The Chicago Holiday Train — All Aboard!

The Chicago Holiday Train — All Aboard!

Visit the Windy City for a unique trip on Chicago Transit Authority’s Holiday Train.

By: Vera H.

A ride on the CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) Holiday Train is a unique experience and one not to be missed during the holiday season in the Windy City!

Whether you like or even celebrate the holidays, this cheerful train is sure to make your spirits bright. For families in particular, I guarantee it is one of those experiences you will remember for years to come, and if you live in Chicago, this might even become one of your family’s holiday traditions (as is the case with our family).

The Holiday Train is actually a “regular” six-car Chicago subway/elevated train used for public transportation, just seriously dressed up for the holidays.

According to my research, the CTA Holiday Train first appeared on Chicago’s “L” tracks in 1992.

“That first year, employees posted a sign on the front of the train that read, ‘Seasons Greeting from the CTA.’ The train delivered food to various charities around the city. Today, the train delivers some 300 fully stocked food baskets to 30 area charity groups,” the Chicago Current reported.

The Holiday Train was almost shut down in 2004 due to budget cuts, but luckily, it was saved at the very last minute so this delightful Chicago holiday attraction could continue spreading joy throughout the city during the holiday season.

Over the years, the Chicago Holiday Train decorations have become much more elaborate with train cars spectacularly decked out both on the outside and the inside.

Why You Need to See It
Covered with thousands of bright glittering lights, the train itself is “pulled” by reindeer and led by Santa on an open sleigh, waiving to the boarding passengers and on-lookers alike while merrily shouting “Ho, ho, ho!” (I’m not kidding!). Once on board, passengers are greeted by cheerful elves handing out candy canes and singing carols.

The car interiors are decorated with bows, garlands and, of course, green and red lights. The hand poles are transformed into (inedible) candy canes and the seats are covered in festive holiday upholstery.

I discovered the Chicago Holiday Train unexpectedly many years ago during a downtown commute from work, but its magic really came to life when we experienced it as a family. When we first took our children to see and ride the Holiday Train, they literally squealed with delight. Now, slightly older, they love watching the happy commotion on the train platforms when the train comes to stop at each station, joining in the singing of carols and giggling at funny signs and riddles posted inside the cars. (“Why did Rudolph put pepper on his holiday cards? He wanted to send seasoned greetings!”)

For me, the best part is observing fellow passengers, beaming with holiday cheer, wishing each other the best — and for once not minding that the train might be crowded or late.

The Holiday Train runs through the months of November and December on select CTA lines at select times (normal CTA fares apply). As spectacular as it is, I often hear that many Chicagoans have heard of the train, but have never actually ridden it. It often comes as a surprise for many commuters who come to catch their “regular train” just like I did more than a decade ago. And, as you can imagine, most out-of-town visitors do not know it exists.

Now that you know of this great Chicago holiday attraction, check out the CTA website for this year’s exact times and routes and enjoy your ride!

You may also enjoy:

Chicago Museums with Great Holiday and Winter Themed Exhibits
10 Best Things to do in Chicago Over the Holidays
Chicago Attractions With a View – Seeing the City from Up High
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Search for deals on Hilton’s Chicago hotels


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A native of Slovenia, Vera is a writer for Hilton Mom Voyage and moved to the U.S. 20 years ago after meeting her soul mate in an American exchange student. She currently lives on the North Shore of Chicago with her now-husband and their two children. She frequently writes about her observations on marketing to moms on the company’s blog, Our Perspective, and contributes to other publications and media.

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