New York City is a popular holiday destination for tourists. People come with their children to see the giant tree at Rockefeller Center, ice skate at Wollman Rink in Central Park, eat the famous frozen hot chocolate at Serendipity and gaze into the store windows of midtown Manhattan. All the major museums put together exhibitions and celebrations timed with the holidays to welcome both out-of-town guests as well as locals who often use holiday vacation time to visit museums. Whether you're looking to specifically celebrate Christmas, Hanukah or Kwanzaa or find a more generally festive holiday event, this round-up will help you choose the best holiday museum event in New York City.
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Next to the Rockefeller Center tree, the most popular holiday event in New York is the Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanical Garden. This annual event is a point of pilgrimage for New Yorkers and tourists who come to marvel and the intricate village made by hand with natural materials. Always displayed inside the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, trains move in and out of familiar and meticulously crafted New York City landmarks including the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty all the way out to a tiny version of Coney Island's amusement park.
Plan ahead as this event is popular with families. Purchase tickets online and consider making a full day visit including the 250 acres at the New York Botanical Garden, the Bronx Zoo and lunch or dinner on Arthur Avenue, the heart of New York's only real remaining Little Italy.
Located in the Bronx, the best way to get there from Manhattan is by train, via Metro North from Grand Central Station.
New York Botanical Garden
2900 Southern Blvd, Bronx, NY 10458
Open Tuesday-Sunday 10am-6pm and Holiday Mondays
$10 Children 2–12
Free Children under 2
Weekends, Monday holidays, and holiday weeks
$18 Children 2–12
Free Children under 2
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The Met's Neapolitan Christmas Tree
Every year visitors flock to The Met Fifth Avenue to see the Christmas tree installed in the Medieval Art sculpture hall in the very center of the museum. A traditional northern European fir tree is combined with a collection of 18th-century Neapolitan sculptures representing the traditional presepio or Christmas village. This unusual combination has been a Met tradition since 1957. Every year the more than two hundred figures are displayed in new settings and arrangements.
In Naples, the craft of making a miniature Christmas village is an ancient and important tradition. There's an entire street in Naples where artisans who make the presepio figures have their stalls and sell to the public year round. The figures at The Met are based on designs by the most famous sculptors and set designers of 18th century Naples.
Also be sure to check The Met's calendar for concerts and performances set in front of the tree.
The Met Fifth Avenue
1000 Fifth Ave New York, NY 10028
Open 7 Days a Week
Sunday–Thursday: 10:00 a.m.–5:30 p.m, Friday and Saturday: 10:00 a.m.–9:00 p.m.
Closed Thanksgiving Day, December 25, January 1, and the first Monday in May
Admission is a recommended donation. You must pay to enter the museum, but in any amount you wish.
Seniors (65 and older) $17
Children under 12 (accompanied by an adult) Free
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Every year The Jewish Museum hosts an all-day art-making party for families. There are a concert, story hours, and a drop-in studio time to make art projects including a menorah made of found objects. Kids will learn the story of Hanukah through songs and gallery tours. The events are all free with museums admission.
The Jewish Museum
1109 5th Ave at 92nd St
New York, NY 10128
Sunday-Tuesday 11 am - 5:45 pm, Wednesday Closed, Thursday 11 am - 8 pm, Friday 11 am - 4 pm, Saturday 11 am - 5:45 pm
Seniors, 65 and over
$7.50 Children, 18 and under
Thursdays, 5 – 8 pm Pay-What-You-Wish, SaturdaysFree
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Medieval decorations at The Met Cloisters
Christmas decorations inevitably conjure up images of red bows, jingle bells, and twinkling lights. The Met Cloisters, a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art devoted to medieval art decorates the museum according to the medieval tradition. Visitors will find the arches of the Main Hall covered in dried apples, bunches of chestnuts and acorns and ivy leaves. These are hand assembled by the horticultural staff who lovingly polish each one of the hundreds of apples. Inside the galleries, you'll see tied sheaths of wheat and garlands studded with pomegranates which recall medieval traditions whose roots are in the ancient traditions of Demeter and Persephone.
The Met Cloisters also has a series of annual concerts to celebrate the holidays. Concerts by the early music ensemble "Waverly Consort" is a beloved holiday tradition for over 35 years. Hymns, processionals, antiphons, and Mass compositions from the Middle Ages are performed by a 13-member vocal and instrumental ensemble inside the Fuentidueña Chapel.
Fort Tryon Park, New York, NY 10040 (A train to 190th Street.)
Open 7 Days a Week
March–October: 10:00 a.m.–5:15 p.m.
November–February: 10:00 a.m.–4:45 p.m.
Closed Thanksgiving Day, December 25, and January 1Continue to 5 of 5 below.
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"Ujima" means collective work and responsibility and is the theme for a day of family workshops to celebrate Kwanzaa at the Studio Museum of Harlem. Workshops will include a community quilt, interactive storytelling, and other fun art-making projects. This annual event is free but reservations are highly recommended.
The Studio Museum in Harlem
144 West 125th Street
Wednesday: 5pm–7pm, Members Only, Thursday-Friday: 12pm–9pm, Saturday: 10am–6pm, Sunday: 12pm–6pm
The Museum is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, Memorial Day and Independence Day.
Suggested donation: Adults $7.00
Seniors and students (with valid ID) $3.00
Free for members and children under 12