Nothing truly marks the start of the holiday season in Bryson City quite like that first night that the Polar Express pulls into the train station. A beloved Christmas tradition, this special Great Smoky Mountain Railroads ride is the only way to reach the one and only North Pole from our side of the western North Carolina mountains, with magical excursions leaving our depot regularly from November through December. Ready to get your golden ticket? We’ve rounded up everything you need to know to plan your perfect Smoky Mountain holiday adventure!

Polar Express Inside Train Cab Dancing

Get Ready for True Christmas Magic

The excitement of evening begins as soon as your train pulls into its station, with that signature train whistle letting you know that your Polar Express journey will be one you won’t soon forget. As you board, you’ll be greeted by cheerful ticket takers, holiday music from the much-loved film and a train car decorated with sparkling streams of tinsel, presents to take to Santa’s Workshop and more. The train will soon gently leave the station, chugging along through our quiet wilderness as you travel to the North Pole. Along the way, Santa’s elves dance, sing and, of course, serve out delicious hot chocolate. You’ll also hear a whimsical retelling of the storybook that started it all.

Polar Express Story Telling

As your train nears the North Pole, you’ll begin to see a Christmas Village emerge before your eyes. Spot the Post Office where Santa receives his letters. Wave hello to elves tinkering away at the workshop. Try to find Santa’s reindeer, who are all getting ready for their big trip on Christmas Day. Your train will soon slow to a stop to allow for the best surprise of all - Santa will board your train to greet all of the good children aboard! As you make your way back to Bryson City, Santa will pass through each train car to say hello and give everyone a special Christmas bell to commemorate their time at the North Pole. Once you return to the Depot, he will stop and snap photos before he whisks back to finish presents before the big day. It’s truly a magical journey from start to finish that will delight both the young and the young at heart.

Polar Express High Five Santa

We recommend arriving at the Bryson City Depot an hour before your train embarks to check in, snap photos and prepare for your ride. While you wait, you can browse for merchandise at the Depot’s gift shop and tour the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad Model Train Museum, one of the best and largest collections in the South. 

Reserve Your Golden Ticket

Polar Express Golden Ticket

The Polar Express begins its seasonal excursions on Thursday, November 10, 2022, running three rides per evening most days of the week. There are no rides on November 14, 15, 24 or 28. Starting in December, train rides are available daily excluding Christmas Day, following the same three rides per evening schedule. Trips are rarely canceled due to weather, but it does happen on occasion.

Polar Express Child

Seats can be purchased in either Coach, Crown, Premium Crown or First Class. Prices vary based on class, age of rider and the time of season. Children are cheaper than adults, while ticket prices for babies are even lower. Off-peak rides in November are also typically cheaper than December trips. Regardless of seat class, all riders get to meet Santa, enjoy hot cocoa, sing along to classic Christmas carols and soak in the magic and storytelling of this holiday spectacular. Tickets can be purchased, here:

Soak in the Season in Bryson City

Christmas in Bryson CityIn addition to those memorable trips to the North Pole, Christmas magic can also be found around every corner in downtown Bryson City. Every year, our mountain town turns into a picturesque holiday Hallmark postcard, complete with a 20-foot decorated Christmas tree, streets lined with twinkling lights, storefronts adorned with decorations and wreaths and sparkling snowflakes hanging from street poles. Wander our idyllic streets and shop for everyone on your nice list at boutiques such as Humanite. Enjoy only the sweetest flavors of the Smokies by picking up artisan candies and chocolates from the Chocolate Shoppe. Starting on November 10, 2022, those who stop by the visitor’s center can also get an extra treat as Santa’s best helpers hand out hot cocoa and cookies while you write and mail off your letter to the big man himself.

Smoky Mountains Christmas Light Spectacular - ALL NEW IN 2024

Video Thumbnail - youtube - Bryson City's Smoky Mountain Christmas Light Spectacular 2022

A magical new holiday tradition has made its way to Bryson City. You and your Christmas crew can be some of the first to see the Smoky Mountains Christmas Light Spectacular. From the comfort and warmth of your own car, drive through a dazzling spectacle of towering LED light displays that whimsically follow the magic of an Appalachian Christmas. Listen along with music to truly immerse yourself in this glittering display. Ticket information will be available shortly and can be purchased in advance or at the gate. The Light Spectacular dates and hours will also be posted shortly for 2024.

The Yard Ice Skating Rink

The Yard Ice Skating Rink

Nothing says wintertime quite like grabbing a pair of skates and hitting the ice. The Yard Ice Skating Rink opens for the holiday season and provides plenty of family fun until winter ends. Located near the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad Train Depot, you can watch and wave at passing trains as you skate along this outdoor rink. On-site food trucks provide tasty bites, drinks and snacks. Tickets are $20 per person and include one hour of skate time, skate rentals and a hot chocolate.

Other Can’t-Miss Holiday Events in Bryson City:
Tree Lighting Ceremony

Christmas Tree LIghting Event

Join us at the Visitor Center and Heritage Museum for our downtown Tree Lighting Event on November 26, 2022. Christmas caroling and live nativity starts at 5:00 PM. Complimentary hot cocoa and cookies. Kids can write their letters to Santa and put their letters in the mailbox. At 6:00, the mayor of Bryson City will light the 24-foot  Christmas trees on the front lawn. In the true Spirit of Christmas bring a canned good to donate to the local food pantry or a new unwrapped gift for the local toy drive! 

The Annual Holiday Market:

Holiday Market

Local artisans and craft makers also come together every holiday season as our downtown hosts one of the best Christmas markets this side of the mountains. The market takes place on select dates in December. The fun takes place at Aquarium Park.

2022 Dates Include the Following Fridays and Saturdays:

  • November 18 - 19
  • November 25 - 26
  • December 2 - 3
  • December 9 - 10
  • December 16 - 17
The Bryson City Christmas Parade:

Christmas Parade

Wave hi to Santa and Mrs. Claus as this spectacle parades through our downtown streets on December 3, 2022.

Christmas Hayride:

Darnell Farms Christmas

Head on over to Darnell Farms for an outdoor hayride through a majestic Christmas light forest, and a reindeer barn lit with twinkling lights, opening on November 16, 2022 . This much-loved holiday event has wonderful holiday photo opportunities, a farm playground and seasonal goods available to bring home. Hayrides  are $12 per person and include your choice of hot coffee, hot cocoa, hot apple cider or bottled water. Children two years of age are free to ride as a lapped rider only, but no hot drink will be provided. Learn more at