New York City's annual transformation into a wonderland of holiday magic never gets old, especially with kids in tow. For preschoolers, however, crowds can be daunting and there's little patience for lines and lots of noise. Still, it's a magical time to introduce toddlers and preschoolers to amazing seasonal spectacles—the lights, music, ballets, trains, Santa, and more.
We've rounded events that cater to the preschool set. From abridged performances to gingerbread mania and interactive events and workshops, there's plenty of holiday magic to go around.
Gingerbread Lane — Corona, Queens
Saturday, November 11–Monday, January 15, 2018
Marvel at the world’s largest gingerbread village and delight in the candy rooftops, frosting-encrusted cottages, and sweet edible delights. For an extra treat, return on January 15 to take a piece of the village home!
Catch the sweet Three Bears puppet show. Photo By Justina Wong/Central Park Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre
The Three Bears Holiday Bash — Central Park
Saturday, November 11–Saturday, December 30 (dates vary, but generally Tuesday–Sunday)
This rollicking holiday-themed variety show features hilarious holiday mishaps, a 12 Days of Christmas sing-along, and animated puppetry to delight even the youngest audience members.
Many trains at the NYBG Holiday Train Show are right at little kid level. Photo by slgckcg via Flickr
The Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanical Garden — Bronx Park
Wednesday, November 22–Monday, January 15, 2018
This year's iconic holiday train show shines a spotlight on Midtown Manhattan with brand-new replicas of the Empire State Building, Chrysler Building, and others, along with the return of beloved NYC landmarks including Yankee Stadium, Statue of Liberty, and more. For more holiday trains, check out our roundup.
Ice Skating at the Standard Hotel — Chelsea
Opens Thursday, November 23
The intimate rink at the Standard Hotel plaza is the perfect size for the preschool set and features pint-size pushing penguins to help with balance. Bonus: The surrounding rink-side plaza is outfitted with heat lamps and chairs draped with sheepskin throws where you can take a break with a giant gingerbread cookie and hot chocolate served in penguin thermoses.
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Little ones will get a thrill on these holiday-themed vintage train rides. Photo courtesy of the New York Transit Museum
Holiday Nostalgia Rides — Upper East Side
Sunday, November 26–Sunday, December 31
Have a train-obsessed preschooler? With just the swipe of a MetroCard, they can board and explore a vintage fleet of subway cars. This holiday season, the MTA and Transit Museum continue the tradition of placing vintage R1-9 train cars from decades past in regular service on the Sixth Avenue local line (and also and a selection of vintage buses on the M42 bus route).
The Wizard of Oz — Upper West Side
Through Saturday, December 30
A one-hour adaptation of L. Frank Baum's beloved story (and iconic 1939 film) mounted specifically for preschoolers? We'll count that as holiday magic. It's never too early to introduce little ones to the timeless tale, and Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tinman, and the Cowardly Lion in puppet form.
Holiday Windows — Midtown East and West
Through New Year's Day
Gawk at the stunning holiday window displays at Lord & Taylor, Macy's Herald Square, Saks Fifth Avenue, and others. The elaborate displays dazzle and delight patrons every year, and with animated and interactive elements, and themes that evoke the holiday spirit, little ones are sure to be amazed. Peek at last year's displays to get a head start on your must-see route. FREE
Winter’s Eve at Lincoln Square — Lincoln Center
Monday, November 27
NYC's largest outdoor holiday festival returns with FREE family fun. Festivities include ice sculpting, stilt-walkers, jugglers, dance and musical performances, and more, plus Tim Kubart and the Space Cadets will leave preschoolers squealing in delight.
Charles A. Dana Discovery Center Lighting — Harlem
Thursday, November 30
Watch the Harlem Meer light up with a flotilla of illuminated trees and take in the stunning Victorian-style visitor's center aglow in thousands of LED lights. St. Nick will be on hand to greet visitors and ice sculpture demos, caroling, and complimentary cookies and hot cocoa round out the event. FREE
Family Art Project: Candles, Snowflakes, and Stars — Riverdale, the Bronx
Saturday, December 2–Sunday, December 3
Help your little one mold wax and decorate candles with snowflakes, stars, and other wintry items. FREE until noon.
Christmas In Richmond Town & Traditional Tree Lighting — Staten Island
Sunday, December 3
Explore Historic Richmond Town at this winter extravaganza. Peruse crafts, ornaments, and tasty baked goods before welcoming the holiday season with a traditional tree lighting.
All Aboard: Historical Train Weekend — Upper West Side
Saturday, December 9
Check out the Holiday Express: Toys and Trains from the Jerni Collection at the New-York Historical Society, then make a train car of your own, go on a train scavenger hunt, and watch as Conductor Abe delights young visitors with his quirky antics.
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Make festival of lights-themed crafts at the Jewish Museum. Matthew Carasella/SocialShutterbug.com
Hanukkah Family Day — Upper East Side
Sunday, December 10
Celebrate the festival of lights with themed workshops, crafts, and pop-rock tunes from Joanie Leeds & The Nightlight at the Jewish Museum. Then watch a unique Hanukkah story come to life through a drawing performance by Jeff Hopkins.
Chanukah Festival — Upper East Side
Sunday, December 10
This annual 92Y celebration includes songs, a holiday show, storytelling, dreidel decorating, snowflake-making, and games.
The Nutcracker — Midtown East
Friday, December 15–Sunday, December 17
Keith Michael's abridged (one-hour) version of this holiday classic, performed by the New York Theater Ballet, is perfect for preschoolers. Bonus: The show plays for FREE December 1 and 2 at Brookfield Place.
Christmas Day at the Museum at Eldridge Street — Lower East Side
Monday, December 25
Head to the Museum at Eldridge Street for a day of fun—arts and crafts, a joyous concert of Yiddish music, synagogue tours, scavenger hunts, and more.
Celebrate Kwanzaa, or just learn more about the holiday, at the American Museum of Natural History's fete. Photo by R. Mickens/courtesy the museum
Kwanzaa 2017 — Upper West Side
Friday, December 30
Introduce your child to the rich traditions of Kwanzaa and the holiday’s seven guiding principles at this annual event hosted by the American Museum of Natural History.
Alice's Tea Cup — Upper East Side, Upper West Side
This whimsical tea house, inspired by Lewis Carroll's classic tale, is the perfect spot to warm up after a flurry of holiday errands. Loaner fairy wings and “pixie dust” set the stage for an enchanted meal. The Wee Tea offers a small pot of tea (which can be substituted for another beverage), a tasty scone with cream and jam, dessert, and entree item from the Menu for the Small. Find more fun spots for high tea with our roundup of NYC favorites.
A tot-friendly show featuring Thomas kicks off after Christmas at NYBG. Photo courtesy of The New York Botanical Garden
All Aboard with Thomas & Friends — Bronx Park
Saturday, December 30–Sunday, January 21, 2018
Join Thomas the Tank Engine as he embarks on a journey from Knapford Station to Brendam Docks in this interactive performance adventure.
Three Kings Day Parade — Upper East Side
Friday, January 6, 2018
This annual celebration of Three Kings Day hosted by El Museo del Barrio features live camels, colorful puppets, joyous music, and lots of dancing and marching. Bring the stroller and follow the lively parade FREE, but registration is suggested.
Top Image: Take a family stroll to see the holiday window displays at NYC department stores. Photo by Diane Bondareff for AP