schedule for dates and times.

West Chester Railroad

230 E. Market Street, West Chester

West Chester Railroad welcomes passengers aboard for two holiday experiences: the Santa’s Express and the Christmas Tree Train. Starting with a ride through the bucolic Chester County countryside, the Christmas Tree Train take passengers to Wiggins Farm to pick their perfect tree. After cutting it down, the tree is banded up, tagged, and placed on a flat car and returns on the train to the station in West Chester. The trip is approximately 2 hours long. The Christmas Tree Train departs at 8 am on three Sundays: Nov. 26, Dec. 3, and Dec. 10.

Santa’s Express, a 75-minute ride on a heated and decorated train car, will feature an appearance by Santa, as well as live music. Excursions run multiple times on weekends, from mid-November though December. Additional 5 pm departures take place for a few weeks in December.

Whippany Polar Express Train Ride

1 Railroad Plz, Whippany, NJ

The Whippany Polar Express is designed to really feel and look like the movie it is named for! This one sells out early so book ahead, and rides run from early November through the end of December. Singing conductors, hot chocolate passed out by performing servers, and even little silver sleigh bells (the first gift of Christmas, of course!). 

Wilmington & Western Railroad

2201 Newport Gap Pike, Wilmington, Delaware

Why stand in line and wait to see Santa? Instead take a 90-minute train ride that features a visit with Santa and a chocolate treat. When you go, be sure to bring your own camera for photos. This experience is powered by one of their historic first-generation diesel locomotives. Santa Claus Express trains depart twice daily, beginning after Thanksgiving through right before Christmas.

Model Railways

Brandywine Railroad

1 Hoffman’s Mill Road, Chadds Ford

A holiday favorite since 1972, the Brandywine Railroad features trains running on 2,000 feet of track and contains more than 1,000 pieces, including locomotives, passenger and freight trains, and trolleys that pass through a small village, a farm, factories, a drive-in movie theater and even a carnival. A dazzling array of both toy and scale model trains can be seen chugging through the varied scenery, including those made by Lionel, Williams, Atlas, Mike’s Train House, K-line and others. Interactive components are also incorporated into the display to allow for further engagement. The Brandywine Railroad holiday train display is included in the cost of general admission and is free for Brandywine members. Timed admission tickets will be required for entry from November 25, 2022 through January 8, 2023 for general admission—Brandywine members do not need to reserve timed tickets.

Garden Railway at Longwood Gardens

1001 Longwood Road, Kennett Square

Experience Longwood Gardens’ whimsical, wonderful Garden Railway, which has been a holiday tradition for more than 20 years. This multi-level world in miniature is on display, complete with a beautiful seasonally changing plant palette. See their collection of dozens of locomotives, steam engines, diesel engines, and specialty engines—as well as the ever-popular Thomas the Tank Engine and many of his friends—as they rumble along nearly 500 feet of track amid textural foliage, flowering plants, and woody plants. On view outdoors near the Terrace Restaurant through January 8. Free with Gardens admission.

Holiday Garden Railway at Morris Arboretum

100 E. Northwestern Avenue, Philadelphia

Visitors of all ages will be wowed by a quarter mile of track featuring seven loops and tunnels with 15 different rail lines and two cable cars, nine bridges (including a trestle bridge you can walk under), and bustling model trains, all set in the lovely winter garden of the Morris Arboretum. What’s more, the buildings are all meticulously decorated for the holidays with lights that twinkle along the tracks and around the surrounding landscape. The Nighttime Express is a special ticketed event where visitors can experience the enchantment of the railway illuminated during wintery nights. See the Arboretum website for Nighttime Express dates and times. The Holiday Garden Railway runs from Nov. 25 – Dec. 30, from 10 am – 4 pm. Closed Dec. 24 & 25.

Lead photograph by Sarah Bond. Beth Gilbert-Crowell, Casey Kallen and Sarah Bond contributed to this article. 

Contributing Writer