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11 Magical Ways to Spend Christmas in NYC

Spending the holidays in NYC? Don’t miss these festive things to do.

Very few cities in the US transforms like NYC during the holidays. Parks, hotels, trains, display windows, and more become completely unrecognizable from their summer counterparts. Since there is so much to see, we’ve gathered all the info you need here to plan your perfect Christmas in NYC.

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Last Updated: November 21, 2023

11 Magical Ways to Spend Christmas in NYC

We love so many things about living in NYC, but we do not love the cold. It certainly feels more Christmasy than when we lived in socal, but since our place has a view, we don’t mind staying home bundled up with our cats. We tried to go out as much as possible during the warmer months, so we can stay warm and cozy at home most of the holidays. We do, however, take some micro adventures to experience all the magic as well.

It’s just great to know that after our fingers and toes are frozen, we can come home to an apartment that feels like home thanks to CORT.

When we moved in, it was such a burden off our shoulders that we didn’t have to worry about getting furniture. We were able to pick out the pieces we wanted online, and they delivered them straight to our apartment. When we’re ready to leave next month, we’re glad that they’re coming to get it too!

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1. Christmas Markets in NYC →

We love walking through the Christmas Markets during the holidays. For the most part, similar vendors are set up at all of the markets that stick around all season. For smaller and unique vendors, visit ones that are only open for a day or weekend. Here are some of the main markets in the order that we like them, click here for more details and a complete list of markets.

  • Union Square Holiday Market – if you’re on a mission to shop, this one has this best shops plus the adjacent farmer’s market.
  • Bryant Park Winter Village – This one also has decent shops, but has the best overall ambiance for hanging out, doing some people watching, and you can even ice skate.
  • Grand Central Terminal Holiday Fair – It’s a small market, but you don’t have to be outside in the cold.
  • Columbus Circle Holiday Market – also very small, but if you’re visiting Central Park, it’s convenient to stop by.

See More: 10 Christmas Markets You Can’t Miss This Winter


2. Ice Skating →

Bundle up and hit the ice at one of the many ice skating rinks that pop up all over town. Head to Rockefeller for one of the most famous rinks in the world or escape to Central Park and skate around Wollman Rink.

  • Rockefeller Center Ice Rink
  • Wollman Rink and Lasker Rink in Central Park 
  • Bryant Park – Bank of America Winter Village
  • Brookfield Place
  • Riverbank State Park Ice Skating Rink

The Oculus also has a Winter Whirl Roller Rink opening November 24th. Tickets start at $30 for adults and $25 for ages 8-18.

Local Tip: The rinks get extremely busy during December. Book sessions ahead of time or look for exclusive VIP experiences that help you skip the line. We like to visit in November before the Christmas crowds come in. January is also less busy, but so much colder.

See More: 9 Wonderful Places to Go Ice Skating in NYC

Wollman Rink Central ParkPin

3. Sledding in the City

When it snows in NYC it’s magical, but within a day, it gets pretty gross. But that doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of fresh powder and find some hills to fly down. Prospect Park in Brooklyn is a popular spot for sledding. Central Park is another great spot. The two best hills are Pilgrim Hill and Cedar Hill.

Local Tip: Plan ahead and pick up a sled so you’re ready when it starts snowing!

Pilgrim Hill Central Park SleddingPin

4. Ride a Vintage Train

Travel back in time by hopping onto a vintage subway car. These 1930 subway cars are typically on display at the Transit Museum, but every holiday season they are brought out to take passengers on special rides between Thanksgiving and New Year. They run on Sundays between 10 am and 5pm. You can find details on their schedule and stops here. They also have four Vintage Buses running along the M42 bus route.

Local Tip: If you’re there for photos, arrive by 9am at the 2nd ave station. The 10am train is there, and you’ll have time to take photos outside. By 9:30, a lot more people start coming in. If you’re there to just ride, arrive 30 minutes before the train is scheduled to leave to be sure you don’t miss it.

MTA Holiday SchedulePin

5. Holiday Windows & Decorations

It’s no surprise that retail stores also kick it up a notch during the holidays. Stores turn their window displays into their own attractions during the holidays. Here are some of best windows to check out.

  • Bergdorf Goodman (754 5th Ave, map)
  • Bloomingdales (1000 Third Avenue, map)
  • Henri Bendel (712 5th Ave, map)
  • Lord & Taylor (424 5th Ave, map)
  • Macy’s (151 W 34th St, map)
  • Saks Fifth Avenue (611 5th Ave, map)
  • Shops at Columbus Circle (10 Columbus Cir, map)

Local Tip: Visit at dusk to see the lights in their full glory

Here are some other notable decorations in the city to check out.

  • The Baccarat (28 W 53rd St, map)
  • Empire State Building – Lit Red and Green for Christmas (20 W 34th St, map)
  • Giant Ornaments one across from Radio City (map)
  • NY Transit Museum Gallery Annex – Holiday Train Exhibit (89 E 42nd St, map)
  • NYBG’s Holiday Train Show – Miniature NY Landmarks (89 E 42nd St, map)
  • The Plaza’s Palm Court (768 5th Ave, map)
  • St Regis’s Kong Cole Bar (2 E 55th St, map)
  • Two Little Red Hens – Gingerbread Houses (1652 2nd Ave, map)
  • William Poll – Gingerbread Houses (1051 Lexington Ave, map)
  • The Oculus keeps it simple but classy 
  • Dyker Heights, Brooklyn (map) – this neighborhood in Brooklyn is known for its over-the-top Christmas decorations

6. Santacon

Imagine the streets of NYC flooded with people dressed as Santa. Every year, tons of people gather in a secret location that’s announced the day before to spread ‘absurdist joy’. After taking an epic photo to kick off the event, people disperse all over the city to hang out at bars and different events that are happening. For more details, click here.

Note: Santacon is a worldwide event (although NYC is the biggest), so even if you’re not going to be in NYC on Dec 10th, check their site for other locations. If you’re a local that doesn’t like to partake, avoid going out. We have some friends that hide from the drunken debauchery every Santacon.

See More: Recap of Our Endless Caravan

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7. Holiday THemed Bars & Restaurants

Bars and restaurants join in on the holiday spirit as well. A lot of places have holiday drinks or Christmas specials, but some go above and beyond with decorations and offerings. Here are the ones you should check out.

  • Miracle on 9th St (649 E 9th St, map)
  • One If By Land, Two If By Sea (17 Barrow St, map)
  • Rolf’s (281 3rd Ave, map)
  • Tiny’s (135 W Broadway, map)
  • Waverly Inn (16 Bank St, map)

Other holiday pop ups:

  • The Hard Rock Hotel with have Soundglobes where you can enjoy a special holiday menu and seasonal cocktails.
  • Somewhere Nowhere will have teadrop-shaped igloos serving winter cocktails from now until March 2024.
  • Jingle Bell Book & Candle is around until Dec 30th with holiday signature cocktails.
  • Haven Ski Chalet is in the heart of Times Square and you can get food and drinks.

Local Tip: Like most restaurants in NYC, expect long waits if you go during any peak hours. If possible make reservations or go during off-hours.

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8. Grab a Hot Chocolate

One of the best ways to warm up after being outside is sipping on delicious hot chocolate. Needless to say, there are a ton of places to get a cup, but here are some of the most popular. 

Rockefeller Center Ice SkatingPin

9. See a Christmas Show →

If you’re visiting New York, you’re probably going to make time to see a Broadway Show, but you can also take advantage of all the holiday shows that fill the city.

The most famous show is probably the Christmas Spectacular featuring the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall, but there are also multiple renditions of the Nutcracker by the New York City Ballet, Christmas themed musicals, and more. See the complete list here.

Local Tip: Get tickets as soon as you know you want to see a show, so they don’t sell out. The holidays are high season for NYC.

See More: 20 Christmas Shows in NYC You Can’t Miss This Holiday Season

Rockettes Radio City Christmas Spectacular ( Rockettes NYC )+ What to do in NYC at Christmas / Christmas Time in New York | LocalAdventurer.comPin

10. Christmas Trees & LIghting Ceremonies

As you may have guessed, NYC doesn’t mess around when it comes to Christmas Trees. We’ve only been to a few, but here is a list of trees you can check out.

  • Al Smith Playground (map)
  • AMNH – Origami Christmas Tree (map)
  • Astoria Park (map)
  • Belarusian Autocephalous, Brooklyn (map)
  • Bryant Park (map)
  • Byrne Park, Park Slope (map)
  • Charles A Dana Discovery Center (map)
  • City Island Holiday Tree at Hawkins Park, the Bronx (map)
  • Cathedral of St John the Divine Peace Tree (map)
  • Carl Shurz Park (map)
  • Dante Park Tree, Lincoln Square (map)
  • Fort Greene Park, Brooklyn (map)
  • High Line Hotel (map)
  • Historic Richmond Town, Staten Island (map)
  • Hudson Park (map)
  • Lotte New York Palace (map)
  • Madison Square Park (map)
  • Malls on Broadway (map)
  • The Met – Tree and nativity scene. Tree Lighting daily at 4:30pm. (map)
  • New York Botanical Garden (map)
  • New York Stock Exchange Tree (map)
  • Park Ave Trees – btwn 54 and 97th (map)
  • Pearl Street Triangle, DUMBO Tree (map)
  • Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree (map)
  • Queens Botanical Garden, Flushing (map)
  • Washington Square Park (map)

11. See Santa

Are you on the naughty or nice list? Stop by to see one of the many Santas in NYC to take a photo and tell him what’s on your wishlist.

  • Brookfield Place Santa’s Winter Garden (230 Vesey St, map)
  • Bloomingdale’s (1000 Third Avenue 59th, map)
  • Bryant Park (map)
  • Macy’s Santaland (151 W 34th St, map)
  • One World Observatory (285 Fulton St, map)
  • The Shops at the Plaza (768 5th Ave, map)
  • The Shops & Restaurants at Hudson Yards (20 Hudson Yards, map)

There are also unique opportunities to dine with Santa

Local Tip: Make reservations early!

What to Do on Christmas Day

The great thing about a New York City Christmas is that not everything closes down Christmas Day. Instead of watching a movie, here are some more options:

Where to Eat on Christmas Day

A lot of restaurants are closed during Christmas, but some places do stay open. A safe bet is heading to Chinatown or Flushing since a lot of Chinese restaurants stay open. Here are a few of our favorites. Be sure to call ahead to make sure they are still open and expect long lines.

Christmas Places to Stay

What to Pack

Don’t forget to pack and dress appropriately when visiting NYC in the winter. Here are few essentials.

See More: How to Survive NYC in the Winter

Planning Checklist

Have you ever spent Christmas in NYC. Before we moved here, it was a long time bucket list item of mine.

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Esther + Jacob

Esther and Jacob are the founders of Local Adventurer, one of the top 5 travel blogs in the US. They believe that adventure can be found near and far and hope to inspire others to explore locally. They explore a new city in depth every year and currently base themselves in Las Vegas.

Follow on Instagram (E + J), YouTube, TikTok, and Pinterest.

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