All aboard: 4 enchanting Virginia train rides for a cozy holiday experience

All aboard: 4 enchanting Virginia train rides for a cozy holiday experience

Photo courtesy of Kate Simon

By Aila Boyd

December 14, 2023

While the Polar Express doesn’t run in Virginia, there are a number of trains that still operate in the commonwealth. If you’re looking to go on a cozy adventure this winter, consider riding one of these four trains. 

Virginia Scenic Railway

Location: Staunton

All aboard: 4 enchanting Virginia train rides for a cozy holiday experience

Photo courtesy of Kate Simon

Virginia Scenic Railway is the perfect place to go for a vintage train experience, but with modern elements. “On the Virginia Scenic Railway, sit back and enjoy the modernized ambiance of beautifully renovated passenger cars and enjoy a delectable meal as you glide through some of Virginia’s prettiest scenery, including the legendary Shenandoah Valley and the Blue Ridge Mountains,” the company’s website reads. 

The company’s regular excursions include the Alleghany Special, a three-hour trip that travels through the rolling fields of the Shenandoah Valley on a destination bound for the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests, and Blue Ridge Flyer, a three-hour trip that goes east through the Blue Ridge Tunnel to Ivy in Albemarle County. The round-trip trains depart from the historic Amtrak Staunton station. Tickets include a meal and dessert, along with a beverage that is served in a complimentary souvenir glass. 

Santa’s Scenic Railroad, another seasonal offering, runs between Thanksgiving and Christmas. “Enjoy Virginia’s best new holiday tradition amidst sparkly holiday decorations, with hot cocoa, a cookie and best of all—a special appearance from Santa,” is how the website describes the 50-minute ride. Children will even be given the opportunity to tell Santa what they want for Christmas while their parents take photos. Passengers are welcome to wear festive attire. 

Rappahannock Railroad Museum

Location: Fredericksburg 

All aboard: 4 enchanting Virginia train rides for a cozy holiday experience

Photo courtesy of Rappahannock Railroad Museum

Go for a ride on the Little Yellow Train when visiting the Rappahannock Railroad Museum. It’s a collection of restored former Maintenance of Way equipment from different railroads, including a former RF&P motorcar, a small C&O motorcar and a couple of old B&O passenger cars, that you can now ride in. The train provides visitors a “small glimpse into what it was like 50-60 years ago working for the railroad,” according to the website. 

The train travels on a 2-mile round trip that takes approximately 45 minutes to an hour. Passengers often get to see wildlife in the woods along Deep Run. Passing freight or passenger trains traveling at 50-60 miles per hour can also be spotted at the former RF&P mainline. 

While the train normally only runs during fair weather, as it is an open-air trip, it will occasionally run during snow upon special request. Advanced tickets are not required, with the train running solely on donations. 

Christmas Town Express

Location: Williamsburg 

Make a trip to Busch Gardens to take a ride on the Christmas Town Express. “Sing along to holiday songs while enjoying the lights and decorations along the Busch Gardens Railway train route,” the park’s site states. “This fan-favorite experience features festive caroling, millions of twinkling lights, and themed holiday vignettes placed along the 1.5-mile trip around the World’s Most Beautiful Theme Park.” 

The train is in New France at Caribou Station. It makes one continual loop and does not stop at the train stations located in Scotland or Holiday Hills. 

Amtrak

All aboard: 4 enchanting Virginia train rides for a cozy holiday experience

Photo courtesy of Virginia Museum of Transportation

Amtrak is also worth considering, as it has 21 stations to choose from in Virginia. You can take one of the trains to any number of ideal winter destinations the commonwealth has to offer. While on your ride, you can even enjoy a nice meal or drinks in one of the café cars. 

One trip idea is to take an Amtrak to Downtown Fredericksburg to finish up your Christmas shopping at the countless shops the district has to offer. Luckily, the station is located right in the downtown area. 

Roanoke is another ideal stop. Given the rural surrounding countryside, you’ll get to see some beautiful fall foliage and maybe even a snow-covered mountain in the winter. While in the city, stop by the Virginia Museum of Transportation to view the outside railyard where you can see a diverse collection of locomotives and railcars up close in their natural environment. Depending on when you go, you may get to see the Norfolk & Western J Class 611 steam locomotive. 

Those looking for a romantic winter weekend getaway should consider taking an Amtrak to Alexandria. Visit Alexandria even has a resource for winter date ideas in the city, including going on a coffee date in a charming neighborhood like Del Ray. If coffee isn’t your thing, you and your date can go to Ice & Lights—The Winter Village at Cameron Run. “Ice & Lights provides a fun, outdoor family experience to see unique light displays, take family pictures or selfies with a variety of light displays, enjoy a hot beverage, and snack and take a spin on the ice rink under the stars,” the park’s website states.

  • Aila Boyd

    Aila Boyd is a Virginia-based educator and journalist. She received her MFA in writing from Lindenwood University.

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