Christmas in New York City: A Local's Guide to the Most Festive Time of Year
New York City sparkles even brighter than usual during the holiday season. From elaborate store window displays on Fifth Avenue to the iconic Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, Christmas in New York is full of seasonal magic. Locals and tourists alike soak up the festive atmosphere. Read on for a comprehensive guide to all the sights, events, activities, and dining options to make the most of Christmas in the Big Apple.
What to See and Do During Christmas in New York City
New York City puts on quite a show for the December holidays. Visitors and residents alike pack calendars with these must-see attractions:
The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree and Ice Skating Rink
Arguably the most famous Christmas tree in the world, the Rockefeller Center conifer towers above the ice skating rink, drawing crowds who come to gaze at its Swarovski crystal star and 20+ miles of lights. Skaters twirl below to piped in holiday tunes as they check out the view.
Holiday Window Displays
Department stores unveil whimsical seasonal vignettes along Fifth Avenue, attracting families and fashionistas alike. Bloomingdale’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy’s, Bergdorf Goodman and more create mini winter wonderlands to promote the Christmas shopping spirit.
Bryant Park Holiday Shops and Skating Rink
Scores of artisan retailers fill Bryant Park’s cozy glass-walled shops, while the winter village’s bustling ice rink sets the scene for a Hallmark movie.
Rockettes Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall The precision dance troupe’s annual Yuletide variety show marks for many the official start of the Christmas season. Dancers’ iconic eye-high kicks continue to impress audiences after almost a century.
Model Train Displays Holiday model train exhibits delight children of all ages at the New York Botanical Garden’s Holiday Train Show and the New York Transit Museum Gallery Annex & Store’s seasonal display. Intricate miniature replicas of city landmarks constructed all from natural materials elicit awe.
Artists, craftspeople and food vendors peddle their wares at holiday markets around the city. Union Square, Columbus Circle, Grand Central Terminal, and Bryant Park host some of the most popular.
“The Nutcracker” Take in a performance of the classic Tchaikovsky ballet at Lincoln Center or the Brooklyn Academy of Music to experience a beloved holiday tradition. New York City offers some of the finest productions in the world.
Decked out residential blocks Stroll Park Slope’s elaborately-lit brownstones or the dressed-to-the-nines mansions of Dyker Heights to spy dramatic outdoor holiday light displays.
Events and Activities for Christmas in New York
Carnegie Hall Christmas Concerts - World-class musicians and singers ring in the season with special holiday performances. Miracle on Madison - Over-the-top Christmas pop-up cocktail bars like this one in Midtown or the Christmas-themed Bar Chord in Dumbo serve festive drinks in spaces decked out floor-to-ceiling in Yuletide decor.
Hotel Lobby Light Shows - Cool displays at the Archer Hotel near Herald Square, Lotte New York Palace, and more make evening light shows worth checking out.
Santa at Macy’s Santaland - The memo got lost at the North Pole, so Santa sets up shop at the end of the Macy’s parade route on 34th Street through Christmas Eve. Kids can meet St. Nick, snap pics, and drop off their wish lists.
Holiday Tours - Several tour companies like Big Apple Greeters and Free Tours by Foot offer themed outings this time of year checking out festive window displays, holiday markets, and iconic landmarks dressed in their Christmas best.
Lincoln Center Holiday Tree Lighting - The Empire State Building has some tree lighting competition from the cultural center’s towering evergreen dressed up in 30,000-plus lights.
New Year’s Eve in Times Square - Over a million revelers crowd Midtown to witness the famous ball drop in Times Square as another year draws to a close. Sure it’s chaotic, but there’s no place quite like it for New Year’s Eve.
The Best Christmas Vacation Packages and Deals for New York City
With so much to see and do for Christmas in New York, vacation package deals abound this time of year. Travelers can save money and see the top attractions by booking bundled hotels and event/sightseeing tickets. Here are some of the best Christmas travel package deals for New York City:
- The Rock Center Tree Lighting Deal – Includes lodging, Rockefeller Center Rink admission, Radio City show tickets, and more over the tree lighting weekend.
- Christmas Spectacular Getaway – Features two nights at a Times Square hotel, Rockefeller Center admission, Radio City show tickets, and discount vouchers for holiday markets and tours.
- Holiday Lights & Sights Package – Offers two nights hotel accommodations, passes for a holiday lights tour, New York Botanical Garden admission, Union Square Holiday Market coupons, Top of the Rock tickets, and subway passes.
- Skate and Shop Excursion – Two nights hotel stay, admission to Bryant Park’s skating rink and holiday shops, Macy’s gift card, NYC tourist pass, and train ride out to Long Island’s holiday festival of lights.
- Christmas in NYC Tour Package – Includes 3 nights hotel, spot on Christmas lights tour, admission to holiday model train exhibits, Broadway show tickets, Manhattan holiday market tour, and New Year’s Eve cruise.
Travelers can find additional specials through NYCgo.com, Expedia, Priceline, and individual hotels. Those not traveling over the actual Christmas holiday should compare rates across travel websites as prices do drop a bit in early December.
Where to Dine for Christmas in New York
From cozy cafes to Michelin star dining rooms, New York City restaurants ring in Christmas with special menus, holiday decor and cheer. Reservations are a must for top tables. Here are some dining recommendations for Christmas in New York:
- Tavern on the Green - The iconic Central Park restaurant overlooks the festive lit trees with epic Christmas prix fixe meals served against equally spectacular holiday decor.
- The Modern - Two Michelin-starred chef Daniel Humm presents a holiday tasting menu of avant-garde takes on French holiday cuisine in this sleek MoMA restaurant.
- 21 Club – A Christmas tree and garlands add festive flair to the historic midtown speakeasy turned steakhouse, serving traditional holiday dishes like goose and figgy pudding.
- Gramercy Tavern – Warm up in the brownstone tavern’s fireside lounge or adjoining dining room for new American cuisine interpretations of Christmas favorites.
- Balthazar – French bistro staples like goose rillettes and oysters satisfy cravings amid Battery Park City brownstone Christmas cheer.
- Keens Steakhouse – The 130-year old Herald Square chophouse pairs dry aged prime rib, seabass and other meats with Victorian décor for a classic NYC holiday meal.
- Mrs. Claus’ Cozy Christmas Cafe – A quaint Greenwich Village spot brings the flavors of the North Pole for folks craving cookies, hot chocolate and gingerbread pancakes in Santa’s living room.
- Rolf’s German Restaurant – Bavarian beer hall Rolf’s decks itself out in thousands of ornaments and lights, pairing Old World dishes like schnitzel and spaetzle with warm German holiday vibes.
Visitors and locals alike should plan ahead with OpenTable reservations to ensure getting a table at popular eateries during the busy Christmas season.
Common Christmas in New York Questions and Answers
Here we answer some frequently asked questions about spending Christmas in New York City:
When should I book hotel, show tickets, etc. for Christmas in NYC? Aim to book at least 2-3 months in advance for Christmas week travel itself, and 1-2 months ahead for the early December weeks before the holiday when prices drop a bit.
What is there to do in NYC at Christmastime with kids? Top family-friendly activities include seeing the holiday windows on Fifth Avenue, visiting Santa at Macy’s Santaland, ogling model train displays, skating at Rockefeller Center or Bryant Park, checking out holiday markets, and seeing the Rockettes Christmas show.
How cold does it get in New York City around Christmas? Average high temperatures reach about 41F and lows fall to 32F, though wind chill and nor’easters can make it feel quite frigid. Dress in warm layers and bring cold weather gear.
What are the peak Christmas weeks for crowds and costs? The two weeks leading up to Christmas day and New Year’s week see the highest hotel rates, airfares and crowds trying to catch shows, eat at top restaurants, and shop for gifts on Fifth Avenue. Hotel prices often dip the first two weeks of December.
Is public transportation running on Christmas Day? Yes, the NYC subway system runs on a Sunday schedule and buses run on a reduced schedule Christmas Day into the evening. Alternatives like Lyft or taxis remain options as well.
Are tourist sites and stores open on Christmas Day? Some restaurants and a very limited number of shops and attractions are open for part of Christmas Day like Central Park, Rockefeller Center, Chinatown shops and eateries. But the majority of stores, museums, shows etc. will be closed.
Can you see the Rockefeller tree after Christmas? Yes, the iconic evergreen remains lit up through early January, coming down shortly after the holiday. So visitors still have the opportunity for photos even after Christmas passes during the early winter weeks.
Where are the best places to go for New Year’s Eve? Iconic Times Square draws over a million people for its famous ball drop and hours of live entertainment. New Year's Eve cruises also sail New York’s waterways. Or you can don glam attire for a hotel or nightclub's ritzy gala if looking to dress up and dance the night away.
Is it worth it to fly in on Christmas Day? If you must travel on December 25th itself, aim for late morning or early afternoon arrivals, as early flights are most prone to delays or cancellations from any poor weather nationwide the prior day. Be aware little will be open beyond some restaurants and parks to walk off that holiday meal!
Do subway trains run overnight on New Year’s Eve for getting back to hotels? Increased late night subway service is added, with some lines running all night. But leaving Manhattan can still take hours with the crowds. Walk further to less crowded stations, or budget extra time or funds for a taxi or rideshare to ensure making it back for that morning ball drop on TV!
People Also Ask
When do the Rockefeller Center Christmas decorations go up? The holiday trimmings start appearing in early November, with the iconic tree arriving in mid-November to get prepped with thousands of lights ahead of its early December tree lighting ceremony broadcast.
Where can I see The Nutcracker ballet in NYC? Among the most acclaimed productions, catch New York City Ballet performing George Balanchine’s classic take annually at Lincoln Center, or see American Ballet Theatre's lavish version at Brooklyn Academy of Music's Howard Gilman Opera House.
What is there to do on Christmas Eve in NYC? Midnight mass St. Patrick’s Cathedral or other historic churches, holiday concerts at venues like Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center, admiring store window displays, Christmas Eve dinner at restaurants serving special menus, and Radio City’s last holiday shows give folks plenty of options before Santa’s sled ride.
Is Times Square very crowded on NYE Massively so. Over a million revelers squeeze into the Midtown area to witness the ball drop. Arrive very early to stake out an unobstructed view, or watch from area hotels, restaurants and bars charging admission for the evening. The experience is not for the claustrophobic!
Where do they have fake snow in NYC at Christmastime? For that winter wonderland effect, holiday events at Citi Pond at Bryant Park, Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park, and holiday shops at Bryant Park offer occasional artificial snow falls throughout the season against their ice rink and tree lined skating paths.
I hope you found this guide filled with helpful advice on how to fully experience the magic of Christmas in New York City! Please let me know if you need any clarification or have additional questions. I would be happy to provide more details. Wishing you very happy holidays this season!