Last Updated on March 3, 2022 by Nellie Huang
Every Christmas, New York City magically turns into a winter wonderland with ice rinks, Christmas markets and music everywhere. Ice skating at Rockefeller Center, watching the Christmas light show at Saks Fifth Avenue, and drinking hot chocolate at Rolf’s are some of the reasons why we love spending Christmas in New York.
We’ve just returned from our second trip to New York at Christmas — and it was just how we’d remembered it. Our daughter, in particular, loved how magical New York was during the holiday season. With that in mind, I have compiled a detailed guide to help you plan the best Christmas trip to New York.
Table of Contents
- Things to Do in New York at Christmas
- 1. See the Rockefeller Christmas Tree
- Where to Go Ice Skating in New York
- 2. See the Rockettes at Radio City Musical Hall
- 3. Catch the Saks Fifth Avenue Light Show
- Where to Stay in New York at Christmas
- 4. Walk along Fifth Avenue
- 5. See the Cartier Christmas Lights
- 6. See Santa Claus at Macy’s
- 7. See the Nativity Scene at St. Patrick’s Cathedral
- 8. Dine at the Festive Papillon Bistro
- 9. Visit Bryant Park Winter Village
- 10. Explore the Union Square Christmas Market
- 11. See the Grand Central Station Holiday Fair
- 12. Take a Stroll Through Central Park
- 13. See the Installation at Pulitzer Fountain
- 14. Step into the Plaza Hotel
- 15. Visit the American Natural History Museum
- 16. See the Decorations at the Met
- 17. Have a Drink at Rolf’s
- 18. See the Wall Street Christmas Tree
- 19. See the Christmas Special at the Oculus
- 20. Enjoy a Hot Chocolate at Loreley’s Beer Garden
- 21. Visit Hudson Yards
- 22. Admire the Vessel
- 23. Enjoy the Festive Atmosphere at Seaport
- 24. See Christmas Lights in Dyker’s Height
- 25. See the Botanical Garden’s GLOW and Holiday Train Show
- Christmas in New York Tips
- Enjoy Christmas in New York!
Things to Do in New York at Christmas
1. See the Rockefeller Christmas Tree
At Christmas, the Rockefeller Center is the epicenter of all the festivities. This is where you’ll find the biggest Christmas tree in New York City. The 40-foot tree features 50,000 lights and is surrounded by a 45 foot Swarovski crystal tree topper made from 30 pounds of crystals that took over 4 hours to install!
Don’t miss iceskating in the rink while you’re here: it’s the quintessential NYC Christmas experience. Admission is $20 per person; book your tickets here. To avoid crowds, the best time to visit the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree is around 11 pm on a weekday, right before the lights go off.
2. See the Rockettes at Radio City Musical Hall
Radio City has been a staple of New York culture for over 80 years and plays host to iconic musicals. The most famous Christmas dance show here, the Rockettes, is a Christmas tradition and a must-see if you’re visiting around the holidays. The show features a series of marvelous holiday-themed song and dance numbers. Book your tickets here.
3. Catch the Saks Fifth Avenue Light Show
Across from the Rockefeller Center is the popular department store, Saks Fifth Avenue. Every year Saks decorate its Christmas window display with a different theme and put up a light show every evening.
The perfect spot to watch the Saks light show is at the Channel Gardens at Rockefeller Center. The last show takes place around 11:30pm at night. Once that show is over, the Rockefeller Center tree lights will go off as well.
4. Walk along Fifth Avenue
All along Fifth Avenue, storefronts are transformed into magical Christmas displays that impress both adults and kids alike. You’ll also see several Christmas pop up decorations outside of stores. The most striking ones are the yellow taxi, toy box, and hot air balloon.
5. See the Cartier Christmas Lights
Cartier, located on Fifth Avenue between 37th and 38th Streets, is one of the most adorned building. Every winter, the Cartier company is transformed into a huge present box. It’s hard to snap a shot without vehicles or people in front of it, so I recommend coming late at night as the lights stay on all night!
6. See Santa Claus at Macy’s
For those traveling New York with kids, you’ve got to make a stop at Macy’s! Since the 1860s, Santa Claus has been the main star of the show at Macy’s Herald Square. He shows up as the last participant in the Thanksgiving Day parade and you can catch him Macy’s Santaland everyday after that. Make your reservation online and be sure to add this to your New York itinerary.
7. See the Nativity Scene at St. Patrick’s Cathedral
The atmosphere at St Patrick’s Cathedral is at its best at Christmas. Come admire the nativity scene and light a candle in this beautiful setting. The annual Christmas Concert of St. Patrick’s Cathedral is a tradition that you shouldn’t miss if you’re visiting New York at Christmas. The concert takes place every year on Christmas Eve and you can buy tickets online.
8. Dine at the Festive Papillon Bistro
One of New York’s most Christmasy restaurant, Papillon Bistro, is located right by Fifth Avenue. Every Christmas, the rustic French bistro gets a makeover and turns into the most Christmassy place I’ve ever seen! We had our Christmas Eve dinner here and it was truly something special. If you’re wondering what to wear in New York for winter, check out my NYC packing list. Book your table here.
9. Visit Bryant Park Winter Village
One of the absolute best things to do in New York at Christmas is to visit Bryant Park, which turns into a magical winter village every holiday season. It’s complete with a 17,000-square-foot ice rink, food market, and 125 stalls selling all types of handcrafted goods. This is the nearest thing to a German Christmas market in New York!
The Bryant Park Winter Village usually starts in late October. The Rink and The Lodge are open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day up until early March. The Holiday shops are open until early January. Admission is free.
10. Explore the Union Square Christmas Market
Union Square Park has a much smaller market with an emphasis on gourmet treats and unique gifts. It also has a great ice skating rink. The Union Square Holiday Market runs November 18 – December 24, Monday – Saturday 11am-8pm and Sunday 11am-7pm, but the ice rink stays open until 17 January. Iceskating costs $19 including skate rental and tickets must be purchased online.
11. See the Grand Central Station Holiday Fair
If you want the holiday-fair experience but don’t feel like braving the cold, head to Grand Central Terminal for the best of both worlds. The Grand Central Holiday Fair offers a diverse mix of products in an elegantly decorated environment — all in the warmth of Vanderbilt Hall. The market opens November 15 and closes December 24.
The Grand Central Terminal also has an annual holiday train show. You can watch vintage trains from the museum’s own collection go through a two-level, 34-foot-long version of New York City and a winter wonderland scene.
12. Take a Stroll Through Central Park
This is my definitely one of my favorite NYC Christmas activities! Central Park is beautiful in winter, especially when covered in snow. You’ll find vendors selling hot chocolate and treats, Christmas lights on the carousel, and horse carriages strutting across the park. As we walked through Central Park, my daughter was so excited to see the spots where Home Alone 2 was filmed.
13. See the Installation at Pulitzer Fountain
In the southeast section of Central Park, the Pulitzer Fountain also gets decked out every Christmas. In 2021, the art installation here featured 32 hand-crafted animal sculptures, 5,000 feet of lights, and 24 handmade icebergs, all accompanied by music from composer Paul Brill.
14. Step into the Plaza Hotel
While you’re at Pulitzer Fountain, cross the street and duck into the famous Plaza Hotel. The Christmas tree at The Plaza Hotel is one of the most beautiful trees in town. Channel your inner Kevin McCallister in the lobby of The Plaza Hotel, or admire the beautiful tree in the courtyard of the New York Palace.
15. Visit the American Natural History Museum
The American Natural History Museum is one of the best museums in the world, and a must-see on any New York itinerary. Here you can see dinosaur fossils, artifacts and displays about Native American culture, and even a life-size replica of a blue whale. Every Christmas, the museum erects a 13-foot origami tree, featuring thousands of origami pieces.
16. See the Decorations at the Met
Every Christmas, the Metropolitan Museum of Art erects a 20-foot blue spruce in its Medieval Sculpture Hall. The Cloisters is the Met is tastefully decorated with pine boughs and velvet ribbons. Come here when it snows and you’ll see the museum’s gardens covered in white.
17. Have a Drink at Rolf’s
New York’s most festive bar, Rolf’s, spends $60k on decorations every Christmas! New Yorkers and tourists alike flock here right after Thanksgiving to soak in the atmosphere. In all honesty we didn’t make it here as the line was too long! It’s incredibly hard to book a table here, make sure to call in advance or wait in line before they open (at 12pm). Read TripAdvisor reviews here.
18. See the Wall Street Christmas Tree
One of the most beautiful Christmas trees in New York is located along Wall Street, in the Financial District. During the day, the Financial District may be crowded with office workers, but it mellows out in the evening around 8pm. The Christmas tree provides a great setting for some photos with your loved ones.
19. See the Christmas Special at the Oculus
A new landmark of Lower Manhattan, Oculus is both a transportation hub and work of art, designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. Inside Oculus, you’ll find a large shopping complex with several shops and restaurants. On the ground level is a small Christmas section decorated with trees, lights, and fake snow.
20. Enjoy a Hot Chocolate at Loreley’s Beer Garden
Loreley’s Beer Garden is a cozy restaurant offering German and Belgian beers and dishes, with a beautiful heated outdoor terrace. It’s most famous for the array of hot chocolates, including Mexican-style “Chocolate Caliente” and Italian-inspired hot cocoa with peppermint schnapps (prepare for the hefty price of $17). We came here for dinner one evening and felt like we were transported back to Europe!
21. Visit Hudson Yards
One of New York City’s newest neighborhoods, Hudson Yards is an ultra-modern and edgy area with beautiful festive decorations at Christmas. The mall right by the metro station is decorated to the nines, with golden hot air balloons hanging from the ceiling and the escalators draped with lights. The holiday decorations and displays are usually up in the middle of November.
22. Admire the Vessel
Another new landmark, the Vessel is a sleek building that resembles a honeycomb. At Christmas, it’s lit up 24/7 with elegant golden lights. Some say that this larger-than-life art installation designed by British architect Thomas Heatherwick is New York’s version of the Eiffel Tour.
Comprised of 154 intricately interconnecting flights of stairs – almost 2500 individual steps and 80 landings – the cool building sadly cannot be climbed now due to the increasing number of suicides happening there.
23. Enjoy the Festive Atmosphere at Seaport
From Lower Manhattan’s Seaport, you can feast on the skyline and Brooklyn Bridge vistas as well as a plethora of festive events at Christmas. A spectacular tree is lit up every year near the cobblestone streets at Fulton and Water streets. Also taking place here is a menorah lighting with musical performances and Chanukah crafts. For dates and times, check out the Seaport’s website.
24. See Christmas Lights in Dyker’s Height
One of the best places to go in New York at Christmas in Dyker Heights, a residential area in the southern end of Brooklyn. Local residents take the holidays very seriously: The houses in this neighborhood are decked out with thousands of lights, life-size toy soldiers, inflatable Santas and more.
The best places to see the Christmas decorations in Dyker Heights are between 11th and 13th Avenues from 83rd to 86th Street. Mid-December is the best time to visit Dyker Heights since all the lights are illuminated.
Even though it’s a long trek there from Manhattan (1.5 hours by subway), Dyker Heights is definitely worth a visit for the out-of-this-world lights. Catch the train or take in all the best displays on this 3.5-hour bus tour.
25. See the Botanical Garden’s GLOW and Holiday Train Show
The outdoor color-and-light experience GLOW festively illuminates The New York Botanical Garden’s landmark landscape and historic buildings during the holiday season.
The Botanical Gardens also put up the Holiday Train Show every Christmas. Model trains go through the mini city in a half-mile track of 175 real-life Manhattan landmarks that are meticulously lit in brilliant colors and light. Get your tickets here.
Christmas in New York Tips
Christmas in New York is truly the most wonderful time of the year. But in order to experience the magic, make sure to plan in advance and not pack in too many things. Here are more tips on how to enjoy Christmas in New York.
- Christmas in NYC is one of the busiest times to visit the city. Be sure to book your accommodation months in advance and entrance tickets to attractions by September.
- Expect higher prices during the holiday season. We were lucky to find a great Airbnb in Brooklyn at the last minute that was affordable (US$1500/week). Most hotels had jacked up their prices for this time of the year.
- It can be very cold during winter in New York, so make sure to pack lots of layers. Here’s my packing guide to help you decide what to wear in New York in winter.
- Make sure to book a table for Christmas dinner in advance — many restaurants will be fully booked for the festive season. We went to Papillon Bistro for our Christmas Eve dinner and had a magical time!
- The best way to get around New York City is by subway. If you’re spending more than 3 days in New York, I recommend getting a multi-day MetroCard (at any station). A 7-day pass costs $33 for unlimited rides.
- Follow my New York itinerary if you’d like to see the best of the city in a short period of time.
Enjoy Christmas in New York!
Feel free to print out this New York Christmas guide and bring it with you on your holidays in NYC! I have included all of the best things to do in New York at Christmas, so prepare to indulge and enjoy the most wonderful time of the year.
Be sure to leave a comment below if you have any questions. Read more of my US articles to get idea for your next trip:
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