Things To Do In New York City At Christmas

New York City At Christmas 1

Updated On: April 07, 2024 by   doaadoaa

New York City is a bucket list destination for most travellers, with approximately 66 million visitors making their way to the city in 2019. 

With an abundance of world-famous attractions ranging from the Statue of Liberty, Times Square, Wall Street and Central Park to name a few, as well as the dazzling shows on Broadway and the famous diner-style food, New York is one of the top city breaks in the world, with people travelling far and wide to visit

New York City At Christmas 1

But arguably, there is no better time to visit the Big Apple than during the festive season. New York City is packed with exciting activities that would interest even the Grinch-iest of tourists, from ice stating between the skyscrapers, to visiting the Christmas fairs- there’s something for everyone.

So, if you’re looking for some inspiration for your festive trip to NYC, look no further than our list of essentials to tick off your New York bucket list during the Christmas season and our guides outlining the best of New York all year round!

New York City: The History Of The City And ‘The Big Apple’ 

New York City At Christmas 7

The city was coined ‘The Big Apple’ in the 1920s after sports journalist John J. Fitz Gerald referenced the term when discussing the prizes, also known as ‘big apples’ which were presented to winners in the various racecourses around New York City

The nickname officially caught on in the 1970s following a successful advertising campaign which was created with the intention of attracting tourists using an inviting campaign to encourage them to visit New York.

A man named Charles Gillett alongside the New York Visitors Bureau decided to try and bring the nickname ‘The Big Apple’ back to life by excessively advertising New York City as the place to be for aspiring travellers, as the notion at the time was that New York was was a filthy place lined with bags of rubbish, where you were likely to be mugged if you paid the city a visit. 

The campaign centred around bright red apples and to the present day, the City is known as the Big Apple worldwide, with millions of tourists flocking to visit the city that never sleeps! In 2022, it was recorded that there was a population of approximately 8.5 million people living in New York City- which is approximately 3 million more than the entire population of Ireland!

New York City At Christmas Time

New York City is home to many activities, experiences and traditions around the festive season. Popular festive favourites such as Home Alone 2: Lost In New York, Miracle on 34th Street and Elf showcase Christmas time in the big city, with colourful trees and ice skating rinks in the middle of the city and in Central Park for visitors to enjoy.

Christmas Displays In New York City

New York City At Christmas 2

New York City’s Christmas tree lights are also unlike anywhere else in the world, with Light Tours on offer for tourists to experience the dazzling lights on display throughout the city and by residents themselves!

Let’s take a look at some of the must-see attractions, activities and experiences for New York City at Christmas!

Rockefeller Centre In New York At Christmas

The Christmas tree in New York at Rockefeller Center is one of the most recognisable Christmas trees in the world, with tourists flocking from across the globe to witness the annual switching on of the light ceremony with live music performances to add to the festive cheer.

The ceremony marks the beginning of the festive season in New York City and usually takes place soon after the Thanksgiving celebrations have come to a close. The tree itself attracts around 2.5 million visitors per year due to its famous appearances in festive flicks such as Home Alone 2: Lost In New York. 

Ice Skate At The Rink At Rockefeller Centre 

Whilst visiting the iconic Christmas Tree at the Rockefeller Centre, tourists will also be able to enjoy a spin around the ice skating in front of the iconic building. If you’re planning on visiting New York between November and April, the good news is the rink will be available to enjoy throughout the Autumn and Winter seasons!

New York City’s Dyker Heights Christmas Lights 

If you’re planning a trip to New York City at Christmas, the Dyker Heights Christmas Lights tour is something you shouldn’t miss out on.

The city of New York goes all out for the festive season, with oversized Santa’s and sparkling lights galore, but certain neighbourhoods have taken this to the next level. An area which is famous for going over and above at Christmas is Dyker Heights. 

Dyker Heights, a residential neighbourhood in Brooklyn, New York, began the tradition of over-the-top Christmas displays around 30 years ago and since then, those residing in the area have been competing with one another good naturedly to put on the greatest displays.

The area attracts around 100,000 tourists per year, with visitors taking one of the various bus tours on offer with a local guide on hand to point out all of the must-see sights!

Bay Ridge Christmas Lights Tour In New York City

Another Brooklyn neighbourhood to visit in New York City at Christmas to witness the spectacular Christmas decorations on display is Bay Ridge

The Italian-American neighbourhood, like Dyker Heights, boasts some amazing over-the-top homemade displays, with residents kitting out their homes in the brightest and biggest decorations and lights. And while you’re there, be sure to check out some of the amazing eateries available. 

Fifth Avenue Window Displays

The festive window display tradition in New York City dates all the way back to the late 1800s with the famous department store Macy’s reportedly being the first to start the trend. 

The tradition has since caught on, with many visitors to New York City planning their very own walking tour to see some of the spectacular festive window displays at landmark locations across the City.

The displays usually appear just after Thanksgiving and remain up until after New Year’s Day, so there’s plenty of time for some retail therapy during your festive trip to New York City whilst taking in the famous window displays on your way!

Some of the most notable displays we would recommend visiting include Bloomingdales, Macys, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman’s to get you in the mood for the holiday season.

Festive Foods And Treats In New York City At Christmas

New York City is famous for delicacies such as the New York Bagel and the New York Pizza Slice, but during the festive season, the Big Apple has a range of delicious treats that will put you in the mood to celebrate Christmas.

After a day exploring the City, Why not heat up your freezing cold hands with a steaming cup of hot cocoa topped with some whipped cream or marshmallows from one of the many cafes or street stalls scattered around? Don’t forget to enjoy some roasted chestnuts during your festive trip-  classic New York City Christmas treat.

If cocoa and roasted chestnuts aren’t up your street, perhaps some gingerbread treats are? With a range of fancies, from gingerbread cookies, houses, and other items available at bakeries and shops across the city. These sweet treats aren’t only delicious, but they also add to the festive ambiance of Christmas in New York.

Broadway Shows And Performances In New York At Christmas

The Christmas period is a perfect time to take in a show on the iconic Broadway in New York City, with a range of festive shows available to enjoy each year. Some of the performances available on Broadway during the festive period include:

Radio City Christmas Spectacular 

New York City At Christmas 3

Radio City’s Christmas Spectacular is one of the most popular events in New York City during the festive period. The event which stars the Rockettes has been an annual tradition since 1933, offering those in attendance  tap dancers,  a flying Santa Claus and fabulous dance routines and performances by the Rockettes. 

Taking place at the Radio City Music Hall at Rockefeller Center, the event lasts around an hour and 30 minutes and is sure to get visitors into the Christmas spirit!

The NutCracker

The Nutcracker is one of New York’s most famous ballet performances and a favourite amongst dance fans. Whilst the Radio City Christmas Spectacular has a section featuring the Nutcracker for all of the little ones, the main event for Nutcracker fans is George Balanchine’s enchanting choreography. 

The Nutcracker performance, which has been around since 1954, is performed by the New York City Ballet company and American Ballet School students. Those in attendance can expect to be wowed by the giant Christmas Tree which grows in front of their eyes throughout the performance as well as a dramatic blizzard, reminding the audience that Christmas time is truly upon us. 

Charles Dickens: A Christmas Carol 

Alongside The Nutcracker, A Christmas Carol is one of the more popular Christmas shows that visitors rush to see in New York at Christmas due to the tale’s popularity over the years. 

There are a few variations of the show that visitors can enjoy, including the lavish broadway version, lasting 95 minutes which receives rave reviews every year. The family favourite is recommended for children aged 8 and upwards, as to not scare the little ones! 

Elf The Musical

If you enjoyed the 2003 film starring Will Ferrall, then you’ll be sure to have a blast at Elf The Musical this festive season in New York City as the tale comes to life on the big stage. 

The hilarious story of the human man raised as an Elf after he mistakenly crawled into Santa’s sack and was transported to the North Pole, now coming to terms with life back in the real world, is perfect for families, friends and couples visiting New York at Christmas due to the elaborate performance and feel good story.

New York City Christmas Markets

Bryant Park Winter Village

Opening its doors at the end of October, Bryant Park’s Winter Village kicks off the Christmas market season in New York, being one of the first markets to begin trading. As well as being the first festive market to open, Bryant Park’s Winter Village is also the longest-running market, inviting visitors to explore their range of Christmas offerings all the way up to New Year’s Day.

Opening their doors in 2002, the Winter Village in Bryant Park is one of the most popular Christmas markets in New York. Based in the centre of the city, visitors can immerse themselves in the splendour of the winter season as you and your family and friends stroll down aisle after aisle of festive stalls and Christmas themed attractions. 

The Winter Village has lots to offer, from an ice skating rink with free admission, holiday themed stands offering seasonal bites to eat, beverages to refuel, local crafts and even handmade Christmas baubles to take home as a souvenir to remember this trip of a lifetime. 

Union Square Christmas Market

The Union Square Christmas Market is located in Midtown, right in the centre of the hustle and bustle of Manhattan. 

With around 200 stalls and stands for visitors to enjoy, there is something for everyone! Tourists and visitors can warm up with some homemade soup or hot cocoa, or enjoy some festive treats such as Christmas cookies, gingerbread men or roasted chestnuts to name a few of the holiday snacks available. 

The offerings on the stalls at the Union Square Christmas Market range from knitted attire such as scarves, hats and gloves to homeware essentials like soaps, candles and artwork. If you visit the market during the peak festive season, you may even strike lucky and see some Christmas carolers performing! 

The Union Square Market is open from Mid November until Christmas Eve every year, so be sure to add it to your list of places to visit during your festive trip to NYC.

Grand Holiday Bazaar In New York’s Upper West Side

The Grand Holiday Bazaar takes place weekly on a Sunday in New York’s Upper West Side, starting at the end of November and running through until Christmas Week. 

Visitors to the flea market-style bazaar can expect to see selections of artwork, photography, jewellery, furniture, beauty and skincare products and antiques from over 150 local suppliers. And if all of the shopping works up an appetite, there is a variety of local eateries to enjoy!

The good news about doing a spot of festive shopping at the Grand Holiday Bazaar is that the market gives back to the local community by donating 100 percent of its profits to four of the area’s public schools- so visitors can enjoy a spot of retail therapy whilst doing their good deed for the day!

Grand Central Holiday Fair

If you’re not the greatest fan of freezing yourself outside to attend a festive market or two, then the Grand Central Holiday Fair is the option for you.

Located at the lavish Vanderbilt Hall at Grand Central, the month-long Christmas market boasts a more luxurious experience housed indoors for those who prefer to stay cosy during the winter season whilst still immersing themselves in the festive cheer of New York City. 

At the Grand Central Holiday Fair, the stalls are carefully selected to ensure only the best experience for visitors of the market. If you’re looking for presents to bring back home to your loved ones, you’ll find a wide selection of one-of-a-kind items. 

As it is located in the iconic Grand Central station, the market has a footfall of over one million shoppers per day as commuters and travellers pass through the station to reach their final destination, accompanied by festive shop-goers during the Christmas season. 

Columbus Circle Holiday Market

Located in New York’s iconic Central Park is another fantastic Christmas market, the Columbus Circle Holiday Market. If you are out and about NYC enjoying a festive stroll through one of the world’s most famous parks, stop off at Columbus Circle Christmas Market to experience over 100 different stalls which boast a more European feel than the other markets across the City. 

The outdoor market is the largest of its kind in New York City, adopting the style of the European Continental Markets. Visitors will be able to enjoy one of the most festive beverages, mulled wine as well as handmade trinkets and ornaments you won’t find anywhere else.

The Columbus Circle Holiday Market opens to the public at the end of November and runs all the way through to Christmas Eve, leaving plenty of time for those planning a festive city break to the Big Apple to experience all it has to offer!

Christmas Attractions And Activities In New York City

New York City At Christmas 4

ONEDERLAND at One World Observatory In NYC This Christmas

Located at the top of the tallest building in New York City, the new ‘Onederland’ experience turns the observatory deck located at the top of the building into a winter wonderland for visitors to enjoy.

Visitors can experience an indoor version of the North Pole without the freezing cold weather, with photo opportunities for all the family on the indoor ski lift along with hot cocoa and whipped cream to make you feel as though you’re truly in a winter wonderland!

Christmas Sightseeing Tours And Cruises

Throughout the city of New York, there is an abundance of tours available with knowledgeable guides there to show you around and there’s no better time of year to experience one of the famous NYC tours than at Christmas.

Whether you want to explore the sparkling Christmas lights of the city by horse and carriage or perhaps a luxury bus tour taking you along all of the must-see locations in the Big Apple decked out for Christmas, there’s something for everyone. 

For those who enjoy a festive sing song, why not take in the New York City Cocoa and Carols Holiday Cruise? Guests on the cruise will get to immerse themselves in the iconic NYC skyline from the water whilst enjoying Christmas treats and carols.  

NYC’S ‘Amaze Light Festival’ At Christmas

Located in Citi Field Stadium, Queens, which is home to the New York Mets Baseball team, the Amaze Light Festival is an immersive experience, offering visitors a dazzling festive light show, a storybook experience live on stage with actors and over 100 sparkling Christmas displays for guests to take in. 

For families and groups alike, the Amaze Light Festival offers a toboggan trail as well as a train ride so there is something for everyone to enjoy, and for those who enjoy some retail therapy, the festival has a range of shops and eateries to avail of during your visit. 

Festive Ice Skating In New York City

New York City At Christmas 6

As briefly mentioned in our Christmas Displays section above, ice skating in New York City is one of the greatest seasonal traditions. While a few of the ice skating rinks are open all year-round, there is no time that the activity feels as fitting as the winter season when the City is chilling and visitors are wrapped up from head to toe.

For a fabulous festive skating experience, we would recommend visiting the iconic Rink At The Rockefeller Centre, the skating rink at Bryant Park’s Winter Village or the Wollman Rink to enjoy a skate amongst the beautiful Central Park scenery. 

New Year’s Eve In The Big Apple 

New York City At Christmas 5

No guide on Things To Do In New York City At Christmas would be complete without mentioning the event which brings the festive period to a close- New Year’s Eve- and if anywhere knows how to ring in the new year, it’s New York City!

New Year’s Eve in the Big Apple is something of a bucket list experience, with endless experiences and activities taking place throughout the day, so there’s something for families, groups of friends and couples to enjoy. 

The Times Square Ball Drop 

The iconic Ball Drop in Times Square on New Year’s Eve has been shown and referenced in festive films and television for many years and so if you’re considering a trip to New York City at Christmas, this may be the first and only thing you’re considering for your NYE plans. 

However, the Ball Drop at Times Square is not for the faint of heart, as the cold weather in the City throughout December means you’ll need to wrap up warm to comfortably enjoy your day. To secure a good spot, we’d advise queuing up as early as possible, with the line opening up at 12:00pm on New Year’s Eve and closing around 2:00pm due to the crowds.

The Ball Drop is the perfect way to ring in the New Year with groups of families and friends alike flocking to Times Square each year to experience the electric atmosphere when the countdown to the new year begins!

New Year’s Eve At Summit One Vanderbilt

As one of New York City’s newer and most unique looking observation decks, Summit One Vanderbilt is a great location to ring in the new year with some of the greatest views of the cityscape. 

With floor to ceiling windows and glass ceilings, visitors will have a birdseye view of the celebrations taking place across the ‘city that never sleeps’ whilst enjoying their very own party in one of New York’s most Instagrammable venues. 

For approximately $250 per person, guests have access to all three floors of the Summit One Vanderbilt building, with a live DJ performance, flowing champagne and of course, a countdown to the New Year with a unique lights show to kickstart the celebrations which is best suited to couples and groups of friends. 

Visiting New York City All Year Round

Whilst Christmas time is truly the most magical time of the year, New York remains one of the most popular city breaks across the world year round, so if visiting the Big Apple in the colder months does not appeal to you as much, why not check out our guide of Top 20 Things To Do In New York for your trip in the spring, summer or autumn seasons? 

With an abundance of things to do and places to see, let us help you plan your trip to NYC with our guides on Manhattan, Long Island, Central Park and The Statue of Liberty to name a few!

Our Guide To New York City At Christmas

We hope you’ve found our guide of things to do in New York City during the festive period helpful when planning your Christmas getaway. 

As the hustle and bustle of the city turns into a winter wonderland of sparkling lights and over-the-top displays of dazzling Christmas decorations, The Big Apple turns into the perfect holiday destination for groups of friends, families and couples alike.

From the iconic Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree and ice-skating rink, to the Department Store window displays adorned with beautiful holiday decorations, you won’t want to miss Christmas in NYC and the chance to embrace the magic of the City whilst creating lasting memories with your loved ones. 

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *