After celebrating Christmas together, Regina Lopez took her visiting parents by train to visit New York City recently to see the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.

"It was the first time I have seen the tree since I've been here and their first time seeing it," the Stamford resident Lopez said. "Of course I was going to take them to New York."

A strong holiday retail and tourism season has resulted in a 10 percent jump in the number of people riding Metro-North Railroad's New Haven Line the first three weekends of December this year than last, the third straight gain in ridership during the traditionally heavy travel time to New York City.

The New Haven Line's average Saturday and Sunday ridership to New York City during the period jumped to 79,500 passengers per day compared to 72,440 passengers in 2010, according to railroad officials.

On all three Metro-North lines, average weekend day ridership jumped 9.2 percent from 138,985 to 151,822 riders, according to railroad officials.

For the holidays, Metro-North operated 38 shopper special trains beginning the Saturday before Thanksgiving holiday, including 16 trains originating in Stamford, in anticipation of increased ridership, railroad spokeswoman Marjorie Anders said.

The railroad views the popularity of weekend travel to New York in the run up to the holidays as an encouraging sign in combination with positive anecdotal evidence of retail sales, Anders said.

"The sharp increase in ridership was a surprise, but combined with reports of a positive start to the holiday shopping season, is an encouraging sign about consumer confidence and its impact on Metro-North's ridership growth," she said.

The New Haven Line's holiday weekend ridership growth represents a 20 percent jump from the 2006 average of 66,173 riders, Anders said.

In late December, several shoppers at the Stamford Town Center said they had visited New York City that month to shop or see the sights.

Sitting outside of GameStop, 46-year-old Karl Sperling of Stamford said he took his two sons to the city recently to visit the American Museum of Natural History, which was packed with other families.

"It is part of the holiday spirit to go to New York City," Sperling said. "It was a great day."

Before the holidays, Margaret Duplessy, 48 of Darien, who was shopping at Macy's, made a trip to shop in New York City to spread her search for the right gift for several relatives.

"Most of the time I can find what I want in Stamford or nearby, but it was part of my effort this year," Duplessy said.

Metro-North also recorded its highest ever ridership over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, carrying more than 402,000 customers, a 6.4 percent increase over 2010, Anders said.

On Thanksgiving weekend, approximately 27 M-8 cars were in service, she said, which helped reduce the number of standing customers counted from 2,000 last year to 500.

"It was the best Thanksgiving ever and a huge bump up," Anders said.

Chris Heywood, spokesman for New York City & Co., an organization partnered with New York City to promote tourism and shopping in the city to the media and public said the organization expects to meet its goal of having 12.5 million visitors in the fourth quarter of 2011.

"This is a very popular time of year for people to travel and spend time in New York City shopping and sightseeing," Heywood said. "We're expecting to exceed our goal of having 50 million visitors this year."