Dash away, dash away, dash away all! It’s time to dash away on a one-horse open sleigh. Or on an old-fashioned locomotive. Or even on a CTA train. Whether you’re gliding across snow-capped fields or gliding down the rails of downtown Chicago, there are holiday train and sleigh rides you shouldn’t miss. Flip through our photo album to see which are worth jumping aboard now.
Polar Express at Union Station
Relive the magic of the holiday classic The Polar Express with a one-hour train ride to meet Santa, set to the sounds of the motion picture soundtrack. Passengers will climb aboard The Polar Express and work their way through the car to punch their golden ticket before indulging in hot chocolate and a cookie served by dancing chefs. Bring your books, if you have them, for a read-along of the book written by Chris Van Allsburg. Santa and his elves will make an appearance to greet passengers with the first gift of Christmas and characters on each car will lead riders in an immersive onboard experience—just like in the film! Each person will take home a keepsake sleigh bell and golden ticket to remember the cherished evening.
Select dates Nov. 23-Dec. 29; Union Station, 225 S. Canal St., Loop; Online: chicagothepolarexpressride.com.
Christmas at Cottonwood
Take a breather after a long morning of Black Friday shopping and kick off the holidays the right way—with fun on the farm. Siegel’s Cottonwood Farm hosts Cottonwood Christmas with activities, food and fun for the entire family. Activities include sleigh rides, Santa meet-and-greets, petting zoo, train rides, giant mountain slide, play areas, candy cannon and more.
CTA Holiday Train
Santa and his merry band of elves will make an appearance on every El line this holiday season. In fact, the big guy in red comes jingling his way through in grand style, pulled in a sled by faux reindeer. A gift from the Chicago Transit Authority, the festive El — decked out in colored lights, garland, bows and tinsel — arrives with pomp and glee, leaving you and your little ones smiling ear to ear long after your stop. You might even get a candy cane handout if you're onboard.
The CTA Holiday Train runs on select days on select lines through December 23. Usual El fares apply. The 2019 schedule has not been released; Online: transitchicago.com.
Blackberry Farm Holiday Express
And what to your wondering eyes should appear? A decorated miniature open-air train that runs continuously through Aurora's living-history museum. Catch the Holiday Express train around Lake Gregory amidst thousands of twinkling lights. It's part of the farm's annual Victorian Christmas celebration, Holiday Express, which includes music, storytelling in a historic schoolhouse, a visit from Santa, craft stations and a Reindeer Food Bar.
Tickets go on sale Nov. 12. The Holiday Express runs December 5, 12, 13, 19 & 20, 5 p.m.-8 p.m. and Dec. 7, 8, 14, 15, 21 & 22, 2 p.m.-7 p.m.; 100 S. Barnes Rd., Aurora; Online: blackberryfarm.info.
Navy Pier Winter WonderFest Arctic Express Train
Hop aboard this family-friendly trackless train, which travels nearly 300 feet around a holiday village display during Navy Pier’s annual Winter WonderFest. Zig-zagging and weaving through lighted houses and scenes, you’ll meet favorite holiday characters and see lots of twinkling sights. The fun doesn’t end with the train; the festival also includes dozens of rides for all ages, including a climbing wall, ice skating rink, 50-foot-tall indoor Ferris wheel and more.
Dec. 6-Jan 12; 600 E. Grand Ave., Navy Pier; Online: navypier.com.
Get whisked away on a sleigh through beautiful hardwoods, many of which are over 100 years old. That's the scene at Apple Holler, just across the Wisconsin border. Halflinger horses take you and your family or friends on a special orchard tour, which winds down with S'mores and a cup of hot chocolate or tasty warm apple cider. While you're there, cut down your own Christmas tree. . . a festive activity that will surely become a family tradition.
Sleigh rides are available upon request throughout December whenever there is snow; 5006 S. Sylvania Ave., Sturtevant, WI; Online: appleholler.com.
Santa’s Village will host Magical Christmas Days filled with holiday cheer, entertainment, shopping, festive treats, rides, and of course, visits with the Man in Red, Santa Claus himself. Included in all this magical fun is Kringle's Convoy, semi-trucks lined up like trains for kids to help Santa deliver presents, and the Alaskan Railway that takes you on a journey through Caribou Crossing to get an up-close view of reindeer, bobcats and foxes.
Nov. 29, 30 & Saturdays and Sundays in Dec.; Santa's Village, 601 Dundee Ave., East Dundee; Online: santasvillagedundee.com.
Lionel Train Adventure at LPZ ZooLights
The most wonderful time of the year deserves the most wonderful event of the year. Join Lincoln Park Zoo for their 25th annual ZooLights, a one-of-a-kind, festive holiday experience that happens under the glow of 2.5 million lights. Hop on the Lionel Train Adventure for a luminous ride across a quaint country bridge, past forest and canyon scenery before returning to the red brick station.
Nov. 29 & 30, Dec. 1, 6-8, 13-23, 26-31 & Jan. 1-5; 4:30 p.m.-9 p.m.; Lincoln Park Zoo, 2001 N. Clark St., Lincoln Park; Online: lpzoo.org.
Homewood Holiday Lights
The annual Homewood Holiday Lights celebration in Homewood offers all the holiday traditions in one evening. The Martin Avenue Outdoor Market begins at 5 p.m. with food vendors, a live reindeer petting zoo, music by the Southwest Community Brass Ensemble, an ice sculpting demonstration and free rides on the Polar Express electric trackless train. An antique car show precedes the 7 p.m. tree lighting ceremony at Irwin Park, when Santa and his friends arrive on a fire engine to flip the switch for the grand tree lighting.
Dec. 6; Irwin Park, 18120 Highland Ave., Online: village.homewood.il.us.
Miracle on Martin
Gather in Homewood for Miracle on Martin to enjoy a bonfire with s'mores and beverages that will take the chill away. Santa will be at the Homewood Science Center, where you'll find a sensory-friendly holiday scene that sets the perfect backdrop for a quiet visit with the big guy himself. Horse-drawn carriage rides are available through the downtown area from 3 to 6 p.m. Holiday characters stroll Martin Ave along with holiday carolers. There is also a special “I Spy” community event with maps of the windows and lists of items to seek. Kids of all ages can fill out an “I Spy” treasure hunt brochure and receive a holiday treat.
Dec. 14, 2 p.m.-6 p.m.; Homewood Science Center, 18022 Dixie Hwy.; Online: village.homewood.il.us.
— Maria Chambers & Kelly Aiglon