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 175 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 trains.
The New York Botanical Garden's Holiday Train Show is the largest and most elaborate in NYC. Photo by the author
Through Sunday, January 23, 2022
This train show is the city's tour de force, and this year the NYBG's own LuEsther T. Mertz Library takes its star turn as the newest replica in this city in miniature. The show celebrates its 30th anniversary this holiday season, and more than 175 familiar landmarks have been re-created from a botanical bounty of materials like pine cones, acorns, and seeds. Set beneath the gleaming dome of the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, the 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 second season.
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The New-York Historical Society is once again back with the popular Holiday Express train display. Photo by Drew Kristofik
Friday, November 26-Sunday, February 27, 2022
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. New for the 2021 show, the collection highlights carnival rides, displaying a mini Ferris wheel, carousel, blimp, and even a roller coaster in addition to its collection of teeny-tiny locomotives.
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. Don't forget to reserve a time and date to chat with Santa, or maybe book a breakfast meeting with Saint Nick!
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 transports you around the grounds.
If you're looking for the FREE annual display at the New York Transit Museum's Grand Central Terminal Annex, it's running virtually for the second year in a row.
This post, originally published in November 2009, is updated annually.