- Things to Do
- Food & Drink
- Where to Stay
- Plan Your Trip
The POLAR EXPRESS™ Train Ride Returns to the Lineup of Holiday Attractions in 2021
There’s no shortage of holiday destinations in Texas, but historic Galveston Island is the only one where you can experience tropical weather and a 32-mile-coast with traditional Victorian charm, a world-renowned Dickens festival and light shows – all within a close drive from the state’s largest city. It’s no wonder Galveston is the Winter Wonder Island of Texas!
Located just 50 miles south of Houston, Galveston is bringing exciting events to its holiday lineup this year with the return of the POLAR EXPRESS™ Train Ride offering rides to the North Pole from the Galveston Railroad Museum.
Here are the top reasons Galveston Island is a holiday destination worth traveling to:
All aboard! Galveston will welcome the POLAR EXPRESS™ Train Ride to its lineup of holiday attractions in 2021. Set to the soundtrack of the motion picture, The Polar Express will be theatrically recreated to immerse passengers in the sights, sounds and intrigue of this classic children’s tale while they are whisked away for a magical one-hour trip to meet Santa. The POLAR EXPRESS™ Train Ride in Galveston consists of six separate cars pulled by vintage locomotives from the Galveston Railroad Museum’s collection. The attraction will be open on weekends and select dates Nov. 18 through Dec. 23. Visit www.galvestonrrmuseum.org.
Moody Gardens Holiday in the Gardens takes place Nov. 20 through Jan. 2. Here, visitors can stroll through Festival of Lights, a mile-long trail of illuminated holiday displays, music, festive food and more. Other attractions include an Arctic Ice Slide, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer 4D experience, Holiday 3D films, train rides and pictures with Santa. New Year’s Palooza also offers an action-packed two-night family event with games, food, DJ, fireworks and other exciting activities for all to enjoy. Holiday hotel packages and Breakfast with Santa events are also available.
On Friday, Nov. 26, the Grand Galvez is reviving its annual Galveston Holiday Lighting Celebration to bring in the holiday season with an appearance from Santa Claus and the lighting of the hotel’s 35-foot Christmas tree. The event takes place on the grand palm tree-lined front lawn of the hotel
Following the tree lighting, Galveston Ballet, under the direction of Janel Amsallem, will perform a medley of variations from the ballet, “The Nutcracker,” along with other ballet favorites. New this year is the addition of the Galveston Symphony Brass Ensemble, under the direction of Sparky Koerner, performing holiday classics such as “Jingle Bells,” “Deck the Halls,” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” Throughout the evening festivities, Grand Galvez staff will collect monetary donations for The Salvation Army of Galveston County.
Santa will be a special guest at downtown Galveston’s tree lighting ceremony on Saturday, Nov. 27 at 7 p.m. Galveston’s police and fire departments will provide a special escort for the man in red and Galveston Mayor Craig Brown will provide remarks. The tree lighting coincides with Galveston Art Center’s ArtWalk, a community-wide event that takes place every six to eight weeks. During ArtWalk, shops, boutiques and galleries remain open later into the evening and features live entertainment at several venues throughout the downtown district.
For holiday entertainment, Galveston certainly won’t disappoint. The Grand 1894 Opera House, which is a gem in the island’s historic downtown district, offers no seat further than 70 feet from the stage for its exciting lineup of live holiday shows happening throughout November and December. Here you can catch shows like Jason Williams in Blood and Holly, The Official Blues Brothers Revue, Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and The Temptations. www.thegrand.com Also, be sure to check out Moody Gardens’ Cirque Joyeux Holiday Show Dec 17 – 30 as a team of acrobats, aerialists, cats and more perform for an enchanting evening of circus, music and comedy with matinee, evening and dinner shows. www.moodygardens.com
Miracle is a Christmas-themed pop-up cocktail bar that serves holiday cocktails in a festive setting. With kitschy holiday décor, professionally-developed cocktails and the nostalgic energy of the best office party you’ve ever been to, Miracle is sure to get even the grouchiest grinch in the holiday spirit. Galveston’s Daiquiri Time Out (DTO) is one of five Texas locations to host a Miracle. DTO is an uber-cool bar in downtown Galveston. Miracle will take place Nov. 23 – Dec. 29. The speakeasy serves up imaginative, craft cocktails using fresh-squeezed juice and house-made spirits. While DTO certainly creates a memorable daiquiri, patrons will also enjoy an array of other adult beverages, especially those of the holiday-themed variety.
A special family-friendly benefit event will take place at The Bryan Museum Dec. 2. Country music legend Clay Walker and his charity, Band Against M.S., will perform an intimate concert. Proceeds will go toward raising awareness for the preservation of Texas history and the fight against Multiple Sclerosis – two causes near and dear to Walker’s heart. The performance will also feature Christmas tree lighting and an opportunity for a VIP experience that will include an acoustic set and a question-and-answer session with Walker. On Dec. 12, The Bryan Museum presents Holiday Delights: A Storybook Christmas. The fourth annual community event is free to the public, including admission to the museum and storybook readings. Food trucks, a Christmas Market and ornament-making round out this event. For more information about holiday happenings at The Bryan Museum, visit www.thebryanmuseum.org.
The first weekend in December, Dec. 3-5, the majestic iron-front buildings found in Galveston’s historic downtown district will make the perfect backdrop for the 48th annual Dickens on The Strand. This holiday street festival transforms the area, particularly Strand Street, into the Victorian London of Charles Dickens complete with costumed characters, street performers and vendors, parades, holiday food and drink, Victorian-inspired crafts and more. Attendees are encouraged to join in the fun by dressing in period costumes. www.galvestonhistory.org.
More than 40 shops, galleries, businesses and boutiques will participate in the second annual Galveston Holiday Tree Decorating Contest taking place from Dec.1 – Jan. 4. This exciting event lets shoppers admire the creatively decorated trees and gives them the opportunity to vote on their favorite entries. The trees also make for great holiday photo-ops! Details can be found at participating businesses and at www.visitgalveston.com/tree
With Galveston being home to one of the largest collections of Victorian architecture in the country, it’s not hard for the island to put you in a nostalgic state during the holidays – especially on the East End Historical District’s Victorian Christmas Homes Tour. The tour will take place Dec. 3. This event allows you to tour through several of the district’s private historic homes as they are decked in traditional holiday décor. And, if you’re not in town that weekend, the 1895 Moody Mansion museum is open for tours daily and is also dressed up for the holidays with festive trimmings and elaborately adorned Christmas trees throughout the home.
For a unique holiday experience, join the Galveston Island Nature Tourism Council for “Holiday with the Cranes.” This annual birding event will be held Dec. 11-12 as outdoor enthusiasts celebrate the arrival of these large, majestic birds of ancient origin. Events include indoor and outdoor nature activities and presentations combined with the arts and ambiance of historical Galveston Island. www.galvestonnaturetourism.org.
If you’re a runner or just like to dress up, you’ll get a kick out of the Santa Hustle, one of Galveston’s wackiest events. More than 5,000 half-marathon and 5K runners are expected to convene in Galveston Dec. 19 for this jolly race where participants are provided Santa attire – including a Santa suit shirt, Santa hat and beard – to wear along their journey. The route is lined with speakers playing holiday tunes and fuel-up stations serving cookies and candy. Yum! www.santahustle.com/galveston
For images and B-Roll, see visitgalveston.com/media.
Galveston Island is a historic beach town located on the Gulf of Mexico just 50 miles from Houston. The island is best known as a vacation destination, offering 32 miles of beaches, a variety of family attractions, Texas’ premier cruise port and one of the largest and well-preserved concentrations of Victorian architecture in the country, including several National Historic Landmarks. Galveston Island is the birthplace of Juneteenth and home to popular amusements such as Moody Gardens and Schlitterbahn Galveston Island Waterpark, as well as a variety of museums and recreational activities from surfing to birding. For more information on Galveston Island go to www.visitgalveston.com or call 1-888-GAL-ISLE.