North Carolina Polar Express Rides (2023): A Complete Guide

Last revised: August 5, 2023

By: Adam Burns

Official "The Polar Express" train rides have become very popular events for the entire family during the Christmas season since the release of the 2004 Warner Brothers movie.

The holiday attraction has become a tradition for many families during the Christmas season. Based on the classic children's book by Chris Van Allsburg, "The Polar Express" trips offer a magical experience for both children and adults alike.

During the ride, passengers board a train that is decorated in a festive holiday theme, and the train's conductors are dressed in period clothing. Passengers are encouraged to wear their pajamas and bring along their own copy of The Polar Express book to read along during the ride.

Once the train departs, hot cocoa and cookies are served to passengers, and a live reading of The Polar Express is performed over the train's intercom. As the train travels along its route, passengers are treated to a variety of holiday sights and sounds, including carolers, Christmas lights, and visits from Santa and his elves.

Other Activities

Some other popular holiday events happening around North Carolina during November and December included the following...

Speedway Christmas

Located at the Charlotte Motor Speedway, this event features a drive-through Christmas light show that includes over 4 million lights, a Christmas village with a petting zoo, and a festive movie screening.

Biltmore Estate Candlelight Christmas Evenings

Asheville's Biltmore Estate is transformed into a magical holiday wonderland each year. Visitors can explore the estate's stunning decorations, listen to live music, and watch the elaborate candlelight displays.

Tanglewood Festival of Lights

This annual event, located in Clemmons, features a drive-through Christmas light show with over 1 million lights, as well as a gift village and a marshmallow roasting pit.

Christmas Town USA

The small town of McAdenville, North Carolina, is transformed into a winter wonderland each December. Visitors can enjoy over 500,000 lights, a live nativity scene, and a variety of holiday activities.

Winterfest at Carowinds

Carowinds amusement park in Charlotte offers a holiday-themed event each year, complete with ice skating, a 70-foot tall Christmas tree, and a nightly holiday parade.


Great Smoky Mountains Railroad

(Bryson City): One of the nation's top tourist railroads can be found in Bryson City, North Carolina.  The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad has been a top attraction within the state's western mountains since it formally launched in 1988. 

It utilizes a section of the Southern Railway's historic Murphy Branch which ran 123.1 miles from Asheville to rural Murphy where a connection was established with the Louisville & Nashville. 

The line's rugged profile and beautiful topography draws in thousands annually, thanks in part to its relatively close proximity to Asheville (about an hour away).  The GSMR currently operates the Bryson City-Nantahala segment, 30.7 miles. 

To read more about the railroad please click here.  The company also features one of the nation's premier versions of The Polar Express during November and December. 

The railroad offers four different levels of service including First Class, Premium Crown Class, Crown Class, and Coach.  Whichever you choose, the accommodations are top notch; few other places operate such a superb fleet of passenger cars. 

The Polar Express Dates: 

  • November 9-12
  • November 15-22
  • November 24-26
  • November 28-December 24
  • December 26-31

North Carolina Transportation Museum

(Spencer): The best railroad museum in the Tarheel State and one of the best in the nation, the NCTM was born thanks to a generous donation by the Southern Railway. 

In 1977 it handed over four acres of its Spencer Shops complex (including three buildings) to North Carolina (another donation occurred in 1979 when more buildings and structures were donated). 

Unlike some, the state has fully embraced this gift, turning it into a major tourist attraction and historical center.  Visitors can learn about the railroad's impact on North Carolina and also take a train ride behind restored steam and diesel locomotives. 

NCTM's collection is primarily focused on those systems which served the state.  While there are several railroad pieces, including a number from the Southern Railway, their collection also includes trolleys, planes, and historic vehicles.   

The museum hosts several special events throughout the year, including official The Polar Express trips from mid-November through December. 

If you are considering a visit to a railroad museum soon or riding an excursion the NCTM offers a wonderful experience. 

The Polar Express Dates: 

  • November 10-11
  • November 17-19
  • November 24-26
  • December 1-3
  • December 7-10
  • December 12-23
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