There are so many things to do in NYC during Christmas, it’s hard to fit them all in! Not only does the city light up and sparkle even more around Christmas time, but tourists also flock to the city to take advantage of seasonal events before their gone. Whether you’re looking for an exciting day trip or just some new holiday traditions, we’ve gathered a few must-do activities to add to your list.
Table of Contents
CHRISTMAS THINGS TO DO IN NYC
We are breaking up this article into the following types of holiday activities, so scroll ahead if you’re not into one category.
- Christmas & Holiday Shows
- Holiday Markets
- Eating and drinking
- Venues for Holiday Performances
- Interactive Things for Christmas
- Christmas day trips from NYC
I. Holiday Shows in NYC
Let’s start our NYC Christmas attractions list with the holiday shows! These are NOT year-round, so take advantage of the seasonal schedules and book ahead of time. Look out for my personal favorites; they’ll have a ★ next to them!
1. Nutcracker Rouge at Company XIV ★ (HIDDEN GEM)
This is my FAVORITE rendition of the Nutcracker show in NYC! With a vibrant and eclectic take on the traditional holiday show. The Nutcracker Rouge is a magical masterpiece performance that includes tap dancing, acrobatics, ballet, singing, opera, pole dancing, burlesque and so much more.
Company XIV is located in Bushwick next to several other epic venues, bars, breweries, restaurants and more. So you can easily make an entire NYC day trip out of Bushwick.
But even better? The performers REFLECT the real NYC. Half of the cast is BIPOC. Unlike the Rockettes or the Nutcracker at Lincoln center which is 98% white in a city that is mostly BIPOC and full of diverse artists. Ten stars for this experience!
This is a limited engagement (only runs for 14 weeks), so if you don’t make it to this one you can also check out their other shows like Cocktail Magique! Please note – this performance is for adults only!
2. Nutcracker at Lincoln Center ★
This iconic show at the David H. Koch Theater in the Lincoln Center is an experience every ballet lover has to see at least once. The Nutcracker by the New York City Ballet is one of the most popular holiday shows; the performance and dancers are simply gorgeous. Because this is one of the most popular things to do in NYC in December, tickets will go fast, and seats will be packed. It’s also not cheap!
3. The Met Opera
The Met Opera hosts some of the world’s most talented classical performers, singers, composers, and more. Getting dressed up for the opera is a classic way to celebrate the holiday season, with a range of operas to choose from, including Lady Macbeth and Aida. Just beware that selfie sticks, video recordings, and flash photos are not allowed, and you must be fully vaccinated to enter the Opera House.
4. Brooklyn Ballet Nutcracker ★
You may have seen the Nutcracker before, but this is a unique rendition with more flavor and representation! The Brooklyn Ballet has transferred this traditional show into an inclusive, diverse performance with a fresh take on the classic story. This show takes place on the landscape of old Dutch Brooklyn on Flatbush Avenue and represents the diverse cultures that make up the borough of Brooklyn.
The only downside to this event is that it has a very limited schedule. So you can only catch it a handful of nights in December. So plan ahead of time. The upside is that it’s a fraction of the price of the Lincoln Center’s Nutcracker!
5. The Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall
I finally get so many cultural references after watching this show. Nothing says Christmas time more than seeing The Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall, and it’s an excellent addition for NYC day trips. Be aware that there is more than one Rockettes Christmas performance, so make sure you choose the Radio City Musical Hall show. You can also choose a Back Stage Tour for an unforgettable experience meeting the stars of the show!
Bonus tip: You can get discounted Black Friday tickets to this event!
6. Jazz at Lincoln Center
Jazz at Lincoln Center offers shows that explore this musical medium fro a unique cultural exchange. Composers come from all different backgrounds: African, Middle Eastern, Latin American, Caribbean, and more. The Big Band Holiday Show is hosted from December 14th to 18th, with fresh Jazz arrangements of holiday classics.
II. Best Holiday Markets in NYC
These are our top three picks for Christmas Markets in NYC to get you started. Head to our Best Christmas & Holiday Markets article for our complete list.
7. Union Square Holiday Market ★
Named one of the best holiday markets in the entire country, there are over 185 outdoor vendors at the Union Square Holiday Market. Shop for handmade gifts for your loved ones this year made by local artists, craftsmen, and entrepreneurs. The market is open every day, rain or shine, and you can browse a list of vendors to plan your trip.
8. Columbus Circle Holiday Market ★
Columbus Circle is an elegant and beautiful holiday market. There are endless rows of stunning jewelry, homemade goods, and delicious treats to sample. Located at the southwestern corner of Central Park, we recommend combining a visit to this market with other holiday light shows or a carriage ride.
After the market, consider grabbing a drink at the MO Lounge. It’s a secret local hidden gem. Skip the food, though. Admire the views over drinks. Thank me later.
9. Bryant Park Winter Market ★
Shop in a European-style outdoor market where each shop looks like an encased jewelry box! The holiday shops at Bryant Park have treasures and treats from around the world. While the website says shops are open until 8 pm, many are open later, closer to the holiday and on weekends.
10. Bushwick Market ★
The Bushwick Market isn’t just during Christmas, but they do open up a section to highlight Christmas goods and other cute holiday decorations. My roommate got a wreath here for $15! It’s a true vintage/flea market where you can get some epic finds at a fraction of their retail price. And best of all? Bushwick is one of the best neighborhoods in NYC to visit for food, nightlife, and culture. From here, you can easily walk to Company XVI or House of Yes for their holiday shows. It’s a local hidden gem.
II. Holiday Light Shows in NYC
11. Dyker Heights Brooklyn Christmas Lights
While kind of overrated and crowded, this light show might be a fun option to see during off-peak times for kids and families. Please note that it’s hard for Ubers to get in/out of this location, and driving, in general, can be difficult during peak holiday times. The train is a little far to walk during colder temperatures, but taking one of these Dyker Height Brooklyn Christmas Lights tours (or this tour) will provide you with transportation to see the lights.
12. Botanical Gardens: Train Show + GLOW Experience
The annual Holiday Train Show at the Botanical Gardens brings all New Yorkers together, young and old! At night the tracks illuminate the park, with more than 175 recreations of landmark buildings and g-scale locomotives with a skyline made of plant parts and flowers. Admission includes access to the Botanical Gardens, the daytime and evening train show, and a narrated tram tour.
There’s also the NYBG Glow Experience, where you can see light installations, ice sculptures, music and more. Consider pairing both events in one ticket!
13. Rockefeller Center Lights
Rockefeller Center is a world-renowned holiday attraction for its dazzling light display, including 12 wire sculptures, thousands of lights, and 3300 pounds of famous snowflakes! Suffice to say this location is incredibly busy during peak holiday hours and can be a bit overwhelming. Booking a guided Rockefeller Center Christmas Holiday Tour can help you see all the sights, including the Rockefeller Christmas Tree and other light displays such as Fifth Ave and Radio City Music Hall.
14. Worlds Largest Menorah Lighting
See the world’s premier Chanukah event since 1985 with the lighting of the World’s Largest Menorah! Visitors of all religious backgrounds will appreciate this holiday tradition that uses a 60-foot boom to lift Rabbi Shimon Hecht and other community leaders to light this massive symbol of hope. The Menorah is lit all eight nights of Chanukah, and we suggest reserving a spot as thousands of people attend these lightings every year.
15. Saks 5th Avenue
The Saks 5th Avenue Light Show is an easy add-on to your things to do in NYC during Christmas. It’s a short three to four minutes long, running from December to early January, and takes place every 10 minutes. This show has thousands of LEDs that dance around to synchronized holiday music between 49th and 50th street. It’s just across Rockefeller Center, so pair them as two for one!
16. Santa Winter Wonderland Popup
Santa’s Wonderland is a newer-ish popup spot to see Christmas lights at South Street Seaport’s Pier 15. You can see some light displays, including Santa’s little Hallway, Santa’s Living Room, the Giant Snow Globe, and other photo spots! Make sure you dress warmly, as this experience is primarily outdoors and right by the windy Hudson River. Please note, that this is an easy 30-minute visit as there isn’t a whole lot to do unless you rent a cabin for $75+.
17. Winter Lantern Festivals at Queens County Farm Museum
If you’re looking for a light show closer to Long Island, consider a reservation for the Winter Lantern Festival at Queens County Farm Museum. Walk through an illuminated trail of light sculptures and handmade Chinese lanterns. All the lanterns are inspired by Chinese myths and legends, with ridable illuminated swings and tunnels. The Queens County Farm is New York City’s largest remaining farmland! Great for kids.
III. Check Holiday Events at NYC Venues
18. BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music) ★
BAM is a local favorite spot for all things dance, music, opera, film, and other fun performances. Every year their schedule changes so check out their calendar for November and December holiday events. The neighborhood of Fort Greene is also perfect for grabbing dinner or drinks afterward. The Now is When We Are (the stars) installation is an example of a holiday performance to catch.
19. Kings Theatre
Live performances at the Kings Theatre feel magical in this 1929 building with grand French Baroque features. You can catch the Brooklyn Nutcracker here, a reimagined vision of the traditional show featuring ballet, hip-hop, and various other dance genres.
20. Green-Wood Cemetery
You don’t often think of visiting a cemetery during the holidays, but this one you may want to consider this one. Green-Wood Cemetery has several outdoor and indoor art installations, including The Remains of Winter. It’s a beautiful place for a quiet stroll away from the busy streets with a hot cup of coffee or cocoa.
21. Duane Park
Walking through Duane Park is super festive, with holiday lights and ice sculptures to admire. The Holiday Cheer event is held on December 8, where there will be Christmas carols, festive drinks, and more. This park is celebrating its 225th year of bringing people together!
IV. Interactive Christmas Things to Do in NYC
22. Go Ice Skating in NYC
In winter, you can enjoy ice skating in different rinks in New York City.
- Central Park’s Wollman Rink: Wollman’s Rink has a ton of ways to skate in the winter months, from skate school to early morning skates and season passes. On Fridays in December, they host the Nordstrom Santa Visit, free with general admission!
- Lakeside Rink (Prospect Park): This rink is in the beautiful 26-acre Prospect Park, offering skating from Sunday to Friday, 9 am to 7 pm, and Saturday to 9 pm. You can choose from the open-air rink or covered rink and prices vary based on the day and your group size.
- Chelsea Piers: Sky Rink at Chelsea Piers has open skate times on Saturdays and Sundays. Registration is required, and they have rentals available.
- Rockefeller Center: Iceskating in Rockefeller Center by the Golden Statue is one of the most iconic NYC holiday activities. If you want to avoid the crowds, try to register your skate time early in the day.
- Bryant Park: Skating at Bryant Park is a ton of fun, featuring a festive rinkside with dining, shopping, and a bar. Admission is free, there are high-quality skate rentals, and you get access to free shows.
- Brookfield: Holiday skating at Brookfield takes place on the weekends, and you must show up 10-15 minutes before your slotted time. You get some awesome views of the water!
23. New Year’s Eve Ball Drop
Attending the 2023 New Year’s Eve Ball Drop is a brave venture best saved when planning your NYC weekend getaways. The official ball drop occurs at the top of 1 Times Square at 42nd Street, but there are several areas where you can see the ball drop. You want to get there early for the live performances and to snag a spot, but be aware that there are NO public restrooms, and restaurants will not allow you to use theirs unless you’re a customer.
24. New York City Cocoa + Carols Holiday Cruise
Take a spectacular holiday cruise and see the New York City skyline from the water! The New York City Cocoa + Carols Holiday Cruise takes you out on an elegant yacht towards the Statue of Liberty. The boat is filled with carols, live jazz, Christmas cookies, and some spiked hot cocoa from the bar! [BOOK HERE]
25. Run a Holiday 5K
For those who love to stay active during the holidays, try running a Holiday 5K! The Hoboken Jingle Bell 5K is one of our favorites, where runners dress up in Santa gear and take off on a 3.1-mile run from Pier Park. (They also host a 1 mile run perfectly for kids and families!) The Jingle Jog 5K in Prospect Park is another fun holiday run and includes a holiday souvenir and post-race hot cocoa.
26. Holiday Limousine Ride
You can see some of New York City’s most spectacular light displays in the comfort of a limousine with this NYC Limousine Ride. Sip a glass of Champagne as you drive through Rockefeller Centre, Brooklyn’s Dyker Heights, and see a spectacular view from the Brooklyn Bridge. This is the perfect opportunity if you don’t like to walk around the in the cold but still want to see the beautiful lights.
27. Holiday History Tour About Christmas NY
New York City has a rich history of tradition around the holiday season. With a Holiday History Tour, a private guide will lead you around to see the quintessential holiday sites in the heart of Manhattan while telling the festive tales and stories behind each one. This is the perfect opportunity to experience all the holiday fun of NYC while avoiding the crowds.
28. Jazz Holiday Cruise
Relax away from the hustle and bustle of the busy holiday streets on a Jazz Holiday Cruise past the NYC skyline. Couples, families, and groups will all enjoy listening to holiday jazz music while sailing by notable landmarks with a snack of cookies and a complimentary drink. This cruise starts at Classic Harbor Line, and the ticket booth is located steps from the dock on Pier 62.
29. New Year’s Eve Party Cruise
Ringing in New Year’s Eve on the water is a unique experience and perfect if you want to avoid the madness of the Ball Drop. Ringing in 2023 on the water, overlooking the skyline, and seeing a firework show is pure magic. This party cruise lasts 3 hours and includes an open bar, complimentary champagne toat, hors d’oeuvres, and more.
V. Christmas Day Trips from NYC
Victorian Christmas at the Octagon House ★
Located in Sleepy Hallow, the Armour-Stiner Octagon House is one of New york’s most uniquely beautiful historic homes. While it’s a real residential home, they allow some guided tours throughout the year. We loved the Holiday Tour where we got to learn about the history of Christmas and how it was celebrated back in the 1800s.
You can get to Sleepy Hallow in Westchester by taking the Metro-North train from Grand Central. Then, order an Uber from the train. Easy peasy.
Polar Express on Catskill Mountain Railroad
You and the family can relive the magic of the Polar Express on the Catskill Mountain Railroad–yes, it’s an actual train! Punch your golden ticket and enjoy a hot cocoa and cookie treat while on the ride to the North Pole and then receive the first gift of Christmas. If you have anyone with sensory issues, reach out for a special booking that includes softer audio and lighting.
Sinterklaas in Rhinebeck
While this event has already passed, this exciting event is definitely worth putting on your list for next year. SinterKlaas in Rhinebeck is a day-long celebration in the village with workshops, theatre, dance, musical performances, and more. Make sure you save time to stay for the Children’s Starlight Parade, with hundreds of volunteers carrying an amazing animated puppet float.
Snowflake Festival in Kingston
This is another amazing event to add to your holiday trip list next year and could easily be paired with the SinterKlaas event if you turn your day trip into a weekend. Uptown Kingston turns into a winter wonderland during the Snowflake Festival that has a main stage with all types of performers and artists. The main events are the Christmas tree lighting and a visit from Santa Claus.
Long Island Winter Wonderland in Bayville
If you travel east to Long Island, you can spend an entire day away at the Bayville Winter Wonderland Holiday Park. You will never run out of things to do here, especially if you are traveling with children. Fill your day with the funhouse, ice skating, rock climbing, a train ride, and much more!
Charles Dickens Festival in Port Jefferson
Get ready to step back into time on your Upstate New York trip. The village of Port Jefferson transforms around the holidays into the Dickenson era, filled with well-known characters like Scrooge, Dickens Mayor, and Father Christmas. Most of these events are open to the public and include opportunities like ice skating, a production of A Christmas Carol, and tons of other performances.
Kevin McCurdy’s in Wappingers
Locals and visitors love to visit the holiday extravaganza at Kevin McCurdy’s Holiday Spirit Festival every year. There are over 15 attractions here, from Santa’s Work Shop to the Enchanted Forest of Lights and an endless number of walkthrough light displays. If you want to grab a drink before returning, try di’Vine Wine Bar in Wappingers, voted Best Wine Bar by Hudson Valley Magazine for 6 years.
VI. NYC Holiday Eating & Drinking Spots
- Afternoon Tea at the Plaza Hotel: Sip a cup of holiday tea to warm up at The Palm Court at The Plaza under the spectacular glass ceiling.
- Paddy McGuire’s Ale House: Paddy McGuire’s is super festive around the holidays and has an indoor fire to warm you up while you grab a drink and some food between events.
- Rolfs: They serve authentic German food in one of the most festive restaurants in NYC. The ceiling is brimming with decorations and lights!
- Tavern on the Green: If you need a place to eat on Christmas Day, Tavern on The Green offers a 4 Course Prix Fixe Menu. Reservations fill up quickly!
- Great Jones Distillery: They host a new event called The Great Jones Whiskey Wonderland, where they serve specialty cocktails and a new winter-inspired menu.
- One World Observatory: Eat at the top of the One World Observatory overlooking the entire city in a holiday-themed restaurant with a special view for guests.
- Serra Alpina: A gorgeous European-style restaurant on a heated rooftop with snow-covered branches, cold weather plants, and dazzling lights overheard.
- Midwinter Night’s Dream at PHD Terrace: The holiday lights on this terrace at the Dream Hotel are stunning, and its location in Midtown makes it a wonderful spot to take a cocktail break near Rockefeller Center.
VII. How to Pack for NYC in the Winter
When packing for New York in winter, warm and comfortable pieces are your best friends. Here are some of my recommendations:
- Adjustable earmuffs like these, if you don’t want to flatten your hair
- Thermolayers like this one if you’re going to be standing outside a lot.
- Comfortable walking shoes. These are fashionable but comfortable. We walk a lot!
- Waterproof snow boots like these are high quality but gorgeous.
- Ultra-compact umbrella since it can get rainy at any moment.
- A spacious, lightweight tote bag for all of your things/shopping (we don’t have cars to keep your things)
- Puffy Coat. People love Canadian Goose. I think a compact one like this with sweaters and layers under is fine.
- Alpaca or wool gloves
- A lined hat. Hudson River wind is no joke!