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Things To Do In New York At Christmas – Our Guide on What to Do in New York During Christmas

No city on earth evokes the Christmas Spirit more than New York. The City really embraces the holiday spirit and comes alive with decorations, Markets, Santa, and endless Christmas Trees. For many a visit to New York at Christmas is a real dream come true, a bucket-list adventure that is finally becoming a reality. But for some, when they finally make this wish come true, they realize they do not actually know that much about Christmas in the Big Apple. This post takes a look at things to do in New York At Christmas and how to really make your own fairytale in New York.

In our guide on what to do in New York during Christmas, we take a look at all the best Christmas attractions and activities that you can plan into your New York Itinerary. From Incredible decorations to amazing shopping, Holiday Markets, The World’s most famous Christmas Tree, shows, sights, and of course Ice Skating! We are here to make your New York Christmas Dreams come true!

Things to do in New York At Christmas

Christmas in NYC doesn’t really get going until the week after Thanksgiving (27th -31st Nov 2021) at the end of November. Once the Macy’s Parade is done, the shops will start gearing up their Christmas displays, and the Rockefeller Tree is scheduled to light up just a couple of days after Thanksgiving. By the week after everything will be in full-on Christmas mode.

This year, the Rockefeller Christmas Tree will be lit on Wednesday 29th November 2023.

Thanks to endless Films and TV shows Christmas in NYC has taken on a near-mythical status, and unlike many things that receive so much hype and attention, Christmas in New York really can live up to its billing. A true New York Winter Fairy tale can be yours! Just don’t expect to be alone…at any point!

Wrap Up Warm!

New York Winter Home Alone Bridge

Christmas in New York instantly conjures up images of Freezing Arctic chills. And New York can Indeed be very cold around Christmas. So for any trip, you need to be prepared for this. Shivering and cowering from the cold will not lead to a happy experience. The good news is December really isn’t quite as Baltic as people imagine.

In January and February, the temperatures Plummet, and the bitter winds really do freeze the city but in early December, these conditions haven’t normally arrived yet. We find a few layers and a good coat with a hat and gloves, is all that’s needed especially if you are doing a lot of walking. Storming around seeing the sights and hitting the shops, for the most part, leaves you hot and sweaty instead of cold.

Weather is of course fickle and New York certainly has the ability to be icy cold, with blistering winds. The key is to have plenty of layers, to add when cold and remove when warm.

Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree.

At the very heart of New York at Christmas is the Rockefeller Center’s incredible Christmas tree. The Rockefeller Tree is the enduring Iconic image of the City at Christmas: framed by the Rockefeller Tower and heralded in by angels while Ice skaters glide in front. A visit to the Enormous light-encrusted Tree has to be top of everyone’s Christmas list. The entire area is a buzz of Christmas cheer with the incredible light shows from Saks 5th Avenue just across the street, really adding to the atmosphere.

The Rockefeller Christmas Tree will be lit on Wednesday 29th November. The tree lighting ceremony is VERY popular and really busy. Unless you plan to get to the ceremony early then the best bet it to go see if another day.

Seeing the most famous Christmas tree in the world is on EVERYBODY’S Must-Do list. As such it might be a bit busy, and by that, we mean up to a million people all at once! It can get unbelievably manic. If you have a problem with crowds consider giving this a miss or trying at an obscure time when it might be quieter. Honestly, though we have been at all hours and apart from the very early morning, it’s always pretty busy. We definitely think it’s worth braving it but know others don’t…But can you really miss the Rockefeller tree? We think not!

5th Avenue

The Shops on 5th Avenue are famous for their Christmas battle of the window displays. Each store has for years attempted to have the best display and outdo each other. This leads to a fantastic spectacle even for those with no intention of actually shopping. While a Walk Down Fifth Avenue is a must-do any time of the year it’s especially magical at Christmas.

The amazing Saks 5th Av Light Show unmissable, literally! Sat opposite Rockefeller Plaza, Saks gives its best shot at competing with the Tree just across the way. With holiday Light Shows every 10 minutes, you simply can’t miss one when you are heading to Rockefeller Plaza and the music follows you all the way to the tree. Seeing the Light Show in the dark is a given and therefore, the area can get very busy once night fall comes. To get a good viewing spot, hang about after one show ends and the crowds temporarily clear.

Giant Decorations

Walking around New York for most of the year can feel like walking around a real life movie set. Walking around New York in the festive season feels like walking around a Christmas movie. Constantly. It’s enough to make even the Grinch love Christmas, with every shop, street and attraction all dressed up for the festivities!

There will be decorations everywhere but over on 6th Avenue near Radio City Hall, are a collection of Giant Christmas decorations. A must-see for anyone and a perfect photo opportunity. Not to be missed. A great place to just mill around taking photos and eating hot dogs!

The Giant Baubles, Oversized Fairy lights, Toy Soldiers, and Holiday Train all make for excellent viewing and are now very much a part of the New York Holiday Experience. While the majority are on 6th Av, oversized decorations are a big thing all over the City so keep your eyes peeled, there are Giant Candy Canes, Toy Chests, and many more.

Holiday Lights – Dyker Heights

Dyker Heights Lights

We all have that person on our street who goes a little too far with the Christmas decks. Well in Dyker Heights the whole neighborhood goes way too far. This friendly competition between neighbors has got well out of hand and now the entire neighborhood become drenched in holiday cheer, to the point it’s now a major Christmas Attraction.

It all started out as a few houses in Brooklyn, just kept adding and adding to their collection each year and over the decades the collection became so great it almost covers every inch. More Neighbours began joining in and now almost every house has a great display, spending nearly $1 million each! Some are eclectic mashes of decorations while others are carefully orchestrated displays, and some are just a lot of lights, but the whole area is really magical.

You can visit the street either via a DIY Tour or on an organized tour. Go City New York have a walking tour include on their Go City New York Explorer Pass. Their expert guide takes you to the best displays while telling you about the history of Dyker Heights. Usually $25, this walking tour is included in the Explorer Pass and takes you into the heart of the holiday magic. A trip to this intensely Christmassy part of Brooklyn is not to be missed and will definitely get you in the Holiday mood.

Radio City Rockettes – Christmas Spectacular

After Taking in the sights of the fantastic 6th Avenue Decoration you can check out the fantastic Radio City Rockettes performing their iconic Christmas Spectacular. Millions of people flock every year to watch the Christmas Spectacular show. While this epic precision dancing display may not be for everyone, it is often high up on most visitor lists. With 5 shows a day, 7 days a week, It’s not too hard to get in to see the show. However, it can be rather pricey with Tickets starting at $46 but quickly escalating up to $400+ for the best seats. Expect to pay around $70-90 for GOOD seats!

You can Risk it and try and grab seats at the TCKTS Booths but if it’s important to you, we suggest pre-booking to get the best choice of seats and avoid any disappointment!

Read More…

Why not take a Radio City Stage Door Tour while you are there too? In this 1 hour behind the scenes access tour you get back stage access to radio City, learn all about it’s history and even meet a Rockette! The Radio City Tour is $33 but included in the Go City New York Explorer Pass

Ice Skating

Ice skating has been a BIG Christmas time pastime in New York for decades. It’s almost as synonymous with Christmas as turkey, trees, and Eggnog! And New York has a number of places to get your skates on and enjoy the Ice.

Most people say avoid The Rockefeller Rink as it is very expensive and very crowded. And of course, they are right but what better place could there possibly be to get your Christmas on? If you can’t justify the cost or want a more intimate setting, then the Bryant Park rink is actually free (You need to pay for skate rental if you don’t own skates though) and far less crowded. Wollman Rink in Central Park is a much larger rink with a lot more space and is well worth the trip for a fantastic setting. Really incredible in the snow if you are that lucky.

Pricing is based on demand and costs a lot more at in-demand times.

Many people can’t skate and don’t feel like learning is high up on their to-do list, and breaking an arm is very high up their NOT to-do list. Still visiting a Rink is still a fun way to spend some time, just watching the graceful (and not so Graceful) Skaters glide around the Ice.

Bryant Park Rink

Whoops! – We didn’t laugh … Honest

230 Fifth Roof Top Bar

230 rooftop bar

This Open-Air Rooftop bar is incredible year-round but at Christmas, they crank up the space heaters, dole out Santa Style Dressing Gowns, and put on a fantastic Happy Hour. They even have Igloos should you really wish to escape from the cold. With the most incredible views of the Empire State Building this bar really is a blast during Christmas.

230-fifth.com really is one of our favorite Bars in New York (maybe even the world!) You can book ahead up to 30 days in advance or just walk in.

There are many other rooftop bars in New York you can Check out also! 

The Ride ‘The Holiday Edition’

That’s right, New York’s funnest (that’s a word) bus ride has its own Holiday Edition so you can experience The Ride in all is dazzling glory with a big dollop of festivities on top!

For those of you who don’t know what The Ride is, it is an interactive bus tour of New York City stopping at all the usual sightseeing stops with performers and music along the way. For 75 minutes you get to sit comfortably in a one-way facing bus seat and enjoy all the sights and music of your favorite city. The seating layout ensures every person gets a good view of the sights and the two bus tour guides are like no other tour guides you have ever met!

So of course, The Ride would have it’s own Holiday version to really celebrate the holidays in the big city. Get ready to party: expect shout outs from your favorite movie locations, festive music and much more! It’s the fun experience we have come to expect from the people at the ride where even the street performers get festive!

Its actually hard to explain just how fun the interactive experience of The Ride is so here is a video of your last ride on er, The Ride:

The RIDE NYC – Holiday Edition – YouTube

This unique sightseeing attraction is a must do on our list for New York City at any time of the year, but the Holiday Edition makes it even more worth it. And Go City have it included in their Go City New York Explorer Pass, saving you the $89 ticket price. Check out our review to learn how you can save even more with Go City. The Ride is popular all year round so make sure you book in advance whenever you go.

Holiday Markets

Winter Garden Bryant Park

Honestly, coming from the U.K. , New York’s Holiday Markets were a slight disappointment. Spoiled with the expansive Manchester Christmas Markets, complete with Mulled Wine and other festive tipples, it was a bit of a let down that the New York Holiday Markets don’t even have Eggnog! However, if you are not as spoilt as us you will love the New York Holiday markets at:

Expect to find Holiday Gifts and trinkets along with festive food and drink items. They may not compare to the European Christmas Markets but they are still worth checking out. The Winter Village at Bryant park is also near the skate rink so you can enjoy the markets, grab a warm drink and sit watching the skaters (or join in yourself!)

If Holiday Markets, lights and shopping is your thing then Go City New York offers a Holiday markets and Lights Walking Tour. This walking tour is 1.7 miles of Holiday markets, Shopping and Christmas lights. Stop by 5th Ave, the Rockefeller Christmas Tree and 4 different Holiday markets. If that’s not enough to get you in the festive mood, it even includes a tour of famous Christmas Movie sets!

World’s Most Christmassy Restaurant

Rolfs German Restaurant Christmas

We mentioned earlier the lack of Mulled Wine at the Holiday Markets in New York, something we are very used to back home. But in fairness, this is actually a German Tradition but is very alive and well at Rolf’s German Restaurant.

What is also alive and well is Rolf’s incredible Christmas Decorations! The Ceiling is teeming with decorations and lights and the air is filled with the aromas of Bratwurst and Gluhwein. It feels incredibly festive and gets you right into the spirit…Especially when the Mulled Wine gets flowing!

Rolf’s love the holidays so much that they keep their decorations up all year long! It’s never too early to get into the holiday spirit. It really is a sight to be seen, don’t believe us, check it out at https://rolfsnyc.com/

VIEW MAP

Visit Santa at Macy’s

Macys Believe

Santa Photo

Surely you can’t come to New York at Christmas and not meet the REAL Santa?! That is the real one from Miracle on 34th Street. Anyone who is into Christmas has to visit Macy’s in the Holidays, and especially meet the big man himself in the most perfect Christmas fantasy world.

And Santa is not all a trip to Macy’s has on offer. Macy’s go BIG for the holidays: the incredible window displays outside are a sight to see all on their own before you even enter the store and head up to the unbelievable ‘Holiday Lane’; rammed with every possible Christmas Dec (a perfect memento of your trip) and with the lavish ceiling displays at the entrance: the whole shop is Christmas overload!

The crowning glory of it all, however, is the remarkable Santa Land. Queues can get well over 2hours for a trip on Santa’s Express (spoiler there is no actual train ride, unfortunately) which is tough going with excited Kids. In the end though, is the chance to meet and get a photo with the big man himself. There is zero pressure to pay for the provided photo and they will happily take snaps from your own camera/phone.

While 2+ hours may seem a terrible waste of time to queue just to see Santa, even if it is the Real Santa, and we agree! We popped by on the off chance to be told it was a 1.5-hour wait. Not a Chance! But we are not ones to Miss out, so we simply Used Macy’s very convenient online booking system. The next day we simply walked straight in past the rather peeved people in the “queue!” and met the main man himself!

Central Park

Home alone bridge
Home Alone Bridge!

While Central Park is mostly spared any real Christmas theming, It’s still a very Christmassy-feeling place. With so many Christmas-themed films set in New York and scenes shot in Central Park, you just can’t help feel all Christmassy.

Hunt out all of Home Alone 2 Filming Locations, including many in the park to really get your Christmassy adventure off to a start. And if Buddy the Elf is your favourite holiday character then check out our New York Filming Locations article for Elf movie locations and many more!

The Plaza

While not overtly Christmassy in itself the lure of the Home Alone Franchise means you simply have to pop by the Plaza to check out where Kevin spent much of his adventures in the Big Apple. The Plaza go big during the holidays with beautiful festive décor and decorate Christmas trees everywhere. Their amazing Holiday Afternoon Tea at the Palm Court really is epic and a perfect way to spend a Holiday celebration in New York.

Eggnog

Egg Nog

This is one for our non-American audience. Eggnog is just part of a normal American Holidays but it’s actually pretty hard to get hold of outside of America. In fact, most non US people do not really know what it is. Sure we hear about it in US Films and TV shows, and we can get it in coffee at Starbucks, but it is far from readily available.

The Good News for us Brits and other Europeans is it is readily available in all New York Grocery Shops. You can find it in any chilled cabinet that sells other milk products. Make sure you grab a carton and indulge in this American Tradition. Spoiler, It’s every bit as good as it looks, especially mixed with Duty-Free Rum!

Don’t miss out

Just because You are in New York at Christmas doesn’t mean you should miss out on all the other fantastic sights and attractions of the City read our guide here on all things to see and do in New York!

Have Your Say?

Have you been to New York over Christmas? What was your favorite? Something from our List or maybe something you think we missed? Let us know in the comments below! Or let us know if you have any questions.

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18 thoughts on “Things To Do In New York At Christmas – Our Guide on What to Do in New York During Christmas”

  1. Hey Steve!
    You’ve just answered all the questions that I’ve been trying to find answers to! 🙂
    First of all, I’m planning to visit the US for quite some time, and I’m from Europe, so I really wanted to do some research before buying a ticket. 🙂
    So, I’ve been visiting some websites, but I have to tell you that this is the first one that answers all of my questions! Thank you for some great tips!
    Aside from Christmas Eve, what is the best season (or a month) to visit NY?
    Cheers,
    Meena

    Reply
    • Hi Meena,

      Glad you found our website useful.

      Honestly any season is a great season to visit New York! However Christmas is our favourite.

      We also really like autumn/fall as well, it can be a little quieter, and a lot cooler than summer. Its also very beautiful at that time of year. Summer is very busy and quiet hot at times which can be uncomfortable in a big city, but the city is such a buzz in the summer! Spring like autumn is also an excellent choice as its cooler and less busy.

      Really only Jan/Feb are less desirable. It can be incredibly cold and potentially poor weather or heavy snow. There is also very little on compared to busier months, Its still not a bad time to go, just less perfect than others.

      See out What is the Weather Like in New York City – Average Temperatures and Conditions Throughout the Year post for more detailed advice.

      Reply
  2. How dare the New Yorkers not have mulled wine. That’s appalling. You cannot have Christmas markets without it! I would almost go as far as to say you can’t have Christmas without it.

    Celebrating Christmas and New Years in New York is a big item on my bucket list and one of these years it will actually happen. Thanks for the tips! I have made a note for my future travels.

    Reply
    • Yeah I must say we were disappointed too. You can of course find it in some restaurants and bars etc. But its not readily available on every other stand like it is in European Christmas Markets. We are sure they will catch on one day.

      We really can’t recommend it enough though, the lack of mulled wine is a small price to pay for one of the most incredible festive experiences we can possibly imagine. Hope you get there one day!

      Thanks for reading.

      Reply
  3. This is really cool. I have a family that lives in New York and they invited me and the family to come stay with during Christmas.
    I have never been to New York before and only heard great things about the city. So I am very excited and I am currently planning some activities me and the family can do while were out there.
    So this article was exactly what I needed to help me finish my list of things to do. Great article, very helpful. Definitely sharing this on Facebook.

    Reply
    • Hi Garret,

      Glad you enjoyed the article and found it useful in planning your trip to NYC. New York is an incredible City and it becomes even more magical at Christmas. Hope you have a great time with your family! 

      Thanks for reading,

      Steve

      Reply
  4. Good afternoon Steve,

    I have never been to NY and think it is about time to pay a visit. I had not thought of doing it during Christmas time but reading your great post why not? Normally Christmas is a rather busy time for a woman so to go somewhere to enjoy the Christmas spirit instead of working hard I must say appeals to me.
    It is good you tell me to wrap up, I bet it is colder than in the south of Europe where I live.
    Even if I am in general not a person who loves big crowds I think I will make an exception as I for sure would like to see the Rockefeller tree.
    To see the big and glittering decorations will be quite a sight I am sure.
    I used to skate being a small child but I am afraid I might be too rusty at the age of 68 so I think I will just watch but that is fun too.
    For sure I have to sit at the 230 Fifth Roof Top Bar. The view must be spectacular so I will not miss that one.
    I put a nice walk through Central Park and a long visit to the Christmas market on the list. Ok, if they do not have Gluhwein I will be happy with Eggnog for sure.
    As you can see the list is quite long already. I probably want to also visit a museum or 2 and perhaps go to a concert. Now I will have to convince my better half that if not this coming Christmas but the one of 2020 we could treat ourselves to celebrating Christmas in New York.
    I think your post will convince him.

    Regards, Taetske

    Reply
    • Hi Taetske,

      Sounds like you are planning an incredible trip! Glad you found the article useful for inspiration! 

      If you are from a warmer clime, then you will definitely need to wrap up as that wind can really blow cold! 

      Hope you get there soon as Christmas in New York is a truly wonderful place to get into the Christmas Spirit.

      Thanks for reading

      Steve

      Reply
  5. This article just goes to show how an avid tourist often ends up knowing more about a place than people who live there. I live outside the city now but for six years I lived on Central Park and 90th Street and Christmas in the city was one of my favorite times. I’m surprised you found the Christmas Markets rather blah as that was something I have always enjoyed. Though I have not been to Manchester at Christmas. Mind you I also lived in Germany so I know what Christmas markets there are like. I guess it has all been so long now. For me, the big shop window display feast was always the Macys displays. Great piece – very thorough! Thanks Andy

    Reply
    • Hi Andy, 

      Great to hear from a New Yorker about our NYC Christmas Post! 

      There is always a stark difference between visiting a City and actually living there, I doubt we know more than you it’s just our focus and attention are on the things that really interest and excite Tourists. 

      The markets may have been more about expectation than anything, we just expected them to be a USA version of our own markets, very similar to the big German Markets (they actually ARE German Markets in Manchester), And most things USA are usually bigger and better, so it was a surprise to find a really limited amount of stalls and less of a focus on food and drink, which is really the main reason we go to the Manchester markets. 

      We are back there in a couple of weeks so will give them another go!

      Great to hear you enjoyed the article, Christmas in NYC really is the best time in an amazing City. 

      Steve

      Reply
  6. I always see as New York as a busy city. I am such an introvert so New York is definitely too busy for me. I will definitely recommend it to my friends. I know they will definitely love this post. They are big extroverts and they like the busy life so I know they will want to go to New York 

    Reply
    • Well, there is no denying New York is a pretty intense City. 

      If big crowds and big buildings are not your thing, you are right to avoid the place. We have been at very quiet times and it’s still crazy busy, at Christmas it can be manic. 

      Things have calmed a little since Covid, but it’s still a big brash in your face City.

      Steve

      Reply
  7. New York is a dream destination I really want to travel to. I haven’t been America before and would really like to experience how life is there. Especially in Christmas time. In South Africa, we do not witness snow or experience a true winter Christmas. After reading your post, you just increased my desire to go to New York. Which activity or spot in New York would you say is a must to witness and experience?

    Reply
    • Hi Bernard, 

      We have always wondered what the Christmas season is like in countries with hot climates that do not really have winters. So much of the Christmas imagery is based on snowy scenes and pine trees it must be very strange when it’s still so warm out. I guess it’s just what you are used to though?  

      Hope you make it to New York one day, it is one of those places that is actually more amazing than you imagine, the skyscrapers are taller and shinier than any picture does justice. 

      That really answers your question, the number one thing to see in New York really is just the City itself, just being there is enough. However, check out our list oftop things to Do in New York for more inspiration. Central Park, Observation Decks, The Statue of liberty, there is just so much to see and do in the incredible City. 

      Steve

      Reply
  8. Hi Steve,

    Very informative article, I have to admit I also chuckle when people fall when ice skating – and to be fair so do I! I saw you only had one photo for Dyker Heights, I have a few more if you’re interested in updating the article. Feel free to reach out.

    Cheers,
    Eric

    Reply
    • Hi,

      Thanks for the Comment, We know we shouldn’t laugh when they fall, but as long as it’s only their Ego’s that are bruised it’s pretty harmless. We were just at the Ice Rinks and they was one poor kid that spent more of the time on his bum than on his feet!

      Admittedly we had to delve into the Archives for a Dyker Photo, as we last visited when we were not really blogging, we are going back ot update this year, but thanks for the offer.

      Steve

      Reply

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