All aboard! If you believe in the magic of Christmas, throw on your best holiday pajamas and round up your family and friends to embark on a magical Christmas experience unlike any other. These rides are a memorable way for kids to visit with Santa and the perfect opportunity to create a holiday train ride tradition with your family. Many of these rides include story time with the kids, meals or themed snacks, holiday crafts, and music.
These events tend to fill up very quickly and tickets are limited. Please check out the list below if you’re hoping to snag a ticket before the train leaves the station!
This article is sponsored by the Magical Santa Experience from Pixels by Emily.
Magical Santa Experience
Pixels by Emily
704 E Franklin Street
Mahomet, IL 61853
Pixels by Emily’s Magical Santa Experience combines a wonderfully interactive private experience with Santa with iconic Norman Rockwell-style Christmas portraits. Santa’s Magic Workshop and a Cozy Fireside Living Room delight children with authentic props and whimsical details for an unforgettable experience.
Before the session, children will be mailed a special Golden Ticket invitation. The 45-minute session includes milk and cookies with Santa, telling Santa their wish list, storytime, finding their name on the Nice List, tales of the North Pole and the story of the Reindeer Calling Bells, wish list transport to the elves at the North Pole using Santa’s Magic Box, wooden toy painting with “magic” paint, searching the globe with Santa to find home, a vintage small bottle of Coca-Cola in the toy shop scene, and more!
Book your session for the Magical Santa Experience, with options in September, October, and November.
December 3, 2023 – January 1, 2024
It’s back! Ticket sales for groups 20+ start August 17 and individual tickets on August 23, 2023 at 9am CDT. This highly anticipated return since before 2020 will sell out quickly.
FAQ and Tips for the Chicago Polar Express
Where is the best place to sit?
Each of the cars of the train for the Chicago Polar Express have different themes to match parts of the book “The Polar Express” by Chris Van Allsburg, such as Silver Bells and Glacier Gulch. The car you book doesn’t matter because they are all decorated to match the theme (unless you have a favorite part!). However, we recommend choosing seats in the front of whichever car you choose so you are closest to the action.
How far in advance do you recommend arriving?
The train boards 25 minutes before the time of your ticket. You will need about 15 minutes for all of the photo ops they have at Union Station and about 15 minutes between Will Call and a trip to the restrooms. Nicole’s family arrived at the station at 11:10am for a 12:10 departure time and felt it worked out perfectly.
How long is the train ride?
The Union Station Polar Express train ride is a little over an hour.
Do you think my 4 and 1 year old will enjoy it?
Absolutely! Nicole’s one year old was dancing and clapping to all of the songs. Her five year old was entranced and was able to participate. He danced with the conductor and helped to give the first gift of Christmas
What is the “sweet spot” age to enjoy the Chicago Polar Express?
We would probably say 4-7 years old is the best age for maximum enjoyment of the Union Station Polar Express, or any of the polar express rides below. Although members of our team have brought older and younger siblings, who have also had a great time.
Is the Chicago Polar Express too loud for a newborn?
The music and songs are amplified throughout the train and microphones are used, but you never feel blown away by the sound. You are able to hear each other talk to one another. There were a lot of babies on board and in the past they also offered a sensory-friendly ride.
December 2, 2023 | 9:00am, 11:00am, 1:00pm, 5:00pm, and 7:22pm
A storyteller reads The Polar Express as pajama-clad children and adults enjoy cookies. Once the train reaches the North Pole, kids will meet Santa and bring him back to Addison. Children age 6 months or younger do not need a ticket. Tickets are $30 per person.
December 2 and 3, 2023, 9:30am – 12:00 pm and 1:30pm – 4:00pm
Train departs to pick Santa and his friends. Lunch or dinner will be served at Aurelio’s Pizza. Every child will have an opportunity to share his or her Christmas wish list with Santa. Under 18 tickets are $35 ($42 for non-resident), 18+ tickets are $40 ($48 for non-resident), and children under 11 months old are free.
December 3, 2023
Options for the day include:
- Polar Express North Pole VIP Excursion: Three separate options for breakfast or lunch. The day starts at Two Brother’s Roundhouse for a meal and a special visit from Santa. Registration opens August 21, 2023.
- Polar Express Storytime Train: Morning and afternoon options available. Boarding at the Downers Grove station, head to the North Pole at Two Brothers Roundhouse for either a breakfast or lunch buffet in Aurora for games, pictures with Santa. Registration opens August 21, 2023.
- Polar Express Storytime Bus: Morning and afternoon options available. Travel by a decorated bus to the North Pole at Two Brothers Roundhouse in Aurora for games, pictures with Santa, and a buffet. $55/person. Registration opens August 21, 2023.
- Please note, children must be at least two years of age to participate.
December 7 & 8, 2023
Journey to the North Pole with Santa and Mrs. Claus on the North Pole Express. Kids will create a holiday craft, holiday snacks and get their ticket stamped by our very own conductor! Passengers will board at the Orland Park 143rd Street Metra Station. This event is intended for immediate family members only and children must be over 3 years old to participate. Tickets are $25 for residents and $33 for non-residents.
December 8, 2023 | 4:30pm, 6:00pm
December 9, 2023 | 2:00pm, 4:00pm, 6:00pm
December 10, 2023 | 4:00pm, 6:00pm – 7:00pm
Oswego Holiday Express is back, so put on your warmest apparel and enjoy the ride. Mrs. Claus will greet you along with a chance to meet Santa. You’ll also sip hot cocoa during the ride. Resident ticket price is $25, non-resident ticket is $35.
December 8-10, 2023 | 9:45 (December 8 only), 9:15 and 11:15 departures (December 9 and 10)
Depart from the Wheaton Train Station for a magical experience which includes a story, holiday music, and treats. Each registered child receives a small gift from Santa and a goody bag. Tickets went on sale October 3 at 8:00 am. $22/person.
December 16, 2023 | 5:00 pm
Hop aboard the train, departing at the Jon Duerr Forest Preserve for cookies, hot chocolate, and the re-telling of the famous Polar Express. Train tickets cost $45/residents or $47/non-residents.
December 3 and 10, 2023 | 9:15am, 10:15am, 11:15am, 12:15pm, 1:15pm and 2:15pm
The annual event starts and ends at the Oak Park Conservatory. Games, fun activities, cookies, songs and a visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus can be expected at this event. Tickets are $23 for Oak Park residents and $28 for non residents.
December 18 – 20, 2023 | 1:20pm – 4:00pm
Departing at Mount Prospect, the train will bring you for a journey with a stop at the North Pole for more winter fun. Children 11 months and under are free, but must still be registered to participate. Priced at $22 per ticket.
Thursday – November 30, December 7 and 14, 2023 | 5:00pm to 8:00 pm
Friday – December 8 and 15, 2023 | 5:00 pm to 8:00 pm
Saturday and Sunday – December 2 and 3, 9 and 10, 16 and 17, 2023 | 2:00 pm to 7:00 pm
(Special Needs Night) Friday – December 1, 2023 | 5:00 pm to 8:00pm
Blackberry Farm transforms with twinkling lights, holiday decorations and holiday music. Kids can ride the Holiday Express train and take a hay wagon ride. There will be crafts, a reindeer food bar, story readings of holiday classics and a special visit with Santa. Tickets are $10 and sales begin November 9 at 9am.
November 25 and 26, December 2, 3, 9, 10, 16, and 17, 2023 | 3:00pm, 4:15pm, 5:30pm, and 6:45pm
This experience will see you on a train ride to the North Pole where Santa will surprise the kids by boarding the train. There will be caroling and sing-alongs with professional musicians, too. $50/person; all riders require a ticket, regardless of age.
November 25, 2023 | 9:11am-11:40am
November 27, 2023 | 1:11pm-3:40pm
Take a special train to the North Pole, sip on chocolate milk and sing holiday carols. Upon arrival at the North Pole (Fox Lake), Santa Claus will hop on for the ride back to the Glenview Metra station.
December 10 and 18, 2023
A storyteller will be on the train will read the story by Chris Van Allsburg while you enjoy Christmas cookies. After reaching the North Pole, Santa Claus will board the train and ride back with everyone.
Polar Express Rides Not Yet Announced for 2023
Check back for updates, or follow the events directly to get updates on availability.
- Storytime Train by the Burr Ridge Park District
- Happy Holiday Railway at the Illinois Railway Museum in Union
Check out our Kidlist Holiday Guide for more family fun during the holidays!