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 some great options for family day trips, where kids can see Santa, dazzling holiday lights, and even a North Pole village.
From right-in-our-backyard picks to rustic Christmas fun in Mystic, Connecticut and Hudson Valley, here are nine holiday outings—listed from nearest to farthest from Midtown—worth a drive or train trek.
Beautifully decorated trees add Christmas cheer to the historic Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum.
Past-Present-Future at the Bartow-Pell Mansion — the Bronx
Opens Friday, December 2
No. 6 train to Pelham Bay Park (5-minute cab ride from the train)
Nestled in beautiful Pelham Bay Park, the Bartow-Pell Mansion is accessible by public transportation from all boroughs. Little ones will delight in the eight extravagantly decorated Christmas trees throughout the magnificent property, all inspired by decades of Christmas traditions. Holiday events run all month, including the annual Holiday Family Day, featuring a seasonal sing-along, visits with Santa (photos for a fee), arts and crafts and more. Looking for more to do in the area? Explore the rest of Pelham Bay Park and the Pelham Bay neighborhood, nearby City Island, or the village of Pelham in Westchester County.
Adventure to Santa — Yonkers, New York
Daily through December 24
30 minutes from Midtown by car or Metro-North's Harlem Line to the Bronxville station (5-minute cab ride from the station)
Take your kids on an immersive journey to the North Pole with Kung Fu Panda's Po and his pals. The attraction, which debuted in 2014, and we reviewed last year, promises an all-new experience in 2016. Expect a technologically enhanced, interactive journey to the North Pole. After your adventure ends, Westchester's Ridge Hill shopping center offers more kid-friendly attractions, including the Legoland Discovery Center, Frannie's Goodie Shop, a movie theater, and lots of shopping and dining options.
Winter Wonderland – Valhalla, New York
See website for full schedule.
45 minutes from Midtown by car, or one hour via Metro-North's Harlem Line to the Valhalla station (11-minute walk to the park)
Westchester's Kensico Dam Plaza Park comes alive with holiday happenings at this aptly named attraction. Visitors can enjoy carnival rides, an ice skating rink, holiday circus, face time with Santa, twinkling holiday lights at Candy Cane Lane, as well as light shows choreographed to holiday music. The best part: All this fun (skate rentals, too!) is included in the price of admission.
The Polar Express — Whippany, New Jersey
Fridays-Sundays, November 25-Friday, December 30
1 hour from Midtown 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 visits each car handing 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, as is the Saratoga & North Creek Polar Express in Saratoga Springs.
Dickens' Christmas Carol — Tarrytown, New York
Weekends, December 10-11 & 17-18
1 hour from Midtown by car or Metro-North Hudson Line to Tarrytown station (10-minute walk from station)
A tradition courtesy of Historic Hudson Valley, storyteller Jonathan Kruk brings to life the classic holiday tale of Ebenezer Scrooge, complete with musical accompaniment. Performances are held at the Reformed Church of the Tarrytowns. Tarrytown has a great, walkable little downtown to explore with great eats, coffee, and small shops. To truly escape city life for a day, go on the Winter Family Farm Tour at nearby Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture and try the farm-fresh food at Blue Hill Cafe and Grain Bar.
RELATED: Insider Tips to the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade
Drive through the light tunnel at Skylands at this annual Christmas lights extravaganza in Northern New Jersey.
Skylands Light Show – Augusta, New Jersey
Visit the website for complete schedule.
1 hour and 15 minutes from Midtown 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 indoor Christmas Village for photos with Santa, arts and crafts, holiday-themed performances, and a meal at the on-site wheelHouse Craft Kitchen + Bar.
After a walk through the "forest of lights," enjoy more holiday cheer abounds at Kevin McCurdy's Holiday Spirit Festival.
Kevin McCurdy's Holiday Spirit Festival — Wappingers Falls, New York
Weekends, November 25-December 23, plus December 21-22
1 hour and 40 minutes from Midtown 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.
National Christmas Center – Paradise, Pennsylvania
Open daily through January 8, 2017, except Christmas and New Year's Days.
2½ hours from Midtown by car
The National Christmas Center showcases more than 20,000 square feet of exhibits dedicated to all aspects of the holiday—both religious and commercial—through the decades and spanning the world over. You'll see galleries dedicated to antique toys, the five-and-dime stores of Christmases past, and an entire display featuring Jolly Old St. Nick's many likenesses over the years. Glimpse into his pre-holiday workshop and see animatronic elves and reindeer toiling away, or get a peek at a tuckered-out Santa sleeping off his big night. If you're the type who plays holiday music all year round, this is a must-visit spot. Of course, there's also an onsite gift shop for all your holiday-themed needs.
RELATED: NYC Holiday Events & Activity Guide for Families
Step back in time at Lantern Light Tours.
Lantern Light Tours — Mystic, Connecticut
Weekends November 25-Friday, December 23
2½ hours from Midtown by car
The most distant destination from NYC on our list, Lantern Light Tours at Mystic Seaport, the Museum of America and the Sea, offers a festive but historic holiday experience. Part walking tour, part live performance, visitors are taken on a 70-minute showcase through the museum's historic buildings and vessels. Tours start at 5pm and continue in all weather conditions. Guests walk or stand for most of the performance 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.
Top image: One of the displays at the National Christmas Center. All photos courtesy of the festivals/venues.
This article first published in November 2015, but has since been updated.