Curious about the best things to do in NYC at Christmas? We’ve got you covered— everything from shows to shopping to some of the seeing some of the best holiday attractions during this magical time of year to visit the city!
There are so many festive things happening in the city this time of year, so it can be hard to narrow down what it is that you want to do or see, that’s where this guide comes in handy as locals who live here and experience the holidays year after year, these are the holiday classics that you really must see for yourself!
So if you’re wondering what to do in New York at Christmas, use this holiday guide to help you plan your New York City Christmas itinerary!
PS this is the most popular time of year to visit New York City, so you’ll want to make sure you book any popular shows or attractions in advance, get reservations for popular restaurants, and book your hotel well in advance to get the best rate.
Disclaimer: this post contains affiliate links
Top Things to do in NYC during Christmas Time
Radio City Christmas Spectacular
One of the most famous things to do in New York at Christmas is catching a Radio City Christmas Spectacular showing in the heart of Manhattan. The Rockettes put on a magical event with their routines at the Christmas Spectacular, a tradition since 1933 at none other than the famous Radio City Music Hall. Plus, Santa makes a surprise visit at the end!
Plus, Santa makes a surprise visit at the end! You can get tickets for the Radio City Christmas Spectacular on SeatGeek, and when you add our promo code BROOKLYNGUIDE to your SeatGeek account, you receive $20 off your first ticket purchase. (We receive a small commission at no extra cost to you)
Keep in mind that the doors open one hour prior to the start of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular and that’s when guests are encouraged to arrive. Leaving 30 minutes or less to get into the theater could put you and your group at risk of missing a couple of the opening numbers. You won’t want to miss one of the most incredible things to do in NYC at Christmas, so give yourself plenty of time!
Another great option and addition is to take a behind-the-scenes tour of Radio City Music Hall where you get to meet one of the Rockettes too!
Bryant Park Winter Village
Another one of the top things to do in New York during Christmas is a visit to Bryant Park Winter Village. Complete with a free ice skating rink (if you have your own skates—otherwise, you can pay to rent), vendors selling gifts in their cute little huts around the village, outdoor bars, food, and more, you won’t want to miss any of the magic in Bryant Park.
If you’re not much of an ice skater yourself, cozy up at The Lodge Bar + Food Hall. Sitting rinkside, guests can enjoy a nice festive cocktail, have some delicious food, and watch the ice skaters all evening long.
Shopping for a loved one? Of course, you are! That’s one of the main things to do in NYC in December! Bryant Park Winter Village vendors have some of the most unique, handcrafted, and mostly New York-themed gifts to place under the tree this holiday season.
We all have a sweet tooth, so end the night at Bryant Park Winter Village by sipping on holiday spirit hot cocoa at S’Mores N’More.
Is it cold out and you need to warm up? If you’ve already went into the Lodge or dined in an igloo, head over to New York Public Library Main Branch for a free tour, explore the New York Public Library’s treasure collection, and be sure to say hi to the famous lion statues, Patience and Fortitude as you enter (they should be donned with a big red bow for the holidays!).
What to do in NYC at Christmas? It all starts here as this is probably the most iconic holiday spot in the city.
Rockefeller Center is famous for being one of the most magical areas in all of New York during Christmastime and featured in all the most popular Christmas movies in NYC like Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (this was the filming location where Kevin’s mom finds him at the end) and other fun holiday classics including a filming location for Elf.
Countless things have been filmed here! But that’s because it’s one of the most iconic Christmas activities in NYC.
Beginning with the displays, it doesn’t get much better than the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree. This is the most famous of the Christmas trees in NYC. For more than eight decades now, this tree has been the token of Christmas in New York City. The tree is lit daily from 5 AM-12 AM and stands overlooking the Rockefeller Center ice skating rink below, another one of our favorite Christmas activities NYC has to offer.
And don’t miss the famous line of angels at the Channel Gardens! Some other iconic displays can be found along 6th Avenue. Most trees line the streets covered in white lights, but you won’t want to miss the larger-than-life display of red ornaments with Radio City Music Hall picture-perfect in the background. So you can do more holiday sightseeing from here.
All your shopping needs will be covered with stores like FAO Schwarz, LEGO, Anthropologie, Kate Spade, Free People, J. Crew, and more all right in Rockefeller Center!
And to get a better view of it all—purchase a ticket to Top of the Rock Observation Deck and soak in the holiday spirit from 70 floors above Manhattan with an excellent view of the Empire State Building!
Holiday Window Displays on Fifth Avenue
If you ever find yourself wondering what to do in NYC at Christmas, some of the best holiday window displays in NYC can be found on 5th Avenue.!
This is an easy add-on after visiting Rockefeller Center and the Rockefeller Christmas tree too! Some of our favorite displays are always Bergdorf Goodmans, Tiffany’s, and Cartier!
Some bonus locations are Bloomingdale’s (the 59th Street Flagship location) and Macy’s located in Herald Square.
Oh, and don’t forget the famous Saks Fifth Avenue, but more on that in a minute because their holiday light show is also one of the best things to do in NYC at Christmas!
Holiday Train Show at New York Botanical Garden
All the Christmas activities NYC has to offer are not limited to Manhattan—this one will have you heading up the Bronx! And you’ll find that some of the most cherished NYC Christmas attractions do require a little bit of venturing off into the boroughs, like Brooklyn (yay!) and the Bronx!
The New York Botanical Garden hosts the famous annual train show which is one of the most whimsical things to do in NYC at Christmas. This must-see event is an impressive scaled-down size train with New York buildings and scenes only during the most wonderful time of the year!
While you’re here, plan to do an evening walk through NYBG Glow after seeing the train show. This event is a gorgeous holiday light show in the gardens! This may be the most glitzy and glowing 1.5 miles you ever walk, each step filled with holiday magic.
And you can’t forget to grab a hot cup of cocoa for the stroll! Both of these NYC Christmas activities require tickets, you can get them on NYBG’s website.
And if you are venturing to the Bronx for holiday sightseeing, further on this guide we will mention what’s happening at the Bronx Zoo too that you can easily add on while seeing the holiday train show!
One of the best things to do in NYC at Christmas and in December is check out the different holiday markets scattered throughout the city.
A few of the classics (and our favorites) include the Union Square Holiday Market. A visit to the Union Square Holiday Market may be one of the most whimsical Christmas activities NYC hosts beginning mid-November. With over 150 vendors, this holiday market is the largest green market in the city.
Find unique gifts, dine at award-winning restaurants, and even catch a show at one of Union Square’s entertainment venues. The market is open daily until 8 PM except Sundays when it closes at 7 PM. Check out their Holiday Guide for all you need to know about one of the best things to do in New York during Christmas.
The Holiday Market at the Oculus is located in the Financial District at the World Trade Center Mall. The Holiday Market at the Oculus is one of the best Christmas activities NYC has to offer this holiday season.
While the Oculus is a fabulous year-round shopping center and train station that features several high-end brands as well as local vendors, it is even more breathtaking around Christmas. The entire place becomes enchanted with beautiful lights and decorations.
This spot has known to be quite picturesque while also being a solid option when the weather outside is frightful. If you end up here, be sure to visit Brookfield Place nearby too for their winter Luminaries holiday light display! It’s one of our favorite places to see Christmas lights in NYC!
The Columbus Circle Holiday Market is another one of the top holiday markets to check out. With over 100 artisan designers and vendors, the Columbus Circle Holiday Market is unlike any other.
Closely nestled near Central Park and the Lincoln Center, a visit to this Christmas market opens all kinds of whimsical opportunities to check out some of the best things to do in NYC at Christmas. They usually open from the end of November to the end of December, the Columbus Circle Holiday Market provides a European and magical flair with the chance to try special foods and purchase unique gifts.
This market is full of holiday cheer daily until 8 PM except Sundays when it closes at 7 PM.
Holiday Pop-Up Bars
One thing you can always count on in NYC at Christmas is a quality holiday pop-up bar and restaurant. There are so many good ones you could spend an entire New York Christmas itinerary just bar and restaurant hopping!
A few of our favorite holiday-themed bars in NYC include:
Miracle on 9th Street at The Cabinet Mezcal Bar has been serving up sugar, spice, and everything nice for about 10 years now. Known for the kitschy décor, Miracle on 9th Street has festive cocktails like Christmapolitan, Santa’s Little Helper, Efling Around, or even take a Naughty Shot or two.
What could be better than a pink winter wonderland? Magic Hour’s Pink Winter Lounge in Midtown Manhattan has to be one of the most magical holiday pop-up bars to check out this season. The ski-lodge-themed rooftop displays over 25,000 sparkling crystals with plenty of perfect photo opportunities (did we mention everything is pink?!). Make sure to try their deliciously boozy pink hot chocolate.
Snowday in Brooklyn is another one of our favorite festive pop-up bars in our favorite borough, Brooklyn! This pop-up is a takeover of Sunday in Brooklyn, one of the best places for brunch in NYC too and offers some of the most beautiful, wintery Christmas décor paired with yummy holiday cocktails. Reservations are strongly recommended!
Some others worth checking out are Oscar Wilde in NoMad, both Lillie’s Victorian Establishment locations in Times Square and Union Square, Tinseltown on the Upper West Side and Frosty’s Christmas Bar in Midtown.
One of the best Christmas activities NYC has to offer is a Christmas bar crawl, so make sure to sip all the Christmas spirit at these holiday pop-up bars this season.
Dyker Heights Christmas Lights
Venture deep into Brooklyn for one of the most iconic displays of over-the-top Christmas décor! Homeowners in the neighborhood of Dyker Heights have taken Christmas decorations to a movie-worthy level, a tradition that began in the 1980s.
The holiday light displays here are so lavish and larger-than-life, this has become one of the most famous things to do in New York City at Christmas!
Visiting the Dyker Heights Christmas lights is unlike any other of the New York Christmas activities! You can either go on your own using the subway or a rideshare (we linked to the full guide at the beginning of this sentence on how to do so) or you can join a Dyker Heights Christmas lights tour that departs from Midtown Manhattan by bus and includes a guided tour of the most extravagant light displays.
Those who are opting to do this on your own can find some of the best stretches of decorations between 11th to 13th Avenues between 83rd to 86th Streets. You’ll spot a few other homes too that you can venture off and check out off the main circuit too.
If it’s extra chilly, get yourself a warm hot cocoa or cup of coffee for the walk! It can be quite chilly, but if you’re lucky there will be some street vendors along your walk somewhere. Twist Coffee is my favorite spot for hot chocolate and Tasty Pastry Shoppe is one of my favorite Italian bakeries in Brooklyn and the perfect spot if you want to grab some holiday treats!
While the Dyker Heights Christmas Lights can be accessed via subway (86th Street Station from the R train or 79 Street Station from the D train), you will have an estimated 15-minute walk to the neighborhood from the station.
Traffic and parking can also be challenges when venturing into this holly jolly neighborhood, thus taking a rideshare is a great option! We don’t recommend driving yourself, it’s too congested.
Empire State Building & Other Observation Decks
We already mentioned how the Top of the Rock can be one of the best vantage points to soak in all the Christmas spirit NYC has to offer, but did you know there are five different observation decks in Manhattan that are right around alot of the best holiday sightseeing spots?!
We’ve done every single one, and the best observation decks in NYC all depend on what you want from each one!
If you’re feeling classic, consider visiting the Empire State Building, this outdoor observation deck offers some of the most classic views of the city skyline. Plus, you can go check out Macy’s flagship store at Herald Square for more NYC Christmas activities before or after. You may even be able to catch it when it’s lit up red and green for the holidays!
Due to the cold and windy weather, Christmas activities NYC has to offer can sometimes be challenging! If you’re feeling indoorsy, check out Summit One Vanderbilt, one of the newest observation decks in NYC that’s also a huge art installation and in my opinion, the most impressive of the observation decks in the city thanks to the two-level mirrored rooms with direct views of both the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building.
There is an outdoor level here too, giving you the best of all your options here! It’s also located next to Grand Central Terminal, perfect for after a visit to the Holiday Fair!
And if it is really cold out and you want to enjoy things to do in NYC indoors, consider visiting One World Observatory which is the highest you’ll get in the city when it comes to observation decks!
This viewpoint is completely indoors and when you’re done you have holiday sightseeing around the Oculus, New York Stock Exchange, and you can venture over to South Street Seaport for more whimsical holiday sightseeing!
See The Nutcracker
Speaking of classics, The New York Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker at the Lincoln Center is one of the best things to do in New York during Christmas (and a classic!). The two-hour show has been known to leave adults and children alike in awe.
With a cast of over 150 people and breathtaking sets, seeing The Nutcracker is one of the unforgettable things to do during the holidays!
Presented by the world-renowned New York City Ballet, The Nutcracker is a delightful and effervescent rendition, based on E.T.A. Hoffman’s classic, where a young girl’s favorite toy comes to life. Featuring candy-themed dances with pirouetting candy canes and sugarplums, a captivating score, and a brisk runtime, this ballet is a wonderful family afternoon activity, ranking among the top Christmas experiences in NYC.
Considering The Nutcracker’s immense popularity, I highly recommend securing tickets in advance if feasible.
You can get tickets for The Nutcracker on SeatGeek, and when you add our promo code BROOKLYNGUIDE to your SeatGeek account, you receive $20 off your first ticket purchase!
(we receive a small commission at no extra cost to you)
Ice Skating in Central Park at Wollman Rink
Outdoor ice skating in New York is probably one of the most whimsical Christmas activities NYC has to offer. While there are many different rinks in the city, there is something extra magical about Wollman Rink in Central Park.
Operating for over 70 years, Wollman Rink has been continuously connecting the community and spreading Christmas cheer as one of the best things to do in NYC at Christmas.
Soak in this beloved New York City spot that’s been featured in so many films and tv shows, you might even feel like you’re in a scene of a movie!
Visit the Prettiest Christmas Trees
One of the most magical things to do in New York during Christmas is to take in all the breathtaking Christmas trees scattered throughout the city. While there are many beautiful Christmas trees in New York City to check out during the holidays, here are some of our favorites.
As mentioned, one of the most iconic attractions and things to do in New York during Christmas is a visit to the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. This handpicked and special tree is always a Norway Spruce and tends to be over 75 feet tall and over 11 tons!
You can always catch the annual Christmas tree lighting in Midtown on the Wednesday following Thanksgiving. From that point on, the tree is lit daily from 5 AM to 12 AM. Because of its fame, you can count on this area being packed with locals and tourists alike taking in the splendor of this famous tree.
One of the best views of this tree is from Channel Gardens, where it is perfectly placed down the center of lit-up angels. Turn around and that’s where the Saks Fifth Avenue light show is too!
One of the perks of taking a visit to Bryant Park Winter Village, is getting to see the incredible tree placed perfectly near the ice rink. The Bryant Park tree is usually around 50 feet tall and is another one of the most famous trees in all of New York.
One of the Christmas activities NYC can count on is finding a Christmas tree lighting! Miss the one in Rockefeller Center? Make sure to check when Bryant Park is hosting their annual tree lighting, usually at the end of November. So, grab your skates and a cup of hot cocoa to enjoy the beautiful Christmas tree in Bryant Park this holiday season!
Greenwich Village is one of the best places to soak in the holiday spirit in New York City. Washington Square Park hoists a fabulous tree located beneath the famous Washington Arch. The tree tends to be around 45 feet tall and gorgeous.
The park typically hosts their annual tree-lighting in early December and keeps the tree lit daily from 4 PM to 1 AM. If you find yourself in NYC on Christmas Eve, consider attending the annual caroling event in Washington Square Park!
This Christmas tree also happens to be near some of our favorite holiday pop-up bars in New York! Grand Army Plaza: We didn’t forget about Brooklyn!
Another one of the most impressive Christmas trees in NYC is located at Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn. Located next to Prospect Park, checking out the tree at Grand Army Plaza is one of the best things to do in NYC at Christmas.
Placed underneath the famous Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch, this tree is something you won’t want to miss. The annual tree lighting happens here usually within the first week of December.
Additionally, there is a menorah lighting at Grand Army Plaza to celebrate Hanukkah in NYC! It is the largest menorah in all of Brooklyn and has been in place during the holidays since 1985!
Since 1923, the New York Stock Exchange on Wall Street in the Financial District has hosted one of the most famous Christmas trees in NYC. With some iconic statues that tourists flock to see, like the Charging Bull and the Fearless Girl, the NYSE is a must-see destination when taking a trip to New York.
Aside from its breathtaking tree, festive red and green lights, and other Christmas décor, NYSE also has a Kwanzaa Kinara with seven candles—three red on the left, one black in the middle, and three green on the right representing the Seven Principles of Kwanzaa.
Be sure to check out our guide to winter holidays in NYC to find more Kwanzaa celebrations throughout the city.
Get Festive at Rolf’s German Restaurant
If you’re looking for a Christmas restaurant in NYC, no need to look further than Rolf’s German Restaurant. This Gramercy mainstay is famous for its annual transformation into a Germanic winter wonderland complete with a gorgeous canopy of intricate ornaments, lights, and Kris Kringle(s) and is one of the best things to do in New York during Christmas.
The over-the-top transformation begins at the end of September, giving New Yorkers and tourists the opportunity to dine in this festive restaurant for a few months! It is best to go as soon as possible, preferably in November as tables are hard to come by and there’s often a line wrapped around the block durind December!
I’ve gone as early as October before just to enjoy the festive decorations without the crowds!
Walk-ins are accepted but visitors can expect long waits, even to snag a drink at the bar. There are reservations available, but they aren’t easy to come by as they take reservations the old fashioned way, by the phone and I’ve never had success getting ahold of anyone.
Rolf’s specializes in Southern German and Bavarian cuisine—they are especially known for their schnitzel, pork chops, and beef stew. They have an excellent Thanksgiving Day menu complete with apple and pumpkin pie or Black Forest chocolate cake.
Make sure to add on the extremely tasty holiday drinks available from the bar! The Christmas smoothie with Merry’s vanilla cinnamon and Goldschlager, or the Rolf’s Holiday Martini with Merry’s Irish Cream Liqueur and Meletti Choccolato Liqueur are the biggest hits. Their egg nog is also really great.
Dining at Rolf’s is one of the most whimsical and popular things to do in NYC at Christmas!
Insider tip! If you are overwhelmed by the length of the line but want to be in a festive spot to enjoy a drink, Paddy Maguire’s Ale House a block down has holiday decor sans the crowds or Pete’s Tavern on 18th Street is another fantastic spot with holiday decor, and it’s one of the most famous historic bars in NYC!
Visit Hudson Yards
There might not be any other location in New York at Christmas as whimsical and magical as Hudson Yards in Midtown Manhattan.
Taking a visit to Hudson Yards for its annual Shine Bright Only at Hudson Yards is one of the ultimate things to do in NYC during the holidays.
Not only can you get an incredible amount of your holiday shopping done, but you can also soak in the over two million twinkling lights that go up in early November.
A couple of the most iconic decorations here are the enchanting trees and sparkling hot air balloons dangling from the ceiling of the shopping mall. Visitors can check out the displays daily until 9 PM except Sundays when things close at 7 PM.
You can also find outstanding displays outside surrounding the Vessel, which itself is covered in lights upon lights. Hudson Yards is easily one of the most festive Christmas activities NYC has to offer each holiday season.
Take a Holiday Nostalgia Train Ride
Have you ever been tempted to time travel backwards? Well you sort of can! Okay, one of my favorite things to do in New York at Christmas AND any time of year the New York Transit Museum offers nostalgic train rides on their vintage fleet, is to ride one!
On Sundays between Thanksgiving and Christmas the MTA and New York Transit Museum carry on the holiday tradition of placing the vintage train cars in regular service.
Those seeking one of the best things to do in New York during Christmas must take a spin on the vintage Holiday Nostalgia Train, also known as the Shoppers Special.
Now operating on the 1 line, this special train will depart from Chambers St and 137th St-City College St stations from 10 AM to 5:30 PM. The Shoppers Special is comprised of 8 different subway cars known to be in operation from 1932 to 1977 and for about one month out of the year, they bring magic to New York City again.
One of the most unique Christmas activities NYC has to offer only costs you the swipe of your MetroCard. Keep in mind the Holiday Nostalgia Train Rides are weather permitting and the timing, routes, and equipment are all subject to change.
And if you miss it this time around, they do have other nostalgia train rides throughout the year (although its not often).
Lightscape at Brooklyn Botanic Gardens
Every holiday season, the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens gives New Yorkers and tourists alike one of the best things to do in NYC at Christmas. The grounds are transformed into a winter illuminary garden with over one million lights on display for their seasonal, after-dark spectacular.
Lightscape is a one-mile trail illuminated with art installations and exhibitions, including a mesmerizing light tunnel, poetry written in twinkling lights, and even multiple displays synchronized to music!
Be sure to get your tickets ahead of time as this is one of the most popular Christmas activities NYC has to offer at night!
Watch the Saks Fifth Avenue Light Show!
One of the must-see holiday displays and things to do in New York during Christmas is the nightly holiday light show at the Saks Fifth Avenue flagship store.
Featuring non-stop performances from 5 PM to 12 AM daily, this 3-to-4-minute light show paired with our favorite holiday-themed songs is a can’t-miss experience. The whole thing will begin again after a brief 5-minute intermission.
This is a perfect addition on your way to or from seeing the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree!
Have dinner at Tavern on the Green
Located just inside the West side of Central Park, Tavern on the Green is a long-standing and popular choice amongst New York City restaurants and one of the best things to do in New York during Christmas.
Known for nearly a century as a chic watering hole and party venue, Tavern on the Green becomes extremely festive around Christmastime. They even host their own tree-lighting! Their twenty-foot decked out Christmas tree should be added to your list of prettiest Christmas trees to see while visiting New York this holiday season.
They also offer a robust Thanksgiving dinner menu if you would prefer to dine in rather than cook a turkey at home this Thanksgiving in NYC. Treat yourself to a salted bourbon pecan tart and soak in the holiday cheer in Central Park.
See the New York Philharmonic Orchestra
Attending the New York Philharmonic Orchestra is among the top bucket list items when visiting New York in general, but even more so around the holidays.
Traditionally, the NY Phil plays music from famous composers such as Beethoven and Mozart as well as music written today. During Christmas, attendees can hear all their favorite holiday classics played in the most beautiful way!
Holiday concerts performed by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra at Lincoln Center are easily one of the best things to do in NYC at Christmas. Along with playing all the holiday classics, you can also watch the iconic holiday films like Home Alone in the most unique way possible! As the movie plays on the big screen, the orchestra performs the score live!
Out of all the Christmas activities NYC has to offer, this 2 hour and 15-minute production at the Lincoln Center is one unlike any other!
You can get tickets for the New York Philharmonic Orchestra on SeatGeek, and when you add our promo code BROOKLYNGUIDE to your SeatGeek account, you receive $20 off your first ticket purchase!
(We receive a small commission at no extra cost to you)
Take a Stroll Around Central Park
It goes without saying, Central Park is a must-see, must-visit park for locals and tourists alike, especially during the holidays.
One of the best things to do in NYC at Christmas is taking a magical stroll through one of the largest and most beautiful parks in all of New York City. If you’re lucky enough to catch one of the few days it ‘could’ snow in NYC around Christmas, you’ll want to experience that in Central Park.
There’s nothing more whimsical than seeing some of the most famous highlights and things to do in Central Park like Bethesda Terrace and Bow Bridge with a light dusting of snow to make you feel like you are truly in a New York City snow globe.
But even if it doesn’t snow, we mentioned that Central Park is also home to one of the most enchanting ice-skating rinks in the city, Wollman Rink. And then you could finish the night with an unforgettable meal at Tavern on the Green—two of the best things to do in New York during Christmas live right here in Central Park.
See Santa at Macy’s Santaland
Macy’s Holiday Celebrations are one of the things to do in New York during Christmas that you just can’t miss. The Macy’s flagship store in Herald Square is known for providing iconic window displays, some of the best gift shopping at the world’s largest Macy’s, and having your Buddy the Elf moment—it just doesn’t get much better than this.
But it does! Enjoy Santa’s arrival this holiday season at the Macy’s Holiday Celebrations, guests can take a magical trip to Santaland and get the chance to meet the ‘ol Kris Kringle!
Admission to the Macy’s Holiday Celebrations is free but reservations are required. Photos will be available for purchase after your visit to Santaland! If you’re ever wondering what to do in NYC at Christmas, this is a free and easy no-brainer!
Not to mention, Macy’s in general including the exterior is a great option for where to take Christmas photos in New York City if you’re looking to get festive city shots too! I love the view along 34th Street with all the wreaths!
Grand Central Terminal
While we’ve already mapped out some of the best holiday markets to check out this season, Grand Central Terminal is in a league of its own and is one of our favorite things to do in New York at Christmas.
What is already one of the most breathtaking train stations and transportation hubs of a bygone era on a regular basis becomes even more magical during the holidays. Beginning mid-November, the six-week Grand Central Holiday Fair hosts over 40 local artisan vendors giving visitors an extraordinary shopping experience.
Not to mention the train station has holiday decor up, making you feel like the star in your own Hallmark Christmas film.
The Grand Central Holiday Fair is open daily until 7 PM except Sundays when the market closes at 6 PM. You won’t want to miss one of the most stunning things to do in NYC at Christmas at Grand Central.
Visit New York Public Library’s Patience and Fortitude
Because there are a handful of Christmas activities NYC has located in and around Midtown, you might as well add the New York Public Library as another stop on your holiday to do list. This is also a great addition to visiting Bryant Park Winter Village as the NYPL Main Branch is located within the park’s boundaries!
Since 1911, Patience and Fortitude have proudly stood at the front of this famous library. While these marble lions are world-renowned and people come from all over to see these beautiful cats, they are even more majestic during the holidays.
With ginormous wreaths with a big, beautiful bow placed gently over their heads, they guard the library in the name of Christmas spirit!
If you need a break from the gold, head inside for a free tour or roam around the gorgeous library and be sure to visit the treasures collection where you’ll spot really cool artifacts, my favorite being the original Winnie the Pooh doll and friends!
Okay, so it’s not the ‘original’ location but it’s the next best thing. The famed FAO Schwarz toy store is a MUST while exploring things to do in NYC during Christmas! I mean toys are essential to this holiday!
If you’re a fan of Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, Mr. Duncan’s Toy Chest is based on the original FAO Schwarz toy store and another iconic film (although not Christmas-themed), Big was filmed here. The iconic scene where Tom Hanks dances across the giant floor piano was here, and you can do the same even in the newer location!
Located right next to the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, FAO Schwarz is where Christmas magic comes alive! This flagship store location includes three levels of one-of-a-kind toys.
Being the oldest toy store retailer in the United States, FAO Schwarz has been making childhood dreams come to life since 1862 and there is no better place to do that than in Rockefeller Center, the hub of Christmas spirit in New York City.
Hit up Famous Christmas Filming locations!
Ever wondered what it’s like to be the star of a Christmas film in NYC!? One of the best things to do in New York during Christmas is getting a first-person point of view at the best filming locations for some of the most iconic New York Christmas films.
Speaking of having your Buddy the Elf moment, you can recreate those moments all over the city as one of the many easy Christmas activities NYC has to offer. Remember where Buddy’s dad worked? Greenway Press was located in the Empire State Building and is one of the easily accessible filming locations for the movie, Elf.
Snowball fight in Central Park? This happened at the Pinebank Arch Bridge, which has been known to be a famous filming location for films such as Great Expectations (1998) and Léon: The Professional (1994).
Some other well-known filming locations for Elf are the Lincoln Tunnel, 5th Ave, Queensboro Bridge, the Rockefeller Center Plaza and many others!
Another one of the most famous New York Christmas films is without a doubt, Home Alone 2: Lost in New York.
Starting off strong, one of the best film locations to check out is the Plaza Hotel—where Kevin books himself a room with that trademark trickery of his. This hotel becomes a focal point of the movie from when Kevin checks into the hotel to the shenanigans he gets into throughout his stay.
And if you planned on taking a visit to Radio City Music Hall, you’ll be visiting one of the most popular filming locations for the motion picture as well. This was one of Kevin’s first stops while sightseeing around the city, making sure to capture the memory on his Polaroid camera!
Some other iconic filming locations to check out are the Empire Diner, Wollman Rink, Carnegie Hall and more!
Finally, my personal favorite filming location in New York City and one of the best things to do in NYC at Christmast time is a visit to Serendipity 3 on the Upper East Side. Warm up with a nice cappuccino or dessert and feel like you are Kate Beckinsale amid a magical love story with John Cusack in the holiday film Serendipity. Some other whimsical filming locations for this romantic Christmas film are Wollman Rink, Bloomingdale’s on 3rd Ave and East 59th St, and The Waldorf Astoria.
Walk through the Holiday Luminaries at Brookfield Place
Located in the Battery Park neighborhood of Lower Manhattan, you won’t want to miss the incredible light shows at Brookfield Place this Christmas season as one of the best things to do in New York during Christmas.
Beginning at the end of November, visitors can check out Luminaries, a free installation comprised of 640 twinkling custom lanterns that magically change colors and intensity synchronized to music.
Daily from 8 AM to 10 PM, visitors can attend a special light show at the top of every hour. The shows play along to some of the best holiday classics such as Winter Wonderland, Silver Bells, Carol of the Bells, and Let it Snow.
Feel free to partake in the Holiday Wishing and Maestro, which is illuminating your holiday wish by sending a motion-activated wish or conducting the canopy of glowing lanterns above! This happens daily from 10 AM to 8 PM!
Visitors can typically soak in all the gorgeous lights and colors from Luminaries at Brookfield Place until the first of the year! Add this to your list of whimsical things to do in NYC at Christmas this holiday season!
Holiday Lights at the Bronx Zoo
From mid-November to early January, people of New York can soak in the Christmas spirit at the Holiday Lights at the Bronx Zoo.
Complete with immersive light displays, custom-designed animal lanterns, and light shows all over the zoo, this is one of the best things to do in New York during Christmas!
With over 400 lanterns representing nearly 100 animals and plants, the Bronx Zoo brings Christmas spirit to life in New York City.
Partake in the 6 different lantern trails, take a trip on the Holiday Train, catch some magical ice carving demonstrations, and more! For the first time, guests can now experience displays showcasing New York’s ocean waters and wetlands wildlife plus other new interactive displays and lanterns!
If you’d like to check out one of the best things to do in NYC at Christmas, book a Holiday Lights any-night ticket and visit whichever day it fits into your trip best!
Keep in mind when visiting the Holiday Lights at Bronx Zoo, the animal exhibits will be closed and is not included in a ticket to the Holiday Lights.
Since you’re in the Bronx, consider combining this with the Holiday Train Show at New York Botanical Gardens too!
Visit the MET
Each year, visitors can count on seeing the longstanding holiday tradition that is the MET Christmas Tree and Neapolitan Baroque Crèche. The twenty-foot-tall blue spruce stands tall over an eighteenth-century Neapolitan Nativity scene and is covered with silk-robed angels. It is another one of the prettiest Christmas trees to see during your visit to New York this Christmas.
This installation can be found in the Museum’s Medieval Sculpture Hall usually from late November to early January, making it one of the most perfect things to do in NYC in December.
Visitors can also check out the beautiful, three-foot-tall silver Hanukkah Menorah that has been on display during the holidays since 2014.
And if you’re trying to get out of the cold weather, this is one of the best things to do indoors in NYC too! You can easily get lost in here for hours (if not days).
Visit St Patrick’s Cathedral
Just a hop and a skip away from the incredible holiday window displays along 5th Avenue and Rockefeller Center, a visit to St. Patrick’s Cathedral is a simple addition to your list of Christmas activities NYC has for you this holiday season.
During the holidays, the already breathtaking Cathedral is lined with hundreds of lights, big and beautiful wreaths with red bows while the chancel is blooming with Christmas poinsettias.
The history and architecture of St Patrick’s Cathedral is enough reason to visit but it is an even more majestic environment during Christmas. If you find yourself in NYC on Christmas Eve and/or Christmas Day, feel free to explore their Christmas & New Year’s Mass Schedule!
Warm Up with the Best Hot Chocolate in the City!
There is no New York City Christmas without some of the best hot chocolate the world has to offer, especially for those who love a good treat during the holidays!
Paired perfectly with some holiday shopping, light shows, ice skating, and more, you can’t walk the streets of NYC this Christmas without a cup of hot cocoa from one of our favorite spots!
Sant Ambroeus: With locations at Brookfield Place, on Madison Avenue, in the West Village, and in SoHo, a cup of Sant Ambroeus is always within reach. A delicious combination of espresso, thick hot chocolate, milk foam, and cocoa powder, you just can’t miss this sweet treat.
S’Mores N’More: Located in Bryant Park, S’Mores N’More is the perfect pitstop while crossing sites off your list of whimsical things to do in NYC at Christmas! Nothing goes better with hot chocolate than some deliciously sweet s’mores! They also offered iced hot chocolate!
Thierry Atlan: As we said, Christmas shopping and hot chocolate in New York go hand and hand. That being said, stopping by Thierry Atlan while Christmas shopping in SoHo. Thierry’s Signature Hot Chocolate is a special recipe with different dark chocolates from all over the world with hints of creamy cocoa. Don’t hesitate to pair your sweet drink with a sweet treat!
Jaques Torres: With locations in DUMBO and Grand Central Station, you can find one of the best cups of hot chocolate in New York at Jaques Torres. Known for their handmade chocolate and exquisite ingredients, this creamy cup of cocoa is one you can’t pass up. Especially after a visit to the Grand Central Holiday Fair.
Angelina Paris: Also located in Bryant Park, Angelina Paris is another spot where you can warm up with some cocoa after accomplishing some of the best things to do in NYC in the cold weather. Their Famous Old Fashioned Hot Chocolate is undeniably delicious, paired perfectly with any number of their pastries.
Dominique Ansel Bakery: Another reliable refueling station is Dominique Ansel Bakery located in SoHo. Pair a cup of hot chocolate with their famous Dominique’s Kouign Amann, a croissant with flakey layers and a crunchy caramelized crust on the outside!
Daily Provisions: With a handful of locations throughout the city, a cup of creamy hot cocoa is always within reach at Daily Provisions. You won’t want to miss this mocha, maybe add an extra shot espresso to power through the rest of your list of things to do in New York during Christmas!
And if you want to do some local boutique shopping in Brooklyn, head to Carroll Gardens and stroll up and down Court Street and Smith Street for fun shops and stop into Brooklyn Farmacy + Soda Fountain for one of the best cups of rich, hot chocolate the city has to offer!
Where to Stay in NYC during Christmas
There are so many great hotels in NYC with views, themed hotels, and hotels for any style of traveler or budget for your trip! Also, there are plenty of amazing places to stay in Brooklyn too with incredible views of the skyline and easy to get around from!
These are just a few of the recommended hotels to check out during your stay or use the booking map below to help you find a hotel in the area you want to stay in by budget.
Since the holiday season is an especially popular time to visit the city, we recommend securing your hotel stay in advance! Especially if you want to stay at very iconic Christmas hotel stays like Lotte Palace New York or The Plaza Hotel.
1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge
60 Furman Street, Brooklyn Heights
1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge, a stunning waterfront hotel in Brooklyn with incredible views of the East River, Manhattan skyline, Statue of Liberty, and Freedom Tower. 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge not only prides itself on its sleek and upscale design but its commitment to sustainability, as the hotel is made of reclaimed materials and employs the use of low-energy LED lights, smart heating/cooling, carbon offsets, and an irrigation system that uses reclaimed rainwater for its landscaping.
In addition to floor-to-ceiling windowed rooms with views of the Brooklyn Bridge and East River (ask for the Liberty King or Bridge King rooms), hotel guests and visitors can enjoy spectacular vistas from Harriet’s Rooftop Bar (an open-air patio overlooking the water and one of the best rooftop bars in Brooklyn), Harriet’s Lounge (a classic cocktail bar with full-walled window views of the bridge and passing ferries), and the Osprey (a New American restaurant specializing in farm-to-table cuisine with views of the verdant hotel patio and Brooklyn Bridge Park).
And until the East River is clean enough to swim in (don’t hold your breath), the 1 Hotel’s rooftop pool is an ideal place to cool off with a cocktail and enjoy the view. Book here.
63 W 38th St, Midtown
One of the most centrally convenient locations for picking where to stay in the city is in Midtown and better yet, getting a room with a view is even better and increases your chances when you’re around this area.
Your secret weapon in planning a New York meetup is the hotel rooftop bar, and Refinery Rooftop at the Refinery Hotel is one of the ideal places to meet among NYC hotels with the best views (if also staying there, ask for a Studio King with Empire Views room for the most direct vista).
The Refinery Hotel is housed in the historic 1912 Colony Arcade Building, and its stylish, industrial fixtures reflect an old-school-meets-contemporary vibe. The Refinery Hotel features several great food and drink options, with live jazz at lobby bar Winnie’s, ribeye and soft-shell crabs at restaurant Parker & Quinn, and of course, innovative cocktails at the spectacular Refinery Rooftop.
Featuring views of the Empire State Building, the Refinery Rooftop is the perfect place to hold your birthday party or friend meetup, with convenient access to Midtown trains and offices. Order a round of Empire Palomas (mezcal, pomp & whimsy, simple syrup, grapefruit juice) and toast to a night of celebrating with friends and the New York skyline. Book here.
123 Nassau Street, Lower Manhattan
Hidden away in the heart of the Lower East Side, the Beekman Hotel is a unique landmark that’s been converted to one of the most gorgeous hotels in NYC. The building itself was built in 1882, it was tragically boarded up in 1940 and left empty for decades.
Because of its long hibernation and vacancy the building just sat for those decades almost frozen in time pretty much leaving the entire property restored and untouched. The luxury hotelier group Thompson Hotels unveiled the Beekman Hotel in 2016 and now it’s one of the most stylish and coolest hotels in NYC.
The heart of the Beekman Hotel is the atrium with a pyramid-topped skylight, which illuminates 9 cascading floors below into the hotel bar. Intricately detailed cast ironwork covers railings and ceilings. In the lobby, you are met with creamy marble, emerald-green pillars, and a Persian rug-wrapped welcome center. V
isit the Temple Court Restaurant with al a carte or 5-course tasting menu, or enjoy the Temple Court on 10- intimate wisteria-covered dining on the West Terrace. Have a drink on a velvet couch in The Bar Room at Temple Court, a Victorian-era bar underneath the Atrium. Book here.
What to do in NYC at Christmas (Post Summary):
- Radio City Christmas Spectacular
- Bryant Park Winter Village
- Rockefeller Center
- Holiday Window Displays on Fifth Avenue
- Holiday Train Show at New York Botanical Garden
- Holiday Markets
- Holiday Pop-Up Bars
- Dyker Heights Christmas Lights
- Empire State Building & Other Observation Decks
- See the Nutcracker
- Ice Skating in Central Park at Wollman Rink
- Visit the Prettiest Christmas Trees
- Get Festive at Rolf’s German Restaurant
- Visit Hudson Yards
- Take a Holiday Nostalgia Train Ride
- Lightscape at Brooklyn Botanic Gardens
- Watch the Saks Fifth Avenue Light Show
- Have dinner at Tavern on the Green
- See the New York Philharmonic Orchestra
- Take a Stroll Around Central Park
- See Santa at Macy’s Santaland
- Grand Central Terminal
- Visit New York Public Library’s Patience and Fortitude
- FAO Schwarz
- Hit Up Famous Christmas Filming Locations
- Walk through the Holiday Luminaries at Brookfield Place
- Holiday Lights at the Bronx Zoo
- Visit the MET
- Visit St Patrick’s Cathedral
- Warm Up with the Best Hot Chocolate in the City!
Snowfall in New York City at Christmas is possible, but not guaranteed. While the city often sees some snow, the timing and amount vary each year. A snowy backdrop can add to the holiday charm.
Dress warmly for NYC at Christmas, layering with a heavy coat, scarves, gloves, and a hat. Comfortable, waterproof boots are essential, as snow is possible. Opt for festive clothing for holiday events.
New York City’s weather at Christmas is typically cold, with temperatures ranging from -1°C to 4°C (30°F to 40°F). Snow is possible, adding to the holiday atmosphere. Dress warmly for outdoor activities.
The best time to book a New York Christmas trip is well in advance, ideally 3-6 months before your intended travel dates. This ensures availability and better prices for accommodations and activities during the busy holiday season.
When is the Rockefeller Christmas tree lighting?
The Rockefeller Christmas tree lighting typically occurs in early December, with the exact date announced each year. It’s a beloved annual event in New York City, marking the start of the holiday season.
During Christmas in NYC, you can visit the Rockefeller Center tree, ice skate, shop at holiday markets, watch “The Nutcracker,” enjoy festive displays, and partake in seasonal events like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and New Year’s Eve celebrations.