I’ve always had a fascination with Grand Central Terminal. Its majestic cerulean ceiling in the Main Concourse featuring the zodiac signs, the information booth clock where tourists take selfies and, of course, the delicacies at Grand Central Market. Luckily, I’m not the only one in love with this beautiful landmark building that is the second most visited destination in New York City after Times Square. My 10-year-old son has also marveled at its grandeur and is a bit of a train buff, so we decided to trek into the city and learn more about its history.
With the holiday season in full swing, perhaps your family is taking MetroNorth into the city for time-honored traditions such as the Rockefeller Christmas Tree lighting or to catch The Nutcracker. Most people breeze in and out of the building built in 1913 on their way to their next destination, but I argue that if you take a bit of time to check out Grand Central Terminal and the New York Transit Museum Gallery Annex, you won’t be sorry.
November is the ideal time to visit when the Grand Central Terminal Holiday Market opens in Vanderbilt Hall on Nov. 12 and runs for six weeks. For the past 25 years, this indoor market features more than 40 vendors with most selling American-made and handmade products using locally-sourced materials or having a socially-conscious business model. It’s a great shopping destination if you are looking for unique artwork, clothing, men’s and women’s accessories, toys and home goods all at different price points.
The 17th annual Holiday Train Show at the New York Transit Museum’s Gallery Annex also kicks off on Nov. 15. Model trains whirl by as they circle around the base of a magnificently-lit tree. While much smaller in scale than the holiday train show at the New York Botanical Garden it still is worth a stop, plus it’s free. The display features Lionel trains departing from a miniature replica of Grand Central Terminal on their way to the North Pole and will be set against new artwork by New York City-based artist Ebony Bolt. Bolt, who is a textile designer by trade, finds inspiration in riding the city subway and loves celebrating the diversity of commuters in her sketches. The exhibit runs through Feb. 3. If you have train-loving kids, the Annex is also a great shopping destination with subway-themed merchandise.
For true train buffs and an outstanding deep dive into all things transit-related check out the New York Transit Museum in Downtown Brooklyn, located in a decommissioned subway station. The museum is full of historical artifacts plus a rotating selection of 20 vintage subway and elevated cars dating back to 1907. This museum is more of an all-day activity as there is so much to see and do. I still recall how difficult it was to drag my son as a toddler out of this museum. We’ll definitely revisit it now that all my kids are older.
While visiting the Annex at Grand Central Terminal, my son and I signed up for a 75-minute docent-led tour of the building. The tour is given daily by docents from the Municipal Arts Society of New York at 12:30 p.m. and highlights the history and architecture of one of the world’s biggest train terminals. Tickets for children under 10 and visitors with a MetroNorth same-day ticket stub are $20 and are available online at docen
We loved learning about the Whispering Gallery next to the Grand Central Oyster Bar and Restaurant and the luxury trains that used to depart from Grand Central Terminal to Chicago. The tour guide had so many fascinating tidbits about the building and that captured our attention. If your kids love history or trains, don’t miss this tour that is most suitable for children 10 and up. We decided to end our excursion on a sweet note with delicious milkshakes at Shake Shack located on the Lower Level Dining Concourse where your kids can choose from 20 fast-casual restaurants.
Stacey Pfeffer is a writer and editor based in Chappaqua.
Located just off the Main Concourse in the Shuttle Passage, adjacent to the Station Masters’ Office. The Terminal’s Main Concourse is accessible by wheelchair or stroller from both Lexington Avenue and 42nd Street. It is not accessible from Vanderbilt Avenue.
Monday-Friday: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Saturday & Sunday: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Closed for special events and major holidays