Looking for some cheap, funky fun in New York during the holidays? For a retro experience, take a ride on an old subway — really old, as in Humphrey-Bogart-in-the-1930s vintage.
During the winter holiday season, the NY MTA and the NY Transit Museum (that quintessentially quirky museum located underground, where else, in a subway station in Brooklyn Heights) transports a few treasured vintage New York subway cars back onto the tracks as part of their Holiday Vintage program. So, every Sunday between Thanksgiving weekend and New Year's weekend, the public can enjoy the Holiday Nostalgia Train.
Since 2007, the wintertime Nostalgia Train, offered by the MTA as a sort of holiday gift to the public, has become something of an underground attraction, with riders showing up in costumes from the 1930s. Swing bands have performed on the old trains. And, of course, rail buffs cannot stay away.
More authentic than a trip to Disney and cheaper than a dinner date at Peter Luger's, a ride on a historic subway car, preserved from a New York City of a different era, offers a rare kind of trip down New York City's memory lane.
About the Holiday Nostalgia Train
The Holiday Nostalgia Train is made up of subway cars in service from 1932 until 1977. Three of the subway trains, from the 1930s, usually reside in the Brooklyn-based NY Transit Museum, which takes them out on a special-occasion-only basis.
Ceiling fans, padded seats, and incandescent light bulbs were state-of-the-art when these cars were first placed in service. Each car holds about 70 seats. About four cars are returned to service for the delight of nostalgic riders, train buffs, and folks looking for a funky way to time travel in the Big Apple.
Not only the trains but their fixers and mechanics, too, are a rarity. As one can imagine, these are historic cars, and only a handful of experts today actually know how to use and repair trains that were designed to function mechanically.
So, pick your era and go for a ride. You might dress up like a 1930's flapper or a 1960's fop. Put on an old New Yawk accent and a vintage hat. Or, just bring the kids for a ride along a few of the dozen or so stops this old choo-choo makes, say from lower to midtown Manhattan (see below for specific stops).
7 Things to Know About NYC's Holiday Nostalgia Trains
- Cost: Believe it or not, you pay the regular subway fare of $2.75, using your normal Metrocard.
- Safety: Don't worry about safety. The trains are old, but well maintained, and they're running on normal tracks.
- Historically, Where Did They Run? These trains served the lettered lines throughout the system.
- Where Does the Holiday Nostalgia Train Start? 2017’s Holiday Nostalgia Train will run along the F line between 2nd Av and Lexington Avenue / 63rd Street and via the Q line between Lexington Avenue / 63rd Street and 96th Street on the Upper East Side
- How Long Is the Entire Ride? And Do You Have to Take the Whole Ride? From beginning to end, one way, allow for about a half hour. You can take a normal train one way, and a vintage one way. Or, just hop on and hop off, if you'd rather live in the present than in the past.
- What Is the Schedule? In 2017, the Holiday Nostalgia Train departs from the 2nd Av subway station on the F line at 10 a.m., 12 p.m., 2 p.m., and 4 p.m. and from the 96th Street subway station on the Q line at 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 3 p.m., and 5 p.m.
- Food: Please don't bring tea and sandwiches or crumpets, wine or drinks, charming as the idea of a picnic on the train may seem. These are museum-quality trains, and they've got to be cleaned and kept in good repair. Bring your camera instead.
Summer Vintage Train Rides
The winter holidays aren't the only time that you can ride a vintage NYC subway. In the summer, the Brooklyn-based Transit Museum sponsors fundraising events featuring vintage train rides to beach destinations such as Coney Island. To learn more about historic subway trains, or to volunteer, visit the NY Transit Museum site.