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Best Things to do in NYC for Christmas and the holidays

Christmas in New York: The Best Things to Do in NYC for the Holidays

There is no place like New York City at Christmas time. There are endless things to do in NYC during the holiday season. The time between Thanksgiving and Christmas is one of the most popular times of year for tourists to visit NYC. And for good reason – this is when the city comes alive with holiday spirit!

“What are some must-see sights if I’m spending my holidays here?” you might ask. Well, here are some ideas that include ice-skating beneath towering trees draped in sparkling ornaments at Rockefeller Center or Bryant Park’s Winter Village; witnessing stunning window displays that turn Fifth Avenue into an enchanted realm; or being mesmerized by Radio City Music Hall’s iconic Rockettes.

Here are the best things to do in NYC during the Christmas season.

Visit the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree

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The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree is one of the most popular attractions in New York City during the holiday season
Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree

Perhaps the most famous Christmas tree in the world and symbol of the city’s holiday spirit, the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree illuminates midtown Manhattan like no other. Each year, this towering beauty is transported from somewhere in New York State to get adorned with thousands of twinkling lights that dazzle onlookers from around the world.

When is the Rockefeller Tree Lighting Cermony

Each year the tree lighting ceremony at Rockefeller Center takes place the Wednesday after Thanksgiving. The 2023 lighting will be on November 29. This celebration has been attracting spectators since the first tree was erected here in 1931. Although the crowd has gotten much larger over the years and now is shown to a national audience on TV with celebrity hosts and musical performances leading up to when the lights go on just before 10pm.

When Can I Visit the Tree

The lights will be on daily from 5am to midnight until January 13th at 10:00pm. On Christmas Day, the Tree is lit for the entire 24-hour period and on New Year’s Eve it is lit until 9pm. It is on display at Rockefeller Plaza on 49th St between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, and can be seen at any time of day, regardless of if the lights are on or not.

VIP Access: If you want to splurge for the $250 pp ticket for the VIP Rock Pass Holiday Edition, you will get a guided tour, entrance to Top of the Rock Observation Deck, and access to the secret rooftop garden that has a view of the Saks Fifth Ave light show and an overhead view of the Christmas tree thru a window in the back of the lounge.

Browse Window Displays on Fifth Ave

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Saks Fifth Ave is often one of the best decorated windows along Fifth Ave during the Christmas season
Saks Fifth Ave Window

Strolling down Fifth Avenue during the Christmas holiday season, you’ll find yourself enchanted by the elaborate window displays. Each one is a work of art, offering a visual feast that captures the holiday spirit in its most extravagant form. See some amazing window displays at luxury stores like Saks Fifth Ave, Bergdorf Goodman, Dior, Tiffany & Co, and Louis Vuitton. 

For the 2nd year in a row, Fifth Ave will be closed to car traffic from noon to 6pm on three Sundays – December 3, 10, and 17 making them great days for this afternoon activity.

Saks Fifth Avenue Light Show

Atop the other holiday displays stands Saks Fifth Avenue’s awe-inspiring light show. A beloved tradition, this spectacle combines high-tech lighting effects synced with music to create an immersive experience unlike any other. The roughly 4-minute show begins at 5pm each night and repeats every 10 minutes. So, if you just miss a show, you don’t have to wait long for the next one!

The brilliance of thousands of twinkling lights transforms the department store facade into a dynamic canvas. The display is shown on the Fifth Ave side between E49th & E50th Streets, so the best place to watch is just to the west side the skating rink in Rockefeller Center.

Macy’s Herald Square Display

Although most of the window displays are on Fifth Ave, to the north of 49th Street, an equally captivating stop on your festive journey should be Macy’s Herald Square. Known for its dramatic interpretations of timeless holiday themes; whether it be Santa Claus preparing for his voyage or scenes straight out of a winter wonderland; Macy’s certainly knows how to spread cheer among shoppers.

Peruse the Holiday Markets

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Winter Village at Bryant Park is one of the best places to visit during the holiday season in NYC. The shops are open through Christmas and the bar & lodge until March.
Bryant Park Winter Village

Explore the charm of New York City’s holiday markets and winter villages. From unique gifts to delicious treats and festive decorations, these markets offer a delightful holiday shopping experience.

Winter Village at Bryant Park

Just a short walk south from Rockefeller Center leads you to New York City’s most popular holiday market. This charming winter village features an ice-skating rink, holiday shops, and a heated lodge with a bar and food hall. You can even rent a private heated igloo for up to 8 guests while you dine. For a VIP experience, you can even rent one with a private curling lane! bryantpark.org

Union Square Holiday Market

Another great outdoor market is the Union Square Holiday Market. This market offers a wide array of small businesses and local vendors selling food, candles, art, and holiday decorations.

Watch the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall

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The Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall featuring the Rockettes is one of the best things to do in NYC for the holidays.
The Rockettes

Get ready to be dazzled by a timeless New York City tradition. The Christmas Spectacular featuring the Radio City Rockettes dates back to 1932 and is more than just a show—it’s an experience.

The grandeur of the music hall combined with the charm of the season makes this spectacle one you won’t want to miss. Whether it’s your first time or an annual ritual, you will watch in awe as dozens of synchronized Rockette dancers kicking high in perfect unison on stage.

Each act is unique, and some such as the “Parade of Wooden Soldiers” have remained unchanged since its inception in 1933.

When are the Christmas Spectacular Shows?

Shows last 90 minutes with no intermission. There are three hours between start times, and up to 5 performances a day. Performances run until January 1, 2024. There are also tours that take you behind the scenes of Radio City Music Hall that ends by meeting a real Rockette.

Grab a Cocktail at a Holiday Themed Bar

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Rolf's German Restaurant in New York City is known as one of the best holiday and Christmas bars in NYC.

There is no shortage of holiday bars in New York City. The Christmas themed bar Miracle on Ninth St began in the East Village and has now spread to locations across the country. Rolf’s German Restaurant is easily the most famous Christmas restaurant in NYC, with over-the-top holiday decorations that are up well past the holiday season. The Lodge at Bryant Park Winter Village offers warmth on a chilly December day, drinks, and a view of people testing their skills on the ice-skating rink. And then of course there are many normal bars & restaurants that go all out with holiday decorations for the month of December. Here are some of the best holiday and Christmas bars in NYC to check out.

  • Rolf’s German Restaurant
  • The Lodge at Bryant Park
  • Miracle on 9th St
  • Oscar Wilde
  • Pete’s Tavern
  • Lillie’s Victorian
  • Loreley Beer Garden

For more detailed descriptions about these holiday bars plus other great restaurants and holiday pop-ups read my post about the Best Holiday & Christmas Bars in NYC

Experience the Nutcracker at Lincoln Center

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Lincoln Center in New York City is home to the NYC Ballet and Metropolitan Opera
Lincoln Center

The Nutcracker is a classic ballet often performed during the holiday season, and New York City has perhaps the most renowned production. It is performed by the New York City Ballet at the David H. Koch Theater, located at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.

Here are some key points about “The Nutcracker” in NYC:

  • New York City Ballet’s Production: The New York City Ballet’s production of “The Nutcracker” is a cherished holiday tradition in the city. Choreographed by George Balanchine, it premiered in 1954 and has since become a beloved part of the city’s cultural landscape.
  • Location: The performances take place at the David H. Koch Theater, which is part of the Lincoln Center complex on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Location
  • Dates and Schedule: The performance schedule typically runs from late November through early January, aligning with the holiday season. There are often multiple performances each week, offering plenty of opportunities for locals and visitors to attend.
  • Tickets: Tickets for “The Nutcracker” can sell out quickly, especially for prime dates and times. It’s advisable to purchase tickets in advance through the official website of the New York City Ballet www.nycballet.com
  • George Balanchine’s Choreography: The New York City Ballet’s production is particularly known for George Balanchine’s choreography, which is characterized by its clarity, energy, and emphasis on the dancers’ technical skills. The costumes and set designs also contribute to the magical atmosphere of the production.
  • Family-Friendly Tradition: The Nutcracker is a family-friendly ballet recommended for ages 5+, making it a wonderful way for families to celebrate the holiday season together. The story follows a young girl named Clara who receives a nutcracker doll as a gift and is transported to a magical world of dancing sweets and fantastical characters.

Attending “The Nutcracker” in New York City is a festive and cultural experience that combines the magic of the ballet with the holiday spirit. If you plan to attend, be sure to check the specific details of the performance you’re interested in, including the cast, schedule, and any additional holiday-themed events or promotions associated with the production.

Get Dazzled by the Dyker Heights Christmas Lights

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Dyker Heights in Brooklyn is one of the most popular attractions during the holidays in NYC
Dyker Heights

Dyker Heights is a residential neighborhood located in the southwestern part of Brooklyn. For most of the year it’s a quiet neighborhood with a suburban feel. But come December, there is simply no place like it.

Dyker heights is famous for its extravagant Christmas light displays. The residents go above and beyond with their decorations, creating an atmosphere that lures people across the East River. From Santas dancing on rooftops to glowing reindeers leading sleighs, each house tells its own festive tale.

Where are the Dyker Heights Christmas Lights

The houses with Christmas displays are between 11th & 13th Avenues from 83rd to 86th Streets in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn. You can click here for a Google map of a house right in the middle of this area.

How to get to Dyker Heights by Subway

It taking the subway, the best way to get to Dyker Heights from Times Square is by taking the D train to 79th St. This takes about 45 minutes. It’s then a 15-20 minute walk from there. Technically you can stay on the subway for one stop further to 20th Ave and then take the B1 bus, but this is a bit more complicated.

Tours of Dyker Heights

Due to the popularity of the Christmas displays, guided tours are often organized during the holiday season to take visitors through the decorated streets. These tours offer a convenient way to experience the magic of Dyker Heights without the hassle of navigating the neighborhood on your own.

Go Ice Skating

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Visiting Winter Village at Bryant Park is one of the best things to do in NYC for the holidays. There is an ice skating rink.
Bryant Park Winter Village

Rockefeller Center might have the most famous skating rink in NYC. But did you know there are many others throughout the city that you can visit and will be less busy?

  • Rockefeller Center: It’s not just famous for its Christmas Tree but also for the iconic ice-skating rink. Skating here with the towering Christmas tree and surrounding skyscrapers is a bucket list New York City experience. But its expensive, as tickets go from $21-73 depending on the day and time you reserve. Buy tickets
  • Bryant Park: Bryant Park hosts a free-admission ice skating rink as part of its Winter Village during the holiday season. Reservations are every 10 minutes and are good for 1 hour from ticket time. You can bring your own skates or rent them on-site for $21-35. Reserve time
  • The Rink at Manhattan West: New York City’s newest neighborhood comprised of Hudson Yards & Manhattan West is an upscale dining, shopping, and residential area along the Hudson River. Reserve time
  • Wollman Rink: Located in the south side of Central Park, Wollman Rink is a picturesque spot for ice skating with the city skyline as a backdrop. wollmanrinknyc.com
  • Newport Skates: If you are either staying in Jersey City, or want to travel across the Hudson, you can get the best views of the NYC skyline while you skate. www.newportskates.com
  • Glide at Brooklyn Bridge Park: One of the most popular things to do while in NYC is to walk cross the Brooklyn Bridge. If you’re willing to brave the cold wind across, then you’ll find another rink with breathtaking views of lower Manhattan underneath the Brooklyn side of the bridge. website
  • Vale Rink: Visiting Williamsburg, Brooklyn is a great way to spend a day in NYC. Besides the great restaurants, pizza, and nightlife, you can find a synthetic rooftop skating rink on the 23rd floor of the William Vale Hotel. website
  • Rooftop at Pier 17: As part of the Winter Wonderland pop-up attraction, there is a small synthetic rink.

Have Dinner & Drinks in a Heated Igloo

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Just because it’s cold outside doesn’t mean you have to remain inside the restaurants for dinner. Several places have heated igloos so you can enjoy drinks “almost” outside.

  • Rooftop at 230 Fifth Ave: This is one of the most scenic rooftops in NYC with a spectacular view of the Empire State Building. Yes, its touristy. And yes, this year-round rooftop is one of the first places I bring friends when they visit from out of town because it shouldn’t be missed. While you can rent out an igloo for a large party, generally they are first come first serve. website
  • Winter Village at Bryant Park: The most popular holiday market in NYC also has igloos that you can rent out for dinner and drinks. Some even come with a private curling lane! website
  • Rt 66 Smokehouse: Located on Stone Street, in the Financial District they offer a full dining experience with unlimited hot drinks like boozy hot chocolate, mulled wine, and cider. Small bites also served. Select Saturdays in December. website
  • City Winery at Rockefeller Center: This outdoor wine garden adds heated domes so you can sip in the warmth and still have views of the Rockefeller Christmas tree. Domes fit up to 8 people for a $250 fee. reservations
  • Salon de Ning Rooftop Bar at the Peninsula Hotel: This chic rooftop bar has transformed into a Winter Wonderland with heated domes with champagne bottle service. If you book this feel free to invite me, cause I can’t afford this fancy s%&t.  website