Table of Contents[Hide][Show]
- 1. See the Christmas Spectacular with the Rockettes
- 2. Go Ice Skating in NYC
- 3. Beyond Christmas in NYC: See the World’s Largest Menorah
- 4. Be Dazzled by the Famous Rockefeller Center Tree
- 5. All Aboard! The Holiday Train Show at NYBG
- 6. More than Just Christmas in NYC: Learn About Kwanzaa
- 7. Go NYC Christmas Window Shopping
- 8. Watch a Performance of “The Nutcracker”
- 9. Celebrate Christmas at the Met
- 10. Shop Christmas in NYC Holiday Markets
- 11. Visit with Santa Claus
- 12. Holiday Fun at The Seaport
- 13. Alleluia! Handel’s “Messiah”
- Marvel at the Holiday Lights of Christmas in NYC
- 14. Brooklyn Botanic Garden Lightscape
- 15. Holiday Lights at the Bronx Zoo
- 16. Giant Red Ornaments
- 17. Hudson Yards
- 18. Brooklyn’s Dyker Heights Christmas Lights
- 19. Dine at Rolf’s
- 20. Take a Christmas Movie Tour
- 21. Sip a Frozen Hot Chocolate
- 22. Buy Toys at FAO Schwarz
- 23. Spend an Evening with Charles Dickens
- 24. Go Ornament Shopping at More & More Antiques
- 25. Visit MSG, the World’s Most Famous Arena
There are so many fun things to do in NYC during the Christmas holidays, you need to start making a list and checking it twice to make sure you hit them all. We cover 25 of the best things to do in New York during the 2023 holiday season to help you plan your visit.
Some of the events, like the Christmas Spectacular with the Rockettes, the NYBG Holiday Train Show and George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker are traditional annual events that remain wildly popular year after year. You’ll want to buy your tickets well in advance, especially if your dates aren’t flexible.
If you’re obsessed with getting your family photo in front of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree…good luck. The crowds are dense with everyone juggling for the “best shot.” As a native New Yorker, I recommend heading off the beaten path to one of New York’s wealthier neighborhoods – the Upper West Side is a good choice. The decorations on many of the apartment buildings are dazzling and make great backdrops for your snapshots. And it’s one of the great free things to do in one of the most expensive cities on the planet.
1. See the Christmas Spectacular with the Rockettes
Some make it an annual trip. For others, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Tickets are on sale now for The annual Radio City Christmas Spectacular featuring the Rockettes, so get yours ASAP.
The show features a series of marvelous holiday-themed song and dance numbers, all set on the Grand Stage in Radio City Music Hall. I still gape and gawk like an 8-year-old. The highlight, for me, is the Living Nativity with real animals. Seeing the Rockettes perform the “March of the Wooden Soldiers” is incredible – they’re perfectly synchronized and adorably costumed.
2. Go Ice Skating in NYC
Fans of the film “Serendipity” will want to recreate the reunion of Jonathan and Sara at Wollman Rink in Central Park. If only it was easy to cue a picture-perfect snowfall! Manhattan’s outdoor ice skating rinks are positioned in just the right spots for Instagrammable moments, whatever the weather. Here are the top outdoor skating rinks in New York City:
- Wollman Rink in Central Park – NYC’s skyscrapers are a super backdrop for your photos.
- Rockefeller Center Rink – Get the iconic shot of you and Prometheus, Rockefeller Center’s golden statue.
- The Rink at Brookfield Place – Panoramic views of New Jersey from this Hudson River rink.
- Bank of America Winter Village Rink in Bryant Park – The holiday market is one of the busiest, and prettiest, in the city.
- Rooftop at Pier 17 – The Seaport installs NYC’s only rooftop skating rink for the holiday season.
Before heading to a rink, check out the venue website to see the latest information about operating hours, rates and rental availability. Several operate on a reservation-only system. Bring your hot chocolate, a pretty scarf and your best skating moves.
3. Beyond Christmas in NYC: See the World’s Largest Menorah
Head to Grand Army Plaza at the southeast corner of Central Park to see the world’s largest menorah. Standing 32 feet tall, the menorah is lit each evening during Chanukah – the 2023 dates are December 7-15.
In Brooklyn? There’s a slightly smaller menorah in Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza too. Head to the northern entrance to Prospect Park.
4. Be Dazzled by the Famous Rockefeller Center Tree
For one month, the center of the New York Christmas universe is Rockefeller Center. The season kicks off with a nationally broadcast tree-lighting ceremony. The 2023 date is Wednesday, November 29.
From then until New Year’s, the giant evergreen will be lit and the crowds will circulate. If you’re staying overnight at a NYC hotel, sneak out late at night after the out-of-towners have left for the best view.
5. All Aboard! The Holiday Train Show at NYBG
Whether you’re a kid or an adult, it’s hard not to be charmed by the annual Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx. The show features trains choo chooing through miniature replicas of New York’s most famous neighborhoods. There’s one that travels underneath Grand Central Terminal. Another goes round and round Macy’s Herald Square department store.
To celebrate the 32nd year of the show, an outdoor woodland display has been added. The box cars on the trains zipping through an artfully constructed landscape carry the foraged materials used to create the replica buildings.
The buildings are fashioned from natural materials like pine bark, cocoa nuts and magnolia leaves by artisan Paul Busse and his staff at Applied Imagination in Kentucky. It’s taken 30 years to collect the more than 175 replicas staged in the show. On the Bloomberg Connects app, there’s a Holiday Train Show Treasure Hunt that spotlights plants used in the models that are in the Garden’s permanent collections. And kids can pick up the Evergreen Express Winter Activity Guide, a colorful booklet designed to inspire children to explore the collections of plants growing at The New York Botanical Garden.
The dates for the 2023 show are November 18, 2023–January 15, 2024. On 17 select nights, you can combine the train show with NYBG GLOW, the outdoor lights display at the garden. Popular Bar Car Nights also return for the 21+ crowd on December 7, 14, and January 5.
SheBuysTravel Tip: If you’re crowd-adverse, consider attending in January. It’s a way to extend holiday magic through January’s cold, dark days.
6. More than Just Christmas in NYC: Learn About Kwanzaa
The Brooklyn Children’s Museum traditionally hosts an annual Kwanzaa celebration in December. It’s billed as the largest family Kwanzaa event in NYC.
Hosted in collaboration with the Asase Yaa Cultural Foundation, the event features a gift-making workshop, storytelling and the chance to play the djembe drum and learn African dances.
7. Go NYC Christmas Window Shopping
One of the not-to-be-missed experiences for Christmas in NYC is checking out the holiday window displays at the city’s department stores. You’ll find the four ritziest displays at Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, Bergdorf Goodman and Saks Fifth Avenue.
Queue up and ooh and aah as you soak up the holiday spirit. The windows provide a great background for a selfie. Window decorations appear around Thanksgiving and don’t come down until after New Year’s.
8. Watch a Performance of “The Nutcracker”
Want to be enchanted? A performance of George Balanchine’s “The Nutcracker” by the New York City Ballet is a holiday tradition enjoyed by generations of families and the glorious staging is something you’ll never forget.
Although the story and Tchaikovsky’s score are as familiar as a well-worn sock, the NYC show is so elaborate it feels new. The two acts are under 50 minutes each, so you can feel comfortable bringing well-behaved children, 5 and older.
The tickets sell out quickly. Sign up for email alerts on the New York City Ballet website.
Read More: Best “Nutcracker” Performances Across the US
9. Celebrate Christmas at the Met
Elegant and refined. Two adjectives you don’t normally associate with Christmas, a season when over the top (That’s right, Clark Griswald, I’m looking at you!) is the norm. The Metropolitan Museum of Art erects a 20-foot blue spruce in its Medieval Sculpture Hall. The tree and crèche will be on display from late November through early January.
Want something even more low-key? The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Middle Ages collection is housed in the Cloisters, in the northern section of Fort Tryon Park. The architecture is medieval; you’ll feel immediately transported back in time. Think “Game of Thrones”…without the bloodshed.
If you like your Christmas understated, visit during the holidays. Utilizing natural elements like pine boughs, the Cloisters is beautifully decorated. And, if you’re lucky, a soft snowfall might dust the museum’s elegant gardens. You can enjoy the seasonal decorations from mid-December through early January.
10. Shop Christmas in NYC Holiday Markets
New York’s a shopper’s paradise. During the year, I like to drool while window shopping along Madison Avenue, and then check out the sale racks at Bloomingdale’s. But, during the holidays, I gravitate to the city’s pop-up holiday markets.
My favorite is the Bank of America Winter Village in Bryant Park. It’s steps away from Grand Central Terminal and opens early in the season. In 2023 you can start gathering the jolly in late October!
Several of the pop-ups are outdoors and take their inspiration from Europe’s famous Christmas markets. Others are seasonal twists on venues that are open year-round. What you’ll find are gift items for everyone on your list – and don’t forget something for yourself!
- Holiday Shops at Bank of America Winter Village
- Union Square Holiday Market
- Grand Central Station Holiday Fair
- Columbus Circle Holiday Market
11. Visit with Santa Claus
The big guy’s been visiting Macy’s Herald Square since the 1860s. He arrives at the tail end of the Thanksgiving Day parade and takes up residence in Macy’s Santaland. Watch the classic movie “Miracle on 34th Street” to get in the mood and if your kids (or you!) want to meet Santa in person, make your reservation online.
12. Holiday Fun at The Seaport
You’ll get fab city skyline and Brooklyn Bridge views plus lots of festive things to do at The Seaport in lower Manhattan. There’s an annual holiday lighting of the towering tree, located on the cobblestone streets at the intersection of Fulton and Water streets. Also featured is a menorah lighting with musical performances and Chanukah crafts. Check The Seaport website for dates and times.
If your tumbly gets rumbly while visiting The Seaport, head to the roof. The Greens on the Roof at Pier 17 features a seasonally focused menu and trendy cocktails. For the holidays, you can reserve an individual ski-inspired cabin for your group of up to 10 people for an Adirondacks-style night on the town!
The roof also features NYC’s only rooftop ice skating rink and, in 2023, the space will be transformed into Disney’s The Santa Clauses’ Winter Wonderland at Pier 17. Visit the North Pole without leaving Gotham.
13. Alleluia! Handel’s “Messiah”
Tickets are already on sale for performances of Handel’s “Messiah” by the New York Philharmonic. The Baroque masterpiece is elevated by the performance space, the Neo-Gothic Riverside Church – listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Marvel at the Holiday Lights of Christmas in NYC
Everything is illuminated in the Big Apple during Christmas time. Sit still long enough and someone will drape a strand of lights over you. Just kidding. But it feels that way.
Read More: Best Drive-through Holiday Light Shows in the United States.
14. Brooklyn Botanic Garden Lightscape
You’ll have to head to Brooklyn for this one, but it’s worth it. Reimagined for 2023, Lightscape is an immersive illumination for all ages. Follow a trail through the moonlit Garden, enjoy seasonal tasty treats and a holiday soundtrack. This year’s dates are November 17, 2023 – January 1, 2024.
15. Holiday Lights at the Bronx Zoo
The only animals you’ll see are illuminated, but that doesn’t dim your joy during the annual Holiday Lights celebration at the Bronx Zoo.
There are musical performances and seasonal treats too. Combine your Zoo visit with the NYBG Train Show and cap it off with a cannoli on Arthur Avenue for a perfect day/evening in the Bronx.
16. Giant Red Ornaments
You’ll be tempted to ask for directions. “Where are the big balls?” I beg you – don’t do it. New Yorkers can be snarky. The huge red Christmas ornaments and tree lights are located in midtown at the fountain plaza at 1251 Sixth Avenue.
17. Hudson Yards
Witness the sparkle of two million lights at Shine Bright at the Hudson Yards shopping complex.
The display opens in mid-November and features over 700 glittering trees and a suspended installation of hot air balloon structures. It’s really, really popular with Instagrammers. Like all of the best things in New York City, it gets crowded, so your best bet is to go early or wait until later in the evening to check it out.
If you’ve been naughty and intend to stay that way, there’s an adults-only immersive holiday experience at Hudson Yards called “Santa’s Secret.” Picture the North Pole transformed into a speakeasy.
18. Brooklyn’s Dyker Heights Christmas Lights
Imagine a neighborhood where everyone was Clark Griswald competing for an over-the-top Christmas light display. That’s Dyker Heights. The homes are located in the vicinity of 11th to 13th Avenues from 83rd to 86th Streets in Brooklyn. Expect crowds and slow-moving traffic; bring a thermos of cocoa and snacks. Or book a 3.5-hour tour with A Slice of Brooklyn. The tours leave from Union Square in Manhattan.
19. Dine at Rolf’s
Octoberfest meets Christmas at Rolf’s, a beloved East Side restaurant that leaves its holiday decorations up all year round. It’s a little much in summer (but, then again, so’s schnitzel), but once the leaves begin to turn, it’s fun to look at the glimmer and glitz and get your beer on.
SheBuysTravel Tip: The place gets nutty from Thanksgiving to Christmas. Consider an off-hour visit.
20. Take a Christmas Movie Tour
From “Elf” to “Home Alone 2” to “Scrooged,” New York City’s been featured in many of your family’s holiday favorites. If you’d like to learn more about them, book a “Holiday Lights and Movie Sites” tour with On Location Tours. You’ll board a heated (yeah!) motorcoach near Lincoln Center (remember the scene with Cher in “Moonstruck”?), then drive around town for approximately 2 1/2 hours.
The tour guides are aspiring actors, like my enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide, Benji. We made 3 stops along the way for photo opps (Columbus Circle holiday market, Bloomingdale’s holiday windows and Grand Army Plaza) before ending at Macy’s. I enjoyed reliving some of my favorite holiday movie scenes.
SheBuysTravel Tip: The tour does not stop at the Rockefeller Center tree, but does drive by it. Sit on the right side of the bus, not the driver’s side, if you want the best photo opp.
21. Sip a Frozen Hot Chocolate
Serendipity3, the 69-year-young sweet shop, retains the nostalgic look families love and the old-timey menu. What’s new? A super reservation system. Book a table now and you’ll be enjoying their famous frozen hot chocolate soon. The location can’t be beat. The 60th Street restaurant is steps away from Rockefeller Center.
22. Buy Toys at FAO Schwarz
If you’re going to NYC with kids, a visit to FAO Schwarz is obligatory. The city’s oldest and most famous toy store is guaranteed to make you go broke, but you’ll be smiling as it happens.
I have fond memories of the old 5th Avenue location, as a child and a mom. But the store’s new location in Rockefeller Plaza is convenient for tourists. Go early in the day to avoid the holiday crowds. If the weather’s cold, dress for it. Capacity limits inside are enforced for fire safety reasons; you may have to queue up outside if the store gets too crowded. Get a photo with the employees watching the doors – they’re dressed like wooden soldiers and are happy to strike a pose with kids…of all ages!
23. Spend an Evening with Charles Dickens
Before there were podcasts and streaming services, authors would tour the world to read from their books. In 1867 Charles Dickens conducted 400 readings in the US, including a stop during Christmas in NYC.
The Merchants’ House Museum recreates the Dickens visit during the holidays. An actor dressed in period costume reads the original “A Christmas Carol” script. It’s a 1-hour performance, recommended for children over 12.
24. Go Ornament Shopping at More & More Antiques
Need something special for your ornament collection? This shop is known for its inventory of antique Christmas decorations. Stop in to browse or buy. More & More Antiques is a short walk from the American Museum of Natural History on the Upper West Side.
25. Visit MSG, the World’s Most Famous Arena
Madison Square Garden is known as the World’s Most Famous Arena. Home to the New York Knicks and Rangers, it’s also a fantastic concert and performance venue.
During the month of December, Cirque du Soleil presents its first holiday show at Madison Square Garden. “‘Twas the Night Before…” is a family-friendly production based on the beloved poem, featuring dazzling acrobatics and a soundtrack of holiday classics.
You may not think “basketball” when you think of the holidays. But the Knicks normally play on Christmas Day. This year’s opponent is the Milwaukee Bucs; game time’s at noon. If you’re in town for the holidays, it’s a fun way to spend a couple of hours in MSG. Wear your Santa hat. And check out the Empire State Building while you’re in the area.