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: Jan 7, 2020
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!
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 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.
Local Tip: If you’re too intimidated to navigate the city on your own, you can even take a tour of the markets.
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 (PS, Trump manages both)
- Bryant Park – Bank of America Winter Village
- Brookfield Place
- Riverbank State Park Ice Skating Rink
Pro Tip: The rinks get extremely busy during the month of December. Book sessions ahead of time or look for exclusive VIP experiences that help you skip the line. We personally like to visit in November, before the Christmas crowds come in. January is also less busy, but so much colder.
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.
Pro Tip: Plan ahead and pick up a sled so you’re ready when it starts snowing!
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 Years. 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.
Pro 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.
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.
- Barneys (660 Madison Ave, map)
- 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 (611 5th Ave, map)
- Shops at Columbus Circle (10 Columbus Cir, map)
Pro 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 in known for its over-the-top Christmas decorations
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 14th, 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.
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.
- 21 Club (21 W 52nd St, map)
- 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)
- Sippin’ Santa (13 1st Avenue, map)
- Tiny’s (135 W Broadway, map)
- Waverly Inn (16 Bank St, map)
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.
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.
- Betony (41 W 57th St, map)
- Brandy Library (25 N Moore St, map)
- City Bakery (3 W 18th St, map)
- Employees Only (510 Hudson St, map)
- GROM (multiple locations, map)
- Jacques Torres Chocolate (multiple locations, map)
- Lavazza Cafe in Eataly (200 5th Ave, map)
- Mariebelle (484 Broome St, map)
- Max Brenner (841 Broadway, map)
- Roni-Sue Chocolates (148 Forsyth Street, map)
- Sant Ambroeus (multiple locations, map)
- Serendipity – Frozen Hot Chocolate (225 E 60th St, map)
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, but there are also multiple renditions of the Nutcracker, Christmas themed musicals, and more. See the complete list here.
Pro 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.
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)
- Orderdonk House, Queens (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.
- ABC Carpet & Home (888 Broadway, map)
Dec 8, in-store lottery for time slots
- Brookfield Place Santa’s Winter Garden (230 Vesey St, map)
Nov 29- Dec 24, Times Vary
- Bloomingdale’s (1000 Third Avenue 59th, map)
Nov 29 – Dec 23, 10am-1pm and 2pm-5pm Mon-Sat, 11am-1pm and 2pm-5pm Sun
- Bryant Park (map)
Dec 14, 1pm-3pm
- Macy’s Santaland (151 W 34th St, map)
Nov 25 – Dec 24, times vary (make reservations)
- One World Observatory (
Dec 12 – Dec 24, 10am-6pm
- The Shops at the Plaza (768 5th Ave, map)
Nov 29 – Dec 24, Times Vary
There are also unique opportunities to dine with Santa
- Broadway Comedy Club – Breakfast with Santa (318 W 53rd St, map)
9:30am Sat & Sun; Nov 30- Dec 22
- Rawther Fancy Teas with Santa (768 5th Ave, map)
Nov 23 – Dec 22
- Rockefeller Center – Breakfast with Santa (45 Rockefeller Plaza, map)
- Stella 34 Trattoria – Breakfast with Santa (151 W 34th St, map)
Nov 29-Dec 24
Pro Tip: Make reservations early!
What to do on Christmas Day
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.
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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“Discovery consists not of seeking new lands but in seeing with new eyes” – M. Proust