Trains are trending right now, especially in Houston. We've got miniature trains that would make any model collector swoon with envy, and we also have a few hop-on-board trains designed to take us through the holiday season. We made a list, and we're checking it twice. So pull into the station, check the schedules and let's go.
If words like HO scale and S gauge are familiar, you'll appreciate Trains Over Texas over at The Houston Museum of Natural Science. Built from scratch using O scale models, this ginormous display calls for multiple trains crisscrossing the Lone Star State, whizzing past Enchanted Rock, Pedernales Falls, The Balcones Escarpment and even Big Bend.
Each of the major cities in Texas is represented, but we especially like the iconic "Be Someone" graffiti used for our fair city. It's the brainchild of David Temple, the associate paleontologist over at HMNS, and Roger Farkash, the creative director and chief traingineer for Train Worx. It's the largest indoor O scale railroad in Texas and is roughly the size of a tennis court. It took nine months to build and three 53-foot trucks to deliver to HMNS. It currently has a Christmas theme but, come January, they're going to "super" it up by adding a stadium and a sports theme.
Trains Over Texas runs daily, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., through Super Bowl LI (February 5). Closed December 25. 5555 Hermann Park Drive, 713-639-4629, hmns.org. The exhibit is included with admission to the permanent exhibit halls. Free to $25.
The model trains over at Second Baptist Church are bigger and better than ever this year. They're spread out in the atrium of the Woodway campus, with ladders strategically positioned for better viewing. It pairs perfectly with this year's new Christmas show, Christmas Under the Big Top, a dramatic telling of a high-flying family tasked with keeping the circus alive. Nine performances are scheduled between December 16 and 20; ticket prices range from $10 to $25. Also on view in the narthex of the worship center are six glass display cases featuring nativities from around the world that are made with every type of material imaginable. Some of the crèches are crude and clearly handmade, while others are polished and sparkle like the sun; the collection was amassed by Gerald B. Ray, who served as the music minister from 1970 until 1998.
There are seven different train displays in the atrium at Second Baptist Church, featuring miniature worlds from the movie Frozen, a village scene from the town of Bethlehem, Disney characters and so much more. The longer you spend viewing the exhibit, the more you'll see. Teddy bears are climbing the ladder to decorate a tree, lights twinkle brightly and an overhead train weaves its way throughout the atrium area, while little ones can play pop-up inside a dome for an up-close look at the miniature action.
Christmas train viewing is available Mondays through Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Wednesdays, 5 to 7 p.m.; and 30 minutes before and after each of the worship services (Saturdays at 6 p.m., Sundays at 9:30 and 11:11 a.m. and Christmas Eve) and 30 minutes before and after each of the Christmas Under the Big Top performances. Through January 1. 6400 Woodway, 713-465-3408, second.org. Free.
Last year's Christmas Village at Bayou Bend was such a success (yes, yes, we know about the lines) that the organizers over at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, went all in for the next round. Not only have they expanded the holiday lights into a butterfly-shaped garden and added a faux snowball zone, but they also increased the hours of operation, expanded the number of days they're open, reinforced the popular bridge to better handle all that foot traffic and, in a stroke of genius, instituted timed tickets for viewing the Ima Hogg mansion. But what really put us in a tizzy is what's happening inside the colorful stained glass and mirrored spiegeltent: model trains!
Inside the Belgian tent of mirrors is a 12-foot Christmas tree, and it's surrounded by three sets of tracks running around the tree through themed villages of west Texas, old England, an Alpine village and an American cityscape with skyscrapers and modern buildings. One of the MFAH staffers channeled his passion for model trains and, after 1,000 man-hours and a little help from elves, assembled the display. There's a snowman at the entrance and about every five minutes he blows snow outside the spiegeltent.
Christmas Village at Bayou Bend runs daily, 5:30 to 10 p.m. Closed December 24, 25 and 31. Through January 1. 6003 Memorial, mfah.org/christmasvillage. Free to $23.
As amazing as the model trains are, there's no forgetting that childhood joy of falling in love with Thomas the Tank Engine and then actually taking that first ride on a train or playing conductor. Growing up in Houston means that your first locomotive experience was probably on the Hermann Park train, which is still chugging faithfully down its two-mile track.
Both the Hermann Park train and Kinder Station have been decorated for the holiday season. The train has three stops along the way: the M.D. Anderson Train Station (across from The Houston Museum of Natural Science), the Sunset stop (near Rice University) and a stop near the Buddy Carruth Playground for All Children.
The Hermann Park train runs December 12-15, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; December 16-23, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; December 24, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; December 26 through January 1, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; January 2-5, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; January 6-8, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; January 9-12 , 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; January 13-15, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Closed Christmas Day. 6100 Hermann Park Drive, call 713-528-0827, hermannpark.org. $3.50 to $7.
Typhoon Texas has been transformed into a 25-acre Christmas wonderland with miles of lights, synchronized light shows, outdoor ice skating and even a workshop where little ones can make crafts and take photos with characters while elves build Santa's toys. WinterFest also has a train that runs through the park to get better views of the Christmas lights, a family-friendly big slide and even a petting zoo. Don't forget to fuel up at the concession stand for s'mores, hot chocolate and cider, apple dumplings, doughnuts and caramel apples, then hop back on the WinterFest Express for more holiday fun.
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WinterFest runs Sundays through Thursdays, 6 to 9:30 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays, 6 p.m. to midnight. Closed Christmas Day. Through December 31. 555 Katy Fort Bend Road, Katy, 832-426-7071, typhoontexas.com/WinterFest. Free to $24.95.
This one's a little bit out of our geographical comfort zone, but it's so good at spreading the magic of Christmas that we couldn't resist including it. Head out to the Texas State Railroad depot in Palestine, Texas (about two and a half to three hours from Houston), and hop on board for a one-hour round trip journey to the North Pole. Cheerful, dancing chefs will serve up cookies and hot chocolate while everybody reads along with The Polar Express, by Chris Van Allsburg.
When the train gets to the North Pole, Santa Claus and his helpers board the train and give each child a very special Christmas gift: a silver sleigh bell. After everybody waves good-bye to Santa, the chefs lead passengers in singing Christmas carols for the ride back. Families are encouraged to wear pajamas for the ride.
The Polar Express Train Ride runs December 13-23 and 26-28, with departures scheduled at 2, 3:30, 5, 6:30 and 8 p.m. Not all dates have all departure times, so check the website for details. Texas State Railroad, Palestine Station, Park Road 70, Palestine, Texas, 877-726-7245, texasstaterr.com/the-polar-express-train-ride. $25 to $115.