Chicago Polar Express Train Ride

You know a train ride has to be good when tickets for it sell out in July. Yes, that’s right JULY. But let me tell you, there is a reason why. The Chicago Polar Express Train Ride out of Union Station is pure MAGIC. If you are looking for an incredibly memorable way to celebrate the holiday season, climb aboard and enter Chris Van Allsburg’s world. But before you leave the station, here are some things to expect from the Chicago Polar Express Train Ride:

What to Expect from the Chicago Polar Express Train Ride - Dancing

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  • Pajamas. Pajamas as far as the eye can see. Passengers are encouraged to dress in their pajamas, just like the characters who ride the mystical train in the book and film adaptation of “The Polar Express.” Don’t forget to check out my top picks for Matching Family Christmas Pajamas.

What to Expect from the Chicago Polar Express Train Ride - Pajamas

  • A Magical Show. If you have been on a “Polar Express” train through a park district program before, you probably sang some carols, had some lukewarm hot chocolate, waved hello to Santa and called it a day. That’s amateur hour compared to the magical show provided by the trained actors on the Chicago Polar Express Train. Each actor is dressed to the nines, from the conductor to the chefs who dance and twirl while delivering hot chocolate to your seats. The train is decked out with lights, ornaments, music and orchestrated lighting that coincide with the storyline of your train’s journey.
  • An Interactive Experience. From the moment you check in, you and your family are welcomed on a magical, train themed journey. Write letters to Santa, watch some of the “Polar Express” film, enjoy holiday light shows in Chicago’s stunning Union Station, take photos in front of the replica train…and that is even BEFORE you board the train. While on the train, you will chat with elves and the big guy himself, as well as participate in a sing-a-long to some of the most popular and beloved Christmas songs.

What to Expect from the Chicago Polar Express Train Ride - Book Reading

  • Story Time. One of the best parts of the ride is when massive books are displayed throughout the train cabin for a read along of Chris Van Allsburg’s story. I highly recommend bringing along your own copy so that you can follow along and your kids can get a better look at the pictures.

What to Expect from the Chicago Polar Express Train Ride - Hot Chocolate

  • The BEST hot chocolate imaginable. Seriously. I don’t know what they put in it, but it is delicious. Chris Van Allsburg wasn’t lying when he wrote that it tasted like a melted chocolate bar. A cookie is also served alongside it, which is particularly delicious when you dip it into the hot cocoa. Food allergies? This page can address some of your concerns.

What to Expect from the Chicago Polar Express Train Ride - Christmas Magic

  • A gift. Yes, this gift is kind of annoying to parents because it can be so insanely LOUD, but you can’t deny your child the first gift of Christmas, can you? The keepsake bell is inscribed with details about your train ride, and every rider receives a special bell from Santa himself.
  • A Santa photo opp. Just like in the book and movie, Santa arrives and gives out gifts to all of the boys and girls on board the Polar Express. Santa makes his way from the front to the back of the train and spends time with each child, asking what he/she would like for Christmas and reminding everyone to leave cookies and carrots for him and his reindeer. Have your cameras ready for the special moment when Santa gives your child his or her own bell.

What to Expect from the Chicago Polar Express Train Ride - Singing

  • Two hours of fun. From start to finish, you should expect to spend about two hours enjoying the entire Chicago Polar Express Train Ride experience. The ride lasts one hour and travels along the Chicago River, moving forwards and backwards in accordance to the whimsical storyline. Be sure to take enough photos before and after the event in the historic Union Station, which is decked out to the nines for the holidays.


Missed out on Chicago Polar Express Train Ride tickets for this year? Don’t stress! If you have a train lover, don’t miss the CTA holiday train and the other quintessential Christmas in Chicago experiences.

All aboard and Happy Holidays!


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  1. Jeanette says

    We have not ever gone on the Polar Express but I have heard wonderful things about it. I can’t wait to try it with my kiddos. You make it look so much fun and from what I can tell it looks like it will be a blast.

  2. Eirene Heidelberger says

    Thank you for the low down! Going for the first time and I’ll be sure to bring my own hot chocolate. Wink. Wink.
    xo Eirene

  3. candy says

    Riding the polar express was a wonderful experience. The kids even did the same jammies. We still talk about that experience and brings back great memories.

    • Amanda says

      It follows the story of the Polar Express so well…incredibly impressive and such a fun event for the entire family!

  4. Pam says

    This sounds like a magical experience. I have always wanted to go on a Polar Express ride, and this one sounds like they went all out.

  5. Amanda says

    It is such a unique production. Definitely something that my kids will remember when they look back upon their childhood Christmases!

  6. Mary Edwards says

    This looks like so much fun! My kiddos may be too old for this, but I still want to go with or without them. Definitely a way to get into the spirit

    • Amanda says

      It is more of a theatrical experience than a regular train ride, so definitely get tickets early for this VERY special Christmas event!

  7. Debra Hawkins says

    Oh my word. This is the most magical thing I have ever seen! I looks like they put some much attention into the details.

  8. ANOSA says

    Wow, this is so cool! I have never been to but I super love the experience. I wanna go in pajamas as well and experience Christmas feels inside the train!

  9. Practical Mama says

    How fun! We’ve never done this but my sister-in-law took my mom and niece and they loved it. Your matching jammies are my favorite though. You could use the first photo as your holiday card photo.

  10. Garry Turpin says

    We have tickets for the day after thanksgiving leaving out of union station in Chicago. Its a surprise for the kids as they have no idea what we’re doing!! Im just as excited!!! We have our matching jammies all ready to go and counting down the days!!!

  11. Krystal says

    We are planning on grabbing lunch before the experience. Do you have any recommendations for somewhere to eat near the train station?
    Thank you!

    • Amanda says

      We have eaten at the food court because I’m so worried that we are going to be pressed for time! Not the most glamorous but it totally eases my stress!

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