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Christmas in New York: 15+ Things to Do in NYC at Christmas

After spending a week in New York this December, I can happily say New York City is the place to be at Christmas. The festive cheer is so infectious in the Big Apple, that even the biggest Scrooge couldn’t fail to get in the Christmas spirit. Ice rinks and fairy lights spring up all over the city, and the department store windows are transformed into festive works of art. Children’s’ faces beam as they stare up at the Rockerfeller Christmas Tree, and everywhere you go, New Yorkers wish you “Happy Holidays!”

New York at Christmas is absolutely magical, so if you’re heading there at winter time, here are the top festive things to do in New York City:

Things to do in New York at Christmas

Gaze at the Rockefeller Christmas Tree

Rockefeller Christmas Tree, New York

The Rockefeller Christmas Tree is probably the best known Christmas tree in the world. This massive Norway Spruce, decorated in 30,000 fairy lights, can be found at the Rockefeller Center in Midtown Manhattan, and has been put there every year since 1931.

The first time I ever became aware of this magical tree was when I watched Kevin make a wish in the movie Home Alone 2: Lost in New York and ever since then, I had wanted to visit it. The area around the Christmas tree and the ice rink gets very crowded after dark, but it’s definitely worth a visit to watch the ice skaters and have your photo taken. The Christmas tree lighting ceremony usually takes place around the week of Thanksgiving, and the tree remains up until the first week of January.

Do you have to pay to see the Rockefeller Christmas tree?

No you don’t have to pay and you don’t need a ticket.

Get your skates on at NYC’s Ice Rinks

Skaters at the Rockerfeller Ice Rink in New York City

Ice skating in New York City is a popular Christmas tradition. Every year ice rinks spring up all over the city, and the most famous one of all is the rink at the Rockerfeller Plaza. People have been skating on the ice rink beneath the Rockerfeller Christmas tree since 1936, but there are also a number of other, cheaper options around the city. There’s Citi Pond at Bryant Park, Wollman and Lasker Rinks in Central Park, The Ice Rink at Riverbank State Park, Sky Rink at Chelsea Piers and the Standard Hotel Rink in the Meatpacking District.

Have dinner at Rolf’s German Restaurant

There’s no restaurant quite as festive as Rolf’s

Grab drinks at a Miracle Popup

Every year Miracle Christmas popup bars appears in various locations around New York and New Jersey (and in fact, the world). The bars feature holiday decor and serve festive drinks

Drink hot apple cider at the Christmas Markets

Union Square Christmas Market, New York City

There are Christmas markets all over New York City, but my favourite ones were in Bryant Park and Union Square. There are food stalls selling delicious things like hot apple cider, dumplings, waffles and chocolate, as well as stalls selling unique gifts and handicrafts. It’s a great way to get into the holiday spirit and pick up presents at the same time!

Sit on Santas Lap at Macy’s Santaland

Santa at Macys Thanksgiving Day Parade

You don’t have to go as far as the North Pole to visit Santa Claus- you can find him on 34th street, Manhattan. Santa appears at the end of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, marking the beginning of the Christmas season. Thousands of people flock to Santaland at Macy’s to tell Santa what they’d like for Christmas and have a photo taken with him just like in the film Miracle on 34th Street. Every year, the well known store features two sets of window displays- one is based on Miracle on 34th Street, and one with a changing theme.

Saks Fifth Avenue Light Show

Saks Fifth Avenue Christmas Lights

During Christmas Saks department store puts on a light show at its New York flagship store at 49th Street and 5th Avenue. The light show is timed to music and features hundreds of thousands of programmed LED lights that are attached to the exterior of the building. As you can imagine, the pavements get pretty crowded around this area.

Dance on the Big Piano at F.A.O Schwarz

The Big Piano at F.A.O Schwarz

This famous toy store is packed with all the latest toys, and even though I’m a little too grown up for them, I felt like a big kid in here! Have your photo taken with the F.A.O Schwarz Toy Soldiers at the entrance, then play a tune on the Big Piano, which featured in the Tom Hanks movie Big. 

Take a Guided Tour of Brooklyn’s Christmas Lights

Dyker Heights Christmas Lights

Every year at Christmas, the residents of Dyker Heights, an Italian-American section of Brooklyn, decorate their homes in crazy holiday light displays.

The Slice of Brooklyn Christmas Lights and Cannoli Tour  takes you on a 3 1/2 hour tour to see these festive homes, and you also stop off at Mona Lisa Pastry Shop & Cafe for a cannoli and cappuccino!

Don your Santa costume for Santacon

Santacon New York

I hadn’t heard of Santacon until @kelleyferro invited me along, but I’m glad she did because it was one of the best things I did during my week in New York City. The organisers would kill me for calling it a “pub crawl”- instead they prefer to use the term “Santa Claus convention”- but whatever it is, it was a LOT of fun. Basically everyone dresses up in Santa costume and bar hops all day around Manhattan having as much fun as humanly possible. It was really weird to wake up in the morning and see every street in Manhattan overrun by Santas!

Visit a rooftop

NYC Holiday Window Displays

Cartier store in a giant red bow at Christmas

All of the stores around Fifth Avenue take Christmas very seriously, transforming their windows into festive works of art. My favourite holiday window displays in New York were those at Tiffany & Co., Bergdorf Goodman, Barney’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy’s, Lord & Taylor and Bloomingdale’s. The front of Cartier’s flagship store is dressed in a big red ribbon and bow too!

Get tickets to Radio City’s Christmas Spectacular

Radio City Music Hall NYC

The Radio City Christmas Spectacular is an annual musical stage show starring world famous dance troupe, The Rockettes. This all-singing-all-dancing holiday extravaganza has been entertaining audiences since 1933 and takes place at Radio City Music Hall.

Walk around Central Park

Enjoy a horse and carriage ride

FAQs about NYC at Christmas

Is Christmas in New York worth it?

Yes Christmas is a great time to visit if you want the ultimate festive experience. Having said that it can get very cold, so make sure you bring a puffer jacket, gloves, scarf and hat. The key is to layer up as much as you can! NYC at Christmas time can get very crowded, particularly around Midtown and the Rockefeller Christmas tree, but it’s a great place to do some Christmas gift shopping and get into the holiday spirit.

Personally I like New York the most in the summertime because I like to hit the beach and go to rooftops without having to wear a jacket. During the summer the weather is warm and everyone is dining outside and enjoying the sunshine.

What is there to do in New York at Christmas?

There’s so much to do in New York at Christmas! As you can see from the article above, the city is filled with decorations, ice rinks and Christmas trees! Definitely go shopping at the Christmas markets, order a mulled wine in a Christmas-themed bar and visit the Rockefeller Christmas tree.

How long do Christmas decorations stay up in NYC?

New York starts to get really festive after Thanksgiving and Black Friday. The NYC Christmas decorations stay up until the first week of January, usually around the 6th January but some come down as early as New Years Day. So if you want to get into the Christmas spirit, visit New York any time in the month of December.

Is New York decorated for Christmas in November?

Many decorations start going up after Thanksgiving and Black Friday weekend, so you should be able to see the decorations if you visit in the last few days of November.

Is NYC still decorated for Christmas in January?

Some decorations come down on January 1st, while others stay up until epiphany, which is January 6th. If you want to see the holiday spirit in full swing, book your trip to New York for December.

Is Christmas eve busy in NYC?

The days leading up to Christmas can get busy in New York. Some people are already off work, while others keep working right up until Christmas Eve. Many people are out in SoHo or Fifth Avenue doing their last-minute Christmas shopping and lots of people go out for Christmas Eve drinks or dinners.

That being said, some people will have already left the city and be at home with their families. Always check the opening hours of restaurants as some businesses will shut on Christmas Eve.

Where is the big Christmas tree in New York?

The big Christmas tree is the Rockefeller Christmas Tree, which is placed every year at the Rockefeller Center in Midtown Manhattan.

What should I pack for Christmas in New York?

New York in December is fairly cold, although not as cold as January-March. Make sure you pack the following winter clothes:

  • Puffer jacket – I have the Super Puff from Aritizia
  • Scarf
  • Gloves
  • Hat
  • Thermal top
  • Sweaters
  • Jeans/leggings

Are things open in New York on Christmas Day?

On Christmas Day in New York, many shops, restaurants and attractions will be closed so that people can have a day off and enjoy Christmas at home. However, many people live in Manhattan so you will still see people walking around or catching trains and buses to go visit their families outside the city.

If you’re spending Christmas day in Manhattan, a great thing to do is go for a walk in Central Park. Some restaurants will serve Christmas lunch or dinner, so if you want to go out for a meal, make sure you book in advance as places get booked up quickly.

A final word…

There’s no place like New York at Christmas time. It’s one of the best places in the world to enjoy the holidays! There are so many festive things to do in New York and there are new popups, decorations and Christmas bars that spring up every year. Of course, there are also tons of attractions to visit including Times Square, The Vessel, Grand Central Terminal, Chelsea Market, Flatiron, Statue of Liberty, SUMMIT…the list goes on and on. You’ll never be short of things to do in the city that never sleeps.

The post Christmas in New York: 15+ Things to Do in NYC at Christmas appeared first on Pommie Travels.

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