Top Christmas in New York City Holiday Attractions

Grab the kids to experience Christmas in New York City with our guide to the best holiday attractions. The good news is, after two seasons of pandemic closures, most family activities are open and still free. Let’s see what’s on, what’s new, what’s great during the 2022 Christmas in New York City holiday season.

The Conservatory and NY Botanical Garden lit for NYBG GLOW, photo by Marlon for New York Botanical Garden
Tour the beautifully lit Conservatory and Gardens during NYBG GLOW. Photo by Marlon for New York Botanical Garden

Top Christmas in New York City Holiday Tree

The 90th Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree is a must-see attraction that is sentimental for all New Yorkers. Even in the height of the Great Depression (1931), workers at Rockefeller Center pooled their money together for a Christmas tree and brought handmade garlands from home to decorate it. This year’s gorgeous tree is a home state favorite, trucked to Manhattan from Queensbury, NY.

Watch the lighting in person on Nov. 30, 2022 or on NBC TV. Typically, A-list celebrities, the Radio City Rockettes and ice skaters twirling on the Rockefeller Ice Rink perform in person. Expect to see more than five miles of lights and a giant star any time you visit through after New Year’s. It’s lit up from 6am to midnight daily (24 hours on Christmas Day.) It’s only lit till 9pm New Year’s Eve so as not to compete with the city’s other New Year’s festivities. Located in the center of the complex of buildings between 49th and 50th Streets and 5th and 6th Avenues, the tree attracts gawking tourists from all over. Our public safety tip: Keep at least six feet from other visitors not in your party.

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Favorite Christmas in New York City Events

Great Hall at Grand Central Terminal remains quiet and a beautiful architectural landmark.
The Great Hall at Grand Central Terminal is very busy at the holidays unless you go at dawn or midnight! Photo by JPlenio, pixabay.

What would Christmas in New York City be without the amazingly energetic Radio City Christmas Spectacular? It is back from Nov. 18, 2022-Jan. 2, 2023 with some performances geared for those with disabilities. Book early if you want to sit close enough to feel the warmth of the Radio City Music Hall footlights. And, don’t miss their souvenir gift shop.

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Nearby, The Paley Center for Media on West 52nd Street hosts a new winter wonderland event known as “PaleyLand.” Through Jan. 8, explore four floors of holiday cheer, take pictures with Santa and / or a Menorah, meet special guests and watch holiday films and TV shows from this media museum’s amazing collection. With kids under 12 getting in free, it’s a holiday bargain to take advantage of.

This holiday season again glows for commuters at Grand Central Terminal. The holiday fair and over the top decor are back. If it’s your first visit, join a tour of this famous railway station at the round Information Booth. The famed Constellation Sky ceiling mural inspired by the French painter Paul Helleu floats above the 80,000-square-foot Main Concourse. Its view of the Mediterranean sky shows off 2,500 stars (60 of which are lighted with fiber optics.) We hear from astronomers that it’s backwards but, we say, go anyway.

Arts and Culture Reign Over New York During the Holiday Season

The Big Apple artwork at Lincoln Center encourages visitors to make their own holiday music. Photo c. Lincoln Center BID
The Big Apple artwork at Lincoln Center encourages visitors to make their own holiday music. Photo c. Lincoln Center BID

Art lovers like the subway since many stations have murals done by famous artists. (Can you find Yoko Ono’s work?) Head to the Museum of Modern Art to catch the new installations of the permanent collection featured on the 2nd, 4th and 5th floors. Daily schedules usually include complimentary movies the kids will enjoy too. Plan ahead; you’ll need timed tickets and these discounted entry times will come in handy.

We all know the American Museum of Natural History has dinosaurs. Did you know it has its own unique Christmas tree? Look at what’s dangling from this pine — it’s arguably much more interesting than just bright lights. Boughs are decked with hundreds of paper origami shapes themed to “Beautiful Bugs.” Download instructions to make your own origami cranes and color them in for the tree at home. Advanced entry booking times required for this fun Christmas in New York City celebration through Jan. 9, 2023.

Catch the annual “Nutcracker” and other seasonal performances up at Lincoln Center. On the plaza between the opera, ballet and concert halls, this year’s beautiful holiday tree is accompanied by musical guests. Actually, the musical guests are you — working with new interactive artworks: The Big Apple, A Musical Tree and Music Box as part of “Lights Up” hosted by the Lincoln Square BID. Try karaoke and create your own tunes. Alternatively, head to Dante Park at 63rd and Columbus Tuesdays through Thursdays throughout December when the pro’s take over.

Christmas in New York City Starts in Times Square

Shower of confetti full of holiday wishes rains down on Times Square, New York City, on New Year's Eve of 2021. Photo by Ian Hardy c. Countdown Entertainment.
Shower of confetti full of holiday wishes rains down on Times Square, New York City, on New Year’s Eve of 2021. Photo by Ian Hardy c. Countdown Entertainment.

For many, a shopping spree at the Christmas and City store opposite Radio City Music Hall — or at several new popups — is required for the ideal Christmas in New York City. Times Square, a largely pedestrian zone of shops and restaurants topped by crazy billboards, is also decked out for the season. While in Times Square, check out the TKTS Discount Tickets Booth to see which shows have same-day tickets. The apps TodayTix, SeatGeek and Goldstar also sell last minute tickets, often at a discount.

Sticking around for the famous Times Square Ball Drop on New Year’s Eve tops most bucket lists. This year, be sure to add your holiday wishes to the Times Square NYE Wishing Wall located at Times Square Plaza on Broadway between 46-47th Streets. Your wishes will be added to a ton of confetti to be released at midnight on the big day. Stay tuned for the entertainment schedule — announced in December.

Christmas in Manhattan: Holiday Store Windows

Entrance to Macy's Herald Square welcomes all to holiday decorations and festive animated windows.
The cheerful entrance to Macy’s Herald Square, world’s largest department store, welcomes all to enjoy the festive animated windows. Photo c. Macys

While you can certainly mask up, bundle up, walk around and enjoy the sights New York City has to offer, remain vigilant to current health and safety guidelines. Cruising along on one of the city’s double-decker buses is perfect for the older generation or littler ones. Book ahead, have proof of vaccination, wear your mask and board early as seats are socially distanced. Plan ahead and dress according to the weather.

Make time for the unique storefront windows and displays of the big 5th Avenue stores. Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf’s are showcasing glittering windows and Saks features its terrific light projections as well. Three holiday Sundays — Dec. 4, 11 and 18, 2022 — Fifth Avenue from 48-57th Streets will be closed to traffic between noon and 6pm.

Of course, Macy’s is going all out both on 34th Sgtreet at Herald Square and at its Downtown Brooklyn department store. Over on Lexington Avenue between 59-60th Streets, Bloomingdales is celebrating its 150th anniversary and the holidays. Broadway star Billy Porter of “Kinky Boots” fame inaugurated the wildly colorful windows packed with signature “150” gift ideas, larger-than-life champagne glasses, gift wrap, toys and more. The mall in the very splashy Hudson Yards on Manhattan’s West Side is also aglitter this season, plus they’re doing live events, surprise moments and, for a fee, a speakeasy popup for shoppers. Share photos on our Facebook page!

New York City Icons Dress Up for the Holidays

New York City skyline views at night as seen from the Circle Line celebrate the holidays -- big time! Photo c. Circle Line
New York City skyline views at night as seen from the Circle Line celebrate the holidays — big time! Photo c. Circle Line

New York City is packed with teachable moments and wonder. Whatever your Covid concerns may be, take advantage of opportunities to be outdoors and energized. Why not visit two icons — the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty — for a chilly way to scratch them off your bucket list.

Admire the city’s famous lights from a very high vantage point. The classic 86th-floor Observatory at the Empire State Building has heat lamps for the winter season that will keep you extra cozy when the temperature drops below 50 degrees. Don’t be afraid to head upstairs to the newly opened 102nd Floor Observatory. The fun indoor museum on the 2nd floor is open also, but do book ahead. Wherever you walk, be sure to gaze skyward to see the lights on the Empire State Building, whose colors change according to specific dates and holidays.

Author Keith McCarthy’s cruise account encourages New Yorkers and visitors to “spend the day rekindling a sorely-tested faith in Democracy, touring Ellis Island’s National Museum of Immigration to uncover the truth about our mixed attitudes towards immigrants.” This winter, get up close to Lady Liberty on a Statue Cruises boat tour that includes stops at Liberty Island and Ellis Island. If you’re crushed for time, swing by her on a holiday-themed Circle Line round-the-island cruise.

Holiday Beauties in the Bronx

Gorillas in lights at Bronx Zoo Holiday Lights show.
These gorillas in light are part of the huge Bronx Zoo Holiday Lights show. Photo by Julie Larsen Maher.

Don’t miss “Holiday Lights” on select dates (Nov. 18 to Jan. 8, 2023) at the Bronx Zoo. Roam among animal lantern safaris, ice-carving demonstrations, holiday treats, costumed characters, wildlife theater, stilt walkers and more. Book ahead as capacity is limited.

Also in the Bronx, the New York Botanical Garden presents its annual Christmas “Garden Holiday Train Show.” It’s a limited capacity, wildly popular attraction (train tracks laid out in a huge tent) so get tickets now. Another treat is NYBG GLOW, a spectacular illumination of the gardens and buildings in its third year. We love the photo-worthy installations that fill the Reflecting Pool. Look for artistic ice carving displays, roving dancers and musicians plus more outdoor fun.Both ticketed events require reservations and are open select nights from Nov. 18 through Jan. 16.

Find #StarryLights in Dyker Heights and More in Brooklyn

Brooklyn is known for many things. One of our favorite holiday activities is to explore the DUMBO area between the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges. Look for garlands at Grimaldi’s Pizza, a seasonal chill at Brooklyn Ice Cream and glittering lights in the trees outside the legendary River Cafe. From here, the lights of Manhattan reflected in the East River and those of the growing city of Brooklyn surrounding you will put you in the holiday spirit year round.

Alternatively, head to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden for the second-ever Lightscape. The stunning illumination originated at Kew Gardens outside London and was transplated here. From Nov. 16-Jan. 8, stroll among the illuminated trails full of distinctive artwork through the gardens. The Fire Garden and gorgeous Winter Cathedral are favorite spots for family Christmas cards.

For an even bigger dose of holiday lights, join more than 100,000 annual visitors to view the amazing decorations in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn. Book a private bus tour, or take the R or N subway out to Brooklyn. Bundle up for a 15-minute walk through Brooklyn’s quiet neighborhoods. The action is along 10th through 13th Avenues between 81st and 86th Streets, near the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. Even if you drive or take a car service, get out and walk by the homes so you can appreciate the animatronics and lightshows. Please ask the kids to bring a few dollars to contribute to a local charity, as some homes take collections.

Queens Lights Up With Holiday Festivities

New York City Winter Lantern Festival entry at Queens County Farm Museum.
New York City Winter Lantern Festival entry at Queens County Farm Museum.

We love the borough of Queens’ long history as an enclave of Chinese and other Asian cultures. That’s what makes the annual NYC Winter Lantern Festival so special. This holiday lights attraction at four locations comprises illuminated, brightly colored “silk” lanterns stitched onto wire frames and stacked into shapes. Families with toddlers love the photo ops. Savor a bowl of steaming hot dumplings at the Queens County Farm Museum, where fantasy farm animals prevail. Chinese myths are celebrated at the SIUH Community Park in Staten Island. The drive-through light show at Nassau County Museum of Art in Roslyn transports passengers through tunnels to outer space. Plant and animal lanterns illuminate Smithtown, Long Island around the Smithtown Historical Society. Each venue features live entertainment, food vendors and affordable entry fees. Open from early November till after the New Years

Not to be outdone, Queens is also home to the Amaze Light Festival. Amaze takes over the parking lot at Citifield and claims to be the largest light display in the US. While we can’t verify that, we do acknowledge that it is amazing. Millions of twinkling lights adorn huge wire frames made into hundreds of shapes. Colorful Christmas lights create the walls of sophisticated palaces and forts in five themed worlds. Book the small train ride or sledding hill (extra fees), which was closed at our visit. There’s more: Costumed characters put on a stage show, vendors sell hot food and beverages, there’s a VIP Lounge with heat. Choose the family of four ‘bundle’ ($154) as the best value. Save the $20 parking fee and take the subway. Open select days from mid-November to Jan. 7, 2023.    

Favorite Christmas in New York City Shopping

Dad and son watching holiday windows at Macy's Herald Square.
Dad and son watching holiday windows at Macy’s Herald Square at the 2019 celebration. Photo by Bill Waldorf, courtesy Macy’s.

We love Christmas Markets which are outdoors and inclusive. Best of all, they’re free to roam around in, providing endlessly fascinating art objets, crafts, clothes, jewelry and other gifts your kids will want to see… but probably not own. One of our favorites, the Grand Central Terminal Holiday Fair is back with the high quality goods seen in traditional European Christmas Markets. Shop here till Dec. 24; ship home or carry purchases from the stunning terminal.

At Bryant Park, a booming Christmas Market of small shops surrounds the large ice skating rink in Winter Village. Look for one-of-a-kind arts and crafts, plus New York souvenirs from late October to just after New Year’s. Stop at The Lodge or the Curling Rink for hot cider and hot chocolate to keep the chill off. For something festive, book a private Igloo and dine inside. The skating rink is open daily till March with free admission; book your skating time online in advance of arrival. There’s a fee for skate rentals and equipment is sanitized between every use.

The Union Square Holiday Gift Market in Greenwich Village opens Nov. 17-Dec. 24. In addition to the artisanal crafts available, look for jewelry, clothing and other quality gift items. You are welcome to buy produce, lavender sachets, artisan cheeses, etc in person at the famous Union Square Green Market, open every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.

There are certainly thousands of stores eager for your support, and many more things to do at Christmas in New York City. Most importantly, stay safe, enjoy the holiday cheer, check out the NYC & Company website.

What’s your favorite way to celebrate Christmas in New York City? Let us know by leaving a comment below!

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