Chugga Chugga Choo-Choo!  You hear that?  Yep, it’s the sound of train shows pulling in as we enter the holiday season. Whether your family likes trains small and whizzing through a miniature cityscape and zooming overhead, or the real thing that will take you on an enchanted ride, there’s a train experience for you   Get out of the cold and climb aboard these hot NYC holiday train shows before they whiz by.


photo: MTA New York City Transit Museum

15th Annual Holiday Train Show at Grand Central
Roll on over to the Transit Museum Store at Grand Central Terminal and let your little rail fans go nuts over this year’s holiday train show. The impressive — and free! — exhibit features replica Metro-North, New York Central, and subway trains departing from a miniature Grand Central Terminal on a 34 foot-long, two-level platform. You’ll also find an array of unique subway and train gifts for purchase in the Museum Store such as subway backpacks, train sets, watches, socks, and even lip balm colored to match your favorite subway line.

rt-train-grand-centralphoto: MTA New York City Transit Museum

When you’re done admiring the models, take a stroll through Grand Central to admire the real life trains coming and going from the Station. Show your kids the cool constellations on the ceiling and take a selfie in front of the historic globe clock in the center of the lobby. Then take care of some holiday shopping in the 23rd annual Grand Central Holiday Fair in Vanderbilt Hall featuring 40 vendors offering a variety of unique items including American-made and handmade products with locally-sourced materials.  From artwork and accessories to clothing, toys and home goods, you’ll find the perfect gift for everyone on your list (tip:  be sure to take advantage of Grand Central’s complimentary gift wrapping services).  Have lunch at Shake Shack and sample the other yummy vendors downstairs!

Ages:  all ages

Dates:  Nov. 14 2016-Feb. 21 2017

Hours:  Mon.-Fri. 8 a.m.-8 p.m.; Sat. & Sun. 10 a.m.-6 p.m.

Price:  Free

New York Transit Museum Gallery Annex & Store at Grand Central Terminal (off the main concourse in the Shuttle Passage)
87 E 42nd St.

New York Botanical Garden: Tree lighting and Holiday Train Show

photo: The New York Botanical Garden 

The New York Botanical Garden Train Show
Zip over to The New York Botanical Garden and enter a magical world as you view their holiday train show featuring a display of 150 New York landmarks re-created with nuts, bark, leaves, and other plant parts by artist Paul Busse.

Humming along between familiar sites such as the Statue of Liberty, Rockefeller Center, Macy’s and the original Penn Station, large-scale model trains cover almost a half-mile of track across rustic bridges and trestles, through tunnels and past cascading waterfalls.  The exhibit now includes a finale of iconic Coney Island landmarks, as well as 3,000 square feet of added exhibition space.  Your little ones eyes will open wide in surprise as they take in the details of this stunning botanical holiday attraction that is not to be missed. Take your train fanatic cuties on a guided tour to learn more about the behind-the-scenes action involved in creating the display, as well as an up-close experience with the plant parts used for making the buildings.

New York Botanical Garden: Tree lighting and Holiday Train Show

photo: The New York Botanical Garden 

While you’re there, be sure to experience the Evergreen Express at the Everett Children’s Adventure Garden, a playful space for kiddos to explore the beauty of nature and science with interactive activities happening at “station stops” throughout the space that will yield memorable take home goodies.  Examine plant parts from a variety of evergreens and then make your own miniature scented sachet. Make a train puppet and join a musical marching parade, and then put on a puppet show in the Woodland Theater. Burn some energy and hike on trails filled with evergreen trees and play on the kid-sized train engine.


photo: Meredith Levine

For More Train Fun at NYBG
Attend a special event “All Aboard with Thomas & Friends” at the New York Botanical Garden December 31, 2016-January 22, 2017. Join Thomas and Driver Sam on a fun-filled, sing-along, mini-performance adventure by helping them decorate the station in time for the big Sodor surprise party before the guest of honor arrives! Stay after the performance and get a professional photo of your family with Thomas to capture the special day!

Take note: Advance reservations are strongly recommended as tickets do sell out. Strollers cannot be taken into the Conservatory, so plan accordingly. Stroller parking is available.

Ages:  all ages

Dates:  Nov. 19, 2016-Jan. 16, 2017

Hours:  Mon.-Fri. 8 a.m.-8 p.m.; Sat. & Sun. 10 a.m.-6 p.m.

Price:  Weekdays: $20/adults;$18/student/senior; $8/kids two–12; free for children under two.  Weekends: Monday holidays and peak days: $28/adults; $22/students/seniors; $10/kids ages two–12, free for children under two

Enid A. Haupt Conservatory
The New York Botanical Garden
2900 Southern Blvd.

 2-holiday-express-2016-pop-up-spherephoto: New York Historical Society

Holiday Express: Toys and Trains from the Jerni Collection  at the New York Historical Society
Come one, come all, step right up to New York Historical Society’s West 77th Street entrance and be swept away as trains appear to roar through the Museum (with the help of four large-scale multimedia screens).  This 2016 exhibit is an immersive display of antique toy trains, toys and scenic elements with theatrical lighting, an ambient audio “soundscape,” and other visual effects.

The display includes artifacts grouped into 10 scenes on a 360-degree mountainous landscape. Plus, 11 classic trains from manufacturer Lionel chug along more than 400 feet of tracks on elevated tracks overhead visitors. Challenge your cuties to a game of I Spy and pick up the “I Spy” Holiday Express trains and toys hunt, where kids can match pictures and rhyming facts with objects they see throughout the magical wonderland of a display.

Aside from being fun for the kids, the Jerni Collection, which includes hand-crafted and hand-painted pieces dating from approximately 1850 to 1940, is considered one of the finest collection of antique trains and toys in the world.

1-holiday-express-2016-rotundaphoto: New York Historical Society

Don’t Miss These Special Events
The museum is taking the celebration of trains to the next level during the month of December by selecting train stories for their Sunday Story Time, offered Sundays at 11.30.  

Mark your calendars to attend one of these special story times: On Dec. 4, crack up as you get the how-to’s in catching and keeping a pet train when you listen to the story How to Train a Train by Jason Carter Eaten and illustrated by John Rocco, bet who wins as you listen to the story Shark vs. Train by Chris Barton and illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld on Dec. 11, or go on an adventure to the North Pole on Dec. 18 as you listen to the worthy classic The Polar Express written and illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg. Free with museum admission.  Ages 3-7.

For the truly train-crazed kid, attend the exhibit during the All Aboard! Historic Train Weekend on December 10 or 11 from 12.30 p.m-3.30 p.m. This family fun weekend includes hearing tales of the rails, decorating a car for the Transcontinental Railroad and exploring the trains of the Jerni Collection. Activities are free with museum admission.

If you’re sweating what to do during the holiday school break, consider heading to the Historical Society’s December School Vacation Week for a day of train-centric fun. Activities include “I Spy” scavenger hunt, story time featuring locomotives, and making a train-themed craft to take home as a souvenir from the day. The event is for all ages, runs from December 26 through January 2 from 10 a.m.-5 p.m., and is free with museum admission.

Ages:  all ages

Dates:  Oct. 28, 2016-Feb. 26, 2017

Hours:  Tues.-Thurs. & Sat., 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Fri., 10 a.m.-8 p.m., Sun., 11 a.m.-5 p.m.

Price:  $20/adults; $15/seniors/educators/active military; $12/students; $6/children ages five–13; free for children four and under; pay what you wish Fridays, 6-8 p.m.

170 Central Park West at 77th St.
Upper West Side


photo: Black River and Western Railroad

To Hop Aboard a Holiday Train
If nothing but the real rail deal will satisfy your little engineers, head to one of these spots with trains tricked out just for the holidays. (Advance tickets are required.)

Black River and Western Railroad
BR&W Railroad at Flemington Station offers three different steam powered holiday-tastic ways to ride the rails:

Candy Cane Limited
Hop aboard the Candy Cane Limited in Flemington, Ny for a 90-minute ride with Santa and Mrs. Claus and their singing Elves. In addition to the chance to get a snap with the man in the big red suit, kids get a candy cane and small gift. (Note: Flemington is also home to the world’s largest model railroad, Northlandz.)

North Pole Express
This 120-minute ride with Santa and Mrs. Claus and their singing Elves includes face-painting, cookies & hot cocoa, and getting pulled by a steam locomotive.

Victorian Christmas Special
Take a step back in time, before Santa, and enjoy a 120-minute ride that includes biblical characters, a nativity scene and even Victorian Carolers.

Ages:  all ages

Dates:  Nov. 19-Dec. 23 2016

Hours:  Fri.-Sun.; Times vary

Price:  Candy Cane Limited: $20/ages 3 & up; North Pole Express: $27/ages 3 & up; Victorian Christmas Special: $30/ages 3 & up; free for children under 3.

Black River & Western Railroad (Flemington Station)
80 Stangl Rd.
Flemington, Nj


photo: Catskill Mountain Railroad

Catskill Mountain Railroad Polar Express Train
The Catskill Mountain Railroad brings the beloved Christmas book and movie to life with its Polar Express Train Ride. Departing from Kingston’s Westbrook Lane station, the round-trip holiday excursion to “the North Pole” includes a reading of the holiday classic, caroling, hot cocoa, and a small gift for all kids. As the film’s soundtrack plays, characters from the book come along for the ride and Santa himself boards at the North Pole to greet children. Kids are encouraged to wear their jammies for this special holiday event. Advance tickets required.

Dates: Nov. 18 – Dec. 28 2016

Time: Times vary

Tickets: $38/adults; $31/kids 2-11; kids under two ride free in the lap

149 Aaron Ct.
Kingston, Ny

What’s your favorite place to see trains in NYC? Tell us in the comments below!

— Meredith Levine