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 the holiday season happen in New York.
Dave and I had big plans for our first Christmas in New York City. We asked all our Manhattan friends what to do during the holiday season 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
When staying in New York at Christmas we recommend choosing accommodation near Times Square. We’ve been to New York many times and have an excellent post rounding up the best neighborhoods to stay in New York City. You can also skip to the bottom of this post for our suggestions of where to stay in New York City during the Christmas holiday season.
Looking for more New York Inspiration? Read our favorite things to do in New York at any time of the year
Our Christmas Vacation in New York
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 from the famous department stores adorned with decorations to the Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park there is something for everyone.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year to be in New York City. New York comes to life during the holidays and there are so many things to do in NYC at Christmas, that we had to give them all a try. Christmas comes alive in New York particularly in midtown Manhattan where department stores are decorated, Christmas performances are in full swing and skating rinks are packed with people celebrating the holidays. We’ve rounded up the top attractions for holiday fun to help you decide where to start your New York City Christmas vacation. Let’s go!
1. The Rockettes Radio City Music Hall
I was sure my New York friends were going to tell me I was nuts when I told them we booked a ticket for the Radio City Christmas Extravaganza during the holiday season. It turned out that everyone said, “Go see the Rockettes!” New Yorkers like it, they really like it! And we liked it too!
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.
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2. The Rockettes Christmas Spectacular
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 energy 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.
- Book your night at Radio City Music Hall Rockettes Christmas Spectacular today before it sells out!
- We have also booked a backstage tour included with our New York Pass of Radio City Music Hall which is awesome. You even get to meet a Rockette and see the secret room where Walt Disney and Judy Garland hung out.
3. The Nutcracker at the Lincoln Center
If you want to see another Christmas Show in New York, the Nutcracker is performed by the New York City Ballet at the Lincoln Center. Nothing rings in the holiday season quite like the Nutcracker. I have seen so many shows on TV mentioning shows at 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.
4. Christmas Markets
You can’t have a proper Christmas in New York without visiting the Christmas Markets. If you are looking for a guided experience to see the Christmas markets of New York, do not miss this Chrismas Lights and Markets Tour. We loved it!
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 around the world. New York City has markets all over town from uptown to downtown during the holiday season.
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 is the Bryant Park holiday market.
Check out our best Christmas Gift ideas for people who love to travel
5. Bryant Park
Why was Bryant Park our favorite place in New York for the holiday season? Well, for one, there is an ice skating rink and you can skate here for free!
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.
There’s a great Christmas tree here as well, which we actually enjoyed more than the tree at the Rockefeller Centre.
6. Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree
Even though it wasn’t one of our favorite of things to do in New York at Christmas, you can’t NOT go to the Rockefeller Christmas Tree. It would be like going to Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower. In 2023, the Rockefeller Tree will arrive on Saturday, November 11 and it will stay up until the end of January 2024. If you want to be there for the Christmas tree lighting ceremony, that is happening on Wednesday November 29, 2023. Make sure to arrive early to grab your spot!
If you go to the Rockefeller Center at other times during the holiday season, make sure to 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.
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
7. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Christmas Tree
If you want to see another beautiful Christmas Tree in New York City, the Met has a long tradition of showcasing a holiday Christmas Tree. The twenty foot blue spruce is the center of a Neapolitan Nativity scene with angels hovering overhead. You’ll find it in the Medieval Sculpture Hall. However, there are no tree light ceremonies scheduled for 2023, so you will just have to go to the Met to see if for yourself.
8. Saks Fifth Avenue Light Show
New York City is known for its holiday window displays during the Christmas holiday season, 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 Brothers Tree at Rockefeller Center to watch the show. If you do a complete 180-degree turn from the rink, you’ll see a 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.
Other stores that get into the Christmas spirit are nearby Bergdorf Goodman and Tiffany and Co. Each has elaborate displays starting in November.
9. New York Christmas Window Displays
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.
10. Macy’s Herald Square
Macy’s Herald Square in New York City is famous for its annual Christmas window displays. Each holiday season, the department store transforms its windows into elaborate scenes filled with festive decorations, animated characters, and intricate details that tell a holiday-themed story.
The tradition of the Macy’s Christmas window displays began over a century ago, and it has since become a beloved holiday tradition in New York City, attracting millions of visitors each year.
The window displays typically feature a mix of animated figures, intricate sets, and technology to create immersive scenes that capture the spirit of the holiday season. In the past, the displays have ranged from traditional Christmas scenes to original stories created by the Macy’s team.
The Christmas window displays at Macy’s Herald Square are unveiled in late November and remain on view until early January, offering a magical experience for both locals and tourists alike during the holiday season. The windows are located along Broadway and 34th Street, and they are free to view.
11. Central Park
There is nothing more romantic than strolling through Central Park during the holidays with a hot chocolate in hand. It reminded me of Home Alone 2 Lost in New York and as we walked through the pathways, we reimagined all the places where Kevin got lost in this classic Christmas movie.
You can also go ice skating at Wollman Rink in Central Park. This skating rink was opened in 1949 and has been a holiday staple in New York for decades. It is located near the southern entrance of the park, with the stunning New York City skyline as its backdrop.
During the holiday season, Wollman Rink transforms into a winter wonderland, complete with festive lights and holiday music. It’s a great place to enjoy the holiday spirit while also getting some exercise. Ice skating at Wollman Rink has become a beloved tradition for both locals and tourists alike.
A lot of movies were filmed in Central Park – A Great tour to take is the Holiday Lights and Movie Tour of NYC
12. Horse 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 horses are treated humanely and are mostly rescue animals. And when searching websites we see that establishments maintain that horses’ well-being are their top priority.
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 working 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 being 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.
The NYSVMS 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
13. Tavern on the Green
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, 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.
This is a romantic destination and the setting is beautiful, but do yourself a favor 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.
14. 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
15. New York Botanical Gardens Holiday Train Show
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 is 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
16. A View from Brooklyn
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.
17. Dyker Heights Christmas Lights
While in Brooklyn, make your way to Dyker Heights to view 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 Magic 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.
- Get Your New York City Explorer Pass to 85 tours and attractions and Save 55% on general admissions to top NYC Attractions Check out more details here.
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.
18. Buddy the Elf Tour
It’s been 20 years since Elf starring Will Ferrell took the Christmas holiday season by storm to celebrate, the Elf Movie Sites Tour has opened in NYC! You’ll visit iconic movie scenes such as where Buddy and Santa escaped from the Central Park Rangers on Santa’s sleigh, the Pinebank Arch, the scene of the infamous snowball fight and see Macy’s, Buddy’s North Pole home-away-from-home.
Learn about behind the scenes trivia, and be led by a local actor. Be sure to pack your Christmas spirit and your favorite Santa or Elf hat.
19. Miracle Pop Up Bar
To take part in one of New York’s newest traditions, seek out the Christmas-themed pop-up cocktail bar called Miracle which serves holiday-inspired drinks in a festive setting. The bar first debuted in New York City in 2014 and has since expanded to multiple locations worldwide.
The bars are typically decked out in Christmas decorations, including lights, garlands, and holiday-themed knick-knacks. The menu often features creative holiday-inspired cocktails with festive names and unique presentations. Some of the past drinks have included concoctions like the “Bad Santa,” “Jingle Ball Nog,” and “Christmapolitan.”
Miracle bars usually pop up in existing bars or restaurants, transforming the space into a Christmas wonderland for the holiday season. In New York City, there have been multiple Miracle locations in different neighborhoods, each with its own unique holiday vibe. The pop-up bars are usually open from late November until the end of December, providing a festive place for people to gather and celebrate the holiday season.
20. Ball Drop on New Year’s Eve
Even after December 25th, the holiday season is still in full swing in New York City. If you are still in town for December 31, make your way down to Times Square for New Year’s Eve. Visiting Times Square on New Year’s Eve is an exciting but also challenging experience due to the large crowds, cold weather, and long wait times.
People start arriving in Times Square in the early afternoon to secure a good spot for the ball drop. If you want a good view, you should plan on arriving as early as possible. Once you are in Times Square, it can be difficult to leave and come back to your spot. Bring snacks and water to keep yourself fueled throughout the night, bathrooms are limited and plan on waiting around for a long time.
Times Square for New Year isn’t for everyone, but if it has always been your dream to do it, we say, go for it!
21. Bronx Zoo Light Show
During the holidays the Bronx Zoo transforms into a winter wonderland with light displays, animal lanterns, and festive decorations. Visitors can stroll through the zoo and enjoy the dazzling lights, illuminated animal sculptures, live entertainment, and holiday-themed music.
The Holiday Lights show typically runs from late November through early January and features numerous light displays and animal-shaped lanterns that illuminate the zoo. The displays are designed to celebrate wildlife and the holiday season.
In addition to the light displays, the zoo also hosts live performances, including carolers, ice carving demonstrations, and more.
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.
- Read About these Times Square Hotels that we have stayed at. It is a great place to make a home base when visiting New York during the holidays.
- Check out more things to see in Times Square at Things to do in Times Square – A Walking Tour and Nearby Attractions
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 within walking distance of many activities and Christmas attractions.
More on New York City Hotels
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 is 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, and energetic, this neighborhood blurs the lines between cliched/touristy and glamorous.
- DUMBO – For those looking to escape Manhattan wonderful neighborhoods of the Outer Boroughs will allow you to explore further.
- Williamsburg – Trendy hipster Brooklyn neighborhood. One of the hottest spots in Brooklyn.
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 lights of Dyker Heights.
Plan more of your New York City travels:
Enjoy all these things to do in New York City at Christmas? Save it to Pinterest for future travel planning.
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This post is in partnership with IHG Rewards, but as usual, all views of our experience are our own.