Even the tiniest tot knows that the holidays are a great time to be in New York City. The “four” boroughs and beyond are chock-full of festive events for the whole family. Whether you’re traveling with your Metro Card or by Metro-North, to be certain, you don’t need a car to share in the holiday merriment. Pack the diaper bag, don’t forget the sippy cup and get going to one of these eight holiday activities near NYC.
What: Holiday Train Show with Gingerbread Adventures
Where: The New York Botanical Garden, Bronx
When: November 19-January 16
Why: This New York City tradition is an annual favorite. Head over to the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory to watch model trains as they circle around meticulous replicas of 140 landmark buildings, all of which are constructed out of natural materials. Added to the roster of favorites this year is the TWA Flight Center at JFK, complete with miniature planes and a runway. Get up close and personal with the handcrafted gingerbread houses in the Everett Children’s Adventure Garden, where the aroma of sugar and spice is just right.
How to get there: Take the Metro-North Harlem local line to Botanical Garden Station. Walk across Kazimiroff Boulevard to the Garden’s Mosholu Gate entrance. It takes 20 minutes from Grand Central Station. By subway, take the B, D, or 4 train to Bedford Park Blvd Station. From the station exit, take the Bx 26 bus east to the Garden’s Mosholu Gate entrance. Or walk eight blocks down the hill on Bedford Park Blvd to the end (approximately 20 minutes). Turn left onto Kazimiroff Blvd and walk one block to the Mosholu Gate entrance. Pricing varies according to peak and non-peak weeks, so check the website above.
What: Annual Holiday Family Day: A Storybook Christmas
Where: Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum, Pelham Bay Park, Bronx
When: Saturday, December 4, 10 a.m.-1 p.m.
Why: This historic mansion features a variety of decorated Christmas trees, each inspired by a classic children’s storybook. The art of storytelling is the focus at 10:30 and 11:30 a.m., when traditional tales will be told. Holiday crafts, caroling and Santa himself add to the fun. $20 per child, adults and babies under age one free. Professional photos with Santa require an extra charge.
How to get there: Take the #6 Lexington Avenue Local subway to Pelham Bay Park Subway Station and take the Westchester Bee-line #45 bus to the Museum, about a fifteen-minute ride.
What: St. Nicholas Day
Where: Wyckoff Farmhouse Museum, 5816 Clarendon Road, Brooklyn
When: Saturday, December 4 from 12-4 p.m., St. Nick arrives on horseback at 2 p.m.
Why: Find out if you have been naughty or nice according to Sinterklaas at this celebration of old time Dutch Christmas. Learn about holiday customs back when New York was a Dutch colony. Holiday music, crafts and stories are appropriate for all ages, and cost just $5 for adults, $3 for kids. If the kids’ interest in long ago has been sparked, book a Kids Candle Light Tour on December 10 or 17, and they will get an in-depth look at how kids spent winter nights before internet and Wii came into the picture.
How to get there: D/M or N Lines to 18th Avenue Station. Take the B8 bus northbound toward Rockaway Avenue. Other subway and bus options can be found on the website above.
What: Colonial Christmas
Where: The Conference House, Tottenville, Staten Island
When: Sunday December 12, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Why: The Conference House, built in approximately 1680, is a National Historic Landmark owned by the City of New York. This grand stone manor’s venerable charm and holiday decorations make an appropriate setting for the annual day-long celebration of Christmas the way it used to be. Make your way to this remote corner of Staten Island to snack on hot mulled cider and cookies, listen to live period music, purchase useful gifts from the kitchen marketplace, and meet Father Christmas himself, who will be handing out gifts to each and every child in attendance. With a suggested donation of only $3 per guest, the price is right.
How to get there: Take the Staten Island Railway from St. George Ferry Terminal to the last stop, Tottenville. Exit near intersection of Main St and Utah St. Go south on Main St. Turn right onto Craig Ave. Turn right onto Hylan Blvd. Turn right onto Satterlee towards the Conference House.
\What: Breakfast with the Beasts + Santa
Where: Staten Island Zoo
When: December 18, 8:30 a.m.
Why: Dine with some of the zoo’s most popular residents, who should be on their best behavior in anticipation of Santa’s visit. Learn how the animals get ready for the long winter ahead as you feast on a hearty meal. $15 per person for children aged 5 and up, advanced registration required. If you can’t make it for breakfast, Santa’s reindeer (a herd of caribou) will be in residence from November 27-January 4.
How to get there: Take the S-48 bus at the Ferry Terminal. Exit at the intersection of Forest Avenue and Broadway. Turn left on Broadway and walk 3 1/2 blocks to the Zoo entrance.
What: The Nutcracker
Where: Queens Theatre in the Park, Flushing Meadows Corona Park
When: December 28-30
Why: With tickets costing only $12, this is a Nutcracker that won’t make a dent in your wallet. If junior gets fidgety in spite of visions of sugarplums, you won’t feel too badly about an early departure. Chances are you will both enjoy this timeless classic, performed by Ballet for Young Audience. Show times at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. work well with a variety of nap schedules.
How to get there: Take the #7 train to Willets Point/Shea Stadium, exit and turn left, walk downstairs on the parking lot side and follow the theatre shuttle signs for this free service that operates between the subway station and the theatre for all performances. If you want to walk follow the yellow signs on a ten-minute walk through the park to the theatre, which is located next to the Unisphere.
What: The Christmas Village, City Hall, Broad and Market and the Comcast Holiday Spectacular
Where: Philadelphia, PA.
When: Daily, November 25-December 24
Why: Philadelphia is fun, festive and spiffed up for the holidays. The Christmas Village includes 50 decorated booths selling European-style food, drinks, and seasonal gifts to the tune of live music. The Christmas carousel is sure to enchant young visitors. If the kids are still feeling energetic, head over to 17 and JFK Blvd. for Philadelphia’s free high-tech holiday show, the Comcast Holiday Spectacular. Standing a robust 975 feet tall with an ambitious incorporation of eco-friendly technologies, it is the tallest “green” building in the country. The 2,000-square-foot, 10 million-pixel LED wall in the building’s lobby shows original holiday imagery set to the music of a 64-piece orchestra. The 16-minute show occurs at the top of the hour, 10:00 a.m.-8:00 p.m., from Thanksgiving to New Year’s weekend. If you choose to stay overnight, Loews Philadelphia Hotel has a lap pool for frolicking and some well-priced overnight packages.
How to get there: Feel like you have gone all the way to Bavaria as you stroll this traditional market that you can get to in 2 hours with Megabus. Get off at the Independence Hall stop, on 6th and Market and you will be only a few blocks from the Christmas Village.
What: A Hunt for the Twelve Days of Christmas
Where: Locust Grove, Poughkeepsie, NY
When: Sundays, December 5,12,19, 12-4 p.m.
Why: Go on a scavenger hunt as you search for clues in this picturesque mansion overlooking the Hudson River. The theme is the Twelve Days of Christmas, so you may find a partridge in a pear tree. Holiday storytelling, cookies and cider take center stage after the hunt is finished. $8 per child, $10 per adult.
How to get there: Locust Grove is less than two miles from the Poughkeepsie Train Station. Taxis wait at the station and the ride should cost around $8. The Metro-North Hudson line takes you to Poughkeepsie, and you will be at Locust Grove in under two hours.
Photo: Courtesy of New York Botanical Garden
Allison is a native New Yorker, who has lived in Rome, Tuscany, Melbourne, Toronto and Los Angeles. She frequently contributes travel pieces to Family Travel Forum, using her own children as guinea pigs as they travel the globe. She is fluent in Italian and Spanish and laughably adequate in French. Her background as an Early Childhood Educator gives her an added understanding of what it takes to travel with kids in tow. She firmly believes that the most important part of education takes place outside of the classroom, on the road, around the world. She never misses a chance to sample local delicacies, as her love for travel goes hand-in-hand with her love for food and wine. Follow Allison at @gourmetrav.