You may not be able to catch a ride on the Santa’s sleigh, but you can travel with Old St. Nick on his other favorite mode of transportation: a train! We love Rudolph and the gang but, really, who needs them? Fill your Facebook feed with these Santa train photo ops and choo-choo your way to a memorable holiday. Hurry and book now; these mini excursions sell out fast!
photo: Smithsonian’s National Zoo
Smithsonian’s National Zoo Choo-Choo
Make a three- to five-minute loop around the Kids’ Farm while taking in the splendor of ZooLights, the annual free event, which runs from 5-9 p.m. Nov. 29-Jan. 1. New this year: pandas, zebras, elephants and monkeys can be viewed—even at night —thanks to the art of illumination. Large lanterns imported from China will make their debut in November along with Entre Les Rangs, a field of wheat-like branches of light you can walk through.
When: Nov. 29-Jan. 1 (closed Dec. 24-25, 31)
Where: 3001 Connecticut Ave. NW
photo: B&O Railroad
Walkersville Southern Railroad
Get your camera ready for this Insta-worthy trip with Santa. Mr. Ho-Ho-Ho will make his way through rail cars, being sure to greet each passenger with his hearty signature welcome. After the trip, be sure to grab your free hot chocolate and cookies in the museum.
Cost: $16/adult, $13/child ages 1-12, $15/seniors
When: Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, 7, 8, 14, 15, 21, 22; departure times vary by date
Where: 34 West Pennsylvania Ave., Walkersville, MD
B&O’s Magical Holiday Express
All aboard at the B&O Railroad Museum’s roundhouse, which, we might mention, is chock full of trains. The museum is open daily, but special guests join train travelers on weekends. From Dec. 7-22, Santa hops on board at 11 a.m and 1 p.m. on Sat. and 1 p.m. on Sun. and Frosty joins the crew at 12 p.m. and 2 p.m. Sat.-Sun.; on Dec. 28 & 29, Winter Princesses are special guests on the 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. train Sat.-Sun.
Cost: $20/adult, $17/senior 60 and up, $12/child ages 2-12; coach train rides are $3/adult, $2/child plus admission; first-class train rides are $10/adult and $6/child.
When: Sat. & Sun. Dec. 7-29 (closed Dec. 24, 25 & Jan. 1)
Where: 901 West Pratt St., Baltimore, MD
Western Maryland Scenic Railroad’s Holiday Trains
Parents are allowed on this run-away train headed straight to the North Pole! If The Polar Express is a family favorite favorite, hop on-board this 65 minute journey that takes you and your littles straight to the Big Man’s home and back. You need a golden ticket to ride this special train and all that “believe” receive a bell to ring.
Cost: Starting at $55/person
When: Fri.-Sun. Nov. 22-Dec. 23
Where: 13 Canal St., Cumberland, MD
Holly TrolleyFest at the National Capital Trolley Museum
Board a streetcar or take a trolley ride—or a zillion; they’re unlimited with admission—in between watching the toy trains or taking a docent-led tour of the exhibits (open every weekend from 12-5 p.m.). Santa photo-ops happen on three weekends during the month of Dec. (dates below).
Cost: $10/adult, $8/child ages 2 -17 and seniors 65 & up
When: Dec. 7-8, 14-15 & 21-22; 12:30-4:30 p.m.
Where: 1313 Bonifant Rd., Colesville, MD
photo: Mike Arney via Unsplash
Winter Wonderland at Burke Lake Park
Take a ride on the Holiday Express, a miniature Central Pacific Huntington steam engine that chugs along a 1.75-mile loop through this Fairfax County park. A snowball’s throw from the train is the Carolers Carousel, Snowman’s Wagon Rise and Gingerbread Man (mini) Golf. Come back in the evening, when the train station becomes Celebration Station with festive lights. Train rides are every 20 minutes from 5:30-8:30 p.m., and tickets also include a spin on the carousel.
Cost: $15 pass beforehand, $20 day of, children 2 and under ride free for Winter Wonderland; $10/person for Celebration Station
When: Dec. 7-8, 14-15; 10 a.m.-4 p.m. for Winter Wonderland, Dec. 6-7, 13-14; 5:30-8:30 p.m. for Celebration Station
Where: 7315 Ox Rd., Fairfax Station, VA
Virginia Railway Express’ Santa Train
Ride aboard a Virginia Railway Express train with Santa and the Missus, who will pass out candy canes, coloring books and other treats. But they’ll also take a moment to speak about the “Look, Listen and Live” campaign regarding rail safety. Don’t forget to bring a toy to donate to the Marine Corps’ Toys for Tots drive. Note: Tickets go on sale Nov. 25 at 9 a.m.
Cost: $5 at outlets, $6 online
When: Dec. 14
Where: See websites for departure stations
photo: North Pole Limited
West Chester Railroad’s Santa’s Express
Spend 90 minutes with the Jolly Guy on this excursion that explores the Chester Creek Valley in PA. There are plenty of chances to fill your Instagram feed, from classic lap pics at the historic station to candid meet-and-greet snaps on the rails. West Chester Railroad also offers a Christmas Tree Train on Dec. 1, 8 & 15; hop aboard for a scenic trip to Wiggins Tree Farm for a unique pick-your-own tree experiences (trees are tagged and loaded on to the train’s flat car).
Cost: $25/adult, $18/child ages 2-12, $8/infant, children under 9 months are free
When: Nov. 23, 24, 29, 30 and Dec. 1, 7, 8, 14, 15, 21, 22; 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 3 p.m. and Dec. 7, 8, 14, 15, 21, 22; 5 pm.
Where: 230 E. Market St., West Chester, PA
Strasburg Rail Road’s The Night Before Christmas Train
Come dressed in your best pajamas for an evening of Christmas tales and hot chocolate. Dressed in old fashioned nightcaps and gowns, readers share the poem of The Night Before Christmas while you and your family enjoy a short, steam train ride. After your journey, continue the story book experience at the North Pole (near the Railroad Store). Santa does make a brief appearance, but if you are looking for time with the Big Man, check out Santa’s Paradise Express or Santa’s Christmas Trolley.
Cost: $20/adult, $14/child ages 2-11, $4/infant ages 0-1
When: Dec. 5, 6, 12, 13, 18, 19, 20, 21,22, 23; departure time varies by date
Where: 301 Gap Road, Ronks, PA
photo: North Pole Limited
North Pole Limited
Get festive with a Santa ride aboard the historic steam train, Baldwin No. 26. Enjoy holiday tunes on this one-hour tour that includes one-on-one time with the Big Guy himself. Be sure to bring holiday wish lists. Pajamas are not required, but encouraged on these trips.
When: Dec. 8, 14, 15; 10 a.m., 12 p.m., 1:30 p.m, 3 p.m.
Where: 350 Cliff St, Scranton, PA
—Meghan Yudes Meyers and Stephanie Kanowitz
feature photo: Strasburg Rail Road