The holiday season brings many magical experiences for families across North Carolina. Hopping aboard a Christmas 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 holiday spirit once they grab a ticket to ride. 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.
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 train with the purchase of a ticket (prices for the 2020 season were $44 for adults; $38 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 visit even more magical. Tweetsie Christmas brings wonder and amazement with its 3-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 40 minutes starting at 5:30pm with the last run beginning at 8:50pm. It’s suggested that guests with larger groups hoping to sit together line up 20 minutes ahead of their assigned 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 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
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 experience 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 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 $19 – $93.
What to Expect on the Polar Express
Beginning November 6th and operating through December 31st, the Polar Express ride takes you on a memorable journey to the North Pole. Trains depart at specific times each day; the earliest being 1:00pm and the latest being 7:45pm. Patrons should arrive 1 hour prior to their ticketed departure time.
The Polar Express trip is a one hour and 15-minute 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 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 Christmas 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 options scattered throughout North Carolina. Check out one of the below:
- Pullen Park’s Holiday Express in Raleigh
- Hubb’s Farm “Polar Express and Santa, Too!” in Clinton
- NC Transportation Museum’s Polar Express in Spencer
- Denton Farmpark Country Christmas Train in Denton
- Museum of Life + Science’s Santa Train in Durham
*Note for 2020: many of these events are canceled or limited due to COVID19 restrictions.*
No matter which 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!