Great Christmas and Holiday Day Trips near Long Island
Looking for the best holiday day trips from Long Island this year? Check out our roundup below.
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 the Christmas season.
While there's no shortage of holiday happenings on Long Island, there's also a lot going on nearby that makes for a fantastic day trip or quick weekend getaway. From Manhattan to Mystic and Westchester to Pennsylvania, we've rounded up some perfect holiday trips for your family to consider this year.
The unveiling of the spectacular holiday windows at Midtown Manhattan’s department stores signals the start of the holiday season. Photo by Jody Mercier
Christmas and Holiday Day Trips from Long Island
1. 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. Then, make your way down Fifth Avenue, where you'll see more store windows decked out for the holidays, and 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, in its 20,000-square-foot Rockefeller Center location. There are plenty of shows to take in as well, including the famous Rockettes at the Radio City Christmas Spectacular 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 22, 2023. 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.
2. Dyker Heights, Brooklyn
If you're feeling adventurous, rather than returning 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, and even international tourists. You can drive there, but parking is difficult, so mass transportation is your best bet. There are several tours you can take through A Slice of Brooklyn Bus Tours. The neighborhood's Facebook page has more information and updates; and 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 line to 71st Street.
3. Valhalla, New York
Take a ride up to Westchester County, about an hour north of Long Island, for a ton of holiday fun. Visitors can fuel up for the day at one of the many Breakfast with Santa events in the area. Then, after a visit with St. Nick, watch a performance of The Most Wonderful Time of the Year at the White Plains Performing Arts Center, one of the many kid-friendly holiday shows in the area. End the trip with a drive through Westchester's Winter Wonderland at Kensico Dam Plaza Park. Sponsored by the Westchester Parks Foundation, kids and grown-ups will thrill at the many illuminated exhibits and holiday animations, including several 30-foot-tall snowflakes and an elf disco.
Make sweet memories at Hersheypark this holiday season. Photo courtesy of the park
4. Langhorne, Pennsylvania
Hersheypark Christmas Candyland in central Pennsylvania (about a 3- or 4-hour drive from Long Island) is a sweet day or weekend destination for the whole family. It truly is a winter wonderland, with rides for every age group and the entire park decorated with more than 4 million twinkling lights. There's live entertainment, a choreographed light show, animated displays, and, of course, appearances by the big guy himself. You can also check out the park's zoo and tour Chocolate World. If you choose to stay overnight, consider booking the family-friendly Tru by Hilton Chocolate Avenue, which offers family-friendly amenities, including a breakfast buffet, a reinvented lobby with room for work and play, and a saltwater pool. Other theme parks hosting holiday events include nearby Sesame Place and Six Flags in Jackson, New Jersey.
5. Mystic, Connecticut
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, a re-creation of Christmas Eve, 1876, where visitors walk through the town and get a ride on a horse-drawn carriage. On Sunday, December 18, attend the festive Community Carol Sing. During the week between Christmas and New Year's, special holiday events take place during Holiday Magic! During this time, 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 see the many shops and restaurants.
6. Hartford, Connecticut
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, Mark Twain, which is decorated for a late 19th-century Christmas. Hartford is also home to the Connecticut Science Center. While there, be sure to check out the museum's Forest of Illusions exhibit. 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.
Philadelphia offers ice skating, Santa sightings, and plenty of light shows. Photo by Winnie Chung
7. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
There is so much to do and see in Philadelphia this time of year that 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 LumiNature at the Philadelphia Zoo. Then practice your moves as you go ice skating and more at the Blue Cross RiverRink Winterfest. Finish the day with a visit to the Morris Arboretum Holiday Garden Railway.
8. Princeton, New Jersey
Just a short car ride from Long Island is the quaint New Jersey town of Princeton. Palmer Square is the center of all the holiday action, featuring 32,000 festive lights and a large Christmas tree. For even more sparkles, visit the Festival of Trees at Morven Museum, where local organizations decorate the venue's mantels, galleries, and porches for the holidays. After you've had your fill of lights, check out the Princeton Ballet School's performance of the Nutcracker at McCarter Theater. Finish your trip with some holiday shopping at Terhune Orchards, which transforms into a holiday store that features everything you need to trim a tree and gifts for everyone on your list.
9. Essex, Connecticut
Escape New York with a visit to Essex, Connecticut, a small town that oozes New England charm all year and shines during the holidays. One of the most popular events is the North Pole Express, a 90-minute ride on the Essex Steam Train. Also, a big hit is the Connecticut River Museum, which occupies a restored steamboat warehouse. This spot hosts an Annual Holiday Train Show that features a 26-foot layout and scavenger hunts for little ones. If you've built up an appetite, have lunch at the historic Griswold Inn, one of the oldest continuously operated inns in the country, or get tickets for Brunch with Santa at Waters Edge.
10. Cape May, New Jersey
Many consider this Southern New Jersey town a premier summer destination, but Cape May offers plenty during the holidays, including fewer crowds. Santa's Tree Lighting Celebration at the Cape May County Park Zoo offers polar express train rides, holiday music, an ice sculpture demonstration, and FREE admission. Adults and kids alike will love the 35-minute ride on the Cape May Seashore Lines Santa Express. If you prefer different means of travel, join Mrs. Claus on one of Santa's Trolley Rides. Finish the day with breakfast with Saint Nick at Ocean's 7 Restaurant or Congress Hall.