St. Nikolausbahn — i.e. Gillrath Christmas Train

UPDATE:  Tickets are already sold out or nearly gone for half the rides this year.  Check the dates and times online.  You can get your tickets at the Gillrath or Schwierwaldenrath stations or at several other locations listed on the Nikolausfahrt information page on the train website.
This annual train ride is very special and something to do with the kids at least once if you’re in Germany’s Nordrhein-Westfalen region in November or December.

What: A sweet family event/tradition and something special to do on a cold weekend.
Go: Absolutely. At least once.
Where: Gillrath, Germany
Cost: Adults 9 Euros/Children 6 Euros

Tickets: I recommend booking ahead of time especially if going with a group. You can buy tickets at the booth when the train is running or at the locations listed on the website. (Go to, then click on “Nikolausfahrten” on the left.

Dates: Check out the German St. Nikolausbahn information on the website for dates. The site will tell you which dates are sold out or close to being sold out.

What to expect:
Our first year here we took the kids on the St. Nikolausbahn – the special Christmas holiday steam train ride in Gillrath. It was spontaneous and we had no idea what to expect. This year, we did some planning and it’s a good thing. This special train ride, though it’s been around since the early 70’s, is really catching on and filling up. If you have a large group, it is wise to get tickets ahead of time either at the
locations on the website, or at the little ticket booth
itself in Gillrath.

About 2 hours total, you will board the train in Gillrath right by the Gruenes Warenhaus, go a little way in the antique steam train, then stop and wait for a very special visitor to arrive in a carriage.

Have your camera ready. It is a beautiful – especially on a cold snowy day. St. Nikolaus will go through every train car with his companion, Black Peter, handing out goodie bags to all the children with a large traditional bread, a clementine, and a chocolate bar.

When you arrive in Schierwaldenrath, everyone rounds the corner to a large building filled with tables and benches. Christmas music plays. Hot waffles, bratwurst, gluwein, cocoa, and other foods are available for purchase. St. Nikolaus will come in and sit on the stage by the Christmas tree. Kids line up and show him their talent – usually by singing a song, playing an instrument, or, for the little ones, reciting their ABC’s or counting. The time is very nice – people are happy – the children really enjoy it and it’s a wonderful piece of German culture that we get to be a part of.

On both the rides to and from Schierwaldenrath, beverages are served in most of the cars (not free), so if someone comes around asking if you’d like a “trinken,” then you can order something hot. The conductor does check tickets both coming and going, so be sure to have those handy.

People are allowed to stand outside the train cars on the small deck. I wouldn’t recommend allowing small children as it is dangerous and can get crowded, but especially on a cold day, it is absolutely beautiful and quite peaceful to watch the billows of steam rising over the farmland.

Nikolauslied is the name of a very traditional and popular song sung by children this time of year. You’ll hear many of them singing it for St. Nikolaus on stage. Click on the link for the lyrics or Google the name to find another site with the lyrics online.

Our second year.
Our third year.
Our fourth year (scroll down to Dec 6).


About Tiffany

I'm eclectic. Sometimes that's a good thing because I can do bits of everything. Sometimes it's aggravating because I get distracted by so many amazing things. Mostly, I love photography and family, travel and writing, cooking, reading, art, and coffee. Sundays are church days to regroup and refocus. God's in charge here.

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