As we attempt to demonstrate here on our Explore Retirement Living blog, there is no shortage of unique things to do in Lancaster County, PA.
Many of these attractions bring the vibrant history of our area’s industrial and commercial productivity to life and represent the “oldest” or “first” examples of such activity in the entire United States, as well. Lancaster Central Market is America’s oldest continuously operating public farmers market, the Fulton Theatre is likely the oldest working theatre, and today’s featured destination—the Strasburg Rail Road—may just be our nation’s oldest operating railroad!
If you’re a train enthusiast—or someone in your family loves locomotives (including kid-favorite Thomas the Tank Engine)—you’ve likely visited the small town of Strasburg, which is also home to the state-operated Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania (just across the street from Strasburg Rail Road).
While also a popular lodging town for tourists visiting the nearby Amish communities, Strasburg is certainly, first and foremost, a railroading hub. And the Strasburg Rail Road offers “a full steam adventure” that’s sure to excite visitors of all ages as they hop on board for an old-fashioned ride to Paradise (and back).
Ride America’s Oldest Operating Railroad
The Strasburg Rail Road’s history began with an Act of the Pennsylvania Legislature in the summer of 1832 to incorporate the company as a freight and passenger rail line. Researchers have found evidence that trains were regularly operating as early as 1851, and the Strasburg Rail Road continued to serve as an essential freight line through several wars, including WWI and WWII.
By the late 1950s, the Rail Road was sadly on the brink of abandonment, but several local rail enthusiasts banded together to create a tourist attraction that would revive this historic railroad. Fast forward to the present day and the Strasburg Rail Road is going strong, operating five restored steam locomotives and 20 passenger cars that visitors can pay to ride nearly every day.
Fun Fact: In 1861, during the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln’s visit to Lancaster brought him through Leaman Place, which is the point where Strasburg Rail Road’s short line trains turn back for the station today.
Upcoming Special Event Trains
In addition to the typical excursion train schedule that the Strasburg Rail Road operates most days, there are many popular and seasonal theme trains that run as immersive special events. Here are just a few that will be pulling away from the station from late 2019 through mid-2020.
Wine & Cheese Trains
What’s better than enjoying a relaxing wine and cheese appetizer with friends and loved ones on a Saturday evening? Well, how about all of the above, but aboard a luxurious First-Class Parlor or Lounge train car steaming through the picturesque countryside?
From April through November each year, Strasburg Rail Road hosts special Wine & Cheese Trains on Saturday nights, which include complimentary wine, cheese, and crackers during your 45-minute train ride (for age 21+ only with valid ID). Wines featured are from regional wineries, and cheeses are appropriately paired. Plus, you can purchase your wine glass as a souvenir of your excursion!
Murder Mystery Dinner Trains
While the Strasburg Rail Road operates many trains that feature dining opportunities—including beverages and snacks regularly served in First Class, a fan-favorite special dinner train hosts a fun murder mystery to solve!
Various local performance groups mingle with passengers to bring an ever-changing lineup of “whodunits” to the rails. Note that reservations are required for all Murder Mystery Dinner Trains. 2019 shows run through early November.
Celebrate your favorite holidays with a unique treat! The Strasburg Rail Road helps families get in the Christmas spirit like few other local holiday attractions in Lancaster and beyond. But that’s not all—the Easter Bunny has also been known to make an appearance on special trains during the springtime.
Santa’s Paradise Express
Ride the train with Santa Claus! Each year since 1959, the Strasburg Rail Road has been welcoming the Jolly Old Elf aboard trains throughout the holiday season to greet kids and families. Get your tickets now to join St. Nick on the Paradise Express train from November 23 to December 22, 2019!
The Night Before Christmas Train
Do you prefer an old-fashioned Christmas full of the wonder that the classic story, The Night Before Christmas, inspires? If so—or if you already gave Santa your wish list—Strasburg Rail Road’s very special Night Before Christmas Train is for you! Make your reservation now to ride during select evenings in December and savor the Christmastime nostalgia.
Easter Bunny Train
For just three dates in April 2020, the Easter Bunny makes an appearance—as your train conductor—to the delight children of all ages. Don’t miss this springtime tradition! Get your tickets for Strasburg Rail Road’s Easter Bunny Train now!
A Day Out with Thomas the Tank Engine
If you have young grandchildren, you know that the kids go wild for Thomas the Tank Engine and all his friends. And he frequently visits the Strasburg Rail Road! While this season’s events are happening very soon—at the end of October 2019—you can guarantee that Thomas will be back again in 2020 for more fun! Be sure to follow the Strasburg Rail Road on Facebook for updates!
The Long John Limited
Ah, long johns—those funny-looking wintertime pajamas that so many of us wore as kids to keep warm when the weather was frosty. Or, are we talking about the famous Lancaster County donuts? On the Strasburg Rail Road’s February Long John Limited Train, it might actually be both! Put on your warmest winter attire, grab your complimentary coffee and donut, and climb aboard the Open Air car for a brisk pre-spring jaunt!
Want to Hop on the Train Whenever the Mood Strikes?
If you’re having trouble choosing which railroad adventure above sounds like the most fun, you might just be a true “railfan.” And, one of the best places for locomotive lovers like you to call home is right here in Lancaster County, which is also known as one of America’s best places to retire!