Last revised: October 26, 2023
By: Adam Burns
While they are very popular, not every heritage railroad and museum wants to host officially licensed "The Polar Express" train rides due to the costs involved. As a result, many organizations have taken to operating their own Christmas-themed experiences, and each one is just a bit different!
In North Carolina you can ride such a train at the New Hope Valley Railway in Bonsol. More information about their trips may be found further below. If you are interested in locations in the Tarheel State offering official "The Polar Express" rides please visit this page.
North Carolina is a state that embraces the Christmas spirit and offers a variety of holiday events and festivities for locals and visitors alike. From festive light displays to holiday markets, there is something for everyone during the holiday season.
If you are interested in some other ways to enjoy the Christmas season with family and friends that doesn't include a train ride, here are some of the most popular Christmas events that occur throughout North Carolina each year.
Holiday Festival of Lights (Enchanted Airlie)
(Wilmington): The North Carolina Arboretum hosts the Holiday Festival of Lights each year. With more than 500,000 lights and numerous displays, visitors can stroll through the gardens and experience the magic of the holiday season. In addition to the light displays, the festival also features live music, hot cocoa, and other festive treats.
Tanglewood Festival of Lights
(Clemmons): The Tanglewood Park transforms into a winter wonderland with more than 1 million lights during the holiday season. Visitors can drive through the park and enjoy the light displays, including a 30-foot-tall Christmas tree made entirely out of lights. In addition to the drive-through, visitors can also take a horse-drawn carriage ride or enjoy the holiday festivities at the park's barn.
The Moravian Christmas Lovefeast
(Winston-Salem): The Moravian Christmas Lovefeast is a traditional holiday event that takes place at the historic Old Salem Museums & Gardens in Winston-Salem. Visitors gather in the candlelit sanctuary for a special service that includes hymns, prayers, and the sharing of a sweet bun and coffee or cider, symbolizing the love and fellowship of the season.
The Festival of Lights
(Greensboro): The Festival of Lights in Greensboro is a popular event that has been taking place for over 30 years. Visitors can drive through the festival's light displays or take a leisurely stroll through the gardens, enjoying the twinkling lights and festive holiday music. There are also horse-drawn carriage rides and visits with Santa Claus.
In conclusion, North Carolina offers a variety of holiday events and festivities for locals and visitors alike. From light displays to holiday markets, there is something for everyone during the holiday season.
(Bonsol): One of North Carolina's hidden treasures is the New Hope Valley Railway, a division of the North Carolina Railway Museum.
It is one of only two locations in the state where the public can experience a heritage railroad (the other is in Spencer at the North Carolina Transportation Museum).
Situated southwest of Raleigh in the small community of Bonsol the New Hope Valley Railway operates a 5 mile section of the former Seaboard Air Line to New Hill.
They offer a nice experience and their close proximity to Raleigh, the Research Triangle, and the I-40 corridor allows the museum to draw nice crowds each year.
For train enthusiasts you can see several preserved diesel switchers and two steam locomotives, Carbon Limestone 0-4-0T #17 and Cliffside 2-6-2 #110.
Both of this historic engines are currently under restoration and should further bolster ridership once they are back under steam.
During the month of December, on select weekends, the railroad hosts Santa’s Reindeer Roundup Express where kids can meet Santa, take pictures, and enjoy a festive holiday experience.
Please note! These trips are hosted in open-air cars so please dress accordingly.
The Aberdeen, Carolina & Western Railway is a short line operating in the southwestern-south central part of North Carolina between Charlotte and Aberdeen/Gulf. The railroad currently operates about 139 miles of track.
In 2023 the AC&W announced its first ever Carolina Christmas Train running as far as Star, North Carolina. Tickets will go on sale in August, 2023.