Christmas Destinations

All Aboard The New York Botanical Garden Holiday Train Show

Take a virtual journey through the Holiday Train Show, an annual Christmas tradition on display each winter at the New York Botanical Garden.

by | May 13, 2022

What’s the first thing you think about when someone mentions the New York Botanical Garden? If you said their annual Holiday Train Show, then we at the Elf Squad are right there with you.

Every year since 1992, locals and tourists alike flock to the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory to see the expansive greenhouse become a full-fledged model-train tribute to New York City. Within three separate rooms, 25 G-scale model trains ride past over 175 of New York City’s most famous landmarks on tracks that add up to half a mile long. Each building, statue, bridge, and fountain is made from bark, leaves, and other forms of plant material to create stunning, detail-oriented, and easily-recognizable miniatures of the real things.

Macy's at the New York Botanical Garden Holiday Train Show

Holiday Train Show Background

The Holiday Train Show was created by a team of Kentucky-based artists and landscapers called Applied Imagination, founded in 1991 by Paul Busse. They specialize in what’s called “botanical architecture,” combining Paul’s love of model trains and gardens, along with his background in landscaping and architecture. Each display centers around tiny yet detail-oriented structures made entirely of plant material. Their more ornate works even have built-in lighting and sound effects to add in more wonder.

What started off as a fun little showcase of plant-based artwork quickly became a beloved holiday tradition for millions of families visiting the NYC area. In fact, Applied Imagination has also created other holiday train shows at public gardens and greenhouses across the country. You’ll find a few of them in Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and Washington D.C.

Although Paul has since retired, his daughter Laura now runs the company and continues to expand and modify the displays for each of these popular train shows. And as each year passes, they’ve added many incredible new landmarks to each showcase, including the one at the New York Botanical Gardens.

Yankee Stadium at the New York Botanical Garden Holiday Train Show

A Walk Through The Holiday Train Show

Once you step inside the greenhouse area, you’ll walk under replicas of all the famous New York City bridges, such as George Washington, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and even Hells Gate, all while you admire all the mini landmarks on either side. Each building lights up from the inside for a realistic yet magical feel. You might even here a few sound effects coming from the building. For example, the old Yankee Stadium plays pre-recorded announcements and cheers from past games.

There’s a gorgeous reflecting pool in one room, which serves as the perfect display for every famous building you'll see in the New York City skyline. Here, the Freedom Tower, Empire State Building, Chrysler Building, and several other skyscrapers are all huddled together as trains run past them all while the Statue of Liberty stands proudly in front, right in the middle of the pool.

Take in all the greatest monuments to arts and culture, like a Metropolitan Museum, Ellis Island, and even the new Amsterdam Theater - Broadway’s oldest operating theater. Can’t make it to Radio City this Christmas? You’ll see it here, just next door to the Apollo Theater. You’ll even marvel at the accurate depictions of Rockefeller Center, Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, and the many landmarks of Central Park. And the trains don’t stop there, as they roll past Grand Central Terminal and under the original Pennsylvania Station from pre-1964.

Coney Island at the New York Botanical Garden Holiday Train Show

Manhattan landmarks aren’t the only ones on display here. As you walk in, you just might recognize the old Coney Island Amusement Park in all its colorful glory. You’ll find a fully-functioning Wonder Wheel, along with Luna Park Tower and the Elephantine from its early days. Even famous buildings from the NYBG itself are on display, as there are mini models of the LuEster Mertz Library and the Haupt Conservatory itself. And of course, the surrounding plants and trees are covered in millions of colorful holiday lights, making the whole scene look all the more magical after sunset.

As for the trains themselves, you’ll find a good mix of old-fashioned and modern engines. Some of them carry passenger cars, while others haul carts full of Christmas trees along the tracks. Even Thomas the Tank Engine stops by every year, rolling along happily with his two passenger cars to the delight of everyone who grew up watching him. And if you look close enough at any of the old-fashioned train cars, you just might see Santa taking a ride before he heads out on his sleigh.

Thomas The Tank Engine at the New York Botanical Garden Holiday Train Show

When To Visit The Holiday Train Show

Like most Christmastime events and activities, the New York Botanical Garden’s Holiday Train Show is only held from late November until the end of January. Since it is so popular, we recommend getting your tickets as early as possible since dates do sell out. The Elf Squad always looks forward to attending to see what changes are made each year. The Holiday Train Show is a perfect holiday activity for those looking to let off a little steam!