Holiday Traditions at Union Station and Crown Center

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We have lived in Kansas City for almost 10 years now, but it wasn’t until three years ago when our daughter was a toddler that we really explored the city during the holiday season. We quickly fell in love with the holiday atmosphere at Union Station and Crown Center and have established holiday traditions of annual visits during the season. Every year, it seems we discover something new to enjoy, and one of the best parts is that much of it is free or very inexpensive!

We hoped to make it to at least one of the lighting ceremonies this year but with a newborn in the house that ain’t happening (hopefully some of you were able to make it!) Here’s a list of some of our favorite things to do. Hopefully you can check them out yourself and discover the magic for your family, too!

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Pro tip: one of the many benefits of the Union Station membership is unlimited rides on the mini train!

Our favorites at Union Station:

  • Take pictures with the 40-ft Christmas tree and beautiful lights and decorations. We try to visit at least once during the day and once at night to really take in the beauty of the decorations against the grand backdrop of Union Station. 
  • Ride the mini train (a few times usually). This is for kids under 48” and it is a real treat. Rides are free for Union Station members and $5 for everyone else. The train does not run on Mondays so plan accordingly!
  • Check out the holiday themed model train displays. The holiday trains will get you in the spirit and mesmerize your train loving kids! While there, make sure you check out the year-round train displays in the back room and the play area for small children.      

Other things to do:

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The detailed scenes in the holiday train displays are impressive, and much of it is at eye level for kids!

  • Send a letter to Santa! Crayons, coloring sheets, and blank letters to Santa are provided as well as a giant mailbox so your kids can mail them off! (Located on the B level. Closed Mondays).
  • Take your family to see a classic holiday movie for only $3/ticket! This year’s line up includes Elf, National Lampoons Christmas Vacation and The Polar Express (come in your PJs!)  
  • Santa comes to Union Station from Dec 16-20 on the Kansas City Southern Holiday Express Train. This experience is free but Union Station members get first dibs on tickets with set entry times. The walk on line can be very long depending on when you go. Experience includes a chance to meet and take pictures with Santa, walk through the train to see special holiday displays, and go home with a special treat bag. Also note that no strollers are allowed on the train, and you don’t actually go on a train ride.  
  • Grab a couple girlfriends and get your shop on at the Holiday Swing Indie Craft Fair on December 11.
  • Performances- You’ll find local choirs singing by the tree and there are also a variety of musical and dance performances taking place throughout the season. Check the calendar for details.
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Watch the forecast for a warm December day to enjoy the outdoor playground!

Our favorites at Crown Center: 

  • Mayor’s Christmas Tree: This 100-ft Christmas tree is incredible, day or night. Last year was our first time seeing it at night, and it is stunning. I love that the wood from the tree is made into a commemorative ornament sold the next year!  
  • Outdoor playground: This is such a fun area to explore, especially on a warmer day when the sun is out! There are over a dozen wooden cars, trains, and other structures for kids to climb and play on.
  • Ice skating: We haven’t actually taken our eldest ice skating yet but she loves to watch the skaters. Kids 4 and under skate for free. You just pay $3 to rent the skates. 
  • Santa’s Gingerbread Station: This is back in the free exhibit space next to The Coterie. You can get a professional photo with Santa for a fee or take your own for free. Kids can climb aboard Crown Center’s Express Train Engine and see the Gingerbread Village. Lines are LONG on the weekend so try to go on a weekday if possible.  
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Pictures with Santa are free if you take the picture yourself!

Other things to do: 

  • See Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer at The Coterie: Nov 8th-Dec 31st. The TV classic is brought to life on the stage. Coterie shows are generally recommended for kids over the age of 5.  
  • Daily performances by local choirs in the main atrium.
  • Extended hours so you can get all your shopping done!

General tips:

  • Weekends will be more crowded than weekdays and weekday crowds will pick up once school lets out.  
  • You can park at either Union Station or Crown Center and walk The Link to get to the other building (only pay for parking once AND avoid the cold!)
  • Plan to make at least two trips: one during the day and one at night when you can see the lights!
  • Find more details and the full calendar of events at Crown Center here and Union station here

What’s your favorite holiday tradition at Union Station and Crown Center?

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