Christmas in New York: 6 tips for a magical time

There’s no better place to celebrate the holiday season than the Big Apple, which brims with extravagant light displays, cozy Christmas markets, theater shows and fun activities.

Thanks to an endless number of Christmas movies, it’s well known that New York is an enchanting place to be during the holiday season. The streets sparkle with lights and decorations, heartwarming Christmas shows appear in theaters, while ice skating rinks and festive markets get busy. If you’re a Christmas lover, you have to experience this holiday in New York at least once in your life. And we’ve got some tips on how to have an incredible Christmas trip.

1. Head to a Christmas market, light or tree display


Christmas markets aren’t just in Europe; New York also knows a thing or two about them and in several places around the city there are festive markets where you can buy local art, unique gifts and of course try some tasty treats. The Union Square Market is open from mid-November until Christmas Eve and has no fewer than 150 stalls. From late October through New Years, you can also shop, snack and skate in Midtown Manhattan at the Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park. And just 10 minutes walk from Bryan Park is one of New York’s most famous train stations, Grand Central Terminal, where 36 local craft vendors sell their wares at the Holiday Fair from November 14 to December 24. It’s the place for all your Christmas shopping, with loads of clothing, jewelry, self-care products and unusual gadgets. Join this tour for a complete Christmas markets experience.


New York takes its Christmas lights seriously and the best example of this can be found in Dyker Heights in southwest Brooklyn. Be amazed by the many houses extravagantly decked out in nativity scenes, giant Santas, snowmen, nutcrackers and more, on the Dyker Heights Christmas Lights tour. It’s about an hour from Time Square one way, so we recommend setting aside an entire afternoon to give you plenty of time to bask in all that Christmas bling.

Another must-see is the New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) Glow in the Bronx. This light display is New York’s largest in open air and shows off beautifully lit buildings and landscapes. Complete your visit with a look at the Holiday Train Show® and its intricate miniature world. Still not had enough of those twinkling lights? Then head to Lightscape in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, where a charming walk lit by more than a million lights awaits you.


Of course, the iconic Christmas tree had to be mentioned. The Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center is probably the most famous of them all and well worth a look. But if you prefer to avoid the crowds, there are plenty of other options. Under the arch of Washington Square Park a 45ft festively decorated fir is lit for the season on December 7 at 6pm. There’s also a 30ft adorned tree in Dante Park, which makes for a perfect stop if you’re on your way to see The Nutcracker in Lincoln Center. Madison Square Park instead was where the first public Christmas tree was lit in 1912 and 110 years later you can still admire a glorious 30ft tall spruce tree every December.

Impressive Christmas trees are not only found on the street but also inside various cultural institutions. According to tradition the Met Museum unveils an angel-heavy spruce tree and baroque Neapolitan nativity scene every year from Thanksgiving until after Epiphany. For decades the American Museum of Natural History has also celebrated Christmas with a tree made from around 1,000 origami pieces. This year’s theme is Beautiful Bugs, which is a nod to the Susan and Peter J. Solomon Family Insectarium that will open its doors in the winter of 2023.

2. Strap on some skates

Want to glide across the ice but not sure where to go? Everyone knows about the Rockefeller Center ice rink, which means it tends to get crowded. If you’re looking for a little more space one of the best alternatives is the ice-skating rink in Bryant Park. The rink is bigger and free (you only pay for skate rental).

Otherwise, one of the newer skate spots can be found at Brookfield Place in the financial district. The mall combines the open-air skating rink with the chance to meet Santa Claus and see the Luminaries, a Rockwell Group light installation featuring around 650 lanterns.

For the best view head to the Sky Rink at Chelsea Piers. This indoor ice-skating rink is open all year round, not just during the festive season, and is especially noteworthy for its amazing view over the Hudson River.

Instead if you’re in Brooklyn you’ll want to head to the Industry City Ice Rink. This open-air ice-skating rink offers up a great winter experience from mid-November. Plus, after skating you can warm up with some waffles and hot chocolate.

3. See a Christmas show

Nothing says Christmas in New York like a world-class theatre production or performance. While locals may have already seen it, the Christmas Spectacular starring the Radio City Rockettes™ is a must for your first Christmas in NYC. Ever popular, this show at Radio City Music Hall has been running for over 75 years.

Another classic is The Nutcracker by the New York City Ballet. The choreography of George Balanchine, the music of Tchaikovsky and the talent of the ballet dancers are sure to enchant you. Instead Dickens fans won’t want to miss the chance to see and hear a new interpretation of A Christmas Carol on Broadway.

4. Get Christmas shopping

When you’re in the Big Apple for the holidays, (a little) shopping always manages to sneak its way onto the agenda. But even if you don’t want to buy anything, seeing the elaborately decorated shop windows is a must. One of the most famous is the Macy’s window on 34th Street, which is also where the iconic Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade ends. But the most impressive window display is at Saks on Fifth Avenue. Every year the 10-storey facade is decorated with more than 700,000 LED lights. Other eye-catching Christmas windows can be found at Bloomingdale’s, Bergdorf Goodman and Tiffany’s. Smaller shops will also be joining in this festive tradition, so keep an eye out.

And if you’ve got the kids in tow there are a couple places you won’t want to miss. The first is Santaland in Macy’s, where the little ones can share their Christmas wishes with Santa and get their picture taken with him. The second is FAO Schwarz. Since 1862 it’s been the ultimate place to shop for toys. With its fantastic decorations and playful interactive displays, it’s a fun experience for the whole family.

5. Try local delicacies

In many ways the holiday season is synonymous with food. Think big hearty Christmas dinners and endless desserts, candy canes and chocolates. New York is known for being a foodie heaven, so why not let your tastebuds indulge? There’s nothing better on a cold winter’s day than a mug of hot chocolate to warm your hands and soul with. According to locals the best hot chocolate can be had at Blue Stripes Cacao Shop, La Maison du Chocolat and Max Brenner New York. Next on the list? Marshmallow and gingerbread cookies. Want to combine this sweet moment with a bit of sightseeing? Then hop aboard the Cocoa & Carols Holiday Cruise and enjoy hot chocolate and cookies while you admire the city from the water, with live music playing in the background.

6. Don’t miss these attractions

While they’re not necessarily Christmas themed, New York attractions should be on your list of things to see and do regardless. Our first tip is to take the elevator to the top of one of the city’s many skyscrapers. The Top of the Rock, the Empire State Building, The Edge in Hudson Yards, and One World Trade Center are some great options for taking in unforgettable skyline views. Go during sunset and watch the city light up as the sun slowly disappears.

A walk through Central Park is also a (romantic) must. Put on your mittens and warm shoes and stroll through this sprawling urban park. If you’re lucky, it might even snow and the park will be transformed into a wintry wonderland. Watch the skaters on the Wollman Ice Rink, walk the famous promenade with its picturesque benches and don’t forget to look at the Manhattan skyline.

New York’s largest zoo, the Bronx Zoo, is also great for kids and has more than 4,000 animals from over 650 species. During the Christmas season it’s packed with light shows, festive displays, lanterns, a Holiday Train, Christmas music and more.

Finally, the last Christmas must-see in New York is St Patrick’s Cathedral. Located on Fifth Avenue it’s the largest Catholic cathedral in the country and an awe-inspiring work in neo-Gothic style, with gorgeous stained-glass windows and an organ with more than 7800 pipes. Take a Holiday Tour to explore the cathedral at your leisure while listening to the Christmas carolers that perform every half hour.

Discover more activities for a magical Christmas in New York here:

Article link