In this guide, you will find out everything about what to do at Christmas time in New York to experience a holly jolly vacation during the holidays. After being in New York during Christmas several times I’ll share my absolute favorite things to do in New York at Christmas time as well as the best Christmas activities in New York City.
If you’re in the city on Christmas Day and you’re searching for things to do in New York City on Christmas Day, or you’re visiting during the time prior to Christmas and are looking for things to do in NYC at Christmas time, I’ve got you covered. I will navigate you through the best and most festive events, Christmas Market, Christmas Stores and shows during Christmas in New York. I’ll even give you some great tips about beautiful and absolute unforgettable things to do in New York City on Christmas Eve.
These are my 24 Top Things To Do in New York at Christmas
Don’t stay at home or at your hotel on December 25: The city offers a lot of things to do in New York City on Christmas Day, from dinners to Broadway shows and everything in between. Even though it will be a very quiet day in NYC since most locals are either with their families or out of town visiting their loved ones, there are still a few things going on!
Bryant Park Winter VillageChristmas Market in Midtown ManhattanOur Highlight
Starting in October (and running through March), it is time once again for the best winter markets in New York City to open its doors. The Winter Village in Bryant Park is not only the largest Christmas market in the city but also by far the nicest on account of its adjacent ice rink and places to shop and eat. This along with its amazing location among all the skyscrapers makes for an amazing Christmas experience.
Rockefeller Center Christmas TreeOther Attraction in Midtown Manhattan
The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree is one of the largest Christmas trees in NYC, placed annually in Rockefeller Center Plaza. In New York, the Tree Lighting Ceremony right after Thanksgiving is the official start of the Holiday season and one of your best things to do in New York during Christmas!
Over the past years, we weren’t super lucky with the weather but the Tree Lighting Ceremony attracts tons of people every year. Of course, the Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center is the highlight of visitors coming to New York from all over the world during Christmas time. Most visitors only know the tree from movies or pictures, so it’s very impressive looking at it in person. This year, the lighting of the tree ceremony at Rockefeller Center will take place on Wednesday, December 1st, 2021.
Visit Dyker Heights in BrooklynBus Tour in Dyker HeightsOur Highlight
I’m a huge fan of the Dyker Heights in Brooklyn, where you can find the most beautifully decorated homes in the city. It is actually so popular that it’s known as one of the best things to do in NYC for Christmas time. The easiest way to explore the Dyker Heights is to book one of the four really amazing Holiday Light tours in NYC.
Each of them is a little different: some are bus tours, others are walking tours; some take place in Brooklyn, others in Manhattan. See the details for yourself to decide which ones of the Dyker Heights Christmas lights tour is best for you.
Check out our Guide to Dyker Heights Christmas Lights!
Christmas Lights in NYCOther Restaurants in Gramercy
During the holiday season, electric bills skyrocket all throughout New York City. Seeking to outdo one another, both private homes and established landmarks string up dazzling lights for you to marvel at in every direction you turn. Here’s where to go to see the most stunning Christmas lights in NYC.
Don’t want to walk? Book this NYC Holiday Lights Tour by Limousine!
Christmas Shows in NYCBroadway Show in Midtown Manhattan
New York is home is the epicenter of entertainment and surely does not disappoint during the holiday season. There are plenty of Christmas shows in New York that are worth watching, ranging from classics to modern adaptions of your favorite tales. Our favorite one are the The Radio City Spectacular – they are undoubtedly the most popular Christmas show in NYC. The Rockettes have performed at the iconic Radio City Music Hall since 1931 and have created a holiday tradition for many visitors and locals.
Please know that you can’t return home without having seen at least one of the best Christmas Shows in NYC!
Enjoy the Empire State Building's annual Holiday Light Show!Building in Midtown Manhattan
For about one week only during the Christmas season, there will be a very special Empire State Building light show: the Empire State Building holiday music-to-light show!
The already impressive lighting of the Empire State Building will be synchronized to songs by stars such as Maria Carey or Carrie Underwood and John Legend. Incredibly beautiful!
Visit the beautiful Holiday MarketsChristmas Market in Gramercy
Holiday Markets are pretty popular in New York City and should be on top of your list of things to do in New York City during Christmas time. To me, there is no better way to get into the holiday spirit than grabbing a hot cup of cocoa and strolling through some of the best Christmas markets in New York.
You will love the booths with local crafts, savory treats, and hot specialty drinks. The Christmas Markets in the city is the most authentic environment to have a wonderful time and wrap up your gift shopping. Here’s where to find the best Christmas markets in NYC and this is the most popular New York City Holiday Lights and Markets Walking Tour.
Enjoy the Christmas Lights in New YorkOther Restaurants in Gramercy
During the holiday season, the entire city is stringed up with dazzling lights for you to enjoy. Both private homes and established landmarks are beautifully decorated and there are Christmas lights wherever you go. It’s one of the best things to do in NYC at Christmas time. There is no way not getting festive and excited about the holidays in New York City. Find out more about the Christmas Lights in New York City and where to find them in our NYC Christmas Lights Guide.
New York City Cocoa & Carols Holiday CruiseCruise in ChelseaOur Highlight
Why not spending time on a Christmas Holiday Cruise during Christmas in New York? Both locals and NYC visitors love the amazing Christmas Cruises New York City has to offer.
My favorite holiday cruise is the New York City Cocoa and Carols Holiday Cruise. The Jazz Band on board is fun and so talented which makes the New York City Cocoa and Carols Holiday Cruise even more entertaining. Relax in the heated main observation cabin, join in the caroling, and admire the city through the glassed-in observatory on the 1920s style yacht.
Ice Skating in NYCIce Rink in Financial District
Ice Skating is a big thing during Christmas time in New York and one of my favorite activities in New York City on Christmas day. The most famous ice rinks are the ones in Bryant Park, the Rink at Rockefeller Center with the Christmas tree in the backdrop and of course the famous Wollman Rink in Central Park. Just like with the Empire State Building, you will also have a pretty empty ice rink to show off your ice skating talent.
Here is everything you need to know about ice skating in NYC, prices and schedules.
Holiday Window DisplaysOther Shopping in Midtown Manhattan
Throughout the year, the big department stores prepare for the upcoming Holiday season in New York. We recommend walking from Central Park on Fifth Avenue towards Herald Square to get you in the mood. The city is adorned with wreaths and bright lights everywhere. You’ll be able to admire the Rockefeller Center’s Christmas Tree along the way!
Keep heading downtown towards Herald Square and you’ll discover some of the city’s most beautiful window displays in NYC. Incidentally, the most beautiful Holiday Windows in New York are available from Tiffany & Co, Henri Bendel, Lord & Taylor, Saks Fifth Avenue and of course Macy’s. The mega-store is also decorated inside.
These are the Most Beautiful Holiday Windows in New York this year!
Take a walk in the snowIce Rink in Upper West Side
Who knows, maybe this year there will finally be snow for Christmas in New York. What could be more romantic than a walk through the white snowy landscape of Central Park?Especially the Belvedere Castle in the middle of Central Park looks even more heavenly with snow! Central Park in winter is pretty much everyone’s favorite place in New York to enjoy the snow.
Go to church on Christmas DayBuilding in Midtown Manhattan
If you like to go to church on Christmas Day and enjoy a Christmas service you can also do so in New York City. There are several churches I can recommend going on Christmas Day. 3 of the best churches in New York City for a remarkable Christmas service are the Grace Church on Broadway, the St Mary the Virgin Church Main Office & Rectory in Midtown and St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue. It’s high on my list of great things to do in NYC on Christmas Day, not only because it’s a tradition for me to go to church on Christmas Day, but also because the Christmas services are absolutely beautiful!
Visit one of New York's best Rooftop Bars – event in the wintertime!Rooftop Bar in Midtown ManhattanOur Highlight
Very close to Bryant Park you can find a beautiful bar in NYC on top of the Refinery Hotel. This two-level rooftop bar offers stunning views of the Empire State Building, great cocktails (by Alex Ott) and a nice atmosphere.
One of the most famous Christmas Stores in NYC: FAO SchwarzOther Shopping in Midtown Manhattan
FAO Schwarz is unlike every other toy store and a fun thing to do in NYC at Christmas time. Take your kids or just feel like a child again entering the amazing collection of unique toys and life-sized stuffed animals.
Schwarz FAO is the oldest toy store in the United States and with its location right in front of the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center, it’s something you can’t miss during Christmas time in NYC. Don’t miss the famous clock on the staircase. Also, you can play “The Big Piano” on the floor (famous from the movie “Big”).
Christmas Shopping in NYCOther Shopping in Upper East Side
As one of my favorite Christmas time activities, Christmas shopping in NYC is a must-do. While the city is covered in Christmas lights and decoration, there is no better place to buy gifts for your family and friends. Large department stores like Macy’s, Saks on Fifth Avenue or Bloomingdales decorate their holiday windows different every year which is worth checking out as well.
Macy’s at Herald Square invites you to have a date with Santa Claus at Santaland and buy special ornaments at their Holiday lane on the 9th floor.
Broadway Under The StarsBroadway Show in Hell's Kitchen
This holiday season, Broadway and the Shops at Columbus Circle are gifting us with another round of Broadway Under The Stars. For you, that means free Broadway performances in one of the most magical settings. Broadway Under The Stars is a five-week series of FREE indoor Broadway performances and will take place on the second floor of the Time Warner Center.
So why is it called Broadway Under The Stars? “Under the stars” refers to the 12 massive stars hanging from the 100-foot ceiling at Time Warner Center. They are the largest specialty crafted display of illuminated color in the world. The 14-foot stars are one of the most beautiful Christmas lights in NYC and draw thousands of visitors to their spectacular light show.Broadway Under The Stars typically takes on Mondays, starting early November and ending in early December. The exact dates for Broadway Under The Stars have not been announced yet. The performances start at 5 pm sharp and include interviews with the Broadway stars. They will perform 2-3 songs per show, depending on how many shows are featured that day.
Holidays Under The StarsOther Attraction in Hell's Kitchen
The Shops at Columbus Circle boast the largest specialty crafted display of illuminated color in the world! Twelve 14-foot handcrafted stars will be hanging from the ceiling inside the Time Warner Center. If you show up in the evening hours, know that there is a dazzling light show every half hour from 5 pm till closing. Access to the spectacle is free! The specialty exhibit “Holidays Under the Stars” is a true New York tradition and comes with extended shopping hours. Dine, shop and enjoy the entertainment after you visited Columbus Circle Holiday Market, one of the best Christmas markets in the city.
To pair some of the best Christmas lights in NYC with an even more magical experience, come here on a Monday. That’s when Broadway Under the Stars takes place inside the Shops at Columbus Circle. Who doesn’t like a free light show and Broadway performance?
Visit the new One Vanderbilt Observation DeckBuilding in Midtown Manhattan
Are you wondering what to do in New York City on Christmas Day? Some of the best NYC attractions are open on Christmas Day in NYC and one of them is the new One Vanderbilt Summit. So if you’re looking for shorter lines and fewer crowds, Christmas Day may be the perfect day for you to visit this observation deck in New York. Maybe you can even catch the sunset before heading to Christmas dinner!
Go see Santa Claus at Macy’sOther Events in Midtown Manhattan
There’s nothing you can’t do in New York City. During the holidays, you should set up a date with Santa Claus at Macy’s and share your wish list. Santaland at Macy’s is a whole experience with a meet & greet with Santa in the end. Both kids and adults come to Santaland to talk to the big guy. It’s a special thing to do in New York on Christmas Eve.
Every year, Macy’s Santaland is the main highlight of Macy’s Christmas celebrations. The history of Santaland goes back to 1861 when the store advertised that Santa Claus would come to stock their counters with the finest and most special Christmas gifts. Fast forward to today, close to 200,000 Santa fans are visiting Santaland at Macy’s every season. If you’d like to be one of them make your reservation online beforehand.
Hornblower - Christmas Dinner CruiseCruise in Chelsea
If you are spending Christmas in NYC and still looking for a special locale to celebrate the holiday, then look no further. Santa’s Christmas Eve Dinner Cruise is the perfect option. Featuring three decks, holiday LED lighting, and an evening of food, drinks, and dancing, the modern yacht invites you to a Christmas party that you won’t soon forget.
Go Christmas carolingPark in Greenwich Village
It’s a tradition and one of my favorite things to do on Christmas Eve in New York City to gather under the Washington Square Arch next to the illuminated tree to sing traditional holiday songs at 5 pm. Meet the Rob Susman Brass Quartet and accompany the crooners to sing your favorite Christmas songs. You don’t know the lyrics? No worries, songbooks are provided.
Get festive at a museumMuseum in Midtown ManhattanOur Highlight
Many of the major museums in NYC are open on Christmas Eve. Lines are short and most museums will put you in the holiday spirit as well. My favorite museums like the MoMA, the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Whitney Museum are my go-to museums on Christmas Eve in New York and very popular things to do in New York City on Christmas Eve as well.
What’s worth visiting? These are our 36 best museums in New York!
Radio City Music Hall DecorationsOther Attraction in Midtown Manhattan
Radio City Music Hall is a famous New York concert venue, in part due to its world-famous Radio City Christmas Spectacular starring the Rockettes. When you arrive, you will be overawed by the jolly exterior decorated with a Christmas tree for the holiday season. Across the street from it, giant tree ornaments provide the perfect holiday photo op for your next Christmas card. They are worth seeing during both the day and evening, as they are also illuminated once the sun sets.
While visiting to see some of the best Christmas decorations in NYC do not miss the Radio City Spectacular. The Christmas show is obligatory if you are in New York during the holiday season.
The NutcrackerOther Events in Upper East Side
The Nutcracker is one of the world’s most famous ballets and enjoys great popularity among visitors and locals. It is performed by the New York City Ballet and is one of the most important things to do during Christmas in New York. The ensemble includes 90 dancers and 62 musicians – it’s truly magical!
The piece, set to the music of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, premiered in New York back in 1954, making it an important holiday tradition!
My Personal Best New York City Christmas Time Activities
I hope after reading my recommendations about the best things to do in NYC at Christmas time you know now what to do in New York City during the most wonderful time of the year.
If I had to pick my absolute all-time favorite New York City Christmas activities I personally would choose to visit the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center after watching the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. Then I’d go to one of the many great restaurants in town for a Christmas dinner before heading to a rooftop bar for a drink or visiting my favorite holiday market at Union Square.
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