Updated November 2019
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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!
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!
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.
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.
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 (and other streets)
Saks, Bergdorfs, Barney’s, Tiffany’s, Bloomingdales, Macey’s…all the department stores along Fifth Avenue, Madison and Lexington 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.
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.
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.
Dyker Heights Christmas Lights
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
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.
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 offer a wide range of gifts.
If there’s anything else you’d like to see listed in this post, please let me know in the comments below.
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