Spending Christmas in New York: Festive things to do in NYC

Bryant Park ice skating

Christmas in New York is a magical time. From November, the Big Apple transforms into a magical winter postcard, and Christmas decorations are scattered all over the city. From the lavish window displays in Fifth Avenue, to the buzzing Christmas Markets in Manhattan and stunning NYC Christmas trees, there’s no doubt: no other place does Christmas like New York.

If you’re planning on spending Christmas Day in New York, or are simply wondering what to do in NYC in December, be sure to put these recommendations on your New York Christmas itinerary! I’ll guarantee you’ll have the most wonderful time of the year. Here’s our magical guide to spending Christmas in New York.

Rockefeller Centre tree picture

1. Visit New York’s Christmas Markets

Visiting some NYC Christmas markets is one of the best things to do at Christmas in New York. Usually open from November until Christmas Day (with some remaining until early January), they’re the best place to do your Christmas shopping and get into the festive spirit.

Filled with pop-up eateries and kiosks selling Christmas decorations and local goods, they’re also great for those looking for an original New York ornament or souvenir.

Bryant Park Winter Village shops and Christmas tree

Some of the best New York Christmas markets are:

  • Columbus Circle Holiday Market
  • Union Square Holiday Market
  • Grand Central Holiday Fair
  • Bryant Park Winter Village (which also has a 17,000sq foot ice-skating rink!).

In the midst of the Christmas madness and cold temperatures, what better way to warm up than a glass of mulled wine followed by an ice-skating session?

2. See the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree

Christmas in NYC is synonymous with the giant Christmas tree and ice-skating rink at the Rockefeller Plaza. The first Rockefeller Christmas tree was erected in 1931, during the Rockefeller Center’s construction by workers. The Rockefeller Center tree is on display from mid-November until early January. It’s decorated with over 50,000 multicoloured LED lights and topped with a Swarovski crystal star!

Rockefeller Christmas tree picture

Rockefeller Tree Lighting

The Rockefeller Tree Lighting has become a national event that’s even broadcast live. The tree is lit by the Mayor of NYC and celebrity guests on the Wednesday after Thanksgiving each year, and the public is also encouraged to attend. Bear in mind this is probably one of the busiest parts of New York and a major event, so you’ll need to be there at least a few hours in advance!

3. Go ice-skating in New York: Rockefeller Center, Bryant Park, Central Park

Ice-skating under the Manhattan skyline is one of the top New York Christmas attractions. The Rockefeller Center ice-skating rink is the most famous rink in New York, but Central Park’s Wollman and Bryant Park ice-skating rinks are equally as emblematic. Tickets can cost up to $50 depending on the rink, and they also provide skate rental, sharpening and shoe and bag check. However, if you bring your own skates and a small bag, you’ll be able to skate for free at Bryant Park Winter Village ice rink!

Remember to bundle up! The experience is outdoors and the rinks are open rain or shine, so a good coat, gloves and a hat are a must.

4. See the Dyker Heights Christmas lights

Some of the best Christmas lights in NYC are in Dyker Heights. This Italian neighbourhood in south Brooklyn is famous for taking Christmas home decorations to a whole new level. Like any other neighbourhood, it’s pretty normal throughout the rest of the year. But in December, Dyker Heights transforms completely and becomes the brightest neighbourhood in the entire US.

You can expect dazzling and elaborate Christmas displays with everything from life-size Santas and reindeers to Nutcrackers and Christmas songs on loudspeakers. The over-the-top decorations are either professionally done or hung by the actual homeowners and can cost up to $20,000!

How to get to Dyker Heights?

The best way to get to Dyker Heights is by taking the subway. You can choose between the R, N and D trains. We recommend taking the D train to 79th Street/New Utretch Avenue, or the R train to 86th Street Station. You will then need to walk around 15-20min to get to the houses.

What to see the Dyker Heights Christmas lights?

Although some of the decorations are up from the day after Thanksgiving (end of November), the best time to see the Dyker Heights Christmas lights is from mid-December to Christmas Day. The Dyker Heights Christmas lights streets are from 11th-13th Avenue (aka Dyker Heights Boulevards) and 83rd-36th Street.

The best time to see the Dyker Heights lights are from 5pm to 10pm, as you’ll be able to see the decorations in their full potential when it’s dark. Just remember these are people’s homes, so they’ll turn the lights off around 9pm-10pm (and sometimes later, depending on their bedtime).

5. Check out the Christmas window displays and the Saks Fifth Avenue light show

For a festive shopping experience, check out the Christmas window displays in New York’s most famous department stores. Start with the Saks Fifth Avenue light show, which features a dazzling holiday window display and a Christmas projection on its façade each year. The 1o-storey light show repeats every 7-8 min and the place is always packed with people waiting for the next one. You can even tick off 2 major things to do at Christmas in New York by seeing the Rockefeller Centre tree, then turning around to enjoy the Saks Fifth Avenue light show!

Other impressive dreamy decorations include Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, Tiffany & Co, Cartier and Bergdorf Goodman.

Saks Fifth avenue light show

6. Watch the Radio City Rockettes Christmas Spectacular

Musical lovers, don’t miss out on this quintessential New York Christmas experience! The Christmas Spectacular that takes place in the legendary Radio City Music Hall is an annual tradition that dates back to 1933. From mid-November to the beginning of January, the renowned Rockettes take you on a 90 min Christmas story told through perfectly timed high-kicking and dancing. It’s one of the best Christmas shows in NYC!

Rockettes Christmas ornament

7. Watch the Times Square Ball drop on New Year’s Eve

New Year’s Eve in New York is one of the most iconic celebrations and worth including in every bucket list. Why? Well, because you get to say Goodbye to Christmas and welcome the New Year with fireworks, confetti and the sound of “New York, New York” by Frank Sinatra!

The famous Time Square Ball goes up at 6pm and starts dropping at 23:59 from the One Times Square building – an event for which thousands of people gather from the early hours of the day. If you’re not up to waiting for long hours in the cold weather, squeezed between the crowd and wearing adult nappies (yes, this is a thing), we’ve got you covered. The ball looks much more spectacular (and closer) on TV! It can also be seen along Broadway (43rd St – 50th St) and Seventh Ave.

8. Other things to do at Christmas in New York

  • 230 Fifth Rooftop bar: with igloos overlooking the Empire State Building and the Manhattan skyline from above.
  • Santaland: where you can meet Santa in this North Pole Village inside Macy’s.
  • Chelsea Market: a covered market with seasonal decorations. Perfect for stopping for a bite, escaping from the freezing temperatures and finding the quirkiest gift.
  • Sledding and snowshoeing at Central Park: grab a sled and a pair a snowshoes and enjoy the snow in NY’s famous park.
  • More Christmas trees in New York: The New York City Library, NY Stock Exchange, the Plaza Hotel, Washington Square Park and the Met Museum are just some of the places with spectacular Christmas trees.
  • More Christmas decorations: such as the Giant Red Ornaments (6th Avenue), Radio City Music Hall façade, Hudson Yards and The Oculus (World Trade Center).

Have you spent Christmas in New York? What were your favourite things to do? I’d love to know! As always if you loved our guide to spending Christmas in New York, make sure to pin some photos and show us some love on social media using the buttons below.

G.x


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2 comments

  1. Jane Palmen

    Happy memories of our Christmas trip to New York! Managed to do a lot of things from your list but missed a few so I have an excuse to go back!

    Reply

  2. David Fowler

    Another brilliant blog and one which brings back many memories of NYC at probably it’s best time of the year.

    Reply

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