Javascript is not enabled.

Javascript must be enabled to use this site. Please enable Javascript in your browser and try again.

Skip to content
Content starts here
CLOSE ×
Search
Leaving AARP.org Website

You are now leaving AARP.org and going to a website that is not operated by AARP. A different privacy policy and terms of service will apply.

Celebrate the Holidays by Visiting a Festive Model Train Show

Discover fanciful train displays amid lush gardens and miniature replicas of famous sites

spinner image a model train in a festive exhibit in atlanta georgia
Festive model train exhibits are a treat for all ages.
Atlanta Botanical Garden

There’s nothing better than gathering with friends and family during the holidays. But coming up with activities that are multigenerational crowd-pleasers can be harder than regifted fruit cake. Cue five festive model train exhibits that evoke the spirit of the season. Rich in nostalgia and imagination, these accessible installations across the country are guaranteed to enchant people of all ages.

spinner image Image Alt Attribute

AARP Membership— $12 for your first year when you sign up for Automatic Renewal

Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP the Magazine.

Join Now

spinner image model trains pass above and below each other at the new york botanical garden
Open-topped rail cars carry acorns, pine cones, seeds and other natural materials in the model train exhibit at the New York Botanical Garden.
Courtesy of The New York Botanical Garden

1. ‘Holiday Train Show,’ New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, New York

The New York Botanical Garden’s 32nd “Holiday Train Show” debuts an outdoor enchanted woodland that leads to the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, where the main exhibition resides. G-scale steam engines, streetcars and passenger locomotives rumble across elevated trestles, around mountains, through tunnels and over replicas of the Brooklyn and George Washington bridges. Open-topped rail cars wind through mossy forest floors carrying acorns, pine cones, seeds and other natural materials that make up the exhibit’s botanical structures. Don’t miss the adorable retriever-sized rabbits that evoke old-school illustrations and fanciful fungi à la Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Inside four large greenhouses, replete with hundreds of species of flora and nearly 200 replicas of New York buildings, are the backdrops for 30-plus additional trains chugging across three-quarters of a mile’s worth of track. Through Jan. 15, 2024 (closed Mondays, except Dec. 18 and Jan. 1), 10 a.m.–6 p.m. $35 for adults; $31 for adults 65-plus, students with ID; $20 children 2–12; free for children younger than 2, patrons and members.

spinner image model trains going over tracks at the u s botantic garden in washington d c
Trains are elevated in the U.S. Botanic Garden display in Washington, D.C.
U.S. Botanic Garden

2. ‘Season’s Greenings,’ U.S. Botanic Garden, Washington, D.C.

Pollinators play a crucial role in maintaining a healthy ecosystem and sustainable food supply; about 75 percent of flowering plants require animal pollination to reproduce. With this in mind, the U.S. Botanic Garden honors our pollinator friends with a whimsical production set in the venue’s gated outdoor gardens. G-scale trains wind past supersized foliage, insects and surprising animal pollinators cleverly crafted from plant parts. Among them are a gecko pollinating a Trochetia flower, a lemur fertilizing a traveler’s tree flower and a chocolate midge courting a cacao flower. Upon entering the conservatory, you’ll find an ocean of poinsettias and more framing organic re-creations of the U.S. Capitol, the Lincoln Memorial and 11 other points of interest. Through Jan. 1, 2024 (closed Dec. 25), 10 a.m.–5 p.m., with extended hours until 8 p.m. on Dec. 14, 21 and 28. Free; no tickets required.

Travel

Holland America Line

Up to $200 onboard credit on select cruises

See more Travel offers >
spinner image model trains pass by buildings and tropical plants in the frederik meijer gardens and sculpture park
The Railway Garden features a mix of tropical plants and winter evergreens.
Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park

3. Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, Grand Rapids, Michigan

The Railway Garden within the 29th annual “University of Michigan Health-West: Christmas & Holiday Traditions” winds G-scale trains through two lush indoor greenhouses filled with an eclectic mix of tropical plants paired with winter evergreens from the Great Lakes state. Accented with handcrafted waterfalls, tunnels and bridges, the scenery is set at a child’s height for captivating up-close encounters. Organic materials are transformed into architectural structures where acorns serve as lights and transparent leaves are windows. As a whole, the exhibition showcases more than 40 global cultures and customs annually, focusing on a different theme each season. This year, it’s “Gather — A Celebration of Community,” with a hat tip toward cultural practices based on communal festivities, such as Seollal, the Korean New Year, when families perform ancestral rituals over three days. Through Jan. 7, 2024 (closed Dec. 24–25; Dec. 31–Jan. 1). Open Sunday 11 a.m.–5 p.m. (9–11 a.m. for members); Monday, Wednesday through Saturday 9 a.m.–5 p.m.; Tuesday 9 a.m.–9 p.m. Extended hours until 9 p.m. Dec. 18–22 and Dec. 26–30. $20 for adults 14–64; $15 for adults 65-plus and students with ID; $10 for children 3–13; free for members and children 2 and younger.

spinner image model trains travel through a colorful festive village
Trains traveling through the Gumdrop Lane village pass brightly colored houses adorned with candy at the Atlanta Botanical Garden.
Atlanta Botanical Garden

4. ‘Holiday Model Trains,’ Atlanta Botanical Garden, Atlanta

G-scale trains roll through six enchanting villages of varying sizes in Atlanta Botanical Garden’s outdoor garden, each with its own theme and color scheme. Gumdrop Lane sparkles with vivid hot-pink and lime green hues, illuminating homes adorned with an assortment of colorful candies. Take in the slopes at the new Ski Lodge, encircled by blooms like dusty miller and white violas and sprinkled with tufts of evergreens and the odd forest animal. The North Pole is strewn with toys, wrapped gifts and Christmas trees dripping with ornaments and holiday lights. Santa’s Workshop and Elves’ Bunkhouse are new this season, two of three additions to the frosty feature. The third is Mount Crumpit, where stocking-sized chunks of coal are mined for youngsters on Santa’s naughty list. The homes in A Victorian Christmas embody the grandeur and elegance of a bygone era and are bathed in shades of cranberry, champagne and forest green. Through Jan. 14, 2024 (closed Mondays), 9 a.m.–4 p.m. $27 for adults; $24 for children 3–12 on weekdays; $30 for adults; $27 for children 3–12 on weekends; free every day for children younger than 3 and members.

spinner image a room full of model trains at north park
“The Trains at NorthPark” display includes playful replicas of iconic locations.
Courtesy of Tamytha Cameron Photography

5. ‘The Trains at NorthPark,’ NorthPark Center, Dallas

Next to photos with Santa Claus and Macy’s, “The Trains at NorthPark,” benefiting Ronald McDonald House of Dallas, takes visitors on an exciting O-scale (slightly smaller than G-scale) train ride cross-country from New England to San Francisco. The 37th annual display features playful reimaginings of iconic locations, such as the Texas State Fair, Arizona’s Grand Canyon and Colorado’s Garden of the Gods, across several mesmerizing vignettes and 1,600 feet of track. Roswell, New Mexico’s martian colony is worth a peek, as is South Dakota’s comical locomotive-inspired redesign of Mount Rushmore. Leave plenty of time to find Superman, Cinderella and other beloved figurines hidden within the exhibit as part of a fun-filled scavenger hunt. The Ronald McDonald House sells an array of collectible rail cars online to further support the charity. You can pick from different styles to be personalized by a local painter and shipped to you in about six weeks. Alas, they won’t arrive by Christmas, but you can have them displayed at next year’s event. Through Jan. 5, 2024 (closed Dec. 25). Open Monday through Saturday 10 a.m.–8 p.m.; Sunday from noon to 6 p.m. $10 for adults; $5 for adults 65-plus, children 2–12; free for children younger than 2.

Discover AARP Members Only Access

Join AARP to Continue

Already a Member?

AARP Travel Center

Or Call: 1-800-675-4318

Enter a valid departing date

Enter a valid returning date

Age of children:

Child under 2 must either sit in laps or in seats:

Enter a valid departing date

Age of children:

Child under 2 must either sit in laps or in seats:

Enter a valid departing date

Age of children:

Child under 2 must either sit in laps or in seats:

Flight 2

Enter a valid departing date

Flight 3

Enter a valid departing date

Flight 4

Enter a valid departing date

Flight 5

Enter a valid departing date

+ Add Another Flight

Enter a valid checking in date

Enter a valid checking out date


Occupants of Room 1:



Occupants of Room 2:



Occupants of Room 3:



Occupants of Room 4:



Occupants of Room 5:



Occupants of Room 6:



Occupants of Room 7:



Occupants of Room 8:


Enter a valid departing date

Enter a valid returning date

Age of children:

Occupants of Room 1:

Age of children:


Occupants of Room 2:

Age of children:


Occupants of Room 3:

Age of children:


Occupants of Room 4:

Age of children:


Occupants of Room 5:

Age of children:

Age of children:

Child under 2 must either sit in laps or in seats:

Enter a valid start date

Enter a valid drop off date

Select a valid to location

Select a month

Enter a valid from date

Enter a valid to date