Polar Express: Christmas and Holiday Train Rides in Connecticut

Christmas Train Rides: Essex Steam Train, Santa Special, and more in CT

To be honest, I don’t know the last time I saw Santa in a sleigh.  Nope, over the past several years, I’ve seen Santa arrive to greet crowds of believers in a fire truck, a police car, a helicopter, and a Porsche (really, Santa??). 

So it was no surprise when my 5-year-old came home from school telling me her friend Abby saw Santa on a train.  And she’s absolutely right – there are a few amazing Holiday Trains in Connecticut, where you and your kids can enjoy both your love of trains and the holiday season!  Watching the steam roll and waft in front of the train's headlight, while giant snowflakes fall will throw you back 60 years – in the most wonderful, magical, 'It's a Wonderful Life' sort of way.  

Santa's RailyardDanbury

All aboard Santa's Railyard at the Danbury Railway Museum. Image courtesy of the Danbury Railway Museum.

A ticket at the Danbury Railway Museum includes a train ride, a visit with Santa in Toyland, and a small gift (for children). Additionally, there is a coloring station, temporary tattoos, and more festive delights that are aimed to please those who believe. 

Santa Express & Northern Lights LimitedThomaston

This train is all decorated for the holidays! Image courtesy of Connecticut Office of Tourism.

At the Naugutuck Railroad Museum you have both day and nighttime options. Ride the Santa Express Saturdays and Sundays  and enjoy the train ride along the river while watching your children visit with Santa and Mrs.Claus aboard the train. You can also opt to get the kids in their footie pajamas and hop on board the Northern Lights Limited!  Both rides offer two price points. Extras, such as hot cocoa and plus seating depend on what package you purchase. These trains sell out, reservations are highly recommended. 

Santa's Trolley Winter WonderlandEast Haven
Visit the Shoreline Trolley Museum weekends to visit with Santa and enjoy some holiday cheer. Cookies and cocoa are included, as well as plenty of photo ops! Evening rides become a festive wonderland with beautiful holiday lights. Best yet - there is no need for reservations.

Santa Special Train RideEssex

There is nothing like the magic of Mrs. Claus. Image courtesy of kmorris704 via Instagram.

This is, perhaps, the cream of the crop. If you're reading this in December, game over, unless you have luck finding tickets on Craigslist. Weekends sell out for the North Pole Express in September...and the rest of the dates, soon after that.  By December, you may still catch a ride on their daytime Santa Special. Moral of the story, get on the mailing list so you know when to get on the horn.

Holiday Lights at Lake CompounceBristol 
Lake Compounce has a LOT more than a train ride at their annual holiday event. Gaze in wonder at the hundreds of thousands of glimmering lights that cover the park. One of the featured attractions is the North Pole Express- a train ride that will take you around the park. 

Winterfest and the Tunnel of LightsEast Windsor
Start your family tradition at the Connecticut Trolley Museum where you can ride in a closed or open (brrrrrr . . .) "electric sleigh" singing Christmas carols while cruising through the tunnel of lights. Hot chocolate will be available for purchase. 

Happy Holidays to you and your little conductors!

Originally published on 12/18/12.

Cover image courtesy Connecticut Office of Tourism.

Danbury Rail Museum
120 White Street
06810 Danbury , CT
Phone: 203.778.8337
41° 23' 53.0232" N, 73° 27' 2.2932" W
Naugatuck Railroad
242 East Main Street
06787 Thomaston , CT
Phone: 203.283.7245
41° 40' 23.3544" N, 73° 4' 6.3228" W
Shoreline Trolley Museum
17 River Street
06512 East Haven , CT
Phone: 203.467.6927
41° 16' 27.0156" N, 72° 51' 47.7252" W
Fairfield Museum and History Center
370 Beach Road
06824 Fairfield , CT
Phone: 203.259.1598
41° 8' 29.742" N, 73° 14' 49.8588" W
Connecticut River Museum
67 Main Street
06426 Essex , CT
Phone: 860.767.8269
41° 21' 4.6512" N, 72° 23' 11.2596" W
Essex Steam Train
1 Railroad Avenue
06426 Essex , CT
Phone: 860-767-0103
41° 21' 0.5292" N, 72° 24' 17.352" W
Eli Whitney Museum
915 Whitney Avenue
06517 Hamden , CT 41° 20' 8.6712" N, 72° 54' 38.2896" W