Grab the kids to experience Christmas in New York City with our guide to the best holiday attractions. The good news is that most family activities are open and still free. Let’s see what’s on, what’s new, what’s better than ever during the upcoming Christmas in New York City holiday season.
Top Christmas in New York City Holiday Tree
The 91st 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. The gorgeous 80-foot-tall tree is a home state favorite, trucked to Manhattan from Vestal, NY.
Join celebrities, the Radio City Rockettes and ice skaters twirling on the Rockefeller Ice Rink at the Nov. 29th lighting ceremony. Expect more than five miles of lights and a giant star any time you visit through Jan. 13, 2024. It’s lit from 5am to midnight or 1am 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.
For the 2023 holiday season, Fifth Avenue from 48th Street to 59th Street will be fully closed to vehicle traffic from noon to 6pm on Sundays, Dec. 3, 10, and 17. Leave your car at home! Two vehicle lanes will be closed to vehicle traffic from 48th Street to 52nd Street during parts of each day to keep pedestrians safe and encourage window and retail shopping. Our public safety tip: Mind the kids, the crowds and your wallets.
Favorite Christmas in New York City Events
What would Christmas in New York City be without the amazingly energetic Radio City Christmas Spectacular? It returns Nov. 17, 2023-Jan. 1, 2024 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 winter wonderland event known as “PaleyLand.” Through Jan. 7, 2024, 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 Nov. 13-Dec. 24, 2023. 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
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. Young readers will love Ed Ruscha’s iconic graphics, on view through Jan. 13. 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 was dangling from this pine last Christmas — it’s arguably much more interesting than just bright lights. Boughs are decked with hundreds of paper origami shapes themed to “Proboscideans on Parade.” Catch all sorts of elephants and related species (like whales!) Allow time to explore the new Gilder Center and read some stories in their free library lounge. Advanced entry booking times required for the museum; Fun Christmas in New York City celebrations continue through Jan. 15, 2024.
For an evening treat, catch the annual “Nutcracker” and other seasonal performances up at Lincoln Center. Check out his year’s beautiful holiday tree on the plaza between the opera, ballet and concert halls.
Christmas in New York City Starts in Times Square
For many, a shopping spree is required for the ideal Christmas in New York City. Times Square, a largely pedestrian zone of shops and restaurants topped by crazy billboards, has souvenirs galore and is 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. From Dec. 1-29, 2023, add your wishes 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
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. 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. Sundays Dec. 3, 10 and 17, Fifth Avenue closes to traffic from 48-59th Streets to make it safer for window-viewers. Some traffic lanes close parts of each day as well.
Of course, Macy’s goes out both on 34th Sgtreet at Herald Square and at its Downtown Brooklyn department store. Over on Lexington Avenue between 59-60th Streets, Bloomingdales has celebrated the holidays for more than 150 years. The mall in the very splashy Hudson Yards on Manhattan’s West Side will be 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!
Favorite Christmas in New York City Shopping
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.
At Bryant Park, look for a booming Christmas Market similar to the traditional European Christmas Markets seen in major cities. The small shops surround 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. Skate rentals and equipment, sanitized between every use, cost extra.
The Union Square Holiday Gift Market in Greenwich Village opens mid-November to Christmas Eve. 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.
New York City Icons Dress Up for the Holidays
New York City is packed with teachable moments and wonder. 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 102nd Floor Observatory. The fun indoor museum on the 2nd floor is open also, but you must book ahead everywhere. 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. A holiday time- and money-saving tip: Swing by Lady Liberty on a holiday-themed Circle Line round-the-island cruise or for more savings, the free Staten Island Ferry.
Holiday Beauties in the Bronx
Don’t miss “Holiday Lights” on select dates (Nov. 17 to Jan. 7, 2024) at the Bronx Zoo. Roam among animal lantern safaris, ice-carving demonstrations, holiday treats, costumed characters, wildlife theater, stilt walkers and more. Capacity is limited so please book ahead.
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. 17, 2023 through Jan. 15, 2024.
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 reimagined fantasy of Lightscape. The stunning illumination is transplanted here from the originated at Kew Gardens outside London. Last year you could 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
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. Indoors, the Asian Lantern Exhibition (only in New Jersey), explores this long tradition and provides families with toddlers even more photo ops. Savor a bowl of steaming hot dumplings at the Queens County Farm Museum, where fantasy farm animals prevail. Schedule your visit to catch live entertainment, food vendors and the most affordable entry fees. Open from early November till after the New Years.
The Mets Citifield Stadium in Queens hosts the Amaze Light Festival. Amaze takes over the parking lot 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. There’s more: Costumed characters put on a stage show, vendors sell hot food and beverages, there’s a VIP Lounge with heat.
Support Local, Travel Sustainably For The Holidays
Do your part to sustain our planet by shopping gifts that give back in sustainable ways. And if you’re coming to New York City, drop into the thousands of stores eager for your support. Most importantly, stay safe, enjoy the holiday cheer, and check out the NYC & Company website for last-minute updates.
What’s your favorite way to celebrate Christmas in New York City? Let us know by leaving a comment below!
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