Holiday Train Shows in NYC for Kids: Botanical Garden and More

Model Trains in New York City During Christmas Season for Kids and Families

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 New York City's top seasonal attractions for families, with electric model trains whizzing by more than 150 NYC landmarks made out of acorns, twigs, bark, berries, and leaves. 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 train-centric show in town. Read on for more details on this annual spectacle, as well as a roundup of the other train shows the city has to offer this holiday season. And for an extra special holiday treat, take the kids on a full-size 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 around. Photo courtesy of NYBG.

New York Botanical Garden's Holiday Train Show – Bronx Park
New York Botanical Garden, 2900 Southern Boulevard
Wednesday, November 22–Monday, January 15, 2018
This show is placing a spotlight on Midtown Manhattan with brand-new replicas of the iconic Empire State Building, Chrysler Building, General Electric Building, and more debuting in 2017. Ever-popular draws like Yankee Stadium, a replica of Grand Central, and many more return along with the more than half-mile of train track of years past.

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 will drop you a 15-minute walk away.

RELATED: November GoList: Best Things to Do in NYC with Kids

A mountainous landscape showcases toy trains, miniature figures, and model buildings evoking the 1890s at the New-York Historical Society. Photo courtesy of The Jerni Collection/NYHS.

Holiday Express: Toys and Trains from the Jerni Collection – Upper West Side
New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West
Friday, October 27–Sunday, February 25, 2018
The New-York Historical Society's seasonal exhibit displays playthings dating from 1850–1940 by some of the top toy makers of the era. Toys and trains are on view throughout the first floor of the museum. Multimedia screens, theatrical lighting, and sound effects add to the immersive feel.

RELATED: Insider's Guide to Seeing the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

The mini train display at Grand Central is totally FREE. Photo courtesy of the New York Transit Museum.

Annual Holiday Train Show – Midtown East
New York Transit Museum Gallery Annex, Grand Central Terminal
Monday, November 16–Sunday, February 4, 2018
The New York Transit Museum's Grand Central Terminal Gallery Annex sponsors a modest holiday train show each season. Brooklyn-based artist Josh Cochran designed an all-new cityscape for this year's installation meant to evoke the bustling nature of the metropolis as 34-feet of O-gauge track fills the space. Trains from Lionel's Metro-North and Polar Express lines chug along the tracks with vintage subway cars completing the tableau. Work in a visit here to give your kid a break after an afternoon of shopping in the onsite holiday market, or to 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

Train-Themed Seasonal Events

All Aboard! Historic Train Weekend – Upper West Side
New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West
Saturday, December 8–Sunday, December 9
Preschoolers will delight in seeing the New-York Historical Society's Holiday Express during this one-weekend only event. Expect plenty of hands-on, train-themed activities such read-aloud train tales, train-inspired crafts, and exploring the exhibit while taking part in a train-themed scavenger hunt.

All Aboard with Thomas and Friends – Bronx Park
New York Botanical Garden, 2900 Southern Boulevard
Weekends, December 30–January 21 and January 1–5
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!

Honorable mention: While not quite a miniature-scale train scene, the MTA and the New York Transit Museum offer real-life rides in vintage cars. Holiday Nostalgia Rides are offered on Sundays from November 26 to December 31, placing vintage R1-9 train cars from decades past in regular service on the Sixth Avenue local line.

Top image: A pop-up window in the middle of the train display at the New-York Historical society lets kids get even closer to the locomotives. Photo courtesy of The Jerni Collection, New-York Historical Society.

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

New York Botanical Garden
2900 Southern Boulevard
10458 Bronx , NY
Phone: 718-817-8700
40° 51' 42.1344" N, 73° 52' 49.2312" W
New York
Grand Central Terminal
89 East 42nd Street
New York , NY 40° 45' 7.5168" N, 73° 58' 42.4056" W
New York
New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York , NY 40° 46' 45.5772" N, 73° 58' 25.41" W
New York