Grand Central's Holiday Train Show

There are plenty of ways to celebrate Christmas in New York City. If you’ve already paid a visit to the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, shopped to your heart’s content at the city’s holiday markets and snapped photographs of all the department store holiday windows on view, here’s an alternative events guide, featuring some of the most quirky and exciting activities unfolding this weekend.

From festive train shows to holiday movie screenings, here are a few of our favorite options. Happy holidays Untapped readers!

11. Behind-the-Scenes Tour of the Ellis Island Hospital

Ellis Island_Abandoned Hospitals_Behind the Scenes Tour_Untapped Cities_NYC_4

The abandoned Ellis Island Hospital complex—once the standard for United States medical care (and later transformed to the FBI headquarters when the island served as a detention center)—has been left to decay for nearly 60 years. Now, Untapped Cities is bringing you behind-the-scenes for an unique exploration of the abandoned facility; on this experience, you’ll visit the contagious disease wards, the autopsy rooms and have exclusive access to places usually closed to the public.

While Ellis Island has become one of New York City’s top tourist attractions, drawing over two million visitors per year, the 22-building South Side hospital complex is hidden in plain sight, just to the left of disembarking passengers headed towards the Great Hall. Looking at its desolate, skeletal frame now, it’s difficult to imagine its backstory as one of the largest public health undertakings in American history. Join us for our upcoming hard hat tour, guided by a Save Ellis Island docent, where we’ll uncover its many, buried secrets.

Behind-the-Scenes Hard Hat Tour of the Abandoned Ellis Island Hospital

10. Winter Solstice at the High Line

Celebrate the winter solstice with The Gaits Soundscape 2017, an immersive “soundwalk” on the High Line. Prior to the event, which takes place on Thursday, December 21, download The Gaits App for iPhone or Android. Then, following check in at 5:30pm, where the first 100 participants will receive portable speakers, the walk will begin on street level before moving through the park.

Together, participants will create a collective music piece with “twinkling metallic sounds, electric guitar chords, dulcimer notes, and water splashes.” This event is inspired by Phil Kline’s annual Unsilent Night. Participants are encouraged to bring their own small portable speakers for the event.

9. Sing Yuletide Carols at Washington Square Park

Washington Square Park arch Christmas tree

Nothing will get you into the holiday spirit more than lending your vocals to a Christmas choir. The Washington Square Association, which provides the annual Christmas tree south of the Washington Square Arch, is offering two opportunities for the public to participate in a session of Christmas Eve caroling.

Head to the park on December 24 from 5pm to 6pm to join the Rob Susman Brass Quartet and other carolers as they belt out familiar holiday tunes. Song books will be distributed, although you likely won’t need them.

8.  16th Annual Holiday Train Show at the New York Transit Museum Annex

Grand Central's Holiday Train Show

There are plenty of activities geared towards transit buffs and railroad enthusiasts this Christmas. The 16th Annual Holiday Train Show at the New York Transit Museum Annex (inside Grand Central Terminal) runs through the New Year, featuring model trains zipping through tunnels and past skyscrapers. The event, which presents a different theme every year, is free and open to the public. For more information, click here.

Brooklyn’s New York Transit Museum, located on the corner of Boerum Place and Schermerhorn Street, is also offering highlight tours, where Museum Educators will share information about the construction of the subway system and showcase vintage subway cars that date back to 1904. Then, take an actual ride through the living history of the world’s largest rapid transit system (in area) by joining us for our Underground Tour of the NYC Subway. We’ll be weaving in and out of past and present transit hubs of lower Manhattan while learning about spaces even the most seasoned commuter might not know about.

Underground Tour of the NYC Subway

7. Holiday Lunch Cruise With Hornblower

Test out your sea legs during a lunch cruise, where you’ll wine and dine while taking in stunning views of the New York City skyline. Hornblower is hosting this two-hour event from 12:30pm to 2:30pm on Friday, December 22 (boarding begins at noon).

Your ticket includes a “holiday inspired” buffet, DJ entertainment and a variety of beverages, including coffee, tea, soda and juice. During your sea journey, you’ll also be able to see the Statue of LibertyEllis Island, Brooklyn Bridge, Governors Island, and the Freedom Tower.

6. Holiday Tours at the New York Botanical Garden

Sadly, Bar Car Nights — the 21+, after-dark viewing of the New York Botanical Garden Holiday Train Show — is sold out for December 22, but there are plenty of other activities taking place there. Enjoy some Christmas classics with NYBG’s holiday film screenings, listen to a few a cappella jams and embark on a Winter Wonderland Tree Tour.

All these events are taking place over Christmas weekend, so make sure to check the NYBG schedule for related programming. Otherwise, simply opt for a pleasant stroll through the Gardens.

5. Go See Over-the-Top Holiday Decorations

You certainly shouldn’t miss the colorful holiday window displays put together by some of the biggest department stores in the city. However, there are a few places in New York City that take holiday decoration much too seriously (to our great pleasure).

If you’re looking for a holiday meal inside a festive location, a few of our recommendations include Rolf’s, a German eatery on 22nd Street and 3rd Avenue, Milon Bangladesh Indian Restaurant on 93 First Avenue (2nd Fl. between 5th& 6th Streets) and Pete’s Tavern (129 East 18th Street), the oldest continuously operating bar and restaurant in New York City. See our full list of recommendations here.

4. The Lodge at the McKittrick Hotel

The McKittrick Hotel is welcoming back The Lodge, a wintertime conversion of rooftop bar Gallow Green into a veritable cabin in the woods. Since this is the McKittrick Hotel of Sleep No More fame we’re talking about, expect nothing less than an all-out theatrical experience. This is a cabin that will take you, mind and body, out of New York City and straight to the wintry, Scottish woodlands.

The last time we paid a visit, we encountered an upwards of 50 Christmas trees surrounding the wooden cabin, with forest paths to explore. The main room, whose doors are weighed down by tin cans, had two bunk beds (replete with hot water bottle and Scottish blankets galore), a fireplace, two sitting areas, a long wooden communal kitchen table, a small kitchen and the bar. There was also a small bedroom with the bed surrounded to the ceiling on three sides by old books.

There was a desk in the foyer covered with books on plants and collected specimens. Letters and sheet music were tacked onto the wall. An outdoor patio area had a real fire burning, which doubled as a smoking area. Then through the wooded paths, we found a tent filled (and we mean filled) with sheepskins — but that’s just touching the surface. See over previous coverage of The Lodge.

3. Christmas Day at the Museum at Eldridge Street

Most places will be closed on Christmas, but the Museum at Eldridge Street is keeping its doors open for a full day of activities. From noon to 2pm, drop in for ongoing tours of building, self-guided scavenger hunts, and family art projects. Then, at 3pm, a live concert will take place, featuring Biblical Ballads and music from Hasidic, Klezmer and Yiddish traditions.

As an added bonus, the Museum’s new exhibition, Let There Be Light – A Whole Lotta Light!, will also be on view. It presents a collection of over 100 unique menorahs collected by the Lori and David Moore family. Read more about the exhibit here, and purchase tickets for the event here.

2. Explore the History of Ice Skating at the MCNY

Major & Knapp Engraving, Manufacturing & Lithographic Co., printer Empire City Skating Rink, ca. 1868. Color lithograph. Museum of the City of New York, The J. Clarence Davies Collection, 2 9.100.1544

New York on Ice: Skating in the City, a new exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York, digs into New York’s ice skating past, tracing its evolution from a 19th-century craze to the elaborate spectacle, commercialized leisure activity, and competitive sport it is today.

New York on Ice, curated by Frances Rosenfeld, will be open for viewing through April 15, 2018 at the Museum of the City of New York (1220 5th Avenue). Also make sure to check out the programs planned in conjunction with the show. Central Park’s Lasker Rink is just across the way from the Museum should you want to go ice skating after walking through this exhibition. From the 26th to the 31st, the Museum will also give out vouchers for free hot chocolate to the first 100 people who come in. Read more here.

1. Christmas Movies at the Nitehawk Cinema

Photograph by Sakeenah Saleem

Brooklyn’s Nitehawk Cinema — the first dine-in theater to open in New York — is presenting its holiday show spectacular, which includes screenings of holiday-themed movies like Silent Night, Deadly Night and Scrooged, paired alongside tableside food and beverage service.

Order your meal, grab a specialty cocktail or a local brew, and enjoy Christmas in front of a huge screen.

Next, check out 10 Alternative NYC New Year’s Eve Events to Ring in 2018 and discover 10 Fun Facts About the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree.