Holiday trains in Chicago

Where to see choo-choos, large and small, that chug on Christmas cheer.
By TOC Staff |
Photo: Andrew Nawrocki

Lincoln Park Conservatory Winter Flower and Train Show
Open Daily 9am—5pm

The Lincoln Park Conservatory, at the north end of the Lincoln Park Zoo, holds its annual flower and train show this winter. Maroon, white and pink poinsettias will be displayed throughout the greenhouse as an old-fashioned steam engine, freight train and trolley chugs its way through the Show House. The best feature this year is the fact that the room has been transformed into a village of miniature Chicago bungalows, the Water Tower and the Chicago Theatre.

Museum of Science and Industry train
Monday through Friday, 9:30am—4pm; Saturday and Sunday, 9:30am—5:30pm

The Museum of Science and Industry has an especially elaborate and informative take on the holiday train. "The Great Train Story" features 1,400 feet of track and 30 trains. The trains, hauling every different material under the sun, represent the journey from Seattle to Chicago by rail. The trains must cross two different mountain ranges and need interactive help from museumgoers in order to drill mountain tunnels, raise or lower a drawbridge, and load lumber onto a freight car.

Garfield-Clarendon Train
Last Friday of every month

Join the members of the Garfield-Clarendon Model Railroad Club for their monthly operating nights at the end of the month. Meetings are open to the public for anyone who wants to see quality model trains running. Their model has more than 1,400 feet of track, making it one of the largest in the world.

Wonderland Express
November 26, 2010—January 2, 2011
Open Daily 10am—6pm (Closes at 3pm Dec 9 and 24; Closed on Dec 25)

Take an enchanting adventure into the wonderland of fairy lights and falling artificial snowflakes at the Chicago Botanic Garden.  750,000 lights twinkle as you walk into the garden, but it is the tiny train exhibit that creates the magical holiday wonder.

A 10,000-square-foot exhibition houses 12 trains that rumble across bridges, under trestles, past waterfalls and through 80 mini replicas of Chicago’s favorite landmarks, including the museum campus, Old St. Pat’s Church and the long-gone Chicago Stadium. The neatest future on the teeny train is the mini snowflakes that dust the train cars and the heads of those who watch. This adorable exhibit won our model-train smackdown last year and this year the nostalgic holiday treat will be sure to mesmerize once again.

Enchanted Railroad at Morton Arboretum
November 26, 2010—January 2, 2011
Open 9am—4pm (Closed Dec 24 and 25; Jan 1)

This season nine trains weave through the “Enchanted Railroad” at the Morton Arboretum, and create quite a vision for viewers to observe. The holiday theme this year is “Mother Earth” and it incorporates the holiday spirit with trees, to create a wintery scene that will warm your heart. The model-train exhibit features tiny skaters that guide across frozen ponds, but the niftiest feature is the engine on one car equipped with a camera that broadcasts to a television screen, offering guests a passenger’s eye-view.

Holiday CTA
Runs on scheduled dates from Nov 20—Dec 22 (Check for specific times)
The CTA has always seemed, to us, more akin to Scrooge than Santa.  But, the CTA always manages to find a bit of money in its budget to keep the 17-year tradition of its Holiday Train on the rails. Running during regular service hours (go to for a schedule), the six-car train looks, inside and out, as if it was tricked out by a second-grade teacher supplied with lights, bows, garland and various other holiday accoutrements. On an open-air flatcar rides Santa and a helper (volunteer CTA employees) who hand out candy canes and wave at riders while holiday songs bellow through the speaker system. Frankly, it’s all pretty surreal, especially for the unsuspecting jet-lagged tourist who just wants to get to the airport.

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