Visitors to NYC can feel like they're dropping cash everywhere. Here's five free holiday activities to spread good cheer.
(1) The Station Tour at Citigroup
Broadway set designer Clarke Dunham and his wife, Barbara, have brought to life a 27-foot replica of a Victorian train station and filled it with intricate displays of miniature trains and figurines. The trains chug up and down the Catskill and Adirondack mountains and pass New York City skyscrapers and a country fair--complete with a hand-painted Ferris wheel--as the seasons change from one scene to the next.
Citigroup Center Atrium, 53rd St. and Lexington Ave., dunhamstudios.com; Mon.-Sat. 10 A.M.-5 P.M. and Sun. noon-5 P.M., through Dec. 29 (closed Christmas Day).
(2) Prospect Park in Lights
Local artist Jim Conti's festive installations light up all four entrances to Brooklyn's Prospect Park: Grand Army Plaza, Bartel-Pritchard Circle, Park Circle, and Parkside & Ocean Aves. On weekend evenings, trolleys make free half-hour trips through the park. Hot chocolate and entertainment are extra perks on Dec. 10 and 17.
Prospect Park, 718/965-8999, prospectpark.org; trolleys depart from Grand Army Plaza at 6:45 P.M., 7:30 P.M., and 8:15 P.M., Sat. and Sun. through Jan. 7, 2007.
(3) The Pond at Bryant Park
There's no shortage of Manhattan rinks (Rockefeller, Wollman, Lasker, Chelsea Piers), but this recent addition gets kudos for its free admission and postcard perfect surroundings--an old-fashioned carousel, a flower kiosk, a holiday market, and restaurants. In mid-January, the Pond dries up to make way for the white tents and runways of Fashion Week.
Bryant Park, 40th to 42nd Sts. between Fifth and Sixth Aves., 866/221-5157, bryantpark.org; open daily through Jan. 15, 2007; $8.75 skate rental.
(4) Why Art? An Exhibition and Examination of International Children's Art
Budding artists aged 3 to 14 contributed watercolors, tempura paintings, collages, and sculptures to this show organized by the nonprofit Jardin Galerie. Works are grouped by category--Trees and Secrets; My Mother, My Family; Animals; and Sea Life--to highlight cultural similarities and differences.
The UBS Art Gallery, 1285 Ave. of the Americas, between 51st and 52nd Sts., 212/713-2885; open Mon.-Fri., 8 A.M.-6 P.M., through Jan. 12, 2007.
(5) Charmin Restrooms
It's hard to believe, but Charmin's 20 public restrooms in the heart of Times Square are so clean and well-supplied that you'll actually want to use them. There's an indoor waiting area, and attendants in unfortunate white uniforms (with attached floppy toilet seats!) inspect the restrooms after each use.
Times Square, 1540 Broadway at 46th St., charmin.com; 8 A.M.-11 P.M. daily through Dec. 31, 2006 (they close at 6 P.M. on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve and are closed all day on Christmas).