The best places to catch a Santa Special train in Devon

Santa Claus waving from the open window of a steam train.

Santa will welcome you aboard the Polar Express at South Devon Railway. - Credit: PNP EVENTS 

Here’s 4 great places for the family to catch a Santa Special train in Devon this Christmas season, writes SU CARROLL 

There is something magical and exciting about stepping aboard a steam train – especially at this time of year. The screech of the whistle, the hiss of the steam and chugging of the train as it picks up speed. And we’re off! An adventure awaits as woodland, villages and brightly lit towns slide past. 

Devon is fortunate enough to have some beautiful heritage railways that offer magical Christmas experiences to families. Santa specials take their captive audience on a journey of discovery and excitement with the chance to meet the great man himself.  

A Polar Express Christmas train with steam coming out from its engine.

The iconic Polar Express at South Devon Railway. - Credit: PNP EVENTS 

At South Devon Railway based in Buckfastleigh you can board The Polar Express with its sleek black steam engine and the 1225 sign which identifies it as Santa’s own train.  

Fans of the film The Polar Express will be on familiar territory here as they are greeted by the Conductor and his crew as you head towards the North Pole. The Conductor will clip your Polar Express tickets and pyjamas are encouraged – just like in the film. 

Santa will climb on board the train at the North Pole to meet all the children and hand out gifts. When you arrive, visit the Christmas market with food and drink and enjoy a 20-minute show before the train departs. On your return you can visit Santa’s Workshop and the gift shop. Services start on November 27 and continue at various times until December 23.  

Railway engine at the platform of the Plym Valley Heritage Railway in Plymbridge Woods.

The Santa Specials raise much-needed cash for the restoration work at Plym Valley Railway. - Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

Plym Valley Railway was founded in 1980 to restore part of the Great Western branch line between Plymouth and Tavistock which was closed in 1962. Their Santa Specials at Christmas are great fun for families but also raise much-needed cash for their restoration work. This year’s services are operating on December 4, 5, 11, 12, 18, 19 and 20-22. You can travel first class in carriages seating six, or standard class with tables seating four.  

You will depart from Marsh Mills Station for the journey to Plym Bridge where children can meet Santa and receive a gift and play in the snow. 

A steam train's lit-up carriages festooned with Christmas fairy lights.

The Train of Lights passing through South Devon on the Dartmouth Steam Railway. - Credit: Dartmouth Steam Railway

Nothing says Christmas like the twinkling of lights and at Dartmouth Steam Railway you can enjoy a magical and festive display as you journey on the Christmas Train of Lights from Paignton to Kingswear.  

Board the beautiful steam train with her vintage carriages at Queen’s Park Station in Paignton. The show begins a short journey later at Churston Station as you pass through the 450-metre Greenway tunnel into an enchanted forest with thousands of lights. 

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Soon the magical forest gives way to the twinkling lights of Dartmouth, reflected on the river Dart. After a turnaround at Kingswear (when you can take photos) you head back home during which time Santa will visit everyone on board. Services run from December 3-23. 

A steam train on the Lynton & Barnstaple Railway with the rolling hills of Exmoor in the background.

Lynton and Barnstaple Railway is a narrow gauge heritage railway with steam locomotives and restored original carriages. - Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

There’s a more informal approach at the Lynton and Barnstaple Railway – a narrow gauge heritage railway with steam locomotives and restored original carriages. The normal timetable operates (at the usual prices) and all passengers will be offered a mince pie and a hot drink.

There’s no need to book in advance, just turn up and if trains are full you can wait in the refreshment marquee for the next one. Services run on December 18, 19, 21-24 departing from Woody Bay.