The holiday season brings many magical experiences for families across North Carolina. Hopping aboard a holiday train for the ride of a lifetime is a favorite holiday pastime. Two popular train ride attractions are the Polar Express in Bryson City and the Tweetsie Christmas experience.
Kids of all ages find themselves in the festive spirit once they grab a ticket to ride a holiday train. When you’re ready to ride into the Christmas season and snag a ticket of your own, you’re faced with the difficult decision of which attraction to visit. Fortunately, we’ve done the research for you and have broken down the details of both holiday train experiences below. Now all you have to do is pick out your most festive Christmas sweater and create some magical memories with your family.
Tweetsie Christmas (Blowing Rock, NC)
As the temperature drops, Blowing Rock’s Tweetsie Railroad transforms into a winter wonderland. On Friday, Saturday, and select weekday evenings throughout November and December, guests can ride the open-air holiday train with the purchase of a ticket (prices are $60 for adults; $40for children 3-12; free for children under 2).
A Tweetsie Railroad ride is always memorable, but the addition of twinkling Christmas lights makes a holiday train visit even more magical. Tweetsie Christmas brings wonder and amazement with its three-mile train ride through twinkling holiday light displays. The historic steam locomotive journeys through the Blue Ridge Mountains for approximately 20 minutes as holiday music fills the air. Not only is the train itself decked for the holidays, but the route also includes holiday displays and scenes with thousands of sparkling lights sure to delight the whole family.
The train runs every 30 minutes starting at 5:30 PM. It’s suggested that guests with larger groups hoping to sit together line up 20 minutes ahead of their assigned holiday train ride time. Seating is on a first-come, first-served basis. The open-air train can get quite brisk, so warm layers are also highly recommended.
Although Tweetsie Christmas tickets assign a specific ride time, there is no need to wait to arrive for your allotted time. Gates open at 5:00pm.
Tweetsie Christmas is an incredibly popular event with limited space each night, so it’s recommended for families to purchase their holiday train tickets in advance.
Tweetsie Christmas Attractions
Your pass will include access to the following attractions:
- 3-mile holiday train ride aboard a historic locomotive
- A visit with Santa in his Gingerbread House
- Holiday shopping in Tweetsie’s retail stores
- Amusement rides (including the holiday special, Little Drummer Boy)
- Campfires for warming up and making s’mores
- A taste of the season with holiday fudge and food options in the Cantina or Tweetsie Palace
- Holiday splendor with Christmas trees and holiday lights along Main Street
Polar Express (Bryson City, NC)
Throw on your best Christmas pajamas and prepare to live out one of the all-time best holiday stories on the Polar Express Train Ride NC with the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. This holiday train experience runs November 9 to December 31 and takes you on a roundtrip journey departing from the Bryson City depot.
Each year, North Carolina locals and families from across the South visit this beloved holiday train attraction, eager to spark the seasonal spirit in their hearts. In 2019, the Polar Express in Bryson City provided Christmas cheer to over 90,000 passengers. For this reason, advanced purchase tickets are highly encouraged. Ticket prices vary depending on age and class of ticket but can range from $44 to $99.
What to Expect on the Polar Express
Trains depart at specific times each day, with the earliest starting at 1:00 PM and the latest heading out at 8:20 PM. Patrons should arrive 1 hour prior to their ticketed holiday train departure time.
The Polar Express trip is a one hour and 15-minute holiday train adventure set to the sounds of the motion picture soundtrack. Though it sounds like quite a trip, the magical journey seems to go by in the blink of an eye. As the ride begins, you’re whisked through peaceful, enchanted sights while listening to the holiday story and following along with the book.
No details are overlooked with this Carolina Christmas experience. Hearts are warmed by this incredible experience, while hands are warmed with a delicious cup of hot cocoa. All guests are also offered a special treat of warm chocolate chip cookies. Waitstaff dress in white chef’s coats and hats just like the characters in the Polar Express film.
Staying in line with the plot of the popular movie, Santa Claus greets the children himself when the holiday train reaches it’s North Pole destination. The jolly old man has a special treat, too. Each child (no matter their ticket class) will receive a silver jingle bell as a holiday gift.
Once visits with Santa are complete, the train ride home continues the Christmas celebrations with carol singing. A buzz fills the air as families and friends share their excitement from meeting Santa Claus.
Additional Holiday Train Rides in North Carolina
If you’re unable to attend either the Polar Express Train Ride or Tweetsie Christmas, there are a few smaller holiday train options scattered throughout North Carolina. Check out one of the below:
- BRAND NEW IN 2023: Carolina Christmas Train in Star, NC (Fridays and Saturdays from November 24 to December 16 then every day December 19-23)
- Pullen Park’s Holiday Express in Raleigh (November 29 to December 15)
- NC Transportation Museum’s Polar Express in Spencer (November 10 to December 31, varying hours)
- Denton Farmpark Country Christmas Train in Denton (select dates in November and December)
- Museum of Life + Science’s Holidays in the Park in Durham (select nights in December)
- Santa's Reindeer Roundup Express in New Hill (December 2, 3, 9, 10, and 16)
No matter which holiday train you select to ride this holiday season, you’re sure to create memories to look back on fondly for years to come.
While you’re making plans for the festive season, be sure to check out our list of recommended NC Christmas tree farms for more festive merriment. And, as always, don’t forget to tag us in your Carolina holiday adventures so we can share in the fun!