Planning a trip to the Polar Express in Palestine, Texas? Here is everything you need to know about the popular Christmas train ride.
Texas is our favorite places to spend Christmas and the holiday season.
The Lone Star State has several Christmas events for all ages including holiday lights, ice festivals, train rides, and more.
The Palestine Polar Express is one of Texas’s best holiday train rides.
Also Read: Best Christmas Towns in Texas
The Polar Express Train Ride in Texas is a great way to get into the Christmas spirit.
It’s also a wonderful opportunity for families to experience something new and festive.
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Where is Palestine, Texas?
Palestine, Texas is a small town in Anderson County, in the Piney Woods region of East Texas.
It is the perfect day trip from Dallas or Houston.
There are many attractions nearby for tourists to explore including the Davey Dogwood Park and Museum for East Texas Culture.
It is also close to Lake Palestine which has boating, fishing, camping and hiking opportunities available.
Also Read: 18 Cool & Awesome Things to do in East Texas
What is the Polar Express, Palestine?
The Polar Express is a Christmas train operated by the Texas State Railroad during the holiday season.
The first Polar Express in Palestine ran in 2007 and has soon become one of Texas’s beloved holiday traditions!
In fact, the 2020 Annual Polar Express train ride from Palestine, Texas carried a record-breaking number of people in spite of the pandemic!
So what exactly is the Polar Express?
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The Polar Express Train Ride in Texas is an exciting holiday event based on Chris Van Allsburg’s book “The Polar Express.”
This train ride features an interactive experience with Santa Claus, Christmas carols, hot cocoa and cookies!
Families can enjoy singing holiday songs with their fellow passengers and experience the mesmerizing story of the Polar Express come to life on their journey.
The experience is a favorite with the kids!
Also Read: 10 Best Gifts for Children who love trains
The Polar Express Experience
So when you purchase tickets to the Polar Express, what exactly are you signing up for?
Here’s what goes down once you arrive for the Christmas train ride at the Palestine Railroad Depot.
Stepping inside the depot is like stepping inside an enchanted fairy land.
The Palestine Railroad Depot, the engine, and the train coaches are all decorated with twinkling lights, wreaths, and ribbons.
The trees at the Depot are also covered in twinkling lights.
It all looks and even smells Christmassy!
(Btw, Do you know they sell Christmas fragrances in a bottle? Perfect if you are like me and love being reminded of Christmas all year long!)
All around you, you will see families and kids holding their golden tickets in hand, and staring wide eyed at the activity of the station.
The Polar Express magic begins as soon as the vintage steam engine pulls the train out of the Depot.
The train conductor, dressed like in the book and movie, punches the Polar Express Golden ticket for everyone!
As the Polar Express movie soundtrack streams in the background and the coaches are filled with the chugging sounds, whistles, and sleigh bells stream.
Also Read: Best Things to do in Texas with Kids
Soon enough, the awesome railroad staff – dancing and dressed as elves – serve hot chocolate and cookies!
Then the staff recites the wonderful tale of The Polar Express; the staff has a big book which they pass along so everyone can take a look.
Some of the movie characters including the Hobo also make an appearance during the train ride to the delight of the kids!
Then the Polar Express train chugs its way to the North Pole, located about 25 minutes away from Palestine, Texas.
While you can’t actually get off the train, everyone gets a chance to see the North Pole from the carriage windows.
The North Pole has elves, reindeers, a big Christmas tree and off course, some fake snow!
At the North Pole, the train picks up Santa Claus!
When Santa Claus comes aboard the train, the kids just go crazy.
Also Read: Best Places to Visit in Texas in winter
They flock around Santa Claus and take photographs, ask him to sign the train ride tickets and Polar Express books, and tell him what they want for Christmas!
Santa Claus patiently interacts with all the kids and gives them a silver bell each – reminding them to believe in the magic!
The Polar Express return trip to Palestine is full of music, Christmas carols, and dancing.
Polar Express Palestine FAQs
Here is some useful information about the Palestine Polar Express Texas train ride that will help you plan your trip.
How long is the polar express ride in Palestine?
Wondering how long is the Texas State Railroad ride? The Polar Express train ride is 1 hour (60 minutes) long.
Where does the Palestine Polar Express depart?
The Polar Express ride departs from Palestine Railroad Depot inside the Rusk Palestine State Park.
The Palestine Railroad Depot is located at 789 Park Road 70, Palestine, TX 75801.
How to dress for the Polar Express?
Palestine and the Piney Woods region can get quite cold in the winter.
We recommend dressing kids in thick holiday winter pajamas and carrying along small blankets just in case.
Be prepared for the chilly weather and keep a watch on the weather apps for any storms.
Tips to book your tickets for the Polar Express
Here are some things to remember before you book your tickets for the magical train ride.
- The tickets for the holiday train get sold out quite fast. Book tickets early in the fall to get your preferred time. You can book tickets here.
- Choose a less crowded weekend for the train ride. Avoid Thanksgiving and Christmas weekends as they have maximum crowds. Any of the weekends prior to Thanksgiving or the early December weekends are good to enjoy the ride.
- The Polar Express departs from Palestine, Texas from late afternoon to midnight. The 5 pm or 6:30 pm ride is our favorite. You get to see and photograph the vintage steam engine in broad daylight, it is dark enough by the time you reach the North Pole to enjoy the holiday lights, and you can take photos back at the Railroad post ride in the dark.
- The North Pole is on the side opposite to the station, so try to get tickets on that side.
Tips for the Polar Express Train Ride
Here are a few tips to get the most from your Polar Express Christmas train ride in Palestine, Texas.
- Go about an hour early before your train ride time to take photographs with the Polar Express at Palestine Railroad Depot without crowds. With an hour in hand, you can find parking with ease, take pictures with the elves, and pick up your Golden tickets.
- Read the Polar Express book and see The Polar Express Movie about a week before you go. That way, the story is fresh in your kids’ minds and they can relate better to the experience. This is especially true for toddlers and preschoolers.
- Take along your own copy of the The Polar Express book to keep kids happy and read along with the staff. Honestly it is much more fun than waiting around for the book to be passed around! You can also ask Santa Claus to sign the book. You may also be able to buy the book at the depot gift shop, but it’s pricey.
- Dress everyone in matching pajamas from babies to adults. It makes a great photo op aboard the Christmas train.
- Ask Santa Claus to sign your Golden ticket and keep it as a souvenir.
- Take along some marshmallows and put them in the hot chocolate served by the staff!
- Stop at the gift shop at the Palestine Railroad Depot before or after your ride. It is crowded but an excellent place to pick up some train themed Christmas gifts!
- Don’t forget to take the time to appreciate the train cars or the engine. The train is a vintage one from the 1920s and very well maintained. The engine is also a classic.
- Don’t forget to take plenty of photos and Santa’s autograph on tickets or books. Gift a polaroid to you kids and enjoy the excitement on their faces as they instantly see their photo with Santa!
Other Events by Texas State Railroad
The Texas State Railroad has many other specialty train rides and events.
Kids love going aboard the Texas State Railroad’s Pumpkin Patch Ride in the fall.
They also have fall foliage rides and Valentine’s day romantic train rides for couples.
There is a spring dogwood and wildflower special, a photography excursion, and an Easter ride as well.
Things to do near Palestine, Texas
Palestine, Texas is one of the best small towns to visit in the Lone Star State.
It is one of our favorite day trips from Houston, Texas.
Palestine is home to many historical attractions as well as a charming downtown district.
If you’re looking for more than just history though, there are plenty of opportunities for outdoor recreation here as well.
Here are some of the best things to do in and around Palestine, Texas.
If you’re looking for a vacation to Palestine, Texas then there are plenty of things to do.
You can go to the courthouse and explore the historic buildings downtown.
If you have time, take a tour of the local wineries or look for treasures in one of the many antique stores.
Rusk, Texas is a charming small town that looks pretty in the holiday season.
Be sure to stop by our historic downtown district where you will find great restaurants, shops and more!
Visit Rusk’s museums and historic sites where you can learn about how early settlers lived in East Texas.
Jacksonville, Texas is a small town surrounded by scenic landscapes and rolling hills.
Though it may be small, there are still plenty of things to do in Jacksonville. From the historic buildings to Lake Jacksonville, this city has something for everyone.
Explore the nature-filled trails by foot or bike, shop at local boutiques, enjoy live music downtown, and visit the historic sites in the area.
Tyler is a small city in East Texas with many things to see and do.
It has history, culture, natural beauty, shopping, restaurants and more.
There are historic homes on the National Register of Historic Places to tour or you can go for a hike at Tyler State Park.
You’ll also find plenty of great places to eat! From BBQ spots to fancy sushi bars there’s something sure to satisfy your palate no matter what it may be craving!