Trains are a way of life for most New Yorkers, but there's something particularly special about the little engines and cabooses that take center stage during the holiday season. The New York Botanical Garden's Holiday Train show is one of the best things to do with kids in New York City during the Christmas season, with electric model trains whizzing by more than 150 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 on our list of the top 100 things to do with kids in NYC.
But the big NYBG display 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 Botanical Garden's big spectacle). And for an extra special holiday treat, take the kids on a full-size Christmas train ride with these nearby Polar Express and Santa locomotives.
The New York Botanical Garden's Holiday Train Show is the largest and most elaborate in NYC. Photo courtesy of NYBG.
New York Botanical Garden's Holiday Train Show – Bronx Park
New York Botanical Garden, 2900 Southern Boulevard
Saturday, November 17–Monday, January 21, 2019
A new model of the One World Trade building anchors the show this year as one of the downtown landmarks debuting in 2018. Boy does it sparkle! We can't wait to see it at night as it takes its show-stopping place in the reflecting pool surrounded by the first boats to grace the show, new replicas of the Battery Maritime Building, Woolworth Building, and the Oculus. Of course, Lady Liberty stands nearby keeping watch.
A few tips before you head out: Though the train show is included in an all-garden pass, timed tickets are required. Consider purchasing in advance to ensure you get the window you want. The show—and garden—get particularly crowded this time of year. If possible, visit early in the season, on weekdays, or in the evenings to avoid the crowds. Have your camera ready to capture the trains, ornate replicas of NYC landmarks, and all the other seasonal photo ops throughout the garden. If you have infants or toddlers, take note: Strollers are not allowed in the train show. You can park them outside, but be prepared with a carrier. Lastly, train show tickets can get pricey at peak times on holiday weekends, so save some money by taking mass transit. The Metro-North stops right across the street; while a ride on the B, D, or 6 trains to Bedford Park Boulevard drops you just a 15 minute walk away.
RELATED: 30 Free Holiday Events in NYC for Kids
The colorful mini train display at Grand Central Terminal is totally FREE. Photo by Filip Wolak
NY Transit Museum Holiday Train Show – Midtown East
New York Transit Museum Gallery Annex, Grand Central Terminal
Thursday, November 15–Sunday, February 3, 2019
The New York Transit Museum's Grand Central Terminal Gallery Annex sponsors a holiday train show each season. Trains from Lionel's Metro-North and Polar Express lines chug along the tracks with vintage subway cars completing the tableau. Artist Ebony Bolt designed a bold, colorful backdrop for this year's show. Work in a visit here to give your kid a break following an afternoon of shopping in the Grand Central holiday market, or kill a few minutes before catching a train over the river and through the woods to grandmother's house for a holiday getaway. There's plenty to see and do at Grand Central for kids! FREE
Bryant Park Holiday Train Display – Midtown East
Southwest Porch, Bryant Park
Thursday, November 15–Wednesday, January 2, 2019
Every Christmas season, Bryant Park's Winter Village overflows with seasonal cheer, with a huge outdoor skating rink, holiday market, Santa visits, and special events. This year, the snack bar Southwest Porch (located, true to its name, at the southwest corner of Bryant Park) steps up its Christmas game with a 7-foot-long holiday train circling overhead on 80 feet of track. It's FREE to admire, or stick around and order some snacks and drinks.
All Aboard with Thomas And Friends is an interactive sing-a-long adventure! Photo courteysy of NYBG
Train-Themed Seasonal Events
All Aboard with Thomas and Friends – Bronx Park
New York Botanical Garden, 2900 Southern Boulevard
Weekends, December 29–January 21 and December 31-January 6
If you've got a Thomas fan in your house, this live-action mini-show, held at the New York Botanical Garden, is a must see. Thomas and Driver Sam lead a fun-filled, interactive, sing-along adventure as everyone's favorite blue engine learns the secret to making his garden grow. Included in the price of admission is a visit to the aforementioned Holiday Train Show onsite, giving you two thrilling train adventures for one price!
Train Operators Workshop – Downtown Brooklyn
New York Transit Museum, corner of Boerum Place and Schermerhorn Street
Weekends through December 30
Head to the fun-filled New York Transit Museum to try out some unbelievably realistic software that will make you feel as though you're behind the controls of a real-life subway car. Included in museum admission, this workshop is for train lovers ages 10+.
Holiday Nostalgia Train Rides — East Village to Harlem
Every year, from Thanksgiving weekend through the month of December, the MTA and the New York Transit Museum roll out vintage subway trains decked in holiday finery. The Holiday Nostalgia Rides are offered on Sundays from November 25 to December 30, with vintage R1-9 train cars from the 1930s in regular service from the Second Avenue stop all the way up to 125th Street. Meanwhile aboveground, vintage buses from the 1950s and 1960s traverse 42nd Street. 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.
This post, originally published in November 2009, is updated annually.