As we turn the clocks back and the nights become longer and colder, it’s easy to dread the snowfall and brisk mornings of New Jersey. Luckily, the Garden State has plenty of activities to brighten up your evenings. From festive train rides through blissful winter wonderlands to drive-through light shows, New Jersey is certainly the best place to celebrate the season. So, whether it’s for the sweet hot chocolate or spectacular seasonal displays, be sure to visit these 11 New Jersey holiday events happening in 2021.
The Polar Express – Whippany, NJ
With winter fast approaching, the magic of the holidays is upon us. There’s nothing cozier than sitting by the fire, snuggling in a blanket, and rewatching your favorite seasonal movies. But, what if you could live one yourself?
At The Polar Express in Whippany, the classic story comes to life on a train ride through the Garden State’s winter wonderland. Punch your golden ticket and sit under festive decorations in restored coach cars to celebrate the holidays. During the ride, Santa and his helpers will greet the guests as dancing chefs serve shortbread and hot chocolate. To truly relive the story, The Polar Express and other children’s books will be read aloud, letting passengers relax for a night of merry nostalgia.
At the end of the night, each passenger will receive their very own silver bell to ring throughout the holiday season. For an even more festive train ride, select first-class cars and enjoy hot chocolate in ceramic mugs and 1940s restoration. The train runs from Nov. 3 to Dec. 30.
Atlantic City Holiday Bazaar – Atlantic City, NJ
During the holidays, the spirit of gift-giving truly awakens. This year, instead of visiting local strip malls, check out the Atlantic City Holiday Bazaar. Open on Dec. 4 and 5, this first annual holiday bazaar showcases everything from handmade items to food and decor. The event, which is free to the public, will be hosted inside the Arts Garage at Stockton College.
Local and regional artists sell everything from vintage jewelry to handmade art and home goods. Experience live performances, holiday photo stations, photos with Santa, and delicious food to really kick off the season.
Turtle Back Zoo Holiday Light Spectacular – West Orange, NJ
Admittedly, winter nights are chilly and dark. Yet, somehow, they have a way of bringing people together. Experience exactly that at the Turtle Back Zoo Holiday Light Spectacular, where light shows and holiday cheer cover the entire zoo. From Nov. 19 to Dec. 31, brighten your evenings with over 100,000 holiday lights, 50 winter and animal characters, and holiday sing-a-longs. The Turtle Back Zoo will also have meet-and-greets with Santa, creating the best photography opportunities.
Also, in merging cold and creativity, weekends will host ice carving demonstrations to display the beauty of winter in New Jersey. The miniature train, carousel, Essex Farm, and princess holiday visits also serve as main attractions for the ongoing event. It’s also the best destination to donate any gently-worn coats, non-perishable food items, and toys.
Winter Walk Snowflake Stroll in Taylor Park – Millburn, NJ
There’s nothing like an evening stroll under twinkling lights to celebrate the season. At the Winter Walk in Taylor Park, explore the beauty of Millburn under dazzling holiday displays and music from Nov. 21 to Feb. 1. Pass through the Taylor Street Bridge, lined with lights, or cozy up under the gazebo for a quiet, peaceful night out.
To make an evening out of the Winter Walk, visit one of the 15 restaurants within walking distance of the park, or see a show at the Paper Mill Playhouse. This event is one of the best ways to experience the bliss of New Jersey during the holiday season.
The Santa Express – Woodbine, NJ
While the Seashore Lines in New Jersey transports many unique passengers during the year, one of its most famous guests is Santa Claus. On The Santa Express in Woodbine, the festively-decorated coach cars are dedicated to delivering holiday cheer. Climb aboard this 75-minute train ride for an afternoon of entertainment, snacks, and Santa meet-and-greets.
Departing from either Richland or Tuckahoe Village every weekend from Nov. 20 to Dec. 25, The Santa Express has quickly become a favorite for New Jersey locals. And, if you’re searching for an even cozier trip, this line also features the Santa Starlight Express. From Dec. 10 until Christmas, this nighttime attraction encourages travelers to wear pajamas and relax as the express train sails under the stars.
Bergen County Winter Wonderland – Paramus, NJ
When thinking about the holiday season, there’s one image that comes to mind––ice skating on a glittering outdoor rink. Something about the crisp air and sliding of ice skates fully captures winter in the Garden State. Luckily, the Bergen County Winter Wonderland includes open-air ice skating and skate rentals at Van Saun Park.
At this ongoing event in Paramus, from Nov. 26 to Jan. 2, visitors can meet Santa, play games, and check out beer and wine gardens. To warm guests up, the pavilion will remain open to the public. Local food trucks will be stationed around the festivities, preparing hot and delicious meals to combat the chilly air. For a true winter wonderland, this Paramus destination is the perfect place for family and friends.
Morristown Christmas Festival – Morristown, NJ
New Jersey is filled with traditions. From famous folklore to years-old villages, the state is intertwined with culture and history. Lighting the Morristown Green for over 100 years, the Morristown Christmas Festival celebrates exactly that. From Nov. 28 to Dec. 19, this holiday celebration includes all kinds of seasonal entertainment. Bring family and friends to visit Santa, or check out the local holiday crafts to dive into the season. The festival features rides on a miniature train, ice sculpture demonstrations, and sweet treats for guests.
On certain days, catch the Mayo Performing Arts Company singing holiday favorites while sipping hot chocolate under the dazzling lights of the Green. For locals in the Garden State, this is the best event to bring the community together.
Diggerland Drive-Through Holiday Light Show – West Berlin, NJ
From saltwater taffy to the Atlantic City Boardwalk, the Garden State has created many things. One of the most interesting attractions, however, is Diggerland––America’s only construction theme and water park. At this theme park, visitors can operate specially-engineered real machinery during the warm seasons.
Now, for the second winter in a row, the park features the Diggerland Drive-Through Holiday Light Show. Operating from Nov. 17 to Jan. 2, guests can drive through lights, holiday displays, and glimmering tunnels to brighten up the evening. Tune into Diggerland’s commercial-free radio for holiday tunes as coast through the festive course. For food, stop by the ForkLift cafe located in the park.
Christmas in Cape May – Cape May, NJ
There’s nothing cozier than the holidays––except, possibly, the holidays in Cape May. From Nov. 19 to Jan. 2, the famous seaside town is transformed into a Dickens village to celebrate an “Old Fashioned Christmas.” Stroll through garlands of fragrant greens, illuminated by the soft glow of gaslights, to witness the calming simplicity of the late 1890s.
During this seasonal celebration, visit Christmas candlelight house tours, the Holiday Tree Lighting Ceremony, and other fun events at America’s only National Historic Landmark city. For an even more immersive experience, board the All That Glitters trolley tour. Travel back to 1899 and help a dear friend make final preparations for the New Year’s Day celebration, cruising through the town’s roads and stores. Whether it’s listening to the Atlantic Brass Band perform as Santa lights the tree, or peeping your head into a bed and breakfast, this Cape May event captures all of the spirit and warmth of the holidays.
Holiday Light Show on The Lake – Smithville, NJ
If you celebrate Christmas, you may know the pressure of picking out the perfect Christmas tree. There’s a delicate balance between a tree grand enough to display, but small enough to hoist through the doorway. At the Holiday Light Show on The Lake at Historic Smithville, the event didn’t just select one tree.
From Nov. 25 to Jan. 6, visit all 120 lit Christmas trees, decorated with more than 50,000 lights. Each night, breathe in the holiday season as lights and music dance over the lake’s surface. The reflection merges together like a mirage, creating a beautiful sea of shapes and colors. Visitors can see the lights from either side of the village, as well as the bridge, or stroll along the lake.
Festival of Trees – Princeton, NJ
Decorations are like art. And each holiday season, New Jersey locals become artists. At the Festival of Trees in Princeton, running from Nov. 17 to Jan. 9, visit ornamental trees and mantels displayed throughout the Morven Museum. The exhibition focuses on capturing the beauty of the holidays, giving guests an opportunity to view new, creative decor.
The museum, previously a New Jersey governor’s mansion, is offering a variety of events alongside the festival. For a night of twinkling lights, hot beverages, fire pits and hors d’oeuvres, attend the Winter Garden Party on Dec. 2. Or, visit the museum’s virtual pajama storytelling event for a calm, relaxing evening. All proceeds from the festival and events go to exhibitions and educational programs.
Main photo by Nino Maghradze
Plan on visiting any of these New Jersey holiday events in 2021? Let us know in the comments!