Blogger, Writer, Urban Adventurer
Maybe it’s all those readings of The Polar Express, or maybe it’s the images of model trains chugging around a Christmas tree, but there is no denying that trains and the holidays seem to go together like hot cocoa and marshmallows. This season, Houston has several ways to experience the magic of trains with model trains, actual train rides and a few reindeer games. Here are five of our favorite holiday train rides for Houston families!
Trains Over Texas at the Houston Museum of Natural Science
Houston Museum of Natural Science
5555 Hermann Park Drive
When: Now through the holidays
Cost: Free with general admission to the museum—$25 for adults, children $16
What to expect: The Houston Museum of Natural Science is finally bringing back this impressive O-scale model train display that celebrates state pride in a big way by recreating iconic Texas landmarks. The largest indoor O-scale display in Texas, this puppy is the size of a tennis court. Kids will recognize the oil country, salt domes, prairies and wetlands alongside national monuments like Enchanted Rock, Pedernales Falls, Big Bend National Park and The Balcones Escarpment. See if you can pick out the train routes to Galveston, Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin and San Antonio.
Pro tip: While you’re there, consider getting tickets to Art of the Brick, Stonehenge or a screening of Superpower Dogs in 3D. If you would rather stay in the holiday spirit, visit the Cockrell Butterfly Center’s White Christmas. For the holiday season, the rainforest is filled with hundreds of white butterflies and white flowers that make this tropical spot seem downright seasonal.
Texas State Railroad’s Polar Express
Texas State Railroad Palestine Depot
789 Park Road 70
When: November 16-December 28, 2019
Cost: Varies—adults $45-$100, children (ages 2-12) $30-$75, or adult (with lap child) $55-$110
What to expect: If you are a serious Polar Express fan, plan a trip to Palestine, Texas to take a ride on the Texas State Railroad Polar Express. Get aboard this real-life train for a 60-minute immersive ride with hot cocoa, cookies, PJs, Santa, and a reading of the book Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg.
Pro tip: Palestine is about a three-hour drive from Houston, so you may want to make a weekend out of your trip. If you do plan to drive up there and back in one outing, be aware that they request you arrive 45 minutes prior to your ticketed time. PJs are encouraged for all of the riders, but make sure you bring jackets and sturdy, closed-toe shoes.
6001 Fannin Street
When: December 1-January 5, 2020. Holiday hours vary, so be sure to check their website.
Cost: $3.75 a rider, children one and under free
What to expect: The Hermann Park Train is getting a holiday makeover! Starting December 1, you can catch a ride on the Holiday Train. It’s outfitted with lights and festive garlands, which makes nighttime rides even more special. Trains typically leave the station every 25 to 30 minutes, and the entire ride around the park is roughly 18 minutes.
Pro tip: The Holiday Train is a great addition if you are already planning on heading to Zoo Lights.
The Christmas Train at Victory Camp in Alvin
1407 Victory Ln
When: December 6-7, 12-14 and 16-23, 2019. Weekdays 6:30-9:30pm; Friday and Saturday 6-10pm
Cost: Tickets $10 online and $12 at the door; select discount nights $8; children under two free. Note: they strongly encourage you to purchase tickets ahead of time and arrive at least 30 minutes prior to boarding time.
What to expect: The Christmas Train in Alvin has been keeping holiday spirits on track for nearly 20 years. Organized by volunteers from the LS Church, the old-fashioned train ride takes you through over 300,000 lights and Christmas decorations (think gingerbread villages and penguin snow lands!). If the train isn’t enough for you, there is also a fully lit walking path with more lights.
Pro tip: You can bring hot chocolate and popcorn on the train ride if you purchase them from the concession areas; there are also storytimes with Mrs. Claus and a Santa to snap photos with. If you forget to eat beforehand, Big Al’s is also serving up pizza.
Reindeer Bootcamp at Rosenberg Railroad Museum
1921 Avenue F
When: December 14, 2019
Cost: $8, though be advised—the museum tour is not included. Up to two adults may accompany the child, and the activities are geared for kids ages three to seven.
What to expect: When trains are always in season at your museum, for the holidays you need to be a bit “extra.” This year, the Rosenberg Railroad Museum is planning a “Reindeer Bootcamp,” where kids will get a chance to see if they have what it takes to be one of Santa’s elite team members. There will be several “training” stations to test your balance, agility and flexibility. At “Up on the Rooftop,” you’ll need perfect balance beam walking; then, get your running shoes on to maneuver through the “Christmas Trees” (or cones), on your route to make all of those toy deliveries. It’s not all games, though—there is some fun thrown in, too, with crafts and cookie decorating.
Pro tip: If you can’t make the Reindeer Bootcamp, don’t fret! The museum is also participating in Rosenberg Christmas Nights on December 6 and 7 for citywide celebrations. Santa will also be in on December 6 for photos.