25 Things to Do In New York City at Christmas
Going to New York City at Christmastime? Here’s a list of festive things you must see and do while you are there!
What To See In New York City at Christmas
Christmas in New York City is just magical. There isn’t any other way to say it. I’m branching out today a bit to talk about something I love, but don’t share too often on this blog because you didn’t come here for travel tips and itineraries. (Although secretly I would love to get paid to travel!) I just recently got back from a trip to New York City and even though I’ve been a handful of times before, visiting New York City in December was unforgettable.
I’m going to share some of our favorite things we did there and a few tips in case you are planning a visit there as well.
Before You Go
There are so many Christmas movies that are filmed in New York City. You should definitely watch any or all of these Christmas movies to get a glimpse of what you’ll see in New York City at Christmas. It will make the special Christmas sights all the more magical when you recognize them from a Christmas movie.
CHRISTMAS MOVIES SET IN NEW YORK CITY:
A few disclaimers:
- I don’t claim to be an expert on NYC. My sister lives there, so many of these ideas came from her and she definitely deserves the BEST TOUR GUIDE award. She should be the one writing this post.
- This list includes mostly Christmas-specific ideas, so if you haven’t ever been to the Big Apple before, you’ll want to check out some of the other famous sites that aren’t listed here.
- There are a few things on this list that we ran out of time to see. I’ve marked all the places we did see with an asterisk. Asterisk=been there and would recommend it!
1. Visit the Rockefeller Tree*
Quite possibly the most famous Christmas Tree, you’ve got go see the Rockefeller Tree. This tree is shown in many Christmas movie scenes, including Home Alone.
There is an ice skating rink below and you can even catch breakfast at Santa while you’re there. We didn’t ice skate or eat breakfast with Santa, but just visiting the tree is really fun! The walkway leading up is lined with beautiful angels. All-in-all, you’ll love this one.
We saw it both during the day and at night. If you can swing going at both times, do it!
2. Go Ice Skating at Bryant Park*
There are a few different outdoor ice skating rinks in New York City, but we chose to go to the rink at Bryant Park. I’m so glad we did!
Skating at Bryant Park is free, you’ll only need to pay for skate rental. That can cost you about $20. Thankfully my sister owned a few pairs, so we got out of skate rental charges. If you can take your own, you’ll be able to enjoy a FREE activity.
The atmosphere is so fun and festive. You’ll skate to a variety of Christmas music and the large Christmas tree sets the scene for a memorable night.
Shops and Food: There are some fun pop-up shops surrounding the rinkwith local vendors and food you can explore while you’re in the area.
3. Browse the Columbus Circle Christmas Market*
If you’re a sucker for outdoor markets, you’ll love the Christmas Market at Columbus Circle. There red and white striped shops, with draping twinkle lights create a festive environment to browse through even if you don’t plan to do any shopping.
Most of the vendors are local artisans and crafters with unique ornaments, gifts, and food for sale.
Eat: Plan to eat lunch or dinner at the market! There are lots of fun ethnic food varieties. Personally my favorite was the Baked Haus which served Raclette over baguettes (a Swiss tradition) and the Churros con Chocolate.
4. Visit the New York Public Library Tree*
You’ll find a gorgeous Christmas tree right inside the lobby at the New York Public Library. The building itself is beautiful with the marble floors and the stately columns. You can also check out the famous reading room upstairs. The entrance is free, another bonus!
5. Watch the Saks Fifth Avenue Light Show*
Right across the street from the Rockefeller Center is Saks Fifth Avenue. They have an amazing light show every 15 minutes or so that is choreographed to music.
We loved watching all the lights change colors and the entire side of their building become animated.
6. Look at the Saks Fifth Avenue Windows*
Each year Saks Fifth Avenue unveils their holiday windows. This year, the theme was Snow White, so each window was elaborately decorated with animated scenes from Snow White. They spared no expense, I’m sure.
After you watch the light show from the Rockefeller plaza, walk across the street to take a stroll to view all the windows. We got caught in pouring rain, so our visit was quick, but then again, there were no lines.
7. Attend the Carol Singing + Tree Lighting at Brick Presbyterian Church on Park Avenue*
If you’re lucky to be in New York City the first weekend of December (or around there) go the Carol Singing at the Brick Church on Park Avenue. We’ve always celebrated Advent Sundays to to be in New York City for the 1st Advent was a real treat for me !
The entire block is blocked off, which means there are lots of people, but lots of room. You’ll get to sing Christmas carols with thousands of people while the organ plays and they light the trees on Park Avenue.
This activity was a highlight for sure!
8. Visit the Giant Ornaments*
We loved checking out the Giant ornaments and you will, too. Where else do you see larger than life ornaments? You’ll find these giant ornaments right across from Radio City.
9. See the Giant Christmas Lights *
After you see the giant ornaments, walk a few minutes to see these giant Christmas lights.
10. See the Christmas Spectacular with the Rockettes*
The Christmas Spectacular with the Rockettes brought me to tears multiple times. It is one SPECTACULAR show! And the show is not just a bunch of women kicking their legs. I took my 4-year old daughter with me and she was captivated the entire time. The music and dance is so entertaining and powerful. And not to spoil the show, but they have a live nativity at the end.
I was so impressed that they included Christ’s birth in this show,because that’s what Christmas is all about! I would go see it again tomorrow. Amazing!
11. Stop and Smell the Trees*
New York City is a fast-paced place, but don’t forget to stop and smell the flowers….or Christmas trees in this case!
Really, if you aren’t a city-dweller, you’ll smile seeing how the city folk shop for their trees. You’ll have a hard time forgetting it’s Christmastime as you smell the fresh pine on your city stroll.
12. Shop for festive decorations and party supplies at Flying Tiger*
You probably won’t find “visit Flying Tiger” on any other New York City travel guides, but if you love to party and celebrate holidays, you’ll love the inexpensive party and holiday supplies at Flying Tiger.
Stop for a few minutes to stock up on stocking stuffers or other Christmas party gifts. It’s such a fun store!
13. Eat Frozen Hot Chocolate at Serendipity*
Serendipity is a fun, eclectic restaurant famous for desserts, especially Frozen Hot Chocolate. I’ve posted our EASY FROZEN HOT CHOCOLATE RECIPE on this blog before, but it was yummy trying the original. It was tasty!
All of the desserts are huge and over the top. Going to Serendipity was a fun after-show outing. And they have festive garland around the entire restaurant which makes it feel extra fancy for Christmas.
14. Visit Santa
There are so many Santas around the city. We didn’t make it to any, but I’ve heard there are lots to choose from.
15. Go to the Transit Museum at Grand Central Station*
If you need a break from the cold weather outside or just want something fun for children, visit the Transit Museum inside the Grand Central Station. There is a very entertaining train city that will keep you captivated for a while (even adults!) You’ll spot cute Christmas houses set up around the tracks.
Also, if you need any fun Christmas gifts or stocking stuffers, they have a large variety of Train books, and wooden trains, letter trains and more that will fit with any standard wooden train set.
16. Eat Churros con Chocolate from the Bryant Park Christmas Market*
After you ice skate at Bryant Park, grab some churros con chocolate from the Holiday Market there, or eat one of many other delicacies from around the world. We tried both churros in nutella and dipped in Spanish Hot Cocoa. Both were tasty, although I preferred the Nutella version better. Yum!
17. Go see the giant color-changing stars at Columbus Circle*
Right inside the Shops at Columbus Circle, you’ll see giant stars hanging from the ceiling. If you go to the 2nd floor, you’ll get an amazing view of the city, Columbus Circle, and these amazing color-changing stars.
I hear at night the stars change colors according to Christmas music. That would be a fun time to go, too!
18. Visit Macy’s SantaLand
We didn’t go to SantaLand on our visit, but I hear it’s pretty festive and amazing. You’ll walk through an all-out decorated Christmas land as you wait in line to see Santa. You must make reservations to go, but it’s free. You can order professional photos of your child and Santa as well.
19. Go to Dyker Heights
If you’re obsessed with Christmas light displays and think you’ve seen over the top, think again. Dyker Heights goes all out with Christmas lights and decorations. If you have time for a trip to an area of Brooklyn, you may want to add this to your travel itinerary!
20. Eat at Shake Shack*
New York City can be a bit spendy, so plan a meal or two at Shake Shack to save money on food! They have delicious burgers and the best crinkle-cut fries. They serve their food in cute and festive Holiday paper bags and their shakes come in festive cups, too! They have a famous Christmas Cookie shake you can grab for dessert, or try another one of their famous concretes.
There are multiple locations throughout the city. We love Shake Shack, so maybe I’m biased, but if you like burgers, plan a meal here!
21. Admire the Sidewalk Decorations*
In the hustle and bustle of you’ll find in the city, don’t forget to enjoy the decorations as you walk from place to place. You’ll love spotting the wreaths and garland strung from buildings and doors. Every where you look is a sign of Christmas.
22. Take a Carriage Ride through Central Park
This has always been on my bucket list, but darn it, we ran out of time, so a stroll through Central Park had to do. But how romantic would it be to take a ride snuggled up with your love as you ride through the park?
23. Go to the Nutcracker
If you like the ballet, catch the Nutcracker at the New York City Ballet.
24. Go to the 5th Avenue Holiday Windows at Macy’s Herald Square
We ran out of time for this one, too, but if you have time for a stroll or go shopping at Macy’s, check out the holiday-themed windows!
There are so many opportunities to serve while you are in New York City. We were the lucky recipients of some service while we were there and we were able to pass it on as well. Nothing will make you feel the Christmas spirit more than by serving others…especially strangers!