Who doesn’t want to celebrate Christmas in New York? It seems that every great Christmas movie or memory of ours is somehow associated with NYC. It has always been our dream to spend Christmas in NYC and we finally got the chance to make it happen.
Dave and I had big plans for our Christmas in New York City. We asked all our Manhattan friends what to do during the holidays and they gave us amazing suggestions. We made our list, we checked it twice, and off we went to New York City for the holidays
Fun Ideas For Christmas in New York
Table of Contents
- We’ve been to New York many times and have an excellent post rounding up the best neighborhoods to stay in New York City.
- Looking for more New York Inspiration? Read our favorite things to do in New York for any time of the year
Where to Stay in New York at Christmas
The last time we stayed in New York, we lodged in the Intercontinental Times Square. It’s an amazing property that offers a different, more upscale choice. This time, we were on more of a budget. So when using our IHG Rewards, we choose the Holiday Inn Times Square. Even though our room was a bit small at the Holiday Inn Times Square, it had all the amenities we needed and a fantastic view of Manhattan. Armed with our New York Pass, we set out to do everything festive (twice!) in New York City.
What we love about New York is that we don’t spend a lot of time in our room so the best thing to think about when booking a hotel is the location and affordability and the Holiday Inn is affordable. You are, after all, in the city that never sleeps! Staying in Times Square at Christmas keeps you close to all the Christmas attractions. We were within walking distance of many activities and Christmas attractions.
- Read About these Times Square Hotels that we have stayed at. It is a great place to make a home base when visiting New York during the holidays.
- Check out more things to see in Times Square at Things to do in Times Square – A Walking Tour and Nearby Attractions
Our Christmas Vacation in New York
Bundle up with your favorite hat, scarf, and mittens. Pack your comfortable and warm winter boots, layer up, and get ready to explore our Christmas in New York.
1. The Rockettes Radio City Christmas Spectacular
I was sure my New York friends were going to tell me I was nuts when I told them we booked a ticket for the Radio City Christmas Extravaganza. It turned out that everyone said, “Go see the Rockettes!”
Radio City Music Hall’s Christmas Celebration is a New York City institution dating back to 1932. If you are going to catch a show during the holidays in New York, this is the one to see.
I was expecting to see 90 minutes of women kicking their legs high in the air “A Chorus Line” style, but there’s a ton of budget, thought, and fun that goes into the show.
There are singers, figure skaters, a 3D screen showing Santa’s adventure, and a group of shorter and more diverse male and female dancers backing up the actual Rockettes.
- Book your night at Radio City Music Hall with Get Your Guide a great place for guides, tickets and tours.
- We have also booked a backstage tour included with ou New York Pass of Radio City Music Hall that is awesome. You even get to meet a Rockette and see the secret room where Walt Disney and Judy Garland hung out.
2. The Nutcracker
If you want to see another Christmas Show in New York, the Nutcracker is performed by the New York City Ballet at the Lincoln Centre. Nothing rings in the holiday season quite like the Nutcracker. I have seen so many shows on TV starting with the Lincoln Centre that I felt giddy stepping foot on the complex.
Besides the ballet, you’ll find the Opera House and Geffen Hall where the New York City Philharmonic plays. Handel’s Messiah was being presented while we were there.
For deep discounts Get your New York City Pass.
With the city pass, you save up to 70% on admission to New York’s most famous attractions.
- Get access to 80 New York attractions
- Choose a 1-7 day package
- Explore New York at your own pace
- Receive discounts at shops, shows and restaurants
- Skip the line at many of the busiest attractions
- Free use of Big Bus Hop-on Hop-off tours
3. Christmas Markets
You can’t have a proper Christmas in New York without visiting the Christmas Markets.
We visited our first Christmas Markets during a river cruise of Europe a few years ago, and since that time, they have been sprouting up everywhere. New York City has markets all over town from uptown to downtown.
We visited several holiday markets from the indoor market at Grand Central Station (a New York City tourist attraction unto itself).
The most popular is probably the Union Square Holiday Market where we ran into a friend randomly in this gigantic city! And the lovely Columbus Circle Holiday Market. We went to them all and loved each minute! But our personal favorite, Bryant Park holiday market.
Check out our best Christmas Gift ideas for people who love to travel
4. Bryant Park
Why was Bryant Park our favourite? Well, for one, you there is an ice skating rink and you can skate here for free!
Bring your hockey or figure skates along and you can go ice skating at Bryant Park. If you don’t have your own skates, rentals are $20. The arena is surrounded by Christmas stalls selling ornaments, arts and crafts, and of course, apple cider to keep you warm.
There’s a great Christmas tree here as well, which we actually enjoyed more than the tree at the Rockefeller Centre.
5. Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree
Even though it wasn’t our favorite of things to do in New York at Christmas, you can’t NOT go to the Rockefeller Christmas Tree. It’s would be like going to Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower.
If you go in the morning or later at night, crowds are much less and you can see the lights displayed on the tree overlooking the famous skating rink.
I wouldn’t recommend skating here. The fees are high and there is a long wait to get on the ice. But it’s worth stopping by to see the holiday display at the Rockefeller Center, and to use the free public washrooms, have a seat, and warm up with a cup of coffee in the concourse. Book Your Tickets to visit the Rockefeller Center
6. Saks Fifth Avenue Light Show
New York City is known for its holiday window displays but Saks Fifth Avenue takes the holiday spirit to new heights.
If you time it right, you could be standing at the viewpoint of the Warner Brother’s Tree at Rockefeller Center to watch the show. If you do a complete 180-degree turn from the rink, you’ll see Saks storefront where their light show plays to dramatic Christmas music at regular intervals once the sun goes down. This is a must-do when you visit New York City at Christmas.
7. New York Christmas Window Displays
Speaking of Saks, the best way to check out the New York window displays is to walk along Fifth Avenue from Central Park. All the storefronts are decorated to the nines. Some were calling for children to interact with the display by hitting buttons and pulling levers.
Don’t forget to make a detour to Bloomingdales, a staple of New York located on Lexington Avenue.
8. Central Park
There is nothing more romantic than strolling through Central Park during the holidays.
It reminded me of Home Alone 2 Lost in New York and as we walked through the pathways, we reimagined all the places that Kevin got lost in this classic Christmas movie.
We also intended to take a carriage ride, but then a friend that lives in New York said people are working to get these rides banned.
A lot of movies were filmed in Central Park – A Great tour to take is the Holiday Lights and Movie Tour of NYC
9. Carriage Ride
We didn’t personally take a carriage ride in New York, but we do want to mention this option. We have heard that the horses are treated humanely and are mostly rescue animals.
It is up to you if you want to take a carriage ride or not. We chose not to, but here are two sides to help you make a decision. Horses have historically been working animals, and that is exactly what they are here in New York. If people take a carriage ride in Central Park, they are supporting local businesses.
New York Horses – 2 Sides to Each Story
Animal rights activist Jane Velez-Mitchell says.
“Horses are flight animals. They’re also pasture animals. They go from being locked in a carriage horse to locked in a stall behind bars. They do not get to go into a pasture and they’re in the middle of one of the busiest cities in the entire world,” JaneUnchained.com.
The NYSVMS has been committed to ensuring the humane treatment of all animals throughout New York State for 125 years, and writes that “Opponents of horse-drawn carriages are also misinformed about the conditions in the carriage industry, frequently claiming that the horses are forced to live and work under inhumane conditions.
A careful examination of the lives of these animals reveals the opposite. These horses, many of which are rescue animals themselves, live and work under the careful scrutiny of the veterinary profession, which follows stringent standards designed to ensure the animal’s welfare is of paramount importance.” Carriage.com
10. Tavern on the Green
We were excited to visit Tavern on the Green in Central Park. The top hat and tails clad doorman greeted us with a smile as he let us into the city’s iconic landmark.
But we made the mistake of not making reservations, and so only had the opportunity to browse the gift shop and check out the sitting area by the bar. When we arrived at 2 pm there was a 90-minute wait for a table.
This is a romantic destination and the setting is beautiful, but do yourself a favour and reserve a table for lunch. I want to go back and sit inside properly. Christmas in New York wouldn’t be complete without a visit here.
11. Empire State Building
The Empire State Building is open 365 days a year including Christmas Day! Be prepared for very long lines though. During the holiday season, the Empire State Building lights up in a festive red and green glow.
We love doing touristy things and we really loved going up to the Observation Deck. It really showcases a beautiful view of the skyline. Entrance to the Empire State Building is included with your New York City Pass gives you front of the line access to New York Attractions. Or you can also purchase skip the line admission to the Empire State Building Observation Deck
12. New York Botanical Gardens Holiday Train Show
Located in the Bronx, The New York Botanical Gardens is worth a visit to see the Holiday Train Show. 150 miniature New York City Landmarks span a half a mile track that are meticulously lit with bright lights as model trains move through the miniature city.
There are plenty of things to keep you busy at the gardens during the holiday season including performances, acapella groups, concerts and poetry readings. Click here to book tickets to the Holiday Train Show
13. A View from Brooklyn
There are many places to get a great view of the New York City skyline, but our favorite is definitely from Brooklyn Bridge Park in DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge). This is a spot you recognize from many a Hollywood movie, where historic buildings lead down narrow streets directly to the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges.
From the waterfront here you can snap several different views of the New York City skyline, but the most impressive picture comes from Pier 2 where wooden poles jut out of the water, making for an impressive foreground. Plus there is a carousel here that really puts you in the festive spirit.
14. Dyker Heights Christmas Lights
While in Brooklyn, make your way to Dyker Heights to view to see the Christmas lights display. The homes in this New York neighborhood get into the Festive spirit by having Christmas professionals design their lights starting the day after Thanksgiving.
It has become so popular, there are tours offered out to see the displays from 11th Avenue to Dyker Heights Blvd (aka 13th Avenues) from 83rd to 86th St in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn. Check out this highly rated Manhattan to Brooklyn Christmas Majic Tour by Get Your Guide.
There are always so many things to do in New York at Christmas, so if you want to fulfill your Christmas in New York City dream like we did, start planning now. You won’t be disappointed.
- Get Your New York City Explorer Pass to 85 tours and attractions and Save 55% on general admissions to top NYC Attractions Check out more details here.
We loved every minute of our holiday; there’s no other place in the world where Christmas is embraced as much as New York City.
Where to Stay in New York
If you are wondering where to stay in New York during your Christmas holidays in the city, we have a comprehensive neighborhood guide breaking each is to help you plan your trip!
- SoHo / Tribeca – Gorgeous cast-iron warehouses, top-notch shopping, fantastic people watching, and in the center of downtown.
- The Village – Quiet tree-lined streets with million dollar townhouses, cute cafes and restaurants, fantastic bars, and a great music scene.
- Lower East Side / East Village / Nolita – Old punk rockers, hipsters, and the original center of immigrant life in New York.
- Upper West Side – An affordable and convenient neighborhood that has lots to do, particularly for families.
- Chelsea – Glitzy, trendy, new, energetic, this neighborhood blurs the lines between cliched/touristy and glamorous.
- DUMBO – For those looking to escape Manhattan wonderful neighborhoodsof the Outer Boroughs that will allow you to explore further.
- Williamsburg – Trendy hipster neighborhod. One of the hottest spots in Brooklyn.
New York City Christmas Quick Tips
Christmas is definitely an amazing time to visit New York. Christmas markets are open all around town, storefronts are decorated with colorful lights and special Christmas performances take place. New York is made for Christmas celebrations.
It is cold in December in New York and it can snow. Pack your layers and be prepared for winter weather.
Plan more of your New York City travels:
- 6 Tips to Make the Most of NYC Photography – by James
- Where to Stay in New York City – Complete Guide to the Best Neighborhoods
- 3 Perfect hotels in Times Square
- 6 Tips to Make the Most of Your New York City Photography
- Tips for Visiting The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island
- 33 Best Things to Do in NYC in 2020 for First-Timers
Traveling to the United States, see our United States Travel Guide
YOU MAY ALSO WANT TO CHECK OUT THESE OTHER CITY GUIDES
- Where To Stay In Paris – A 2020 Guide To The Best Neighborhoods
- Where To Stay In London – A Guide to The Best Areas and Places
- Where to Stay in San Francisco – A Guide To The Best Areas
- Where to Stay in Toronto – A Guide to the Best Neighborhoods
- The Best Things to do in Toronto – A Guide to the Top Attractions
Enjoy all these things to do in New York City at Christmas? Save it to Pinterest for future travel planning.
This post is in partnership with IHG Rewards, but as usual, all views of our experience are our own.