Christmas in New York: Complete Guide to Holiday Attractions

Christmas in New York: Complete Guide to Holiday Attractions

Christmas in New York is one of the most enchanting times to visit this great city. It’s a little crazy (a lot of crazy), but you can’t help but feel the magic in the air!

The lights are ablaze and twinkling, the store windows beckon a winter wonderland, the Santas are out jingling their bells, and Christmas cocktails and eggnog are being mixed away behind decorated restaurants and taverns. Though the crowds are not for the faint of heart, visiting NYC this time of year is one of the most exciting times to go. Whether it be to see a show, view the tree at Rockefeller Center, stroll down Fifth Avenue or watch the ice skaters at one of the parks, there is no time like Christmastime in New York. 

Below is our guide to the best shows, attractions, Christmas lights and more in New York during the holidays!

HOLIDAY SHOWS

The Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall

The Rockettes in "New York at Christmas" in the Radio City Chris

This Christmas favorite featuring the famous Rockettes first debuted in 1933 and has been going strong ever since. Swirls of colors and lights come to life as the Rockettes dance away, Santa makes several appearances, the double decker bus circles around, and ice skaters in Central Park turn about. It’s a jam packed show that brings out the magic of Christmas in every viewer, even the most unsentimental!

The Nutcracker at Lincoln Center

Meeting a ballerina at the Nutcracker during Christmas in New York.

George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, performed by the New York City Ballet at Lincoln Center, is one of the most special shows of the year, now in its 63rd annual production. It’s still just as amazing as it was when I was a little girl. Your kids will be transfixed as they see the giant Christmas tree grow, the toy soldiers march, the Land of Sweets pop in its swirl of colors, the Sugar Plum fairy dancing around. For a pre-show meal, head to old-school P.J. Clarke’s across the street, bustling with Christmas décor, and kid-friendly.

Elf the Broadway Musical at Madison Square Garden

Christmas in New York with Elf the Musical

Buddy the Elf from the hit movie is coming to NYC! I haven’t personally seen this show, but who can resist everyone’s favorite Elf?! The show runs at Madison Square Garden from December 13 – 29.

The Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanical Garden

All kids love going to this annual train show, which features 150 miniature landmarks in and around New York, all made out of bark, leaves and other natural materials. The artistry behind it is amazing as you come across the Empire State building, Brooklyn Bridge, Grand Central and so many more. You can read more about it in my dedicated post on the Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanical Garden.

ATTRACTIONS

Rockefeller Center, the Tree and Ice Rink

If you get claustrophobic in crowds, then fair warning, there is no getting around the massive NYC crowds during Christmas at Rock Center! It can be daunting. But if you go early enough, the iconic Rockefeller Christmas Tree is a beautiful site in all its glory, with 45,000 LED lights. The Rink at Rockefeller Center, adjacent to the tree, is always fun to watch as well, as you view it from above (or go for a skate if you’re brave enough to wait in line). The Lego Store is located in Rockefeller Center too, right next to the sparkling and beautiful Christmas Angels.

Stroll along the Storefronts on Fifth Avenue

Saks, Bergdorfs, Bendels…all the department stores along Fifth Avenue have the most spectacular holiday window displays. An art form in and of itself, the displays are whimsical and magical, and provide great entertainment for all ages. Go early, in the morning, to avoid the crowds and lines.

Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park

Bryant Park during Christmas in New York.

Bryant Park is turned into a winter wonderland during the holidays. This is one of the prettiest parks in NYC, no less than during Christmastime. There is ice skating – and viewing – at the park’s rink, Holiday Shops, and the famous Le Carousel to take a spin on. Christmas lights adorn the park, making it as charming as ever to stroll through.

Macy’s Santaland

santaland-new-york-p1000292

New York’s most famous Santa, located on the 8th floor of Macy’s in Herald Square, will not disappoint – if you can put up with the wait! Elves escort you as you find your way to Santa and his reindeer, sleigh, toys and snow all around. It’s quite a site and one your kids will most likely drool over. Visiting Santa is technically free, but you will want to purchase photos. To reserve a spot in line with an Express Pass (30mins – 48 hours in advance), click here.

Dyker Heights Christmas Lights

dyker-heights-d

For the most over-the-top Christmas lights display in the city, go to Dyker Heights in Brooklyn. This neighborhood takes their Xmas décor seriously! It’s become such a spectacle that there are tours offered if you don’t want to see it by foot. To read all about it, and how to see the lights, visit here.

Holiday Nostalgia Train

Ride on the holiday nostalgia train in New York City

New York’s annual Holiday Nostalgia Train is back. Go back in time and ride vintage trains from the 30’s for a limited time this holiday season. Trains run on Sundays only and can be accessed just as you would would with a regular subway ride, with a MetroCard pass. It’s a lot of fun checking out the 30’s decor and old advertisements – and even people dress up in period costume! To read more about it and where to catch the trains see my post on the Holiday Nostalgia Train.

Gingerbread Boulevard at Madison Square Park

This instillation of a life-size gingerbread house and boulevard is back! From December 7 – 20 you can wander down Gingerbread Boulevard and marvel at this Hansel and Gretel-esque display. The opening with coincide with the tree-lighting ceremony at 3:30. There will be free treats and coffee from Domino’s sugar and Folger’s coffeee.

Holiday Markets

View of the Union Square holiday market during Christmas in New York.

The holiday markets listed below (as well as the one at Bryant Park mentioned above) have been NYC’s go-to Christmas shopping destinations, featuring local and international artisanal works, clothing, jewelry, crafts, toys and more. They’re festive and merry and are sure to get you in the spirit.

Grand Central Holiday Fair

Union Square Holiday Market

Columbus Circle Holiday Market

One final tip, Santacon is Saturday, December 9th! If you’re like us and want to avoid it, this is your fair warning!

If there’s anything else you’d like to see listed in this post, please let me know in the comments below.

You may also be interested in:

Top 10 Family Attractions in Manhattan

One World Observatory: Complete Visitors Guide

8 Great family-Friendly Restaurants in Times Square

New York Water Taxi: Best Way to See the City!

 

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Complete Guide to Christmas in New York City, including top attractions, shows, holiday markets and more. #christmas #christmasinnewyork

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47 Comments

  1. December 1, 2016 / 10:28 am

    I spent ten days in New York just before Christmas and it was wonderfully wonderful. The shops are spectacular. Apart from at home, New York is my favourite Christmassy destination.

    • December 1, 2016 / 4:54 pm

      I know, it’s so alive and pretty..the crowds can be daunting but you get past it. Meanwhile, it’s 55 degrees here today..we’ve had a slow start;).

  2. December 1, 2016 / 12:41 pm

    New York around Christmas is just my absolute favourite…. several things here Corey we haven’t done including the gingerbread boulevard and the holiday train show – we must go back!!!

    • December 1, 2016 / 4:56 pm

      The holiday train show is fabulous..from an artistic perspective it’s amazing. Yes, come back!!

  3. December 1, 2016 / 1:49 pm

    I miss being able to visit New York at Christmas. The lights are beautiful and it’s so festive (though the crowds can be immense!) The gingerbread boulevard looks like fun as well!

    • December 1, 2016 / 4:57 pm

      The crowds are intense – we usually go to some of these sites first thing in the morning. Though the tree at night is wonderful :).

  4. December 1, 2016 / 4:12 pm

    The likelihood of my seeing one is zero, Corey, so I’ll settle for enjoying yours. 🙂

    • December 1, 2016 / 4:58 pm

      That’s why we follow each other – and others – Jo! Can’t do it all!

  5. December 1, 2016 / 5:10 pm

    We took our boys when they were quite wee to NYC and saw the Rockefeller tree and Radio City Show – I would LOVE to see the Nutcracker in the Big Apple – always a Christmas fave of mine. We nearly lost a child at the massive Toys ‘R Us on Times Square and I nearly had a panic attack! But I think it’s time for a visit again – we have another child since then and I think they can manage the crowds now! Glædelig Jul from Copenhagen! Thanks for linking with #FarawayFiles – Erin

    • December 1, 2016 / 8:48 pm

      That Toys R Us was massive I can see how that would happen! It actually shut down..the ferris wheel no more. The Nutcracker is such a beautiful and special show..we typically go every other year and this year is our year off. But we will be heading to Radio City :).

  6. December 1, 2016 / 6:24 pm

    Wish I had seen this list last year! Thanks for sharing all of the awesome things to do in NYC during the holiday season.

  7. December 1, 2016 / 7:09 pm

    I was in NYC a couple of years back just as they were putting up the tree at Rockafeller Centre! So mad I didn’t get to see it in all it’s glory! Next time 🙂 Thanks for the tips #farawayfiles

    • December 2, 2016 / 2:35 am

      Yes, next time! Thanks for reading!

  8. December 1, 2016 / 7:32 pm

    I love neighborhoods that deck out for Christmas! When I was a child we always went to one but now they’re becoming more and more difficult to find! Pinned this for if I’m ever in NY for Xmas! #FarawayFiles

    • December 2, 2016 / 2:37 am

      Thanks! I know I feel like not as many neighborhoods light up the way they used to – now you know to head to Brooklyn!

  9. December 2, 2016 / 5:31 pm

    Great round up of everything to do at Christmas in NYC! I never knew about the Christmas train in the Botanical Gardens. It looks awesome! #citytripping

  10. December 2, 2016 / 7:51 pm

    Love that Christmas train! I had no idea about half these places. The gingerbread boulevard looks great too. I have the ‘Fairytale of New York’ in my head now. I love that punk Christmas carol! Beautiful post once again on #FarawayFiles, thanks Corey

    • December 5, 2016 / 3:04 am

      Thanks Katy :). Some of the events are more recent so that’s probably why you’ve never heard of them. I’m sure I’m
      missing something, but those are the main ones.

  11. December 4, 2016 / 8:24 pm

    This is just delightful! Just another blog proving why I need to spend a Christmas in the northern hemisphere in the cold…it barely feels like Christmas here in Fiji and even back home in NZ it’s just not quite the same having a summertime Christmas compared to the cosy feelings I get when reading about Christmas in cold climates! Perhaps Christmas 2017 will be a winter Christmas for us, who knows!

    • December 5, 2016 / 3:08 am

      Thanks Juliette! Funny, we’re in FL right now and it feels very strange to be somewhere sunny and warm pre-Christmas, with the carols blasting by the palm trees. I totally get it!

  12. December 7, 2016 / 10:32 am

    You don’t need to convince me, I’d LOVE to spend Christmas in NYC. That gingerbread avenue is amazing! #citytripping

      • November 15, 2017 / 8:53 am

        So…big news! A year later, we’re GOING TO NEW YORK FOR CHRISTMAS!!!! Sorry I had to shout that, I’m so excited! I’ll be pinning this for reference but love the idea of Dyker Heights, that’s such an insider’s tip, not one I’ve come across anywhere else. [But what’s happened to the gingerbread avenue that I liked before, it doesn’t seem to be here anymore?]

        • November 15, 2017 / 4:43 pm

          I know! I recently did my research to update the post, and didn’t come across the Gingerbread street nor know anyone who’s mentioned anything about it. Only 2016 comes up. I’m going to still keep my eye out though and will let you know if anything materializes! How fun you are coming to NYC!!! Feel free to contact me anytime with any questions, and have a fabulous trip!

  13. December 7, 2016 / 1:10 pm

    it’s so wonderful! #citytripping

  14. December 7, 2016 / 1:17 pm

    That’s just made me terribly nostalgic! NYC at Christmas nearly beats London!

    • December 8, 2016 / 1:01 am

      I’m not sure that it beats London, but it’s certainly an amazing time of year here! Thanks for reading ;).

  15. December 9, 2016 / 7:38 pm

    Christmas in New Year always looks so magical – the closest I’ve been is November but I would love to go back with all the lights and the holiday atmosphere. Love some of the tips too, I had no idea about quite a few of them. Feeling very festive now! Thanks for linking up with #citytripping

    • December 10, 2016 / 12:36 am

      Thanks – I’m sure London is just as festive!

  16. December 15, 2016 / 11:38 am

    Oh it makes me feel festive just looking at Christmas in NYC! Lovely post #FarawayFiles

    • December 15, 2016 / 12:09 pm

      Thanks so much – glad you enjoyed it!

  17. December 3, 2017 / 4:50 am

    So much to do, I want to see the Rockettes at the Radio City Music Hall, ride a vintage train, see the miniature trains at the boatanical garden, see the shop windows and skate at the Rockefeller Centre for starters. Thank you for linking up to #CulturedKids

    • December 3, 2017 / 10:31 pm

      Ha – just like London there is no shortage of Holiday activities!

  18. December 3, 2017 / 11:13 am

    This all looks fantastic but I would love to see Elf the musical #fearlessfamtrav

    • December 3, 2017 / 10:32 pm

      I’ve been curious about it too. I adore the movie..

  19. December 5, 2017 / 4:48 pm

    Oh wow there it’s so much to do! We’ve airways loved London for the variety of Christmas-y thinks to do. New York sounds equally as festive. Our boys would love the Rockerfella Centre, train and Lego store! #fearlessfamtravel

    • December 6, 2017 / 11:49 pm

      I remember being in London during Christmastime years ago and loved how festive it was – you all know how to do Christmas!

  20. pigeonpairandme
    December 11, 2017 / 7:59 am

    Oh dear – Santacon has come to London, and we accidentally ran into it on Saturday! Lots of drunken Santas. New York looks and sounds magical though. I want to take my kids to Macy’s before they’re too old. And Dyker Heights made me smile. What an array of colour! Thanks for linking up with #CulturedKids

    • December 12, 2017 / 11:05 pm

      Oh no, not drunken Santas! I bet it was some great eye candy though ;).

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