Looking to experience the magic of the holiday season in one of the world's most iconic cities? New York City is a festive wonderland during Christmas, with its streets, parks, and buildings transformed into enchanting holiday spectacles.
From ice skating under the stars to viewing dazzling window displays, there's an abundance of Things to Do in New York at Christmas that capture the city's festive spirit.
- Iconic Attractions: Explore classic NYC Christmas landmarks like the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree and Central Park's winter charm.
- Holiday Markets and Shopping: Discover the best holiday markets for unique gifts and festive treats, and experience the magic of New York's famous department store window displays.
- Cultural Events: Find out about special holiday performances, from the Nutcracker Ballet to festive concerts, offering unforgettable entertainment.
Immerse yourself in the holiday cheer and create lifelong memories in the city that never sleeps. Continue reading to uncover the top festive activities and destinations in New York this Christmas season.
Iconic Christmas Attractions and Markets
New York City transforms into a festive wonderland during the Christmas season, with its iconic attractions and markets taking center stage.
The Rockefeller Center, with its majestic Christmas tree and famous ice-skating rink, embodies the quintessence of holiday spirit in the city.
Holiday markets like the Union Square Holiday Market and the Winter Village in Bryant Park become bustling hubs of activity, offering everything from unique handmade gifts to delicious seasonal treats.
These markets are not just shopping destinations; they are places where the community comes together to celebrate the joy of the season.
The window displays along Fifth Avenue and other major streets add to the city’s festive charm, with elaborate decorations that turn shopping into an enchanting visual experience.
1. Rockefeller Center
The Rockefeller Center transforms into a quintessential Christmas landmark in New York City. Here's what you can expect:
Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony
The annual lighting of the Rockefeller Christmas Tree is a spectacle not to be missed. This grand event usually takes place after Thanksgiving and marks the official start of the holiday season in the city.
The tree, adorned with thousands of lights and a dazzling star, stands tall and bright, drawing visitors worldwide.
Be sure to check the specific dates and times for the lighting ceremony to plan your visit accordingly.
Ice Skating Rink
Beneath the shadow of the magnificent tree lies the iconic Rockefeller Ice Skating Rink. Whether you're an experienced skater or lacing up for the first time, skating here is a magical experience.
Surrounded by the buzz of the city and festive decorations, it's a perfect way to immerse yourself in the holiday spirit. Remember, the rink can get crowded, so consider booking your skating session beforehand.
2. Holiday Markets
New York City's holiday markets are a shopper's paradise, filled with unique gifts and festive cheer.
Union Square Holiday Market
This market is renowned for its wide array of handcrafted gifts, artisanal food, and holiday decorations.
As you stroll through the vibrant stalls, you'll find everything from handmade jewelry and crafts to delicious treats. It's a great place to find unique gifts while supporting local artisans.
Winter Village in Bryant Park
Another must-visit destination is the Winter Village at Bryant Park. This charming market features a free-admission ice skating rink, surrounded by glass kiosks selling various goods.
There's something for everyone, from custom-made ornaments to gourmet foods and warm beverages. The festive atmosphere, twinkling lights, and holiday music make it a delightful experience.
3. Window Displays
The holiday window displays in New York are a dazzling sight and a testament to the creativity and spirit of the season.
Fifth Avenue and Beyond
A stroll down Fifth Avenue offers a visual feast with stores like Macy's, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Bergdorf Goodman showcasing their festive window displays.
Each year, these stores outdo themselves with elaborate themes and intricate designs, turning their windows into works of art.
These displays are more than just marketing; they are a cherished part of the city's holiday tradition, attracting locals and tourists alike.
Beyond Fifth Avenue
While Fifth Avenue is famous for its displays, don't miss the opportunity to explore other areas.
Stores in neighborhoods like SoHo, Chelsea, and the Meatpacking District also put up impressive displays, each bringing its unique flair to the holiday season.
Each of these attractions encapsulates the essence of Christmas in New York, offering enchanting and memorable experiences.
Whether you're taking in the grandeur of the Rockefeller Center, browsing through the festive markets, or marveling at the creative window displays, these activities will fill your holiday in New York with joy and wonder.
Cultural and Entertainment Experiences
1. New York Botanical Garden's Holiday Train Show
The Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanical Garden is a delightful experience that mesmerizes children and adults. This show features:
Miniature NYC Landmarks
The exhibit showcases over 175 miniature versions of New York City landmarks, all constructed from natural materials like bark, leaves, and twigs.
Iconic structures such as the Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge, and Yankee Stadium are recreated with astonishing detail.
Winding through this miniature cityscape are model trains covering a half-mile of track.
The trains travel amongst the landmarks, through tunnels, and across bridges, creating a captivating and dynamic display.
Set within the verdant backdrop of the Botanical Garden's Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, the train show is both a visual and botanical treat.
The warm, lush environment of the conservatory provides a pleasant contrast to the chilly outdoor weather, making it a perfect winter escape.
2. Holiday Classics by the New York Philharmonic
The New York Philharmonic's Holiday Classics is an annual tradition that brings the season's spirit to life through music.
The orchestra performs a series of concerts during the holiday season, featuring a mix of classical pieces and holiday favorites.
These performances often include works by legendary composers like Tchaikovsky and Handel.
Led by world-renowned conductors and featuring accomplished musicians, these concerts are a testament to the high-caliber talent of the New York Philharmonic.
The concerts are held in some of New York's most prestigious concert halls, where the grandeur of the setting adds to the magic of the musical experience.
3. Candlelight Concerts
Candlelight concerts offer an intimate and unforgettable way to enjoy Christmas music.
These concerts are held in various stunning venues around the city, from majestic cathedrals to elegant concert halls.
The flicker of candlelight creates a serene and mesmerizing ambiance, perfect for the holiday season.
Diverse Musical Selection
The repertoire ranges from classical pieces to beloved carols. The blend of instrumental and vocal performances by talented musicians creates a rich and diverse musical experience.
The combination of beautiful music, candlelit ambiance, and stunning architecture makes these concerts a uniquely enchanting experience, leaving lasting memories.
4. Christmas Music at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine
The Cathedral of St. John the Divine hosts an extraordinary musical celebration during the Christmas season.
As one of the largest cathedrals in the world, its impressive architecture and rich history make it a magnificent setting for holiday music.
The cathedral's choirs, known for their heavenly voices, perform a selection of Christmas music that ranges from traditional carols to classical compositions.
The combination of the cathedral's grandeur, the reverent music, and the communal spirit of the audience creates a deeply moving experience that captures the essence of the holiday season.
Each of these cultural and entertainment experiences in New York City during Christmas offers a unique way to celebrate the season.
From the whimsical charm of the Holiday Train Show to the solemn beauty of a cathedral concert, these events provide enriching experiences highlighting the city's diverse cultural offerings.
Outdoor Activities and Winter Wonder
1. Ice Skating at Wollman Rink
Central Park's Wollman Rink offers a quintessential New York winter experience that is both picturesque and exhilarating.
Skating in an Iconic Setting
Nestled in the southern part of Central Park, the rink provides a stunning backdrop of city skyscrapers and the park's natural beauty.
Skating here feels like stepping into a classic New York City winter scene, making it a must-do for locals and visitors.
For All Skill Levels
Whether you're a seasoned skater or just finding your feet on the ice, Wollman Rink caters to all levels. It's a family-friendly venue, perfect for a fun day with loved ones.
The rink also offers skate rentals, lockers for convenience, and a snack bar for hot drinks and treats. Check the rink's schedule for public skating sessions and any special events.
2. Central Park's Festive Decorations
Central Park, the green heart of New York City, transforms into a magical winter wonderland during the holiday season.
Strolling Through a Festive Landscape
The park's pathways are adorned with twinkling lights and holiday decorations, creating a festive atmosphere.
Iconic locations like Bow Bridge and Bethesda Terrace take on a special charm with their holiday adornments.
Beyond its scenic beauty, Central Park hosts a variety of winter activities. You can enjoy carriage rides, birdwatching for winter species, or simply take a peaceful walk through the snow-covered landscapes.
Guided tours are often available for those interested in learning more about the park's history and its role in the city's winter celebrations, providing a deeper understanding and appreciation of this iconic urban oasis.
3. Brooklyn Botanic Garden
The Brooklyn Botanic Garden offers a serene escape from the city's hustle and bustle, especially beautiful during the winter months.
Photo via TimeOut
The garden's collection includes areas like the Japanese Garden and the Cranford Rose Garden, which offer unique winter views.
The garden's design allows visitors to see the beauty of plant life in the colder months, with certain species and landscapes specifically highlighted for their winter appeal.
The garden's paths provide tranquil walks through its varied landscapes. The bare branches of deciduous trees reveal striking forms and silhouettes, while evergreens and winter-blooming plants add splashes of color.
The Brooklyn Botanic Garden also offers educational programs and workshops during the winter, giving visitors a chance to learn about the plants and wildlife that thrive in the colder months.
Exploring these outdoor activities and winter wonders in New York City offers a delightful contrast to bustling city life and an opportunity to enjoy the quieter, more reflective aspects of the holiday season.
From the lively energy of ice skating at Wollman Rink to the peaceful strolls through Central Park and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, there's a winter experience to suit every preference.
Festive Dining and Cuisine
1. Tree-Side Jazz Brunch at The Beekman
The Beekman, located in Lower Manhattan, offers an exceptional dining experience during the holiday season, blending fine cuisine with live jazz music.
Nestled in the stunning atrium of The Beekman, the Tree-Side Jazz Brunch is set against a backdrop of elegant décor and a towering Christmas tree.
This setting creates a luxurious and festive atmosphere, perfect for a special holiday outing.
Gourmet Brunch Menu
The brunch features a diverse menu that includes everything from classic pancakes and eggs to sophisticated seafood dishes.
Expert chefs prepare each dish with a focus on flavor and presentation, ensuring a memorable culinary experience.
Live Jazz Performances
Adding to the ambiance, live jazz performances create a lively and sophisticated atmosphere. The music complements the meal, making for a relaxing and enjoyable brunch experience.
2. Balthazar Bakery
Balthazar Bakery is a must-visit destination in New York City for anyone looking to indulge in holiday sweets and baked goods.
Renowned for its artisanal bread and pastries, the bakery transforms into a holiday dessert wonderland. You can expect to find a range of festive treats like gingerbread, peppermint-flavored items, and eggnog-infused delights.
Each item is handcrafted with care, offering a taste of traditional holiday flavors with a gourmet twist. The bakery's commitment to quality ensures that every bite is a celebration of the festive season.
The warm and inviting atmosphere of Balthazar Bakery, combined with the sweet aroma of fresh baking, makes it the perfect spot to enjoy a holiday treat or pick up a special gift for loved ones.
3. Holiday High Tea
High tea during the holiday season is a tradition that combines elegance with festive cheer, offered at various locations across New York City.
Many of the city's top hotels and tea houses host holiday high tea services, where guests can enjoy a luxurious and cozy atmosphere. These venues are often beautifully decorated for the season, adding to the festive experience.
Festive Tea Selection
The high tea menu typically includes a selection of fine teas, often with seasonal flavors like peppermint or spiced chai.
Accompanying the tea is a spread of holiday-inspired finger sandwiches, scones, and pastries. From gingerbread treats to eggnog-flavored desserts, each item is crafted to reflect the joy and indulgence of the holiday season.
A Special Experience
Whether it's a gathering with friends or a moment of solitary enjoyment, holiday high tea offers a unique blend of tradition, luxury, and festive flavors, making it a memorable part of the holiday season in New York City.
Festive dining and cuisine in New York City during the Christmas season are characterized by luxurious settings, gourmet flavors, and a celebration of traditional holiday fare.
From the lively Tree-Side Jazz Brunch at The Beekman to the cozy and elegant holiday high tea, each experience offers a unique way to indulge in the culinary delights of the festive season.
Special Events and Festivities
1. NYC Winter Lantern Festival
The NYC Winter Lantern Festival is a mesmerizing event that lights up the city with its vibrant display of lanterns and cultural performances.
The festival features an array of handcrafted lanterns in various shapes and sizes, illuminating the space with a soft, enchanting glow.
These lanterns often depict scenes and characters from folklore, adding an element of storytelling to the visual spectacle.
Alongside the lantern displays, the festival hosts a variety of performances that showcase different aspects of cultural heritage.
These can include traditional dance, music, and theatrical acts, providing an immersive and educational experience for visitors.
The festival atmosphere is further enhanced with food vendors offering a variety of treats and beverages, making it a perfect outing for families and individuals looking to enjoy a unique and festive evening in the city.
2. Rockefeller Christmas Tree Lighting
The Rockefeller Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony is one of New York City's most iconic holiday traditions, attracting spectators from around the world.
The lighting of the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree is an event that symbolizes the official start of the holiday season in New York City.
This tradition dates back over eight decades and continues to be a significant attraction each year.
The tree, often a Norway Spruce, is carefully selected each year and adorned with thousands of lights and decorations.
The lighting ceremony includes the spectacular moment when the tree is lit up, creating a breathtaking view against the New York skyline.
The ceremony is accompanied by live performances from various artists, ranging from musicians to dancers, adding to the festive spirit of the event.
It's a celebration that combines tradition, community, and holiday cheer, making it a must-see for anyone in New York during the Christmas season.
These special events and festivities are integral to experiencing the holiday spirit in New York City.
The NYC Winter Lantern Festival brings a magical glow to the city's nightscape, while the Rockefeller Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony remains a timeless symbol of the joy and wonder of the season.
Both events offer unique ways to engage with the city's festive culture and traditions.
Shopping and Gift Buying
The holiday season in New York City is a shopper's paradise, with a multitude of markets and shopping districts offering a wide variety of gifts and festive items.
For those seeking unique and artisanal gifts, the Christmas markets scattered throughout the city are a treasure trove.
Markets like the Union Square Holiday Market and Winter Village in Bryant Park are renowned for their wide selection of handcrafted goods, ranging from jewelry and artwork to gourmet foods and bespoke decorations.
These markets not only offer unique gift options but also provide a charming and festive shopping experience.
Popular Shopping Districts
New York's shopping districts, such as Fifth Avenue, SoHo, and the Meatpacking District, transform into festive hubs with beautifully decorated storefronts and an array of shopping options.
Luxury brands and high-street stores alike offer special holiday collections and promotions, making them ideal for finding the perfect gifts for loved ones.
Department Store Shopping
Iconic department stores like Macy's, Bloomingdale's, and Saks Fifth Avenue offer a classic New York shopping experience.
These stores are known for their extensive range of products, from designer wear and beauty products to homeware and gadgets, catering to all shopping needs and preferences.
Tours and Unique Activities
1. Holiday Lights Tour
New York City's holiday lights are an attraction in themselves, and guided tours offer a convenient and informative way to enjoy these spectacular displays.
Dyker Heights and Beyond
Neighborhoods like Dyker Heights in Brooklyn are famous for their elaborate Christmas light displays, with residents going all out to decorate their homes.
Guided tours to these neighborhoods provide an easy and comfortable way to experience these dazzling displays, often with insights and stories from knowledgeable guides.
Besides neighborhood-specific tours, there are also city-wide tours that cover multiple festive hotspots across New York. These tours might include famous landmarks and attractions, all decked out in holiday lights and decorations.
2. Special Holiday-themed Broadway Shows
The holiday season brings a special array of Broadway shows and performances, adding a touch of theatrical magic to the festive atmosphere.
Broadway often features special holiday-themed shows or adaptations of classic Christmas stories during this season.
These productions are typically family-friendly and capture the essence of the holiday spirit.
In addition to full-length plays, there are also holiday concerts, dance performances, and special one-night events.
These performances might feature Christmas carols, classical holiday music, or contemporary festive songs, providing a variety of entertainment options for all ages and interests.
Shopping and experiencing unique activities in New York City during the holiday season are essential parts of the city's Christmas charm.
From browsing artisanal markets to enjoying a holiday-themed Broadway show, these activities offer joyful experiences and the opportunity to create lasting memories of a New York Christmas.
Tips for Visitors NYC at Christmas
Visiting New York City during the holiday season is an unforgettable experience, but it helps to be prepared. Here are some practical tips to enhance your visit:
New York winters can be cold, often with temperatures ranging from 30 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit (-1 to 4 degrees Celsius).
Dressing in layers is advisable, with a warm coat, scarf, gloves, and comfortable waterproof shoes for walking in potentially snowy or rainy conditions.
Navigating the City
Public transportation is an efficient way to get around New York City. The subway system is extensive and operates 24/7, making it a convenient option.
Taxis and ride-sharing services are also readily available. During the holiday season, some areas, particularly around major attractions, can be crowded, so plan extra travel time.
Maximizing Your Visit
The holiday season in NYC is packed with events and attractions. It's a good idea to plan your itinerary in advance, including booking tickets for shows, concerts, and special events.
Also, be sure to check the operating hours of attractions and restaurants, as these can vary during the holiday season.
If you want to experience New York City at Christmas on a Budget, make sure you check out our article here!
Conclusion - Things To Do In New York At Christmas
Celebrating Christmas in New York City is a truly magical experience. From the dazzling lights of the Rockefeller Center to the festive markets and cultural events, there's an undeniable energy and joy that permeates the city.
Whether you're skating in Central Park, shopping for unique gifts, or enjoying a holiday show, the spirit of the season is alive in every corner of the city.
We encourage visitors to explore, embrace the festive atmosphere, and create lasting memories in this iconic city.
New York during Christmas is not just a destination; it's an experience that stays with you long after the holiday season has passed.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is New York City busy during Christmas?
Absolutely. Christmas is one of the most popular times to visit NYC. Expect crowds, particularly at iconic attractions like Rockefeller Center, holiday markets, and major shopping districts. Early planning and booking for accommodations and events are advisable.
What should I pack for a December visit to NYC?
Winter in New York can be quite cold, with average temperatures ranging from 30 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit (-1 to 4 degrees Celsius).
Pack warm clothing, including a heavy coat, hats, gloves, scarves, and layers for added warmth.
Waterproof and comfortable walking shoes are essential for navigating snowy or wet streets. An umbrella and a thermos for hot drinks can also be useful.
Are there any free holiday activities in NYC?
Yes, many! You can enjoy the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, holiday window displays at major stores, and strolls through festively decorated neighborhoods like Dyker Heights.
Central Park is beautiful in winter and offers free exploration. The holiday markets, while shopping may cost, are free to enter and browse, offering a festive atmosphere.
How should I navigate the city during the busy holiday season?
Public transportation, including the subway and buses, is typically the most efficient way to get around. They are less affected by the heavy traffic that is common during the holiday season.
Taxis and ride-sharing services are also options but be prepared for potential delays due to increased traffic.
Can I see the New Year's Eve ball drop in Times Square?
Yes, but it requires planning. The famous ball drop is a free event, but space is limited, and streets fill up on a first-come, first-served basis, often early in the day. Dress warmly and be prepared for large crowds.
What are some tips for dining out during the holiday season?
Make restaurant reservations well in advance, as popular spots fill up quickly during the holidays. Also, explore diverse culinary options in different neighborhoods to avoid long waits in tourist-heavy areas.
Are museums and indoor attractions open during the Christmas season?
Most museums and indoor attractions maintain regular hours during the holiday season, but it's always a good idea to check their websites for special holiday hours or closures, especially around Christmas and New Year's Day.
Is it advisable to rent a car in NYC during the holidays?
Due to heavy traffic, limited parking, and the efficiency of public transportation, renting a car is generally not recommended in New York City, especially during the busy holiday season.