Guide to Holiday Train Shows in NYC: NYBG Train Show, Grand Central, and More

The enchanting NYBG Holiday Train Show adds an all-new outdoor display to its lineup in 2023. Photo by the author
The enchanting NYBG Holiday Train Show adds an all-new outdoor display to its lineup in 2023. Photo by the author
11/16/23 - By Jody Mercier

Trains are a way of life for most New Yorkers, but come Christmastime these holiday train shows in NYC add a little sparkle to New Yorker's favorite form of transportation as little engines and cabooses take center stage during the holiday season.

The New York Botanical Garden's Holiday Train Show is always one of our must-do Christmas events in NYC, with electric model trains whizzing by nearly 200 NYC landmarks made out of acorns, twigs, bark, berries, leaves, and other botanical bits and pieces. My family and I make it a point to go every year—it's truly a quintessential New York holiday experience. There's a reason it's No. 43 on our list of the top 100 things to do with kids in NYC.

But, the big NYBG holiday train show isn't the only holiday train show in town. Read on for more details on all the Christmas train shows the city has to offer this season, including the return of the beloved New York Transit Museum's Holiday Train Show for the first time since 2019. And, for an extra special holiday treat, take the kids on a full-size Christmas train ride with these nearby Polar Express and Santa trains.


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Holiday train shows in NYC: - Holiday Train Show at Grand Central Terminal
The Holiday Train Show at Grand Central Terminal is a perfect diversion from Midtown's holiday crowds. Photo by Janet Bloom

Holiday Train Show at Grand Central Terminal – Midtown East

Thursday, November 16, 2023-Sunday, February 25, 2024
Located in the heart of the city at Grand Central Terminal, the New York Transit Museum resurrects its holiday train show for the first time since 2019. See O-gauge trains traveling along 34 feet of track spread out over this two-level layout.

RELATED: Must-Do Christmas Events and Holiday Activities in New York City

Holiday Train Shows New York Botanical Garden's Holiday Train Show
The New York Botanical Garden's Holiday Train Show is the largest and most elaborate in NYC. Photo by the author

New York Botanical Garden's Holiday Train Show – Bronx Park

Friday, November 17, 2023-Monday, January 15, 2024
This train show is the city's tour de force, and this year the NYBG holiday train show is expanding its footprint with an all-new outdoor installation. Of course, you'll see beloved sights as NYC is re-created in miniature with nearly 200 iconic landmarks crafted from a botanical bounty of materials like pine cones, acorns, and seeds. Set beneath the gleaming dome of the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, the NYBG Holiday Train Show is a particularly magical attraction come evening; time it right and you can catch NYBG Glow, the Garden's outdoor light show, which returns for a third season.

The Gingerbread City – South Street Seaport

Saturday, November 18, 2023-Sunday, January 7, 2024
Here's a sweet treat for train lovers: The Gingerbread City, brought to life by the Museum of Architecture, is a sugary sweet wonderland of everything you'd expect to find in a real city, only made out of gingerbread in miniature. Of course, New Yorkers know no city is complete without a fleet of trains and you'll find a collection of them in this confectionary wonderland.

RELATED: Guide to Holiday and Christmas Events for NYC Families

Holiday train shows in NYC: New-York Historical Society's Holiday Express
The New-York Historical Society is once again back with the popular Holiday Express train display. Photo by Drew Kristofik

Holiday Express at the New-York Historical Society – Upper West Side

Friday, November 24, 2023-Sunday, February 4, 2024
The New-York Historical Society is back with its popular Holiday Express display showcasing its Jerni Collection of trains, buildings, figures, and decor. The installation highlights American and European toymakers' designs dating as far back as the turn of the 19th century and highlights the Golden Age of Toy Trains with its display from firms including German manufacturers, Märklin and Bing, as well as the American toymakers Lionel and Ives.

Macy's Santaland – Midtown West

Friday, November 24, 2023-Sunday, December 24, 2023
Still not loco-ed out? Macy's Santaland has a gorgeous Lionel Train display (serviced annually by a Lionel expert!), and it's free to ooh and ahh at as you watch it chug around the holiday decorations while waiting to see the man of the season. Don't forget to reserve a time and date to chat with Santa, or maybe book a breakfast meeting with Saint Nick!

Paley Express at PaleyLand – Midtown West

Saturday, November 25, 2023-Sunday, January 7, 2024
This multimedia museum gets a makeover for the holiday season with its transformation to PaleyLand and the fun includes plenty of photo-ops, face time with Santa, and interactive fun. Train lovers won't want to miss its magical winter wonderland featuring the Paley Express, a classic train display on the experience's second floor.

RELATED: 49 Holiday Activities Every NYC Kid Must Do

Holiday train shows in NYC: - Holiday Nostalgia Train Rides New York Transit Museum
Hop aboard and celebrate the magic of New York City during the holidays with a ride on the Nostalgia Train! Photo courtesy of the museum

Holiday Nostalgia Train Rides – East Village to Harlem

Saturdays December 2, 9, 16, 23, and 30
Every year, the MTA and the New York Transit Museum roll out vintage subway trains decked in holiday finery. The Holiday Nostalgia Rides bring vintage R1/9 train cars from the 1930s back into regular service from the Second Avenue stop all the way up to 145th Street traveling over the F and D lines. If your little one can't get enough of riding the subway or bus (ah, the sweet innocence of youth), this is a once-a-year treat that's well worth the trip.

Bonus: If you'd rather ride a holiday train than gawk at one, head to the Holiday Lights at the Bronx Zoo, where a festive locomotive takes you on a couple of loops of the Fountain Circle.

This post, originally published in November 2009, is updated annually.

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