There’s nothing more magical than Christmas in New York! Wandering down Fifth Avenue wrapped up in your scarf and gloves, admiring the Christmas lights, you feel like you are in a movie set.
There are so many fun things to do in NYC in December to get you into the holiday spirit.
There are people skating in Central Park, browsing the stalls of the holiday markets, queuing to meet Santa and generally getting excited about all the fun New York Christmas events.
Here we share some of the best things to do in NYC at Christmas time, based on our New York family holiday last year. Just remember to wrap up warm!
Go Christmas Ice Skating in New York
One of the most famous things to do in NYC at Christmas is to go ice skating. There are several places to go ice skating in New York. The most famous rinks include those in Central Park, at the Rockefeller Center and in Bryant Park.
Of all these, we liked the one at Bryant Park the best. It was a little less chaotic, and we like that it was in the middle of their Winter Village, adding to the Christmas in NYC vibe.
Remember that if you want to go skating at the Rockefeller Center, that this is one of the most popular Christmas things to do in NYC so you should get there early.
Another option to beat the queue is to book Breakfast with Santa, where you not only get to meet Santa and enjoy a leisurely breakfast – you get to skip the queue for ice skating on the Rockefeller ice rink too! Learn more at their website here.
See the famous NYC Christmas Tree
Even if you don’t want to go ice skating, you probably want to see the famous Christmas tree at the Rockefeller Center.
The famous Rockefeller Center tree has been part of the Christmas celebration in New York since December 1931 when demolition workers clubbed together to buy a 20-foot high tree and decorated with handmade decorations from their families.
The tree has grown in size, stature and fame over the years and today it stands around 80-feet tall and is topped with a stunning Swarovski star studded with more than 25,000 crystals.
Standing in awe and having your photo taken with this enormous extravagant tree has become a traditional part of New York Christmas time.
See the New York Christmas Lights
And it’s not just the Rockefeller Christmas tree that is covered in Christmas lights in New York. The whole city gets in on the fun! To see the Christmas lights NYC style, you just need to take a walk around Manhattan.
Many of the department stores have fabulous NYC Christmas window displays and it doesn’t stop there – there are twinkling lights adorning the buildings from top to toe.
Don’t miss the window displays at Bergdorf Goodman, Macy’s, Barney’s, Bloomingdales and Saks Fifth Avenue.
Sak’s Fifth Avenue also has a fabulous light display with the whole building shimmering and sparkling and even has huge LED projections, including a light show set to music!
There are more lights to admire nearby at the Rockefeller Center and Bryant Park Winter Village too.
For something even more special, consider a trip out to Dyker Heights in Brooklyn. Here all the residents get into the festive spirit and decorate their houses to the max.
The best spot is reportedly between 11th-13th Avenues, and 83rd-86th Streets. Take the subway or click here to book a tour.
Meet Santa at Macy’s Santaland
Meeting the ‘real’ Santa at Macy’s was another of the highlights of our Xmas in New York with kids. Macy’s allow you to experience your own Miracle on 34th Street experience by meeting Santa in their very own Santaland.
Macy’s Santaland has 13,000 square feet of festive cheer packed into the 8th floor of their flagship store. There are elves and snowmen at every turn, with plenty of twinkling lights, toy trains and moving reindeer to keep everyone entertained while you wait your turn to meet Santa.
Entrance is free but you do need to book a slot ahead of time. These slots are in 30-minute increments, so don’t miss your time!
You do still need to queue, but by having people turn up in 30-minute intervals helps keep queuing time to a minimum. Plus there is so much to see while you queue that it goes past quickly.
(Little secret – don’t tell the kids, but there are several Santas working at a time to help the queue go down quickly, but you will never be made aware of this).
Definitely a New York Christmas must-do if you are visiting the Big Apple with kids.
Watch the New York Christmas Shows
Watching one of the amazing Christmas shows in NYC is another highlight of the season. There are so many Broadway shows to choose from in New York City during Christmas.
We saw ELF at Madison Square Gardens, which was fantastic. This year MSG is hosting The Grinch who Stole Christmas, which I am sure will be every bit as enthralling and entertaining.
Another option for a Christmas show for kids in NYC this year is Charlie Brown’s Christmas.
If you are looking for something more ‘adult’, The Nutcracker is always showing in New York during Christmas and guaranteed to get you feeling festive.
Another New York City Christmas time institution is the Radio City Christmas Spectacular featuring the Rockettes. This all-singing, all-dancing extravaganza is renowned as one of the best Christmas shows in NYC. It has something for the whole family and will leave you full of Christmas cheer!
Go Christmas Shopping in New York
For many people, the idea of Christmas in Manhattan revolves around shopping! And why not? New York is one of the best shopping destinations in the world and it is all the more exciting during the festive period.
If you are visiting New York in December and up for a bit of Christmas shopping NYC style, be sure to check out all the special offers that apply to tourists.
For example, international visitors to both Bloomingdales and Macy’s can pick up a 10% discount card. Check with their visitor information counter when you visit.
And of course, if you are spending Christmas in NYC with kids, your shopping spree might also have to include a trip to the famous American Girl Doll Store… we spent at least an hour in here!
But not to worry mums, Kate Spade is just around the corner…
Need some idea for gifts for families who love to travel? Click here to read our family gift guide.
Visit the New York Christmas Markets
It’s not just the department stores that provide fantastic Christmas shopping NYC opportunities. The Christmas markets are another of the best NYC Christmas attractions and provide the opportunity to pick up some unique gifts and souvenirs.
We particularly loved the Bryant Park Winter Village for its festive vibe. There was a good selection of craft and artisan stalls, food and drink stalls, holiday music and of course the ice rink, so you can grab a hot chocolate and watch the skaters.
You can also find Christmas markets at Grand Central Station, Union Square and Columbus Circle.
Go to the Big Apple Circus
You know where we spent Christmas Day in New York? At the circus! That’s right, when we were looking for things to do in NYC on Christmas Day we came across the famous Big Apple Circus.
There are clowns, acrobats, tightrope walkers, cute little ponies and performing dogs – all very entertaining for the whole family. Expect a lot of laughs from your little ones. My 5-year old still talks about the Grandma clown and how hilarious she was (if your kids share his love of toilet humour, they will love Grandma Clown too!)
If you’re wondering what to do on Christmas Day in New York, this is definitely one of the most fun Christmas activities in NYC for kids.
Enjoy Afternoon Tea at the Plaza
Another of our favourite New York at Christmas things to do is enjoying a fancy afternoon tea. For us, the ultimate place to enjoy a high tea in New York was the Plaza Hotel.
The Plaza Hotel New York Christmas decorations are gorgeous, and walking through the doors into beautiful lobby sets the scene for what promises to be a very special afternoon.
The Plaza high tea is served in the iconic and elegant Palm Court restaurant. Everything about this tea, from the service to the scones, is top notch. Order yourself a glass of pink bubbles to wash it all down and luxuriate in the elegant atmosphere.
For kids, the Eloise high tea celebrates everything pink – including pink lemonade, cotton candy and cakes.
Head to the Ski Slopes Near New York
As part of our New York Christmas trip, we headed to the ski slopes to celebrate New Year’s Eve. There are a few choices of ski resorts close to New York, but we wanted one that was close by and family friendly.
We opted for Camelback Mountain Resort in the Poconos, which is just a 2-hour drive from New York City. We spent three nights at the Camelback Resort, which is super family friendly, with large suites available as 1, 2 and 3-bedroom options.
There’s loads of fun to be had here with an onsite indoor water park with a wave pool and selection of water slides, a games arcade and an indoor ropes course. It has a choice of restaurants, including the ski-in, ski out Trails End.
Although small, Camelback has a good choice of ski slopes with 37 trails and a fun ski school for the kids. For more fun in the snow, it also boasts the biggest snow tubing park in the United States!
If you’re looking to add some snow fun to your things to do in New York during Christmas, then Camelback Mountain is a great option for families.
Where to stay in New York for Christmas
There are so many hotels to choose from for your New York Christmas break, it can be hard to narrow it down.
We wanted somewhere that was central in Manhattan and close to a subway station so we could easily take advantage of all the NYC Christmas events and be close to shopping and restaurants.
Remember that December in New York is peak season for hotels and so you can expect prices to be high. We always compare prices on HotelsCombined before making a booking.
We spent our New York Christmas holidays staying at the Quin. This family hotel in New York is in a fantastic location, just a short stroll from Central Park and around the corner from Bergdof Goodman. It has large rooms with two queen beds, which was perfect for our family of four.
There is a casual onsite restaurant, the Wayfarer, where we ate several times and a very helpful concierge team. Our favourite NYC diner, the Brooklyn Diner, was just a short walk up the road and become our favorite breakfast stop during our New York Christmas trip.
I would definitely recommend this as a good choice of where to stay in New York for Christmas.
If money is no object and you are in New York City during Christmas, then you should check into the Plaza!
Located at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Central Park South, the Plaza is the grande dame of New York, and one of the most elegant hotels in the world. Their beautifully decorated rooms and suites even include gold-plated fixtures!
If you have any Eloise fans in the family, you can check into the Eloise-themed suite, decorated in a palette of pink and black and including Eloise-themed bedding and a selection of books and dolls.
Courtyard by Marriott
Unfortunately we don’t all have a Plaza budget for our New York Christmas vacation. The Courtyard by Marriott is a great mid-range option in the heart of midtown Manhattan, just four blocks from Central Park.
You can book rooms with two double beds and they boast floor to ceiling windows with great views. There’s also free WiFi and a coin operated laundry on site.
What to Pack for Christmas in New York
Remember that if you are spending Christmas in New York, it will likely be COLD! It got as cold as -14C when we were there (that’s just 7 degrees F).
So you need to remember to pack lots of warm clothes, including plenty of layers, plus hats, scarves and warm gloves. Be sure to spend the money on a good quality warm coat – that New York wind can cut right through you.
Pack thermal underwear for the kids, and throw some hand/toe warmers into your case too when visiting New York at Christmas.
Another thing to pack for your holiday in New York City at Christmas time is a comfortable pair of walking boots. The warmer the better, and the comfier the better. You will spend a lot of time walking around the city and you don’t want cold feet!
And my other tip for packing for an NYC Christmas trip? Bring an extra suitcase! You can download our full family packing list here.
Traveling with kids over Christmas? Click here to read all our top tips for traveling over Christmas with kids.
Looking for more things to do in New York with Kids? Check out this article over on Little City Trips.
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