13 Picture-Perfect Holiday Day Trips Near NYC

Take a magical one-hour trip to the North Pole on the Polar Express in Whippany, New Jersey.
Take a magical one-hour trip to the North Pole on the Polar Express in Whippany, New Jersey.

New York City is magical during the holiday season. However, if you're looking to experience some holiday happenings not too far from home, we've rounded up great options for family day trips, where kids can see Santa, dazzling Christmas lights, and even a North Pole village.

From right-in-our-backyard picks to rustic Christmas fun in Mystic, Connecticut, and the Hudson Valley, here are 13 holiday outings—listed roughly from nearest to farthest from Midtown Manhattan—worth a drive or train trek this holiday season.

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Bergen County’s Winter Wonderland at Van Saun Park – Paramus, New Jersey

Opens Friday, November 26
45 minutes from Midtown Manhattan
Van Saun Park, already a favorite destination for New Jersey families, is once again transforming into a Winter Wonderland for the holidays. For the price of one general admission ticket, visitors can enjoy open-air ice skating, a mini-train ride, Santa visits, admission to the zoo, unlimited carousel rides, and more family activities. There's also a synthetic skating rink for kids, which is great for beginners, because it has more friction than regular ice. Adults might enjoy the food trucks and beer tent! Kids 3 and under are FREE.

RELATED: Santa Returns to Macy's Santaland For In-Person Visitors in 2021

Westchester's Winter Wonderland returns as a drive-thru holiday attraction in 2021
Westchester's Winter Wonderland is once again a drive-thru holiday destination. Photo by the Susan Miele

Westchester's Winter Wonderland Drive-thru – Valhalla, New York

Friday, November 26-Sunday, January 2
45 minutes from Midtown by car
Westchester's Kensico Dam Plaza Park comes alive with holiday happenings at this aptly named attraction. Returning as a drive-thru again in 2021, its new features include a Peace on Earth LED light display and two gigantic 30-foot snowflakes.

Enjoy the tunnel of lights at Jones Beach on a holiday day trip
Drive through a tunnel of lights at Jones Beach.

Magic of Lights – Jones Beach State Park, Long Island

Friday, November 19-Sunday, January 2, 2022
1 hour from Midtown Manhattan by car
You'll need a car for this trip, but you'll stay toasty inside as you cruise along more than 2 miles of holiday lights at this festive display. Past displays have included crowd favorites such as "The 12 Days of Christmas" and "The Night Before Christmas," as well as other colorful creations. Tickets range from $25-$80, depending on vehicle size and day-of-the-week. These are available for purchase online.

RELATED: Polar Express and Santa Trains Near NYC

Ride the polar express on a holiday day trip to Whippany, New Jersey
Take a journey to the North Pole on the Polar Express train in Whippany New Jersey.

The Polar Express – Whippany, New Jersey

Wednesday, November 3-Thursday, December 30; check website for full schedule
1 hour from Midtown Manhattan by car
There are many lovely Polar Express and Christmas-themed train rides near NYC, but this magical train ride takes rail fans on a storybook-inspired, one-hour journey that's just barely outside the city. Once aboard the Polar Express, expect a visit from Santa who makes a stop in each car to hand out silver bells to every child. There is a reading of the classic book and kids are encouraged to come in pajamas, toting their own copies to read along. Hot chocolate and plenty of photo-ops with the man of the hour are included. If you're looking for a truly indulgent (and more expensive) experience, and don't mind traveling farther, the North Pole Express in Essex, Connecticut, is definitely worth the drive, but mostly sold out by this date.

Skylands Light Show – Augusta, New Jersey

Wednesday, November 24-Sunday, January 9, 2022 (closed on certain days)
1 hour, 15 minutes from Midtown Manhattan by car
Head to Skylands Stadium to drive this one-mile route illuminated by more than 2 million twinkling lights. Once you've navigated the spectacular show in your car, visit the outdoor Christmas Village for photos with Santa, arts and crafts, holiday-themed performances, an ice rink, and a stop at the s'mores station to roast marshmallows over a fire pit.

RELATED: How To Find Free Toys for Kids this Christmas and Holiday Season—Apply Soon!

Quiet Valley farm takes you back in time on a holiday day trip
Enjoy a charming, old-fashioned Christmas at Quiet Valley Farm. Photo courtesy of the farm

Quiet Valley Farm – Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania

1.5 hours from Midtown Manhattan by car
Weekends from Saturday, December 4-Sunday, December 12
Experience an old-fashioned Christmas on the farm. Visitors are transported back to a time before the bright lights and toy commercials and taken on a candlelit tour of the farm as it would have been in the 1800s. Witness a Victorian family preparing for Christmas, a living nativity, caroling, and traditional Pennsylvania German scenes. Groups go out every 15 minutes from 2:30pm-7pm, with the last session starting at 7pm.

RELATED: 20+ Christmas Towns and Santa's Villages That Absolutely Sparkle

Kevin McCurdy's Holiday Spirit Festival offers plenty of holiday fun
After a walk through the "forest of lights," enjoy holiday cheer at Kevin McCurdy's Holiday Spirit Festival.

Kevin McCurdy's Holiday Spirit Festival – Wappingers Falls, New York

Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, from Friday, November 26-Sunday, December 26
1 hour, 40 minutes from Midtown Manhattan by car
This annual celebration of the holidays is beloved by local families and visitors alike. The Holiday Spirit Festival features an enchanting forest of lights, a walk through a North Pole village, a 60-foot-long holiday train display, live entertainment, including magic shows, music, and, of course, the opportunity to meet with the big guy himself—Santa Claus.

Riverhead Light Show – Calverton, New York

Select dates from Friday, November 19-Thursday, December 30
1 hour and 40 minutes from Midtown Manhattan by car
This drive-thru holiday light show lets you and the kids enjoy the sparkle of the season, without any of the shivering. The 1.5-mile, half-hour drive takes you through an illuminated wonderland with more than 60 displays, including reindeer, an ice castle, snowflakes galore, and even a sea creature in a Santa hat.

RELATED: 12 Best Christmas Towns in New England

Sesame Place's A Very Furry Christmas is a fun holiday day trip
Meet your favorite friends at Sesame Place's A Very Furry Christmas celebration.

Hit the Theme Parks – Pennsylvania and New Jersey

Mid-November until the end of the year
If your first thought is that amusement parks are for sunny summer days, think again. Several spots get dressed up for the holidays, offering over-the-top lights and decorations alongside those who can't resist rides. Sesame Place's A Very Furry Christmas brings classic holiday cheer to the 'hood, along with a visit to the new Christmas Fun Family Zone this year. And in Langhorne, Pennsylvania, Hersheypark transforms into Christmas Candylane from Friday, November 12-Sunday, January 2, 2022. If you'd rather head to New Jersey, the Holiday in the Park at Six Flags has more glitz and blitz than you could possibly imagine. (Trust us.)

Shoreline Trolley Winter Wonderland – East Haven, Connecticut

Weekends from Friday, November 26-Sunday, December 19
1.5 hours from Midtown by car
It's just a short journey to the north for this New England holiday experience. The Shoreline Trolley Museum is sure to bring a ton of fun and an abundance of memories for children and families. Gifts from Santa and tons of photo-ops await at this winter wonderland.

Lantern Light Village at Mystic Seaport
Step back in time at Lantern Light Village.

Lantern Light Village – Mystic, Connecticut

Select dates from Friday, December 10-Wednesday, December 22
2.5 hours from Midtown Manhattan by car
The most distant destination from NYC on our list, Lantern Light Village at Mystic Seaport offers a festive, historic holiday experience. Visit the village for an outdoor adventure, starting at 5pm, and continuing in all weather conditions. Guests walk or stand for most of the experience, so it's probably best for school-aged kids. Spend the day exploring the exhibits at Mystic Seaport or visit the Mystic Aquarium just five minutes away. Of course, no visit to Mystic would be complete without dining at the famed Mystic Pizza.

Find more nearby holiday fun on our Long Island, New Jersey, Westchester, and Connecticut Mommy Poppins websites.

Photos courtesy of the festivals/venues

This article was first published in November 2015; it is updated annually.

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