CTA Holiday Trains and Other Christmas Train Shows in Chicago

CTA is running its holiday trains and buses in 2023. Photo courtesy of the Chicago Loop Alliance
CTA is running its holiday trains and buses in 2023. Photo courtesy of the Chicago Loop Alliance
11/3/23 - By Maureen Wilkey

Are you ready for the CTA Holiday Trains and Buses 2023! Here's what you need to know.

The Chicago Loop Alliance has announced that the CTA Holiday Train will be riding the rails again for the 32nd year in 2023. Holiday buses are back, too! Look for Santa Claus as he returns to the trains and buses and for pictures with kids.

Read on for our CTA holiday train tips and more Chicago Christmas train show recommendations. And don't miss our list of Polar Express Train Rides and Christmas Trains in Chicago.


The full schedule for CTA holiday trains and buses hasn't been announced yet, but continue to check the CTA website for the latest on when Santa will be on board between Black Friday and Christmas Eve Eve (December 23). The CTA is planning even more rides this year. Santa will ride around the city on an open-air train flat car while chuckling "Ho, ho, ho," out of the roof hatch of CTA buses to deliver baskets to local food pantries. He delivered more than 600 last year to community organizations throughout the city. Each basket holds all the ingredients necessary to create a holiday meal.

CTA holiday trains are decorated festively. 
CTA train decorated for the holidays. Photo courtesy of the Chicago Transit Authority

 Here are our tips for getting on the CTA holiday trains and buses:

  • Be prepared to wait. Santa and his elves are trying their hardest, but delays are inevitable. Try going during off-peak times if you can to reduce wait times.
  • Strollers are not allowed on the train or bus, so get ready to carry or wear your baby onto the train or bus.
  • Have a back-up plan in case the train or bus you plan to get on is too crowded. Over packed trains and buses will not allow more riders on at every stop.

Polar Express train ride near Chicago. 
A holiday train show near Chicago. Photo courtesy of the Franklin Park Polar Express at Blackberry Farm

If the CTA Holiday Train or Holiday bus doesn't fit into your schedule this year, consider taking your little train lover to one of the Chicago area's popular holiday train shows. Seeing little trains decked out for the holidays can be just as fun as riding the train, and with less crowding, waiting, and unpredictability.  Some of our favorite train-related events include:

  • Happy Holiday Railway at Illinois Railway Museum in Union—You can ride the holiday train, or just check out the exhibits.
  • Blackberry Farm Holiday Express in Aurora—Ride a miniature train and enjoy the holiday lights at the Early Streets Museum.
  • Great Midwestern Train Show at the DuPage County Fairgrounds—This monthly show includes multiple scales of model railroads and should be decked out for the holidays.
  • ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo—Take a ride on the Lionel Train during the event to see the twinkling lights and the animals.
  • Train Saturdays at DuPage County Historical Museum—Check out the HO Gauge Model Train on the third an fifth Saturdays of each month at the Wheaton museum.
  • Santa Express at DuPage County Historical Museum—A special train ride in December featuring Santa himself.