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A Festive Guide to the Best Things to Do at Christmas in New York

A Festive Guide to the Best Things to Do at Christmas in New York

Planning a trip to New York at Christmas but unsure about what to do? This Christmas guide will show you the most festive things to do when you visit NYC.

A visit to New York at Christmastime should be high on every traveller’s bucket list. It is, after all, the place where the iconic Christmas films were made that we watch year after year. And who doesn’t want to follow in the footsteps of Kevin from Home Alone with a visit to the Plaza Hotel?

Xmas in NYC is great for families, romantic couples, friends and solo travellers. Go Christmas shopping on Fifth Avenue, watch a holiday show, ice skate in the shadow of New York City’s skyscrapers or enjoy some festive fayre at one of the Christmas markets scattered around town. Whatever you choose to do when you visit NYC at Christmas, you are going to have a wonderful time.

With the help of fellow travel bloggers, this post will list some of the best things to do in New York at Christmas for a once-in-a-lifetime trip.

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A pile of oversized red Christmas baubles on display in New York

See the Luminaries at Brookfield Place

Contributed by Kelly from Travel New York Now

If you’re looking for the best free things to see and do in New York at Christmas, then run, don’t walk, to the luminaries at Brookfield Place. 

As a local, I always come to this incredible mall along the Hudson River and head inside the palm tree-laden atrium. 

I then look up at all these dazzling luminaries and watch in awe as they transform seamlessly from white into a kaleidoscope of vibrant colours. 

You’ll also be happy to know that this light show is free to enjoy and brought to you by LAD at Rockwell Group. 

I also love that there is a great ice skating rink outside. So, I can pop over there for a quick skate after I’ve had my fill of the luminaries. 

Additionally, there are several touchless wishing stations from which you can send a motion-activated wish to the vibrant lanterns above you. 

So, stop by and enjoy between the end of November and early January and see what one of the best Christmas towns in New York has to offer you.

To get here, hop on the 1, 2, or 3 train and take that to Chambers Street station. From there, you can easily walk to the luminaries display and admire some of the Christmas decor hidden inside the mall.

blue christmas light display in New York

Get into the Christmas spirit at Bryant Park

Contributed by Elena from Carry On Chronicles

Bryant Park is one of the most magical places to see some of the best Christmas decorations in New York City.

From twinkling trees to booths selling Christmas treasures to a giant outdoor ice skating rink, Bryant Park at Christmas is the perfect place to get into the holiday spirit.

The Winter Village is like a small European Christmas market in the heart of Midtown Manhattan. It is a multi-month-long seasonal event that offers fantastic activities for winter lovers of all ages. 

One of my favourite things to do is window-shop, and with over 150 kiosks, there are plenty of opportunities to do so! I recommend grabbing a delicious cup of warming cocoa while you wander the stalls to admire all the twinkling trinkets and treasures.

If you feel like splurging a bit, grab a few friends and book yourselves a cosy igloo. These magical snow globes provide a toasty environment and tasty offerings like Bavarian pretzels and your choice of hot cider or hot cocoa.

Alternatively, if you’re looking to save some cash, you can skate on the outdoor rink for free if you bring your skates. So grab a cup of cheer and ring in the most wonderful time of the year at Bryant Park’s Winter Village!

Giant Christmas Baubles beside a fountain in New York

Have fun at New York’s Christmas markets

Contributed by Marianne from Pasta Pretzels and Passports

Have you ever been to NYC during the Christmas season? If not, it needs to be on your holiday bucket list! The Big Apple comes alive during Christmas with festive art, sparkling light displays, shows, music, and great food.

One of the best things to see and do in New York at Christmas is to visit the holiday markets. And trust me, if you can’t make it overseas to visit the German Christmas markets, NYC is the next best place to go!

And with a market seemingly around every corner, how do you know which are the best Christmas markets in NYC to visit? I suggest starting with the three largest, conveniently enough, all located in Manhattan.

Bryant Park Winter Village is one of the largest and first markets to open. The wooden stalls are filled with fantastic handmade local items, delicious treats, and incredible Christmas decor. My favourite by far, this holiday market has a fabulous skating rink and a giant Christmas tree right in the centre.

ice skating rink with giant christmas tree in Bryant park New York

Union Square Holiday Market is another popular choice, boasting more than 150 vendors from all over the world. I found this market to most closely resemble a German Christmas Market. Be sure to arrive hungry, as the aromas wafting from the stalls will lead you to delicious Christmas dishes!

Grand Central Holiday Fair is one of the busiest Christmas Markets in New York City. Located in Grand Central Station, this market is popular with shoppers who do not want to battle the outdoor elements. Stay warm and cosy while you shop for that perfect Christmas gift for someone special on your list.

Watch the lighting of the Rockefeller Christmas Tree

Contributed by Francesca from Travel Heal Love

The impressive Christmas Tree at the Rockefeller in NYC is a Christmas experience in New York you can’t miss, whether live or on TV.

I remember watching it at home and thinking how cool it would have been to see when the lights of this fantastic tree get switched on, and then one Christmas, I was lucky enough to see it with my own eyes!

The town put up the Rockefeller Centre Christmas Tree for the first time in 1931 when the tradition of lightning began! Today New Yorkers and American citizens consider this Christmas tree a symbol of pride, steadiness, and tradition and hold a ceremony on the Wednesday after Thanksgiving as the tree is lit for the first time.

Each year the tree gets decorated with different lights, sometimes reflecting events happening in the country or worldwide. If you cannot be there in person, the event is broadcast live and can be enjoyed from the comfort of your own house.

However, I would invite anybody to join the ceremony because the atmosphere is magical, the suspense before the lights go on is super exciting, and when the tree is finally lit, there is that second of silence before the roar of the crow takes your breath away!

Christmas tree decorated with multi coloured christmas lights with a large illuminated star on top outside the Rockefeller Centre in NY

See the Holiday Train Show at New York Botanical Gardens

Contributed by Anwar from Beyond My Door

One of the most famous Christmas holiday shows in New York is the annual Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanical Gardens. The scale of the various buildings seriously impressed me!

There are over 175 landmarks in total. Many of them are from across the history of New York, with many historical buildings that no longer exist, such as old mansions and monuments from the various boroughs. 

I love trains, and this is a perfect way to explore the holiday decorations, trees, and more. The Christmas decorations, plants, and trees in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory complement all the displayed trains and buildings. The attention to detail is striking. They work on even the smallest pieces of some of these masterpieces.

Beyond the train show, you can also visit the New York Botanical Gardens grounds, one of the world’s most beautiful gardens.

In the cold months, they are less exciting than during the summer and spring when they are filled with colour and scent; even so, they are lovely to wander around. I enjoy walking along the trails and trees near the Bronx river that runs through the park. 

Make sure to book your tickets to see the Holiday Train Show before you arrive.

Miniature building with a toy train running around it

See the Christmas house decorations in Dyker Heights.

One thing is for sure; New Yorkers know how to celebrate Christmas when decorating their homes, and one place that stands out from the rest is Dyker Heights. The main area for the most significant decorations is from 11th to 13th Avenues and from 83rd to 86th Street.

Here you will see some of the most incredible NY Christmas house decorations you could imagine, from giant inflatable snowmen, illuminated reindeer, animated Christmas figures and even snow machines.

Music chimes out across snow-covered lawns, and neighbours of this Brooklyn neighbourhood all try to outdo one another with their over-the-top Christmas offerings. Dyker Heights is a great place to visit at Christmas and will undoubtedly put you in the Christmas spirit.

illuminated Christmas snowman and two deer

Go ice skating in Central Park

An iconic Christmas tradition is ice skating in New York. It is something for all visitors to try, whether they are experts or first-timers, and to glide around one of Manhatten’s ice rinks at Christmas is a wonderful experience.

The Wollman Rink in Central Park is open from mid-October until April allowing visitors and locals plenty of time to participate in this winter activity. Snow often falls in Jan and Feb in New York, making the experience even more magical.

Don’t forget to take a horse and carriage ride in Central Park after ice skating. Step aboard a decorated Christmas carriage and stay warm beneath the thick rugs that cover the legs. Take a hot toddy with you and take in the Christmas magic as you make your way around New York’s famous park.

Central Park ice skating rink with people skating and surrounded by skyscapers

Go Christmas Shopping in New York

What do you think of when you picture New York at Christmas? It is undoubtedly the vision of the NY department stores decorated for the festive season.

Stores on 5th Avenue are a big attraction in NY during the Christmas season. This iconic avenue cuts between Central Park and the Rockefeller centre and is home to stores like Tiffany and Co, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman. Synonymous with luxury, a Christmas gift bought from one of these stores is sure to be treasured.

Of course, Macy’s is the most famous department store in New York City. It opened in 1901 and was the setting of the Christmas film classic “Miracle on 34th Street”. The store has nine floors and is the most famous in Manhattan, NYC.

Spend the holidays at a famous New York Hotel

There are plenty of places to stay in New York over the Christmas season, and visitors know to book to secure a room or suite at one of the most famous hotels in New York.

The Aman Hotel is the new kid on the block and has become New York’s most expensive hotel. Situated in the iconic Crown Building, this hotel offers contemporary luxury at a price. Guest rooms are furnished with a palette of neutral colours inspired by the chain’s Southeast Asia properties.

The Plaza is a favourite hotel for locals and international guests planning a Christmas trip to New York. Located on 5th Avenue, the Plaza’s olde-worlde charm oozes sophistication and grandeur. An iconic landmark in New York and the setting for the loveable Christmas Home Alone movies, this is a beautiful place to enjoy fine dining and delicious afternoon tea.

Check pricing and availability for The Plaza Hotel

Exterior of the Plaza Hotel New York

The formidable RitzCarlton on Central Park South is a five-star hotel in one of the most exclusive buildings in New York. Expect an exclusive stay here with first-class service and rooms but at an eye-watering average of $1000 a night.

Check pricing and availability for the Ritz Carlton Hotel

The Mark Hotel might not be as familiar to overseas guests as the Plaza and the Ritz-Carlton, but it certainly matches them in luxury. Guest rooms are beautiful and mix European and NY styling. Dining at the Mark Hotel is a must-do when visiting New York but make reservations well in advance as this is one of the most desirable restaurants in NYC.

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Pinterest Graphic for Christmas in New York