Tips for Catching the CTA Holiday Train

Reminder, this information is updated every year! 🙂

I will never forget one of my darkest days teaching. I just found out that one of my students was hurt in a terrible accident, right before the holidays. My heart ached for his family. While waiting for the train to take home after what felt like the longest day ever, I started brainstorming ways to cheer them up. And then it appeared, right out of thin air (ok, ok…there was a ton of rumbling just like any other El train)…the CTA holiday train! I’m utterly convinced it was a Christmas miracle to cheer up both my beloved student and everyone who loved him. I happily took tons of videos and pictures and sent them to my student, who thankfully has fully recovered and is now enjoying his busy life as a college student.


Photo courtesy CTA.

The CTA Holiday Train is one of the most magical ways to inject some joy into your day. But here’s the thing…it is hard to track down. Yes, there is a CTA Holiday Train schedule posted, but it gets behind schedule pretty quickly because, well…if you are lucky enough to get on the holiday train, you want to stay awhile. So here are some of my tried and true tips for catching the CTA Holiday Train before it retires on Christmas Eve:

  1. Get on the train at the beginning of the line to avoid the crowds. If you can’t get to one of the first two stops, be sure to at least meet the train before it gets downtown where the major crowds are.
  2. Try to visit the holiday train on a boring weekday either right when it starts (runs from 3-7 p.m. on weekdays) or after rush hour.
  3. Only able to catch the CTA Holiday Train on the weekends? Then track it down on Saturday. Even if the crowds are larger, this year there were will be an additional six car “Elves Workshop Train” running immediately behind it on Saturdays from 1-8 p.m.
  4. Is the El just plain inconvenient for you? Then check out the CTA holiday bus as a back up option! It starts running on November 29th.
  5. Whether you visit the Holiday Train or Holiday Bus…leave your stroller at home. Baby wear or hold your kiddo because there isn’t much space for your stroller, especially if you have a double wide like me.
  6. To ensure that you actually get ON the train, take exterior train photos when you are getting OFF the train. That way you don’t miss boarding it. Trust me, I speak from experience.
  7. Want to try to get a picture with Santa, who rides on his open air sleigh at the front of the train? Saturday is the only day it is allowed.
  8. Use the train tracker to keep tabs on the CTA Holiday Train if you are a planner like me. Yes, things can disrupt the schedule, but I always love knowing when the train is coming so that I am as prepared as possible.


Photo courtesy CTA.

Happy Holidays!


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  1. Donna Ward says

    I am so glad your student recovered! And, it did seem like a timely miracle – the Holiday Train! I never knew about this – But, I’ve never been in your area 🙂 Happy Holidays

  2. uprunforlife says

    This looks like a fun way to spend a bit of quality time with the family during the holidays. I am so thankful that your student didn’t suffer long-term health problems from the accident.

  3. CourtneyLynne says

    Omg!!!!!! How festive is this train?!?! Wish I was in the area because that would be one epic ride and even better Insta photo lol

  4. Mo says

    Just an FYI, Santa was in the middle of the holiday train we caught on Saturday (brown line). So if you are waiting at the front of the platform to see him you can’t until you get off and he flies by!

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