23 Beautiful Things to Do in NYC in December + Hidden Gems

New York City in December is a magical time to visit, especially if you’re ready to get in the holiday spirit. Festive decorations and twinkling lights take over the city, along with countless seasonal events. With the winter just starting, temperatures aren’t too frigid yet, so you can also still enjoy plenty of outdoor activities. From holiday shows to cozy hot chocolate spots, there’s a reason why many consider NYC in December to be the most wonderful time of the year!

Weather in New York City in December

New York City in December brings colder temperatures, usually in the 40’s, and the slight possibility of snowfall. However, each year the winters are getting warmer, and last year we didn’t have any real snow at all (sadly). In general, early December is much more mild than later in the month, as we transition from fall into winter. No matter when you visit, be prepared to bundle up and keep in mind that these are the shortest, darkest days of the year.

Tips When Traveling to New York in December

Between unpredictable weather and this being high-season for tourists, if you’re visiting NYC in December, I recommend keeping these helpful tips in mind.

  • With the weather being so unpredictable in December, packing warm layers and snow-friendly attire is key. Use our post on what to wear in New York as a helpful resource.
  • Try to book tickets for any shows or events far in advance. This is a popular time of year for tourists, so special events will often sell out quickly!
  • Likewise, remember that high season means tourist attractions (especially those that are holiday themed) will be packed with visitors. Be prepared for the crowds, and try to arrive early whenever possible.
  • The subway is usually your best way of getting around the city quickly, but can be delayed if there is severe weather. If it’s snowing or raining heavily, keep this in mind and plan accordingly.
  • Hotel prices are often hiked up during the holidays, especially in tourist-heavy areas in Manhattan. To save money, stay in one of the other borough’s local neighborhoods, which are often just a quick and easy subway ride away from many big tourist attractions.

Things to Do in NYC in December

1. NYC’s Best Jazz Bars ★

If it’s too cold to be outside, one of the best things to do in New York in December is tuck into a cozy jazz bar!

  • LunAtico: Founded by two musicians, this Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn locale is the perfect spot for an intricate cocktail, paired with small plates and fantastic live music.
  • Ornithology Jazz Club: Some of the city’s most talented jazz musicians perform at this beloved club in Bushwick, Brooklyn. They carry a delicious selection of cocktails, as well as a rotating pop-up kitchen for food. 
  • Brownstone Jazz: In this local hidden gem, intimate jazz concerts take place in a restored, 19th-century Victorian brownstone in Bed-Stuy. Open-mic sessions and a fish-fry buffet also add to the charm.
  • Bill’s Place: This historic jazz speakeasy in Harlem was originally started by Bill Saxton, an iconic saxophonist. The small venue is BYOB and reservations are necessary.
  • Parlor Jazz at Marjorie Eliot’s Harlem Apartment: For a truly unique hidden gem, step into Marjorie Eliot’s living room, where she sits at her piano and puts on a jazz concert every Sunday. The concert is entirely free, though donations are appreciated (and well deserved, as she has been performing every single Sunday for the past decade)!
  • Village Vanguard: This renowned West Village club is a must for jazz lovers, especially on Monday nights when the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra performs. Due to its extreme popularity, advanced tickets are required.

2. The Coolest Nutcracker Shows in NYC ★

If you’re visiting New York in December, The Nutcracker is the perfect way to get in the festive spirit! Whether you prefer to stick to tradition or opt for a re-imagined version of this iconic ballet, the city offers plenty of options.

  • Brooklyn Ballet Nutcracker: Hip-hop, ballet, and dance genres from around the world meld together in this re-invented take on an old classic. This version of the show even takes place in Brooklyn, depicting many of the borough’s most prominent landmarks. Two performances will take place on December 16th at the Kings Theater, and prices range from $45-$141.
  • Nutcracker at Lincoln Center: For a classic take on the famous ballet, George Balanchine’s production will not disappoint. Elaborate costumes and intricate set design make this a truly spectacular, holiday experience. Performances run throughout December, and ticket prices range from $55-$325.
  • Nutcracker Rouge at Company XIV: Ballet meets burlesque in this luxuriously risque retelling of the Nutcracker. The racy performance takes place at Theatre XIV in Bushwick, Brooklyn and ticket prices range from $95 to $195. You can also choose to add on a Champagne upgrade if you’re feeling extra festive!

3. Tea Houses & High Tea

One of the best things to do in NYC in December is to escape the cold in one of the city’s peaceful tea houses. These hidden gems are often more quiet than other Insta-famous locations, and are a great way to learn about the cultures and traditions they represent.

  • Floating Mountain (Upper West Side, Manhattan): Sip on high quality Chinese tea in this tranquil space, where you can also attend a 90-minute, silent tea ceremony.
  • Té Company (West Village, Manhattan): Sustainably grown, loose Taiwanese tea is served in a charming tea room, along with delicious pastries.
  • Victory Sweet Shop/Victory Garden Cafe (Astoria, Queens): Warm up with a Greek or Italian tea along with other Mediterranean delicacies at this inviting Greek cafe.
  • Lady Mendl’s Tea Salon (Gramercy Park, Manhattan): Enjoy a prix fixe menu of teas, cocktails, tea sandwiches, pastries and more in this elegantly decorated, Victorian inspired space.

4. Shop at the Holiday Christmas Markets

If you’re looking for last minute gift ideas and a festive setting, holiday markets are the best places to visit in New York in December. While there are tons to choose from, these are the absolute biggest and best Christmas markets in NYC!

  • Bryant Park’s Winter Market: Over 170 artisan vendors sell their products alongside an ice skating rink and cozy lodge at this charming Christmas market. Stop by for one-of-a-kind gifts, hot chocolate, and all your favorite classic Christmas tunes.
  • Union Square Holiday Market: More than 150 vendors come together at this annual market, which features a mix of retailers and delicious restaurants. The setting is especially idyllic at night, as twinkling lights are strung across each booth.
  • Grand Central Holiday Fair: This indoor market takes place in the stunning Vanderbilt Hall of Grand Central, and features over 40 local vendors. Keep in mind, this market only runs until December 24th.

5. Luxury Indoor Spas

Treating yourself to a luxurious spa day is one of the best things to do in New York in December if you’re looking to escape the cold for a few hours!

  • AIRE Ancient Baths Spa: Located in the heart of Tribeca, what was once a textile factory from 1883 has been restored and transformed into this luxurious spa. Various baths at different temperatures are offered, utilizing a mix of Ancient Greek, Roman, and Ottoman traditions.
  • Winter Spa at The William Vale: Decompress in a red cedar outdoor sauna while taking in stunning views from a panoramic dome window. This seasonal spa is open all winter, so it’s a great option for anyone visiting NYC in March or earlier.
  • Shibui Spa: Located in the Greenwich Hotel, this peaceful oasis offers facials, massages,and baths. Private fitness, yoga and pilates classes are also available.
  • Remedy Place: Coined as the world’s first social wellness club, this Flatiron District spa offers multiple tech-remedies, holistic practitioners, and plenty of opportunities to socialize with other guests.
  • World Spa: This three-story spa in Brooklyn features a wide range of global wellness experiences and traditions. Turkish and Moroccan hammams, banyas, Finnish saunas, and Japanese onsens are all present in this eclectic space.

6. The Comedy Cellar ★

This West Village comedy club is a New York staple and one of the most fun things to do in NYC in December. The iconic venue, which was founded in 1982, is one of the best comedy clubs in the city and is known for having surprise acts by celebrity comedians. Tickets sell out quickly, so check out the line up for who’s in town during your visit, and try to book ahead of time.

7. Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival

This groundbreaking festival has been a highlight at BAM since 1981. Talented young artists take the stage and wow their audiences with original, visionary performances that do not fit within a single genre. Various shows will be performed throughout December, so check out what’s on during your trip, and aim to book your tickets in advance.

8. Go Ice Skating

For a fun outdoor activity, December is the best time of year to go ice skating in NYC. Some rinks are even free if you bring your own skates, and several offer lessons for less experienced skaters.

  • Wollman Rink, Central Park: There are few places as idyllic as Central Park in New York in December. Skate among the trees in this picturesque rink, and be sure to purchase your timed tickets in advance.
  • The Rink, Rockefeller Center: Glide along the ice in the iconic Rockefeller Plaza, where you can skate for 60 minutes, beginning from your scheduled time slot. Try to arrive early, as it gets very crowded and latecomers won’t be allotted additional skate time.
  • Bryant Park: Admission is free at this festive ice rink, though you’ll need to pay for skate rentals if you don’t have your own. After your session, warm up in the cozy lodge or explore the adjacent holiday market.

9. New York Botanical Garden’s Glow & Holiday Train Show

One of the best things to do in New York during December is to visit this annual holiday train show. Over 25 model trains take over the New York Botanical Garden, running through 200 scaled NYC landmarks, all under a blanket of festive, twinkling lights. 

On select dates, marvel at the NYBG GLOW’s outdoor holiday light spectacle, where choreographed lights and dazzling installations take over the space. If you’re also visiting NYC in January, keep in mind that this installation continues to run for a couple of weeks after the New Year.

BONUS: Grand Central Terminal also has their own holiday train show, which is completely free and open to the public! 

10. Visit the Best Museums in NYC

One of the best things to do in New York in the winter is to visit a museum, especially on an extra chilly day! There are countless museums in NYC to choose from, but these are the best ones that you definitely don’t want to miss. 

11. Cocoa and Carol’s Holiday Cruise

If you’re visiting New York City in December, treat yourself to a festive night with this fun holiday cruise. Sing Christmas carols, listen to live jazz, and snack on Christmas cookies and hot cocoa, all while you admire stunning views of the NYC skyline from the water. The impressive yacht will be decked out in holiday decor as you spend 90 minutes sailing past the city’s most iconic landmarks.

12. Nuyorican Poets Cafe ★

Located in the Lower East Side, this historic venue has been showcasing powerful poetry, music, theater and visual arts from diverse artists for the past 50 years. When the cafe was founded, it served as a welcoming space for artists of color who were otherwise not accepted by mainstream industries. Today, the cafe is still a place where New Yorkers gather to discover and appreciate incredibly talented, diverse artists across multiple genres. If you’re looking for non touristy things to do in NYC in December, check their calendar and see who’s performing while you’re in town!

13. New York Catacombs by Candlelight

Get a unique look at the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral on this tour of the church’s catacombs. Your guide will lead you through lower Manhattan on the way to the church, explaining the historical significance of key landmarks that you pass by along the way. Finally, you’ll be led through the catacombs by candlelight as your guide details the church’s fascinating history. This captivating tour lasts approximately 90 minutes, and allows you to discover a part of the city that is otherwise inaccessible to visitors.

14. Day Trip to Niagara Falls from NYC

Experience the beauty of Niagara Falls in the winter on this unforgettable day trip, beginning from Times Square. Admire the powerful falls from multiple viewpoints, explore Niagara Falls State Park while it’s draped in snow, and enjoy easy roundtrip transportation from the city.

With so many things to do in Niagara Falls, the area is also one of the best weekend winter getaways from NYC. If you do decide to extend your stay for a couple nights, you’ll find numerous charming boutique hotels to choose from. 

15. New Year’s Eve Celebrations

If you’re in NYC over the holidays, then ring in the New Year with one of the city’s festive New Year’s Eve celebrations! There are numerous firework displays, special events, and parties to choose from.

16. Run a Holiday 5K

If you’re not afraid of the cold, get your heart pumping with one of the many Holiday 5K’s that take place in December in New York City!

17. Lincoln Center Performances

For music lovers, taking in a show at Lincoln Center is a must do in NYC in December. The iconic performing arts center offers an expansive range of shows to enjoy, from free student performances to prestigious operas.

  • Jazz: Legendary jazz musicians put on unforgettable performances in the historic Dizzy’s Club throughout the year. In December, these performances often ring in the festive spirit with holiday themed concerts.
  • Opera: Showcasing incredible talent and artistry, there’s no better place to experience a night at the opera than this world-renowned venue. View the current season’s performances, and try to book your tickets early as they often sell out quickly.
  • Juilliard: Support the dedication of these young students, as their talents are showcased through a wide range of performances and genres. Ticket prices vary greatly for different shows, with some events being completely free. 

18. Westchester Winter Day Trip

Only one hour away and accessible by car or train, Westchester is one of the easiest winter day trips from NYC, and offers plenty of things to do!

  • Octagon House: This Vicotrian-style National Landmark is famous for its unique, octagon shape,and is well worth a visit. During the Christmas season, they host a Victorian Christmas tour, filling the home with elaborate holiday decorations. 
  • Lynhurst Mansion: Holiday Classic Mansion Tour: Admire an incredible display of Christmas trees and festive decor while taking part in this renowned historic holiday tour. Rare items that once belonged to the mansion’s previous owners are also brought out of the archives for this special tour.
  • Philipsburg Manor: In Sleepy Hollow, learn about the enslaved community that worked at this property in 1750. This thought-provoking tour only runs through the first half of the month, making it a great option if you’re visiting in early December. 

19. Guided Winter Day Tours from NYC

One of the best things to do in New York in the winter is to spend the day on the slopes, and these convenient tours make a snowy day trip out of the city super easy! Many of these tours run throughout the season, so they’re also great if you’re visiting NYC in February. 

  • Belleayre Mountain: Hit the slopes on this round trip tour to the highest elevation resort in the Catskills. All skill levels are welcome, and lessons are available for any newbies.
  • Mountain Creek: This round trip bus tour leaves the city early in the morning, and provides a variety of ski packages with lift tickets and equipment included. There are plenty of food options available at the lodge, as well as clothing rentals if you didn’t pack for winter sports. 
  • Snow Tubing & Brewery Tour: Spend two hours snow tubing on Mountain Creek, where you’ll have time to warm up by the bonfire with a hot chocolate in between runs. Afterwards, you’ll be driven to Pennings Farm for dinner and drinks in a picturesque Winter Beer Garden setting. 

20. Go Sledding

If it’s snowing, grab your own sled and head to any one of these parks to enjoy one of the best, low-key (and free) winter activities in NYC!

21. Cute Hot Chocolate Spots in NYC

If you have a sweet tooth, the best way to warm up during the winter months is to pop into one of the city’s charming hot chocolate spots!

  • MarieBelle (Manhattan): Indulge in their rich, signature hot chocolate as you sit below a shimmering chandelier in this elegant Soho cafe and chocolate shop. 
  • Bar Pisellino (Manhattan): Enjoy an authentic, Italian aperitivo and delicious hot chocolate (or espresso) at this West Village locale.
  • Brooklyn Farmacy (Cobble Hill, Brooklyn): Satisfy your sweet tooth as this retro, restored soda shop.
  • Venchi (Manhattan): For a late night craving, this gourmet chocolatier has multiple locations throughout the city and stays open until midnight.
  • Angelina Paris (Manhattan): For a chic afternoon, head to this Parisian tea room in Bryant Park for their famous Old Fashioned Hot Chocolate.
  • The Chocolate Room (Park Slope, Brooklyn): Classic, dark, and spiced dark hot chocolate are all on the menu at this cozy dessert shop.
  • Blue Stripes (Manhattan): This eco-conscious cacao shop serves up delicious hot chocolate, and is on a mission to reduce the amount of waste in the chocolate industry.

22. For Holiday & Christmas Decorations

Checking out the Christmas decorations and holiday displays around the city may be the most quintessential activity of all the Christmas things to do in NYC. Some of the more popular tourist attractions on this list can get quite crowded, so try to avoid weekends if you can.

23. GingerBread Lane Event

To view the world’s largest gingerbread village, head to Essex Market in the Lower East Side. Over 700 gingerbread houses and 4,000 pounds of candy make up Gingerbread Lane, an installation that has been built annually for the past 25 years. This adorable display is an especially great activity if you’re traveling with kids!

24. Dinner or Drinks in the Igloos 

A new NYC winter trend are the outdoor igloos for drinks and dining. They pop up all over to give visitors a unique way to get some sunshine outside without the cold elements. These igloos provide a private and warm setting to enjoy dinner and drinks with friends, family, or a romantic date.

Some of the igloos are on rooftops where you can see stunning views of the city skyline, such as Somewhere Nowhere in Chelsea or the super hyped-up 230 Fifth Rooftop in Midtown. Bryant Park has several restaurants with igloo rentals near the ice rink, too. And large groups can fit in the Swiss Alp-inspired Chalet de Ning at The Peninsula with the option for private rentals if you have more than eight guests. 

Super Touristy December Things in NYC

If you’re visiting New York City in December, then it’s worth checking out a few of the touristy things to do in the city. While they may be crowded, many of NYC’s tourist attractions are popular for good reason.

My Other New York Winter Blog Posts

About the Author: Shea Glaser

Shea was born in NYC and has called the city home for most of her life. Her work as a travel-focused content creator has taken her around the globe, but her heart always brings her back home to New York City. You can usually find her drinking coffee in Brooklyn, hiking somewhere Upstate, or running up to pet a stranger’s dog. Follow her on Instagram @sheaglaser.

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