I’m not sure how or when trains became associated with holiday celebrations. Is it because model trains are a popular children’s gift? Because family members used to ride trains home to see family? Or do we blame it all on The Polar Express? Either way the image of a train chug-chug-chugging around the Christmas tree is firmly entrenched in our culture.
We’ve rounded up a listing of train-themed holiday events in our area, including those that are worth the trip. For parents of train-obsessed children who missed out on tickets to your local park district’s Polar Express Metra ride (I know – they sell out so fast!) these events are sure to satisfy.
Holiday Train Events
November 27 – December 17 from 10:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
December 18 – January 3, 2016 from 10:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
Chicago Botanic Garden, 1000 Lake Cook Road, Glencoe | (847) 835-5440 | Facebook
Wonderland Express is one of the Chicago area’s top holiday “must-sees,” and a family-friendly, made-for-memories experience. This indoor model-train exhibition delights children and parents, friends and families. Drop-in activities available on select days. For more ways to ring in the holidays at Chicago Botanic Garden, see Holidays in the Garden.
2015 Christmas Train
November 28-29, December 5-6, December 12-13, and December 19-20; 9:30 a.m., 12 Noon, and 2:30 p.m. departures
East Troy Electric Railroad, 2002 Church St., East Troy, Wisconsin | (262) 642-3263
A magical ride takes you a half hour from the East Troy Depot to Santa’s workshop located at The Elegant Farmer. Here children can visit Santa and get a photo taken with the jolly elf himself! Craft projects and hot chocolate and cookies will be available. Advance reservations are required. Tickets can be purchased online $15.00 for ages 12 and up, $17.50 for all children under 12.
* FREE * Canadian Pacific Holiday Train
December 4 at 3:50 p.m.
4374 Old Grand Avenue, near Viking Park | Facebook
The Holiday Train is nearly 1,000 feet long with 14 rail cars, each decorated with hundreds of thousands of technology-leading LED lights and holiday designs. Parking will be available at Viking Park and Viking Park Middle School, as well as on the street around Old Grand Avenue. Musical entertainment from 4:00 – 4:30 p.m. The Holiday Train raises awareness of local hunger issues by encouraging attendees to bring a non-perishable food item for donation to a local food pantry. All donations will benefit the Northern Illinois Food Bank. For more information, visit the Canadian Pacific Railway’s website. Read Genevieve’s review from 2011.
Happy Holiday Railway
December 5, 6, 12 and 13; Saturdays and Sundays hourly from 2:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.
7000 Olson Road, Union | (815) 923-4000 | Facebook
Embark on a magical 45-minute train ride through the winter countryside on your way to visit with Santa Claus himself! Treats will be served and gifts will be given to children on Santa’s “good list”. Ticket prices are $15.00 per person. Everyone past their first birthday must have a ticket. Display buildings and museum grounds will not be open for this event. Plan to arrive no earlier than 30 minutes before your scheduled trip.
The Polar Express Train Ride at Chicago Union Station
December 19 – January 3
500 W. Jackson Blvd., Chicago | (312) 471-2501 | Facebook
Grab a seat on THE POLAR EXPRESS™ Train Ride at historic Chicago Union Station this holiday season. The magical story comes to life when the train departs Union Station for a one-hour round-trip journey through downtown Chicago. Deluxe Class tickets are $55 for adults and $43 for children ages 2 to 11. Each ticket includes a souvenir hot chocolate tumbler and keepsake sleigh bell to bring home. Families are encouraged to wear their pajamas for the ride!
Would you prefer to celebrate your love of trains and Christmas at home? Jennifer V. shows you how to throw your own DIY Polar Express Party.
For more train books to cozy up with by the fire, see Melissa’s picks for Best Train Books for All Ages.
Finally, for ideas to entertain your train lover year-round, check out my Ultimate Train Lovers Guide for Kids in Lake County.