There’s nothing quite like New York City during the holidays. Everything is at its finest—the sights, the sounds, the special events, the energy. There’s a sense of magic in the air that’s contagious, and there’s no better place to get into the holiday spirit. But you’re not the only one wanting to experience this special season and holiday activities in New York City.
From the stunning holiday windows, to the twinkling lights on The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, celebrate the multiculturalism of New York during the holidays with activities for everyone.
Here are some of our favorite holiday activities in New York City:
Illuminated light displays add sparkle and allure to the streets and landmarks of New York, casting a mystical glow over the city. Here are some of the best:
- The Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center. NYC’s most iconic holiday attraction is a must-see for every visitor. The tree will be lit with tens of thousands of environmentally friendly LED lights. You’ll have through the first week of January to get a picture in front of this magnificent backdrop.
- The Shops at Columbus Circle. Each year the Shops at Columbus Circle presents “Holiday Under the Stars,” where a dozen 14-foot color-changing lights are suspended in the shopping center’s lobby and choreographed to dance along to holiday music. Here, you’re able to get out of the cold and enjoy a fun light show—along with designer shopping—that’s open from November to January.
- UNICEF Snowflake. Shining in the heart of New York City, the UNICEF Snowflake is a special symbol for the world’s most vulnerable children. The iconic snowflake at 57th Street and Fifth Avenue hangs during the holiday season as a reminder of UNICEF’s commitment to doing whatever it takes to save a child. UNICEF hosts a special lighting ceremony to mark the beginning of the holiday giving season and to symbolically shine a light on the children around the world who need help.
- Sixth Avenue Giant Decorations. Giant-sized tree ornaments, strings of lights, Christmas trees, toy soldiers, and even a model train are a holiday staple on Sixth Avenue in Midtown near Radio City Music Hall. They’re another must-do photo op!
- Dyker Heights Christmas Lights. The neighborhood of Dyker Heights in Brooklyn is home to some of the most famous and exquisite Christmas light displays in the world. Local families battle year after year to outdo one another with over-the-top displays that celebrate every aspect of the holiday season. This is not your typical drive around the neighborhood to look at lights. Animatronics, figurines, and computer-programmed lighting sequences are just some of the effects that you will see at these awesome home-grown displays.
- Light Show at Saks Fifth Avenue
- Union Square Holiday Market. This internationally renowned holiday market is located in the heart of New York City in Union Square Park, offering unique gifts created by local craftsmen and artists. There’s also food vendors, a warming station and lounge, live music and a kids’ art studio to keep them busy while you shop.
- Bryant Park Holiday Village. More than 150 artisanal boutiques are housed in this seasonal European-style open-air market in Bryant Park. There’s also a free ice rink here with the new addition of the Lodge and a food hall located rinkside near the Upper Terrace.
- Grand Central Terminal Holiday Fair. One of the longest-running indoor holiday fairs in New York City, the Grand Central Terminal Holiday Fair takes over Vanderbilt Hall every year for six weeks to sell artwork, clothing for all ages, men’s and women’s accessories, children’s clothing and toys, and home goods. The fair committee spends the year searching for 40 unique vendors with a focus on American-made and handmade products with locally sourced materials or a socially conscious business model. With a range of products and price points, this one-of-a-kind holiday fair truly offers something for everyone.
- Columbus Circle Holiday Market. This holiday market is an elegant and beautiful place for holiday shopping. Located at the entrance to Central Park, you’ll find aisles of art, jewelry, home goods, and delicious eats from local artisans and designers. It’s a perfect place to do all your holiday shopping while soaking in the splendor of winter in New York City.
- Brooklyn Holiday Bazaar. This unique annual event in Brooklyn brings together the best of local talent under two roofs: 501 Union and The Green Building in Gowanus. This year will include ﬁne handmade goods, food, drinks, music, craft activities, and fun for the whole family.
- The Nutcracker, Lincoln Center. It’s not truly the holiday season until you’ve seen New York City Ballet’s performance of George Balanchine’s classic The Nutcracker.
- Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes. The other must-see holiday performance is the Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes. This 90-minute performance has been technologically transformed and now includes a new finale scene and redesigned elements.
Everyone knows the rink at Rockefeller Center, but did you also know you can skate behind the New York Public Library at Bryant Park? Or if Central Park is a must see, you can get your ice skating on at the Wollman Rink, which can be before or after your pedicab tour of Central Park!
- The Rink at Rockefeller Center. Rockefeller Center is an NYC landmark and home to arguably the most famous Christmas tree in the world. At its center, you can find the popular ice-skating rink, which draws crowds from all over the world to experience open-air skating. This famous rink is sure to please, with the smell of chestnuts, hot chocolate, and cookies filling the air. The rink is open during the holidays and normally stays open through the month of March.
- Bryant Park, The Rink at Winter Village. Bryant Park offers a similar experience that isn’t as crowded with the added bonus of caroling events and the Winter Village holiday shops. The best part is that admission here is free, but they do charge for skate rentals and lockers. The rink is open daily from 8 am to 10 pm throughout the holiday season, weather and events permitting.
- Wollman Rink in Central Park. One of the most favorite attractions in Central Park is the beautiful Wollman Rink, where you can skate under the stars while surrounded by the Manhattan skyline. The rink is a short walk from the south entrance to the park at West 59th and Sixth Avenue and is a must-do if you’re touring the Park during the holidays. The rink is open daily during the holidays through March, depending on the weather.
New York City offers a variety of great events that celebrate Hanukkah and the Festival of Lights. Here are some of our favorites:
- Prospect Park Menorah. The world’s largest menorah lighting takes place at Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza, where a crane is required to light the eight oil lamps on this massive menorah. There’s a kickoff concert with live music, hot latkes, and festive fun each night.
- Central Park Menorah. Gather around the 32-foot-high, gold-colored, 4,000-pound steel holiday icon, across the street from Manhattan’s Plaza Hotel, to kick off the Jewish Festival of Lights. The lighting is around 5:30 pm each night and is accompanied by folk dancing and sufganiyot.
- Latke Festival at the Brooklyn Museum. This is a fried-potato pancake festival where you can ring in the holidays, enjoy gourmet latkes, and vote, along with a panel of celebrity judges, for the title of Best Latkes in NYC.
Eric’s picks of holiday must-dos
- Grab a cup of hot chocolate at Jacques Torres, an artisan chocolatier in Manhattan, and stroll down Literary Walk in Central Park.
- Christmas Tree and Neapolitan Baroque Crèche at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. This longstanding holiday tradition presents a Christmas tree with an eighteenth-century Neapolitan Nativity scene featuring an array of diminutive, lifelike attendant figures and silk-robed angels hovering above. There’s also music and lighting ceremonies.
- Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanical Gardens. Enjoy G-scale model trains as they zip along a nearly half-mile track through more than 175 New York landmarks, re-created with bark, leaves, and natural materials. This year’s exhibition showcases Lower Manhattan—the birthplace of New York City—featuring the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and iconic skyscrapers like One World Trade Center and the historic Battery Maritime Building.
As you can see, there are so many holiday activities to take part in throughout New York City. You definitely need to experience for yourself the magic of New York during the holiday season.
Now that you know all the best holiday activities in New York City to check out, it’s important to make sure you follow these tips to have a great trip.
Tip 1: Restaurants
Keep your restaurant reservations close to the hotel on arrival night in case your flights are delayed. Make sure they are child friendly. No matter how well behaved your children are, when they are tired and in a new place, having a staff that works with children is best for you and the other guests.
Tip 2: The Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanical Garden
This is a fabulous way for children to take a real train from Grand Central Terminal to the Botanical Garden. The gardens can be very crowded and the display is inside the Conservatory, which is humid so be sure to dress in layers and be patient.
Tip 3: Theater
Sitting in a sold out show is more expensive than seeing one that has been playing a long time and has availability. The center orchestra is more expensive than the side or rear orchestra so be sure to keep this in mind when choosing tickets and a show.
When it comes to New York holiday activities, you really can’t go wrong with anything you pick. If you have any questions or would like to discuss your holiday trip to NYC with one of our experts, contact us today.