Polar Express and Christmas Trains Near NYC in 2021

Santa Claus welcomes passengers of all ages aboard Santa’s Paradise Express. Photo courtesy of Strasburg Rail Road
Santa Claus welcomes passengers of all ages aboard Santa’s Paradise Express. Photo courtesy of Strasburg Rail Road

The magic of Chris Van Allsburg’s popular Christmas picture book The Polar Express comes to life again this winter with festive Christmas trains and holiday trolleys within a whistle's blow of the New York City metro area. A huge hit with kids and parents alike, these Christmas trains near New York City spark the imagination and holiday spirit with seasonal snacks, stories, even gifts—not to mention a visit from Santa himself.

These old-school cabooses—some harking back to the 1920s—offer a classic holiday ambiance. No matter which Polar Express train experience you choose, your family can combine an annual Santa Claus photo-op with lasting memories of a sweet adventure.

These Christmas train rides sell out quickly, often months in advance, so book now if you want to go. Find more regional Polar Express and Christmas train rides on our New Jersey and Philadelphia sites, and find plenty more seasonal offerings in our Holiday Guide.

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Polar Express and Christmas Trains in New York

Catskill Mountain Christmas Train – Kingston

Friday-Sunday from Friday, November 26-Sunday, December 19
1 hour, 40 minutes from Midtown Manhattan by car
Hop on an open-air flat train car and travel through the beautiful Catskill Mountains. Santa and his elves will greet each train as it goes by. After passing the North Pole, everyone will receive a sweet treat from a local bakery and a small holiday gift. Be sure to purchase some pocket warmers before boarding as the ride gets chilly! 

Polar Express and Christmas Trains in New Jersey

The Polar Express – Whippany

Wednesday-Sunday from Wednesday, November 3-Thursday, December 30
1 hour from Midtown Manhattan by car
Suit the kids up in their PJs to experience this most magical trip powered by the Morristown & Erie Railway. A ticket scores you live entertainment and holiday goodies like hot chocolate and shortbread. Kids receive a keepsake sleigh bell of their very own.

The Polar Express – Phillipsburg

Friday-Sunday from Friday, November 26-Sunday, December 19
1 hour, 20 minutes from Midtown Manhattan by car
The New York Susquehanna & Western Technical & Historical Society invites visitors to immerse themselves in the sights and sounds of The Polar Express. Indeed, this Christmas train ride is set to the motion picture's soundtrack. Enjoy your hot cocoa and cookies as you listen to a retelling of the story before kids meet Santa and receive their very own sleigh bells. Pajamas are encouraged.

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Santa poses with the North Pole Express train
Don't miss the North Pole Express, the Black & Western Railroad's most popular annual event.

North Pole Express – Flemington

Weekends from Saturday, November 20-Sunday, December 19
1 hour, 10 minutes from Midtown Manhattan by car
All aboard the Black & Western Railroad for this excursion to the North Pole. Kids receive the traditional silver bell as the first gift of Christmas. Enjoy photo- ops with Santa's sleigh, a glorious Christmas tree, and of course, a visit with the big man himself. Guests must wear masks at all times except when they're smiling for the camera.

The Santa Express – Cape May

Weekends from Saturday, November 20-Wednesday, December 22
3 hours from Midtown Manhattan by car
The extra travel time to Cape May for a ride on Seashore Lines is well worth it for this Christmas train. All Santa Express trains feature the big guy himself, his trusty elves, and live entertainment. Book one of the first-class cars and you'll also receive snack service. There are multiple departure locations within NJ; check the website when selecting your tickets.

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North Pole Express on the New Hope and Ivyland Railroad. Photo by Anthony Sinagoga for Visit Bucks County

Polar Express and Christmas Trains in Pennsylvania

North Pole Express and Santa's Steam Spectacular ​– New Hope

Select dates from Saturday, November 13-Thursday, December 30
2 hours, 15 minutes from Midtown Manhattan by car
Enjoy an hour-long ride through scenic Bucks County in a meticulously restored, beautifully decorated vintage train pulled by a diesel locomotive, where families are treated to warm cookies and cocoa, caroling, and plenty of face time with Santa Claus, Mrs. Claus, and their elves at his workshop near the train station.

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Santa greets girls on a train ride
Christmas at Strasburg Rail Road features several unique and specialized holiday events.

Santa’s Paradise Express – Strasburg

Weekends from Saturday, November 20-Friday, December 24
2 hours, 40 minutes from Midtown Manhattan by car
Tucked into the cozy countryside of Pennsylvania's Lancaster County, the Strasburg Rail Road offers a 45-minute jaunt with Santa and his friends, featuring stories, delicious treats (for purchase), and the first gift of the season. Kids can also jump aboard the Pint-sized Pufferbelly and the Cranky Cars to catch a read-aloud of some holiday classics. The Strasburg Rail Road also offers Christmas Tree Trains and a Night Before Christmas Train that offers varied holiday fun.

Santa’s Express – West Chester

Weekends from Saturday, November 20-Sunday, December 19
2 hours from Midtown Manhattan by car
Grab your holiday wish list and join Santa for a journey on the festively decorated (and heated!) train through the Chester Creek Valley. Santa greets everyone at Market Street Station and visits with all the passengers along the ride to Glen Mills and back. Along the way, enjoy live onboard entertainment from Greg Wright and friends.

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Christmas trolleys and decor at the Connecticut Trolley Museum
Join motormen in singing traditional Christmas carols on the Christmas Trolley at the Connecticut Trolley Museum.

Trolley and Christmas Train Rides in Connecticut

The Essex North Pole Express – Essex

Fridays through Sundays from Friday, November 19-Sunday, December 19
2 hours, 40 minutes from Midtown Manhattan by car
While many area families have long flocked to this North Pole Express in Essex, Connecticut, the big train ride has already sold out for the 2021 season. It's worth keeping on your radar for next fall; tickets generally go on sale in mid-September. If you're able to snag tickets, you'll enjoy a locomotive-powered sleigh for a special evening trip straight to the North Pole. Passengers enjoy live musical performances of “The Night Before Christmas," visits with Santa and Mrs. Claus, and festive treats. Plus, each child will receive a small gift from Santa.

Trolley Museum Winterfest and Tunnel of Lights – East Windsor

Fridays through Sundays from Friday, November 26-Sunday, December 26
2 hours by car from Midtown Manhattan
For a festive journey of a different sort, head to the Connecticut Trolley Museum for a ride in your choice of a closed or open-air "electric sleigh," where you'll belt out Christmas carols and enjoy the twinkling lights overhead. The Visitors Center is decked out with seasonal decorations, and holiday music fills the air as you explore. Make sure to sneak in a visit with Santa and collect your gift.

Santa Express and Northern Lights Limited – Thomaston

Fridays through Sundays from Friday, November 26-Thursday, December 23
2 hours by car from Midtown Manhattan
Travel through the chilly wilderness on the Naugatuck Railroad on either the daytime Santa Express or the evening Northern Lights Limited. Both train rides include visits with Santa and Mrs. Claus and depending on which package you choose, there all also other treats available including hot chocolate, gift bags, and caroling with the elves.

Find more New England holiday trains on our Mommy Poppins sister sites.

A version of this post was published in 2017; it is updated annually.

Photos courtesy of the railways

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