The Kid-Centric Winter Break Guide
Weather is often the deciding factor when planning winter break activities, which is why save for a few select outdoor options, the holiday-themed happening and cultural events listed here are predominantly indoors, and appeal just as much to kids as they do to the accompanying adults. The best part: a good chunk of these won’t cost you a dime.
LARD Dog & the Band of Shy50 W. 13th St., Greenwich Village | 212.675.6677
Remember when Pee Wee’s Playhouse came out it felt like adult comedy masquerading as a kids show? LARD Dog & the Band of Shy is an update of that same concept for the next generation. Lard himself is dressed up in nerdy glasses with Steve Erkel-height shorts and a colander hat, along with a big-deal band—complete with backup singers and full brass. It’s a perfectly hipster family outing. Closing January 2nd.
Holiday Train Show at Grand Central89 E. 42nd St., Midtown
Despite its central location, Grand Central’s annual train show is really one of New York’s best-kept secrets. It’s completely free and there are no lines, so it’s a blissfully easy activity to wrangle together. It’s not as big as the train show at the Botanic Gardens, but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in style. The exhibition features plenty of vintage trains and lots of historical information that dads will inevitably get absorbed in. Bonus points if you follow up the visit with a trip on a real train.
School of Rock the Musical1634 Broadway, Midtown | 212.239.6200
This light-hearted musical version of the beloved movie was actually written by Andrew Lloyd Weber. While it’s not exactly Phantom of the Opera, in his deft hands it's become a major standout in the flock of for-kids musicals that have overrun Broadway in the past few years. The relatable characters and modern updates (it’s not a carbon copy of the movie and now includes Taylor Swift and smartphone references) keep kids engaged and the renditions of classic rock hits mean there's plenty for parents to love, too.
New York Hall of Science GingerBread Lane47-01 111th St., Corona | 718.699.0005
Turns out that the mecca of gingerbread houses is on GingerBread Lane inside the New York Hall of Science—it just won its third consecutive Guinness World Record for the largest gingerbread village (1,120 structures covering 500 square feet, no joke). The entirely edible houses are designed and executed by a chef named Jon Lovitch. The exhibition is free with NYSCI admission and totally worth it. Be sure to show up before January 10 to see the display in all its glory. But, if you and the kiddos happened to be interested in sampling the gingerbread, come by on the 10th for the GingerBread Lane House Giveaway—line opens at 10am, giveaway begins at 11am.
AMNH Origami TreeCentral Park West & 79th St., Upper West Side | 212.769.5100
This is a fun holiday exhibit to check out if you have a trip planned to the American Museum of National History. The origami tree has been a staple of the season for AMNH for more than three decades, and we know why: it's really, really cool. The tree is decorated with hundreds of handmade origami creations inspired by museum features. This year's theme is "Mighty and Microscopic Life," so creatures small and large, from microbes to the Titanosaur. Extra activity: volunteers from OrigamiUSA will be there to teach the art and craft behind it all. Visit through January 10.
Christmas Lights Tour145 4th Ave., Union Square | 212.913.9917
An organized tour of the best Christmas lights around: kind of a brilliant idea. A Slice of Brooklyn offers a bus tour around the most spirited Brooklyn neighborhoods so you don't have to brave the elements or be in charge of navigating (or even own a car). The tours leave from Union Square and go through some of the borough's most well-known areas for their decadent decorations, like Dyker Heights, but they also offer glimpses further off the beaten path. Throughout the tour, guides will point out all the important monuments, i.e. the tallest Santa. Tours take off every night in December except for Christmas Eve and Christmas.
Holiday Train Show @ NYBG2900 Southern Blvd., Bronx | 718.817.8700
Totally geek-out-worthy, this year's train show exhibition at New York Botanical Garden features a track that is nearly a half-mile long. Set in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, the model trains weave through a mini-scaled New York City—iconic buildings like Rockefeller Center and the NYPL are made of natural materials like bark and leaves. Have the kids watch out for Thomas the Tank Engine cruising by. The dazzling display ends on January 18, and you can make reservations in advance to avoid a long wait.
Young Charles Dickens340 E. 46th St., Midtown East | 212.573.8791
Based on the book A Boy Called Dickens by children's author Deborah Hopkinson, this play is an imaginative take on what life was like for twelve-year-old Charles Dickens. Fans of Dickens will be able to spot his future fictional characters, who show up in various forms here. But no matter—the show is still enjoyable for readers not yet old enough for Dickens (and for those of us whose Dickens knowledge is a bit, ahem, dusty). The show is the perfect length to keep fleeting attention spans: 70 minutes with no intermission. Runs through January 3.
Winter Village41 W. 40th St., Bryant Park | 212.661.6640
Rockefeller Center may be the classic New York ice skating location, but nearby Bryant Park brings all the cheer with way less crowds. During the holidays, the park is filled with vendors selling locally made gifts and cards, with plenty of street food to keep littles fed while they wear themselves out. Don’t leave without a cup of decadent hot chocolate from the Max Brenner chocolate bar (get the marshmallow).
The Nutcracker20 Lincoln Center, Upper West Side | 212.496.0600
This quintessential holiday show doesn't get more classic than New York City Ballet's staging at City Center, using George Balanchine's traditional choreography—big jumps, dramatic lifts, and elaborate group numbers. Perhaps most impressive is the sheer magnitude of the performance, which includes more than 90 dancers (plus a cast of 50 adorable kids), fantastically opulent costumes, and a 40-foot tall Christmas tree. Every little dancer should go at least once. November 28 to January 3.