Best Christmas Activities in New York
If you’ve ever celebrated Christmas in New York then you know there are endless holiday activities to take part in. As the air turns crisp and the city streets come alive with twinkling lights and festive cheer, it’s evident that Christmas has arrived in the Big Apple. New York City is a true winter wonderland during the holiday season, with its iconic landmarks and vibrant neighborhoods donning their holiday best. From ice-skating beneath the towering skyscrapers to strolling through enchanting holiday markets, the city offers an abundance of Christmas activities that will warm your heart and make you feel like you’ve stepped into a real-life holiday movie.
This comprehensive guide will take you on a sleigh ride through the Best Christmas activities in New York. From the classic traditions to the hidden gems that only the locals know, get ready to immerse yourself in the festive spirit of the city that never sleeps.
With all that being said, it can be the most expensive and busiest time to visit New York but there’s a good reason for that. Book your accommodation early and practice patience when handling crowds because you’re going to New York City for Christmas and that’s all that matters folks! So, grab your scarf, slip on your mittens, and let’s dive into a world of holiday enchantment that only New York City can offer.
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Rockefeller Center is quite literally the center of all the holiday displays. Not only is it located in Midtown (the center of NYC) but it is home to the iconic Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree. Standing tall at 82 feet this Norway Spruce is the most famous Christmas tree in all the land. It’s been a holiday tradition in NYC since 1931 and signifies the strength and spirit of New York.
The iconic Christmas Tree is lit all day every day from the tree lighting ceremony (November 29th) until New Year’s Day. For the best perspective head to Fifth Avenue and view it with the 12 Clarebot angels surrounding the fountain. It’s truly one of my favorite holiday views of all time.
Beneath the tree sits Rockefeller skating rink. Ice skating starts at the beginning of November however the tree isn’t lit until after Thanksgiving. If you plan to skate make sure you book tickets well in advance or you’ll be waiting hours in a standby line during the month of December. Tickets range from $20 – $73 and you can book tickets here.
Finally, if you visit Top of The Rock you can get a birdseye view of the Christmas decor and a stunning skyline view of New York. During the month of December, you can visit Santa at Top Of the Rock. Happening from December 2nd until the 24th. Tickets are necessary for visiting.
Radio City Music Hall Rockettes Christmas Show Spectacular
If there is one thing to do during December in NYC it should be to watch the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall. The Rockettes are American icons and have been around for nearly a century. This Christmas Show Spectacular has been an annual tradition since 1933 and the show has a dreamy nostalgia with Christmas spirit at the heart of it.
You’ll experience nativity scenes with real animals, tons of choreographed numbers Christmas music, and even a visit from Santa! In the end, you’ll witness snowfall and most likely get extremely emotional (just me?). It’s one of my favorite memories as a kid and is not to be missed! Make sure to book your ticket well in advance.
Along with that, Radio City has stunning indoor and outdoor decorations to enjoy. From the Christmas tree that sits atop the marquee to the famous holiday ornaments across the street. Finally, inside the theatre, there is a stunning Christmas tree chandelier that will take your breath away!
Bryant Park Winter Village
Bryant Park Winter Village is located in Midtown Manhattan and throughout the month of December decorates for Christmas. Located in the park are an ice skating rink, a Christmas tree in the middle of holiday markets, a food hall with tons of delicious treats, and even some cozy igloos! So visit Bryant Park to get out on the rink or get some holiday shopping done. Finally, the baked cheese house (haus) is kind of a big deal, and if you’re a sweet lover check out Wafels + Dinges for some of the best desserts in NYC.
Fifth Avenue Christmas Window Displays
From Saks to Bergdorfs to Bloomingdales – oh my! The department stores truly go all out during this time of year for their holiday window displays. Each store window has its own set of charming displays and uniqueness. It’s also very nostalgic and not only do tourists enjoy the window displays yearly but New Yorkers do as well. You can easily spend an afternoon hitting all the big players and the best part about this activity is that it’s free!
The Best Christmas Activities in New York: Best Window Displays
- Saks Fifth Avenue (Fifth Ave & 50th Street)
- Bergdorf Goodman (Fifth Ave & 58th Street)
- Cartier (Fifth Ave & 52nd Street)
- Macy’s (34th Street)
- Empire State Building
- Bloomingdales (3rd Ave & 59th Street)
- FAO Schwartz (Rockefeller Center)
Saks Christmas Light Show
Another great free activity is the Saks Fifth Avenue Christmas Light Show. It’s known for its stunning visual displays, featuring a choreographed fusion of music and light that brings the store’s façade to life. The show’s theme varies from year to year, but it always revolves around a heartwarming, holiday-inspired narrative.
As the clock strikes the designated showtime, the exterior of Saks Fifth Avenue is illuminated with a breathtaking display of synchronized lights and animated scenes. The building essentially becomes a massive screen for a high-tech light show that dazzles onlookers with over 600,000 lights. The show happens every 10 minutes, lasts 4 minutes, and you can watch from 5 pm – 11 pm. Catch the cute show until January 3rd!
Skating at Wollman Rink
If you’ve ever watched the movie Serendipity then you might recall this rink as the one from the ending scene. Located in Central Park, Wollman Rink is an NYC staple and has been around for 70 years. Some call it the heart of Central Park and each year the rink is up from the end of October through March. What makes it so iconic is its view of the NYC skyline behind you. For more information check out their website.
Cocktails at the famous Rolf’s Christmas Bar
Rolf’s Christmas Bar is renowned for its over-the-top holiday decorations. From the moment you step through the door, you’re transported into a Christmas wonderland that is truly like no other. The entire interior of the restaurant is adorned with an abundance of holiday ornaments, lights, garlands, and festive trimmings. Every square inch is meticulously decorated, creating a magical atmosphere that’s reminiscent of a winter fairy tale.
Luckily, whatever time of year you visit Rolf’ it is always Christmas here! We visited in October and it was quite nice because during the months of November and December, it gets PACKED. Finally, it’s hard to make reservations here as you need to call and they are notorious for not answering the phones. If you plan on visiting in December it’s best to line up 30 minutes before opening to snag a spot.
Visit The Plaza Hotel
Easily, the most famous hotel in NYC is The Plaza Hotel. The Plaza Hotel itself has a long and storied history, and it’s been a favorite among celebrities, dignitaries, and royalty for over a century. The hotel has been featured in numerous movies, TV shows, and books and is considered an iconic symbol of luxury and sophistication in New York City.
The Plaza truly goes all out with its lobby decorations. The Palm Court is one of its most famous and elegant spaces. It is a beautiful, classic tea lounge that has been a fixture of The Plaza since it opened in 1907. While booking a hotel room may be upwards of $800 to stay 1-night at this hotel during December, you can easily indulge in afternoon tea at a fraction of the cost. Finally, across the street, you can enjoy a holiday-themed fountain as well.
Union Square Holiday Market
One of the lesser-known holiday markets in NYC is the Union Square holiday market. Featuring over 185 vendors selling unique gifts, local artists, and a few holiday treats as well. It’s a great stop to do your holiday shopping! Finally, when you’re in the area visit either Serra by Birreria rooftop or Lillie’s Victorian as they both go all out for Christmas decor.
Visit the Upper East Side Stoops
Over the past few years more and more Upper East Siders have been decking out their stoops! From life-sized nutcrackers adorning front doors to 10-foot-tall pink candy canes, you are sure to see some beautiful displays if you visit these homes. Sharing a list below of the top homes that have been decorated in years past:
- 76th Street between 5th and Madison
- 64th Street between 5th and Madison
- 61st Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenue
- 78th Street between Park and Lexington
- 82nd Street between Amsterdam and Columbus
Visit the New York Botanical Garden
Every year the New York Botanical Garden puts on NYBG Glow which is an exhibit that showcases the beautiful gardens illuminated. The main attraction during the Christmas season is the Holiday Train Show. This exhibition features model trains running through a stunning landscape made up of miniature replicas of New York City landmarks, all created using natural materials like twigs, bark, and leaves.
The display often includes iconic structures like the Empire State Building, Brooklyn Bridge, and the Statue of Liberty. It makes for the perfect Christmas activity for kids! You can enjoy hot chocolate, bites to eat, and enjoy the holiday markets. Make sure to book your ticket early as they tend to sell out each year.
Indulge in Frozen Hot Chocolate Serendipity
Another favorite Christmas activity in New York is to visit Serendipity 3 for their frozen hot chocolate. This NYC original spot became famous from the movie Serendipity and its claim to fame is its decadent desserts and over-the-top decor. You definitely want to make a reservation if you plan on visiting Serendipity in December!
Christmas Activities in New York: Dyker Heights Christmas Lights
One of the most famous things to do in Brooklyn is to visit Dyker Heights for the Christmas displays. This neighborhood goes all out and people even rent buses to visit these homes during December. Being that it is such a popular Christmas Activity for locals it does get busy however, if you’re looking to explore outside of Manhattan then this is a great option.
NYC Christmas Bars + Restaurants
I could write an entire post on the Christmas bars and restaurants in New York but in the interest of time, I will just list them all out for you:
- Rolfs German Restaurant: the most iconic one of all you’ll want to get there early or make reservations
- Lillie’s Victorian (Union Square)
- Serra by Birreria at Eataly (Union Square)
- Chalet de Ning at The Peninsula Hotel
- Papillion Bistro (Midtown)
- Miracle on 9th Street (Alphabet City)
- Oscar Wilde (Flatiron)
- 230 Fifth Rooftop (Flatiron)
- Paddy Maguires (Gramercy)
- Sippin Santa (Bowery)
- Holly Jolly bar
Well, there ya have it, folks! Thanks for reading my “Best Christmas Activities in New York Guide”. I hope you enjoy your magical visit to New York during Christmas. Finally, don’t forget to check out my “36 Best Things to Do in New York” blog post as well.
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