The Magic of Christmas in New York City
New York City is always full of energy, but the excitement reaches a fever pitch in December. Locals and tourists alike flock to holiday markets, Broadway shows, the Rockettes Christmas Spectacular, and beloved traditions like skating in Central Park or seeing the store windows on 5th Avenue. The irresistible pull of New York at Christmas time makes it one of the most popular—and magical—places to spend the holidays.
Iconic New York Holiday Attractions
No Christmas in New York is complete without visiting these famous attractions:
Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree
The jewel of Rockefeller Center has shone bright with holiday spirit since 1931. Topped with a Swarovski crystal star weighing nearly a ton, the iconic Norway spruce towers above the ice skating rink, drawing huge crowds all season long. See the tree lit up at night for the full magical effect.
Radio City Rockettes Christmas Spectacular
A family favorite since 1933, this show features the Rockettes legendary precision dance troupe. With multiple performances daily, it's easy to catch a show and marvel at the perfect choreographed numbers, Santa cameo, and the iconic "Parade of the Wooden Soldiers."
Department Store Holiday Windows
Fifth Avenue's incredible holiday window displays have been a New York tradition since the 1870s. Major retailers like Saks, Bergdorf Goodman, Bloomingdale's, and Macy’s unveil lavish new themes and designs each November, attracting thousands of visitors each day.
Dyker Heights Christmas Lights
In the Dyker Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, locals stage an incredible Christmas lights display that rivals Rockefeller Center. Wander this residential area each evening from Thanksgiving to New Year’s to take in the jaw-dropping electrical light shows synchronized to music.
Holiday Events and Activities
From Christmas markets to concerts, New York overflows with festive events:
Union Square Holiday Market This European-style outdoor market features over 150 vendors selling gifts, ornaments, clothing, toys, food and more. Grab a hot chocolate and shop 'til you drop!
Columbus Circle Holiday Market Bask in the glow of twinkling lights all month at this spacious shopping market leading up to the Time Warner Center. Find perfect gifts from over 80 merchants.
Winter Village at Bryant Park Enjoy The Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park's outdoor ice skating, visits with Santa, and tons of vendor stalls at this festive shopping and activity hub.
Christmas Concerts Attend spirited holiday performances by the New York Philharmonic, New York Choral Society, Handel’s Messiah at Carnegie Hall or the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, and more.
Caroling Groups Hear carolers harmonizing on street corners and at holiday events. Joint them for a heartwarming community experience! The West Village Chorale or volunteer caroling groups like Caroling NYC are wonderful options.
Seasonal Food and Drink
Indulge in these delicious Christmas cuisine specialties around the city: Eggnog and Hot Chocolate Sip on the rich Christmas cocktail staple at cocktail lounges and cafes. Or warm up with the best hot chocolate in NYC at Jacques Torres Chocolate or City Bakery.
Holiday Desserts Baked goods take center stage this season. Find gingerbread men, fruitcakes, sugar cookies and more at local bakeries. Top designers create fanciful confections in holiday store window displays.
Christmas Dinner On Christmas Day, enjoy a traditional turkey dinner with all the fixings and holiday pies at Carmine's, Red Lobster, or other NYC mainstays. Or try a prix-fixe meal at a Michelin-starred restaurant.
Christmas Markets In addition to sweets and gifts, holiday markets like Columbus Circle or Union Square sell 'street meat' like sausage and potato pancakes plus German beer, mulled wine, and hot cider.
Christmas Shopping in NYC
‘Tis the season for holiday shopping! Use this guide to Christmas shopping in New York City.
Department Stores Decked out for the holidays, NYC's iconic stores dazzle with lavish window displays, Santa visits, and extravagant gift ideas inside. Top stops include:
- Saks Fifth Avenue
- Macy’s Herald Square
- Bergdorf Goodman
Boutiques For unique Christmas gifts, browse specialty shops and boutiques all over New York. Standouts include:
- Food/Candy: Jacques Torres Chocolates, Li-Lac Chocolates
- Toys: FAO Schwarz Fifth Avenue
- Books: The Strand Bookstore Souvenirs: Manhattan Christmas Shop, It’s From New York
Discount Outlets Save money at Woodbury Common and Jersey Gardens outlet malls. Or peruse sample sales from high-end designers around the city.
Handcrafted Gifts Find special handmade gifts and vintage ornaments at local markets like Bryant Park, Grand Central Holiday Fair, Union Square Holiday Market, Columbus Circle Holiday Market and more.
Christmas With the Family
If you're lucky enough to spend Christmas in New York City with your family, here are some special ways to celebrate:
See the Rockettes Bring kids of all ages to the iconic Christmas Spectacular starring New York's beloved Rockettes dance troupe at Radio City Music Hall.
Central Park Carriage Rides Bundle up for a fairytale trip around Central Park in a horse-drawn carriage. Cuddle close to admire the snow-dusted landscapes and Christmas lights.
Museums with Christmas Exhibits Many NYC museums host special Christmas or winter holiday programs. Macy’s Santaland at Herald Square, the New York Botanical Garden Holiday Train Show, or the New-York Historical Society Christmas exhibit are all solid bets.
Chinese Lanterns Festival Check out incredible illuminated larger-than-life Chinese lantern displays at Staten Island’s Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden for a family night of awe and wonder.
Where to Stay in New York for Christmas
When booking a hotel, apartment rental or Airbnb for Christmas holiday in NYC, consider these conveniently-located neighborhoods with plenty of holiday cheer:
Midtown Near Rockefeller Center For easy access to Rockefeller Center's famous Christmas tree and ice skating rink plus top department stores, stay centrally in Midtown close to 5th Avenue.
Times Square / Theater District Area Near unparalleled Christmas lights and promotions, Times Square puts you in the heart of New York’s holiday hype. Catch seasonal Broadway shows or wander through bustling shops.
Upper West Side Both locals and tourists flock to see incredible light displays along Riverside Park during NYC’s Winter Lantern Festival on the Upper West Side.
Lower East Side / East Village / Greenwich / SoHo Downtown areas like the Lower East Side and SoHo have fantastic holiday markets plus boutique shops perfect for unique Christmas gift finds.
Christmas Travel Tips for New York
Use these key pieces of advice to make your NYC Christmas vacation smooth and stress-free:
Book Accommodations Early With occupancy extremely high, book your Manhattan hotel or vacation rental 6-12 months out for the best location/rates.
Buy Event Tickets ASAP Snag seats for Rockettes, Nutcracker, or Christmas concerts a year ahead. Otherwise opt for late November shows.
Avoid Visiting Thanksgiving Week Thanksgiving kicks off the busiest tourist season with inflated hotel prices. First week of December is better.
Use Public Transit Walk and use the subway or bus to bypass heavy traffic. Consider booking airport transfers if arriving/departing around the holidays. Dress for the Weather Bring warm layers, thick coat, gloves, hat, and snowboots. Despite beautiful holiday lights, December nights get very cold!
Christmas in NYC: Frequently Asked Questions
For more tips on enjoying Christmas in New York City, check out answers to these common FAQs:
Q: When should I visit NYC for Christmas? A: The Christmas spirit takes over New York City after Thanksgiving weekend, from December 1 through the New Year. To balance lower hotel rates with festive activities, aim for the first two weeks of December.
Q: What’s the weather in NYC like at Christmas? A: December weather fluctuates in the 30s and 40s Fahrenheit during the day, dipping into the 20s or colder at night. Be prepared with heavy winter layers! And maybe a warm drink...
Q: What are the best Christmas events in NYC? A: Top events include Radio City’s Christmas Spectacular show, elaborate store window displays on 5th and Madison Avenues, plus numerous holiday markets at Bryant Park, Columbus Circle, Union Square, and more.
Q: Where does the Rockefeller Center tree come from? A: The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree is donated annually, coming from various parts of Northeastern US and Canada. Trees average around 70-100 feet!
Q: How crowded is New York City at Christmas? A: December is high season for tourism with 12+ million visitors. Major attractions have long lines. Navigate crowds by going early/late, pre-booking tickets, and having backup plans.
Q: Are NYC tourist sites open on Christmas Day? A: Some attractions close Christmas Day but many stores, shows, and neighborhoods like Chinatown and Little Italy stay lively. Hotels, Chinese restaurants, and movie theaters are generally open.
Q: Are there Christmas events in NYC for adults without kids? A: Yes! Enjoy Christmas cocktails, holiday concerts, shows like Nutcracker Rouge, or adults-only events at pop-up holiday bars like Miracle on 9th Street.
Q: Where are the best places to shop for Christmas gifts in NYC? A: Standout Christmas shopping spots include department stores (Saks, Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s), boutiques in SoHo/East Village, Bryant Park shops, Grand Central Market, and Union Square Greenmarket.
Q: What’s a typical Christmas dinner menu in an NYC home? A: Traditional American Christmas feasts with roasted turkey, ham, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, vegetables, dinner rolls, pies, eggnog and wine are common in New York homes.
People Also Ask
Still wondering what a New York City Christmas is like? Here are answers to other commonly asked questions:
What is there to do in NYC at Christmastime? Top activities beyond big attractions like the Rockefeller tree include ice skating at Bryant Park, Wollman Rink, or Central Park, seeing the best holiday window displays, attending Christmas concerts, going on a horse carriage ride, etc.
Do people decorate the outside of their houses for Christmas in New York City? With limited private outdoor space, most New Yorkers focus holiday décor inside their homes. But some brownstones and residential neighborhoods have wonderful light displays.
What stations play Christmas music in NYC? Tune into beloved holiday tunes on radio stations like 96.7 LITE FM, 106.7 LITE FM, Q104.3, and others. SiriusXM also has a Hallmark Channel Christmas music station.
When do you light the Christmas tree in New York? The huge Rockefeller Center Christmas tree has a televised lighting ceremony every year on the Wednesday after Thanksgiving. The Mayor typically turns on the rest of the Rockefeller plaza lights later that week.
What is the biggest Christmas tree in New York? The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree is by far the most famous, but the 109 foot tall Norway Spruce at the American Museum of Natural History is considered the city’s tallest indoor tree.
Is Christmas expensive to celebrate in New York? Christmas in New York can get very expensive, especially for things like hotel rooms, Broadway musicals, and flights home for the holidays. But with planning, you can attend free events or save on Christmas gifts too.