Great Holiday and Christmas Season Day Trips Near Long Island
While we all have plenty to do this time of year, it’s important we remember to schedule some family time to celebrate the joy of this season.
Luckily for us, there’s no shortage of holiday happenings on Long Island. But there's also a lot going on not far from here, making for an awesome day trip or quick weekend getaway. From Manhattan to Mystic; from Westchester to Pennsylvania; and plenty of stops in between, we’ve rounded up the perfect holiday trips for your family to consider this year.
Every kid should experience Macy's Santaland at least once. Photo by Mike Coppola
New York City
Is there any place more magical than New York City during the holidays? We don’t think so. Leave the car at home, hop on the Long Island Rail Road and head straight to Penn Station. From there, walk down 34th Street to Macy’s Herald Square. Marvel at Macy’s windows and stop in and say hi to Santa in Santaland. Make your way down Fifth Avenue, where you’ll see more store windows decked out for the holidays (including Lord & Taylor’s final window display), and then head to Rockefeller Plaza to see the city’s iconic tree. While you’re there, do some ice skating or watch other skaters as you sip hot cocoa. Also, be sure to visit Manhattan’s famous toy store, FAO Schwarz, which recently opened a new 20,000-square-foot location. There are plenty of shows to take in as well, including the famous Rockettes at the Radio City Christmas Spectacular; How The Grinch Stole Christmas! at The Theatre at Madison Square Garden; or one of the many performances of the Nutcracker around the city. One of our seasonal favorites, the Holiday Train Show, delights at the New York Botanical Garden until January 21, 2019. Access the botanical garden via the Bronx River Parkway, Metro-North Railroad, the B or D subway lines to Fordham Road, or the 2 or 5 subway lines to Bronx Park East.
The Brooklyn neighborhood of Dyker Heights lights up for the holiday season. Photo by Alex Fitzpatrick
Dyker Heights, Brooklyn
If you’re feeling adventurous, rather than return to Long Island after your NYC excursion, take the R or D subway lines to the Dyker Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn. There, you’ll find block after block of houses extravagantly lit up for the holidays. The destination is super popular, attracting visitors from all over the country, even the world. You can drive there, but parking is difficult, so mass transportation is your best bet. There are a number of tours you can take through A Slice of Brooklyn Bus Tours. The neighborhood’s Facebook page has more information and updates. For more fun things to do in the area, check out our guide to Brooklyn neighborhoods. If coming directly from Long Island, take the LIRR to Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn, then take the D subway to 71st Street.
Valhalla, New York
Westchester’s Winter Wonderland at Kenisco Dam Plaza Park, about an hour north of Manhattan, overflows with holiday attractions and events for families. Sponsored by the Westchester Parks Foundation, visitors will thrill to the Winter Wonderland Holiday Circus, a tented circus featuring trapeze artists, a family-friendly comedian, and other live performers; a visit with Santa; an outdoor ice rink. FUNerland Village features amusement rides, a Lights of Wonder Show; and lots more. Food and retail vendors are on hand. Since most attractions are outdoors, be sure to bundle up.
Make sweet memories at Hersheypark this holiday season. Photo courtesy of the park
Hersheypark Christmas Candyland in central Pennsylvania (about a three- or four-hour drive from Long Island) is a sweet day or weekend destination for the whole family. With many rides open for every age group and the whole park decorated with more than 4 million twinkling lights, it truly is a winter wonderland. There’s live entertainment, a choreographed light show, animated displays, and of course, the big guy himself, and his reindeer. You can also check out the park’s zoo and tour Chocolate World. If you choose to stay overnight, there are special holiday packages for the Hershey Lodge and The Hotel Hershey. For an extra-special treat, make reservations for breakfast or lunch with Santa. Other theme parks hosting holiday events include nearby Sesame Place and Six Flags in Jackson, New Jersey.
Enjoy the sounds of the holidays at Mystic Seaport Museum's annual Community Carol Sing. Photo courtesy of the Mystic Seaport Museum
Take the ferry from Orient Point to New London, Connecticut (about a 90-minute trip) and then drive east 10 miles to Mystic, where there are plenty of holiday sites to see. The main attraction is Mystic Seaport Museum. Don’t miss the museum’s Lantern Light Tours: Finding Your Place, which is a re-creation of Christmas Eve, 1876, in which visitors walk through the town and get a ride on a horse-drawn carriage. On December 16, attend the festive Community Carol Sing. During the week between Christmas and New Year’s, special holiday events take place during Holiday Magic!, when visitors can explore the museum’s 19th-century seafaring village, historic ships, and maritime exhibits. Be sure to visit Olde Mistick Village, where you can stroll through the 18th century-themed village and visit the many shops and restaurants. Mystic Aquarium offers a number of holiday events, including Winterfest with Rudolf & Friends, Pancakes (or Pizza) with Penquins and Santa, and much more.
To visit this New England capital city, take the roughly 75-minute ferry from Port Jefferson to Bridgeport. From there, head north on Interstate 95 to I-91 and Hartford, where you’ll find the majestic family home of one of America’s most beloved authors. The Mark Twain House & Museum hosts a number of holiday events, including a live radio drama of A Christmas Carol on December 1, and the Holiday House Tour, which includes a tour of the author’s home as well as four other private homes in the area, all decorated for the season. The Connecticut Science Center is also located in Hartford—be sure to check out the museum’s Butterfly Winter Wonderland and the kid-friendly Season of Sound concert on December 1. Don't leave Hartford without a visit to Bushnell Park, where Winterfest is in full swing with free skating, rentals, lessons, and more. Before you head home, enjoy dinner or lunch in one of many family-friendly restaurants in and around Hartford.
Historic Philadelphia offers lights, ice skating, Santa sightings, and an authentic Christmas market. Photo courtesy of Visit Philly
There is so much to do and see in Philadelphia this time of year, it should be a must-visit destination for every Long Island family. From the season-long Electrical Spectacle Holiday Light Show to an outdoor holiday market that’s reminiscent of a traditional German Christmas market, and holiday light shows, a visit to Philly will get the whole family feeling over-the-top festive. If you have the time, be sure to take in a live performance of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol; go skating and more at the Blue Cross RiverRink Winterfest; and take a ride on the Morris Arboretum Holiday Garden Railway.