Christmas in New York 2020 – What to do in NYC for the Holidays

Written By: The Planet D

Who doesn’t want to celebrate Christmas in New York? It seems that every great Christmas movie or memory of ours is somehow associated with NYC.  It has always been our dream to spend Christmas in NYC and we finally got the chance to make it happen.

Dave and I had big plans for our Christmas in New York City. We asked all our Manhattan friends what to do during the holidays and they gave us amazing suggestions. We made our list, we checked it twice, and off we went to New York City for the holidays

Fun Ideas For Christmas in New York

Where to Stay in New York at Christmas

The last time we stayed in New York, we lodged in the Intercontinental Times Square. It’s an amazing property that offers a different, more upscale choice. This time, we were on more of a budget. So when using our IHG Rewards, we choose the Holiday Inn Times Square. Even though our room was a bit small at the Holiday Inn Times Square, it had all the amenities we needed and a fantastic view of Manhattan. Armed with our New York Pass, we set out to do everything festive (twice!) in New York City.

What we love about New York is that we don’t spend a lot of time in our room so the best thing to think about when booking a hotel is the location and affordability and the Holiday Inn is affordable. You are, after all, in the city that never sleeps! Staying in Times Square at Christmas keeps you close to all the Christmas attractions. We were walking distance to many activities and Christmas attractions.

Our Christmas Vacation in New York

christmas in new york | rockettes show
More than just dancing, there’s singing, skating and more!

Bundle up with your favorite hat, scarf, and mittens. Pack your comfortable and warm winter boots, layer up, and get ready to explore our Christmas in New York.

1. The Rockettes Radio City Christmas Spectacular

Christmas NYC | radio city christmas spectacular Rockettes
Radio City Music Hall – A dream come true

I was sure my New York friends were going to tell me I was nuts when I told them we booked ticket for the Radio City Christmas Extravaganza. It turned out that everyone said “Go see the Rockettes!”

Radio City Music Hall’s Christmas Celebration is a New York City institution dating back to 1932. If you are going to catch a show during the holidays in New York, this is the one to see.

The Rockettes

nyc holidays | rockettes radio city music hall
Rockettes in the Christmas Spirit

I was expecting to see 90 minutes of women kicking their legs high in the air “A Chorus Line” style, but there’s a ton of budget, thought and fun that goes into the show.

There are singers, figure skaters, a 3D screen showing Santa’s adventure, and a group of shorter and more diverse male and female dancers backing up the actual Rockettes.

2. The Nutcracker

things to do in new york at christmas

If you want to see another Christmas Show in New York, the Nutcracker is performed by the New York City Ballet at the Lincoln Centre. Nothing rings in the holiday season quite like the Nutcracker. I have seen so many shows on TV starting with the Lincoln Centre that I felt giddy stepping foot on the complex.

Besides the ballet, you’ll find the Opera House and Geffen Hall where the New York City Philharmonic plays. Handel’s Messiah was being presented while we were there.

For deep discounts Get your New York City Pass.

With the city pass, you save up to 70% on admission to New York’s most famous attractions.

  • Get access to 80 New York attractions
  • Choose a 1-7 day package
  • Explore New York at your own pace
  • Receive discounts at shops, shows and restaurants
  • Skip the line at many of the busiest attractions
  • Free use of Big Bus Hop-on Hop-off tours

3. Christmas Markets

xmas in new york - christmas markets in new york city
Union Square Christmas Markets

You can’t have a proper Christmas in New York without visiting the Christmas Markets.

We visited our first Christmas Markets during a river cruise of Europe a few years ago, and since that time, they have been sprouting up everywhere. New York City has markets all over town from uptown to downtown.

things to do in new york city at christmas
Christmas Market Columbus Circle

We visited several holiday markets from the indoor market at Grand Central Station (a New York City tourist attraction unto itself).

The most popular is probably the Union Square Holiday Market where we ran into a friend randomly in this gigantic city! And the lovely Columbus Circle Holiday Market. We went to them all and loved each minute! But our personal favorite, Bryant Park holiday market.

Check out our best Christmas Gift ideas for people who love to travel

4. Bryant Park

Why was Bryant Park our favourite? Well, for one, you there is an ice skating rink and you can skate here for free!

Christmastime in New York Skating Rink
Free Skating Rink at Bryant Park

Bring your hockey or figure skates along and you can go ice skating at Bryant Park. If you don’t have your own skates, rentals are $20. The arena is surrounded by Christmas stalls selling ornaments, arts and crafts, and of course, apple cider to keep you warm.

new york in christmas | christmas tree at bryant park
Bryant Park Christmas Tree

There’s a great Christmas tree here as well, which we actually enjoyed more than the tree at the Rockefeller Centre.

5. Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree

nyc holidays | Christmas Tree at New York's Rockefeller Center
Rockefeller Tree decorated for Christmas in New York

Even though it wasn’t our favorite of things to do in New York at Christmas, you can’t NOT go to the Rockefeller Christmas Tree. It’s would be like going to Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower.

If you go in the morning or later at night, crowds are much less and you can see the lights displayed on the tree overlooking the famous skating rink.

Christmas in New York Rockefeller Center
Rockefeller Center ornaments

I wouldn’t recommend skating here. The fees are high and there is a long wait to get on the ice. But it’s worth stopping by to see the holiday display at the Rockefeller Center, and to use the free public washrooms, have a seat, and warm up with a cup of coffee in the concourse. Book Your Tickets to visit the Rockefeller Center

6. Saks Fifth Avenue Light Show

christmas shopping in new york | saks fifth avenue Christmas in New York
Light Show at Saks Fifth Avenue

New York City is known for its holiday window displays but Saks Fifth Avenue takes the holiday spirit to new heights.

If you time it right, you could be standing at the viewpoint of the Warner Brother’s Tree at Rockefeller Center to watch the show. If you do a complete 180-degree turn from the rink, you’ll see Saks storefront where their light show plays to dramatic Christmas music at regular intervals once the sun goes down. This is a must-do when you visit New York City at Christmas.

7. New York Christmas Window Displays

Christmas in New York City Window Displays
Window Displays are amazing in New York at Christmas

Speaking of Saks, the best way to check out the New York window displays is to walk along Fifth Avenue from Central Park. All the storefronts are decorated to the nines. Some were calling for children to interact with the display by hitting buttons and pulling levers.

Don’t forget to make a detour to Bloomingdales, a staple of New York located on Lexington Avenue.

8. Central Park

central park New York city at Christmas
Central Park in New York City at Christmas

There is nothing more romantic than strolling through Central Park during the holidays.

It reminded me of Home Alone 2 Lost in New York and as we walked through the pathways, we reimagined all the places that Kevin got lost in this classic Christmas movie.

We also intended to take a carriage ride, but then a friend that lives in New York said people are working to get these rides banned.

A lot of movies were filmed in Central Park – A Great tour to take is the Holiday Lights and Movie Tour of NYC

9. Carriage Ride

nyc christmas horses and carriage
Do the research before you take that carriage ride

We didn’t personally take a carriage ride in New York, but we do want to mention this option. We have heard that the horses are treated humanely and are mostly rescue animals.

It is up to you if you want to take a carriage ride or not. We chose not to, but here are two sides to help you make a decision. Horses have historically been work animals, and that is exactly what they are here in New York. If people take a carriage ride in Central Park, they are supporting local businesses.

New York Horses – 2 Sides to Each Story

Animal rights activist Jane Velez-Mitchell says.

Horses are flight animals. They’re also pasture animals. They go from being locked in a carriage horse to locked in a stall behind bars. They do not get to go into a pasture and they’re in the middle of one of the busiest cities in the entire world,” JaneUnchained.com.

Carriage.com says

The NYSVMS has has been committed to ensuring the humane treatment of all animals throughout New York State for 125 years, and writes that “Opponents of horse-drawn carriages are also misinformed about the conditions in the carriage industry, frequently claiming that the horses are forced to live and work under inhumane conditions.

A careful examination of the lives of these animals reveals the opposite. These horses, many of which are rescue animals themselves, live and work under the careful scrutiny of the veterinary profession, which follows stringent standards designed to ensure the animal’s welfare is of paramount importance.” Carriage.com

10. Tavern on the Green

tavern on the green New York at Christmas
Tavern on the Green – the most romantic Christmas stop

We were excited to visit Tavern on the Green in Central Park. The top hat and tails clad doorman greeted us with a smile as he let us into the city’s iconic landmark.

But we made the mistake of not making reservations, and so only had the opportunity to browse the gift shop and check out the sitting area by the bar.   When we arrived at 2 pm there was a 90-minute wait for a table.

Tavern on the Green New York City in Christmas

This is a romantic destination and the setting is beautiful, but do yourself a favour and reserve a table for lunch. I want to go back and sit inside properly. Christmas in New York wouldn’t be complete without a visit here.

11. Empire State Building

things to do in in new york on christmas day | empire state building

The Empire State Building is open 365 days a year including Christmas Day! Be prepared for very long lines though. During the holiday season, the Empire State Building lights up in a festive red and green glow.

We love doing touristy things and we really loved going up to the Observation Deck. It really showcases a beautiful view of the skyline. Entrance to the Empire State Building is included with your New York City Pass gives you front of the line access to New York Attractions. Or you can also purchase skip the line admission to the Empire State Building Observation Deck

12. New York Botanical Gardens Holiday Train Show

christmas time new york | holiday fair

Located in the Bronx, The New York Botanical Gardens is worth a visit to see the Holiday Train Show. 150 miniature New York City Landmarks span a half a mile track that are meticulously lit with bright lights as model trains move through the miniature city.

There are plenty of things to keep you busy at the gardens during the holiday season including performances, acapella groups, concerts and poetry readings. Click here to book tickets to the Holiday Train Show

13. A View from Brooklyn

DUMBO - Where to stay in New York City

There are many places to get a great view of the New York City skyline, but our favorite is definitely from Brooklyn Bridge Park in DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge). This is a spot you recognize from many a Hollywood movie, where historic buildings lead down narrow streets directly to the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges.

From the waterfront here you can snap several different views of the New York City skyline, but the most impressive picture comes from Pier 2 where wooden poles jut out of the water, making for an impressive foreground. Plus there is a carousel here that really puts you in the festive spirit.

14. Dyker Heights Christmas Lights

Christmas New York the Skyline
Christmas in New York: New York City Skyline

While in Brooklyn, make your way to Dyker Heights to view to see the Christmas lights display. The homes in this New York neighborhood get into the Festive spirit by having Christmas professionals design their lights starting the day after Thanksgiving.

It has become so popular, there are tours offered out to see the displays from 11th Avenue to Dyker Heights Blvd (aka 13th Avenues) from 83rd to 86th St in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn. Check out this highly rated Manhattan to Brooklyn Christmas Majic Tour by Get Your Guide.

There are always so many things to do in New York at Christmas, so if you want to fulfill your Christmas in New York City dream like we did, start planning now. You won’t be disappointed.

We loved every minute of our holiday; there’s no other place in the world where Christmas is embraced as much as New York City.

Where to Stay in New York

If you are wondering where to stay in New York during your Christmas holidays in the city, we have a comprehensive neighborhood guide breaking each are to help you plan your trip!

  • SoHo / Tribeca – Gorgeous cast-iron warehouses, top-notch shopping, fantastic people watching, and in the center of downtown.
  • The Village – Quiet tree-lined streets with million dollar townhouses, cute cafes and restaurants, fantastic bars, and a great music scene.
  • Lower East Side / East Village / Nolita – Old punk rockers, hipsters, and the original center of immigrant life in New York.
  • Upper West Side – An affordable and convenient neighborhood that has lots to do, particularly for families.
  • Chelsea – Glitzy, trendy, new, energetic, this neighborhood blurs the lines between cliched/touristy and glamorous.
  • DUMBO – For those looking to escape Manhattan wonderful neighborhoodsof the Outer Boroughs that will allow you to explore further.
  • Williamsburg – Trendy hipster neighborhod. One of the hottest spots in Brooklyn.
  • Astoria – fantastic deals, where New Yorkers like to live for local vibe choose to stay in Astoria or Long Island City.

New York City Christmas Quick Tips

Is Christmas a good time to visit New York?

Christmas is definitely an amazing time to visit New York. Christmas markets are open all around town, storefronts are decorated with colorful lights and special Christmas performances take place. New York is made for Christmas celebrations.

Does it snow in New York at Christmas?

It is cold in December in New York and it can snow. Pack your layers and be prepared for winter weather.

What is there to do at Christmas in New York?

There are so many things to do in New York during the holidays like Radio City Christmas Spectacular, The Lights at Saks Fifth Avenue, Christmas Markets, carriage rides in Central Park and Christmas light of Dyker Heights.

Plan more of your New York City travels:

Traveling to the United States, see our United States Travel Guide

YOU MAY ALSO WANT TO CHECK OUT THESE OTHER CITY GUIDES

Enjoy all these things to do in New York City at Christmas? Save it to Pinterest for future travel planning.

things to do in new york city at christmas

This post is in partnership with IHG Rewards, but as usual, all views of our experience are our own.

Travel Planning Resources

Looking to book your next trip? Why not use these resources that are tried and tested by yours truly.

Flights: Start planning your trip by finding the best flight deals on Skyscanner

Book your Hotel: Find the best prices on hotels with these two providers. If you are located in Europe use Booking.com and if you are anywhere else use TripAdvisor

Find Apartment Rentals: You will find the cheapest prices on apartment rentals with VRBO

Travel Insurance: Don't leave home without it. Here is what we recommend:

  • World Nomads - Digital Nomads or Frequent Travelers.
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Need more help planning your trip? Make sure to check out our Resources Page where we highlight all the great companies that we trust when we are traveling.

About The Planet D

Dave Bouskill and Debra Corbeil are the owners and founders of The Planet D. After traveling to 115 countries, on all 7 continents over the past 13 years they have become one of the foremost experts in travel. Being recognized as top travel bloggers and influencers by the likes of Forbes Magazine, the Society of American Travel Writers and USA Today has allowed them to become leaders in their field.

Leave a Comment

65 thoughts on “Christmas in New York 2020 – What to do in NYC for the Holidays”

  1. The photographs are eye-catching. I will definitely visit New York at least once during Christmas.
    Thank you for this amazing article.

    Reply
  2. Such an awesome article and especially the photo’s were awesome 😉 Can you travel to New York for London? I wanted to spend my Christmas in New York but due to this situation i couldn’t but looking forward for a 2021 Christmas in New York

    Reply
  3. I get a bit homesick after reading blogs like this although I can’t complain when I am living in Bali. i want to thank you guys for posting so much stuff through the years. Stay safe while you’re in the Big Apple.

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  4. Previous year I was in New York but this year I really miss christmas celebration in new york. Mostly Central Park. Thanks for reminding this christmas

    Reply
  5. Being a traveler I would love to have these gifts.These are absolutely great.There are many things in the list which are pretty useful while traveling.Thank you So Much for the wonderful Article and for sharing such beautiful pictures.
    Keep Blogging!!

    Reply
  6. I spent last Christmas in NYC and I must say, it’s one of my favourite places to spend Christmas in! It’s everything I expected. Your list includes a few things I didn’t get to do, so this means I must go back for another Christmas and tick some more things off 🙂

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  7. Newyork is one of the best destinations to enjoy Christmas. There are so many things to do in New York during Christmas. Thanks for sharing.

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  8. Really, interesting list. I would love to go on every one of them 🙂
    I think yoga retreat would be a great addition to this awesome list

    Reply
  9. I love what I saw yes I’m planning a couple of trips and yes I feel good now that’s just the beginning……too much love in the air.9/17/2019

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  10. I wish my city had all those decorations (christmas trees decorated in public and all the christmas lights and garlin) and all that type of fun (ice skating and other things). Too bad my city hates Christmas; (None of the people where I live have Christmas Spirit expect for me). Although I do get snow so yay :)?

    Reply
  11. Dozens of prominent veterinarians and equine experts have examined and affirm the safety, good health, contentment, and strictly followed regulations applied to New York City’s Central Park Carriage Horses. Over 140,000 unemployed, high maintenance, and unwanted American horses end up in Canadian and Mexican slaughterhouses every year. Even Buck Brannaman of the “Horse Whisperer” fame has studied the dynamics of the carriage wheels, the street surfaces, the horse’s shoes, etc, and asserts the comfort and safety of the carriage horses. A horse’s body language doesn’t lie, but some radical animal rights extremists do.

    Reply
  12. All great ideas but all of the misinformation about the carriage horses is disheartening. Don’t believe Radical Animal Rights wackadoodle and yes, that def includes PETA.

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  13. Because you listened to Jane Velez-Mitchell, you missed THE most historic NYC attraction: a carriage ride through Central Park. I doubt Jane has even been inside a carriage horse barn in NYC, but I have. The horses certainly have room to lie down and sleep, in a comfortable, secure setting. They are fed and have any medical needs (including dentistry and podiatry) checked on and cared for. The carriage rides are reasonable, since the price is not per person, but per carriage- 2,3,4 people. If you stay at the Plaza, you can arrange for the carriage to pick you up and even feed carrots to the carriage horses! Central Park was built in the 1800’s, meant to be seen from a carriage or from horseback. Do yourself a favor and treat yourself to a carriage ride. Don’t believe the lies spread by ignorant people.

    Reply
  14. It’s too bad this article had to fall for the biased ignorance of PETA apologist Jane Velez Mitchell concerning the Carriages in Central Park. (PETA’S single animal “shelter” has an 85+% kill rate, among the highest in the country) The carriage horses have one of the highest levels of oversight and legal protection in the world. They have nearly 150 pages of regulations governing them, are inspected hundreds of times a year, and are in daily contact with the NYPD mounted units. They are the safest ground transportation in the city. Those who actually know and understand working horses, including the American Veterinary Medicine Association, the American Association of Equine Practitioners, the New York State Veterinary Society and dozens of independent vets and horse people have endorsed the industry. And yes, the horses can lay down! Efforts to ban the carriage horses we’re laughed out of the city council for lack of evidence. PETA’s bizarre mission is to eliminate ALL domesticated animals (“Better dead than fed”) and cannot be trusted as an accurate source of information.

    Reply
  15. Great discussions are happening here! NYC looks like a dream city for visitors from all over the world. This article definitely create holiday mood! Stunning! Appreciate and i would share it with my friends!

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  16. Wonderful Christmas……….Wow!! What a amazing photography you shared. Great article and blog post.

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  17. I have heard that Christmas is celebration in New York was on it’s high and as I missed this year’s but I don’t want to miss it in the upcoming year. Thanks for sharing this post.

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  18. I was also on christmas market this year but only in Hungarian capital the Budapest. There was also some nice things but here on the pictures I can see New York is another city as well.

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  19. New York city is one of the best destination of Europe to enjoy Christmas. its really amazing place to enjoy at this time and you shared best things to enjoy here and great photos you shared of that beautiful place.

    Reply
  20. Christmas in New york city is always special. Each Christmas celebration goes on with excitement. I’m very excited for Christmas 2017 !

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  21. Beautiful! Our goal is Thanksgiving and Christmas in NYC this year with our kids! We’ve just had our first ever cold Christmas in China, but without snow!!! 🙁 Fingers crossed we hit NYC in 2017

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  22. Wonderful Christmas……….Wow!! What a amazing photography you shared. Great article and blog post. I am appreciate your time and efforts. Glad to find your post. Thanks for sharing it…

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  23. The picture of NYC from Brooklyn is amazing!
    Makes me hungry for a real Christmas, unfortunately where I live it’s 20 degrees celsius during winter so no white Christmas for us ;(

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  24. Looks absolutely fabulous! I love the photo of the skyline over the water.

    I won’t make it to NYC for Christmas, but I’ll be there in late January. NYC in winter is great cause you can avoid being outdoors and still have a million awesome things to do.

    Reply