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All Aboard for Old-Fashioned Fun: Local Holiday Trains

Nurture your holiday spirit — and thrill your family's train fanatics — with these throwback trips.

Blame it on Currier and Ives — or maybe The Polar Express — but there’s something about a train that can 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.

Looking to make some memories this year? Here are some prime places to get on board.

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 is worth another trip. It’s filled with sweet surprises, from live musicians and carolers to a photo opportunity with Santa himself.

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’s Night Before Christmas trains runs December 3, 9 – 10, 12, 16 – 23, multiple times each day.

Santa’s Paradise Express is the ride you want to take if you’re looking for Santa to visit with your family and give a special gift! This train runs select dates between November 26 and December 24.

Santa’s Christmas Trolley features Santa and his chief elf for an exclusive ride on the historic LO&S Motorcar! Children 11 and under can take a photo with Santa and share their wish list.

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New Hope & Ivyland Railroad

32 W. Bridge St., New Hope

Santa’s Steam Spectacular has all the trimmings: it’s a 60-minute round trip with hot cocoa, cookies, and Santa and Mrs. Claus. Every child gets a gift, and there’s caroling and music, too. And you’re already in New Hope, so there are lots of fun things to do in the area before or after your train trip.

The North Pole Express Train is similar to the Steam Train experience except this train is pulled by a vintage diesel locomotive.

The trains run multiple times daily November 26 through December 26.

West Chester Railroad

230 E. Market St., West Chester

Christmas Tree Train is a two-hour event starting with a ride through the bucolic Chester County countryside. Take a ride to the tree farm where visitors will be able to pick their tree and have it placed on the flat car to ride back with you to West Chester. This train runs on November 28 and December 5 and 12 from 8 am – 10 am only. Tickets are $25 for adults, $20 for children ages 2 to 12, and free for toddlers between the age of nine months and 23 months. All trees are $70 for all Tree Train ticket holders. Please note- Santa is not on board this train, only the Santa Express.

Santa’s Express, a 75-minute ride on the heated and decorated train car, will feature an appearance by Santa, as well as live music. Excursions run November 20, 21, 26, 27, and 28 and December 4, 5, 11, 12, 18, and 19 at 11 am, 1 pm, and 3 pm; additional 5 pm departure begins on December 4. Tickets are $30 for adults, $25 for children ages 2-12, and $10 for toddlers between the age of nine months and 23 months.

Wilmington & Western Railroad

2201 Newport Gap Pike, Wilmington, Delaware

Why stand in line and wait to see Santa? Take a 90-minute trip that features a visit with Santa and a chocolate treat. You may bring your own camera for photos. Trains run on select dates from November 26 to December 19. Seating is exceptionally limited.

The Colebrookdale Railroad

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

Celebrate the spirit of the holidays in the Secret Valley! An expedition on the Colebrookdale Railroad is your ticket to create memories to last a lifetime. Make sure to  purchase in advance so you don’t lose your seat on the Colebrookdale Railroad!

Model Railways

If you can’t ride, watching trains is a fun tradition, too.

Brandywine River Museum of Art

1 Hoffman’s Mill Road, Chadds Ford

This festive holiday railroad features more than 1,000 train pieces on a 2,000-foot indoor track. Enjoy this model train adventure decorated with holiday decor that is sure to entertain all ages from November 29 to January 5.

The museum also hosts various children’s activities throughout the holiday season, including a Children’s Christmas Party, Breakfast with the Trains, a Sensory-Friendly Train Morning and more!

Morris Arboretum

100 E. Northwestern Ave., Philadelphia

This outdoor model railway always reopens for a holiday run, starting the day after Thanksgiving. Get your tickets now for the popular “Holiday Garden Railway Lights” events, which let you see the railway lit up for Christmas. It’s featured select dates December and often sells out.

Lead photograph by Sarah Bond. Casey Kallen and Sarah Bond contributed to this article. 

Contributing Writer

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